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Konstantin Raudive (1909-1974)

Konstantin Raudive is best known in parapsychology circles for his study and promotion of EVP (electronic voice phenomena) as evidence for life after death. He became interested in the subject after reading a book by Friedrich Jürgenson (1903-1987).

Jürgenson was "a Swedish opera singer turned painter who set up a microphone on the windowsill of his country home outside Stockholm, intent on recording bird songs" (Roach, p. 183). He thought, however, that he heard voices when he played back his tapes. He also heard voices even when he wasn't playing back his tapes; he thought of them as telepathic messages. He claimed that in the spring of 1959 he "got a message about a Central Investigation Station In Space, from where they conducted profound observations of Mankind."

Jürgenson, Raudive's mentor, was born in Odessa. His mother was Swedish and his father was Danish. In 1925, he moved to Estonia and in 1943 to Sweden, where he eventually became a citizen. In 1964 Jürgenson put it all in a book, Voices from Space, which Raudive read and admired. He was so inspired by Voices that he arranged a meeting with Jürgenson when he lived in Sweden (Raudive was born in Latvia). The two made some recordings together, but soon Raudive was recording "voices" on his own.

[Raudive] spent much of the last ten years of his life exploring EVP. With the help of various electronics experts he recorded over 100,000 audiotapes, most of which were made under what he described as "strict laboratory conditions." He collaborated at times with Bender. Over 400 people were involved in his research, and all apparently heard the voices. This culminated in the 1968 publication of Unhörbares wird hörbar (“What is inaudible becomes audible,” published in English in 1971 as Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead).*

Jürgenson rejected the idea that he was receiving errant bits of radio broadcasts and came to believe that the voices were spirits speaking to him and his poodle (Roach, 183). Raudive specialized in recording things like radio static and became convinced that he heard Latvian voices speaking to him through the white noise, even when he was living in Germany. The voices spoke to him in French, too. "Late in his career, Raudive became fixated on the vocalizations of a parakeet, which he believed to be channeling communications (in German) from the dead" (Roach, 187).

Like Jürgenson, Raudive rejected the idea that he was receiving errant bits of radio broadcasts. David Ellis investigated Raudive's and Jürgenson's claims and published his results in The Mediumship of the Tape Recorder: A Detailed Examination of the (Jurgenson, Raudive) Phenomenon of Voice Extras on Tape Recordings (1978). Not everyone who heard Raudive's tapes agreed with his interpretations. Where he heard personal messages, others heard "voices that had been identified by others as having been part of [radio] broadcasts" (Roach, 184). More significant, however, was the fact that the one time that Raudive agreed to doing his recording in a room that screened radio signals, he didn't record any voices. As Mary Roach wryly notes in her excellent chapter on the early history of using electronic gizmos to hunt spirits: "It's possible no discarnate entities were passing through the neighborhood." (Chapter 8, "Can You Hear Me Now," in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.)

If what Raudive thinks he was hearing were indeed voices from dead people, it confirms the findings of other spirit scientists like Gary Schwartz that the dead have very little of interest to say to us. Raudive would hear things like "I follow you tonight," "please interrupt," and "might be Mary-bin."

I think that there are at least three plausible explanations for the "voices" that Jürgenson and Raudive heard. Neither explanation requires the assumption of spirits, which, on its face, is simply wild speculation bolstered by nothing but assumptions and desires. Both plausible explanations involve unconscious delusion and naturalistic phenomena only.

It is a given that both men desired proof for the afterlife, but I don't think wishful thinking sufficiently explains EVP. There's been no suggestion of fraud, so that remains a dubious explanation. Most likely, some of the "voices" were snippets of radio broadcasts or recordings of noises or living persons. But many of the "voices" were probably not snippets of anything: the listener was hearing things that weren't there and turning white noise into intelligible sounds. In some cases, the listeners were turning nothing into something, i.e., having auditory hallucinations. How does this happen? Ellis did an experiment that demonstrates that it does happen. He had a group of people listen to a recording of white noise, but he told them they were listening to a poorly recorded lecture. Their task was to try to transcribe the lecture. "The subjects offered dozens of phrases and even whole sentences they'd managed to make out" (Roach, p. 186). Some people probably hear intelligible words while listening to the flowing waters of a stream or the wind whistling through the pines. There is nothing extraordinary about this. I wouldn't even bring this explanation up were the messages all complex and profound, but they're not. Most of them are simple and trivial, easily accounted for by the mind playing tricks on us.

The second explanation is discussed by Roach: verbal transformation effect. The expression was coined by chemist and professor of psychology Richard M. Warren in a 1961 paper that described perceptual illusory changes in normal listeners from continued listening to recorded repetitions of a stimulus ("Illusory changes of distinct speech upon repetition--The Verbal Transformation Effect." British Journal of Psychology, 52, 249-258). Some of the "voices" heard by Raudive were likely effects of repeated listening to these recordings. The content was provided unconsciously by Raudive. For example, in one of Ellis's experiments, what Raudive had heard as "Lenin," others heard as "glubboo," buduloo," vum vum," a bullfrog, or an elephant call (Roach, p. 187).

The third explanation is that real voices were recorded and that the source of the transmission was quite a distance from the receiver. The voices were transmitted by ionospheric ducting.

In 1997, psychologist Imants Barušs conducted a series of experiments attempting to replicate Raudive's work. His results were published in 2001 in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. He did over 80 recordings of radio static. He, too, came up with a few snippets that either were sounds from a radio station or other noises that might be interpreted as intelligible sounds, but "none of the phenomena found...was clearly anomalous, let alone attributable to discarnate beings."* In short, the only significant attempt to replicate Raudive's work failed to replicate it. In case you haven't guessed by the name of the publication Barušs published in, he is a believer in spirits and thinks highly of the work of Gary Schwartz and Ian Stevenson (Roach, p. 187).

See also apopheniaface on Mars, Our Lady of Watsonville, pareidolia, Rorschach, subliminal, and unconscious.

further reading

books and articles

Clark, Ronald W. (1977). Edison - The Man Who Made the Future. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Raudive, Konstantin. (1971). Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead. Smythe.

Roach, Mary. (2005). Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. W.W. Norton.


Electronic Voice Phenomena: Voices of the Dead? by James E. Alcock

This is EVP: A Look Behind the "The Ghost Orchid" CD by Mark Poysden

news story

Blasts from the past by Mark Pilkington, The Guardian August 5, 2004


America's dumbest videos: EVP

Last updated 21-Nov-2015

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