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Dan Aykroyd and His Conan Doyle Problem PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Ian Morris   

On May 28, 2009, The New York Times published an article on the new Ghostbusters video game. It looks fun: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/arts/31schi.html?th&emc=th.  However, this esteemed journalistic entity felt the need to spend its first few paragraphs discussing Dan Aykroyd’s “family’s supernatural bona fides” before moving along to the game itself.  As Alison Smith wrote a few months ago in SWIFT, Aykroyd is so devoted to woo-woo that he advertised a vodka based on the “thirteen crystal skulls” supposedly created in Atlantis (http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/368-woo-in-review-crystal-head-vodka.html).  His passion for woo-woo may be exacerbated by the fact that he has what I call a Conan Doyle problem.

 

Massimo Polidoro wrote a book a few years ago outlining the “Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle.”  Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, became devoted to woo-woo at the height of popularity of séances which came at the same time that he – and many others – lost someone dear in World War One.  Conan Doyle desperately wanted to talk with his son who had died as a result of war injuries, and this otherwise rational man fell for fakers ready to take his money.  Houdini tried to explain to his friend that these “séances” were conjuring tricks that he – Houdini – had used early in his career.  However, Conan Doyle believed that Houdini possessed genuine woo-woo ability to perform his act, and that he only pretended it was all trickery.

Dan Aykroyd lost his best friend John Belushi to a drug overdose.  Aykroyd’s interest in woo-woo increased so rapidly after that, that the movie Ghostbusters was released only two years after Belushi’s death.  The author of The New York Times article writes that Ghostbusters was Aykroyd’s “dearest creation” in cinema, even over The Blues Brothers, in which he and Belushi were “on a mission from God” to deliver music.  The article also states that Aykroyd created Ghostbusters in the hope that movie audiences would react favorably to a topic on the paranormal.  Pardon me for being as skeptical as Venkman, but Aykroyd may have been trying to convince audiences of the 'reality' of woo-woo just so he could convince himself.

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written by Retromancy, May 31, 2009
I'm a bit disappointed (but probably not surprised) they are spruiking Aykroyd's belief in the paranormal just as the game is getting released as an effort to build up publicity and all that.
However I love "Ghostbusters" - it's silly and very funny and I always took it as a bit of a spoof on dodgy paranormal researchers anyway (Venkman and the psychic testing for example). I don't really know that a movie that involves a demon possessed giant marshmallow man would really make people believe in mediums or the occult.
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written by Holmstrom, May 31, 2009
So sad about Aykroyd.
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written by Toffe Gozer, May 31, 2009
However, Conan Doyle believed that Houdini possessed genuine woo-woo ability to perform his act, and that he only pretended it was all trickery.
My mom suffers from that affliction as well. I usually try to avoid woo conversations with her, but it came up one day what it would take to convince her it's not real. And I said there were all sorts of people that can do the same tricks, and that they're not using psychic abilities. And then she says, "maybe they just don't know they have psychic abilities".
But there's still hope, if I (or someone) can manage to write an AI program that can do the same tricks, she said she'd believe it can be done without psychic abilities. I really need to get started on that project once I have some time.
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written by Toffe Gozer, May 31, 2009
Dan Aykroyd lost his best friend John Belushi to a drug overdose. Aykroyd’s interest in woo-woo increased so rapidly after that, that the movie Ghostbusters was released only two years after Belushi’s death.
This connection doesn't seem to be in any way supported by the NYtimes article you linked to. It both mentions that Dan Aykroyd grew up in a woo rich home environment, and that he was already busy writing the movie's screenplay before John Belusi died.

The article also states that Aykroyd created Ghostbusters in the hope that movie audiences would react favorably to a topic on the paranormal.
Does it? I can't find it :/
Did you base your article on the print version and is it that different from the online version? Or are you testing our fact-checking abilities? smilies/tongue.gif
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written by MadScientist, June 01, 2009
I am aware of Aykroyd's strange ideas and familiar with his vodka and skulls, but more material on these current claims of promoting woo-woo please.

Personally if the game were fun I'd play it; would my playing it invite others to believe in woo-woo? Would others playing it invite a significant portion of the public to believe in woo-woo? If anything I would reject the game based on any of poor play, curtailment of end-user freedoms, donations to militant organizations, and probably a slew of other abuses of ethics. However, I am yet to be convinced of the ethics behind some sales of woo-woo.

I would not deny religious people their bibles even though I consider all religions on the whole despicable (though the individuals may be wonderful people), nor would I see any ethical problem in obtaining a copy of the bible of Religion X so that I can explain why the beliefs are so outrageous. It's back to that problem of the damned constitution protecting ideas, especially subjective notions, but I will defend others' rights to imagine the stupidest things as long as they do no harm to nor encourage that harm be done to others even though on the other hand I castigate them for their own beliefs. But ethics being as it is, I am somewhat ambivalent to allowing proponents of torture to submit themselves to real torture in their deluded notions that they can demonstrate that it is not so bad; on the other hand I would never oppose any who say that torture should not be allowed under any circumstance.
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written by BillyJoe, June 01, 2009
However, Conan Doyle believed that Houdini possessed genuine woo-woo ability to perform his act, and that he only pretended it was all trickery.

More accurately, Conan Doyle accepted that Houdini mostly performed tricks but, on the other hand, that some of his more oustanding routines must have been performed using his paranormal ability. He just could not see how such a performance could be a trick and Houdini was not able to expose his trick in order to convince him. Conan Doyle was also never convinced by Houdini's exposure of fake mediums saying that it did not mean that there are no genuine mediums. Houdini simply agreed with him. After all, he was himself looking for a genuine medium to communicate with his mother with whom he had been very close. Houdini never found any, whereas Conan Doyle found them everywhere.

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Para-Doyle-eeh-ah!
written by Michael K Gray, June 01, 2009
Conan-Doyle's stunning gullibility was revealed by his rock-solid conviction that the badly faked** "Cottingly Fairy" photos were real...

** by children, no less.
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written by YoPopa, June 01, 2009
Toffe, an AI program that could duplicate the tricks would only convince the believers that the spirits had the ability to communicate through the technology. Better to spend your time writing a video game where skeptics win by debunking frauds.
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@YoPopa
written by Toffe Gozer, June 01, 2009
Toffe, an AI program that could duplicate the tricks would only convince the believers that the spirits had the ability to communicate through the technology.
I don't really share that pessimism. There may be a few, but I doubt there would be many. And the ones there are would be invited to point out exactly which lines of code allow for such spiritual interference. Since a computer program is deterministic you can give an exact trace of how it arrives at its output, so it's unambiguous how it does its tricks.
On the other hand people might simply not believe it's the computer that's giving the responses, and that it's really some psychic in another room that's giving the responses via an internet connection.
Still, I think it would be a fun project to do. And it'd make everyone with a palmtop or iphone an instant "psychic".
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written by Caller X, June 01, 2009
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written by BillyJoe, June 01, 2009

However, Conan Doyle believed that Houdini possessed genuine woo-woo ability to perform his act, and that he only pretended it was all trickery.


More accurately, Conan Doyle accepted that Houdini mostly performed tricks but, on the other hand, that some of his more oustanding routines must have been performed using his paranormal ability. He just could not see how such a performance could be a trick and Houdini was not able to expose his trick in order to convince him. Conan Doyle was also never convinced by Houdini's exposure of fake mediums saying that it did not mean that there are no genuine mediums. Houdini simply agreed with him. After all, he was himself looking for a genuine medium to communicate with his mother with whom he had been very close. Houdini never found any, whereas Conan Doyle found them everywhere.


Well, BJ's wrong again. "Houdini was not able to expose his trick"? In New York you have to pay extra for that. If you're saying "Houdini was not able to show how he accomplished an illusion" you're simply wrong. He had discretion, even over something as simple as the Berlusconi manoeuver. Or the Balducci, all those pasta eaters sound the same to me. Dan Akroyd, like Mr. Randi, is Canadian.
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written by BillyJoe, June 01, 2009
I'm sure everyone else here got my meaning. smilies/wink.gif

Sure he had the option but, without discrediting himself to his fellow magicians, he really didn't.

BJ
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written by nelson650, June 02, 2009
"Get him!? That was your plan?" Classic, Dan, classic
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written by MadScientist, June 04, 2009
I guess we won't be getting any more information on sources of information about these claims. I guess it's not only the commenters who post and run.
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written by Mower, June 05, 2009
Careful with your leaps of assumption, there - Ghostbusters was already being written before Belushi's death, and was originally intended as a vehicle for Belushi and Aykroyd. Bill Murray stepped in afterwards.
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Chicken or egg?
written by grochon, June 10, 2009
I read somewhere that the script for Ghostbusters was written well before Belushi's death and that one of the roles was actually written specifically for him. Has anyone else heard this?

If it was then it suggests Akroyd may have had an interest in this brand of woo-woo well before John's death. John's death merely triggered his subsequent increased belief in woo, as Ian suggests.
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written by Nat G., June 14, 2009
Folks talking about what a shame it is that Dan has these erroneous beliefs leave me asking "why"?

I mean, yes, in some ways it would be nice if we all believed accurate things. However, I see no sign that his beliefs have damaged either him or others. If the most you can say about his beliefs is that they inspired a great movie and gave him a way to make a vodka seem unduly interesting, that hardly seems a major shame. He hasn't been for woo beliefs what he has been for blues music - a major force in winning converts.

I would be surprised if any of us are without beliefs that time will prove erroneous. Danny seems happy, successful, and a net positive force in this world.
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Surely it is a shame not to be correct.
written by BillyJoe, June 15, 2009
You haven't convinced me, Nat. Even if he has not been harmed by his beliefs, even if he has never harmed anyone else with is beliefs, even if he is happy and sucessful, I would still think it is a shame that he has these erroneous beliefs. Why? Because it is simply a shame to hold erroneous beliefs when you can just as safely and agreeably hold correct ones.
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