Uncertain Places with Mitch Horowitz – Paranormal Podcast 770

Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadioPandoraAmazon MusicYouTube

Mitch Horowitz has delved into the mysterious corners of the Occult and shares his thoughts on this edition of The Paranormal Podcast.

You can find his recent book Uncertain Places on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3IuXWeI

Thanks Mitch!


[intro music]

This is the Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold.

JIM HAROLD: Welcome to the Paranormal Podcast. I am Jim Harold, and so glad to be with you once again.

Over the course of doing these shows for – I can’t believe it – the last 18 years, we run across certain people who are special guests. We appreciate all our guests, but people who every time you see they have a new book or something out, you say, “Yes! I get to talk to them again!” And we have one such guest today. I’m talking about Mitch Horowitz.

His latest book is Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences. Mitch is a PEN Award-winning historian and widely known voice of esoteric ideas, with bylines in The New York Times, Time, Politico, Salon, and The Wall Steet Journal, and media appearances on Dateline NBC, CBS Sunday Morning, All Things Considered, Coast to Coast AM, and many more. He is author of many books, including Occult America, One Simple Idea, Daydream Believer, and The Miracle Club. He lives in New York City, and you can find his website at mitchhorowitz.com. Mitch, welcome back to the show today.

MITCH HOROWITZ: Thank you, man. Great to be here.

JIM HAROLD: Let me ask you this question, because I think a lot of the people I talk to are kind of siloed into what I would call non-mainstream outlets like this show. I think it’s important to have people talking about these issues that are being featured on All Things Considered and The New York Times and CBS Sunday Morning. What are your thoughts on that, being the voice of esotericism, that’s been welcomed to some extent in the mainstream? What are your thoughts about that?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I appreciate that question. It’s something I wrestle with because frequently, in the mainstream, when you want to discuss paranormal or esoteric topics, the fee of entry is disavowal of belief, and that’s something I won’t do. I write as a believing historian. I care deeply about these topics. I participate in these topics. So if disavowal becomes a kind of subway token or transit card swipe to entering a mainstream source, I will not enter.

There are times where I’m quite surprised, where I’m writing about certain issues that I don’t think particularly are that controversial that rub up against the mainstream in the wrong way. For example, one of the pieces that is anthologized in Uncertain Places is called “Against Tradition,” and I take a second look at whether forgiveness as a spiritual concept needs to play so central a part in our 21st century culture, whether there are different ways of dealing with injuries or trauma or what have you.

When I wrote that piece, Jim, I could not get arrested. I mean, nobody wanted to touch it. So I wound up publishing it myself on Medium. I didn’t think, frankly, it was all that controversial, but I found no takers. I got a huge outpouring of positive response from readers, many of whom felt understood for the first time, and that meant the world to me.

So it’s tricky. One can’t get too married to the mainstream because the parameters of discussion are simply too narrow. So I weave in and out. I’m happy to participate when I’m able to participate on my own terms, and when I’m not, I go my own way.

JIM HAROLD: In the book you talk about choosing your own reality. Do you think it’s a possibility that – I know the old saw “you create your own reality,” but could it objectively be true that each and every one of us is creating a reality that extends to what phenomena are real and what phenomena are not real? Not just in our daily lives, but about the whole universe, that each of us create our own universe?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I take a variety of views on that. On the most radical end of the spectrum, I do have a perceptual view of reality. I guess you could call me a philosophical idealist. And by the way, it always bears mentioning that the founders of quantum mechanics themselves were not materialists; they were all philosophical perceptualists. They believed that perspective concretizes experience in the most literal sense. We often lose sight of that. That is my point of view.

I believe it’s entirely possible that at every given moment of existence, including this one right now, through our emotionalized thoughts and our convicted perceptions, we are assembling a sense of so-called past, present, and future. We may be reliving that at every instant. At the same time, I also must add that within this framework that we dwell in, there are many different laws and forces, and we are conscripted to experience – not necessarily “live under” in the most ultimate sense of that term, but experience many different laws and forces. And there are countervailing things that intrude into our world.

I mean, rubble is still being cleared in Turkey and Syria, bodies are being found. Thousands upon thousands of lives were lost to those earthquakes. That wasn’t because of perception. That was because of geological factors that a geologist and a meteorologist can explain. That is part of our wager with the world that we occupy. These bodies we live in are going to decay. We are going to experience physical demise. Whether or not that’s ultimate reality is a question that I’m very game for exploring and considering. But that we have the experience, there’s no doubt.

So I do think that we are co-creators of our reality, but within that co-creation, we have to suffer a lot of different laws and forces, including some that are extremely countervailing to our wishes.

JIM HAROLD: Since we’re talking about reality, what are your thoughts on the multiverse and the many-worlds theory? What do you think about it? Are you open to the idea?

MITCH HOROWITZ: Not only am I open to it, but it’s been very helpful for me because I think that – look, we have now 90 years of data that’s emerged from quantum mechanics, and that data is not controversial. Virtually everyone from the physicist to the informed layperson accepts it. What’s controversial are the implications. The many-worlds theory, which was fashioned by Hugh Everett and some of his students in the 1950s, is I’d say almost a logical imperative when one considers that quantum data has revealed to us an infinitude of potentialities playing out at once. These things get localized only through selection or measurement.

And in fact, if we accept that the physical laws on one plane are universal – and what else is a law? – we dwell in a world of infinite possibilities. We don’t sense that, we don’t see it; we live within the local. We experience the local. But how do we experience it? In the lab, a particle and objects that are increasingly larger than particles are not effectively there, are not measurable, are not actual, until a person or a device, like a photometer, takes a measurement. It can be automatized, it can be a matter of individual choice, but without it, we lack actuality. That doesn’t mean all the other possibilities have gone away, and I think that it behooves us to understand that that has real implications for what we are experiencing in the macro world.

Locality is overwhelmingly persuasive. There’s just one Mitch here, there’s just one Jim there, there’s a listener picking up on our conversation. But in fact, the many-worlds theory, which is a way of coming to terms with the surrealities that have emerged from quantum mechanics – and not just subatomic particle mechanics, but these things also apply to macro entanglement – it’s a way of trying to understand that linear time, locality, singularity, a neat, orderly sense of past, present, future, while it’s incredibly persuasive and may be necessary, is not the name of the game. It’s not the ultimate truth of reality. I think the many-worlds theory is one of the most important ideas of our time.

JIM HAROLD: In the book you talk about many subjects, but you say, is magic necessary? A lot of people will watch this and say, “I don’t practice magic in my life.” But isn’t it true that most of us, in one way or another, practice magic, whether we realize it or not?

MITCH HOROWITZ: That begs the question of whether, as we were just discussing, the psyche possesses selective capacities that determine what we are going to experience as concrete reality.

One of the things that I’ve been exploring lately is whether, both within the mainstream religious traditions and the alternative spiritual culture, if one accepts the premise that we as human beings participate in both a physical and an extraphysical existence, if we have a relationship to that extraphysical existence in whatever way – if one believes, as I do, in the premise that the mind possesses causative properties – is it possible to simplify that, to strip away from that some of the liturgy, the ceremony, the ritual, even the prayer that we engage in?

And if we have a warranted belief that the mind has causative principles, if we have a warranted belief that the psyche has extraphysical or extrasensitive properties, could that informed belief in itself be enough for us to consciously enact those things, consciously relate to those things, without ceremony, without ritual, without liturgy? So I’m constantly asking myself, is there a way to make this simpler and simpler?

JIM HAROLD: One of the most, I guess you would call it accepted or known, pieces of magic is the idea of the law of attraction. I’m a believer, to the point – I shared with you before that I have done some visualization and some things you talked to me about, and I felt that they were effective for me. I believe that it’s real. On the other hand, I’ve always been one who believes – let’s say that someone wants the Cadillac in the driveway; let’s use that kind of crass example – that if I sit here and think, “I want a Cadillac in the driveway, I want a Cadillac in the driveway, I want a Cadillac in the driveway,” it’s not going to appear.

Now, if you put focused energy and work plus positive thinking and visualization together, then I think you can make something happen. Doesn’t necessarily mean it will, but you can, or you can get closer to that. Where do you stand on that with the law of attraction? Is it something you can conjure up and visualize it and it happens? Or is it like a recipe, “just add hard work”? Where do you come down with that with the law of attraction?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I personally don’t use the term “law of attraction,” although I bow to it because it’s so popular and it helps people to understand what’s being talked about. Same reason why, for example, I don’t run away from terms like “positive thinking” or what have you because it’s important to use generalities sometimes so that one can communicate in a broad way.

But I think less in terms of manifestation than I do in terms of selection, apropos of what we were talking about earlier. Is it possible that our senses are really just biologic systems of measurement, not much different from what’s being used in the particle lab? And if that’s the case, then is selection enactive of experience? By which I mean perspective, emotional conviction, the belief that something is there.

At the same time, life is very dynamic. For example, if the individual is focused on that Cadillac, well, it could be that he or she will also receive flashes of insight that might direct them to somebody who’s selling a good used Cadillac somewhere or something of that nature. Someone once proposed to me that all this positive thinking stuff may be no more than telepathy. Maybe we’re putting these things out into our immediate world and looking for people who are going to meet us halfway, lend a hand when there’s a necessity.

The question of how this stuff works is, for me, one of the hottest questions of our time because I think we’re reaching a stage where we do need theories. They may not be correct, but at least as a starting point, we do need theories of what’s happening. In the book Miracle Club, for example, I attempt, in the final chapter, a theory of why positive thinking works, what may be going on in terms of our capacity to select.

And as I referenced earlier, there also are countervailing measures. There’s a lot of different laws and forces out there, and I don’t like to refer to this idea of there being one mental “superlaw.” The reality that we know may ultimately be based in consciousness, but there’s a lot of intervening factors between us and that ultimate truth, if that is the truth.

So I think that the selection process, which some people call manifestation, has value. But there’s a lot of complexity there, and I think that we as a generation – both those who are immersed in science and those who are just dedicated laypeople – need to start to work with theoretical ideas of why this would be so.

JIM HAROLD: We’re having a fascinating discussion with Mitch Horowitz today. His most recent book is Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences, and we’ll be back right after this on the Paranormal Podcast.

If you love the Paranormal Podcast, be sure to check out Jim Harold’s Campfire, where ordinary people share their extraordinary stories of ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and terrifying encounters. Find it for free wherever you listen to this podcast. Tune in to Jim Harold’s Campfire today. Now, we return to the Paranormal Podcast.

JIM HAROLD: Welcome back to the Paranormal Podcast. I’m Jim Harold. So glad to be with you. We have one of our favorite guests. Mitch Horowitz is back, talking about his latest book, Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences.

Mitch, I have to ask you about this one. I used to, early on, do quite a few shows on conspiracy. Frankly, I got away from it be I felt that the whole topic – I was interested in historic conspiracies like the JFK assassination and those kinds of things, and then I thought that this stuff really took a turn to left field and got way out there, and I wasn’t comfortable with it. I thought it took a dark turn, so I got away from it. But I can’t resist asking you: tell us about this essay, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Illuminati.” Tell us about that one.

MITCH HOROWITZ: That essay probably was inspired in its most inceptive form by an experience I had – I think it goes back to 2016. I was on George Noory’s show Beyond Belief, which is on the Gaia Network. George asked me about the Illuminati, and I responded somewhat facetiously, “I love the Illuminati.” And I got so much hate mail for that. I’ve dealt with so many controversial topics over the course of my career, but that was the one that attracted the most umbrage. It was as if I had mugged Santa Claus. [laughs] I still occasionally get angry letters about that.

What I was trying to get at on that show, and what I explore in the piece, is that – okay, let me back up for one second, apropos of conspiracies. I’m very sympathetic to what you said. I define conspiracism as it exists right now in the 21st century as the search for a hidden foe, because in effect that’s very frequently what it comes down to. And that to me – that’s why I share your perception that it frequently goes to a dark place. I think it is important for us to question the straight story, and with respect to the JFK assassination and other such things where the public feels it hasn’t been told the truth, I am first in line to shake hands with anybody who is raising the right questions.

But not infrequently, conspiracism as I’ve defined it will go to a place where it’s always searching for the bad guy, the seat of power, the wrongdoer, and that search is always directed away from the mirror, which is the one place that the individual should be looking if he or she is concerned with the spiritual search.

Now, the Illuminati is an important case in point. Everyone, or most people seem to have some conception of the Illuminati as being this evil, shadowy group that’s messing with us in a whole variety of ways. There was a real Illuminati, of course. It was founded in Bavaria in 1776 by a lawyer and philosopher named Adam Weishaupt. There were so many oppressive laws passed against the Illuminati, which in essence was basically a renegade freemasonic group, that within about eight or nine years, the Illuminati was almost completely wiped out.

When governments use their apparatus, their legal, military, economic apparatus, to crush and squelch a group, there are very, very little retentions thereafter – and I’m writing more extensively about the Illuminati in a new book of mine called Modern Occultism.

Now, the principles of the original Illuminati sounded a lot like principles that we would ascribe to Tom Payne or Thomas Jefferson. Separation of church and power. Separation of power from bloodline. Making sure that the courts and the judicial institutions, the military, the religious institutions, are not a repeat loop of power that’s just inherited by bloodline. So when I said I love the Illuminati, I’m standing by that principle for those reasons.

The Illuminati as we reference it today in the 21st century is overwhelmingly a kind of political fantasy where people have cherry-picked the idea that the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, other upheavals in world history, simply couldn’t have happened by themselves. There couldn’t have been traceable reasons of social injustice or other factors that erupted in these spasms, and it’s much easier – and more dramatic – to seek out a hidden hand behind upheavals and seismically shaking events. And the Illuminati, in the hands of pamphleteers and conspiracy theorists, has always fit that bill.

There is a tremendous problem in our 21st century world with transparency, and we as a human community need to address that problem in government, in business, in finance. The problem of a lack of transparency has tremendous real-world consequences. People ask me do I believe there’s evil in the world; I certainly do, and I say this with stark seriousness: evil is located, very frequently, in a gray cubicle with somebody wearing a headset with pictures of rainbows and school photographs tacked up on the wall, denying your healthcare claim, denying you coverage that you’ve paid for and that you are entitled to because of all these arcane coding procedures that are used to rip off the consumer. It’s created a terrible crisis in our society, shouldered people with inappropriate loads of medical debt.

Start looking there and asking what we can and should do about it. The solutions are not so far away. They’re not so impossible. But it’s much easier to look for some shadowy hidden hand and say, “It’s those guys.” I do think we should learn about the Illuminati historically, which I think will also leaven the idea that it’s this persistently surviving transnational group that’s wreaked havoc in our world. It was a group of occult idealists who wanted to use their status as shadowy, underground masons, or self-styled masons, to undermine the Bavarian monarchy and other monarchies, which is why they were considered so dangerous, and which is why they were so brutally squelched.

JIM HAROLD: Interesting perspective from Mitch Horowitz on the Illuminati.

Another thing, since we’re talking about big bugaboos and things that freak people out, let’s talk about the Ouija board. You talk about the Ouija board, and you recently had Karen Dahlman as a guest. She’s fantastic. Love talking to her. She knows everything about Ouija boards, has this huge collection, and thinks that they’re a useful spiritual tool. There are people who think that they’re pure evil. I’m somewhere in the middle, where I look at them like I would look at a chainsaw. If you know what you’re doing, I think they’re fine. If you’re like me, I take a chainsaw, I cut off my hand because I don’t know what I’m doing. How do you feel about Ouija boards?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I’ve written a lot about Ouija. In fact, there’s a piece in the book from 2006 on the history of Ouija boards, which was one of the earliest pieces on an occult topic that I ever wrote. So I have a lot of attachment to it, and I was happy to be able to reproduce it there.

I used to warn people off of Ouija boards for the usual reasons – dangerous doorway to the unconscious or dangerous doorway to the unknown. I’ve backed off from that position, and I take a more sanguine point of view. The reason for it is there are risks of consequences in whatever we do. Whatever we do, there are unintended consequences.

Look, we’re a culture that wakes up every day and the first thing that we do is go online and look on Twitter and Instagram and so on and so forth, and we are engaging and we are interacting with all kinds of unknown entities, frequently people who are using anonymous handles and names, who are engaged in all kinds of smearing and accusations and sarcasm and so forth and so on. We are opening ourselves to a much broader field of unknown influences throughout the course of the day when we’re hanging around on social media than though any occult means.

The fact is, I believe in experimentation. I believe in subjecting myself alone to my experiments, and I’m very well-aware of the long catalog of frightening stories that have emerged from the Ouija board. But there’s also absolutely remarkable things that have emerged from the Ouija board. One of the things I read about is that in the nation of Vietnam today, the third largest faith following Catholicism and Buddhism is called Caodaism. It means “Religion of the High Palace,” and it’s a religion that was channeled through various Vietnamese seekers using a Ouija board. One of the religion’s patron saints is the French novelist Victor Hugo, who they claim they contacted through a Ouija board. Hugo himself was a habitué of séances.

This religion, Caodaism, maintained its own private militia, and it was one of the staunchest allies in Vietnam, first of the French, and then later of the Americans after the French left, and remained a tight American ally until the very end of the war in 1975. A lot of Americans don’t know this. Then the religion had to go underground, and lately it has reemerged aboveground. This was a piece of history that was emergent strictly from the Ouija board in its earliest inception. This religion has brought a lot of meaning to the lives of a lot of Vietnamese, and ironically enough, it brought a very staunch military ally to the U.S. until the end of the war in 1975. None of that would’ve occurred without the Ouija board, and much else besides.

Now, were it not for experimentation – and experimentation can be scary. You’re diving into the deep end of an unknown pool – that and much else wouldn’t have occurred. So I don’t want to put parameters on people’s experimentation. But they are responsible for what they may be taking on. From my perspective, the activity that we engage in on social media and all the hate talk and so forth is a lot more dangerous than activity we open ourselves up to through esoteric means.

JIM HAROLD: That’s an excellent point. I’ve never heard it put that way, but there are a lot of dangers on all the social media outlets, by all means. I look at it as like a book. You can use a book to spread love or you can use a book to spread hate, but unfortunately a lot of people are using this particular tool these days to spread hate, unfortunately.

Getting back to Ouija just a little bit, I find the origins very interesting and the whole story of Fuld and the lore around his death and so forth. I find it interesting, but I’m not opposed to them. We have one in the house. My wife has a circa 1980s Ouija, the classic board, and we hang on to it as a collective. I don’t use it, but maybe someday. Karen Dahlman wants me to do it. I think I need to step out and be a little brave. [laughs]

MITCH HOROWITZ: The Halloween show. We can do a Zoom Ouija session.

JIM HAROLD: There you go, that’s right. You talk about skeptics in the book. James Randi. I didn’t interview Randi, who of course has passed on. I did get to interview Michael Shermer, who I actually appreciated because he was willing to have a dialogue disagreed, but respectfully. To me, that’s all you can ask, to have a respectful discussion. I thought him to be a good guy even though we disagreed.

He made something along the statement of – when I said, “What about the 3% or 4%, the few percent that you really can’t explain? You can’t explain it and I can’t explain it.” He said, “We know about that, but we just put that on a shelf.” I’m like, what? You put it on a shelf? That’s the part you need to take down and look at!


JIM HAROLD: But still, I really appreciated that he was openminded enough to have a back and forth. And a very smart guy. That’s all you can ask in terms of being receptive to conversation. But Randi, I never had any experience with. I never felt that he was like that, though. It didn’t seem like there was much back and forth with him. What are your thoughts on the Amazing Randi?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I agree with how you framed it. I respect Michael. I may never forgive myself for saying this, but I like Michael. [laughs] I disagree strenuously with Michael, and I think he’s a very fine intellectual who has spread himself too thin. It is simply inefficient to respond to your question, what about the 3% or 4% – what about the one-half of 1%, if you want to put it that way – that we can’t explain? Put that on a shelf? That’s a core sample. That’s the place to start digging. That’s finding a vein of gold and saying, “Well, we haven’t found any gold in these hills for a lot of years, so let’s just forget about that.” I think that does an injustice to inquiry. But I do appreciate Michael’s openness to dialogue.

James was another issue altogether. When James died – gosh, it must go back about three years or so – I wrote an extremely critical piece about him called “The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism,” which is reprinted in the book. It is profoundly critical, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t change one word. I think James was actively prepared to be untruthful in order to win a debate on the side of materialist thought. He was absolutely prepared to do brutal injustice to the reputation of earnest, legitimate, hardworking, peer-recognized researchers in order to dispel any questions, not only about the existence of things that he didn’t like, like ESP or extraphysical phenomena, but to disable the debate itself.

James didn’t want to just win the debate; James wanted to erase the debate. He didn’t want there to be a discussion. He was the guy who would flip over the chessboard if the game was going against him. And in the essay, and in my book Daydream Believer, where I revisit the question of academic ESP research, which I care deeply about, I write in sourced detail about James’s methods, which I think were profoundly unethical. And this was a MacArthur Grant-winning public figure.

He knew his field, and when he was being untruthful, it was not accidental, happenstance, a mistake, an exaggeration. It was – I’m going to use a tough word here, and it’s not a word I like using – it was a lie in the sense that James knew enough about academic ESP research to know when he was diametrically representing the opposite of the record – which he would do in the interest of disabling debate.

I think ultimately – and I recognize this is a human being, this is a man with spouses and people who loved him, and I take that seriously – but ultimately, as a public figure, which is the only way I’ve written about him, he’s been a terrible influence on the culture. He has set back the progress of inquiry in some very important fields, including parapsychology, by a generation. That’s his legacy.

JIM HAROLD: Strong thoughts. Strong opinions. That’s why we ask the questions. That’s why we love having Mitch on; he tells you what he thinks.

So let’s flip it – and this could be somebody you talk about in the book or it could be somebody you didn’t mention at all in this particular book. Who is a person historically in the occult, in esotericism, who you think most people don’t know about, but should know about?

MITCH HOROWITZ: I would say J.B. Rhine, who was a pioneering ESP researcher. He’s really the man who made psychical research or parapsychology into an accepted science – a controversial if accepted science. J.B. opened the Parapsychology Lab at Duke University in the 1930s. I write extensively about him in Daydream Believer.

He’s a hero to me because he was engaged in what I suppose could be considered a borderline science or a controversial science, specifically ESP research, and he brought to the table such integrity and a willingness to be wrong. It’s often said that if you’re going to engage in the scientific model, your aim is not just to prove your hypothesis, but also to disprove it. You have to bring that kind of labored integrity to the table if you really want to consider yourself somebody who is engaged in earnest in the scientific model. And J.B. did that. He was willing to be wrong. He was very conservative about his own results.

He statistically proved the existence of some kind of anomalous transfer of information in a laboratory setting, and his results were so seismic in their implications – but he didn’t even probe the implications because his attitude was, “Look, I am a statistician. I am a clinician. My job is to amass evidence. I’m not a metaphysical philosopher.” He was very conservative – some of his colleagues even felt too conservative – about probing the implications of his own results. So it fell to later generations to do so.

The man acted with such integrity, and I think that those of us who are engaged in esoteric studies have to accept the onus of striving for a kind of excellence, striving for transparency, always going the extra distance to be sure that we haven’t exaggerated something, we haven’t gotten something wrong, to the best of our ability. J.B. epitomized that. He understood that there was natural resistance to findings that validated the existence of ESP. There was natural resistance to findings that cut against commonly observed experience. And he went all the further to make his findings impeccable. I love the man for that reason.

JIM HAROLD: Here’s my question for you, because this is a little bit of a frustration for me at times: Why don’t the general public who are interested in these subjects – and there are a lot of people. You can see all the cable channels are basically turning into – even though they call themselves the Travel Channel or Discovery or whatever it might be, they’re becoming the paranormal channels. But there seems to be a lack of talking about people like J.B. Rhine or talking about people like Loyd Auerbach or even talking about people like Mitch Horowitz on those channels. We’re more likely to see you maybe on The New York Times or on CBS Sunday Morning or All Things Considered.

I even go back, really a throwback, to things like In Search Of… Now granted, it wasn’t super high-level journalism, but there seemed to be, back in the day, some interest in covering these things seriously. Sometimes I get frustrated because I feel like it’s devolved into a bunch of people with black t-shirts running around in a room acting scared. I’m just being honest.

MITCH HOROWITZ: Oh, no, I register it, absolutely.

JIM HAROLD: Is it just like anything else, crap sells? I’m not saying all paranormal TV is crap, don’t get me wrong. But there is a good percentage that is.

MITCH HOROWITZ: I think you put your finger on an important point. Obviously they veer toward sensationalism. A lot of the streaming and cable documentaries or documentary-style shows are documentary only in format. They’re using that as a kind of mold to put in the cookie dough of their own choosing. And the cookie dough, very often, is heavily sweetened, heavily sensationalized, and they’re going after the 21st century equivalent of channel surfers. They’re just trying to catch people’s attention. So out comes the infrared camera where everybody has the shiny eyes. Out comes the Bigfoot show where a twig snaps in the woods and everybody jumps.

JIM HAROLD: “What is that?”

MITCH HOROWITZ: Right. So they’re veering toward sensationalism, but there are some exceptions. I just participated in a shoot for a show that is going to be on Showtime, a four-part show on the paranormal that’s being executive-produced by JJ Abrams. I’m pretty excited about it.

JIM HAROLD: Oh, that’ll be awesome. And I have Showtime, so I’m excited. [laughs]

MITCH HOROWITZ: Oh, dig. That’s probably going to be out later this year. I thought the producers, the director were really well-prepared. They had read my stuff. Their questions were very pointed and very informed. I really liked it.

And I do participate in some of these shows, like Ancient Aliens or Unexplained and things of that nature, and I always make clear to the producers, I’m not a conspiracy guy. I’m not an Ancient Alien theorist. I have no grief against that; it’s just not my subject area. I’ll usually talk to them about the history of some topic that they particularly care about, whether it be talismans or cryptozoology or something of that nature. Then, of course, the guy’s voice will come on and say, “Could it be aliens?” [laughs] To which my response is always, “Could be. Big world.”

The fact is, these shows, for the most part, are lowest common denominator entertainment, with exceptions. I actually do think that there are – Unexplained I think is a well-produced show.


MITCH HOROWITZ: I’ve been very happy with some of the segments I’ve done on Ancient Aliens. I’m looking forward to the Showtime show. I just did a show with Gaia on channeling called Channeling: A Bridge to the Beyond. I thought it was extremely well-done, visually well-done and factually historically very well-assembled. So there are bright spots. It’s more the ghost hunter show, the haunted house show, the hunt for Loch Ness show that tends to manufacture phenomena because that’s what the producers are called on to do by their bosses. That’s what they think is going to rope in the channel surfer. It’s a form of entertainment that uses documentary style filmmaking as a façade.

JIM HAROLD: I asked you before for a person who’s not been spotlight sufficiently, and you talked about J.B. Rhine; is there a place or an occurrence in history along similar lines that you wish people were more aware of? A paranormal happening or practice or whatever it might be?

MITCH HOROWITZ: Oh wow, that’s a wonderful question. I don’t tend, frankly, to collect phenomena. I tend to be more interested in the individual search. But I would say that the material that has been coming, including very recently, out of parapsychology I think is just extraordinary. I’ve written extensively about the work of a clinical psychologist at Cornell, Daryl Bem, who about 10 years ago published a paper on his studies into precognition. The results that Bem found were absolutely extraordinary.

He basically found that by performing a cognitive act, like memorizing a word list, and continuing that act of memorization in the future, you could spike, you could heighten your cognitive abilities in what we consider the present. He mapped that out statistically in a way that I would say has been proven bulletproof, because this material that Bem produced has been meta-analyzed now – in other words, grouped and analyzed with different but similar experiments over the course of a decade, and his stats have absolutely stood up.

So we’re finding weird, wonderful, extraordinary, and statistically impeccable proofs emerging from parapsychology that I really care about. It’s very hard for the public to learn about these things because the state of parapsychology articles on Wikipedia right now is really in a shambles. And Wikipedia is great for a lot of things. If you want to learn about the Napoleonic Wars, that’s your go-to source. But when it comes to parapsychology, it’s an embarrassment.

JIM HAROLD: Because it’s been taken over by skeptics, right?

MITCH HOROWITZ: It’s been taken over by activist skeptics, polemical skeptics, people who I would say even do injustice to the term “skepticism,” which really just means a questioning unbelief, not a hardened position that “this can’t be true because it can’t be true,” which is usually the tautological reasoning that this group relies upon.

JIM HAROLD: Circular reasoning, yeah.

MITCH HOROWITZ: They’ve ridden herd over the parapsychology articles on Wikipedia so that a lot of what we’ve just been discussing isn’t even discernible to the deadline journalist, the student, the layperson. In fact, I started writing more actively about parapsychology because one of my kids went online to research J.B. Rhine’s ESP tests and he said, “Dad, it’s all a bunch of junk.” I said, “Well, there’s a reason for that.” It’s a reflection of the success of the polemical skeptics. That success is of a position of a sentiment, but not of truth as we’ve amassed it.

JIM HAROLD: It’s interesting. In the while that I’ve been talking to people about this, I don’t really have any conclusions, but I do have the conclusion that the world is much stranger than we realize. Just by looking at the things around my office, there’s so much more that we haven’t covered. When you were talking about precognition, I was thinking about things like retro-causality, the idea that – if I understand it correctly – my actions today will impact my past. [laughs] If you want to bend your mind, think about that a little bit.

MITCH HOROWITZ: And it sounds so wild, but we know time is conceptual. We know time is not an absolute. It bends in conditions of extreme velocity, bends in conditions of extreme gravity. Even astronauts in our own era, while they’re moving nowhere near the velocity of lightspeed, do experience minute and measurable reductions in the aging process. These things are not just theoretical; they’re actual.

To learn, to realize that time is not an absolute doesn’t necessarily alter my perspective of day-to-day life. Jim says I have to be here at 2:30 Eastern, I’m going to be here at 2:30 Eastern. We need these models, these conceptions to get through day-to-day life. But they’re not absolute reality.

JIM HAROLD: So much to think about, and a good person to think about it with, with the work of Mitch Horowitz’s latest book right here. I’m covering up the title. Not a very good product presenter. I would never be able to make TV commercials. Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences. Mitch, I’m assuming people can find this wherever they find fine books, and also, tell them where they can find this and everything else you do.

MITCH HOROWITZ: Sure. My books are available, physical form, digital form, audio form, most of which I narrate, wherever you buy your books. People can visit me at my website, mitchhorowitz.com. I’m on Twitter @mitchhorowitz, Instagram @mitchhorowitz23.

JIM HAROLD: Very good. One of our favorite guests, Mitch Horowitz. The book is Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences. Continued success on this and everything you do, sir.

MITCH HOROWITZ: Thank you so much, Jim. Pleasure to be here.

JIM HAROLD: And thanks to Mitch for being on the show. He’s always a tremendous guest, has such interesting insights. Always love to catch up with him. And we love to catch up with you. Thank you for listening to the Paranormal Podcast. And if you enjoy what we do, please make sure that you share it with a friend.

I have another little thing for you – and this is actually a free gift to you. If you go to jimharold.com and click on the orange button at the top of the page, you can get your free Campfire 10 Favorite Stories eBook. It’s something we put together. They’re actually 10 favorite stories from our previous Campfire books, so I wouldn’t say they’re my 10 all-time favorites, but 10 of my favorites. It’s a PDF, and it’s absolutely free for you, absolutely. All you’ve got to do is go to jimharold.com and click on the orange button at the top of the page. You can’t miss it. Go through the process there, and you’ll be able to download your own free eBook of 10 Campfire Favorite Stories. My little gift to you.

Thank you so much for tuning in. We appreciate it. We’ll talk to you next time. Have a great week. Stay safe and stay spooky! Bye-bye.

[outro music]

For more information on our podcast data policy CLICK HERE