The Philip Experiment


This is a case of a very interesting mental experiment in which a group of volunteers had to create a fictional character and then try to communicate with it.

The experiment was directed by the mathematician, A.R.G. Owen and supervised by Dr Joel Whitton, who was a psychologist. The test group comprised of Iris Owen, the wife of A.R.G. Owen and former chairperson of MENSA in Canada, and seven more volunteers.

All the participants were members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research and none of them thought they have psychic abilities. Their aim was to develop a fictional character through determined methodology and thereafter attempt to communicate with it through séance. The group at first contrived the fictitious identity, physical appearance and personal history of a character.

The fictional character was called `Philip Aylesford’ referred as Philip at the time of the test and his fictional history partly coincided with real events and places, though with numerous contradictions and faults. Born in 1624 in England, he had an early military career and was knighted by the age of sixteen. He was involved in the English Civil War and developed personal friendship with Charles II, while working for him as a secret agent.

Philip was married to a woman named Dorothea but he was very unhappy and fell in love with a gypsy girl who happened to be accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. In 1654, out of depression, 30-year-old Philip committed suicide. The group at first were seated around a table with séances yielding no contact or communication and no phenomenon.

Owen changed the test conditions by reducing the lights and changing the environments to mimic a more out-dated séance and the participants started to feel a presence, unexplained echoes, table vibrations, breezes and rumbling sounds which seemed to match the responses to questions connected to Philip’s life. At one point of time, the table alegedly tilted on a single leg.

Inspite of these claims, no apparition or unexplained phenomena had been documented. The Owen group started conducting sittings in September 1972 wherein they meditated, visualized and discussed the life of Philip in details.

After several months with no communication, the group then attempted table tilting through psychokinesis – psychokinesis and this activity were popular during Spiritualism séances and involved people sitting around a table, with their fingertips lightly on the surface.

There were speculations that no results have been yielded because some of the group members were skeptic regarding their venture.

One session was also held in the presence of a live audience and was videotaped to be shown on television. In other sessions, sounds were heard in different areas of the room with the blinking of lights on and off. Besides this, the rising and movement of a table had also been recorded on film in 1974.

Philip is considered to have had a special connection with Iris Owen and some members assumed that they heard whispers in response to queries, though effort to record them on tape was unconvincing.

Is it possible to create a fictional character who can influence the real world? Maybe not, but nevertheless, the experiment is extremely thought-provoking and raises some questions about the nature of reality.