From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: psychic detectives
29 Jun 1996
You didn't mention one of the few certifiable facts about "criminal psychics." In some well-documented cases, they themselves are the killer, and simply looking for a way to confess.
Source: Mind Hunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
According to the sci.skeptic FAQ, On one occasion Randi did agree that the claimant had passed the test. Arthur G. Lintgen claimed an ability to identify LP records without labels. Randi tested him, and found that he could in fact do this by reading the patterns of loud and quiet in the groove. Lintgen did not get Randi's reward because he had not demonstrated (or claimed) any paranormal ability.
While a Usenet FAQ is obviously no guarantee of truth, I think you should at least check the details.
reply: The idea of "patterns of loud and quiet in the grooves" of vinyl records strikes me as very odd. I own a good number of such items and until CD's came into my life played them quite regularly. I have looked very closely at the grooves of a few records and I defy anyone to identify anything that looks like a pattern of anything, much less of "loud and quiet" in those grooves.
In any case, musical tones have four distinct qualities: pitch (frequency of vibrations), duration (length of tone), intensity ("loud and quiet", more or less) and timbre (due to the production of different overtones, different instruments playing the same note will sound different). Unless you are a record needle, you are not likely to perceive any of these qualities with the naked eye. Just examine a few records and you'll see what I mean.
The man with "vinyl vision" can only read record grooves with classical music in them. Such music in general has quite complex "patterns of loud and quiet." However, I doubt that even an audiophile with a great record collection could identify very many classical compositions if presented the sheet music for the piece without musical notation but with complete references to pianissimo, etc. A trained conductor or performer might be able to do this, however, but not because knowing the "pattern of loud and quiet" indicates what the music sounds like, but because of knowledge and familiarity with the sheet music. I suggest that if someone can tell you what a classical record is without seeing the label, he is using knowledge and experience, not "vinyl vision" or any extraordinary power.
There was a time when I could have told you whether you were holding my Ray Charles or my Bob Dylan album. I only owned two albums at the time and they were physically quite distinct. I still remember one of them (I think it was the Ray Charles record) as being significantly thicker than the other. In addition, I got to know the scratches on each and could have told you which was which just from the extraneous markings I'd managed to create on each. But the main piece of information which distinguished the records was the number of bands and the size of the selections between bands. An audiophile might well be able to tell you what recording you have in your hand simply by looking at the bands and bandwidths on the record.
Also, the man with "vinyl vision" claimed he could sometimes identify the conductor of the recording. I doubt if "pattern of loud and quiet" would be of much help in identifying the conductor on more than a very occasional basis (e.g., one might be able to do it for the over-recorded Pachelbel's Canon, but even there the main difference in treatment seems to be tempo rather than intensity). However, due to physical differences in records put out by different record companies, the same composition by different orchestras and with different conductors might be identifiable by physical differences in the vinyl record.
A comment on your piece: You seem to think the case of the guy reading the record
grooves is nonsense and was not worthy of serious investigation. I get the impression that
even though you note that I cited Discover magazine on this, you may not be aware that the
positive outcome for him was on a doubleblind test done by Randi for Leon Jaroff (then at
that magazine). There really is no question that the guy could identify the music, etc.
Luckily for Randi, the guy never claimed his ability was paranormal (as Jaroff pointed out
in a CSICOP speech), for Randi might otherwise have had to forfeit his challenge money.
reply: I have had other responses to this vinyl vision claim that are similar to yours. Each cites Randi and his test as evidence of believability. The question is: what are we being asked to believe in? That a man looked at the grooves of records and identified the recording? If so, I admit that I have done that myself. Or, are we to believe that there is something unique about his vision (the only one out of 5.5 billion people) who can "read" record grooves? That's the claim I can't fathom and it's the one I compare to claiming that Chinese children can read newspapers by sitting on them through some unique anal ability.
9 Dec 1996
I've read some entries from your dictionary, and as a skeptic I found it very interesting and informative. One thing puzzled me however - your statements about the inablity to see patterns of loud and quiet sounds on vinyl records.
I remember from my childhood that I was often able to recognize where the music is loud and where it is not - my mother was surprised when I told her about this, but when I explained how it was done, she was able to repeat it herself. There is nothing unusul about it - the surface of a record does look differently in places where volume differs greatly. Of course, I do not claim to be able to spot [changes in] one or two seconds of volume change - it takes at least several revolutions of the record (30 seconds at least) for the effect to be visible.
Your observation that "vinyl reader" was able to "see" only the classical music converges with my experience - pop music is mostly the same over a song's duration, which makes it impossible (at least for me) to "read" it.
Considering what I've written above, I do not see anything unusual in fact that someone was able to remember how these patterns of loud and quiet are positioned on many records and distiguish among them with this technique. More surprising is the fact Randi didn't know about this.
reply: Take a look at "The Man Who Could Read the Grooves" by Al Seckel. Dr. Lintgen's technique was pretty simple.