Spirit under the Microscope:
What Science Can Tell Us about the Afterlife
by Julie Beischel, PhD
As a society, we are fascinated by individuals who experience regular communication with the dead. Mediums and the “bodily challenged” individuals with whom they communicate have become ubiquitous in popular culture.
As with any natural phenomenon, bringing mediumship into the laboratory allows for its controlled and repeated examination. That’s where I come in. I am a scientist who researches mediums, the information they report, and their experiences. I study human communication in which one of the people just happens to be dead.
While I was obtaining my doctorate in Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Arizona (UA), I lost my mother to suicide. After I graduated, a number of fortuitous “coincidences” led me to take a position at the UA studying mediums. When that program lost funding and closed in 2007, my husband and I created the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential in order to continue performing this important yet often marginalized research.
The scientific study of mediums is actually over a century old. Today, we can confidently offer the conclusion that during mediumship readings, certain mediums can report accurate and specific information about the deceased loved ones, known as “discarnates” of living people, or “sitters.” They do this without any prior knowledge about the discarnates or sitters, in the absence of any sensory feedback, and without using fraud or deception.
Investigating mediums in the lab should include two equally important factors: an optimal research environment and maximum experimental controls. This increases the probability of capturing the phenomenon in a laboratory setting while eliminating all conventional explanations for the accuracy of the mediums’ statements. I like to say that you can’t study football on a basketball court using baseball players and the rules for hockey and then conclude that football doesn’t exist.
In order to create an optimal research environment, we recognize that there are three people participating in each mediumship reading: the medium, the sitter, and the discarnate. We take into account motivation, fatigue, and communication abilities when choosing discarnate participants. We also optimize the process for the mediums by, for example, performing phone readings at times chosen by the mediums and requesting information commonly found in “regular” medium-client readings, such as descriptions of the discarnates and causes of death.
To maximize the experimental controls, we use a quintuple-blind protocol, which is a method that employs five separate levels of controls: the medium, the sitter, and three experimenters are each blinded to different pieces of information. Briefly, no one knows anything about what anyone else is doing until all of the data are collected. This prevents the inadvertent (or intentional) leakage of information and effectively eliminates all the “normal” explanations commonly put forth by skeptics attempting to dismiss the reality of mediumship: fraud, rater bias, general statements, cueing by the experimenter, and “cold reading,” a technique in which cues from the sitter are used to fabricate “accurate” readings.
However, even with these controls, we cannot conclude that mediums are talking to the dead.
Why not? Three “paranormal” explanations each still fit the data. The first is known as the Survival of Consciousness, which is the continued existence, separate from the body, of an individual’s consciousness or personality after physical death. This is commonly known as “life after death.” Another possible explanation is Super-Psi, which is the retrieval of information through clairvoyance, precognition, and/or telepathy with the living. It’s the idea that a medium is just reading your mind. Lastly is the Psychic Reservoir hypothesis, which claims that all information is stored in the universe and mediums are simply accessing that cosmic database. This is similar to the Hindu Akashic record, Jung’s collective unconscious, and Yeats’ spiritus mundi.
Therefore, further research is needed to solve the “dead people vs. dead information” quandary for several academic and socially relevant reasons. First, mediumship studies address the relationship between the mind/consciousness and the brain. Is consciousness a product of the brain’s biochemistry or, like radio waves with a radio, is it separate from the body but received and transmitted by the brain? While neuroscientists continue to argue about which of a half-dozen different neural correlates in the brain house consciousness, mediumship research suggests it might not live there at all.
In addition, mediums may be able to locate missing persons or contribute to criminal investigations, but for us to sensibly utilize this information, the process by which it is acquired needs to be better understood. The information mediums provide may also contain wisdom or knowledge that could benefit scientific, technological, and social progress.
Perhaps most importantly, scientific evidence for life after death could revolutionize modern medicine and healing. First, this knowledge could alleviate the anxiety felt by hospice patients and their loved ones. In addition to the solace brought by your own experiences and beliefs, imagine being able to face death with actual scientific evidence that we continue to exist after we die and are even able to communicate reliably with those left behind.
Second, mediumship readings may be helpful or even synergistic in grief counseling. (But just try to get your insurance company to cover therapeutic mediumship readings without a mountain of scientific studies to establish their benefit.) At Windbridge, we have just begun to collect data about the effect that a reading with a certified medium has on the grieving process.
And finally, scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness could drastically change the way allopathic physicians view death. If the death of a patient was viewed as a natural shift rather than a medical failure, doctors could spend their time and resources addressing the quality of patients’ days and not the quantity of their years. And just like we train our mothers how to safely give birth, we could train our dying on how to serenely cross over.
In addition to researching and certifying mediums, the Windbridge Institute investigates technologies that may aid discarnate communication and addresses reports of haunting phenomena using both field and laboratory methods. We are also interested in complementary and alternative therapies for personal and planetary health and applied intuition and intention research. The mission of the Windbridge Institute is to investigate the potential that exists within our bodies, minds, and spirits and how that information can best serve all living things.
Julie Beischel PhD, is Co-Founder and Director of Research at the Windbridge Institute. To learn more about this topic, please visit www.windbridge.org. At 7 p.m. on Friday, March 20, please join Dr. Beischel at the Scottish Rite Event Center in San Diego, CA, to learn about the science and applications of mediumship. This event is co-sponsored by OpenSourceScience, SANDIONS, and the San Diego Bereavement Consortium. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.windbridge.org/sandiego.htm.