The Sacramento Bee, Oc.t 31, 2002
By David Hoye — Special to The Bee
Manfred Boden was at his computer when letters and entire lines of text on the screen began changing by themselves. Gradually, the German cabinetmaker saw a message from a recently deceased friend take shape: “I am here … Manfred … Yours, Klaus.”
Believers in something called instrumental transcommunication (ITC) say the message Boden received nearly 22 years ago on a Commodore CBM 8032, an early personal computer, was the first known instance of a spirit using a computer to contact a living person.
It’s a spooky story fit for Halloween until you talk to someone like Joe Nickell, senior research fellow for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which publishes the bimonthly magazine Skeptical Inquirer.
“This is just the latest flowering of an old root — spiritualism,” said Nickell, a former stage magician and detective. “I’ve devoted more than 30 years to this. I’ve sat in myriad seances. And I’ve seen nothing that was evidence it was coming from the other world.”
Such skeptical views don’t seem to matter to those who believe it’s possible to communicate with the dead. In fact, many believers point to anecdotal evidence and the popularity of television shows like “Crossing Over” and “Beyond” as proof that their numbers are growing.
“Even Jay Leno is including afterlife jokes in his monologues,” said Mark Macy, a Colorado-based author, researcher and expert in ITC. “If Jay’s talking about it, you can be sure it’s on the minds of most Americans today.”
Macy operates the World ITC Association’s Web page (www.worlditc.org), which includes the history of ITC and how spirits supposedly communicate with the living using not only computers but also cameras, voice recorders, telephones and televisions.
ITC traces its roots to 1901, when a U.S. scientist made a recording of “conjured spirits” while visiting a shaman in Siberia. Since then, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of instances where believers say contact has been made with the dead.
Among the claims: Englishman Ken Webster received some 250 spirit messages on his computers in 1984 and 1985. A picture of Hollywood filmmaker Hal Roach appeared on a Luxembourg computer in 1992, the year of his death. Earlier this year, Macy aimed a Polaroid at a woman and ended up with what many believe is an image of the late singer John Denver.
ITC believers say contacts are possible because teams of spirits are committed to opening channels of communication between both worlds. Such teams, they say, require harmony and cooperation among their living contacts for successful ITC to occur.
Macy said one form of computer-aided ITC involves spirit teams working closely with a living researcher who has “certain psychic qualities.” When successful, spirits are able to turn computers on and leave messages, even planting files on hard drives or floppy discs.
A second form uses the computer as an audio recorder. With background noise, such as a radio tuned between stations, a researcher records himself asking seven or eight questions spaced 30 seconds apart. The recording is then reviewed to see if it picked up spirit voices.
Macy said communication typically occurs on Windows machines, and has come in the form of simple text messages, Microsoft Word document files and a wide variety of digital image formats, including “.tif,” “.jpg” and “.gif.” With the popularity of the Web and e-mail, one might think that the spirits would use the Internet as a communication medium. But Macy said the Internet includes too many “troubled thoughtforms” that disrupt the harmony necessary for ITC contacts to occur.
“The Internet corrupts that harmony,” Macy said, “by distributing all facets of human thought, from the light and loving to the dark and dirty.”
Halloween or not, the concept of ITC is too far-fetched for Kevin Christopher, a computer buff who handles public relations for CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer.
“That spirits can affect hardware is quite a leap,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary claim, and I’d need extraordinary proof to believe anything like that can happen.”
Want to hear more about ITC? Macy is a scheduled speaker at the New Science and Ancient Wisdom conference in Berkeley Nov. 9-10. For details, check with the event’s sponsor, the Bay Area Consciousness Network (www.bacn.org).