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Two illusions that tricked Arthur Conan Doyle (bbc.com)
69 points by hhs 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

Anyone familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualism phase should not be surprised, he was incredibly easy to fool.

In short - he was no Houdini https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Houdini#Debunking_spirit...

Today he'd be antivax

Sounds very similar to Robert Kennedy Jr.'s intense political anti-vax campaign. He's widely criticized in the media for it (same as Arthur Conan Doyle) but believes he's doing the right thing and will be proved right in the end, just like Doyle.


>"It is time which will prove our cause," he wrote. "Time will also prove to those who have misrepresented us that they are playing with fire. They are not judging the Unseen. The Unseen is judging them."


> “One thing that keeps me buoyant about this, because otherwise, I’d be depressed,” he said. “I know I’m gonna win this one. I have the ability to push this over the finish line. I know I do. The truth will prevail.”


that is a very astute observation of the man's character and tendencies

The article states "In a later TV interview, Conan Doyle tried to explain his views..." Doyle died in 1930. Pretty sure he never did a TV interview.

Yup, probably not TV, but a filmed interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWjgt9PzYEM

Ah, the “when you have eliminated everything else, whatever remains must be true” line. I remember it from Christian youth sermons and proselytising, where they would set up a strawman against God and then blow it down. One of the Holmes series' worse legacies.

That’s a weird baatardization of the maxim though.

I guess they didn’t want to use ‘however improbable’ in connection to god?

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It may have been a perfect quote of the original maxim, my memory is imperfect and you shouldn't ascribe any meaning to my unintended paraphrasing.

As a Christian, I’m bummed that’s what you heard as a defense for God. Suffice it to say, not all defenses are logical fallacies.

They are to me, still haven't heard a convincing argument, and believe me I tried.

"But, almost alone among skeptics, [Martin Gardner] believed passionately in God, prayer, and eternal life. He called himself a 'fideist' — someone who embraces belief in God without having a rational foundation to do so."


Imo it's up to everyone what they find comfort in, as long as they don't impose it on others.

The wiki for the Cottingly Fairy pictures showed Doyle played a big role in his own deception:

> In a 1985 interview on Yorkshire Television's Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, Elsie said that she and Frances were too embarrassed to admit the truth after fooling Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes: "Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet." In the same interview Frances said: "I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can't understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in."


If he was working as a paranormal investigator, and getting paid, I can see why it would pay off to find at least a few of these illusions to be real. It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

> According to our current theoretical frameworks, human memory is best understood as processes of reconstruction, rather than one of reproduction. That is to say that remembering an event is less like replaying a mental recording and more like composing a story.

I appreciate the appearance of that oft-omitted qualifier, 'according to current theories'. Also, this reminds me of one of those ideas that came in a package with giant robots...

"In the words of Schwarzwald, who is closest to the truth: Imagination and memory are but one thing, which for diverse considerations hath diverse names."

> An acrobat, dressed entirely in black tights, scaled the building and entered through a window after the committee had completed their search of the room. According to the magicians, "the ghost" was a bit of gauze coated with phosphorescent paint that the acrobat removed from their pocket and waved around the room.

If they made a movie that just reenacted Tibbles and Wynter's illusions and other ingenious acts from the period, it'd be even more fantastical and thrilling than those in The Prestige and The Illusionist.

This is interesting. From the article:

"Wynter’s veil had concealed not only her face but a wireless radio."

Isn't that pretty advanced for 1919? A wireless radio that fed her information through an earpiece?

It costed a lot but I have seen adverts for such hidden radio in magician's magazines from the time.

There has always been a very lucrativ market for an engineer+magician that could provide hidden communication devices at the fringe of technology. One of the best and oldest device I found used a telegraph (!) hidden in a turban and shoes with copper sole on a copper threaded carpet.

All radio is wireless :)

Radio was invented in the second half of the 19th century, so pretty mature by then. I guess a sufficiently miniaturized earpiece does sound impressive for the time, but it seems likely the radio itself would be too bulky and was likely hidden somewhere in her clothes.

By wireless it was probably meant that it was powered by battery, rather than by mains power.

a simple radio receiver works without a battery. we built those in school. the electricity induced by the radio signal is enough to drive a small speaker.

Such a device is commonly called a crystal radio[1] and they truly are ridiculously simple. If you don’t need a tuner or an amplifier, which in this case was likely, the only components required to build an AM receiver are an antenna, a diode, and an earphone. The name derives from an early type of diode based on a piece of crystalline mineral, discovered by Braun in 1874[2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_radio

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_detector

Especially if you have a transmitter at full volume one room over, you'd be able to pick that up loud and clear on a crystal radio. I think you could make a small unpowered crystal radio using 1919 tech, since there's no amplification.

I think it's using the old-fashioned terminology. A wireless or wireless radio is just a radio.

It might very well be not a radio as we understand today, maybe a crystal one (passive ) with a powerful transmitter

Easier in the times before the fcc let's put it this way

It may not have been speech, but Morse code. AM voice was understood in 1919, but certainly not practiced at scale.

Speaking of the paranormal, has anyone ever made a serious attempt at replicating Rupert Sheldrake's [1, 2] experiments?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY

Really enjoyable read. Makes you think how people still stick to their believes even when those are proved fake and useless.

Not on topic but the BBC allows unencrypted HTTP requests?

Then 302s a https request to http? It wasn't browser cache as I tried in a private session too

Request URL:https://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190828-the-two-bizarre-ho...

Status code:302

location: http://www.bbc.com/future/stor…hat-tricked-arthur-conan-doyl...

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