Friday, May 29, 2015

Debunking Charlie

So a couple days ago I posted an article on the "Charlie Challenge," a method for allegedly summoning a spirit using two pencils that went viral. In my article, I noted that if it worked, it might be usable as system for spirit communication that did not involve the ideomotor response, which is what makes pendulums and planchettes seem to move on their own. Last night I did some experiments with the two-pencil method, and concluded that it doesn't work. At least, not in the way that I posited.

First off, I determined that the pencil generally won't spin in response to vibrations in the room. That was one of my initial thoughts about how and why the pencil might be moving. One of the videos, for example, shows a couple of kids sitting in a kitchen bouncing a basketball on the floor. But when I set the pencils up on my desk I found that I was able to hit the surface quite hard without making the pencil on top spin at all. The best I could do was a slight wobble without sliding the desk.

My next thought was to apply Qigong methods and see if I could make the pencils spin that way. I previously have had some success with an Egeley Wheel along those lines, which was designed based on the observation that Qigong masters seem to be able to affect the rotation of leaves suspended in water. I should note here that this isn't necessarily a supernatural effect, as Chinese researchers have measured infrasonic waves being emitted from the hands of Qigong practitioners. But like my vibration tests this was a bust as well, with no noticeable effect.

I finally happened upon what I believe to be the mechanism. Moving air at just the right angle will make the pencil spin dramatically. It's not obvious, though. If the angle is off you can blow as hard as you want and it won't move. Likewise, if the angle is right even a slight breeze will work, whereas if it's wrong even a strong breeze won't do anything. Air movement is obviously going to be a factor outdoors, but forced-air furnaces also produce moving air. In a home with such a system, if the pencils are placed in the right spot they will move when the fan comes on.

Otherwise, breathing at the right angle will do the trick as well. I can imagine a bunch of teenagers calling out to "Charlie" and scrutinizing the pencils closely. As soon as somebody gets excited enough to start breathing hard, sure enough, the pencil on top will spin. I will add, though, that as with a breeze the angle seems to be very important. Just blowing on the pencil doesn't do it unless your breath hits it just right. Furthermore, the angle at which it needs to strike is not what you would expect, and at that angle it can work from further away than you would normally think.

The difference between how you would expect moving air to effect the pencil and how it really takes place probably explains the "supernatural" appearance of the method. The teenagers involved in this likely don't necessarily notice that they're breathing hard, and don't realize it when their breath hits the proper angle. So what this implies is that method probably won't work as a system for spirit communication - which is too bad, but at the same time I imagine that if it was usable some magician would have talked about it before now.

The apparent nature of this practice does highlight one of my problems with capital-S skeptics. Whenever they are confronted with something that looks paranormal, their first response is to accuse whoever is reporting it of lying or perpetrating an outright fraud. But, in fact, most experiences that people identify as paranormal are normal experiences that they misinterpret for various reasons. It's easy to dismiss accounts outright, but much more revealing to investigate them in a sincere manner.

I may still see about trying the pencil method in a formal ritual, but given the shifts I see on my EMF meter when spirits show up, my suspicion is that they won't be able to generate enough physical energy to produce noticeable movement. That's still just a working hypothesis, though, and if my tests turn out differently I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

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