Dry As Dust

A Fortean in the Archives

The dog that did bark in the night


Arthur Koestler


the diaries of John Rae, the renowned controversialist and long-serving
headmaster of Westminster School (1970-86), turns up an interesting
anecdote that illustrates some of the problems that parapsychologists
encounter outside the laboratory, where they are all too often at the
mercy of unexpected variables – especially when they are too prone to

Rae had attended a dinner at Blackheath, held by the biographer John
Griggs and his wife, and arrived to discover that Arthur Koestler was
also a guest. Koestler. an Austro-Hungarian by birth best known for his
anti-Communist book Darkness At Noon (1940), was nearing the
end of a complicated life; he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's
Disease five years earlier and more recently had contracted leukemia.
This had boosted an already active interest in parapsychology and
historical revisionism, which had led him to write such books as The Case of the Midwife Toad (on Paul Kammerer and coincidence) and the wildly controversial and, historically, deeply flawed The Thirteenth Tribe
(which argued that the Ashkenazi Jews, who make up the great majority
of modern day Israelis, were not originally German semites, but were
descended from the inhabitants of the the 9th century middle Asian
Khazar Empire).

By 1980, anyway, Koestler was a convinced believer in psychic
phenomena who had already made arrangements, in his will, to leave a
substantial legacy to Edinburgh University to fund a parapsychology
department there. Hence the piquancy of Rae's anecdote:

Before dinner the wooden stool on which I am sitting
collapses and Koestler insists that he had heard the Griggs' dog start
barking a fraction of a second before the stool collapsed, as though I
had communicated some form of early warning to the animal. This enables
Koestler to lead an interesting discussion about various forms of
extra-sensory perception. But it is cut short by John Grigg, who points
out that the dog, whose name is Slippers, barked because it heard the
telephone in the hall ring just before the stool collapsed. We are all
rather disappointed, especially Koestler.

[Source: John Rae, The Old Boys' Network: A Headmaster's Diaries 1972-1986, entry for 17 March 1980. (London: Short Books 2010 pp.200-01)

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