The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

33 Psychic Astronomy

Over the centuries thousands of religious cult leaders, seers, psychics, and spirit mediums have favored the public with exotic revelations about astronomy, especially about life on other planets. A huge volume would be needed to survey these revelations, and a bibliography of books alone would run to hundreds of titles. Herewith a small sampling of the more outrageous examples.

Emanuel Swedenborg ( 1688-1772), called by Conan Doyle the "first and greatest of modern mediums," began his career in Sweden as a distinguished scientist. In his middle years he began to experience trances, during which he talked endlessly with Jesus, angels, devils, and departed human souls--Moses, Saint Paul, Luther, Calvin, popes and kings, and many others. So convinced was he that the Lord had chosen him to be the Bible's infallible interpreter that he dated the Second Coming as having occurred in 1757, the year his vision of the Last Judgment marked the end of the Christian dispensation and the beginning of what he called the New Jerusalem.

The Church of the New Jerusalem, based on Swedenborg's voluminous Latin writings, emerged in England after his death. Among the thousands of people who admired him were such literary lights as Baudelaire, Goethe, Emerson, Strindberg, Balzac, Blake, and the elder Henry James, father of William. (Of Henry book The Secret of Swedenborg, one critic complained that James had kept it.) The young Immanuel Kant was so impressed by Swedenborg's alleged remote vision of a great fire in Stockholm that he wrote a treatise about it. The American parapsychologist Joseph B. Rhine called Swedenborg "the pioneer in the work I am doing."

In a small book, The Earths in the Universe, Swedenborg described the inhabitants of all the Sun's planets--except, of course, the then-unknown Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto--as well as those of their moons and of planets in other solar systems. These visions are many cuts below tenth-rate science fiction. All Swedenborg's extraterrestrials are monotonously humanoid.

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This was originally published in Free Inquiry, Winter 1987/88. Reprinted with permission.

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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