Thursday, March 20, 2014

#963: Raymond Moody

Raymond Moody is a parapsychologist with a medical degree and Ph.D.s in philosophy and psychology (University of Virginia). He has written several books on the subject of “life after life”, and did for instance compile the list of features many consider typical of near-death experiences (NDE) in his 1975 book Life After Life and its many sequels (often coauthored with one Paul Perry). Moody currently conducts not particularly well-designed paranormal studies at his private research institute in rural Alabama. The lab is called The John Dee Memorial Theater of the Mind, after the 16th century popularizer of crystal gazing in England, and the purpose of Moody’s research is to evoke apparitions of the dead under controlled conditions by achieving altered states of consciousness, which is apparently the gateway to the other world. Even amateurs will probably rather quickly see some potential methodological worries here, and it is, well, not entirely clear that Moody has taken the steps needed to address those worries.

Moody is also an advocate of past life regression, claiming that he was skeptical about reincarnation until undergoing hypnotherapy during which he discovered that he himself had nine past lives. Once again, the distinction between vivid hallucinations and reality seems somewhat lost on Moody.

In 1998, Moody became the Bigelow Chair in Consciousness Studies (after Charles Tart) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (now discontinued). He claimed “that UNLV should be applauded for it’s determination to adhere to the strictest standards of scientific rigor regarding claims of rational ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ of the continuation of consciousness upon bodily death,” but that should be read as “taking life after death for granted and trying to shoehorn data into service as evidence for that presupposition by selective use of evidence, motivated reasoning, and poor study protocols.” Moody has subsequently introduced the rigorous scientists Brian Weiss, “expert in past life regression,” and Dianne Arcangel, “an expert in the field of facilitated apparitions,” to UNLV.

In fairness, Moody has said that he is disturbed by the use of his works by religious fundamentalists and New Age gurus to further their causes. On the other hand, he does take the testimonials of victims of severely consciousness-manipulating experiences to be evidence of the existence of an afterlife, which seems to be a difference in degree rather than in kind.

Diagnosis: Though not the most incoherently crazy of the lot, Moody has done his fair share of promotion of pseudoscience and campaigning against scientific rigor and evidence. He has been, and continues to be, quite influential.

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