Reviewed by Ashley Knibb
Adding to her previous two books with similarly catchy titles; Things You Can Do When You Are Dead (2013) and More Things You Can Do When You're Dead (2015), Tricia Robertson brings us more unbelievable and bizarre accounts. This time she covers a wide range of phenomena, from spiritual, to Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), to precognition, to thoughtography, to miracles and much more. However, do not be misled by the size of this book, although the topics suggested within its Contents would have us think we were about to read volumes; Robertson manages to condense, explain and provide good examples in less than one hundred and fifty pages. Far from a heavy read but packed throughout.
Robertson is likely known to many SPR members for her contributions over the years and as such an experienced investigator of phenomena. Robertson is a former teacher of both mathematics and physics but has also lectured alongside Prof. Archie Roy. Both delivered a twenty, two-hour lectures series entitled ‘An In-Depth Study of Psychical Research.’ There was also an earlier introductory course prior to this. These courses ran for around six years examining the evidence of the paranormal. Add to this, Robertson's thirty plus years investigating spontaneous cases and its clear to see that she has gained a wealth of knowledge on psychical research.
I feel that perhaps I should begin close to where Robertson ended this book, quoting Prof. Henry Sidgwick:
The records of experiments must depend ultimately on the probity and intelligence of the persons recording them, and it is impossible for us, as investigators, to demonstrate to persons who do not know us that we are not idiotically careless or consciously mendacious. We can only hope that within the limited circle in which we are known, either alternative will be regarded as highly improbable.
It is indeed where Robertson comes in as this is demonstrated within the pages of this book that she has recorded without doubt a huge amount of information that provides some thought provoking moments when considering our possible abilities in life and death. She certainly has not been 'idiotically careless' and has provided some truly readable material. Often the literature I read can be classified as ghost stories or academic work. Both are important, but Robertson has found a nice middle ground, where fact and story are delivered well.
Similarly, to my fellows of the SPR that reviewed Robertson's previous two books (see Charman, 2016; Playfair, 2014), I would agree that this book is written for the public. Equally that it presents the possibility to the readers that their death may not be the conclusion of their existence. As such I also have no doubt regarding the author’s belief in the afterlife, but as this book deals with some of our abilities in life, I would not say it is responsible for driving the narrative forward. However, the authors passion for the subject matter does present itself on each page of this book. In fact, it was this passion that enthused me to not only read on, but to look further beyond the book. As such I would say that Robertson’s presentation of cases was inspiring.
Prior to discussing a few of the chapters I just wanted to share some of my notes that appeared to be consistent throughout this book. As I read through a book, I like to make brief summaries at the end of each chapter. For this book the use of 'simple,' 'well-constructed,' 'well structured,' and 'explained well' come up quite often. This reflects my own experience as I read it cover to cover, which means I never left a chapter disappointed or worse still confused. Although if I had to call out anything it would be the chapter on Home Circles, as I felt this to be a little short and even though the book had touched on Mediumship a great deal; I wanted to know a little more on this.
I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of both Retrocognition and Precognition, as often these two areas are left out of books of this nature. However, Robertson presents them well with good explanations and some great examples. Including some interesting cases that related to the Titanic. This included the case collected originally by Prof. Ian Stevenson, that demonstrated the potential foreknowledge of the Titanic tragedy fourteen years before it occurred. This was written by Morgan Robertson in 1898 in a novel called Futility, where he described similar events to that which occurred with the Titanic. An impressive case, but not the only one Robertson includes.
Another chapter that really caught me, was the one on Thoughtography. Interestingly this was not something I was familiar with directly, as I had recognised it as 'psychic projection' or even 'psychic photography' in the past. However, it was something I had heard of in my own research, but someone I was not aware of was Ted Serios. The case of Ted Serios that Robertson presents is another which really caught me and helped me rethink my understanding of what is usually presented as paranormal photographs. It is certainly remarkable to think that Serios managed to create more than four hundred photographs, some which included specific images that were recognisable. An ability that may have occurred elsewhere, but we have simply misinterpreted the events, believing that perhaps the environment or even spirits were responsible for something we produced from our minds. Robertson again sparks that interest within the reader through good explanation and well delivered case studies.
Robertson also shares with the reader an account derived from the actual case notes and first-hand experiences of Archie Roy. The case relates to a psychotherapist who contacted Roy in the mid 1980's. This was all regarding a woman in her thirties who started to talk in a foreign language whilst in a hypnotic state. A German sounding language according to Robertson. Roy later realized that the German uttered under hypnosis sounded oddly like a description of the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich. This case goes on to talk about how the woman became influenced by the overshadowing of this possible spirit and how Roy himself became concerned after the death of the psychotherapist in a house fire. A dark, but fascinating case worth a read.
Towards the end of the book Robertson returns to Mediumship and touches on Home Circles. Once again exploring this area the author provides a detailed overview of various types of Mediumship, including Materialisation, Physical Mediumship and more. In this chapter the work of Charles Richet and Gustave Geley is discussed as they investigated ectoplasmic formations. Again, the author provides some interesting insights and certainly leaves the reader with the possibility that the phenomena should be considered and not disregarded as fraud simply because it should not be possible. The chapter goes on to discuss some interesting cases, including Prof. Stephen Braude’s 'Gold Leaf Lady' case; and Uri Geller.
The chapter on Mediumship closes by providing some possible reasons why evidence such as that discussed by Robertson is still rejected. As such some interesting points are raised regarding Religious Fundamentalism, Scientific Fundamentalism, Media Bias and Ignorance, Fear, and Being Influenced by People Allegedly Providing Inference of Fraud. Whilst the paranormal is certainly more mainstream nowadays, it appears to be the more sensationalists that dominate as its representatives, which in turn means those interested are associated with Ghost Hunters. Also, the evidence is often in the form of photographs, audio, and video, leaving case studies and research similar to that outlined by Robertson out of sight. Something which is a real shame in my opinion.
Whilst summing up Robertson provides a nice short chapter that provides a point of view that does not force an opinion on the reader. However, she does invite the reader to engage with the literature, the experiments, and the research to gain a greater understanding of the subject; and then with an open mind, weigh up the evidence. As it should be with matters such as these, Robertson appears open to new ideas and discussion regarding alternative possibilities.
Although the author promises 'from the unbelievable to the bizarre' on the books cover, she does a good job of providing good explanation, that makes those accounts certainly believable. The book was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and whilst it was packed full of information and case studies; they flowed effortlessly from cover to cover. A case related to the author and Roy was also a great inclusion. As such I too must echo the review of her previous book (Charman, 2016) and request a book based on the unpublished investigations of Robertson and Roy. As I would enjoy reading about those in more detail.
Otherwise this was an excellent book, it was not heavy reading, but was packed full of information relating to psychical research. It bridges the academic and the public effortlessly in my opinion, making it a valuable addition to my bookshelf.
Charman, R. A. (2016). [Review of the book More Things You Can Do When You're Dead by T. J. Robertson]. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 80(3), 182-185.
Playfair, G. L. (2014). [Review of the book Things You Can Do When You Are Dead by T. J. Robertson]. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 78(2), 102-103.
Robertson, T. J. (2013). Things You Can Do When You Are Dead: What Can You Truly Believe? Guildford: White Crow Books.
Robertson, T. J. (2015). More Things You Can Do When You're Dead: What Can You Truly Believe? Guildford: White Crow Books.