I date my interest in the scientific question of what happens after death to a particular evening spent with convivial friends. Someone got the idea of fooling around with a Ouija board. We all agreed to give it a try. And if truth be told, by evening’s end I had observed things I could not explain.
A graduate student at Columbia University studying philosophy, I lived in the Bronx and enjoyed the bus ride to City Island, a small neighborhood bordering Long Island Sound. It was a picturesque getaway from upper Manhattan where I went to school. I knew an artist who lived there, Mark Whitcomb (see his website), originally from Australia. He was interested in philosophy and I was interested in art, and we both liked sailing.
On this occasion there must have been at least six of us, Mark and his wife, Tibby, and Mark’s father; also a fellow from Manhattan who looked preoccupied. Maybe one or two others were present and joined us at the table. Some beer began to flow and the drift of our talk ranged over the questions we might ask the “spirits”.
Someone placed the pointer on the board and each of us put a finger on it, and we waited for something to happen. Before long the pointer began to move. I know that I exerted no pressure on it and everyone else also claimed they were exerting no pressure, and yet it moved and appeared to move with purpose. “Unconscious muscular action” is a phrase I’ve heard used to explain the pointer’s movement, but I’m not sure if it explains anything.
Tibby -- or maybe Mark – then said: Is there anyone there? Immediately, and decisively, the pointer, with all our fingers on it, shot to Yes.
“What’s your name?” was the next question.
Again, the pointer responded, and quickly spelled out a name: James Dean. We were surprised and looked at each other. The actor had been dead for some years and none of us had been thinking or talking about him. Our attention was now riveted on the board and our little game suddenly became interesting.
As for James Dean, who knows? What did come across was the presence of a definite personality. It appeared to be of a higher, well-meaning type. Nothing scurrilous or abrasive, but earnest and amicable.
Something else struck me. The intelligence controlling the movements of the pointer seemed aware of the content of our minds. “Dean” answered our questions and addressed us as if he knew our thoughts and secrets.
When “Dean” came to me, he said: “You Mike. Stay away from Gordon Morse. Bad soul.”
This struck me as very odd. Nobody at that table ever heard of Gordon Morse. He was an older gentleman I met in Central Park when I was student in New York City. He told me an amazing story of how he astral projected to his girlfriend in Virginia, appearing to her in her house. He also painted religious icons, but as for the board talk of “bad soul”—no way! I never discerned anything particularly bad about him.
The Dean persona scored better with the others. Mark’s father had been wondering if he should take up the challenge of sailing home all the way to Australia. The message written for him was terse: “Sail Beyond Self”. The fellow from Manhattan – he had problems with his Jewishness – found the pointer spelling out his struggles and pointing the way to resolving them. In every case, the intelligence on the board indicated knowledge of matters private to each of us.
The general impression was unmistakable. Whatever was guiding the pointer that remarkable evening in City Island knew stuff about us. It also seemed intent on trying to improve or elevate our souls. There was no hesitation or lack of clarity in the pointer’s performance.
It appeared as if some kind of external intelligence had control of the board.
But who, what and from where? I can think of three possibilities. It emanated from the group mind operating the board. But how a group of minds blend into one mind with a single, determined personality is a mystery. The second possibility is that James Dean or some other excarnate was indeed behind the performance. A third possibility was spirits, angels, devils, stuff like that.
That night on the far edge of the Bronx gave me a jolt. My interest in the outer limits of consciousness was fully awakened. Something inexplicable had happened. I would not, however, get back to the issues of what the persona of “James Dean” implied until I finished graduate work and had more time to ponder the mysteries of consciousness. But the seeds of curiosity were planted and would eventually bear fruit.