Sunday, 7 August 2016

Hugh Grant: The Art of Spectacularly Missing the Point.

Hugh Grant, star of...erm... lots of films.... spoke to James Corden on his Late Late Show on Thursday night regarding his experience of calling a ghost hunter to exorcise his London home after one of his three-year-old boys claimed to have seen the ghost of a little boy. The ghost hunter in question, Wendy Mandy, came recommended to him, seemingly made several visits and claimed she could exorcise the spirit haunting his child.

Grant tells us "{She} burnt about 7lb of sage, then banged a little drum and played an instrument and said all the spirits are gone"
Before concluding
"It's bollocks"
But wait! Don't post Grant's membership badge to the club of wise and venerable skeptics just yet. We may want to look at his reasons for concluding that Mandy's stick waving and herb immolation ritual isn't quite on the level first. The reason he gives is...

 Because his son saw the ghost again the next day.

What I don't understand is why Grant called Miss Mandy at all, he describes feeling "ashamed" at the whole idea of calling a "ghost-hunter". I'd say the issue isn't that he called a ghost hunter, but rather the type of ghost hunter he called. I know plenty of "ghost hunters" who would've approached Grant's request with seriousness and professionalism, I doubt he would've approved of the conclusion they came to either. He probably would've appeared on a similar chat-show complaining that skeptical ghost-hunters had dismissed the idea of his son seeing a ghost, as a normal extension of childhood imagination. Grant wanted a woo-merchant who would tell him what he wanted to hear and act in line with that. Sorry mate, sold as seen. You wanted New Age horse shit and you got it, you can't return it 'cos it stinks.

Of course, Miss Mandy (below) isn't taking this lying down. She took to the Daily Mail (where else) to berate Grant, and suggests the reason the exorcism didn't take was the fault of his cynism causing a
"negative frequency". She also claims, that she doesn't normally work with "cynics". I'd hazard a guess, that's because cynics (and skeptics) ask too many questions and may be suspicious of her methods. Like many new age practitioners, Mandy requires complete acceptance for her abilities to work. 

‘I did what I could. When you’re dealing with frequency you’re dealing with something in the intellectual left brain. Science is proving that plants have their own language, animals have their own language – it’s a frequency language, it’s not upper-class English Hugh Grant language.
Of course, this is all just obfuscation, skeptics are well accustomed to woo-peddlers using the specific excuse of "negative vibrations" they give off preventing any kind of testing using the scientific method giving positive results. James Randi has frequently described being told his "negative vibrations/energy" disrupt the abilities of those taking his million-dollar challenge to prove the paranormal. Believers in psi-phenomena have even coined a term for the phenomena "the Shyness Effect". Of course, this is just special pleading and an ad-hoc rationalisation and that is all Miss Mandy is doing here, attempting to rationalise her apparent failure. Her adoption of scientific terminology in a completely nonsensical way, pointing to non-existent scientific research and even claiming to be an expert in quantum physics, is her attempt to trick the reading audience into believing she has a level of expertise and knowledge that shouldn't be questioned.
"...It [frequency] is actually quite a complicated subject, I can tell you I’ve studied feng shui for ten years amongst other things....There is no course where you can learn what I’ve learnt. I’m the genuine article. This is science... quantum physics."
All this translates to is "I'm an expert, I couldn't possibly explain it to you peons. Just take my word for it." How about no. The "bollocks" that Mandy practices is not directly related to "quantum physics" or "frequencies", the latter of which aren't that difficult to explain really, in any way. Saying that it is, is just her attempt to avoid the inconvenience of having to explain exactly how her method works.

 Any physicist you ask will confidently assure you that the relatively young discipline of quantum mechanics has yet to find a use for the "Tibetan singing bowl" or even the burning of sage.

As for Grant, he seemingly fails to consider that there was no ghost in the first place, that instead of calmly sitting his son down and talking to him about imaginations and imaginary friends, he threw some money at the problem and resorted to New Age horse-shit. I doubt that there is a parent in the western world whose three-year-old didn't at some point claim to have seen something that isn't real. My son had a long-running relationship with an imaginary friend called Mr Monkers, a well-rounded character with many quirks and foibles, who generally was most disruptive at bath time and bed time.

Funny that. The times of day most children would do anything to avoid, Mr Monkers would suddenly appear to wreck havoc. He also had a propensity for putting his fingers in the jam.

What I did was calmly explain to my son that it was OK to creatively use his imagination, but he must remember the difference between this and reality (and that jam was far more palatable on toast rather than fingers). This kind of fantasy can be encouraged and nurtured without blindly indulging it, and it probably shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, hopefully leading to a healthy approach towards role-playing, a vital part of the childhood experience. Hopefully, this helps discourage Miss Mandy's approach to role-playing, granting oneself mystical powers which no-one else is capable of understanding, protecting these fantasies with a haze of misunderstood science and carrying it well into adulthood.