Kenneth Batcheldor (1921-1988)
BATCHELDOR’S THEORIES ON TABLE TILTING
In September 1966, a report appeared in the British Journal of the Society for Psychical Research entitled “Report on a Case of Table Levitation and Associated Phenomena.” The article was written by a little-known English psychologist named Kenneth J. Batcheldor, who with two friends decided to try paranormal “table tilting.” None of them had ever had any experience with moving tables, or felt that they possessed any sort of “mediumistic” ability. They were not Spiritualists and didn’t expect to get anything more than the kinds of movements that were easily explained by unconscious muscle action. They were all, therefore, quite surprised when in their eleventh session the 15-pound table suddenly rose up off the floor.
Batcheldor remarked that although he had heard of the supposed phenomenon of levitation he never really believed it. When it happened, he said, it came as quite a shock.
Having stumbled upon a genuine force, they became determined to continue the meetings and find out all they could. With his friends, Miss Coghlan and William G. Chick, he sat for 200 sessions from April 1964, to December 1965. They were occasionally joined by Mrs. Chick and/or one or two other relatives or friends. However, Mr. Chick was absent from 120 of the sittings and at those sessions nothing happened that could not be attributed to unconscious muscle action. Of the 80 sittings Chick attended, 70 resulted in major (paranormal) effects.
THE BATCHELDOR’S EXPERIMENTAL SITTINGS
Before anything occurred, there was always the initial waiting period, which lasted anywhere from one minute to as long as half an hour.
They first got creaks or cracking noises in the wooden table. Most of these seemed normally produced, but there were also sharp taps, scrapings, and soft thuds. These other sounds sometimes came from the chairs, the floor, or the walls.
After a few minutes of these noises the table would usually slide along the floor for a few inches then, after a pause, it might tilt up on two legs before dropping again. The sliding and tilting varied in character: sometimes the table would glide slowly and silently, other times it would scurry rapidly and noisily for six feet or more, causing the sitters to get up and scramble after it.
Their first total levitations occurred in darkness and were only sensed by touch and the sound of the table falling back to the floor. These levitations also varied and the table could float down in complete silence or crash to the floor with such force that they feared it might go through the floorboards. It would sometimes rotate slowly and at other times spin around.
Because they were working in darkness, they needed a more objective means of checking on the reality of the levitations, so Batcheldor made an electrical apparatus to detect when they occurred. It consisted of four switches, one on each table foot, joined to a battery and small red bulb. The bulb was mounted in the center of the table and would light only if all four legs came off the floor.
The little light not only confirmed their sense that the table had risen but also added visible evidence of its altitude (shoulder or chest height) and that all their hands, fingers and thumbs, were indeed on top of the table.
Thinking they might be accused of mass hallucination, Batcheldor replaced the light with a buzzer that would sound, so that it was heard on the audiotapes they made of the sessions. The buzzer also enabled them later to measure the length of time the table was in the air. (It sometimes stayed up for about 20 seconds.)
NO SPIRITS AT BATCHELDOR’S SEANCES
Batcheldor’s series of experiments with “sitter groups” were similar to the Victorian séances but without “spiritistic assumptions.” They were purely trying to understand the manifestation of large-scale psychokinesis or macro-PK from a scientific viewpoint. Batcheldor was a psychologist and in these experiments he concluded that tight controls tended to interfere with the “psychological conditions necessary for the strong manifestation of psi.” In other words, tight controls would do away with cheating but would also inhibit true phenomena from happening.
BATCHELDOR APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY TO TABLE TILTING
The Victorians believed that spirits were lifting tables, sending messages, and so on—spooky but okay, that’s what spirits did. If you dropped the spirit idea, however, it meant that you, the living sitters, or at least one of you—horror of horrors—had this awesome power. Most people are scared to death, or at least into inhibition, by the thought. However, if you thought that somebody in the group might be cheating, then maybe these things were not so scary after all. With this concept in mind, Batcheldor deliberately conducted his groups under loosely controlled conditions, even sometimes starting things going by giving the table a nudge. He found that when the group thought something paranormal was happening, real phenomena began to occur.
He noticed that some ostensible paranormal occurrences “grew” out of normal events. Creaks, that at first seemed to come from thermal expansion or to stresses in the wood of the table, gradually became far too loud and frequent to be attributed to those causes. Small movements probably owing to involuntary muscle action turned into larger movements and levitations.
ABSOLUTE BELIEF ESSENTIAL FOR MACRO-PK
These “artifacts,” the creakings and small movements, would cause an intense expectancy of further psi events, and that expectancy or belief might in turn release PK and cause the genuine raps and levitations to occur. The “instant belief” that some phenomenon was about to happen, he maintained, was one of the most important factors in successful sittings. “Long-term” belief didn’t matter as much.
This absolute belief was what Batcheldor felt was needed to voluntarily induce Macro-PK (as opposed to the involuntary PK that occurs in poltergeist cases).
ELIMINATING OWNERSHIP RESISTANCE / WITNESS INHIBITION
Batcheldor found that a big problem in his sittings was in retaining belief while avoiding emotional resistance. Large-scale effects tend to have a disturbing effect on sitters and to cause many to react in various defensive ways. Batcheldor identified two types of resistance, which he called “ownership resistance” and “witness inhibition.” Ownership resistance refers to the reluctance to possess paranormal powers. Witness inhibition refers to the disturbed feelings or reactions to witnessing paranormal displays.
Ownership resistance and witness inhibition both spring from fear of the unknown and the uncontrolled. Resistance can lead to all kinds of interference, such as explaining everything away in “normal” terms, making counter-suggestions (“This won’t work!”), or distracting by talking about irrelevant things. It can also lead, as we’ve seen, to complete refusal to continue with the experiment. One way Batcheldor sought to overcome resistance was to encourage lots of noise, laughter, singing, and light chatter. He felt that this could maintain belief by preventing cognitive analysis while at the same time keeping a light-hearted tone. The sitters could laugh at their own fears.
He also saw the advantage of proceeding slowly to allow gradual desensitization to the phenomena to take place. He felt that development usually takes weeks or months because of the need to gradually build up belief and also gradually dispel fear. For the would-be sitter group, he felt there was no short cut to developing psi abilities. Batcheldor also reasoned that because the sometimes amazing and coordinated macro-PK feats of poltergeist agents were spontaneous, we don’t have to learn how to do PK. That is, some level of the mind already knows how to do it.
The rub is doing it intentionally. To learn how, the sitters had to get into a proper state of mind. He found that the results in his sitter-group were mostly “intermittent and freakish” probably because average persons could only, or mainly, achieve the necessary moments of “instant belief” through involuntary response to artifacts. To him, this meant that the sitters had no real control over their PK.
To produce the phenomena, it is of primary importance to prevent the conscious mind from interfering. Batcheldor did it by occupying it with “noise and nonsense,” thereby distracting it, or by attempting to quiet it down into a “psi state” of heightening suggestibility. The state he described as the “blended state”—a blend of conscious and unconscious—even though he maintained that none of his sitters was entranced, sounds very much like what earlier sitters called a trance state. This state, he said, implies perfect belief and freedom from resistance.
Distraction, then, is helpful in the conscious state because it diverts the mind, but not during the “blended” state because it will break the state and immediately cause, for example, a levitated object to drop.
BATCHELDOR’S SUGGESTION MODEL
Batcheldor also discussed the suggestion model, that is, making suggestions or “appeals” to the sub- or unconscious mind. Suggestions may be verbal or non-verbal, as from hearing or feeling artifacts or experiencing previous PK occurrences. The non-verbal suggestions may be far more effective because they may rivet the attention and displace analytical thought. Batcheldor said that success usually came after a certain delay, or during a distraction.
The early researchers like T.J. Hudson wrote at length about suggestion. They too saw PK as a goal-oriented process in which an idea of the desired goal is “planted” in the subconscious, which later “realizes” the idea. How it does this, of course, we don’t know, but we don’t need to know the answer to that mystery to do it.
Read about other “outside the séance” people:
Felicia Parise • Gilbert Roller • Kenneth Batcheldor • Nina Kulagina • Sir William Crookes
Ted Serios • The Philip Experiment • Uri Geller