Owen, A. R. G. (1919–2003), and Iris M. Owen (1916– ) Psychical researchers especially known for their work related to Poltergeists and Psychokinesis (PK), and for their experiments involving PHILIP, an imaginary spirit of a dead person.
A mathematician, geneticist, and university lecturer, Alan Robert George Owen (he went by George) was born on July 4, 1919, at Bristol, England. Iris May Pepper was born on January 4, 1916, in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. They were married on January 9, 1952, and had one son, Robin E. Owen, born May 21,1955, who observed and assisted in the Philip experiments as recorder and photographer.
Owen was educated at Cambridge University, graduating with a bachelor of arts in mathematics and physics in 1940, a master of arts in 1945, and a Ph.D in mathematical genetics in 1949. During World War II, he invented a radar aerial for the British military.
From 1949–52, Owen was a research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and from 1950—70, he lectured on genetics and mathematics. In 1970, he resigned to emigrate to Canada, in order to direct the parapsychology research of the Toronto-based New Horizons Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The Owens conducted full-time research for the foundation for a period of five years. In 1975, Owen returned part time to his academic career, teaching statistics and biostatistics at the University of Toronto until 1984.
Owen’s first three books on Psychical Research were published by Medium Eileen J. Garrett’s Garrett Publications: Can We Explain the Poltergeist? (1964); Hysteria, Hypnosis and Healing (1971), about the work of Jean-Martin Charcot; and with Victor Sims, Science and The Spook (1971), documenting eight case studies of Hauntings. His Psychic Mysteries of the North: Discoveries from the Maritime Provinces and Beyond (1975) was first published in Canada under the title Psychic Mysteries of Canada.
Owen was especially intrigued by poltergeist phenomena and studied a large number of cases. In Can We Explain the Poltergeist? he separated the doubtful cases from those that were well evidenced and examined the various explanations. Based upon the case of the SAUCHIE Poltergeist, involving an 11-year-old girl, he concluded that “the objective reality of some poltergeist phenomena” had been established “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Another major poltergeist case investigated by Owen was an 11-year-old Cambridgeshire schoolboy, Matthew Manning, who grew up to have remarkable psychic and healing skills.
George became vice president of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (SPR)and editor of its journal; Iris served as secretary-treasurer. They worked with ALLEN SPRAGGETT, who was president.
The Owens’ main interest in parapsychology was physical phenomena. Through their personal investigation of spontaneous phenomena in poltergeist outbreaks and their attempts to replicate spiritualist Table-Tilting phenomena in the Philip SITTER GROUP, they became convinced of the reality of some physical psychic phenomena, including PK.
As leader of the Philip group, Iris Owen, with the late Sue Sparrow, wrote Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis (1976), about the Table-Tilting experiments conducted under the auspices of the TSPR, in an attempt to replicate the studies of British investigators that suggested that group PK was possible.
Around 1977, the Owens met Margaret Hamilton Bach, daughter of Winnipeg medical doctor Thomas Glendenning Hamilton. The Owens were convinced that the tableLevitationS produced at Hamilton’s Séances with Medium Mrs. Poole were genuine PK.
The Owens were not convinced that spiritualistic phenomena proved Survival After Death, because there was always some other explanation possible. They believed that the Philip phenomena resulted from the combined PK of the sitter group. The information that Philip was able to communicate through table-rapping did not go beyond what the members of the group wanted his story to be; Philip did not have any knowledge that the group individually or as a whole did not possess.
The Owens also researched psychic photography with Detroit psychologist Tracy Wolfson, who had the remarkable ability to capture images on film that others could not see at the time the photographs were taken. These experiments were repeatedly conducted under good conditions of control that involved new cameras and film. Iris was convinced that Wolfson’s ability was genuine and that it supported the ability of Ted Serios, who was able to project mental images directly onto Polaroid film. Wolfson did not want the experiments made public while she was alive. Though convinced of the reality of so-called psychic photography, Iris said she did not believe it is caused by ghosts or spirits. Rather, it is probably a little understood ability of the human mind. (See Spirit Photography.)
Until the 1990s, the Owens were active members of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the American Society for Psychical Research. While in England, they had also been members of the Cambridge University Society for Psychical Research. The couple retired to Calgary.
JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO published Conjuring Up the Owens (1999) as a tribute to the Owens.
In My Many Lives (2000), Iris provides an account of her careers, which included British Armed Forces radio intercept officer on the Enigma team during World War II, a nurse in a cancer radiotherapy clinic, and teacher on parapsychology at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute George died on January 18, 2003, in Calgary. In 2005, Iris participated in the television documentary Conjuring Philip (2007).
- Colombo, John Robert. Conjuring Up the Owens. Toronto: Colombo & Company, 1999.
- Manning, Matthew. The Link: The Extraordinary Gifts of a Teenage Psychic. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe, 1974.
- Owen, A. R. G. Can We Explain the Poltergeist? New York: Helix Press / Garrett Publications, 1964.
- ———. Hysteria, Hypnosis and Healing: The Work of J.-M. Charcot. New York: Garrett Publications, 1971.
- ———. Psychic Mysteries of the North: Discoveries from the Maritime Provinces and Beyond. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. First published in Canada under the title Psychic Mysteries of Canada.
- ———, and Victor Sims. Science and The Spook: Eight Strange Cases of Hauntings. New York: Garrett Publications. 1971
- Owen, Iris M., with Sue Sparrow. Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis. Don Mills, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1976.
- ———. My Many Lives. Toronto: Colombo & Company, 2000. Owen, A. R. G., and Iris M. Owen 357 358