And we open on… Oh God. This looks like it's going to be a bad one.
Some women are manipulating the body of a small child. Nimoy claims this is a 'controversial' new approach to communicating with children suffering from brain damage. He also compares it to medaeval torture. I don't know if this is a legit approach but even if it is, I'm not sure I want to watch.
Anyway, apparently we're talking about studies to help people with brain damage, and naturally those of us without brain damage are wondering if we can swipe that research to benefit ourselves. No, no. Thank us later.
This is followed by some really nice footage of animals – eagles and dogs mostly. They guys have senses that are better than ours, so what's up with our brain? I mean, we a have better sense of smell than eagles do and better eyesight than dogs so… Did I just answer the question? ...continue reading "In Search Of… S03E22 Brain Power"
"Ghostly Stakeout". Sounds like the most awesome 1980s comedy that never was. A rule-bound cop must team up with a streetwise ghost to stop a drug cartel or something. Eddie Murphy could be the ghost... maybe Robert Duval as the cop? Just spitballing here…
Unfortunately, "Ghostly Stakeout" isn't quite so much fun as that. The intro implies that the episode will be a re-enactment-polusa, but when we get into the episode proper we move straight into dullness. The extraordinarily un-edifying Sylvia Browne is in a trance to contact a malevolent spirit in a supposedly haunted house. She mutters some new-age/pop-Christian buzzwords during a séance. The In Search Of… cameras supposedly pick up the image of something moving, but even Nimoy wonders out loud if it's just an electronic glitch. ...continue reading "In Search Of S03E21 Ghostly Stakeout"
Lloyd Bridges as Professor X? Sadly not. In this episode, we are to witness ' the world's first experiment in underwater psychic archaeology,' off the coast of Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. Sounds goofy. Let's go!
We see some very pretty underwater photography of divers and sunken wrecks, while Nimoy talks about how difficult underwater archaeology. Standing in front of undersea exploration equipment, he explains that even with all this equipment it's still hard to find stuff on the sea floor. But if psychics could find stuff, well then, that would be peachy.
We go now to the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies at Catalina, where we see a bunch of people get on a boat. Basically, a bunch of scientists and psychics got together to form the Moebius Group, in order to do a psychic sea hunt.
A blonde guy is patting his dog. Nimoy talks about the connection between people and their pets. Only recently, we're told, have people started to wonder if this connection is psychic. Animal ESP!
Footage of a dog in the wilderness. We're told that the animal became separated from his family when they moved, and is trying to get back to them. We see the dog running across fields, crossing roads, climbing mountains and swimming rivers. It's like half the kids' movies I watched when I was five, only compressed into a minute. It is beautiful to behold. ...continue reading "In Search Of S03E15 Animal ESP"
Cold open on a woman with a somewhat Brady-esque quality. Leonard Nimoy tells us that some people remember events of a former lifetime. "It is a strange phenomenon called reincarnation." What is the truth behind this mysterious phenomenon?
Now we're looking at a woman in a white robe who we're told is called Maria and lived in France in ye olde dayes. When she bends down to look at a plant we see that Maria is wearing a 1970s sundress under her robe. This doesn't quite prove reincarnation, I think, but it's still pretty special. Now torches carried by a bunch of extras because (I guess) Maria was burned at the stake, and some 1970s woman remembers it all. ...continue reading "In Search Of S02E11 Reincarnation"
We open with Apollo astronauts on the Moon, because of course we do. We're told that the lunar astronauts experienced unusual perceptions during their journeys, and that astronaut Edgar Mitchel tried to send telepathic images from the Moon to the Earth in 1971. We are told that the chance of his results being accidental are quite low.
Cut to Nimoy at a table with a bunch of kids using Zenner cards, for testing telepathic powers. All of a sudden, I find myself switching from scepticism to jealousy. Why didn't I get to play 'psychic guess the card' with Nimoy? I'm not much younger than the kids in the story would have been.
We open on a man handling a ring. Nimoy tells us that the man claims that he can visualise scenes related to the ring. There's stock footage of police cars and then back to the man with the ring. We're told he's Peter Hurkos and that he has 'hard information'. Names, places, dates. "He calls himself a psychic detective," Nimoy intones. A big claim, from Mr Hurkos-- and one that this episode seems to have little interest in investigating.
We go on to see Chief Detective Lowry, a 1970's cop in St Louis. We're assured that he solves crimes by conventional means. That is, until a kidnapping case in the mid '70s, where he couldn't find the victim. At the request of the victim's family, Lowry called in a psychic, who located the kidnapping victim. Fascinating, if true. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S01E11 Psychic Detectives"
Cold open on Easter Island, many, many miles from the Atlantic. Nimoy proclaims the famous statues a mystery, which they were. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that they were still a big mystery in the 1970s, though these days we've got a decent idea of how and when they were made. But that's not what gets me. What gets me is the In Search Of… three step. 1: Identify something as unexplained. 2: Assume that 'unexplained' is 'inexplicable'. 3: Explain it anyway. It's not good science, but damn it's fun to watch!
Now Maya (or maybe Olmec, I'm no expert) statue heads, stand a distance from where they were carved. See the connection yet? Macchu Piccu and Californian petroglyphs, the Cerne giant (I think) and some other big statues. These indicate advanced technology, Nimoy says, which I guess is true for certain values of 'advanced'. Now, remember a few weeks ago when anything that might have been tricky for old-timey people to accomplish was actually the doing of aliens? Turns out it was actually the doing of Atlanteans. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S01E10 Atlantis"
"How wide is the gulf between Man and Plant – if there is a gulf at all?"
In this new series, I am going to go episode by episode through the 1970s TV show In Search Of. Why? Because I have time on my hands, and if this doesn't convince people to give me a full time job, I don’t know what will.
My cards on the table: I'm a skeptic. Note the small s. I don't go to skeptic meetings or even read a lot of skeptic literature. By skeptic, I mean I draw a pretty distinct line between 'real' and 'made up', and I try place ideas on one side of the line or the other based on how well supported they are by evidence.
By the same token, the older I get the less I care if people don't want to do things that way. Unless it's actively harmful nonsense like vaccine denial or some of the racist conspiracy stuff, I say believe what you want. A UFO kidnapped you? Cool story, bro. Think Bigfoot is out there? Off you go find him, and the best of luck to you.
So this isn't a debunking of In Search of…per se. What would be the point? The show's forty years old, and I doubt even true believers will be willing to back up many of the specific claims the show makes. I will probably argue against ideas the show presents if I think them dangerous or harmful, but I won't stoop to complaining about anything so gauche as mere factual inaccuracy.
I also don’t plan to endorse the show. It's basically drivel turned into something entertaining by the mystical alchemy which is Leonard Nimoy's voice. Occasionally, the show turns away from esoteric subjects and presents a short documentary on something more substantial. When that happens, I will judge it as I would a real documentary. Otherwise, I intend just to enjoy it as pleasant nonsense.
The Other Voices
Let's start at the beginning. I don't have access to the original Rod Serling specials that preceded the regular show, so I'm going to begin with season 1 episode 1: Other Voices. The other voices are the voices of plants. It's a slightly odd and extremely tame intro to a series best remembered for creepy stuff about swamp monsters and space aliens, but here we are: psychic plants.
The show starts with a weird noise, supposedly gleaned from plants. Leonard Nimoy assures us that there are plants everywhere. Good point, Leonard. He wonders whether plants can communicate, and goes on to wonder how they communicate and who they communicate with. Will these questions be answered? Let's find out.
We are then shown a research chemist teaching his grandchildren (? I guess) how to feel the energy of plants. We are assured that children find it easier to understand things like this, but are not given a clear idea of what 'this' is.
We skip past 'this', and return to Nimoy in the studio. He explains that there are green thumbed people and brown thumbed people. This doesn't come up again for a while, so it's weird to put it here. Nimoy questions whether the phenomenon of houseplants is a passing fad. From our position here in 2016, I think we can safely say that the fad hasn't passed yet. There are stock pictures of seed packets. I had forgotten how badly some these episodes are padded.
We then go on to something more interesting: the famous experiment about whether plants like classical music or rock music. My understanding is that similar experiments have been done many times, but I can't seem to find any sort of definite consensus on whether it's true that plants grow better to classical music. In Search of… concludes that they do.
Okay. Why not? But having made that conclusion, they take a completely unnecessary jump: that the reason plants grow differently in different musical environments is an aesthetic choice on the part of plants. Well, if my plants don't learn to like Cold Chisel, maybe they deserve to die.
Next up is a photographer, who takes Kirilian photos of plants. Now, I'm not a physicist so take this with a grain of salt, but my understanding is Kirilian photography basically involves running an electric charge through an object sitting on a photographic plate. The object gives off a gas discharge, which is usually invisible to the naked eye, but which exposes the plate, creating a picture.
It's interesting, if you're into that sort of thing, and makes for some extremely pretty photos. In the seventies, though, the idea got around that the image on the paper somehow corresponded with the mystical aura of the object being photographed. The photographer in this episode talks enthusiastically about energy patterns, then talks about his experiment in taking Kirilian photos of mutilated leaves, and then having people with a reputation as a 'green thumb' hold their hand over said leaf. Supposedly, the photo becomes brighter. If a 'brown thumb' holds their hand over the leaf, it is supposed to get darker.
Nimoy assures us that this has 'profound implications', which is certainly a nice sentiment.
Next we see a polygraph expert who runs tests on plants. Polygraphs, or lie detectors are… well, look just Google it. Basically, they don't really work, but are still used extensively in law enforcement. Interesting piece of trivia: the guy who invented the polygraph also created Wonder Woman, and he did a much better job with her.
The polygraph guy's experiment is to prove that plants feel sympathetic pain when a human is harmed. His experiment fails, but when he tries again, this time jabbing one of the production team rather than himself, he gets a reaction.
It's a good thing that this sympathetic pain doesn't go both ways, or cutting wheat would be a very painful occupation.
Next up is my favorite part of the episode. Not content with showing that plants feel our pain, the experimenter wants to proves that bacteria have 'primary perception'. If anyone ever doubts that Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, watch just how serious he gets as he explains a plan to attach a beaker of yogurt to a lie detector. The experimenter then puts antibiotics in the yogurt to kill the bacteria in another container of yogurt. Perhaps surprisingly--perhaps not--the first yogurt does not react. There's another experiment involving feeding milk to yogurt that seems to work better, but its way less cool.
Nimoy then wraps up by suggesting that psychic messages are carried by plants. For now, he says, we can only communicate with plants using machines. One day, those machines may not be necessary. It's hard to argue this point: it's 2016 now, and plant communication devices certainly seem to have become obsolete.
Though there are many interesting lines from the plant-music woman and the Kirilian photographer (who I can't tell if he's high, or just really happy), the episode's best line comes from Nimoy:
'Certainly, there's nothing in the plant world like the human ear and mind. But perhaps there's something else. A way of hearing that doesn't involve receiving and interpreting sound waves. What we call a sound wave is merely one form of energy, but scientists know that energy takes many forms.'
'A way of listening that doesn’t involve receiving and interpreting soundwaves,' is about as meaningless a statement you can make. The line exists simply to paper over the crack between the segment suggesting that plants can literally hear and the segment that suggests that plants communate with weird auras. And yet, when Nimoy says it, it sounds like the entire friggin' Federation might collapse if you don't listen.