Contemporary Methods Used in Laboratory-Based Mediumship Research

By Beischel, Julie | The Journal of Parapsychology, Spring-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Methods Used in Laboratory-Based Mediumship Research


Beischel, Julie, The Journal of Parapsychology


The analysis of information conveyed by mediums (individuals who report experiencing regular communication with the deceased) is important for several reasons:

* The survival of consciousness (i.e., the continued existence, separate from the body, of an individual's consciousness, personality, identity, or self after physical death) is a vital issue to many people. The general public's deep concern with survival and mediumship is illustrated by the recent rise of these topics in popular television shows, books, and movies.

* Investigating the phenomenon of anomalous information reception (AIR) by mediums is essential in understanding the mind's perception and processing of nonlocal, nonsensory information.

* An extensive understanding of the information mediums report and the process by which they report it is necessary in order for such information to be sensibly utilized by society. For example, mediums may be able to regularly and consistently find missing persons and contribute to criminal investigations if parameters such as error rates can be identified. Furthermore, because the source of the information anomalously reported by mediums has not been determined, it is possible that in the future, when the process is better understood, the knowledge acquired through AIR may benefit scientific, technological, and social progress.

* Providing empirical evidence on a topic historically linked with religion (i.e., the afterlife) may greatly impact modern society as well as contemporary western healthcare. For example, research in Terror Management Theory has found that belief in an afterlife may liberate people from "the compulsion to continually prove our value and the correctness of our beliefs" (Dechesne et al., 2003), an impulse that can manifest in the extreme as radical nationalism (which provides the individual with the psychological comfort of symbolic immortality). Additionally, empirical evidence for the survival of consciousness may alleviate the fear and anxiety commonly experienced by hospice patients and their families, and mediumship readings may even be beneficial in grief recovery. However, evidence for survival of consciousness may also have socially negative consequences (e.g., possible increased justification for terrorism or suicide).

* Finally, survival and mediumship studies provide unique evidence for an issue central to consciousness science: the relationship between the mind/consciousness and the brain. That is, is consciousness (a) a product of the brain as theorized by materialist neuroscientists such as Francis Crick and Christof Koch (e.g., Crick & Koch, 2003) or is consciousness (b) mediated, transmitted, transformed, guided, arbitrated, or canalized (Forman, 1998) by the brain as hypothesized by such scientists as Max Plank and William James? (This second theory is discussed, for example, by Clarke, 1995.) In addition, research investigating the survival of nonhuman consciousness (i.e., deceased companion animals) may help us better define exactly what consciousness is.

As with the study of any natural phenomenon, bringing mediumship into the regulated environment of the laboratory allows for the controlled and repeated examination of AIR by mediums.

HISTORY

Several comprehensive reviews of more than a century of mediumship research findings exist (Braude, 2003; Fontana, 2005; Gauld, 1984). In addition, the methods used during this time to evaluate the information reported by mediums (and psychics) have also been reviewed (Burdick & Kelly, 1977; Fontana, 2005; Schouten, 1994; Scott, 1972), though only Fontana's review includes research performed since 2001, albeit briefly (p. 221). The contemporary findings generally confirm and extend early observations (e.g., the systematic assessment of individual mediums or the examination of spontaneous cases) that certain mediums can report accurate and specific information about the deceased loved ones (termed discarnates) of living people (termed sitters) even without any prior knowledge about the sitters or the discarnates and in the complete absence of any sensory sitter feedback. …

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