Dr. Stephen Braude, has seen science’s veil of stupidity descend on the study of PK.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:00:00] That’s a clip from a YouTube video I found titled Dumb Things In Avatar That Everyone Just Ignored, referencing of course the movie Avatar one of the top grossing films of all time, and it’s a sci-fi film has a lot of science stuff, which gets complicated at some point and you have to follow along, but then at some point it just gets really dumb. Kind of like science in general, as is so beautifully demonstrated by today’s guests, the esteemed Parapsychologist, Scientist, Philosopher, Dr. Stephen Braude.
Stephen Braude: [00:00:57] For people who are skeptical about psi phenomena, it’s almost as if a veil of stupidity descends over them, and then they start going into kind of conceptual panic. And they panic more I think initially over PK than ESP although ESP on the surface seems to threaten the idea of mental privacy. It’s very easy to explain why people freak out over PK, if I can move, let’s say, a matchstick a millimeter by thought alone, it’s a very small step conceptually, from doing that to making somebody drop dead. I tell the story in dangerous pursuits about what happened when I tried to give a talk on my PK investigations to my physics department at the University of Maryland. I was invited to do it, and I thought they wanted me to talk about it. I was two minutes into the talk and the faculty shouted me down. I never got to give the talk.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:01:49] Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris and today we welcome back Dr. Steven Braude to Skeptiko. You know I’ve had the pleasure and really honor I mean that sincerely, of interviewing Steve several times and as I was just chatting with him about a little bit, I went back and had to look at the records because I know it’s been a long time. The first one was 10 years ago, which, you know, if you’re interested in parapsychology, if you’re seriously interested in what’s called Psy, but really consciousness if you’re really interested in science, which is all I was interested to begin with this, you are going to run across Steven Braude, and he has a new book out Dangerous Pursuits: Mediumship, Mind and Music, which you can pick up for just 10 bucks on Kindle, which is the way I got it. Amazing compilation kind of capstone of a lot of work that he’s done and it’s just super great to have this guy back, super smart person, just beyond this kind of narrowly defined little field, we’re going to talk about parapsychology, just somebody who’s, two things I think are really great, one, you’ll recognize immediately that he’s very, very, very smart about a lot of different things, but two, he has this warrior spirit. I mean, this is a guy that has kind of battled against the tide relentlessly for I don’t know, I’m not gonna say how many years. But Steve, welcome back, thanks so much for joining me.
Stephen Braude: [00:03:46] Thanks for having me, it’s good to see you again.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:03:48] So tell folks, you know, who is Dr. Stephen Braude.
Stephen Braude: [00:03:57] Wow, well I started out as, professionally at least as kind of a mainstream philosopher. I’d had an experience back in graduate school of seeing my table tilt in a impromptu sands was a couple of friends. But I was smart enough at the time not to talk to my mentors about that, I was busy. In those days I thought of myself as a kind of hard nosed materialist, not for any particularly good reason, It was just a kind of intellectual conceit I was cultivating at the time. And I knew nothing about parapsychology so I literally put it out of mind until I finished my dissertation on temporal logic, got a job,published what I still think are some respectable papers in the field of temporal logic and the philosophy of time, got tenure and then I remembered what happened to me back in graduate school, seeing his table rise in the air, and I figured if I was an honest philosopher and intellectual and needed to come to grips with that. And I knew it at that time that some very well known and great philosophers had taken parapsychology research seriously. So I read what they had to say and I decided there was really something worth sinking my teeth into. And so I crank out a book initially on the experimental evidence thinking like a lot of people that, if there’s good evidence for Psy phenomena would come from the laboratory. And then I figured if I was an honest intellectual, I needed to know the rest of the evidence, at least so I could have a comprehensive context in which to place all this. And I was bowled over by the evidence from physical mediumship and what I realized at the time, was that many of the parapsychologists not just the skeptics, but parapsychologists themselves didn’t know this evidence, they were skeptical about it.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:05:51] Steve real quick, Physical Mediumship tell people what that means.
Stephen Braude: [00:05:58] Sure, well, people are familiar with the term mediumship, no doubt but there are two kinds of mediumship. One is mental mediumship, which is what we see most often depicted in film and TV. That’s where people ostensibly challenge, channel messages from the deceased. Physical mediumship is where mediums ostensibly facilitate or mediate the production of physical phenomena like materialization’s, table invitations, wraps in the table and so forth. So it’s where they seem to channel PK phenomena.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:06:37] So let me just interject here because I like your grumpiness and your gnarliness about some of this stuff. I really appreciate it deeply and I mean that sincerely. You make kind of an interesting point slash distinction here. That is kind of curious, you point out that even people who are completely skeptical and very anti psy parapsychology mediumship, they get extra offended by the idea of physical mediumship and I think you’ve challenged that in kind of an interesting way, it’s kind of a little subplot here, but you’re like, what are you doing? I mean you’re not accepting one, but you’re somehow showing an increased ability to reject the other in what logic space are you occupying here that that even makes any sense, right?
Stephen Braude: [00:07:31] I mean for people who are skeptical about psy phenomena, it’s almost as if a veil of stupidity descends over them and then they start going into kind of conceptual panic. And they panic more, I think initially over PK than ESP, although ESP on the surface seems to threaten the idea of mental privacy. PK is particularly terrifying and the reactions to my talking about PK, or have been the most extreme I’ve seen and it’s very easy to explain why people freak out over PK. If I can move, let’s say, a matchstick a millimeter by thought alone it’s a very small step conceptually from doing that to making somebody drop dead by thought alone. So the existence of any kind of PK forces us to take seriously a kind of magical worldview that most of us associate and usually condescendingly that only with so called primitive cultures, it’s a worldview according to which our thoughts, unintentional or intentional, can have malevolent or lethal consequences and in which we might have to take responsibility for a whole range of things, we just assume be bystanders for and modern science has been trying its damnedest to make causation as impersonal as possible and this is just the exact opposite of that. So this is a worldview and people in industrialized or developed countries aren’t happy about this at all. I mean they’re uncomfortable with the idea that if you have a malevolent thought about somebody, even just a passing vagrant thought and that person has an accident, that our vagrant thought might have had something to do with it.You know there’s a, I’ve made this point quite often and I apologize if I made it to you. There’s an old Yiddish distinction between a schlemeil and schlemazel. A schlemeil is someone who has soup spilt on him and a schlemazel, sorry a schlemiel someone to spill soup on himself and a schlemazel has it spilled on him. So the idea is that a schlemazel was an unlucky soul, a person that the universe is crapping on, a victim of impersonal forces of the universe at large and schlemazel’s really exist. And the question is why? I mean I was married to a schlemazel at one point. I prefer not to discuss that case, but I live next door to a couple of schlemazel’s, it seemed like they were living in consumer hell, everything they bought was defective. Their cars were in the shop all the time even though they had brands noted for their reliability. Electronic equipment would fail to work right out of the box, their infant son was placed in a brand new rocking, solid wooden rocking chair, which collapsed into the infant son and my favorite example of their schlemazelness, it’s if that’s even a word. The wife bought, what she thought was a poster sized photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, she had it framed and placed on her living room wall and I had to tell her, Donna, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge. So here’s a woman who both literally and figuratively bought the Brooklyn Bridge. Now, most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of these people, this couple, I wish I knew if they were schlemazel’s before they met and got married. But is this a kind of expression of their own self loathing, their own self hatred? Or is it something that their weird philosopher next door to them was inflicting upon them? We don’t know that and there are parts of the world where that kind of thinking is taken for granted. But not in developed countries.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:11:06] Yeah, you know, I mean one of the problems we’re going to have with this whole little chat is every idea could spawn an hour’s worth of discussion, we could take that and take the anthropological kind of look at it. Because we have serious, deep thinking, intellectual people in the West, who’ve done their best to study that and if coming back, have come back and said, Wow, that’s real. By all accounts, by every way we can measure it that is not just a superstitious belief it happens over and over again. But again, you know, I love that, what, I wrote down the phrase, we’re working so hard to make causation in personal, which is really the idea of materialism. So too, but I’m gonna kind of bounce around here, I want to talk about materialism, particularly about parapsychology because that is a field that you’ve been in for a long time. And it’s a field that’s just in shambles it’s been decimated, it is no more, it is not relevant anymore. and anyone who says otherwise is just kind of playing pretend. But before we get there, tell us about the book, this latest book, Dangerous Pursuits: Mediumship, Mind and Music, which I pulled up here on Amazon, but tell us about that.
Steve Braude: [00:12:30] Well, thank you for that opportunity. My book before this was Crimes of Reason and when I wrote that it was a collection of essays that I had written over the years, some old some, and also some new essays that I thought I could do a better job on. And when I wrote that book, I figured I was all booked out and I was done. And then I thought, well, there are some other essays that I think if I had a chance for a do over, I could do a better job, I could state the issues more clearly or more compellingly. So a lot of these are expanded or otherwise revised essays that I’ve written before, on a bunch of related themes. One would be The Fear of Psy. The other would be The Problems of Studying Mixed Mediums like Luca or Carlos Mirabelli. And then some problems in explaining why it’s difficult to know what the evidence for survival of bodily death is all about. And then there’s a little dessert chapter on jazz improvisation.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:13:33] Yeah, there’s a lot to mine out of the book and again, you’ve had such an extensive career and I guess I want to circle back a little bit, because the introduction you are doing is excellent. But as most people who have accomplished a lot do, they kind of leave out a lot of important steps along the way because they don’t want to sound like they’re braggy or anything. But you’ve kind of seen it all, done at all in the parapsychology community and more broadly in the I don’t know, scientific paranormal community, I always reference the Journal of scientific exploration,because I think they’ve done a great job for a long time of trying to hold that space. Your a editor of the journal for, how many years were you doing that?
Stephen Braude: [00:14:20] Since 2009 I think.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:14:23] And, you know, I mean, that’s just, that what that means to people who are uninitiated is that Steve is not just comfortable and super qualified and competent to talk about all this stuff. But like the stuff that crosses his desk is everything imaginable that can be not imagined to be scientific until you look at the data. So ET, Abduction, Bigfoot what else am I leaving out? I mean, everything, the astrology you know. I interviewed a woman who published in the JSC that did an extraordinarily competent job looking at whether astrology shows an effect. So what else runs across your desk there that people should know about?
Stephen Braude: [00:15:14] Oh, gee, I don’t even know how to answer that. Yeah, I’m sorry, I literally don’t know how to answer that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:15:22] Well, he, in general, because I think it does relate to this, go back to this term I love, you know, trying to get away from causation as much as can try and make it as impersonal as we can and so…
Stephen Braude: [00:15:36] I’m here Alex.
Alex Tsakiris : [00:15:38] Okay.
Stephen Braude: [00:15:38] One of my big targets has been mechanistic explanations in science and taking psy phenomena and psychological phenomena as primitive in a sense. You know, there’s, most scientists would agree that explanation by analysis, explanation of a phenomenon in terms of lower level processes, is something that can’t continue indefinitely, that sooner or later, you’re going to hit rock bottom, you’re going to hit some phenomena that are fundamental, that are basic or primitive and which, at that point, you can no longer profitably ask how they occur. That’s just the way the universe works and no deeper explanation will explain why now that’s fine. But what most scientists also assume is that wherever those primitive phenomena occur, they’re always at the level of the very small, microscopic, the subatomic, the atomic, biochemical, something like that, never at the observable level. But that’s just an article of faith, that is not an empirically established fact. And it’s a big topic in philosophy where explanation by analysis comes to an end, I happen to believe and I’ve argued at length for saying in the realm of psychology and by extension, in the realm of parapsychology, where intention plays an illimitable role. Patterns appear first at the level of behavior on the level of the phenomena, that doesn’t mean explanation comes to an end, it just means that vertical explanation, explanation by analysis comes to an end, they’re still covering law on explanations, explanation by analogy, there are many forms of explanation in fact, explanation by analysis, like explaining heat, in terms of molecular motion, that kind of explanation can cannot help us in the realm of the mental.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:17:38] I always wonder, you know, that’s such a great deconstruction analysis of the problem. But I almost feel all sometimes like you’re analyzing it from within the paradigm that you’re forced to operate in, you know, because like you’re a philosopher. I mean if you take the take an idealism, kind of viewpoint and say consciousness is somehow fundamental and that’s where the evidence really leads from the beginning from the double slit experiment on and really before that, you know, consciousness is fundamental. Everything is in consciousness and is a manifestation of consciousness, not saying that’s true, but I’m just saying, from that perspective, I’m not even sure we’d talk about things in that way.
Steve Braude: [00:18:23] Well, there’s a reason I do it the way I do. I mean, I’m in a kind of privileged position because I had a good reputation in philosophy before I got into parapsychology and polluted myself. And, you know, there were people at the time who were saying things to me, I, famous logician once said to me, if somebody has to do this, I’m glad it’s you. I think you meant that as a compliment. So because I have the status that I had in the academic community before I was corrupted, people are at least willing to listen to me and because I think I argue very convincingly for some things. I hope to shake certain mainstream academics out of their mainstream academic complacency, once I can plant seeds of doubt in their mind about the way they’ve been doing things that softens them up for getting out of that way of thinking and so that’s the path that I think I’ve been particularly well qualified to follow.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:19:31] Yes and I love your story, you know, are you, are they, like they say about the pioneers. Yeah, you can always tell the pioneers because they don’t just have arrows in their front side. They have arrows in your backside as well. So, you know, a few years ago, I had an opportunity to actually just had an email exchange with the well known atheist Sam Harris, who isn’t known as being particularly deep thinker or constructing very good solid logical arguments, at least in my opinion, it all kind of falls away pretty quickly. But I was always struck by his very matter of fact, in your face assessment of parapsychology and psy and he said it’s a backwater of science and that was a few years ago. And as much as I, you know, don’t think much of them intellectually he’s spot on. It’s always been the backwater of science and in the years since we’ve spoken, it’s just worse, objectively, if you measure how many the search results you get, it’s prominent it’s a published peer reviewed papers, the PhD is that there are none, you know, and…
Stephen Braude: [00: 20:54] It’s true, I mean, for about 150 years its been true.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:20:55] Well, but it’s especially true lately, as ,because here’s the point, I guess, that I was gonna make is that, that the really the best evidence has continued to pile up. You know, it’s not like there’s a few pier researchers out there like you and others who complete continue to put out more and better solid science that just gets, you know, further pushed, repressed, suppressed and I wonder if there isn’t more to that, I definitely think there’s more to it, I think that…
Stephen Braude: [00: 21:34] Well there are a couple of things. One is that most of the people doing side research don’t have tenure. So they don’t have the delicious protection that tenure can afford. And the other thing is a lot of the people who are doing studies in parapsychology now are still just following conventional laboratory protocols. They haven’t learned some important lessons and I’ve been arguing for decades now that laboratory research in parapsychology is almost absurdly premature. Because we don’t know what the Natural History of Science, we don’t know exactly what it’s doing out in the world and until we have a firm grip on that, we have no idea what it is we’re taking into the lab, it might be as inappropriate to study it in the lab, as it will be to study courage or sensuality under laboratory conditions, you’re only going to get straitjacketed manifestations of at best, you’re only going to get that in the laboratory.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:22:32] You know that’s a really interesting point but I’m not even going to go there for a minute, I’m going to take it in a couple of different directions because this is where my journey is going. So first question is invisible college, does that exist, quote unquote, invisible college when it comes to parapsychology, extended consciousness and this, all these phenomena in general, I think there is, what do you think ?
Stephen Braude: [00:22:57] I’m not sure what you mean by invisible?
Alex Tsakiris: [00: 22:59] Well you know, I recently interviewed Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka, who wrote a book called American Cosmic and her work, she’s in religious studies, she’s doing these work on like saints and in the Catholic tradition and some of the accounts and stuff like that and one of our colleagues reads one of those that goes, that’s a UFO story, and she’s like, What do you mean? No, it’s it’s an account of someone back 300 years ago who had this. So next thing you know, she’s in Maryland at a UFO conference and she meets a gentleman named Chris Bledsoe, who is pretty amazing in terms of the contact experiences he’s had and he’s been kind of well documented. He’s had these experiences, not just himself but with others, both in his family and others not related to him, manifesting different phenomenon, you know, all this kind of stuff. So she gets really interested now and she goes to a conference in Silicon Valley and meets Jacques Valle and he kind of tours her on Silicon Valley, which is like a dream country to her. She goes to the desert in Nevada, and finds this guy who actually reverse engineer’s space junk that he finds through this means of kind of this metal detector that he’s rigged up. And again, this is a you know, Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka, she’s got all the credentials and she hasn’t given up any of those credentials, she’s a sharp person, she’s not a wing nut here. But as part of her book, what she reveals is this hidden college or invisible college and Jacques Valle, I think is responsible for, if not coining the term kind of popularizing it and she says a matter of fact, she’s at a conference, when somebody stands up and says, make some kind of question or something like that and another person across the room says, Hey, we’re not supposed to to talk about that, that’s not you know, allowed. And one of her colleagues who she directly knows is brought into the invisible college he receives a note he says, okay, kind of a fight club thing, first rule of Fight Club as we don’t talk about Fight Club, but he becomes an insider in this it has to do with, you know, basically ET kind of stuff. But I think the same is true in parapsychology and this is the point I always point out is, you know, the MK Ultra project, which a lot of people don’t realize it’s MK Ultra, but Stargate, the remote viewing project. You know, if you go read, if you go, on interview, I interviewed Joe McMoneagle, secret spy number 000 remote viewer looking at Russian submarines, when he shows up and he meets Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff , they’re not trying to hammer out whether materialism exists, whether there is an extended, really they are so, this is the 70s they are so far past that. I mean, they’re light years in front of that.
Stephen Braude: [00:26:09] I’m not sure what you want me to respond to that, I mean…
Alex Tsakiris: [00:26:12] Well I guess original question is invisible college. Do you believe there is such a thing?
Stephen Braude: [00: 26:18] Well, there certainly, there’s a network of people who already have a fairly well defined set of assumptions and intellectual projects and questions that they’re addressing. And sure there’s, there’s a subset of people more or less officially in parapsychology or who have been over the past three or four or five or six decades. And there are projects they work on between them. If that’s what you have in mind of course, they’re not bound by the constraints of university life and university life has become increasingly rigid and unsavory in fact, I would say.
Alex Tsakiris: [00: 27:10] Okay, and you might not agree with this at all, which is kind of fine. But I think we’re talking about something different here. We’re talking about how Puthoff and Russell Targ in their you know, anyone, I always remind people, you can go watch videos of them testing quote unquote, Uri Geller right and they’re testing MIT Stanford Research Institute and he’s exhibiting incredible ESP powers or whatever you want to call it psy abilities. So the point being, that this is all denied, right? These guys are doing this in the 70s and Ted Koppel is doing nightlife news reports but in general, the response was that isn’t happening, that isn’t real, that couldn’t possibly be true and I don’t think that’s accidental. I think that’s, again, I think the parallels to the UFO community. I think there’s disinformation, there’s co opting there’s you know, criticizing, then there’s controlling the thing. But there’s obviously people in our government who are interested in that, who are pursuing it in a way that is in direct contradiction to what is being reported by Academia, whether they know it or not.
Stephen Braude: [00:28:27] Yes and I don’t know why it’s being suppressed at the federal level if assuming that it is. I think the reasons may be a bit different for the key situation, because I think a lot of people would argue that if word gets out about having been visited or in contact with extraterrestrials, that the public just wouldn’t be able to handle it. I don’t think that information about psy phenomena is being withheld because the public couldn’t handle it because it’s been out there in the public for a long time.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:28:59] Yeah, maybe we ought to just move off that but I, you know, I won’t move off of that completely because I’ll show you another interview that I did that I thought was really, really interesting to me, and this guy I really pissed off, but Ed May, who was the head of the Stargate program for 10 years and very, very anti, in my interview with him anti parapsychology, anti it being anything other than materialistic science. And one of the most curious things about that interview for me is he wanted to correct me about the experience of Joe McMoneagle and I had to say, Ed, what are you talking about? I have the transcript of the interview the guy gave me, it was connected to his near death experience. That’s what he was told his secret personnel file, they pulled the Raymond Moody book out of there and he was just like, doesn’t, couldn’t have any thing to do with near death experience or anything, quote unquote, spiritual. This is all just solid materialistic science and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Again, the optics to me, I don’t know but he just seems like a cutout figure. He doesn’t seem like he’s a genuine, curious intellect. He seems like a guy who’s doing a job and his job is to kind of bury this stuff. Otherwise, there’s, it stands in direct contradiction to everything that we now know of what was going on inside that program.
Alex Tsakiris 53:45
So as we go forward, take a big step back, you’ve been in the field of, if we can still say parapsychology is a field and it is, I kind of came down pretty hard on it just to kind of, and it elicits some kind of reaction. Where do you think we’re headed in the next 10-20 years? What kind of progress can we make along the lines that you and some of your colleagues have been pursuing?
Stephen Braude 54:13
Well if they go along the lines I’ve been pursuing, we’d get the hell out of the lab and start looking for exceptional subjects and try to get a feel for the natural history of psy. But if you want to know where I think we’re actually going, I think that we’ll be stuck in the same rut that we’ve been in for the past 120-30 years. And one of the reasons is that new people come into the field all the time, with no background in the rich literature, just as I did. You know, I had to find out after writing a book on the experimental evidence that there was much better evidence. And it’s not as if there’s a widely disseminated curriculum in parapsychology that people can progress through before they actually start doing research in the field. They start doing research in the field and try to reinvent the wheel that happens over and over every young generation of parapsychological researchers commits the same mistakes that their forebears did.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:55:12] Well folks, our guest again has been the extraordinary, Dr. Stephen Braude. Check out his latest book, he’s mentioned some of his other books. The latest is Dangerous Pursuits, find it on Amazon again it’s just 10 bucks. But all his other books which you can find on his website, you can easily Google him. S T E P H E N, B R A U D E and excellent website, all his former books and all that, many great articles just a real, real I don’t know. I don’t like to say giant that sounds kind of hokey, but such a significant person in this field and in science in general. Steve, thank you so, so much for joining me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Stephen Braude: [00:56:05] Thank you for having me. It’s good to see you again.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:56:08] Thanks again to Dr. Stephen Braude for joining me today on Skeptiko. The one question I’d have to tee up from this interview kind of an inside baseball question. What do you think the future is for parapsychology? Have they sufficiently back watered it into insignificance? Or is it primed for a resurgence? Let me know your thoughts. Of course best place to do it is Skeptiko forum, check it out, let me hear from you. Good shows good shows, good shows coming up. Stay with me for all of that. Until next time, take care. Bye for now.
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