Tags: Doherty | white noise | edison

Even the Dead Can't Escape Technology

By Friday, 31 October 2014 01:34 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Back in 1997, Yours truly was tasked to come up with “something amusing” for the April issue of the now-defunct magazine, Computer Telephony.

A strange, old book suddenly came to mind: "Phone Calls from the Dead," written by D. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless (New York: Berkeley, 1979). The tome is a collection of anecdotes about alleged instances where people answer a ringing telephone, only to briefly hear words seemingly uttered by friends and relatives known to be deceased.

I selected freelancer Michael J. Doherty to the write the piece. He was an obsessive researcher and former Green Beret with a master's degree in criminal justice, who relished the assignment and even coined a new term to describe it — necrophony.

The resulting, hilarious article, “Necrophony to Explode?” appeared in the December 1997 issue of Computer Telephony. The story’s subhead read: “Think about it: Make or take phone calls to and from the ‘living impaired.’ Don’t snicker. Communicating with the dead could be the hottest CT [Computer Telephony] app since international callback. Here’s a look at this breathtaking technological opportunity and tips on how to choose the right platform.”

Surprisingly, other than the infamous Quija Board, the concept of communicating with the dead using mechanical or electromechanical devices goes all the way back to a mechanical contraption built in 1852 by farmer and spiritualist Jonathan Koons of Athens, Ohio.

Unfortunately, the device’s plans were lost.

The next figure in the history of necrophony is none other than Thomas Edison, who was said to be working on a “spirit communicator” in 1928. His research failed to come up with anything, but Edison’s name figures in a later necrophony-related incident involving female clairvoyant Sigrun Seuterman.

Seuterman claimed to have contacted Edison’s spirit in 1967, who informed her that he was still working on necrophony technology “on the other side” and gave terse instructions on how to modify television sets to a frequency of 740 megahertz (MHz) to enable paranormal communication.

A major advance (if one might call it that) in spirit communication came with the appearance of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), which is simply the alleged tape recording of normally inaudible “spirit voices” that are later made audible on playback.

Supposedly, the first researchers to successfully record paranormal voices were Raymond Bayless and Attila von Szalay in 1956. Similar work occurred in 1959 by Swedish opera singer turned painter Friedrich Jurgenson.

Interestingly, Jurgenson claimed he had no interest in the field and was just recording bird songs on his magnetic tape recorder. On playback, Jurgenson was startled to hear voices instead of birds.

Ironically, Jurgenson’s greatest contribution to the field was that his book on EVP, “Voices from Space,” was read by the Latvian writer and intellectual, Dr. Konstantin Raudive, husband of the famous Latvian writer, essayist and philologist, Zenta Maurina. Raudive became almost obsessively enamored with EVP, collecting over the last 10 years of his life an astonishing 100,000 (or 72,000, depending on the source) alleged spirit voice recordings. Raudive’s book, “Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead” was published in 1971.

Skeptics who have examined Dr. Raudive’s recordings claim he was either recording bits and pieces of radio and television broadcasts picked up by the wiring in his tape recorder, or else was experiencing auditory hallucinations, based on the fact that the human brain is always trying to find something intelligible in everything, even white noise.

Amusingly, like Edison, Raudive’s interest in necrophony was said to continue in the afterlife. Following his death, the good Doctor allegedly successfully participated in developing a communication link from the nether regions to the sunny world of the living.

Later in the 1970s, Dr. Ernst Senkowski coined the term Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC) to describe “electronically supported contacts with other ranges of human consciousness” including “the beyond.”

Other necrophony researchers include George Meek and William O’Neil, who during the 1970s claimed to have developed and operated a “spiricom” device with the help of a (deceased!) researcher named Dr. George Jeffries Mueller. The device was a complex 29 MHz and 68 MHz two-way communications system. (Note: 68MHz falls between the conventional FM and TV bands.)

After the necrophony article was published in Computer Telephony magazine, the great British scientific journal New Scientist got hold of a copy and, with typical British tongue-in-cheek humor, ran in the Feedback column of their Jan. 10, 1998, issue a rib-tickling review: “Congratulations to the trade magazine Computer Telephony for an illuminating article by Michael Doherty about the technology of communicating with the dead.”

New Scientist noted the article’s main points, ending with, “Feedback foresees problems here, though. How many dead people are computer literate? And are computers on the other side IBM-compatible, or do the living impaired prefer Apple Macs?”

Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. He was executive editor of Technology Management Corporation’s IP Communications Group of magazines from 2006 to 2009. The author of five books on computers and telecom, including the highly influential Computer Telephony Encyclopedia (2000), he was the chief technical editor of Harry Newton's Computer Telephony magazine (later retitled Communications Convergence after its acquisition by Miller Freeman/CMP Media) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now.

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On Halloween, an old book suddenly came to mind: "Phone Calls from the Dead," a collection of alleged instances where people answer a ringing telephone, only to hear words seemingly by friends known to be deceased.
Doherty, white noise, edison
Friday, 31 October 2014 01:34 PM
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