A friend and colleague recently made me aware of a BBC News report about people allegedly receiving telephone calls and text messages from a deceased friend and family member. I was intrigued by this and my friend suggested I consult the work of Cal Cooper on the phenomenon. I tracked him down via the Internet and thankfully he was willing to discuss his research and his book Telephone Calls From the Dead (Tricorn Books, 2012).
TheoFantastique: Cal, thank you for your willingness to discuss your research. How did you come to develop a personal as well as academic interest in the paranormal?
Cal Cooper: I grew up in Nottingham, and from an early age I loved visiting local haunted locations, hearing about their ghosts stories, taking part in ghost walks and visiting the local library to read up on the paranormal. I never thought that, realistically, I would ever end up professionally involved in paranormal research (my main passion in school was acting!). But after studying psychology at college, and later university, where I could explore aspects of unusual human experiences - here I am. I've published papers, given lectures and researched various aspects of the paranormal, from hauntings, poltergeists and ghosts, to telepathy and precognition. I've become immersed in the field of parapsychology over time.
TheoFantastique: I note in your background that one of your research interests is in the psychology of death, and related to that, you've done some research and writing on claims related to postmortem telephonic communication. This is intriguing to me, and calls to mind my teenage interests in the paranormal and the horrific, specifically a Twilight Zone episode, "Night Calls," where a woman received phone calls after a storm blew a phone line across a grave. It is also a story element in the episode "Long Distance Call" where a boy, played by Billy Mumy, converses with his dead grandmother through a toy phone. How did you come to pursue this line of research, and what kinds of phenomenon have you looked into in this regard?
Cal Cooper: I've heard a few people mention these episode ofs The Twilight Zone, and certainly the authors of the original book Phone Calls from the Dead, D. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless, were aware of them too. Obviously though, the aim of my study and that of my predecessors', was/is to investigate genuine claims of such events. Though some may turn out to have rational explanations, even as radical as the one in the fictional Twilight Zone stories.
When I began studying psychology at university, I realised that several areas of psychology took my interest the most, specifically the psychology of death, consciousness and parapsychology. It's the biggest question of all that just confuses us so much to contemplate for too long, that being "where does our awareness for life go once the physical body dies?" Due to this, I read numerous books on hauntings, near-death experiences, apparitions, and similar phenomena. This led me to the writings of Rogo and Bayless, and one particular book which they wrote together entitled Phone Calls from the Dead. When I finally got round to reading it, I thought I should check out the parapsychology journals in the university library to see if other studies had been conducted into telephonic communication. After searching through numerous papers and books, I found little, if anything, and yet I noticed people here and there were still reporting such experiences. Therefore, I felt it was time to refresh the research, thirty years on from the original study.
TheoFantastique: In your book Telephone Calls from the Dead, you pick up the research and writing of Rogo and Bayless from 1979. How has your examination of this phenomenon built upon their investigation over thirty years ago?
Cal Cooper: Not to spoil the ending of the Rogo and Bayless book, but they concluded by saying that they would continue to collect such cases of strange telephone calls. However, even though both of them did briefly mention the phenomenon of phone calls from the dead in later works, no further study was produced by them. It was expected by some parapsychologists that Rogo and Bayless would produce a paper in a peer reviewed journal outlining their study and its full findings. Sadly this never happened. I managed to get in contact with Rogo's father, and he told me where his son's files and notes were donated after his premature death in 1990. At the California Institute of Integral Studies, they found additional cases and notes amongst Rogo's files, which I could then compare against the cases that I had collected. In terms of building on Rogo's and Bayless' research, I have conducted a new content analysis of fifty such cases, the results are more clearly explained, modern technology such as emails and text messaging are discussed and some additional theories have been put forward. A peer review of telephone phenomena is also offered in the book by Dr. John Palmer, Dr. James E. Beichler and the late John L. Randall.
TheoFantastique: What are you currently working on as research projects?
Cal Cooper: I am currently a PhD researcher in psychology at the University of Northampton. My thesis aims to explore paranormal experiences surrounding death and bereavement, which are suggestive of an after-life to the individuals involved, and how such experiences can affect their emotions and motivation. This is regardless of whether the phenomena witnessed is genuinely paranormal or not, as I am exploring the positive and negative psychological aspects of the personal experience. Aside from that I have numerous other projects that I currently working on, including TV and radio work. So keep watching this space!
TheoFantastique: We seem to be experiencing an interesting time in the paranormal with more scholarly work being done on it as serious cultural and religious phenomena, and its increasing prominence in media through television programs and film. To what do you attribute this increased interest in and expression of the paranormal?
Cal Cooper: The amount of times I have had this discussion with people is crazy! However, I think most of us are aware that since the rise of spiritualism in the 1800s, public interest in the paranormal has slowly grown. The Society for Psychical Research began in 1882, and the American branch in 1884, to study in a scientific manner anomalous human experiences. This became a serious discipline, and the subject of the paranormal in our lives covers numerous fields of study, including: psychology, sociology, anthropology, physics, philosophy and much more. I have published articles on apparitional experiences of the dead occurring in ancient Egypt, so they surpass media attention, yet stories of the paranormal certainly entertain the public. On the one side there is serious study, on the other, there is an entertainment market. People love ghost hunts, or motion-pictures about poltergeists and hauntings. We love the scare factor, the thrill with safety, and our fear of the unknown. I think in recent times this market has been recognised more, also partly because the study of strange human experiences and abilities is being taken more seriously in education and the social sciences, however the media and the paranormal has its ups and downs, and pros and cons. I believe for the past couple of years the media front has been fairly quiet, but I have been wrapped up in my studies, research and writing my book, so I could have missed something!
TheoFantastique: Scholars like Jeffrey Kripal have referred to "our present mirrored cultures of religious fundamentalism and scientific materialism, which appear oddly united in their ferocious ‘damning’ of the paranormal.” Would you share in his assessment, and as I asked Jeff, what would you like to see by way of developments that might move us beyond this impasse? Including the paranormal on the research agendas of religious studies and cultural studies? Dialogue between the esoteric, religious and scientific communities? Other suggestions?
Cal Cooper: I have seen from time to time some views of parapsychology which you could call ignorant, or oversimplified, which could damage the view of the field as a whole when such information is placed in the public domain. It certainly shouldn't be simplified as "ghostbusting." But as I've mentioned, the paranormal is becoming more and more of an interdisciplinary study, and it is emphasised quite often that parapsychology should branch out as much as possible. One of my good friends and colleague, Jack Hunter, has taken this step and is the editor of Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal. Even though the journal has an anthropology emphasis, it really is showing a wide range of contributors from various backgrounds including theology and physics. Parapsychology, and parapsychologists, over time have suffered blows from other sciences and scientists who doubt the research that is being carried out, and cynically so in many cases, rather than sceptically, which would be expected of true scientists. But with more and more universities around the world taking on parasychological research through various disciplines I believe the infliction of damage is becoming less due to interdisciplinary understanding and scholarly respect. I can only hope the field continues to branch out and prosper.
TheoFantastique: Cal, thank you very much for your time and thoughts. I hope your book does well, and I wish you the best in your continued PhD research.