The Philip Experiment: A Critical Examination

Why are ghosts terrible liarsBecause you can see right through themThe joke is major stale, but all ridiculousness aside, even that pun speaks to the native status of disembodied spirits as something unseen to the human eyeOne researcher decided to take that a step further, postulating that the majority—if not all—poltergeist activity, and apparition sightings were merely the product of the overactive human mindThe equivalent of imaginary friends, spawned in dark, uncharted regions of the psyche as remote as remote as deep spaceNo sentienceThe concept is not fresh—as far back as Victorian England, scientists like John Ferriar, and Samuel Hibbert were enthusiastic to point out that ghosts may be afterimages inflicted by an overstimulated optic nerve.  This article will convoke the controversial Philip Experiment; there will be a direct indication followed by tertiary analysis, and observations.   

Unlike the 2014 Hammer film The Quiet Ones which was loosely (very, very loosely) based on The Philip Experiment, this research was never intended to affirm the existence of the paranormalThe goal was to see if subjects could interact with a fictionalized character that has been incarnated by the power of the human will, and to what endRewind to the year 1972, and the Toronto Society for Psychical ResearchA mathematician and geneticist, Dr. A.R. George Owen, and a psychologist, Dr. Joel Whitton assembled a group to test this theoryThe experimental panel included Owen’s wife Iris; a former MENSA chairperson; an industrial designer; an engineer; an accountant; a bookkeeper; and a sociology studentUtilizing a purposeful methodology, each person first contributed to the written history of a person as real as JM Barrie’s Peter Pan—in this case, a transposed character named Philip AylesfordThe latter never walked the face of the Earth, but his biography did coincide with actual eventsKnighted at age sixteen, and a veteran of the English Civil War, Owen’s group anticipated, Philip was a supporter, and covert agent for King Charles II who lost his backbone, and went into far away, self-imposed exile when Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protectorate in the seventeenth centuryPhilip was anxious, but affluentAmple all the same, he eventually attracted the attention of a cold noble woman named Dorothea and resided in the tomb of unhappy matrimony. Philip decided that disloyalty was the antidote for all of his problems, hence he began a torrid affair with a Romani woman named Margot.   

This was not meant to be.

Owen’s participants concluded that Dorothea was not delighted with this arrangementThe harridan did, in fact, accuse Philip’s concubine of being a witch, and using unhallowed, black magic with a ‘k’ to control her husband’s mindOf course, the courts agreed because that’s what courts did back then, and Margot was blazed at the stakeThe fantasy memoir ends with a craven, thirty-year-old Philip doing nothing to assist, and later taking his own life by diving from a rooftop in 1654Again, this was all unrealIt was as a focal point for Owen’s testingIn the early stages, each subject acted more autonomously, and under tightly controlled, clinical circumstances, but this upheld little, or no dataThe decision was made to redress the setting with something less, empirical, and more akin to nineteenth-century spiritualismThe group gathered at a table; the lights were dimmed creating an intentionally unhinged, sedate atmosphere, and each person was encouraged to focus on Philip together like the group think that is the trademark of any other séanceThese modifications brought about different outcomesAccording to Rob Schwarz in an article titled “The Philip Experiment: Conjuring Life from Nothing,” Philip’s phantom never materialized, but there were other manifestations: an invisible observer began to tap at the tableWhen asked if it was Philip, a single, coded thud indicated that it wasThe system was not unlike the redoubtable rapping applied by contemporary paranormal groups, one knock for true, and two for falseThe concealed visitor was asked about Philip’s life and responded with fabricated answers in the team’s playbookDeveloping a personality of his own, seemingly, a free-floating mist was once countenanced, and the overhead light waveredOccasionally the wooden table would physically rock on its legsPhilip appeared to be becoming something beyond an illusory personality gleaned from a stack of notesHe seemed to become sentientThe success was short lived, and over time eventually Philip fell silent, retreating into the oblivion from whence he had comeOther examinations were tried with other make-believe characters with names like ‘Lilith,’ and ‘Humphrey,’ but communication was equally short lived, and unsustainable. 

Any honest analysis of the Philip Experiment must acknowledge that this research has been profoundly criticized for not applying proper scientific controls, and the statistics became even less reliable the day that seances—notorious for their subjectivity, and quackery--were added to the menu; the Christian researcher will also observe that Dr. Owen was in error by allowing these sessions to be open to the public which further contributed to the carnival-like atmosphere, and contamination of data.  Attempting to dissect the cause of the mist is pointless, and unrevealingWithout immediate follow up we can only speculate, and it could have been anything—from clogged basement ducts to the neighbor’s house being on fireIt is feasible that Philip was literally in the eye of the beholderA product of groupthink that breathed life into a grand guignol of confirmation bias with evidence provided subconsciously, or consciouslyThe company interpreted the events the way they wanted to interpret them—proving George Owen’s hypothesis, in a senseThe paranormal fringe might leap to answers in Tibetan BuddhismPhilip was an aggregor; Philip was a Tulpa; a thought form created from mental energy contributed by each member of the coterie, and he achieved consciousnessYou will be asked to provide your evidenceNotwithstanding, it is regrettable, though, that nothing more demonstrable came from Owen’s research because it does seem to lean towards something neurological—perhaps even parapsychological.  Think Henry Holt and psychokinesis, and the RSPK is supported by the fact that Philip's relations became noticeably weaker when members of the team were not in attendance. Also, participants reported an uptick of poltergeist activity in their homes while these evaluations were underwayCould it be that something was actually there—some rogue entity that saw what was happening, and impersonated Philip?  Every Christian demonologist knows the answer to that question, but considering the pattern of events, the justification seems more ordinary. 

Tracy Garnett holds a BA in English, with a minor in Radio & Television from Northern Kentucky University. He also holds certification in Parapsychology from the Koestler Unit at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and is a trained Lay Demonologist with the Fraternity of Christ the King.


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