Getting to Yes, And

Ben Alderson-Day: Presence


Ben Alderson-Day

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Kelly crosses the Atlantic to talk to Ben Alderson-Day, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Durham University and the author of “Presence: The Strange Science and True Stories of the Unseen Other.”

Many of the stories in this book are about people who hear different kinds of voices and one of the people you introduce us to is Alex.

“The first time I met him I learned all about his different voices. These particular voices he hears regularly, and, by the way, on average, when you survey people who regularly hear voices they'd usually hear between 3 and 4. I think a lot of the time the stereotype is, 'Oh, this is one particular voice that's telling people to do bad things,' and that's not really the case. It's much more like a bit of a gang and it's the gang that kind of knows your worst fears can prey upon all your insecurities.”

But, importantly, your stories of presence aren’t confined to those folks who may have a medical diagnosis. We all have experiences where we sense someone is with or near us.

“It might have been a different situation each time you talk to people that it's happened to. But everyone kind of knows that feeling which is quite uncanny; a feeling like the hairs go up in the back of your neck or you might feel something strange in your stomach. The temperature of the room might feel different. And, again, I'm saying all these things, and people start to think that's like the start of a ghost story. But there are actually very specific situations in which this happens again and again.”

And, ultimately, presence is very hard to define. 

“What do we mean when we think someone was just there? What are the basic conditions under which we detect this other non-self-thing in our experience? And the book is really me wrestling with that ever so slightly ambitious challenge through different ways and by talking to different people and hearing different stories. And the heart of that is storytelling. It's trying to understand people's own experiences in the round, not just assessing them on a particular questionnaire or a standard research interview, or something like that. But really trying to understand what they mean when they say presence.”

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