In "Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics," author Chris Carter discusses "falsifiability," as advanced by philosopher Karl Popper. Introducing the concept, he observes (page 213):
It struck the young Popper how the supporters of Freud's and Adler's psychological theories seemed to find confirmation everywhere they looked. The data always seemed to fit the theories, and it began to dawn on Popper that perhaps this fact--that observations always seemed to be consistent with the theories--might not be their biggest strength, as supporters claimed, but their greatest weakness.
He goes on to define "falsifiability" as the principle whereby a theory can, in fact, be proven false by the evidence. This, he says, is what separates science from pseudoscience.
Now, in the back of my mind, I have long had the sneaking suspicion that people reading my online material don't pursue it--in the various ways one might hope they would, i.e., inviting me for an interview, or purchasing my book (and actually reading it), because they don't believe me. And more specifically, that they believe that I am conducting pseudoscience; and even more specifically, that my theories are not, in fact, falsifiable. They assume that whenever I hit a snag, in other words, I can find a work-around, an explanation, so that I always come out on top.
It is true, in the eight years, now, that I have been researching my book, I have had certain pet theories that I was loath to part with. I pounded away at the round hole, with my square peg, until my knuckles were sore--but eventually, I acceded to reason and logic, and let it go. And, I admitted it, right there in print.
What I didn't do, was take the reductionistic position that one or two failures discounted the entire study. That, also, would be irrational.
Still, it takes the wind out of your sails to admit defeat in a line of inquiry, especially where there is an emotional investment. Yesterday, I had that experience. I only want to share it briefly, by way of example, to show anyone who is open-minded (i.e., skeptical instead of cynical), that I do, actually, care whether my theories are falsifiable; and I am not, actually, conducting pseudoscience here.
I had the whim, recently, to inventory my loose collection of old newspapers and other historical paper items, like etchings, which I've collected by way of research over the last several years. It's all in one box, but I'd forgotten what all I even had in there. So in the course of completing that seeming innocuous chore, of course I scanned through each newspaper to see if there was anything I'd missed. I had put some of those things away in the box years ago, when my understanding of Mathew Franklin Whittier's life wasn't nearly as complete as it is, today. So, in fact, there were things I'd missed. One of them was a pseudonym I hadn't realized Mathew had been using. That one, also, turned out to be contested (i.e., one of the pieces had been claimed for another 19th century figure, a ministerial student who died young in 1845); but I think I successfully proved it was actually either Mathew's work, that of his first wife, Abby, or in some cases, a collaboration. I also found a piece with a unique pseudonym ("A Down-Easter," which is a colloquialism for anyone from Maine), which clearly seems to be a collaboration between the two, incorporating both of their styles in almost equal measure. That was significant, because I claim such a collaboration for a much better-known work.
But in the same era--the early 1840's--I was seeing poems, essays and stories signed with Abby's married initials, "A.W.," which were plausibly hers. Presumably, they would have been submitted by Mathew, posthumously. There were a few minor contra-indications, but I could explain them; and on the positive side, there seemed to be a great many clues pointing to her authorship. But I didn't have the full run of the newspaper for this time-period, and my researcher, despite having some health problems at the moment, graciously agreed to go back into the historical library and look for the new material.
She found it, alright. This was yesterday evening. As the new pieces came in, I was convinced I had guessed correctly. Finally, I had poems, stories and essays I could be absolutely certain were Abby's work! I was emotionally invested (since I have reconnected with her in the astral realm)--I very much wanted this to be a correct attribution. "A.W." had even written a poem in response to one of Mathew's adventure stories (or more precisely, to the event on which it was supposed to have been based). I thought that clinched it, because there was now a direct connection between "A.W." and Mathew, in the paper. Even the content of the poem seemed to tie in with themes I had singled out, earlier. I thought I was home free.
Then came the very last piece that my researcher found, before she had to quit for the day. A poem, it was signed from Darien, Georgia. Okay, well, one of the earlier ones was signed from St. Simons Island, and that was on the way to Guadeloupe, which was her father's home, and where I have concluded she may have once gone to convalesce from "consumption." But unlike that poem, this one was dated--for year 1844. Abby had died in 1841.
Suddenly all the other contra-indications snapped into place. This was probably a young Southern man, who had liberal views (especially, regarding the Indians); or a displaced New Englander, living in the South, perhaps; who was a shy admirer of a young woman named Mary who resided at some distance from him. Not Abby, having recently embarked for Guadeloupe, consoling her best friend, Mary. My theory, as regards this particular pseudonym, was defeated.
Well, as I wrote my researcher, I was grateful that she'd found the error, lest it remain in my book for someone else to (gleefully) disprove. But I want any readers who assume I am doing pseudoscience, to see this. I do respond to reason. I am open to my theories being disproven. I do care about the truth.
What about the other pseudonym? Proven hands-down, I would say. I found that Mathew had used it for the earliest publication in which I have ever found his work, in late 1831. As a young man of 19, his style is as brilliant as it will be when he's in his 60's. A literary "natural," he hit the ground running. Only, it is even edgier. Of course I can't prove this is his work to a 100% standard. But I have a lot of his humorous sketches and travelogues, and I know his style. Here, he starts out with what purports to be a travelogue, morphs it into a yarn, and tries to see just how much he can get away with. He's dealing with a puritanical editor; so he mischievously skirts the line, writing so that it can be taken either way. It is almost scandalous, but then, not quite. This is something he will repeat often, with various editors--seeing just how much he can slip past them, a cat-and-mouse game. The plot of this one has a captain's son marrying a Dutchman's daughter. Even this early, Mathew is a master of dialect, and of course the Dutchman is rendered phonetically--a strong clue in his favor. It turns out that the Dutchman had bought the girl from the Indians, to rescue her, when she was little; and that the captain had lost a little girl to the Indians--and that this was, in fact, the same girl:
Amid all the excitement of the discovery, our old friend had calmly smoked his pipe. At length he ejaculated--'Deyvil! and so der jung man has married his own sister; dere is a fine kettle wit fish!'
The Captain laughed heartily, and answered--'It is fortunate for us all that he is only my adopted son.'
This is classic MFW. Admittedly I could be wrong--but I don't think so. Not many people in the area (this is published in Boston) are writing this well, in this style, in 1831.
What's been nervewracking, in this study, is when I would dutifully take internal lines from these works, and Google them, only to find that they were attributed to some other author. In this case, you can Google the lines, above, and you will only find this original source--but that wasn't always the case. One of these "P."-signed pieces,* an essay, was assigned to the young ministerial student, mentioned earlier. I then had to try to use a preponderance of the evidence to wrest it away from him, and to claim it for Mathew.
Lately, while I am waiting for a commissioned illustration to be completed, I have been re-reading Chapter 14, the absurdly long chapter into which I have put several years of accumulated new evidence. This chapter, alone, is longer than most books. I'm embarrassed to say just how much longer. But, my feeling is, I'm a Guinea Pig, and it "is what it is." I ain't monkeying with it--I'll just present my research as it occurred, for anyone to evaluate. But there is one particularly lengthy section--itself as long as a small book--devoted entirely to proving one of these pseudonyms for Mathew's pen.
You can look it up--"Quails," who writes a travelogue for the Boston "Weekly Museum" in the years 1849-1852. When I first looked it up--being convinced, for several reasons, that a humorous sketch written under this pseudonym was Mathew's work--I found it attributed historically to a singer/entertainer named Ossian Dodge, who was something of a celebrated scam artist, but who offered family-friendly, teetotaling entertainment, and who was thus wildly popular. The editor flat-out announced, in black-and-white, that Dodge was "Quails." Knowing that possession is 9/10ths of the law--especially where historical literary attributions are concerned--I knew I had to make a very strong case for Mathew's authorship. Eventually I proved it, but it took a lot of ink. There was, unfortunately, no single smoking gun. Instead, there were about nine or ten quite warm guns. So I had to throw everything I had at the problem.
The same thing happened with the attribution for the pseudonym of "Trismegistus" and its spin-offs, in a Boston weekly (patterned after Britain's "Punch"), called the "Carpet-Bag." The most famous characters in that paper were attributed to a career teacher and principle named Benjamin Drew--again, by the editor, himself, in his memoirs. That one took some doing to disprove, also. I even got a researcher into Drew's diary and unpublished autobiography. The trail was murky--a couple of the "Trismegistus"-signed poems were in that diary, so that I would have to claim that Drew actutally lied to himself, in his own diary. But looking at Drew's papers as a whole, and comparing them to the disputed material published in the "Carpet-Bag," there's no way. The preponderance of the evidence overwhelmingly supports my conclusion.
Partly, it's the literary norms of that era. People would "borrow" someone else's poem, or essay, and tinker with it a little, until they justified claiming it for themselves. Sort of like the law governing "fair use," where you have to modify a work a little bit in order to use it, or use just a portion of it. Except in this case, people would actually claim it as their own. And get it published that way.
There are several examples in my book, where I had to fight these kinds of thefts. Most of the time I was successful; but with "A.W.," I was wrong. It just falls out where it falls out.
I ran across mentions of "The Da Vinci Code" yesterday, because I had felt I recognized Rosslyn Chapel, where that novel is set, when I saw it in Mathew's travelogue of Europe writing as "Quails." It strikes me that the historical detective work is probably not so much different (not having read it) than in my book. The main differences are that I don't have a murder; mine is not a work of fiction; and it actually does prove reincarnation. Brown's book was a best-seller; mine is almost entirely ignored, to date. Is it the lack of a murder that's killing me?
I think the time will come, when people are as impressed with truth, as they now are with murders. Murder is awful, and yet, in a sense it's a scam. Nobody has died. Nobody has been disfigured. Nobody has even been separated from his or her loved ones. It's just like a snake shedding its skin, or a cicada leaving its shell perched on the bark of a pine tree. If we saw the entire process, we would think that the effort to eradicate a person by killing them ridiculous. The murderer will pay and pay and pay--the victim is free.
Truth, on the other hand, is substantive, by its very nature. One can pursue it all one's life, and it fills one to the brim with deep satisfaction. It is far more interesting than murder.
But for that, Society has to grow up a bit.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It is proven that Mathew was using another pseudonym, "Poins," in the early 1840's, when we also see "P." in the same literary newspaper, the Portland "Transcript." Mathew would mix-and-match pseudonyms for various reasons, including that editors apparently did not like to run multiple pieces by the same author in the same edition.
Music opening this page: "The Inspector," by Wally Badarou, from the album, "Echoes"