8 July 2008
"If a man doesn't know how to measure and is told by a crowd equally ignorant that he is six feet tall, how can you expect him not to believe it?" -- Plato, The Republic
This is a new show on the US television channel A&E.; A&E; describes the show as “an intense journey of a medium and a psychologist, who draw on their own personal experiences, training, and unique outlook on life to teach troubled kids how to deal with what they often feel is a curse, as much as a unique and special gift.”
The “medium” named here is Chip Coffey. One can read more about his claims on his website (chipcoffey.com) as I am not concerning myself with his claims except those made in the show.
Dr. Lisa Miller is the psychologist and she is a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Columbia University. She is also a believer in parapsychology and mediumship. One thing notable about this show is that there are no dissenting views, no lone skeptic to give a scientific explanation to any occurrence.
The episode being reviewed is called “Night Terrors” and was first aired on July 7, 2008. It followed the stories of three children: Kali, age 9; Caleb, age 8; and ReAnna, age 8, and their fears of being left alone in the dark. This fear is somehow equated to the children seeing ghosts, which was first recognized by the mother of each child. The opening half of the show is an introduction to each child.
The first child introduced is Kali, the eldest of the three in this episode. She introduces herself and says she can see spirits. A caption then says “Kali has been seeing spirits her entire life and is afraid to share her experiences with other kids.” According to this statement, we are lead to believe she has been seeing spirits since she came out of the womb; how anyone would test this or even prove this is unknown and not explained. Kali then goes on to claim that she “feels bad energy”. Kali’s mother then shows up to say that Kali has “always” been able to tell when someone passes away. The mother says that Kali sees a tall figure in a dark suit, who the mother calls “the caretaker”. Kali then says that she sees the caretaker drag spirits into the floor where “hell is”. The proof of these claims comes in an anecdotal story about the passing of Kali’s aunt. The mother retells the story of Kali seeing her aunt with the caretaker 3 days before her aunt died. Besides this story being anecdotal and unfalsifiable, it is never mentioned what condition the aunt was in during this time or how she died. Also, earlier the claim was that Kali was able to see dead people, but when she sees her aunt, her aunt is still alive.
In the next segment, Kali's mother stated that whenever Kali sees this “negative energy” she becomes ill. Her mother even mentions that she will keep her out of school for 2-3 days after one of these episodes. Later in the show it is even mentioned that the school Kali attends has sent a truant officer after her and are holding her back because she has missed so many days. The mother also says Kali has a blood disorder but gives no other information beyond that of what kind of disorder or if it was even medically confirmed. She also goes on to say that the blood disorder is caused by the “negative energy” that is draining her child and is causing stress in Kali’s life. If Kali truly has a medical disorder then the school would help to work with her and her mother. Kali then comes on to say that this sickness is a gift.
Next the show introduces Caleb. Caleb claims that he hears spirits calling his name. After that claim, the show places a caption saying, “Since the age of 2, Caleb has been tormented by spirits. The frequency and intensity of these experiences have caused him severe anxiety.” Caleb’s mom, who is very young looking, starts to talk about the first time he saw a spirit. According to the previous caption, this would have been while he was 2. She says that she tried to tell him it was his imagination, but that she was scared of what he was seeing. It is doubtful that a 2 year old would understand what imagination was, but a child can tell when their parent or parents are scared and would take their cues from the parent. His mom then goes on to say that she takes him to a therapist for his anxiety; it never says what therapist or even interview the therapist. Caleb says that he does not tell his friends about his “gift”. The episode then shows his mom putting him to bed. His mom then talks about his reward and punishment system for being afraid at night alone. If he spends 10 nights not afraid he gets a new game. If he spends 10 nights being afraid he loses a game for a week. His room is painted pink with pink hearts and flowers on white doors. Caleb is then shown waking up at night afraid, which is common when having a nightmare, but Caleb equates it to spirits.
ReAnna is the final child is introduced. She claims to be terrified of spirits, especially at night. She then begins to talk about one of her first experiences. She apparently witnessed the death of a little girl that lived next door. The girl was killed by a passing vehicle. ReAnna dealt with this traumatic experience by imagining seeing the little girl after the accident. The show never mentions how long after the accident. ReAnna talks about hearing the girl say she missed her family. These neighbors were not interviewed as they had moved away, so they wouldn’t have to see the sight of where their daughter died. ReAnna’s mother is holding her and had her write this story down to read for the taping of the show, thus reinforcing the behavior. The mother also then says that ReAnna can also diagnose and heal any medical condition. According to the mother she does this by taking the disease or condition into herself, just like the character from the movie and book “The Green Mile”. Once again the evidence for this is an anecdotal story given by the mother. ReAnna’s mother claims that ReAnna healed cramps in the mother’s hand by waving her hand over the cramping area. ReAnna’s experiences all happen at night while she is alone. She claims to hear noises and see shadows.
A few similarities between all three children were noted: They are all young and at an impressionable age. None of them are shown to have a father figure. The mothers seem to be shaping what the children believe. They are all afraid of the dark; as are most children at their age. All three are afraid to talk to their friends about their “gifts”. Anxiety seems to be haunting all of three of them.
Now, enter Chip Coffey and Dr. Lisa Miller. They are at ReAnna’s house to talk to her. The first thing out of Chip’s mouth is this house has “strong energy”. He proceeds to describe spirits to ReAnna and asks her if this is what she sees; of course the 8 year old girl answers yes. She does not describe these things herself; instead it was Chip describing them to her and ReAnna just agreeing with him. This is ReAnna appeasing to an authority figure. Chip is also asking leading questions and not letting ReAnna speak as herself.
Dr. Miller talks to ReAnna’s mother and points out that ReAnna is at the age of strong imagination. Dr. Miller then follows that statement by asking the mother when was it that you realized your child’s gift was real. This is a loaded question and an implicit assumption; it is assuming that the gift is real and not just imagination without proof of it being real. The mother answers by saying she also heard a spirit voice while staying one night in her daughter’s room. Chip then says the room is “very spiritual.”
The next scene is Dr. Miller and Chip talking outside the house. Chip says the best way to tell a child is psychic is by noticing two things. 1) They are afraid of the dark. 2) They don’t know what to do about being afraid. By this definition, almost every child is psychic. Dr. Miller then points out fear of the dark is common and widespread in children. She follows that statement up by saying ReAnna’s fear is beyond what is normal in most children and thus must be caused by her seeing spirits. This statement makes two logical fallacies. The first is excluded middle, spirits may not be the only reason a child is afraid of the dark. ReAnna has anxiety of the dark and thus is showing a phobia of the dark, this can be caused by many different things which are not suggested or discussed with ReAnna or her mother. The second fallacy is non sequitur or it does not follow. The fact that spirits are brought in as an explanation just does not make any logical sense. They base this decision, not off scientific studies, but off of unverifiable anecdotal evidence.
Chip and Dr. Miller’s answer to helping ReAnna is isolating her from reality with the other two children, Kali and Caleb. The three children and their mothers are taken to a ranch in Arizona that is supposedly built on American Indian sacred grounds and is said to be haunted. This help means dragging these kids around at night with only Chip. The first night Chip has them go to the dining room area and asks them to sense for the energy of ghosts. This is encouraging the behavior of the children. Once again, to appease an authority figure, all three children start to sense something. Caleb describes a man at a table looking at “someone”. Kali says she is in contact with a woman with a black stripe around her waste.
Chip then tells the children he is going to give the children a challenge; he insists that it is not a test and that there are no right answers. He then tells the children to close their eyes and concentrate. Next, Chip turns out the lights in the room. The kids become visibly afraid and ReAnna is crying. Chip tells them to not be afraid. He then goes over about feeling energy and sensing spirits. He tells them they are afraid of spirits and not the dark. He starts to insist they need to face their fears.
Next Chip and Dr. Miller talk to the parents. He makes one good point here. He tells the mothers that they are causing the fear in their children by being afraid in front of them. This is the truth; the actions of the mothers are affecting the actions of the kids. Chip still insists though that the kids can see spirits.
During the day, the kids are talking to each other. The topic is about seeing spirits and so are reinforcing their beliefs. Since they are isolated now, thanks to Chip and Dr. Miller, there are no outside sources interfering with this reinforcement. Kali then starts talking about how other kids at school make fun of her and won’t sit next to her in the lunchroom. She says this is because she told her friends about seeing spirits and energy. She uses words like energy very much in the woo sense. She is shown talking about energy and then her mother is shown saying almost the exact same thing. This shows that Kali is coached in her words and beliefs by her mom.
Next, Chip is seen talking to Dr. Miller about what the kids did the night before. He tells her that Caleb saw a man in the dining room. Dr. Miller finds this amazing and states that it correlates with other sightings. She describes these sightings as men sitting, around a table, playing cards and dressed as cowboys. Caleb claims to have just seen a man sitting at a table, this is not near as specific as what Dr. Miller describes and is in fact very vague and could fit any male ghost story. This is still seen as validation of Caleb’s ability. Dr. Miller also points out that there is a story of a women being seen wearing a black skirt. The sighting is equated to Kali’s description of woman with a black stripe around her waist. This is discounting the fact the stories of the ghost are suppose to take place in the kitchen and Kali was in the dining room. At the age of 9, Kali should know the difference between a black stripe and skirt or dress. Her description is just too vague.
ReAnna and Kali are taken to Mega Mease, an “energy healer.” She is teaches ReAnna how to heal Kali of her disease. ReAnna is now using the word energy in the woo sense. Mega has ReAnna move her hands over Kali in a therapeutic touch fashion. She also has ReAnna start drawing a picture of what she pictures in her mind while doing the “healing.” After the “healing” is done they look at the picture. The picture has a bunch of random lines and weird images but these are ignored and they focus on one part. In this part ReAnna drew blood, this is equated to the “blood disease” that Kali has and says she never told ReAnna. In this instant they are remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. ReAnna’s mom now starts calling ReAnna a healer.
The next night, the children are sent out on their own with night cameras to “ghost hunt.” Caleb is the first to claim to see a man staring at them by the rocks. The two girls freak out, scream, cry, and run back to the cabin. Chip gathers the kids and the mothers outside, still at night. He begins to raise his voice at the children for getting scared. He admonishes the children and the mothers. He then says one of the most ironic things in the show. Chips says, “We cannot let our actions feed off each other.” Caleb says he was not afraid and Chip congratulates him for that. Chip then tells them all they are going out to where they saw the spirit.
They go to a stage coach wagon. The kids are now saying the spirit is in wagon and not by the rocks as Caleb said earlier. Chip now claims to feel “energy” at the wagon. He then goes to show the children how to cold read by telling them to ask the spirit for a name or a first initial. ReAnna says “B” and Chip reinforces that by agreeing. Chip then just says the name Bart and that is the end of the retreat.
As they are leaving the ranch the kids are given a chance to talk again. Kali claims to be able to protect herself from negative energy now. All three claim to be friends now and only want each other as friends, thus creating more isolation.
The last bit is taken 2 weeks after the retreat. The mothers all claim the children are better and not as afraid. Kali’s mother even says Kali doesn’t get sick anymore. The show ends, mentioning that all three kids keep in touch with each other.