Personal Versus Vicarious Experience, Revisited
By Bob Olson
Now that I understood the concept of knowing, I changed the wording of my theory that “believing comes from personal, not vicarious, experience” to “knowing comes from personal, not vicarious, experience.” This theory was further confirmed to me while interviewing Vicki’s sister and two brothers for this book. I apparently didn’t fully understand the necessity for having a personal experience because my interviews with Vicki’s siblings caught me totally by surprise when I sensed some skepticism in their answers.
The first interview that really threw me for a loop was with Amy, Vicki’s sister. Arrogantly, I expected to know the answers Amy would provide before I interviewed her. I assumed that Amy would obligingly defend Vicki’s gift for the mere fact that they were sisters. Boy, was I wrong.
The best description I can give for Amy’s position regarding Vicki’s abilities is that she was skeptically supportive. Amy told me, “I want to believe this is one-hundred percent true, but I want proof that this is really happening. Vicki knows me so well; how will I ever know if it is coming from over there or coming from Vicki’s subconscious memories?” she concluded.
I was floored by the interview! I hung up the phone and ran to Melissa, “How can it be that her own sister is skeptical?” I questioned. “Amy told me about casual readings where Vicki gave her detailed information that she believed Vicki could not have known. Yet, she still wonders if Vicki could have heard it from somebody else in the family. Her refusal to get past her skepticism puzzles me,” I told Melissa (how quick I was to forget what it’s like to be a skeptic). It wasn’t until I interviewed Vicki’s brothers that the lesson regarding “personal versus vicarious experiences” was truly confirmed, and finally sank into my thick skull.
“Do you believe Vicki is spiritually gifted?” I asked David, Vicki’s younger brother.
“Who am I to question it?” he answered. “Vicki’s an honest person. I don’t see why I should doubt it,” he added, leaving me hanging unsatisfied with his impreciseness. Even when I called him on his ambiguous answer, he was unable to come right out and say what I had originally expected from him, “Of course I believe she communicates with spirits. She’s my sister, damn it!” Instead I got, “If she believes it, who am I to argue?” Frankly, I was frustrated by his answer, feeling he was dodging the question. But the truth is he was being totally honest with me. It was I who was refusing to recognize the lesson in his honesty.
Vicki’s older brother, Chuck, was more straightforward, although still not what I had expected from a psychic medium’s sibling. “I’m a skeptical believer. That’s a polite way of putting it,” he confessed. “I’m looking from the outside, curious about what it’s like on the inside,” he embellished, catching me off guard that this “let’s get to the point” kind-of-guy used a metaphor. I had to ask Chuck to pause for a moment so I could think about what he said. Then he continued, “While I have a hard time believing we can talk to dead people, I admit I’m uneducated in this area. But I’ve watched some television specials about it, I’m currently reading James Van Praagh’s book, and I have a lot respect for what he and Vicki do for people,” Chuck admitted.
The interviews with Amy, David and Chuck started a debate inside my head. Was there something I had overlooked, something they knew that I had missed? If they aren’t fully convinced that their own sister can talk with spirits, who am I to come to that conclusion? And in a tizzy of cerebral confusion and chaos, fear of public humiliation and ten-months of wasted research flooded my senses. My legs grew weak. My palms sweltered. I stood frozen—for three seconds or three hours, I’m not sure.
Then it hit me like a bug to a bumper. It wasn’t I who was missing something. It was Amy, David and Chuck who’s relationships and history with Vicki prevented them from sharing that experience I underwent on January 17, 1999—when Vicki, the perfect stranger, announced three hours of precious secrets from, and about, my most beloved family members and about my life. My panic transformed to sadness for their loss. I thought it unfortunate having such a gifted sister and never being able to benefit or enjoy the unworldly abilities she bestows.
All three siblings accredited their remaining skepticism to one obstacle: Vicki already knew everything about them. How could they know if the messages she retrieved from the spirit world were genuine while knowing she already held that knowledge in her memory bank? As a result, and because he became so intrigued by my enthusiasm for Vicki’s gift, Chuck wanted to set up a reading for his secretary—a woman he knew well, but whom Vicki had never met. He hoped this scenario would be the next best thing to getting a personal reading and giving him the proof necessary to become a knower. So far, as I write this chapter, this little test hasn’t transpired.
What I find most interesting about all this is the fact that Vicki is not the only person in the family to have had otherworldly experiences. Amy has benefited from dreams where her father has visited her offering reassurance that her life is on-track, usually telling her to stop worrying. “That’s my thing, self-doubt and worrying,” Amy disclosed. “The next day after these dreams, I always feel a lot better. It’s comforting,” she explained.
David didn’t want to talk about his experiences, but said it was okay to mention them in this book if other family members told me about them. Well, his mother, Nancy, tells the poignant account of the time David saw his sister, Heather, and Heather’s husband, Tom, standing on either side of their gravesite at their funeral service—they were buried together after a tragic car accident that took their lives. (Heather is Vicki’s younger sister.)
“David saw them standing beside the gravesite smiling and looking at the rest of us. Tom was in his brown suit, and Heather wore her white dress,” Nancy illustrated.
“Did you see them?” David asked Nancy after the service.
“No,” Nancy replied, after asking David who he was talking about.
“Well, I did, but don’t tell anyone because they’ll think I’m crazy,” pleaded David.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” his mother said. Of course, that was over a decade ago, and David is used to his mother telling the story now. He just isn’t comfortable talking about it himself. At least if someone hearing the story accuses him of being delusional, he can reply, “Hey, I didn’t say that. That’s just my mother telling stories again.”
Chuck, too, acknowledged his share in the family oddities. First, he told me about the night after his sister, Heather, died. He and his wife Linda were staying over at Vicki and Bret’s home for a visit. “I was emotional,” he said, “So Linda was comforting me until I fell asleep. When I woke up in the middle of the night, Linda was totally out. I mean, I could have done anything in that living room where we were sleeping and I wouldn’t have woken her up. I also noticed that the cuckoo clock had stopped. I got up and looked around the living room and saw Tom [Heather’s husband] standing there in his infamous poncho and sneakers. I said, ‘Tom, what the hell happened?” And Tom said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Chuck, we are fine. It’s amazing here.’ I asked Tom, ‘Why the car accident?’ And he said, ‘We didn’t feel a thing.’ I just responded by saying, ‘Okay,’ and I went back to bed like I was going to see him again the next day.”
“I don’t think it was a dream,” said Chuck, “I was focusing on too many things, like noticing the clock wasn’t working. I actually tried to wake Linda up while Tom was there, and Tom smiled like he knew she wouldn’t wake up. It was pretty cool, cause I had this feeling of peace afterward like they were okay.”
Chuck also revealed a second incident he had experienced. “I had a more recent experience a couple years ago,” he began. “I was driving, and I was really tired and beat, at risk of falling asleep. All of a sudden I had this overwhelming smell of perfume in the car. It was nasty. It was so strong. I opened the windows even though it was cold, but the smell wouldn’t go away. The smell grew so powerful that I had to get out of my car. I mean, it stunk bad. So I stopped at a Burger King for a coffee. When I got back into my car, the smell was gone. Some people think it was Heather trying to get me to stop, maybe to get a coffee so I would wake up for safety’s sake. I don’t know about that. All I know is what happened,” Chuck concluded.
Considering these unusual circumstances, especially where Chuck and David have seen spirits themselves, it is difficult for me to understand how skepticism could be in their vocabulary. However, Chuck still argues (with himself) that his conversation with Tom might have been a dream. And David won’t even go there—he still won’t tell the story even though he knows I’ve already heard it from his mother. So I realize, if they can’t come to terms with their own experiences, it’s only natural to expect them to have some doubt when it comes to Vicki’s.
As a knower who was once cynically skeptical myself, I think I understand where Amy, David and Chuck may be coming from. I really can’t accuse any of them as being nonbelievers. David said he believed people could communicate with spirits long before Vicki had realized her gift. He has also come to terms with his own highly intuitive ability—he often knows what people are going to say before they say it. “In college, I used to have conversations with teammates and friends knowing word-for-word what they were going to say, and I just waited for them to say it. It still happens,” he told me. “It just occurred the other day with a coworker. It’s kind of cool, but it’s just something that happens, “ he explained.
Amy is a lot like I used to be, a “wanna believer” who just needs to be slapped in the face with undeniable evidence. She’s also somewhat fearful of the paranormal. “I would like to have a formal reading with Vicki [as opposed to the casual happenstance readings at family gatherings], but I’m a little hesitant and a little nervous about what I might find out,” she admitted. Later in the interview she repeated her fears: “I’m a little afraid of what I might find out. What if I learn I’m not going in the right direction with my life? That would be troubling to me,” she said.
Now that I look closer at my interview with Amy, I’m not sure why I was so surprised of her remaining skepticism. Blood may be thicker than water, but when it comes to the supernatural, fear and skepticism will always question evidence if there is any possibility for deception—even when a trusted relative is providing the information. If Amy can face her fears, she may have to hire a psychic medium who knows absolutely nothing about her to become a knower. I doubt I would have crossed that line from skeptic to knower if Vicki were not a perfect stranger to me at the time of my first reading.
Chuck is the kind of guy who knows what he’s experienced, and he’s not afraid to talk about it. But he’s also not willing to come to any conclusions, admitting that he’s simply too uneducated in this field to really understand any of it. He’s also too busy with work and other interests to take the time to think about metaphysical principles. There is a large population of society, including Chuck, that has little-to-no interest in communicating with the dead; and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m impressed that Chuck even took the time to read a book and watch some television specials on the subject. Understanding this about Chuck, it is not surprising that he never set up that reading for his secretary.
I interviewed Amy, David and Chuck only ten months into my three-year research of mediumship. I’m sure they have come a long way in their beliefs since those interviews. For one, Vicki is in the media constantly, gives public demonstrations to hundreds of people several times a year, and has been featured in several newspapers, magazines and television shows across the country. I’m sure Amy, David and Chuck have had much more experience with Vicki’s gift today. But I’m glad I caught them at such an early stage, or I might not have learned the important lesson they taught me.
So what did I conclude based on these interviews? I determined that if Vicki’s own family members are unable to make that leap of faith that her gift is real—solely because their history with her prevents them from having their own indisputable personal readings to prove it—then it is understandable why the rest of us doubters will require a personal experience of our own to overcome our skepticism to the point of becoming knowers. Just like my friend David said, “I hear you telling me all this, Bob, and I believe you—I really do—but there is a part of me that refuses to accept it. It’s like, I know you’re not pulling a prank on me, but I’m waiting for you to start laughing and yell ‘Gotcha!”
In the end, all I can say is when your deceased father or mother or your late Uncle Charlie starts telling you things—through a spiritual messenger—that no other living soul knows, there’s a paradigm shift in your belief structure, and what was once a string of unanswered questions now becomes a knowing. I have realized that a vicarious experience isn’t really an experience at all; it is a fantasy, a story in our imagination that we heard from somebody else. But a personal experience is just that, an experience. It’s a memory of an occurrence, a happening, an encounter—with all the emotions and bodily sensations that followed—that has become a part of our cellular makeup. It is more than just an experience in our memory; it is now a part of us. It is now who we are. And that is what knowing is all about.
BOB OLSON is a former private investigator and skeptic who began using his investigation skills to research psychics, psychic mediums and the afterlife in 1999. This research led him to establish www. OfSpirit.com Magazine (2000), www.AfterlifeTV.com (2011), www. BestPsychicMediums.com (2001) and www. BestPsychicDirectory.com(2007), three of the most trusted and influential sources for understanding and locating trustworthy psychics and psychic mediums.
Today Bob Olson has tested hundreds of psychics and psychic mediums around the world and has become a leading authority on the subject with TV, movie and documentary producers, journalists, book publishers, event promoters, as well as law enforcement agencies and private investigators. Bob’s achievements in psychic and psychic medium investigation and testing has further allowed him to evaluate and isolate the key components that set apart the best psychic medium readings from the mediocre—leading him to create his famous (although secret) 15-point test.
Bob has documented his findings in a multitude of articles. He has authored the Forewords for three books: The Complete Idiot's Guide To Communicating With Spirits, Consult Your Inner Psychic and The Complete Idiot's Guide To Divining The Future. Bob has also been quoted as an expert in How To Get A Good Reading By A Psychic Medium and Empowering Your Life With Angels.