Personas: 1000 and Counting

January 17, 2013

As will likely be known by those who have visited my website, I have spent my life in a hands-on search for knowledge—part of it relevant to my career of “paranormal investigator,” but much more of it, I think, applicable to my being a “secular humanist.”

Regarding the former, I have been, at one time or another, an acupuncture patient, alien abduction researcher, and astrology critic (just to mention some of the As), as well as Bigfoot hunter, cereologist, dowsing tester, ganzfeld psi subject, ghostbuster, miracle claims investigator, “spontaneous human combustion” expert, UFOlogist, vampirologist, and “zombie” (as a movie extra)—among others.

Indeed, consider how many “personas” were involved in my investigating a single case, the supposed “channeling” of a long-dead poet (see “Ghost Author? The Channeling of ‘Patience Worth,’” Skeptical Inquirer May/June 2012, 15–17): automatic-writing analyst, historical document examiner, poet, fiction writer, editor, literary critic, forensic linguist, handwriting expert, photographer, and more.

As to Secular Humanist—with its philosophic underpinnings and its emphasis on human values—that involves another long list of personas, including atheist, blogger, civil rights worker, environmentalist, family man, feminist, naturalist philosopher, poverty program worker, and many more. I include here artist and (again) poet, since, as enshrined in the “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles” by Paul Kurtz, “We are engaged by the arts no less than the sciences,” and “We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to the fullest.”

Kurtz (1925–2012), the great humanist philosopher and founder of the modern skeptics movement, always encouraged my diversity—and indeed was responsible for a significant portion of it. When I would joke (playing on an old saying) that I was “a hack of all trades,” he would smile, wag his finger and correct me: “No, you’re a jack of all trades and a master of many.”

Be that as it may, I long ago determined to investigate life—and cheat death—by living many lives in one. By the age of about fourteen, I had already been a farm hand, fishing-camp assistant, surveyor’s chainman, popcorn vendor, and professional sign painter. In time I would become a stage magician, carnival pitchman, private investigator and undercover operative, blackjack dealer, museum exhibit designer, riverboat manager, armed guard, Hollywood stunt trainee, and more. When my resumé began to look like a joke, I reinvented myself as a graduate student, doctor of philosophy, author and—eventually, in 1995—Senior Research Fellow (of CSICOP, now CSI).

Keeping in mind that my “roles” (I used to call myself a “real-life actor”) often included many personas (e.g., sign painter included sign-shop operator, billboard painter, school-bus letterer, electric sign salesman, and so on), I kept adding to my list. I had well over three hundred on my website (each presented as a “scrapbook page” with pictures and text) when I decided to add my complete current list of intended pages. That triples the previous list and makes me a “man of a thousand personas.” To see, go to my website (www.joenickell.com) and select “personas”—or not. Just don’t tell me to “get a life.”

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