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Stephen Braude is a talented storyteller, a little long winded and repetitive at times for my taste, but nevertheless, The Gold Leaf Lady is a good popular style read. Yet it is difficult to classify. On the one hand Braude provides evidence for some astonishing parapsychological phenomena, on the other hand, however, his style of investigation is similar to the kind of superficial treatment we get in most newspapers, television documentaries and glossy magazines. That is, the material is fairly detailed, but the whole affair is carried along with anecdotes and slightly sensational snippets of personal information and no real conclusions or compelling explanations are reached.
The book has eight chapters, together with Appendices, Glossary, Notes, References and Index. Most chapters present a case study which describes and analyses a particular paranormal occurrence.
- Chapter One concerns a Florida woman (Katie) whose body spontaneously breaks out in small pieces of gold leaf (actually brass).
- Chapter Two looks at the history of paranormal phenomena and in particular the spiritualism, spiritism and mediumship of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Chapter Three critically analyses Joe Nuzum, psychokinetic superstar!, revealing "... both incompetence and treachery on the part of Nuzum's principal sponsor" (p. xii).
- Chapter Four, another "cautionary tale" looks at a Californian man who supposedly can perform psychokinetic effects in informal settings but comes unstuck when confronted with formal testing conditions.
- Chapter Five concerns a policeman who believes he can transfer images of photographs onto other objects. Again, another "cautionary tale"?
- Chapter Six discusses paranormal photography, specifically the case of Ted Serios and the serious investigations concerning his ability.
- Chapter Seven discusses coincidences, or what is sometimes referred to as synchronicity. Braude argues for what he believes is behind this phenomenon. This chapter gets the closest to Braude attempting an explanation based on his own theory.
- Chapter Eight is really out on a limb! It discusses astrology, especially as practiced by his wife Gina. I mentioned "slightly sensational" at the start, this chapter goes into a fair amount of detail concerning his wife's involvement with the Serbian mafia, her early personal life, and her fantastic success as a predictor for major sports teams' winning chances.
Braude is a professor of philosophy at The University of Maryland, Baltimore. He is author of several books, including Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life After Death and ESP and Psychokinesis: A Philosophical Examination. Unfortunately, The Gold Leaf Lady does not attempt to provide an in-depth discussion of the phenomena he discusses. For example, Braude does not attempt to explain in detail how the gold leaf spontaneously appears on Katie's body. He himself explains "The principal theme of this book is the appearance – and sometimes only the appearance – of physic or paranormal events in everyday life" (p. xii).
It is interesting to read how many of his professional colleagues are not only suspicious of his paranormal investigations but in some cases blatantly rude and hostile towards him personally. As an aside, if I were Braude I'd be more concerned about my wife's wrath, after his public exposure of her personal history, than his incredulous academic colleagues' comments. Astrology is one of those things that refuses to go away, even though from a scientific perspective it is self-contradictory and a logical impossibility. Yet there are many serious astrologers that have excellent success with helping people get in tune with the cosmos and themselves. As Braude to his credit notes, there are many things we know nothing about. "We're left, in any case, with events for which our current and standard stock of scientific explanatory options seems conspicuously inadequate. Although I realize many see that as cause for suspicion and alarm, to me is exciting. It's another humbling reminder how much we still don't understand about the world" (p. 177).
Paranormal phenomena are notoriously difficult to investigate and serious in-depth studies are few and far between. I had hoped Braude's book would be such an in-depth investigation, unfortunately it's not. As mentioned it simply provides strong evidence that paranormal phenomena really exist, even after we debunk the deliberate frauds and expose the unintentional frauds (or self-deluded psychics). Whilst Braude provides extensive references there are a few omissions which to me are inexcusable. Ian Wilson's important book, "The After Death Experience" (1987) an excellent example of comprehensive research and debunking should have at least been mentioned. Sai Baba gets a page or two but Braude fails to acknowledge that he has been exposed as a fraud in respect of manifesting gold rings? This was done with a video camera (they don't lie like our eyes), which showed him fumbling for the rings underneath a lectern. Doris Stokes a very famous, high profile medium from England, who deceived millions has been exposed as a fake also and she doesn't get a mention.
This book is an easy read, provides some fairly strong evidence for the existence of paranormal phenomena and I'm sure will entertain most readers -- other than his professional colleagues. I'm still astonished and bemused by chapter eight!
© 2008 Rob Harle
Rob Harle is an artist and writer, especially concerned with the nature of consciousness and high-body technologies. His current work explores the nature of the transition from human to posthuman, a phenomenon he calls the technoMetamorphosis of humanity. He has academic training in philosophy of mind, comparative religious studies, art and psychotherapy. Rob is an active member of the Leonardo Review Panel. For full biography and examples of art and writing work please visit his web site: http://www.robharle.com