The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer


published October 2014
I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my skepticism
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Often I am asked if I have ever encountered something that I could not explain. What my interlocutors have in mind are not bewildering enigmas such as consciousness or U.S. foreign policy but anomalous and mystifying events that suggest the existence of the paranormal or supernatural. My answer is: yes, now I have.

The event took place on June 25, 2014. On that day I married Jennifer Graf, from Köln, Germany. She had been raised by her mom; her grandfather, Walter, was the closest father figure she had growing up, but he died when she was 16. In shipping her belongings to my home before the wedding, most of the boxes were damaged and several precious heirlooms lost, including her grandfather’s binoculars. His 1978 Philips 070 transistor radio arrived safely, so I set out to bring it back to life after decades of muteness. I put in new batteries and opened it up to see if there were any loose connections to solder. I even tried “percussive maintenance,” said to work on such devices—smacking it sharply against a hard surface. Silence. We gave up and put it at the back of a desk drawer in our bedroom.

Three months later, after affixing the necessary signatures to our marriage license at the Beverly Hills courthouse, we returned home, and in the presence of my family said our vows and exchanged rings. Being 9,000 kilometers from family, friends and home, Jennifer was feeling amiss and lonely. She wished her grandfather were there to give her away. She whispered that she wanted to say something to me alone, so we excused ourselves to the back of the house where we could hear music playing in the bedroom. We don’t have a music system there, so we searched for laptops and iPhones and even opened the back door to check if the neighbors were playing music. We followed the sound to the printer on the desk, wondering— absurdly—if this combined printer/scanner/fax machine also included a radio. Nope.

At that moment Jennifer shot me a look I haven’t seen since the supernatural thriller The Exorcist; startled audiences. “That can’t be what I think it is, can it?” she said. She opened the desk drawer and pulled out her grandfather’s transistor radio, out of which a romantic love song wafted. We sat in stunned silence for minutes. “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said, tearfully. “I’m not alone.”

Shortly thereafter we returned to our guests with the radio playing as I recounted the backstory. My daughter, Devin, who came out of her bedroom just before the ceremony began, added, “I heard the music coming from your room just as you were about to start.” The odd thing is that we were there getting ready just minutes before that time, sans music.

Later that night we fell asleep to the sound of classical music emanating from Walter’s radio. Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since. What does this mean? Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation—with billions of people having billions of experiences every day, there’s bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.

Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.

The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.

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23 Comments to “Infrequencies”

  1. Zak Says:

    Congratulations Michael and Jennifer! Wishing you happy and fruitful life together

  2. King Dave Says:

    If ghosts exist, would not the most sightings be somewhere like The Playboy Mansion?

  3. Bill Morgan Says:

    Could daughter Devin have gotten the radio repaired and played a trick on Dad by turning it on as the ceremony was about to start? She was the closest person to the radio while everyone else was in the living room. Use some logic Michael.

  4. Joni Says:

    Having experienced weird electronic failures I would suggest that the power on-off switch contacts had badly oxidized and when you put the radio away with fresh batteries, the switch was in the on position.

    Heating and cooling and vibrations would cause the small metal parts in a typical mid 70’s transistor radio switch to eventually fret and eventually make contact. Typical battery life in a transistor radio of that vintage is about 24 hours depending on the volume set.

    Timing of the event…. well that’s just plain ol’ weird.


  5. Randy Weiss Says:

    Having a spirit enable the radio is a very complex and unlikely explanation. Having oxidized contacts is actually a much simpler and more likely explanation. However, the timing seems to have caused emotional reactions – perfectly human and appropriate under the happy circumstances – but it does underscore the reasons that personal anecdotal evidence is not very valuable.
    Happy relations with those around and in our lives is very valuable, I wish you all the happiness possible!

  6. Chris Says:

    Your last sentence says it all. After taking your Skepticism class,I agreed so strongly with your message. I felt bereft though at the thought of discounting the mysterious. Your post offered some joy at the thought that a place remained for the unexplained. Thank you and all the best.

  7. Andris Says:

    A wonderful story – to be savoured, remembered and not to be overanalysed…. Like rays of sunshine, early morning mists….
    I would favour the oxidation hypothesis, however

  8. Jason Says:

    I question your decision to publicly tell this story. You’ve just created an Achilles’ heel for yourself in any future debates you may engage in, and opened the way for accusations of hypocrisy: if one is going to publicly and professionally demand that other people face their irrational beliefs, and critically examine unusual experiences, then one can’t have a different standard in one’s private life.

    If you really, truly think there is a supernatural agent at work here, I think speaking out is the honest thing to do, and worthy of respect. But if in your heart of hearts you realize there is a natural explanation for your experience, then this sort of uncritical gee-whiz blog post is damaging not just to you professionally, but to other skeptics, who are likely to have the story brandished against them similarly to the way “deathbed conversions” are. The unfortunate difference is that most deathbed conversions are false stories, and this one is legitimately yours.

  9. Sharon Says:

    I think people can be agnostic or atheist and still believe that our energy can still be present and capable of many things after we die. Could this possibly be an explanation?

  10. Liz Says:

    congratulations on your marriage. all the best to both of you. good luck for the future. !!!

  11. Henk Says:

    Wake up Michael

    Everything is a chemical composition, changing all the time and thus performing different all the time.

    I leave the rest of my conducive analyzing for you superior brain.

  12. Dr. Strangelove Says:

    Devin and the battery ran out of power or loose electrical contact are the most plausible explanation. More convincing if the radio gave music without battery. Try this experiment. Ask Walter to appear before James Randi and you will earn a million dollars. Good luck!

  13. dave Says:

    Hi Michael, congratulations on your marriage. Although a lifelong sceptic I too once had an experience that I could not explain. I woke one night in absolute fear with the feeling [that felt more like knowledge] that someone was sitting on my bed. Afterwards the only explanation I could come up with was that it was a ghost although I didn’t believe they existed. This experience did not alter my scepticism but was not forgotten. Many years later I learned that this is a very common phenomena where one half of the brain wakes but the other half remains asleep. I also think the oxidisation explanation is the best so far as I have had many battery driven devices do strange things.

  14. Kristin Says:

    Dear Michael and Jennifer,
    congratulations and the very best wishes for your future!
    I won’t offer any possible explanations for the wonderful phenomenon, knowing that you are more than intelligent enough to come up with those yourself. However skeptic one may be, though, there will always be things one does better just to enjoy without asking why.

  15. Adam Shapiro Says:

    Timing is everything! The possible fact that oxidation of the battery happened with the radio tuned to a relevant station at that precise moment is miraculous enough for me…

  16. Marichen Conradie (nee Kohn) Says:

    Congrats & blessings! I’m also scientifically minded and was bowled out by the following experience. I had to write a 4 hour Microbiology exam and my mind was occupied elsewhere. I just could not concentrate and study. Four nights before the exam I saw my paper in a dream. I phoned my Jewish dad and asked him if it was possible. He reminded me that dreams are often mentioned in Scripture. The end of my story: The paper was exactly the one in my dream. I froze at first upon seeing it, then answered the questions, scored extremely high marks and as a result got a bursary to do my PhD. I still marvel at my experience.

  17. Bjartur DC Says:

    Hey Michael,

    Congratulations on getting married. Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite philosophers and thinkers of this time and age, has written a lovely, short essay interpreting your experiences and I hope you get the opportunity to read it. You can find it here if you ever get the time.

  18. ST Says:

    Michael, thank you for having the courage to share your story in this significant way. What many of the commenters here are missing in their search for physical explanations are the many details that made this event so strikingly profound for you and your wife. Having had several such experiences myself, I understand completely. It is not explainable because the quality of the experience is beyond explanation. It is about how it *feels* when the synchronicity hits—in context with its deep emotional meaning and relevance in the moment—that makes it so powerful and beyond explanation for the experiencer. When it happens to you, you immediately just *know* something deeper is involved—just as your partner did, feeling the presence of her grandfather in that impossibly perfect moment.

    I sincerely hope you continue to seriously explore these phenomenon with an open mind. Now that you have had this shift in perspective, you will better resonate with these anecdotal accounts that, like your own, are richly powerful in meaning for those that experience them. What they seem to point at is a fundamental realization that our interior experience and the external world are not separate, but intertwined and receptive to one another. In essence, consciousness exists not just within our minds but in the world around us, revealing itself in profound and personal ways.

    Explore Carl Jung’s writings on synchronicity. Check out the incredible work by Richard Tarnas, “Cosmos and Psyche”. Watch the documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.” As for waking up to other possibilities, even the New Atheist himself Sam Harris seems to be coming around lately ;) Welcome (back) to the great mysterious unknown!

  19. ST Says:

    You might also enjoy reading an account of one of my own powerful synchronicity experiences:

  20. william stepp Says:


  21. Tim Mulholland Says:

    Wish you both the best. The Brazilian poet and composer Vinicius de Moraes (Black Orpheus) left us a real pearl: “Love is eternal as long as it lasts.”

  22. Waller Says:

    Quite courageous of you, an example for the rest of the skeptic community to reflect on. Just wait until you sit in seance and have your Great-grandmother come through. :)

  23. Randy Says:

    Has anyone thought this story is a hoax? Just wondered

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