ISF Logo   IS Forum
Forum Index Register Members List Events Mark Forums Read Help

Go Back   International Skeptics Forum » General Topics » General Skepticism and The Paranormal
 


Welcome to the International Skeptics Forum, where we discuss skepticism, critical thinking, the paranormal and science in a friendly but lively way. You are currently viewing the forum as a guest, which means you are missing out on discussing matters that are of interest to you. Please consider registering so you can gain full use of the forum features and interact with other Members. Registration is simple, fast and free! Click here to register today.
Reply
Old 2nd May 2018, 12:54 AM   #1
Shuca
New Blood
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 23
Musings about "mystic" Stefan Ossowiecki

Since I was a kid I was fascinated with the idea that humans could have some “special” powers which would enable them to see thing what are impossible to see. Arthur C. Clarke's “World of Strange Powers” was one of my favourite books. It contained some interesting cases that seemed to indicate possibility of ESP and Clarke later in the book evaluated if those “powers” are indeed possible. From time to time I stumble upon interesting cases which I try to evaluate critically. Recently a friend of mine pointed to me the case of the Polish “mystic” and bon-vivan Stefan Ossowiecki, source: https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan_Ossowiecki.
ESP proponents Ian Stevenson, Zofia Weaver and Mary R. Barrington wrote a book “A World in A Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowiecki” in which they claim that he was the real deal. Book contains some experiments conducted during 1920.-30. period. At first, Ossowiecki was tested by French parapsychologists Charles Richet, Gustav Geley and Eugene Osty. It seems that guys involved were believers in ESP and were trying to prove their “black swan”. Some of the experiments conducted are described on page 34-42 of the book (you can google it and read them). Experiments described look interesting and Ossowiecki succeeded in guessing content of sealed letters ext. However, it seems that in the majority experiments controls were not good enough. Some of the readings lasted for two or three days or several hours with pauses, so there was a possibility of sensory leakage, fishing, cold reading and, maybe, hot readings. Some of the hits could be attributed to the fact that Ossowiecki was a warm person and made a friendly contact with investigators, as authors claim. In some cases, the clairvoyant was present when the drawing was made so he could probably guess by the moves of the hand what was written. Sometimes he just probably got a hit by chance. Also, we must point out to the fact that some of the some of the drawings could be seen through envelopes as Ossowiecki held them and squeeze them in their hands. It also appears that some hits are attributed to subjective validation. I don’t know if the investigators mentioned here were careful enough. Some of them were tricked in previous experiments by mediums which showed to be frauds, and some apparently covered up negative evidence in some of earlier investigations, source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Geley. But I don’t want to go ad hominem here.
Although the authors of the book speak positively about the reports, witness’s credibility and tests, I am not so sure about it. I will give couple of examples. Case described on the page 120 seem to indicate that Ossowiecki made a correct predicament in case of the famous Russian tenor Dmitri Smirnov. It is written that in 1927. Ossowiecki said to the tenor that he will visit USA, where he will meet his future wife, divorce and marry again. Smirnov allegedly went back to Poland two years later and said to the clairvoyant that he was wright. However, a simple Google research showed that Smirnov entered his second marriage in 1925. and visited the States together with his new wife, not before. Someone was obviously very wrong or the story was deliberately fabricated.
The second experiment is mentioned on the page 82 and that experiment lasted for six years. One of the investigators got the case from one Hungarian who said that Ossowiecki tries to “read it”. The investigator shook the case and heard something like small stones inside. Ossowiecki wasn’t interested in the reading. However, five years later the Hungarian died and the clairvoyant decided that he will try to read it. First reading was held in April 1934. There were no results. Second reading was in January 1935, no result, and in the same month there was the third reading which was successful. First two reading were witnessed just by couple of persons, while the third one had more participants. So, was it more likely that in six years’ time and pauses between the experiments there was a leakage about the possible content of the case which somehow got to Ossowiecki or the clairvoyant has the powers? The case was also sent to dozen other clairvoyants in France but investigator doesn’t mention their successes or failures. Were they “fake” and Ossowiecki was the real thing? If all those clairvoyants were fake, what about their hits (I am sure that they had some)? Or Ossowiecki had a help from some people? Reading described in the book itself seems to me like a game of cold reading, fishing, creativity, guessing and associations. Also, the way investigators explain misses and hits is “remarkable”. In one instance the clairvoyant says that the owner of the case died in an accident (false). Investigators explain that miss with the fact that one of the stones was put in a piece of a newspapers which had a story about plain accident. However, there were other headlines there and the clairvoyant didn’t mention them. If he saw that one, how did he miss the other? This points to the fact that investigators wanted him to be real and were ESP believers at first place. Also, Ossowiecki claimed that he could “read” letters only in Polish and French and this case was from Hungary so the headline mentioned was probably written on that language. It seems that investigators missed that fact or the headline was on Polish what would make this story very suspicious. But the fact that Ossowiecki was wright about information that one of stones was a meteorite was impressive. If we exclude sensory leakage and cheating, this seems to indicate that Ossowiecki indeed was a creative genius.
Later investigators from Society for Psychical Research joined in the party. One of the experiments is described on the page 62 of the book. Eric Dingwall made a drawing in London, put it in three envelopes, pierced small holes in the four corners of envelopes as controls, and in Warsaw gave the letter to a colleague Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (also involved in a cover up mentioned earlier) who gave it to Ossowiecki so he could “read” it. The reading lasted long and finally he got it wright. It is claimed that Schrenck-Notzing didn’t know what was written inside. At first Dingwall claimed that no one tried to open the letter as control holes seemed to match. However, some time later Dingwall changed his opinion and said that he didn’t know what happened to the letter while it got to Schrenck-Notzing. This experiment would have been impressive if Dingwall conducted it himself. Theodore Besterman conducted the second experiment, the details can be found here: https://archive.org/stream/proceedin...e/344/mode/2up. He made a drawing and mailed it to Poland. However, the first letter didn’t make it to the destination because it was opened and read so he mailed another one (it isn’t stated was it the same drawing, if it was ti points to possible information leakage). The reading in Poland lasted for two days and there were some Besterman’s colleagues from London present (author of the drawing stayed in London). Ossowiecki described correctly the drawing. However, there was a possibility of leakage – Besterman was not present during the reading, and maybe someone else opened the letter. However, Besterman argued against that possibility. It is interesting to note that both investigators drew a bottle like image.
Also, there are clear cases of failed readings of Ossowiecki. One of them is described on the page 62 (at the top of the page), and one is described here: https://archive.org/stream/journalof...e/230/mode/2up. The clairvoyant was involved in some archaeological experiments and it seems that he was not so successful, source: “Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology”, page 203.
ESP proponents say this guy was the real deal. I am not so sure as there are many problems with the experiments and people who conducted them. Most of evidence presented reminds me on conjuring tricks. Also, some of the stories aren’t quite factual. I think that all the reports must have to be taken with a grain of salt. I am not sure that they represent 100% accurately of what really happened during the experiments. Even the “good” experiments conducted by guys from London have problems and weaknesses. It seems that abilities Ossowiecki had didn’t help him in his life – he was surprised when his first wife left him. Ossowiecki had some registered failed tests and was not subject to thorough systematic research. We do not have a complete record of his readings and tests so we don’t know about other negative examples. I am sure that Ossowiecki had some remarkable hits, but I am not convinced that cases described are proof of ESP. I would love to see Ossowiecki perform today in more striker conditions with multiple envelopes and repetitions and in conditions where sensory leakage is very unlikely. At the end we also must consider other similar experiments which so far failed to scientifically validate some form of ESP.
Shuca is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd May 2018, 01:54 AM   #2
fagin
Philosopher
 
fagin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: As far away from casebro as possible.
Posts: 6,010
TL/DR

Summary? ESP is bunk?
__________________
There is no secret ingredient - Kung Fu Panda
fagin is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd May 2018, 02:24 AM   #3
Captain_Swoop
Penultimate Amazing
 
Captain_Swoop's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 16,948
Originally Posted by fagin View Post
TL/DR

Summary? ESP is bunk?
About sums it up.
Captain_Swoop is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd May 2018, 03:53 AM   #4
Loss Leader
I would save the receptionist.
Moderator
 
Loss Leader's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Florida
Posts: 25,611
People with agendas will skirt the scientific method until they get the conclusions they want.

This isn't exactly breaking news.
__________________
I have the honor to be
Your Obdt. St

L. Leader
Loss Leader is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd May 2018, 08:17 PM   #5
fuelair
Suspended
 
fuelair's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 57,679
Based purely on his name (last), I assume he is a Bone-wiki.............
fuelair is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th May 2018, 09:15 AM   #6
steenkh
Philosopher
 
steenkh's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Denmark
Posts: 5,340
Thanks for the update. I found it interesting.
__________________
Steen

--
Jack of all trades - master of none!
steenkh is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 5th May 2018, 06:51 AM   #7
Shuca
New Blood
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 23
Originally Posted by steenkh View Post
Thanks for the update. I found it interesting.
Well, I just wanted to share the story and see if there is some other critical angle to look at this case as I am not an expert on mentalism, cold reading and clairvoyant manipulation tricks. I also contacted the Polish skeptics for some information but I haven't got feedback yet. On the english wikipedia there are some other critical sources mentioned, some say that in May 1939. this guy predicted there will be no invasion of Poland that particular year. However, his adherents justify that miss by ad hoc explanations such as that he did it deliberately so the people don't succumb to panic. I find that unconvincing.
Anyway, the book I mentioned is a good collection of anecdotes (first, second or third hand accounts of what happened) and experiments (many of them clearly not systematic and well organized). They should have organize an simpler experiment with trials - for example guessing which envelope is empty and which is not, with stricker controls. Most of the examples found in the book can be demystified as they are mostly examples of cold reading techniques, clever guesses, hits, misses and subjective validation. I am incline thinking that in most of the experiments described there was a sensory leakage present. As for anecdotes, I wonder did it all happened as it is described, probably not.
To me it seems that everyone involved in experiments with this guy wanted him to succeed and maybe had helped him undeliberately. For example, in the Jonky case story sfter opening the package they found 18 pieces of ore (it looked like gunshot) and the piece of paper with a written word 'meteor'. They all said it's a hit because the clairvoyant said he sees something like a meteor connected with the case (he also said there are two or three pieces of stones, metal, soil... it seems that he proably heard something rolling in the case during the reading while holding it in his hands, however he wasn't correct abput the amount of the stones). But how do we know that the metal founded indeed was meteorites, as no one went to see the experts? Also, this particular reading lasted for three sessions in a year period and only the last one was successsful. Was it possible that the clairvoyant got some info about the possible contents of the case? Maybe yes. Who knows. We must not exclude possibility that in some instances he had a help from confederates. I also found inconsistencies in other stories but I don't have time and will to analyse them all. Ossowiecki was excellent at what he did, but we are mostly presented with his 'success' stories while we don not know more about his failings as they were probably not remembered (I have found several examples).
At the end what strikes me the most is how the investigators are presented, as people that have no secret motives at all. But to me it seems that they all endorse this guy and just want to believe. They are presented as rational investigators who are hard to deceive. And how in the name of heavens they could be deceived for years as they are not naive... I find this argument in many 'ESP' and 'PK' cases - we don't know how something happened, we are not easy at being tricked, he or she isn't a trickster or a cheater, therefore paranormal. As for Ossowiecki I don't know. Maybe he was an extrovert enjoying his social status as a 'magus' or he sincerely believed that he had special powers.
Stories like this can easily impress you, but then you have to dig deep But the older the story gets, the harder is to find a good critical source. So sometimes you have to leave the mystery unexplained.

Last edited by Shuca; 5th May 2018 at 06:58 AM.
Shuca is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 8th May 2018, 03:25 PM   #8
xjx388
Philosopher
 
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 6,312
These older cases are impossible to get anything out of one way or another, all by themselves. What we can do is apply current knowledge to the case.

-We know that there have been quite a few experiments conducted in modern times. None of them have proven anything, being shoddily constructed, subject to bias, etc.

-We know that every time strictly controlled conditions are implemented, the results are negative

-We know all (or at least most of) the tricks that mediums, psychics, etc have used in the past in order to fool people.

With those three "knowns," it's easy to dismiss Ossoweicki as a skilled charlatan. We can't, of course, know for sure but his story fits the pattern of countless other skilled charlatans.
__________________
Hello.
xjx388 is online now   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 10th May 2018, 12:51 AM   #9
Shuca
New Blood
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 23
Originally Posted by xjx388 View Post
These older cases are impossible to get anything out of one way or another, all by themselves. What we can do is apply current knowledge to the case.

-We know that there have been quite a few experiments conducted in modern times. None of them have proven anything, being shoddily constructed, subject to bias, etc.

-We know that every time strictly controlled conditions are implemented, the results are negative

-We know all (or at least most of) the tricks that mediums, psychics, etc have used in the past in order to fool people.

With those three "knowns," it's easy to dismiss Ossoweicki as a skilled charlatan. We can't, of course, know for sure but his story fits the pattern of countless other skilled charlatans.
That is the most probable explanation. As far as it can be seen in the experiments described above to me it seems that they were not up to the modern standards. Some of the experimenters were duped before by fake mediums and had a strong agenda for proving ESP as real. That surely leaves room of another possible deception. When you analyses similar modern experiments such as Stargate Project you get none of the results, or at best just some statistical anomalies which can be interpreted as ever you want. As to the motives of the test subject, I don't know. I will paraphrase one parapsychologist who was convinced that one test group produced genuine PK effects, but eventually caught them cheat. He later asked himself how could such a nice, good and decent group of people cheat, he just didn't want to believe in that possibility. There are other examples where some of the test subjects were tricking experimenters for years ext. When we speak of this case what ever technique the test subject used during experiments it was very effective.
Shuca is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2018, 03:08 PM   #10
Senex
Philosopher
 
Senex's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,549
Shuca, this isn't the feedback you were looking for but allow me to recommend that you skip a line between paragraphs. When you don't your text looks too dense to attempt.
Senex is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Reply

International Skeptics Forum » General Topics » General Skepticism and The Paranormal

Bookmarks

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 09:10 AM.
Powered by vBulletin. Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

This forum began as part of the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF). However, the forum now exists as
an independent entity with no affiliation with or endorsement by the JREF, including the section in reference to "JREF" topics.

Disclaimer: Messages posted in the Forum are solely the opinion of their authors.