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Columbus-Come-Lately: An Overview and Update of the Ancient-Transoceanic-Contacts Controversy. Edgescience 28: cover, 6-13.



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Current Research and Insights
A publication of the Society for Scientific Exploration
Number 28 December 2016
The Scientific Zig-Zag
The Paranormal Future is Now
Unequivocal Spontaneous Psi
Cover image: Baksteendegeweldige/Wikimedia
Was the chicken present in South America before
Columbus and the arrival of the Spanish? Archaeological
remains found in Chile suggest that chickens like these
may have been introduced from Polynesia.
The Paranormal Future is Now
By Darryl V. Caterine
An Overview and
Update of the
Ancient-Transoceanic-Contacts Controversy
By Stephen C. Jett
The Scientific
Zig-Zag: On the
Value of
“Crazy” Ideas
By S.D. Tucker
Unequivocal Spontaneous Psi
By Douglas M. Stokes
EdgeScience #28
December 2016
EdgeScience is a quarterly magazine.
Print copies are available from
For further information, see
Why EdgeScience? Because, contrary to public
perception, scientific knowledge is still full of
unknowns. What remains to be discovered — what
we don’t know — very likely dwarfs what we do know.
And what we think we know may not be entirely correct
or fully understood. Anomalies, which researchers
tend to sweep under the rug, should be actively
pursued as clues to potential breakthroughs and new
directions in science.
PUBLISHER: The Society for Scientific Exploration
EDITOR: Patrick Huyghe
CONTRIBUTORS: Darryl V. Caterine, Stephen C. Jett,
Douglas M. Stokes, S.D. Tucker
DESIGN: Smythtype Design
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is a professional organization of scientists and
scholars who study unusual and unexplained
phenomena. The primary goal of the Society is to
provide a professional forum for presentations,
criticism, and debate concerning topics which are
for various reasons ignored or studied inadequately
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promote improved understanding of those factors
that unnecessarily limit the scope of scientific
inquiry, such as sociological constraints, restrictive
world views, hidden theoretical assumptions,
and the temptation to convert prevailing theory
into prevailing dogma. Topics under investigation
cover a wide spectrum. At one end are apparent
anomalies in well established disciplines. At the
other, we find paradoxical phenomena that belong
to no established discipline and therefore may
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development suggests a correlation between a renewed interest
in the paranormal, and a post-Sixties critique of modern sys-
tems of authoritative knowledge. The paranormal represents
the domain of what Michael Barkun has called “stigmatized
knowledge”—the rejected remnants of premodern or non-
European worldviews that continue to thrive on the margins
of the modern west’s dominant scientific culture. They are all
subjects, in other words, that fall between the cracks of domi-
nant western worldviews, religious and scientific alike.
As clarifying as it may be, however, this historical approach
still defines the paranormal in terms of what it is not. When I
say we are living in a time of the paranormal apocalypse, I mean
that quite literally: we are living during a time of “unveiling”
(apokaluptein is Greek for “to uncover,” or “to reveal”) relative
to the paranormal. We can finally glean, at least in part, what
it is. Because the architects of the very term “paranormal”—
nineteenth-century psychical researchers, or what today we call
parapsychologists—were essentially futurologists, the time they
were prophesying increasingly looks like the one we are living
in right now.
Forget about the internet as an already-hackneyed meta-
phor for interconnected consciousnesses, one of the peren-
nial interests, since the 1880s, of paranormal explorers. Let
us consider, instead, the fact that scientists have already suc-
ceeded in engineering a primitive form of telepathy, through
Darryl V. Caterine
The Paranormal Future is Now
The paranormal apocalypse is finally upon us. Thanks in
large part to mass media culture, engagement with a num-
ber of so-called “paranormal” themes is flourishing today with
an intensity unmatched since any era since the Victorian Age.
Covering a wide range of subjects, this renaissance includes
explorations of sympathetic magic, various concepts imported
into the west from non-European religions (e.g. zombies
and reincarnation), Christian-derived beliefs in the guidance
of angels and possession by demons, the existence of beings
recounted in premodern European folklore (e.g. vampires and
werewolves), the existence of UFOs and visits of extraterrestri-
als to Earth, cryptozoology (e.g. the Loch Ness Monster and
chupacabras), and the efficacy of healing methods not endorsed
by western science.
At first glance, it is not at all obvious what all of these
interests have to do with one another. Struggling to categorize
such an eclectic menagerie, scholars have at turns fallen back
on “the occult,” the “supernatural,” “metaphysical” beliefs,
“pseudo-science,” and indeed “the paranormal” as catch-all
signifiers, each of which carries a very different connotation of
what, exactly, we are talking about when we delve into any one
of these themes. Some clarity is gained by taking a historical
approach: whatever we might choose to call the paranormal,
today’s engagement with its subjects began to rise steadily
after the social and epistemological tumult of the 1960s. This
imaginal was borrowed from the term imago, a word used in
entomology to describe the final stage in the metamorphosis
of an insect. Here in another way, Myers was suggesting that
what seemed in his own age to be extraordinary or impossible
would at some future point become the normal state of affairs,
as the human race progressed from its larval stage to its fully
realized, natural destiny.
Compared to Spiritualist visions of the future, how-
ever, Myers’ prognostications were indirect and muted. The
Spiritualist mediums whom Myers and colleagues set out to
study were fond of forecasting a new age of humanity, ushered
in by spirits, marked by political equality, Enlightened think-
ing, and the alleviation of suffering; theirs was an identifiably
Christian conception of the Kingdom of God on Earth. In con-
trast, Myers left it to the readers to connect the dots of his sub-
tler nods to evolutionary breakthroughs. It is clear, however, that
he held out hope for humanity in the idea of a future marked
by burgeoning psychical powers, one of which was genius, that
might at last figure out ways to overcome the more daunting
obstacles to our happiness and welfare. Both of these utopian
visions advanced the reigning myth of their times, a millennial
belief in Progress ushered in by modern nation states, driven by
the engines of industrial growth, and supported by the explosion
of scientific knowledge in virtually all fields.
Fast forward to 21st-century predictions of the coming
Singularity, and it seems as if conventional science—particularly
cutting-edge developments in genetics, nanotechnology, and
artificial intelligence—has realized the most elevated predictions
of the human future from 19th-century Spiritualist and psychi-
cal researchers. And yet, it has become something of an ortho-
doxy among advocates of parapsychology to make hard-and-fast
distinctions between their own working hypotheses of human
nature and those of “mainstream” science. We read much, for
example, about the tensions between detractors and supporters
of scientific materialism, or the incompatibility of parapsycho-
logical and normative paradigms of human consciousness, or
between quantum and Newtonian models of the mind/brain.
These distinctions do, in fact, mark important fault lines within
scientific culture, but they fail to capture the founding hopes and
ideals of parapsychology, which at one time were as much bound
up with an evolutionary vision of humankind as with specula-
tions on the fate of individual minds.
And this is why it is fair to say that the 21st century is an
apocalyptic time for those who are interested in things para-
psychological: as we ascend on the accelerating growth curve
of normal science into realms previously relegated to fantasy,
we begin to suspect that parapsychology and materialist sci-
ence have been engaged for more than a century now in a
sibling rivalry over who gets to narrate the future of the mod-
ern west. Siblings: more alike than not, both committed to a
utopian hope of the future tied not to God or the gods but to
human consciousness and its exploration of nature, human and
otherwise. And both adamant that the end of all this explora-
tion will be a sudden, discontinuous jump into an uncharted
future, where the lines between the natural and the supernatu-
ral, between human limitation and indeed godlike possibilities
begin to break down.
the use of brain-machine interface technology. Participants
wearing electroencephalography caps at a 2013 experiment at
the University of Washington were hooked up to the internet,
through which they played a video game with each other using
only mental cues. And then the following year, participants in
an experiment run by Starlab, a private company in Barcelona,
used a similar method to greet each other, sending the simple
message of “hello” using their minds alone. Putting aside for a
moment the critical issue of technology’s role, or lack thereof,
in actualizing the reality of psi, we can no longer say that extra-
sensory perception is a hypothetical phenomenon. At least in
one instantiation, it exists as an undisputed human possibility;
there is nothing “para-” about it.
Further, these experiments are but two, albeit sensational,
developments in a much broader and far-reaching project to
“upgrade” the human being into a new form, making the
arguable fantasies of a paranormal yesteryear a living reality in
the imminent future. Computer scientist and futurologist Ray
Kurzweil, famous for his predictions of the coming Singularity,
has even gone so far as to predict a coming race of human-
machine hybrids who, with the help of a master computer tril-
lions of times more intelligent than the collective intelligence
of humanity combined, will achieve immortality, omniscience,
and omnipotence. In this vision, brought to us by making
extrapolations from “normal” scientific developments, there
is literally nothing off limits. Both the “paranormal” and the
“normal” are redundant. The pioneering para-
psychological metaphysi-
cian of the Victorian Era,
Frederic Myers, was in fact
a futurologist. It was he
who conceptualized such
“supernormal” feats as
telepathy as foreshadowing
an imminent breakthrough
in humanity’s collective
future. “Supernormal”—a
word that later morphed
into today’s more famil-
iar “paranormal”—was
Myer’s neologism for a
hypothesized set of higher
psychic laws that occasion-
ally manifested in everyday
experience, particularly under times of duress. By “higher,
however, Myers did not mean to suggest supernatural or mirac-
ulous forces. Rather, as he clarified, “by higher (either in a psy-
chical or physiological sense) I mean ‘apparently belonging to
a more advanced state of evolution.’” In other words, the rela-
tively rare experiences of extrasensory perception recorded by
Myers and his fellow psychical researchers were but glimpses
of what, for them, could or might become more commonplace
in an age to come.
In a similar vein, Myers coined the word “imaginal” to
refer to the imagination’s telepathic capacity to occasionally
glean something about the objective world. The concept of the
Frederic Myers
William Clarke Wontner/ Wikipedia
our fellow human beings. Rather, the vision of fusing with our
technology to realize or activate god-like powers bears all the
marks of ancient and Renaissance alchemy: the quest to trans-
mute “base” human nature into something divine, by means of
technical know-how. The fact that this alchemical vision, now
embraced by normal science, can be traced back through the
parapsychological and Spiritualist analyses of human nature is
an irony worth pondering.
Perhaps in another few decades, as the Singularity draws
ever closer, the very notion of parapsychology, and its related
term, the “paranormal,” will fall out of use completely, as dis-
tinctions between the possible and impossible become more
difficult to make. No doubt there will be purists who insist
that “real” parapsychology has nothing to do with technologi-
cal gadgets or even tropes, but the historical record suggests
otherwise. Images of cyborgs have long been imbedded in the
discourse of parapsychology, just as the lure of immortality has
long been a goal of normal science. Now, with the secular uto-
pias of both camps manifesting all around us, the paranormal
and the posthuman are increasingly difficult to disentangle.
We are indeed living in the midst of a paranormal apocalypse,
when there is nothing hidden that will not soon be revealed.
DARRYL CATERINE is a professor of religious studies at Le Moyne
College in Syracuse, New York, where he teaches classes in American
religion. He is the author of Haunted Ground: Journeys through a Para-
normal America, an ethnographic study of paranormal subcultures in the
United States; and a number of articles and chapters on the paranormal,
including essays in The Brill Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling,
Nova Religio: The Journal of Emergent and Alternative Religions, and the
Journal of the American Academy of Religion. His work on other aspects
of popular religion, including film, sports, and civil religion, appear in
Catholics in the Movies, the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and
The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture. Presently,
he is co-editing a collection of essays on the paranormal and popular
culture for Routledge Press, to be published in 2018.
And as it becomes increasingly clear, neither sibling in this
rivalry got the future quite right; the present is turning out
to be slightly different—we could almost say messier—than
either side predicted would happen. For their part, parapsy-
chologists never admitted, aside from allusions and innuen-
does, how much their vision of the coming human depended
on machines. Spiritualists have long seized on metaphors of
telecommunications to articulate what, exactly, mediumship
is: from talk of mediums as “spiritual telegraphs” to Upton
Sinclair’s image of “mental radio” to today’s cybernetic imagery
of downloading information from the universe. For his part as
well, Myers coined the term “telepathy”—meaning feeling-at-
a-distance—as a self-conscious analogy to telegraphy and the
telephone. Some skeptical critics have even gone so far to argue
that claims of mediumship and telepathy are a mass-media-
induced illusion: an erroneous and unconscious conflation of
human consciousness with the observed workings of commu-
nications technology. But this is certainly not an interpretation
we are compelled to make. A far more intriguing
and likely analysis is offered
by the philosopher of sci-
ence, Bruno Latour. In his
essay, We Have Never Been
Modern, Latour argues
that the modern west as
a whole has long suffered
under the illusion that its
various achievements in the
cultural arena—including
philosophy and religion
have nothing to do with
developments in science and
technology; and, conversely,
that the history of science
has somehow proceeded
independently of the cultural sphere. Parapsychology, if we are
completely honest about its origins and history, is an example
par excellence of thinking about human nature through the
lens of technology. Questions of its veridicality aside, it is a
stunning illustration of the poetics of the machine age and the
science behind it. Latour would seem to be right: the history of
“normal” science plays an integral role in shaping how an “edge
science” like parapsychology thinks and talks about itself, and
in turn, how the paranormal imagination guides the trajectory
of normal science.
At the same time, so-called normative science has long
denied its indebtedness to the non-rational realm of the imagi-
nation. From the Age of Progress to that of the Singularity, the
questions that science asks, and the goals it deems as worthy of
pursuit, are inscribed throughout by cultural notions of what
a human being is, or should be, in relation to the rest of the
world. As it so happens, we seem to be living in a time now
when the goals of science, at least as articulated by the propo-
nents of posthumanism, have broken free once and for all from
their biblical moorings—meaning that science is no longer sim-
ply, or even primarily, a means of alleviating the sufferings of
Bruno Latour
G. Garitan /Wikipedia
Thomas Gladwin, and a raft of experimental voyagers begin-
ning in 1947 with the late Thor Heyerdahl and his raft Kon-
Tiki, continued by Tim Severin and others, and carried forward
by many successors up to the present day.
A small but respectable minority of investigators—known
as diffusionists—had been insisting for over half a century
that cultural commonalities between the two hemispheres
were too numerous and often too arbitrary to be explicable as
independent developments, and that cultural and geographi-
cal evidence pointed to the pre-Columbian sharing of a num-
ber of cultivated plants (see, e.g., Jett 1983, 2014; Fingerhut
1994; Sorenson and Raish 1996; Huyghe 2005; Kehoe 2016).
However, skeptics could always assert—and frequently did—
that if people could come up with an idea in one place, oth-
ers could autonomously do likewise somewhere else, and that
the plant evidence was not archaeological and definitive but at
best was merely and weakly circumstantial. The human mind
is much the same everywhere, they observed, as are the chal-
lenges of the physical environment and of life, so there is no
need to invoke impossibly long and arduous voyages in order
to explain the similarities.
Too, nay-sayers pointed out, the New World was bereft
of many of the most useful Old World technologies—e.g., the
wheel, iron-making, the plow, and so on and so on—as well of
any Old World domesticate other than the dog. Native America
lacked the hugely important Asian staples wheat and rice, while
the Eastern Hemisphere did not have America-domesticated
maize, potato, coca, tobacco, and other crops that became
enormously important following 1492. If there had been
meaningful transatlantic or transpacific encounters, it was
contended, these practical valuables would have been adopted
far faster than the odd and minor arbitrary cultural beliefs and
practices that so engage diffusionists’ attention.
Further, antidiffusionists have routinely pointed to the
dearth of in-situ Old World artifacts in New World archaeol-
ogy and the lack of records of interhemispheric contacts in Old
World archives, assuming that visitors to the Americas would
have left behind lots of diagnostic objects and would have
widely disseminated back home the exciting news of their dis-
coveries. Actually, archaeologists’ finding any recognizably for-
eign artifacts would be a needle-in-a-haystack proposition, and
We are all aware that before
Christopher Columbus,
everyone “knew” that the
earth was flat and that a ship
would fall over its edge if
approached too closely; that
until the 1400s and the inven-
tion of the caravel and the
compass, ships and navigation
were too primitive to allow
sailing very far out of sight
of land, much less across vast, trackless, and storm-troubled
oceans; and that vessels were too tiny to carry sufficient sail
and supplies to reach a far shore before food and water ran
out. Yes, we all know that. Or do we?
Nowadays, almost everyone does recognize that the
Norse (“Vikings”) under Leif Ericson reached Newfoundland
around AD 1000. But almost everyone also fails to recognize
that peoples of the Old and New worlds had in fact already
been linked for millennia by maritime traffic and exchanges
of knowledge and organisms. All cultural elaboration in the
two hemispheres—even that producing strange and improb-
able shared traits—is very widely assumed to reflect indepen-
dent cultural evolution expressing human universals. As for the
Norse, their traverses took place quite late in pre-Columbian
times and their visits seem to have had almost zero cultural
impact on the Natives.
In Two Different Worlds: Blinder Beliefs
and Evidentiary Issues
To those conversant with the facts, however, it is now clear—
although still not widely realized—that the spherical-Earth
theory, capable watercraft, and sophisticated celestial naviga-
tional methods have been available and utilized since deep in
the pre-Christian-era past, especially in southeastern Asia. This
clarity comes from a concatenation of efforts on the parts of
diverse scholars and adventurers such as the Texas A&M nauti-
cal archaeologist George Bass, the late Cambridge historian of
Chinese science Joseph Needham (and Lu 1985), avocational
ethnographers of navigation such as Stephen D. Thomas and
Stephen C. Jett
An Overview and Update of the
Ancient-Transoceanic-Contacts Controversy
discoveries—especially, unofficial ones—of “new” lands would
likely normally have been kept deeply secret to preserve political
and economic advantage. And in fact, a few such artifacts and
possible records of voyages have been found.
Isolationists claimed that detailed but widely separated
culture-sharings proved the reality of independent invention,
even of highly improbable arbitrary traits, while diffusionists
asserted that the sharings proved transoceanic encounters.
Thus, there has been an intellectual standoff, with the iso-
lationists recruiting by far the greater number of adherents.
In recent decades, however, more and more evidence beyond
cultural similarities has come to the fore, much of it developed
in disciplines other than anthropology, archaeology, or his-
tory and therefore, in considerable degree, unknown to spe-
cialists in those fields. But only a broad approach is capable of
putting these disparate lines together to obtain a more nearly
complete picture.
Means, Motive, And Opportunity
In my forthcoming book Ancient Ocean Crossings, I look
at this issue by raising queries of the kinds that one might
pose in a criminal investigation. Was there available a means
of committing the alleged deed—the deed in this case being
transoceanic cultural exchange? Was there any motive or suite
of motives that could have induced anyone to undertake trans-
oceanic voyages? And is there any “hard” evidence of actual
contacts that would signal that opportunity for exchange did,
in fact, exist?
There has been a rather recent revolution in our understanding
of the antiquity and abilities of sailors and their conveyances.
The investigations of pre-modern watercraft and navigational
methods that I have mentioned show that crossings were fea-
sible. Too, Classical Greco-Roman merchant ships routinely
sailed from the Red Sea to South India and back, a one-way
distance that is greater than that between West Africa and
Brazil—as was the length of the grain route between Egypt
and Rome. Likewise, Indonesians sailed across the open Indian
Ocean from the East Indies to East Africa and Madagascar
and possibly to as far as West Africa; there is no reason that
they couldn’t have traveled a comparable distance eastward
to America. Maritime peoples such as the ancestors of the
Micronesians and Polynesians were settling parts of Remote
Oceania by at least 1500 BC. In fact, some small, isolated
islands of Near Oceania were reached by humans thirty or more
thousand years ago (Gamble 1994).
Experimental replicas of ancient sailing rafts, a skin
boat, double sailing canoes, and a clutch of other
traditional vessel types have repeatedly traveled
transoceanic distances (as have many tiny one-
person contemporary craft). In short, perfectly
adequate means have existed for millennia, and
craft need not have been capacious or comple-
ments large to effect crossings (Jett 1998, 2008).
Ship depicted in a circa-sixth-
century-A.D. fresco in Cave II,
Ajanta, India. From A. L. Basham,
The Wonder That Was India, 1959.
A small Roman merchantman
(corbita). From Gordon
Grant and Henry B. Culver,
The Book of Old Ships, 19 35.
Early Greek Merchant ship.
From Gordon Grant and
Henry B. Culver, The Book
of Old Ships, 19 35.
Japanese woodcut of a nine-
bamboo sailing raft from Tai-tung,
Formosa (Taiwan), 1803. From
S. N. Hata, A Voyage to the Island
of Chi-po-ran, 1803.
A model of a built-up double-outrigger
canoe from Wetar, near Timor in
eastern Indonesia. From G. Adrian
Horridge, The Design of Planked Boats
of the Moluccas, 1978.
Maize ears held by female figures sculpted in stone on Hindu temples, Karnataka state, India, late pre-Columbian Hoysala period, compared with
less-realistic but accepted Nuclear American carvings representing maize. From Gunnar Thompson, American Discovery, 199 2.
transoceanic transfer (including from America to Polynesia),
and scores more for which less-convincing cases can be made.
This evidence of organisms includes numerous and trust-
worthy archaeological reports of physical and chemical remains
of an impressive number of plant species and of the chicken.
Planting Doubts
Much of the floral material comes from India, where mul-
tiple macroremains of the American crop plants amaranth,
sugar-apple, and three kinds of beans, plus the weeds Mexican
prickly poppy and Datura, have all been unearthed. China has
produced very early specimens of peanut and later ones of lima
bean. East Timor has yielded chili pepper and maize. Tobacco,
nicotine, and cocaine have been identified in Egyptian
mummies and elsewhere, and agave in a Cypriot shipwreck.
Archaeological sweet-potato specimens have cropped up on
Polynesian islands.
There are fewer species of Old World plants in American
archaeology, but there are some. These include the bottle
gourd and the coconut—for both of which there is at least a
tiny possibility of natural dispersal—with more equivocal evi-
dence in the cases of several others. Echoing the presence of
American nicotine and cocaine in ancient Egyptian mummies
is the occurrence of THC—the psychotropic alkaloid in mari-
juana (an Asian plant)—in pre-Columbian Peruvian mummies
(Jett 2002).
The asymmetry of exotic-plant occurrences on the two
sides of the seas suggests that Old World visitors encountered
crops that they liked and then carried seeds home with them
but had not brought along much to offer to the local Amerinds
in return.
The Chicken: Home To Roost
For decades, most mainstream archaeologists and their col-
leagues in related disciplines have avoided consideration of
potential pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts, believing them
to be impossible fantasies as well as unacceptably denigrating of
Native American ingenuity. However, it appears that the times,
they may be a changin’—at least slightly.
One indication of more open-mindedness is recent work by
the University of Otago geneticist Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith
and collaborators, on putative pre-Columbian Polynesian influ-
ences in the Americas. Especially noteworthy are their stud-
ies of the chicken—a Southeast Asian domesticate—in Chile.
Although there are other, little-noted reports of archaeologi-
cal chicken remains in the Americas, the ones from southern
Chile’s El Arenal-I site have garnered considerable attention,
owing to the rigorous and comprehensive multidisciplinary
approach used (Jones et al. 2007) and the reputations of the
contributing authors. Owing to the late pre-Columbian carbon
dates from the bones, questions about those dates’ reliability
were raised at the outset, but additional excavation and tests
have confirmed the original results.
Genetic analysis found that the Chilean chickens matched
most closely with Samoan and Tongan ones, contributing to
We may suppose that motives for movement in the more-dis-
tant past were comparable to those known historically. These
included “push factors” such as natural catastrophes, conflict,
privation, and so forth, plus “pull factors”—attractants includ-
ing hope of profit, establishment of new polities, proselytiza-
tion, adventure and glory, and simple curiosity. Seeking of
wealth overseas—mostly, high-value, low-bulk products such as
precious metals and stones, ivory and valuable shells, psychoac-
tive drugs, aromatics, luxury textiles, and so on—long enticed,
since a single successful voyage could bring wealth sufficient to
support a lifetime of affluent ease and social acclaim. Too, mis-
sionizing religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam
launched myriad efforts to bring enlightenment to pagans in
distant places. So, motives sufficient to engender voyaging were
certainly present.
If it is shown that transoceanic contacts took place, it will then
follow that opportunity existed for cultural exchanges and that
every similarity must be seen as potentially representing such
transfer. In this context, it should be kept in mind that it is far
easier to copy something offered than it is to invent it de novo,
so that if opportunity to emulate is proven then importation/
imitation is the most economical hypothesis to account for
explicit cultural commonalities.
It is in this area of proofs of contacts that the most exciting
recent findings have appeared. The material evidence involved
is mainly biological. Biology presents evidentiary potential that
culture can’t, because although biology is sometimes affected
by culture, it is to an important degree independent of culture.
Share-Cropping: Cultivated Plants And Weeds
Domesticated plants and animals cannot be “invented” but
are genetic entities developed, via human selection, from wild
ancestors, the latter being native to one hemisphere or the
other but not to both. Furthermore, in almost all cases crop
plants are incapable of surviving without human care, much
less able to leap an ocean and establish themselves on the far
shore. For these reasons, they make particularly useful kinds of
indicators for the study of human movements.
Whereas—as we have seen—cultivated-plant sharings
have often been proposed in the past, until the latter twenti-
eth century there was a lack of confirmatory physical indica-
tion. Further, much of what archaeological evidence has been
advanced beginning in the 1970s has been published in out-
lets seldom seen or even known of in American and European
archaeological circles and has only rather recently come into
the purview of a few Western scholars.
A hugely important contribution in this connection is a
hefty 2013 compilation by the anthropologist John L. Sorenson
and the plant geographer Carl L. Johannessen, World Trade and
Biological Exchanges Before 1492. In it, they have forwarded 99
cultivated and wild plants and 25 other organisms for which
they consider the evidence to be decisive for pre-Columbian
investigation of the spatial distributions of the extremely highly
variable human leucocyte antigens (HLAs) have revealed, here
and there in Native America, concentrated pockets of genetic
inputs from over the oceans—and not in patterns expectable
if derived from European colonists. Particularly implicated are
the Central/Southern Andean region of South America and
the territory of Uto-Aztecan-speakers of Mesoamerica—zones
where culture and language also suggest foreign increments
(Guthrie 2001–2002).
Altogether, there is substantial biological indication of not
just occasional and casual transoceanic contacts but of multiple
round-trip crossings from different Old World places followed
by intensive interaction, some settlement, and a pre-Columbian
exchange of organisms.
Forked Tongues
Linguists have long repeated the allegation that other than
languages of northern North America, there are no New World
idioms even hinting at kinship with any Old World tongue.
That perception, too, is now being seriously challenged.
The late Mary Ritchey Key (1998) of the University of
California, Irvine, offered evidence that many tongues of trop-
ical-forest South America show inputs from the Austronesian
linguistic family of greater Southeast Asia. Carrying things
much, much farther, the late Mary LeCron Foster (1998) of the
University of California, Berkeley, proposed that Austronesian
was in a linguistic phylum with Quechumaran of the Andes
and the Old World’s Afroasiatic family; she also perceived a
relationship between Mexico’s Mixe-Zoquean languages and
Afro-Asiatic ancient Egyptian. Brian Stubbs (2015) of Utah
State University Eastern (Blanding) has issued a monograph
detailing hundreds of close lexical and grammatical com-
parisons between Uto-Aztecan and Afroasiatic. Finally, the
Canadian avocational linguist Bede Fahey (2004) classes the
Mayan languages as Sino-Tibetan, akin to archaic Chinese.
These dramatic proposals strike me as well argued. However,
so far they are little known in academia, and all await vetting
by professionals—if any can be persuaded to look.
Handwriting On The Walls
I edit Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-Distance Contacts,
which, among other things, synopsizes developments in diffu-
sion-related research and in the study of traditional watercraft
and voyaging. Some of the linguistic proposals I’ve mentioned
here (as well as those based on HLAs) have appeared in its
pages. The same is the case for certain observations on inscrip-
tions found in America.
Following suggestions by my old professor the late George
F. Carter, the late Harvard marine biologist H. Barraclough
“Barry” Fell made a stir in the 1970s by holding that myriad
marks inscribed on North American rock faces, old stone struc-
tures, and certain portable objects were in Old World alphabets
(Iberic, Tifinagh, and ogham) conveying Old World languages
such as Libyan, proto-Germanic, and Celtic, kicking off the
sometimes-wild but also sometimes-fruitful field of “American
the hypothesis that the bird was introduced from Polynesia.
This notion was bolstered by analysis of several old skulls from
the region that exhibit Polynesian-like features (Matisoo-Smith
and Ramírez-Aliaga 2010).
Having A Bellyfull Takes Guts: Intestinal Parasites
It was once thought that—other than the protozoan Girardia
and the nematode pinworm—human intestinal parasites, most
of which are tropical and subtropical, never made it from Asia
into the pre-1492 New World owing to the cold screen of the
subarctic. However, in 1974 hookworm was discovered in
Bolivia, dating to a startling circa 6117 BC. By 1990, Brazilian
paleopathologists had begun identifying Old World parasitic
worms in the remains of additional millennia-old archaeo-
logically exhumed humans. These pathogens included not only
hookworm but also whipworm, hairworm, and giant round
worm (Montenegro et al. 2006).
If these worms could not have survived passage through
Alaskan/Siberian Beringia, they can have been introduced only
via sea voyages.
What a Louse
Old World head and body lice were, until a short time ago,
thought to have been confined to the Eastern Hemisphere
until 1492 or after. In 2008, however, a team of pathologists
announced discovery of one species of such lice on the heads
of mummified Chiribaya-culture bodies in Peru, dating to
between AD 990 and 1350 (Raoult et al. 2008). A transpacific
introduction is implied.
Bugged by the Beetles
Three species of beetles have been found in pre-Columbian
situations that imply transoceanic introduction. At first much
publicized but later partially suppressed is the presumably
American dried-tobacco-eating cigarette beetle, specimens
of which were found in King Tut’ankhamen’s tomb, in the
tobacco-stuffed mummy of Ramesses II, and in other eastern
Mediterranean sites (Jett 2002; Görlitz 2011).
In addition, the biscuit beetle and the lesser meal worm
are manifest in the archaeology of Pharaonic Egypt and of
Roman Britain as well as in pre-Columbian Peruvian mummies
(Buckland and Panagiotakopulu 2001: 554).
Genes And Geography
With earlier roots but especially since around 1985, the fast-
evolving study of genetics has been in the process of radically
expanding our knowledge of past human movements and those
of humans’ domesticates and commensals. With respect to the
transoceanic-contacts question, so far several blood factors
rather than mitochondrial and Y DNA favored by molecular
geneticists have been the most suggestive. Especially notably,
just publishing impressive works comparing the complex, even
bizarre cyclical and epicyclical calendar systems of the two
hemispheres. Oddly, the two articles were penned, respectively,
by the late David H. Kelley (2011–2014) of the University of
Calgary and the still living David B. Kelley (2011–2014) of
Showa Women’s University, both born in central New York
state but unknown to each other until well along in life.
The subject is so arcane that only a few observations may
be offered here. In the case of David B., an attempt is made
to correlate the Mesoamerican calendars with real time by
comparing them to the Chinese calendar. He found 30 cor-
respondences between the two systems. David H. looks at the
subject more broadly, endeavoring to reconstruct the ancestral
Eurasian and Mesoamerican systems and to see how they may
relate to each another. There turn out to be striking likenesses,
including as many as nine in-order sequences in animal lists as
well as other correspondences. My own conclusion is that more
than one Old World version of the calendar has conditioned
the New World systems, with American innovations further
altering the latter.
The case favoring a hypothesis gains enormously in persuasive-
ness when multiple independent lines of evidence all point in
the same direction. In the context of the transoceanic-inter-
influences controversy, that is precisely what is transpiring.
Indications—nay, proofs, in some instances—include the essen-
tially unrelated areas of general culture, language and writing,
human genetics, domesticates, and parasites. I can think of no
explanation that covers all these facts other than significant
interhemispheric intercourse.
A Global Ecumene
The ancient Greeks held the concept of the Ecumene (oik-
o u m e n ) or (known) inhabited world. Many decades ago, the
anthropologist A. L. Kroeber reinterpreted that concept to
designate the total zone affected by identifiable diffusional
influences from the main Old World hearths of innovation.
He took this ecumene to comprise a belt extending from the
Mediterranean Basin through Southwest and Central Asia to
China and India. I have come to the conclusion that there was,
for pre-Columbian millennia, a global ecumene, in which those
influences encompassed not only the more culturally elaborated
parts of the Eastern Hemisphere but also substantial portions
of the ancient Americas. This represents a very major revision
of conventional world history.
Further, I have concluded that cultural evolution is not
mainly a spontaneous, even inevitable process wherever the
physical and cultural environments permit but is restricted and
channeled by unique historical circumstances. I believe that
the main trigger of cultural complexification is cross-cultural
encounter, the fusing of elements from more than one source
and the concomitant realization that there is more than one
epigraphy.” The late Cyrus Gordon, the renowned but maverick
semiticist of Brandeis University, made additional suggestions
in this realm, and others followed. Negative reactions from
skeptics included the contention that many of Fell’s “inscrip-
tions” were just arrow-shaft-straightening grooves, unorga-
nized geometric petroglyphs, even mere natural fissures in the
rock—or, outright fakes.
Certainly, Fell made some egregious methodological
errors, but he also came up with some brilliant insights, and
more meticulous workers such as Utah’s Phillip M. Leonard
have carried on. One must indeed acknowledge that some
major fakery has been perpetrated in the past (for a con-
temporary example, see Wilson 2012). One very recent and
fascinating contention is that in the century-old case of the
“Michigan relics,” bald fraud followed the finding of genu-
inely old and authentic artifacts, the latter providing the mod-
els for the counterfeits. The American organic chemist Jim
Guthrie (2011–2014), mentioned previously, has lately made
an extensive case in Pre-Columbiana that this is what hap-
pened. Regarding the contemporaneous instance of Iowa’s
“Davenport inscriptions,” Guthrie (2005) has offered reasons
to favor authenticity of some of them. Needless to say, neither
particular languages nor specific writing systems can be inde-
pendently duplicated.
Time Share
Precise long-term calculation of time was a preoccupation of a
number of societies of both Eurasia and Mesoamerica, having
to do with astronomy and astrology, conceptions concerning
the nature of the cosmos, and various ritual matters. There
are specific associations with particular deities, animals, and
other phenomena. Pre-Columbiana has had the privilege of
Perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture, the Sun Stone,
sometimes called Aztec calendar stone, dealt with the precise long-
term calculation of time, the four eras preceding the present era. On
display at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.
Anagoria /Wikipedia
–– –2011–2014. The Fraudulent Michigan Relics: Were They
Based on Authentic Models? Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of
Long-Distance Contacts 5(2– 4)/6(1): 4 6 109.
2005. The Blind Man and the Elephants. NEARA Monograph.
Edgecomb, ME: NEAR A Publications.
Huyghe, Patrick. 2005. Columbus Was Last: From 200,000 B.C.
to 1492, a Heretical History of Who Was First. San Antonio,
TX, and Jefferson Valley, NY: Anomalist Books (orig. pub.
Hyperion, New York, 1992).
Jett, Stephen C. 1983. Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts. In
Ancient North Americans, ed. Jesse D. Jennings, pp. 556–
613. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.
–– –1998. Introduction: Early Watercraft and Navigation in
the Pacific. Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-Distance
Contacts 1(1 & 2): 3–8.
–– –2000. Early Migration and Diffusion, and a Global
Ecumene? Migration & Diffusion – An International Journal
1(2): 55– 60.
–– –2002. Nicotine and Cocaine in Egyptian Mummies and
THC in Peruvian Mummies: A Review of the Evidence and
of Scholarly Reaction. Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-
Distance Contacts 2(4): 297–313.
–– –2008. Water as Barrier, or Water as Highway: How
Feasible Were Pre-1492 Transoceanic Crossings? In: Larry
Steinbrenner, Beau Cripps, Metaxia Georgopoulos, and Jim
Carr, eds., Flowing through Time: Exploring Archaeology
through Humans and Their Aquatic Environment, pp.
68–74. Proceedings of the Thirty-Sixth Annual [Chacmool]
Conference of the Archaeological Society of the University of
Calgary. Calgary, Alberta.
–– –2014. Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Influences: Far-Out
Fantasy, Unproven Possibility, or Undeniable Reality? Journal
of Scientific Exploration 28(1): 35-74.
––––––2017. Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case
for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas. Tuscaloosa:
University of Alabama Press.
Jones, Terry L., Alice A. Storey, Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith,
and José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga, eds. 2011. Polynesians
in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World.
Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
Kehoe, Alice Beck. 2016. Traveling Prehistoric Seas: Critical
Thinking on Ancient Transoceanic Voyages. Walnut Creek,
CA: Left Coast Press.
Kelley, David B. 2011–2014. Comparing Chinese and Meso-
american Calendar Dates. Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of
Long-Distance Contacts 5(2–4)/6(1): 24–45.
Kelley, David H. 2011–2014. Asian Elements in the Invention of
the Mayan Calendar. Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-
Distance Contacts 5(2–4)/6(1): 3–23.
Key, Mary Ritchie. 1998. Linguistic Similarities between
Austronesian and South American Indian Languages. Pre-
Columbiana: A Journal of Long-Distance Contacts 1(1 & 2):
Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth, and José-Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga.
2010. Human Skeletal Evidence of Polynesian Presence in
South America? Metric Analyses of Six Crania from Mocha
Island, Chile. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 76 88.
way to do things, by 1) making additions to cultural invento-
ries, 2) creating new combinations of cultural phenomena, and
3) devising truly novel things, i.e., invention (Jett 2000). The
result in many cases has been “hybrid vigor” and accelerated
human creativity, even the rise of civilizations. Isolated societ-
ies, on the other hand, deprived of exposure to outside ideas,
have tended to remain culturally static, sometimes for thou-
sands of years.
STEPHEN C. JETT holds an A.B.
cum laude in Geology from Princ-
eton University and a Ph.D. in
Geography from Johns Hopkins.
He taught geography at The Ohio
State University 1963–1964 and
then at the University of Cali-
fornia, Davis, serving thrice as
Geography chair and becoming
emeritus in 2000. From 1996,
he was also professor of Textiles
and Clothing, becoming emeri-
tus in 2000. Jett’s major areas
of scholarship include Navajo
history, material culture, scenic
resources, sacred places, and
placenames. His books include Tourism in the Navajo Country: Re-
sources and Planning, Navajo Wildlands, House of Three Turkeys: Ana-
sazi Redoubt, Navajo Architecture: Forms, History, Distributions (with
Virginia E. Spencer), and Navajo Placenames and Trails of the Canyon
de Chelly System. In 1998 he founded Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of
Long-Distance Contacts, which he continues to edit. His major book An-
cient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the
Pre-Columbian Americas will appear in 2017. He lives in the Great Valley
of Virginia.
Buckland, P. C., and E. Panagiotakopulu. 2001. Ramses II and
the Tobacco Beetle. Antiquity: A Quarterly Review of World
Archaeology 75(289): 549–56.
Fingerhut, Eugene R. 1994, Explorers of Pre-Columbian America?
The Diffusionist-Inventionist Controversy. Claremont, CA:
Regina Books.
Foster, Mary LeCron. 1998. The Transoceanic Trail: The Proto-
Pelagian Language Phylum. Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of
Long-Distance Contacts 1(1 & 2): 88–114.
Gamble, Clive. 1994. Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global
Colonization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Görlitz, Dominiqe. 2011. The Tobacco Beetle in Egyptian
Mummies. Migration & Diffusion 11pp; http://www. (accessed 28
Sept. 2016).
Guthrie, James L. 2000/2001. Human Lymphocyte Antigens:
Apparent Afro-Asiatic, Southern Asian, and European HLAs
in Indigenous American Populations. Pre-Columbiana: A
Journal of Long-Distance Contacts 2(2 & 3): 90–163.
R Dean Barr, The Gallery @ B arr Phot ographic s
Sorenson, John L., and Carl L. Johannessen. 2013. World Trade
and Biological Exchanges Before 1492, rev. and exp. ed.
Eugene, OR: authors.
–– – and Martin H. Raish. 1996. Pre-Columbian Contacts with
the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography,
2nd ed. Provo, UT: Research Press.
Stubbs, Brian D. 2015. Exploring the Explanatory Power of
Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. Provo, UT: Grover
Wilson, Joseph A. P. 2012. The Cave Who Never Was: Outsider
Archaeology and Failed Collaboration in the USA. Public
Archaeology 11(2): 73 95.
Montenegro, Álvaro, Aduato Araújo, Michael Eby, Luiz Fernando
Ferreira, Renée Hetherington, and Andrew J. Weaver. 2006.
Parasites, Paleoclimate, and the Peopling of the Americas.
Current Anthropology 47(1): 193 –2 0 0.
Needham, Joseph, and Lu Gwei-djen. 1985. Transpacific Echoes
and Resonances: Listening Once Again. Singapore: World
Raoult, Didier, David L. Reed, Katharina Dittmar, Jeremy J.
Kirchman, Jean-Marc Rolain, Sonia Guillen, and Jessica
E. Light. 2008. Molecular Identification of Lice from Pre-
Columbian Mummies. The Journal of Infectious Diseases 197
(11): 535–43.
Noteworthy Books
Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Haunted Ground:
Travels Through a
Paranormal America
by Daryl Caterine
Forgotten Science:
Strange Ideas from the
Scrapheap of History
by S.D. Tucker
Crossing Ancient Oceans:
Voyages to the Americas
Before Columbus
by Stephen Jett
sheep, he found it “very wholesome to
swallow the steam” which poured
forth from its still-warm blood.
It was “the smell of meat” which
“kept [butchers] from disorders,”
he reckoned, a theory which
Dr. Beddoes was willing to take
on board. Possibly “the smell
of meat” could be bottled and
administered direct to patients,
Beddoes speculated, but an
even better solution might be to
introduce the source of such odors
directly into the invalid’s presence.
Cows were the ideal candidates. Dr. Beddoes felt that the
breath of cows was likely to be high in some unknown and
unspecified substance that had amazing health-giving proper-
ties. It was well known that both meat and milk were good for
you, and when the cow breathed in the surrounding air and
then breathed it out again, maybe some invisible tinge of these
substances was exhaled out into the atmosphere together with
its breath. A patient living in a room surrounded by cows would
thus, with every gasp they made, be inhaling air seeded with
health-giving cow-essence, helping heal the ulcerations in their
lungs—something Beddoes called “cow-house therapy.” And
that was how poor Miss Lydia Baines came to be confined to
her sickbed amidst an all-day symphony of mooing.
In 1799 Beddoes applied to take out a loan of £500 to add
a specialist “cow-therapy ward” to the hospital-cum-laboratory
that he ran, The Medical Institution for the Benefit of the Sick
and Drooping Poor. Dr. Beddoes’ basic idea was to help such
sick and drooping persons by building a stable adjoining a series
of small treatment-rooms on the hospital’s ground floor. Here,
a hole would be cut into the connecting wall in each treatment-
berth, through which the cows in their corresponding stalls
would be encouraged to poke their heads and burp on the dying.
As a further added benefit, said Dr. Beddoes, the cows’ great
body-warmth (and that of their dung) meant that the nearby
herd would also act as a free form of central-heating for the inva-
lids, who, being consumptives, could ill-afford to be exposed to
chills. He himself had made personal experiments in using cows
as portable radiators, he said, and pronounced the experience
“delicious.” As far as can be told, this loan was never granted!
Nobody ever really likes to visit any
invalid’s sickroom—but the sick-
room of a young Regency lady named
Lydia Baines must have been
even more unpleasant to walk
into than most. Quite apart
from anything, the smell was
atrocious; but this was not
because Miss Baines’ flesh was
rotting, or because her bladder
or bowels had failed, or because
her clothing was caked in blood
and vomit. It was because her
sickroom was full of cows.
Lydia Baines was the patient of an unusual English medical
man called Dr. Thomas Beddoes (1760–1808), who had also
made a name for himself as a poet, writer, chemist, and gen-
eral scientific investigator. Ever eager to unravel the secrets of
Creation, there was nothing that escaped Beddoes’ notice, no
observation too trivial to be noted down for future reference.
For example, whilst performing charitable work amongst the
poor of Bristol during the 1790s, there was something very
odd he had begun to notice about one of the greatest killers
of his day—consumption. Consumption (or tuberculosis) is a
truly horrible condition, a disease of the respiratory system,
which once took thousands of lives across Britain every year.
Recovery seemed essentially random in nature, and there was
no reliable cure. Appalled by the terrible toll the afiction
took, Beddoes called consumption “the perpetual pestilence
of our island,” and vowed to devise some means of depend-
able treatment.
Any clue, no matter how small, was worth pursuing.
Therefore, when Beddoes made the curious observation that
none of his patients were employed as butchers, he became
intrigued. Rather than being thin, cadaverous, and hollow-
cheeked, like the average sufferer from tuberculosis, butchers
were stereotypically thought of as plump, jolly, red-faced types
with high levels of physical robustness. Possibly this was attrib-
utable to their superior diet, with butchers having easy access
to fresh meat. But what if there was something else, something
everyone had missed? Approaching his local slaughtermen and
asking for their health-tips, Beddoes was struck by the testimony
of one well-fed fellow who said that, whenever he cut open a
Dennis Cox/ Thinkstock
S.D. Tucker
The Scientific Zig-Zag:
On the Value of “Crazy” Ideas
A Method in Their Madness
The idea of cow-house therapy may seem wholly comical to us
now, but this is largely a result of hindsight. Thomas Beddoes
was a noteworthy figure and far from a crank. He was the
father of preventative medicine in Britain, being one of the
first doctors to argue that it was better to try and stop disease
breaking out in the first place by improving methods of hygiene
and nutrition, rather than simply waiting to treat people when
they got sick—received wisdom now, but not at the time. Put
yourself in the shoes of a reasonably educated observer of the
time, and you may have seen fit to put your faith initially in Dr.
Beddoes’ cow-therapies rather than Dr. Jenner’s cow-vaccines.
The historical record clearly shows that it wasn’t immediately
obvious to contemporary observers which man’s idea was the
better, or even if either idea had any worth at all. With the exis-
tence of germs still utterly unknown, the actual theory underly-
ing both sets of experiments was really just guesswork. As trials
progressed and more and more evidence began to accumulate
for the truth of Jenner’s ideas, though, whereas very little evi-
dence indeed was produced for Beddoes’ notions, it gradually
became obvious which side to place your bet on—even to Dr.
Beddoes himself.
By accepting the conclusions towards which the evidence
eventually led him, no matter how professionally painful this
may have been, Beddoes felt he was merely following the pre-
cepts of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), the English essayist,
statesman, lawyer, and early scientific theorist, some of whose
most celebrated statements Beddoes appended to the front of
his many books. Bacon is generally seen as being the architect
of what later became known as “the scientific method,” some-
thing which held that dispassionate experiment was the key to
gaining knowledge—a method to which Bacon himself was
so committed that he supposedly ended up sacrificing his life
on the altar of discovery after catching a chill whilst filling a
dead chicken up with snow during a first-hand investigation
A Pox on Both Your Theories
However, there was a far more pressing controversy surround-
ing the alleged medicinal properties of cattle playing itself out
during Dr. Beddoes’ day too—one whose influence is still felt
today. Nowadays, everyone knows the name of Edward Jenner
(1749–1823) and reveres him as the father of the vital science
of vaccination. During the 1790s, however, he was equally
well-known as being an irresponsible quack who went around
the countryside forcibly injecting little boys with some dis-
turbing substance that had previously been living somewhere
inside a cow. The story of Jenner, a Gloucestershire physician,
is well known. Basically, Jenner had noticed that dairymaids
tended not to catch the deadly disease of smallpox, something
he attributed to them often contracting a much milder form
of the infection, cowpox, from the cattle they milked. If this
observation was true, then perhaps deliberately giving a per-
son a small dose of cowpox would mean they would then be
unable to later develop full-blown smallpox? In 1796, Jenner
tested this theory out by approaching a milk-maid infected with
cowpox, jabbing one of her sores with a needle, and then shov-
ing the infected barb into the arms of a small boy named James
Phipps. Phipps quickly developed a mild dose of cowpox, but
soon recovered. Then, Jenner took a dose of actual smallpox
and stabbed that into his bloodstream, too. The boy thankfully
proved immune to infection, and Jenner was much relieved to
have escaped going down in history as a child-murderer.
Today, we know that such methods work because tiny
doses of a weakened or mild form of a particular disease allow
the body’s immune system to accustom itself to identifying and
then fighting off the malicious germs involved. However, at the
time of Jenner’s original experiments the underlying principles
of how the process actually worked were but dimly understood,
with the end result that many credible persons simply did not
believe that it did work. For example, Jenner was a Fellow of
the Royal Society, England’s premier scientific establishment,
but when he wrote up his experiments and sent the account off
for publication in the Society’s journal, the organization’s then-
President, Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), flatly refused to print
it. The evidence for Jenner’s claims, he said, was far too flimsy
for inclusion in such a prestigious organ. Banks—a leading nat-
uralist—was no idiot but, to him, the very idea of vaccination
seemed ridiculous, and many others were of the same opinion.
One of the most prominent skeptics with regard to
Jenner’s theory was Thomas Beddoes. Naturally, Jenner spec-
ulated that Beddoes’ real issue with his idea was one of pro-
fessional jealousy. After all, the similarities between their two
self-invented therapies were obvious; both had their origins in
the observation that certain classes of workers—butchers and
milkmaids—seemed immune to certain types of disease, and
both sought the hidden cause of this immunity in cattle. The
fact that Dr. Jenner’s intuition turned out to be correct and
Dr. Beddoes’ to be wrong must have been somewhat galling
to the latter. Eventually, though, as further evidence contin-
ued to accumulate, Beddoes finally felt obliged to admit that
he was mistaken.
“Sometimes one needs to leap
ahead before the other can
advance; sometimes one even
needs to go backwards. Far
from being a straight line
of ever-forwards advance, as
we are often told, the true
path of science, technology,
and medicine is a profoundly
crooked one.
from being a straight line
of ever-forwards advance,
as we are often told, the
true path of science, tech-
nology, and medicine is a
profoundly crooked one.
The writer Arthur Koestler
(1905–1983) once summed
up the situation as follows:
“The progress of science is
generally regarded as a kind
of clean, rational advance
along a straight ascending
line; in fact it has followed
a zig-zag course, at times
almost more bewildering
than the evolution of political thought.”
How right Koestler was. The patron saint of the scien-
tific zig-zag was one of the most eccentric experimenters of
all time, the rather brilliant Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682).
A Norfolk physician, philosopher, antiquarian, and amateur
proto-scientist, Browne wrote several books, their topics rang-
ing from religion to gardening, but his most famous work was
his 1646 masterpiece Pseudodoxia Epidemica, a massive cata-
logue of widely-believed fallacies, or “vulgar errors,” together
with details of the often incredibly odd experiments Browne
devised in order to test or disprove them. Imagine if someone
had got hold of a book of old wives’ tales and tried putting on
an ugly face when the wind changed to see if it really would
stick, or had deliberately walked beneath a ladder to see if it
brought him bad luck. That, basically, is what Browne did.
Many of the vulgar errors investigated by Browne were
drawn from respected books by Classical authors. Others were
just things the local country-folk believed, such as the pecu-
liar notion that hanging a dead kingfisher from a string would
transform it into an accurate weather-vane. Getting hold of
such a dead bird, Browne suspended it from the ceiling with
a silken cord in “an open room . . . where the air is free”; he
found it just dangled around at random. Obtaining another, he
strung it up next to the first. The animals twisted in different
directions. Dead kingfishers, Browne had conclusively dem-
onstrated, had no special ability to illustrate wind-direction.
What about storks, though? Was it true that they could only
prosper within republics, as an old saying had it? By searching
out proof that they had been seen living quite happily within
monarchies such as France, Browne showed that, like all birds,
storks had no perceptible desire for regicide. Sometimes, his
experiments were inconclusive. Knowing of the local belief
that bitterns made their distinctive calls by blowing on hol-
low reeds in the Norfolk fens and using them as makeshift
bassoons, Browne captured one and imprisoned it within his
yard, where he denied it any reeds at all. The bird never made
a sound; but that did not prove that they definitely used reeds
as pipes, Browne said. Maybe it was just too depressed to sing?
And that was just his investigations into birds . . .
No hard-line skeptic, Browne himself possessed a faith
in many vulgar errors we ourselves might now find bizarre.
into techniques of refrigeration. As Beddoes understood it,
the Baconian method meant coming up with a hypothesis and
then setting out systematically to test it in a series of trials that
would prove objectively whether it was actually true or not.
(Although actually Bacon felt that a hypothesis should not be
decided upon beforehand, but simply emerge naturally from
the act of experimentation itself.) According to this way of
doing things, no matter how much an experimenter may want
his theory to be true, if the results of his experiments show
it not to be, then he would simply have to accept that he was
wrong and rethink his ideas accordingly. If you reflect back to
your school science lessons, then you will instantly realize that
this is still how society teaches its citizens that scientific inves-
tigations should be—and by implication invariably arecon-
ducted even today.
At school, though, the experiments we are told to perform
always have an extremely obvious outcome to them, which
will be in accordance with various theories our teachers have
already explained to us beforehand. With Beddoes and Jenner,
the situation was different. They made educated guesses as
to what might happen, but they didn’t know anything like
for certain that they would be right. For all they knew, their
treatments might actually have killed people. Both men would
undoubtedly have been prosecuted had they pursued such cava-
lier methods today. And yet, for Francis Bacon, writing in his
essay Of Innovations, such experiments, though of uncertain
outcome, had nonetheless always to be performed, for other-
wise how would knowledge ever manage to advance? In Bacon’s
view: “As the births of living creatures at first are ill-shapen,
so are all innovations, which are the births of time. . . . Surely
medicine is ever an innovation, and he that will not apply new
remedies must expect new evils.”
In that same essay, Bacon also made his famous statement
that “time is the greatest innovator,” the implications of which
are now taken as self-evident. The more detached scientific
experiments that are made, the more hypotheses tested, the
closer mankind will get to knowing the full truth about the
world—which must, by definition, therefore be considered a
form of wholly scientific truth. The Baconian method is painted
as being purely objective and will supposedly reveal, in the end,
all “ill-shapen” hypotheses like those of Thomas Beddoes to be
merely abortive still-births, whilst the genuine “new remedies”
of persons like Edward Jenner flourish and grow into healthy,
bouncing, perfectly-formed babies, recognized and loved by all.
That, at least, is the myth as we are currently being peddled it.
The Long and Winding Road
In fact, science’s long quest for truth has been full of dead-ends
and quacks, as well as genuine discoveries. Sometimes these
genuine findings were ignored, sometimes made use of imme-
diately, and sometimes only put to any use years afterwards.
History has seen experiments both good and bad, and appar-
ently separate fields like medicine, chemistry, electricity—even
politics and literaturedon’t develop in isolation from one
another. Sometimes one needs to leap ahead before the other
can advance; sometimes one even needs to go backwards. Far
Sir Thomas Browne
Joan Carlile /Wikipedia
a thing as an “experimenter
effect,” in which the presence
of a certain person has either
a negative or a positive influ-
ence upon the outcome of an
experiment. Sheldrake gives
the example case of a neces-
sarily anonymous “professor
of biochemistry from a major
US university” he knows, who
claims to be able to achieve
superior separations of protein
molecules than his lab-part-
ners simply by standing in the
room with his apparatus, willing the molecules to split apart,
and chanting the word “separate!”
Sheldrake took this idea seriously and suggested a simple
experiment—get two samples of the same mixture of proteins,
leave one alone in a room and put the other in the same room
as the psychic scientist, and when the separation process was
over, see if there was any difference in the results. My guess
is that there would not be, but it is hard to see what damage
would come of the test. It would be cheap and easy to arrange
and, if nothing else, a bit of harmless fun. Nonetheless, said
Sheldrake, the scientist would not perform the trial: “Although
he was curious, he could not risk the potential damage to his
credibility and career.
That such a harmless action could plausibly ruin a man’s
livelihood seems to me rather stranger even than the notion
that you can get proteins to split simply by shouting at them.
Whatever would have become of the likes of Sir Thomas
Browne and Dr. Thomas Beddoes today? Ironically, if science’s
path is not allowed to zig-zag in its natural pattern by lending
scientists their former freedom to experiment in unusual areas,
then there is a chance it may never be able to progress forwards
properly in certain directions at all.
Excerpted with permission from S.D. Tucker’s new book,
Forgotten Science: Strange Ideas from the Scrapheap of
History, published by Amberley Publishing
S.D. TUCKER is a British writer with
an interest in science, politics, and the
anomalous, whose regular “Strange
Statesmen” column appears in For-
tean Times magazine. His other books
include Great British Eccentrics, The
Hidden Folk, Terror of the Tokoloshe,
and Paranormal Merseyside. His forth-
coming books are entitled Space Odd-
ities and Blithe Spirits.
Believing in palm-reading, he saw no reason why it should not
be possible to tell the future of monkeys and moles by such
means, seeing as they too had naked palms. He also thought
it plausible that elephants could not only speak but had even
sometimes “written whole sentences” with their trunks. As
evidence, he cited an account of someone who said he once
heard an elephant shout “Hoo, Hoo!” at him. Browne even
made an early attempt to invent the telegraph. Familiar with
new knowledge about magnetism, Browne was intrigued by
the notion that, if you rubbed two pins down with the same
magnet, they would become twinned. By making two Ouija
board-like alphabet-circles and placing a pin at the centre of
each, he hoped that by turning one around to face a particular
letter, he would make the other turn too, in an exactly cor-
responding fashion. Then he could dispatch one board off to
London and send it messages by manipulating the magnetized
twin-pin on his own device. It was a brilliant plan, flawed only
by the fact it did not work.
From today’s perspective, Browne can come across as a luna-
tic, but this was not the case. Browne inhabited an age filled with
boundless curiosity. Far from being a nutcase, he made several
notable contributions to science. He appears to have been the
first person to perform chemical experiments upon eggs, for
instance, seeing what would happen to the embryos within when
he added substances like vinegar or saltpetre, or exposed them
to varying temperatures. In addition, Browne invented large
numbers of scientific words; “electricity,” “botanist,” “medical,”
“hallucination”—all are his. One of his best creations was the
word “anomalous,” and he was certainly always on the lookout
for anything that might have fitted that description. His home
“elaboratory’,” as he called it, was not merely a secure cell built
to contain a madman. As Browne’s recent biographer Hugh
Aldersey-Williams put it: “Browne takes us back to a period in
science when unknowns were all around and yet could be probed
with relative ease. We too easily forget this today, and allow our-
selves to think these enquiries silly.” But they were not silly. If
things still had to be discovered, they still had to be discovered;
we should thank God there were men as inquisitive as Browne
around to discover them.
No Freedom to Experiment
Scientists today know far more than Thomas Browne knew, in
terms of sheer volume of data and information. Browne knew
nothing of evolution, nuclear fusion, or germ theory. But he
also knew nothing of future scientific dead-ends like caloric,
or phlogiston, or the luminiferous ether, all substances once
believed in by the majority of respectable scientists who came
after him—and now all exposed as wholly imaginary.
Compare, however, Thomas Browne’s absolute freedom
to experiment with the situation today, where for most scien-
tists to abandon themselves to similar levels of curiosity, espe-
cially about taboo topics such as psi, would be tantamount to
career-suicide. In his recent book The Science Delusion, the
rebel English biologist Rupert Sheldrake gives a fascinating
example of this kind of attitude at work. Sheldrake notes the
common piece of laboratory folklore that there exists such
RapidEye/iS tock
one of my students in a class on parapsychology I taught as a
graduate student at the University of Michigan. According to
this student, his father was suddenly knocked off the bench he
was sitting on by an invisible blow to the jaw. A few minutes
later, he received a call from the health club where his wife was
working out informing him that his wife had just broken her
jaw on a piece of gymnastic equipment. In the case of my stu-
dent’s father, the coincidence explanation is not very plausible,
as the baseline probability of being taken out by an invisible
sucker-punch is infinitesimal, if not zero. It would be absurd
to maintain that people are constantly being knocked off their
benches by invisible blows the to jaw and that some of these
ghostly pugilistic blows would naturally be expected to coin-
cide with the fracturing of their spouses’ jaws (also a rare event)
purely by chance.
Thus, if the events of my student’s story actually trans-
pired, this case would virtually be proof of the existence of
psi. However, as this case is second-hand, memory distor-
tion and embellishment may have taken place. This possibil-
ity could have been minimized by directly interviewing my
student’s father, mother, and other family members to obtain
independent corroboration that these events actually occurred.
Examination of hospital records might provide another source
of confirmatory data. At the time only a fledgling parapsy-
chologist, I did not attempt to independently corroborate the
details in my student’s account.
The following is a very similar case taken from the early
investigations of the Society for Physical Research (SPR), in
which there was corroboratory evidence.
It is a truism in parapsychology that the existence of psi
phenomena cannot be proven on the basis of spontaneous
cases, as such cases may be due to false memories, subcon-
scious interferences, sensory cues, embellishment, pure coinci-
dence, or outright fabrication. This truism, like most truisms,
is demonstrably false.
Many of the aforesaid problems are eliminated in
well-designed, methodologically sound psi experiments.
Subconscious inferences, for instance, are addressed by mea-
sures ensuring that no sensory cues are available to the subject
and through the randomization of targets.
The possibility of coincidence has been addressed through
the statistical analyses of single psi experiments. Statistically
significant meta-analyses of entire research lines have often
been taken as proof that psi exists. However, I have recently
argued that these significant meta-analytic results may be
an artifact of selective reporting (publishing only significant
results) and experimenter fraud, given the recently-revealed
high levels of investigator malfeasance in the wider scientific
community that have been brought to light in the past few
years (Stokes, 2015). Meta-analyses of entire lines of para-
psychological research are based on the assumption that the
database is free of both fraud and data selection. Because this
assumption is unlikely to be met, the existence of psi cannot
be proven through the significance testing of overall psi effects
in meta-analyses. While the preregistration of experiments will
address the data selection problem, the problem of fraudulent
studies is not so easily addressed.
Of course, reported spontaneous psi events may also be
fabricated. One way to ensure against this possibility is to
interview additional witnesses to corroborate the testimony
of the primary witnesses to ensure the reported events actu-
ally occurred.
Still, one is confronted with the possibility of coincidence.
For instance, every night millions of anxious women may
dream that their husbands have been killed in car accidents.
Given the millions of husbands involved, it may be reasonable
to suppose that, just by chance, one of them may be killed in a
car accident the day after the dream in question. In this case,
one has an apparently precognitive dream that is merely a coin-
cidence, rather than reflecting any paranormal process.
However, suppose that one of the events involved in a
case of apparent spontaneous psi is itself so unlikely that it
would constitute a stand-alone paranormal event in its own
right (in terms of its extreme unlikelihood or virtual impos-
sibility). I will term such cases “unequivocal spontaneous psi
(USP for short).
For instance, consider a case that was provided to me by
Douglas M. Stokes
Unequivocal Spontaneous Psi
Suppose that one of the
events involved in a case
of apparent spontaneous
psi is itself so unlikely
that it would constitute a
stand-alone paranormal
event in its own right
I then told what happened to me, much to his sur-
prise, and all who were here at breakfast.
I happened here about three years ago at Brantwood
to me.
(Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886, pp. 187–189)
This woman’s story was corroborated in a statement made
by her husband. (It was the practice of the early researchers in
the Society for Psychical Research to interview as many wit-
nesses as feasible to ensure that the events as described actu-
ally took place.)
Consider another case, taken from Louisa Rhine’s collec-
tion of spontaneous psi cases:
A woman in Nevada tells of an experience which cen-
tered on her elder brother Frank. He was an especially
thoughtful boy who did many things to please his
mother, to whom he was very close. She says: “One day
he came home with a beautiful cut-glass dish. Mom
thought it was just about the most wonderful thing
that ever happened to her and put it on our sideboard.
“When the rest of us had chicken pox, my brother
Frank was sent down to my grandmother’s in Grand
Haven, Michigan, which was about forty miles from
where we lived, although Mother was reluctant to
have him go. Two days after Frank left, Mom and
our neighbor were having their morning coffee and
talking, and we children were told to be quiet. All
of a sudden, this cut-glass dish that Frank had given
Mother popped and broke right in two. It was just
sitting on the sideboard. Mother screamed and said,
‘My God! Frank has just been killed.’ Everyone tried
to quiet Mother, but she said she just knew.
“About an hour after, or a little more, we received
a telegram from Grandpa which said to come right
away, something had happened to Frank. Mom said, ‘I
know.’ She cried all the way going to Grand Haven, and
Grandpa met us at the train. Before Grandpa could tell
us what happened, Mom cried, ‘At what funeral parlor
is he?’ Grandpa just stood there with his mouth open
and Mom ran right up the street and went to the place
Frank was without being told. They wouldn’t let her see
him because a terrible thing had happened.
“The boy next door to Grandfather was home from
school and his parents were not at home, so he started
playing with his father’s shotgun, and came outside,
showing it to Frank. The boy, not knowing it was
loaded, pulled the trigger and killed my brother. The
strange thing—Frank was shot at the same time the
dish broke.”
(Rhine, 1961, pp. 245–246)
I woke up with a start, feeling I had had a hard blow
on my mouth, and with a distinct sense that I had
been cut and was bleeding under my upper lip, and
seized my pocket-handkerchief and held it (in a little
pushed lump) to the part, as I sat up in bed, and after
a few seconds, when I removed it, I was astonished to
not to see any blood, and only realized it was impos-
sible anything could have struck me there, as I lay
fast asleep in my bed, and so I thought it was only
a dream!—but I looked at my watch, and saw it was
seven, and finding Arthur (my husband) was not in
the room, I concluded (rightly) that he must have
gone out on the lake for any early sail, as it was so fine.
I then fell asleep. At breakfast (half-past nine) Arthur
came in rather late, and I noticed he rather purposely
sat further away from me than usual, and every now
and then put his pocket handkerchief furtively up to
his lip, in the very way I had done. I said “Arthur, why
are you doing that?” and added a little anxiously “I
know you have hurt yourself! But I will tell you why
afterwards.” He said, “Well, when I was sailing, a sud-
den squall came, throwing the tiller suddenly around,
and it struck me a bad blow in the mouth, under the
upper lip, and it has been bleeding a good deal and
won’t stop.” I then said, “Have you any idea what
o’clock it was when it happened?” and he answered,
“It must have been about seven.
eliminate or minimize the possibility of chance coincidence.
It would be important to the field to assemble a corpus of
USP cases. If you know of such cases, please pass them along
to me at Such events may provide
stronger evidence of psi than does the current body of experi-
mental psi research.
Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of
the living. Vol I. London: Trubner.
Rhine, L. E. (1961). Hidden channels of the mind. New York:
William Sloane Associates.
Stokes, D. M. (2015). The case against psi. In E. Cardeña, J.
Palmer, & D. Marcusson-Clavetz (Eds.), Parapsychology: A
handbook for the 21st Century, (pp. 42–48). Jefferson, NC:
DOLUGLAS M. STOKES is a frequent contributor to the literature on
parapsychology and the philosophy
of mind. His publications include the
books The Nature of Mind, The Con-
scious Mind and the Physical World,
and Reimagining the Soul (all pub-
lished by McFarland), as well as nu-
merous articles, chapters, and book
reviews related to psi research, the
mind-body problem, and the nature
of consciousness. His work has ap-
peared both in parapsychological jour-
nals and skeptical magazines such as
The Skeptical Inquirer.
Please note that it was not Louisa Rhine’s practice to
obtain independent testimony from the other witnesses to the
event. This is unfortunate, as this is prima facie a case of USP.
In view of the infinitesimal probability of the glass dish explo-
sion, this case would provide strong evidence of the existence
of psi if these events transpired as reported.
The “impossible event” in a case of USP need not involve a
physical object. Consider for instance, crisis apparition cases in
which two or more observers simultaneously perceive an appa-
rition of a distant person at the time that person’s death. Such
cases would qualify as cases of USP, as it is highly improbable
that (a) two people would experience the same hallucination at
the same time and (b) these hallucinations would coincide with
the death of the hallucinated person. Under the materialistic
worldview that prevails in establishment science, the conflu-
ence of these three events would be regarded as impossible. The
extreme improbability of the events in a USP plays the same
role as a statistical test in a parapsychological experiment. Both
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REFERENCES Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the living. Vol I. London: Trubner.