9. The Philip Experiment
Why Seances Get So Crazy
In 1972, a team of psychologists got eight people together, told them the life story of a man named “Philip Aylesford,” and tried to get them to summon him through a seance. They dimmed the lights, sang songs, and asked him questions—and to their surprise, some strange things happened.
The table started to move. At one point, it even rose up onto two legs. The lights seemed to flicker. They heard rapping noises that they believed to be Philip answering their questions—and he got every question right. It would have been definitive proof that they’d summoned a dead man’s ghost if it hadn’t been for one thing: Philip Aylesford wasn’t a real person.
The psychologists had made Philip up. Every detail about his life was complete fiction, and yet the group was able to convince themselves that they’d summoned his ghost.
A few psychological tricks were at play here, but a lot of what happened was the ideomotor effect. The group had moved the table through sheer force of subconscious will. This was a replicable experiment, too. The psychologists published their results, and other labs in other countries copied them. Once again, they were able to get full seances going with a room full of people convinced that they’d summoned a made-up ghost.