Once a year, Pacific Paranormal Investigations will select one or more individuals to recognize with our "Jaded Light" Award. The award is virtual and honorific only—no prize money or trophy. PPI members nominate, advance, and select candidates. Recipients may be living or deceased, and they may represent any period of history or culture.
While selection takes into consideration the role of paranormal interest in their contributions, honorees may also have inspired a paradigm of skeptical inquiry or impacted the pseudosciences in some lasting way that merits their special recognition.
Some of the recipients on our "Jaded Light" roster are renowned skeptical inquirers, some are famous for other reasons, and some are unsung altogether. All, however, have exhibited exceptional leadership, rigor, and mettle as heterodox thinkers. We thank them for embodying the principle of semper dubius—always skeptical—and for challenging us to look at accepted wisdom and magical thinking with the illuminating clarity of a jaded light.
Retired magician, LGBTQ advocate, and champion skeptic of the paranormal, James Randi (born 1928 as Randall James Hamilton Zwinge) was known to millions by his stage name The Amazing Randi.
In 1972, he publicly discredited spoon-bending magician Uri Geller, whom Randi accused of defrauding audiences with his claims of telekinetic powers. Four years later, in 1976, James Randi and others (including Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan) used the proceeds of their successful Skeptical Inquirer magazine to co-found the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which made Randi the worldwide face and father of the modern skeptical movement.
CSICOP later chartered the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) in 1996, which drew notoriety for its campaign to offer one million dollars to anyone objectively demonstrating “legitimate” supernatural abilities while running a gauntlet of scientific testing. In 2001, celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne answered the challenge Randi had made while guesting on Larry King Live but, after just six months, Browne lost her nerve and backed out of the challenge, landing a major victory for the JREF and skeptical inquirers everywhere.
James Randi has also used his reputation in the cause of civil rights. In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly outed himself as a gay man, and eventually married his long-time partner, Jose Alvarez, in 2013. In an interview with him about his coming out, Randi discussed the role that pseudoscience has played in the condemnation of progressive causes such as marriage equality, extolling skeptical enquiry as yet another means to deconstruct the myths that lead to discrimination and bigotry.
For these reasons, Pacific Paranormal Investigations proudly recognizes James Randi, the preeminent skeptical thinker of our times.
Learn more about James Randi at the official website of the JREF: http://web.randi.org/.
Born in London in 1951, freelance writer Sue Blackmore holds degrees in psychology and physiology from Oxford University, as well as advanced degrees from the University of Surrey, where she earned her doctorate in parapsychology. Currently, she is a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth.
Blackmore’s early research into the paranormal was prompted in part by her own encounters with it, including a potent out-of-body experience that at first convinced her of the reality of psychic phenomena.
Her own careful studies into the underlying psychology and sociology of belief in the paranormal set her on a trajectory of skeptical research and numerous publications about the pseudosciences, including psychic ability, astral projection, near-death experiences (NDE’s) and belief in ghosts. Blackmore is also notable for her three-year study on the phenomenon of sleep paralysis and its misinterpretation as a paranormal encounter.
In 1991, she became a CSICOP Fellow, the skeptical inquiry committee established in 1976 by co-founders James Randi, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and others. Shortly afterward, Blackmore discontinued her research into the paranormal and began studying consciousness and memetic theory.
Since 1997, Susan Blackmore has sat on the editorial board for the Journal of Memetics and continues to serve as a consulting editor for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. She has authored six internationally translated, critically acclaimed books on the subjects of the paranormal, memes, and consciousness, and is distinguished by her more than sixty published works in academic journals.
Dr. Blackmore achieved notoriety again as a 2008 TED lecturer on the topics of technologically disseminated memes, or “temes,” and was featured in Gianluigi Ricuperati's 2015 book, 100 Global Minds: The Most Daring Cross-Disciplinary Thinkers.
In recognition of her "daring cross-disciplinary thinking" and her lifetime of skeptical study, PPI proudly honors Susan Blackmore with its “Jaded Light” Award.
For more information about Dr. Susan Blackmore, visit her official website: https://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/.
The accomplished and distinguished Indian physicist, Professor Hanumanthappa “Hosur" Narasimhaiah (1920 – 2005), was born in Hossur, India. He earned his doctorate in nuclear physics from Ohio State University in 1960, and went on to serve as Bangalore University’s Vice-Chancellor, president of the National Education Society, and president of the Indian Rationalist Association. Narasimhaiah is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Jawaharlal Nehru National Prize for popularizing science, and the Government of India’s third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, for his service in literature and education.
In addition to being a self-proclaimed atheist, Narasimhaiah was a staunch rationalist, a principle he embodied professionally and politically. Inspired by his encounter with Mahatma Ghandi in 1936, Hosur Narasimhaiah joined Ghandi’s resistance movement, Quit India, in 1942, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for nine months during the last year of his undergraduate studies at the Central College of Bangalore.
In addition to founding the Bangalore Science Forum, Dr. H. Narasimhaiah formed and chaired India's national Committee to Investigate Miracles and Other Verifiable Superstitions, chartered to conduct investigations into India's public proclamations of curses and miracles. He was also a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and, to date, remains the only Indian national to have served on the CSI. (In 2011, CSI posthumously inducted him into its Pantheon of Skeptics.) During his lengthy and prestigious career, he warned others against confusing open-mindedness with empty-mindedness, and to seek a balanced, progressive approach equally critical of an undisciplined “anything’s possible” perspective as of an inflexibly cynical one. Narasimhaiah argued that scientific inquirers should demonstrate a yearning for truth using reasoning and comprehensive scrutiny. He once famously stated, “A poor teacher complains, an average teacher explains, a good teacher teaches, a great teacher inspires.” For millions, he continues to be regarded as a singularly great teacher. An educator, politician, scientist, and investigator, Hosur Narasimhaiah heroically inspires us to set our own bar much higher, and to strike a rational and spiritual balance in our skeptical approach to paranormal inquiry.
H. Narasimhaiah’s biography was released in print in 2013, but numerous on-line sources continue to honor his life and career. A recommended starting point is Suresh Jangir’s article, “H. Narasimhaiah and the Spirit of Enquiry”: http://www.bfirst.in/news/education/9901/h-narasimhaiah-and-spirit-enquiry.
British psychical researcher and author, Harry Price (1881-1949), gained notoriety as an investigator and debunker of séance mediums during the Spiritualist heyday of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is best known for his connections to Essex’s haunted Borley Rectory, which he rented for a period of a year to conduct a logitudinal research study of the allegedly haunted location, and later purchased the Rectory outright to promote it as a paranormal attraction.
In 1920, Price joined the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), kickstarting a decades-long career exposing charlatan psychics, fraudulent hauntings, spirit photography, and other paranormal sundries such as ectoplasm and automatic writing. Some of his most notable cases include spirit photographer William Hope, mediums Jan Guzyk and Eva Carrière, and the mystical box alleged to have belonged to eighteenth century prophetess, Joanna Southcott.
Following a contentious relationship with SPR in 1926, Price started the rival National Laboratory of Psychical Research (which later became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation) and served as president of the Ghost Club, founded in London in 1862 and widely considered to be the oldest paranormal investigation and research group in the world. During his distinguished career, Harry Price worked with and befriended dozens of other debunkers, including Harry Houdini. He is also among the first to use scientific controls to test and expose fraudulent psychic abilities and other paranormal feats—a methodology made famous again half a century later in the United States by James Randi.
Harry Price’s investigation of Borley Rectory, “the most haunted house in England,” not only continues to be his most defining case, its use of the scientific method and its reliance on strict investigative protocols are the foundation for modern-day paranormal investigating, and Price’s exhaustive reports and notes from the Borley research study have served as a model for hundreds of skeptical, science-motivated paranormal groups, including PPI.
For these reasons, Harry Price has received the moniker, “Father of Popular Ghost Hunting,” and we are gratified to honor our skeptical progenitor with our “Jaded Light” Award.
To learn more about Harry Price, including a detailed biography, visit the UK’s official “Harry Price” website: http://www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk.
Internationally recognized astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is currently director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Born in 1958 and raised in the Bronx, DeGrasse Tyson has received degrees from Harvard University, University of Texas, and Columbia University. He is considered by many to be Carl Sagan’s pop cultural inheritor, and in 2014 became the face and host of the reboot of Sagan’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Besides his infamy for having controversially endorsed the demotion of Pluto as one of the solar system’s main planets, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is considered one of the foremost skeptical thinkers of our time. He is also a frequent contributor to books, journals, and media programming on the subject of the paranormal, bringing his level-headed, pragmatic perspective to topics ranging from ghosts and psychics to alternative medicine and faith healing.
As with many other recognized skeptical thinkers of the past fifty years, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP, the committee co-founded in 1976 by James Randi, Carl Sagan, and others), which promotes science and scientific inquiry, and encourages a responsible, scientific point of view to investigate and report extraordinary claims to a community of scientific peers. An outspoken critic of the science deniers who run the gamut from global warming hoax conspiracists to “Flat Earth” proponents, DeGrasse Tyson joined James Randi in 2011 as a Phi Theta Kappa keynote speaker, lecturing on skepticism and the democratization of information. He has also offered numerous interviews on the subject of skeptical inquiry, appearing on programs such as The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, James Noory’s Coast to Coast AM, and Skepticality.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s ability to delineate the differences between science and pseudoscience, and to make the scientific method evoke within us the same sense of spiritual wonderment as the supernatural, has motivated hundreds of paranormal investigation groups to change their paradigm and work instead to disprove claims of the paranormal. Even more importantly, he has inspired us to examine claims of the paranormal within the broader and more objective framework of scientific reasoning. For this, we acknowledge him as a guru of modern day skeptical thinking and proclaim him a worthy recipient of our “Jaded Light” Award.
You can find much more on-line about Neil DeGrasse Tyson, starting with the official website of the Hayden Planetarium: http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/.
Fourteenth century English philosopher and theologian William of Occam (a.k.a., Ockham) was one of the major players in medieval intellectual discourse and is often characterized as Thomas Aquinas’s philosophical nemesis, a reputation that is perhaps deserved, but only in part.
Credited for pioneering the heuristic of nominalism, many regard Occam as the father of modern epistemology, but it’s his problem-solving principle of parsimony for which he is most popularly known and which is most referenced by skeptical investigators of the paranormal.
The principle of parsimony maintains that less is more: when having to choose from two or more hypotheses, it’s best to go with the one least complicated by variables and suppositions. This “edgy” idea came to be known as Occam’s Razor. However, it was always intended by Occam to be a guiding principle rather than a rule. In other words, by using Occam’s Razor, one doesn’t achieve a result truer than others; instead, one settles on an hypothesis more likely than others to be correct.
Occam’s Razor has become a household term, thanks to astronomer and skeptical inquirer Carl Sagan, who featured William of Occam in his late 1970s television series, Cosmos, and again in his book, Contact, which was adapted into a hit motion picture in 1997. For skeptical investigators of the paranormal, though, Occam’s Razor is a sacred maxim whose author is a kind of celebrity icon. In fact, some erroneously apply the principle of parsimony to dismiss a paranormal phenomenon as impossible because it is improbable. This is an oversimplification. When correctly applied, Occam’s principle of parsimony asserts that a physical and natural cause is more probable than a metaphysical or supernatural one, because it requires less reliance on supposition and belief; after all, we’ve observed and verified quite a lot about the physical and natural sciences, whereas we don’t know anything certain about the metaphysical and preternatural realms except for what we believe. A natural explanation is always going to be a safer bet. Conscientious skeptical thinkers are careful to use Occam’s Razor as the heuristic device it was intended to be, rather than a cynical dismissal of any extraordinary and inexplicable claim (whether or not such a claim actually defies reasonable explanation).
William of Occam’s enlightened and game-changing principle of parsimony has helped skeptical paranormal investigators understand why feeling something to be true is different from intuiting it to be reasonable. For this, Willy Occam is posthumously (very, very posthumously) owed PPI’s “Jaded Light” Award.
You can learn all about William of Occam on-line at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/.
Born in 1944, Dr. Joe Nickell is currently one of the world's best and most reputable investigators of paranormal phenomena. Nickell holds the position of Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) as well as Associate Dean for the Center for Inquiry Institute. Carrying advanced degrees in English from the University of Kentucky, his curriculum vitae is distinguished by numerous researches into literary investigation and folklore. However, his job resume also boasts a diverse array of professions, ranging from stage magician to blackjack dealer, classroom instructor to author, and private detective to paranormal investigator.
In fact, not only is he one of the world's only salaried professionals to investigate the paranormal full-time, Nickell is among the most frequently enlisted for his expertise in the forensic investigation of historical documents, including the diaries of Jack the Ripper that he discredited as forgeries, and the hitherto undiscovered slave narrative written by Hannah Crafts, which he authenticated in 2002 for American literary critic and historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Besides being a regular contributor to Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Nickell has published dozens of his own books about investigating the paranormal, including The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead, an acclaimed, comprehensive book considered the first of its kind to employ a consistently science-based approach to the critical discussion of ghosts, transcommunication, and ghost-seekers.
During his nearly fifty-year career that began as a participant in a radio broadcast sèance to contact Harry Houdini, Joe Nickell’s pragmatic investigative philosophy has set him apart from the spiritualist believers and the dogmatic skeptics, alike. In his own words, Nickell states, “In contrast to many paranormal proponents who are little more than mystery mongerers, or to some skeptics who call themselves ‘debunkers,’ I hold that mysteries should neither be fostered nor dismissed. Instead, they should be carefully investigated with a view toward solving them…whether the mysteries were paranormal or historical or forensic or literary or whatever their nature.” In fact, Nickell continues to be decried by the devoted fans of celebrity paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, whom he denounces publicly as “exploitative and harmful charlatans.”
Because of his inspiring professional and scholarly commitment to the study of paranormal phenomena, and his insistence that paranormal investigators be held to standards of scientific inquiry, Dr. Joe Nickell is a role model for skeptical paranormal groups everywhere, including PPI, making him eminently deserving of our “Jaded Light” Award.
To learn more about Nickell's life, career, and investigative philosophy, visit him on-line at his official website: http://www.joenickell.com/.
Before the svengalis of the Spiritualist movement started beguiling Victorians with a pantomime of phantasmagorical rituals, transcendental fugues, and jaunty silk turbans from the Orient, there was Catherine Crowe.
Born “Catherine Anne Stevens” in 1803 in Borough Green, England, Crowe is memorialized as an authoress of dramas, novels, and children’s books that fall outside the respected literary canon. The word “authoress” is used here with intention. Portending Europe's nineteenth century women’s empowerment movement, Crowe was outspoken in her criticism of academia’s presumptuous “sausage party”—particularly in the sciences. And, no where did she express that criticism as eloquently and ardently as in her controversial two-volume work, The Night-Side of Nature (Or, Ghosts and Ghost-Seers).
Widely credited with having helped to lay the groundwork for the 1882 founding of the Society for Psychical Research, Catherine Crowe’s 1848 scientific treatise, The Night-Side of Nature, was the first published work of its kind to consider the scientific inquiry of paranormal phenomena with seriousness and rigor. In it, Crowe not only adopted the contemporaneous research being done in Germany—her inclusion of “Poltergeist” being the earliest known usage of the word in an English language text—she made bold applications of it, devising a classification system for spirits and phenomena that, even today, remains relevant.
Furthermore, not only did she propose for the first time a methodology of scientific inquiry into the paranormal, she was an unapologetic critic of an academic establishment that cavalierly dismissed the subject altogether: "The pharisaical scepticism which denies without investigation, is quite as perilous, and much more contemptible than the blind credulity which accepts all that it is taught without enquiry; it is, indeed, but another form of ignorance assuming to be knowledge. […] If scientific men could but comprehend how they discredit the science they really profess, by their despotic arrogance and exclusive scepticism, they would surely, for the sake of that very science they love, affect more liberality and candour." In this regard, Catherine Crowe was far ahead of her time, anticipating a modern attitude of skeptical inquiry that relies upon empiricism and scientific method to demystify paranormal claims, rather than to discredit paranormal beliefs. Furthermore, she is a testament to paranormal investigating originating with nineteenth century women who used the “soft sciences” to cut inroads into the patriarchy of academia, despite its merciless backlash and ridicule.
In fact, near the end of her life, Catherine Crowe suffered an infamous nervous breakdown, her scandalous nude romp through the streets of Edinburgh as familiar to us today as that of Kony 2012 filmmaker Jason Russell. Later Spiritualists such as Madame Blavatsky would sanctify Crowe and her research in perhaps a less-than-credible manner, but, as one of the major progenitors of modern paranormal investigating, she undoubtedly deserves far more than the relative obscurity into which she seems to have fallen. Her stoic defiance of the establishment and her insistence upon scientific rigor in paranormal inquiry model the kind of right-minded skepticism that inspires skeptical thinkers today. As grateful to her for her contributions as to her sacrifices, we’re honored to recognize Catherine Crowe with our “Jaded Light” Award.
On-line resources about Catherine Crowe as a paranormal researcher are difficult to locate and often thin in biographical content, but her groundbreaking work, The Night-Side of Nature, speaks for itself and is available through The Gutenberg Project as well as other electronic archives: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/54532.