Does Mediumship Prove Survival of Consciousness?
For those aware of the compelling evidence for psychic phenomena and mediumship-satisfied with the reality of their existence-one question remains, dating back to the SPR's earliest research more than a century ago. Presupposing that mediums operating under controlled conditions are able to provide relevant and specific information about deceased persons, this query focuses on the workings or modus-operandi of how such phenomena occur.
Most mediums, the majority of people who consult mediums, and some researchers, subscribe to the "survival" hypothesis. This theory, also referred to as "survival of consciousness," implies that information furnished by mediums comes from deceased persons communicating from some adjacent realm of existence. Further, it is asserted that these communications are usually conveyed telepathically.
There are other hypotheses that endeavor to explain how mediums do what they do, offering vastly different explanations. But before delving into these alternative models, let's start by exploring the various forms of psychic phenomena-the ways people access information without utilizing their five physical senses.
Because Parapsychologists observe so many different types of psychic phenomena, they have devised descriptive categories tying to certain characteristics. Within the branch called "mental phenomena" (as opposed to "physical phenomena" which won't be addressed here), five categorical definitions have been established:
Clairvoyance: "Clear-seeing"-to see beyond the limits of time & space, past and future.
Clairaudience: "Clear-hearing"-auditory reception of information-often voices.
Clairsentience: "Clear-sensing"-perception of information through smell or feelings.
Telepathy: Thought transfer between two minds.
Psychometry: The ability to read energy/information emanating from physical objects.
Because no one knows the "mechanism" (as materialists put it) driving these phenomena, it cannot be established whether some forms of psi may be facilitated by spirit communication. So with this groundwork laid, let's look at some alternate theories that attempt to explain how certain mediums are able to provide meaningful information about discarnate individuals.
Proponents of a model often termed "Super-psi" presuppose that mediums are actually talented psychics who utilize a sort of supercharged psi ability-presumably leveraging any of the aforementioned faculties, allowing them to access any information anywhere, anytime.
Expanding on this, Tricia Robertson of the SSPR (Scottish Society of Psychical Research) explains, "Super psi, according to its supporters allows a person to access every book, human thought, every journal, etc., everywhere in the world. It has no limitations, as anything can be accessed."
Further, Robertson notes "Super psi cannot be seriously considered a scientific theory, as any theory must have boundaries that can be tested. Super psi has no boundaries and no explanation."
So while this model has adherents it may never be proven, or invalidated, unless and until an alternate theory is accepted that renders Super psi unfeasible.
Another hypothesis, referred to as "Archive" suggests that mediums tap into a sort of universal database or energy field. This cosmic storehouse of information, akin to the Akashic field referenced in Eastern traditions (and in the work of Edgar Cayce) can be thought of as "God's memory." This schema suggests that a medium tunes into a subject-be it a question, a person, a place, an object, or something else-culling pertinent information from the aforementioned non-physical database.
In such a scenario, one might envision a medium conducting a reading for a bereaved person who wishes to hear from a deceased loved one. Let's assume that the medium has a striking number of hits and the sitter is pleased with the quality of information shared. In this situation, the archive theory proponent would argue that the medium has tapped into the universal data base or energy field, and is simply reporting on information contained there.
Another argument asserts that mediums use telepathy to read the mind of the sitter and then report back pertinent information. One might assume that addressing this concern might be as simple as separating the medium and the sitter, but telepathy cannot be eliminated as an explanation even in controlled readings where the sitter and medium have no direct contact. This is because telepathy's boundaries are not known and distance does not appear to be a limiting factor. But such controls are useful in removing normal sensory information, thereby eliminating other explanations such as "cold reading". The practice of separating medium and sitter by two or more levels is commonplace among today's researchers at the Windbridge Institute, the SSPR, and the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies.
Further, speaking about the viability of telepathy as an explanation for the aptitude of talented mediums, Tricia Robertson notes, "Telepathy does not cut it...although telepathy exists it is a very weak faculty between living persons."
Let's now return to the survival hypothesis-the theory that mediums are able to obtain relevant information via communication with discarnate persons.
Some of the most compelling evidence for the survival hypothesis comes from what are referred to as "cross-correspondence" experiments. Early cases of this type, documented by the SPR (Society of Psychical Research, in London), involved messages from multiple mediums situated in various locations. Individually the messages seemed meaningless but when assembled together, a mosaic-like effect became apparent and a meaning was revealed. The complexity and elaborate nature of these experiments suggested that information conveyed to the mediums had been disseminated as the product of intention from an intelligent source.
One such case of cross-correspondence involved the mediumship of "Margery," also known as Mina Crandon, and three other mediums, in various locations in the northeastern United States. Each medium received fragmentary information; including drawings, sentences, geometric designs, and even Chinese characters, which were immediately corroborated by phone and telegraph. This enabled the message to be deciphered by joining the fragments into a whole.
There are other occurrences, similar to cross-correspondence, involving what are called "drop-in" personalities. In such cases, the medium connects with a discarnate that is unknown to the sitter and the information relayed seems meaningless...yet that information is later validated as accurate and meaningful to an unknown party not present at the reading. Cases of this sort eliminate sitter telepathy as a possibility, and also render super-psi a highly unlikely explanation, pointing instead to the conscious intent of some intelligence.
Dr. Julie Beischel, Director of the Windbridge Institute, studies mediums under controlled conditions, using experiments up to quintuple blind in format. As part of her work, Dr. Beischel has also sought to understand what mediums experience while doing their work-and she has uncovered an interesting dichotomy between the psychic experience and the mediumship experience. In a recent interview*, Beischel reported:
...because the proof-focused research [a triple-blind study published in a journal] cannot differentiate between survival and psi, we are also engaged in process-focused research in which we are examining the mediums' experiences during mediumship readings compared to psychic readings for the living in which telepathy, clairvoyance, and/or precognition are used. Our Windbridge Certified Research Mediums (WCRMs) perform psychic readings for clients as well as mediumship readings and, when asked, report being able to clearly distinguish between the two experiences. My favorite quote about this from a WCRM is "a psychic reading is like reading a book... a mediumship reading is like seeing a play." Dr. Adam Rock and I have published both qualitative and quantitative studies in this area and are currently attempting to find support for the next step: a blinded, quantitative study of mediums' experiences during the two types of readings.
At a seminar I attended last year, Dr. Beischel reported that mediums often feel other presences during mediumship readings. The mediums also reported sensing a loss of volition-as if another personality assumed some measure of control over their thoughts and feelings. These experiences stand in stark contrast to what mediums report during standard psychic readings, which are typically far less emotional.
Another consideration is that the personality, mannerisms, and sense of humor of the deceased person often come through in readings. This phenomenon takes things to a more personal and subjective level-going beyond the mere reiteration of data. I've experienced this in numerous sessions with top mediums, where my father's personality was clearly evident in the communication.
More touching was an occasion when medium Tina Powers spoke to me in the exact style and intonation as my deceased son Brandon. The words chosen and the manner in which they were delivered precisely mirrored my son's mode of conversation. While speaking in a "channeled" sort of way, Tina addressed a difficult working relationship I'd experienced with another person-who I immediately recognized from the details furnished. After the subjects' identity was established, Tina shared in parrot-like fashion, "She wasn't able to get it-Dad."
Tricia Robertson and Professor Archie Roy recently postulated two theories in a paper that is currently awaiting publication. They tested pragmatic data against several theories-one of which was the survival hypothesis. And from their research, Robertson indicates that she and Roy have formulated some of their own theories.
In my communications with Tricia I gained the sense that she and Roy have seen strong evidence for the survival hypothesis but she also noted, "I don't think for one minute that all mediums are connecting with discarnate beings." I took this to mean that some research cases may point to survival, while others apparently to lead to alternate explanations.
On a personal level, beyond the lab, I have witnessed events that seem to serve as evidence supporting the survival hypothesis. A recent example involves a distraught co-worker from California named Linda who contacted me after losing her younger brother.
Linda told me that her brother had died in motorcycle accident-specifying that he was killed instantly. She also noted that her brother had children who were left behind. Linda then mentioned that she was having trouble sleeping and functioning at work, but said nothing else about her brother.
Ironically, while conversing with Linda I was en-route to meet another friend, Debra Martin, who happens to be a medium. Upon arriving at Debra's home I told her how odd it seemed to be meeting with her now, since I'd just finished talking with a grieving friend. Debra said that the timing was no accident and that she needed to speak with my friend.
After a brief visit I asked Debra if she would like to talk with my friend. Time was short, so Debra first indicated a desire to try and "connect" with my friend's brother. She then grabbed a pad of paper, a pen, and asked me two questions:
"What is your friend's name?"
"Linda." I said.
"What is her brother's name?"
"I don't know." I responded.
Within five seconds Debra asked me, "Did this involve a motorcycle?"
"Yes." I replied.
Debra then followed, "The brother is telling me that he died instantly-his soul left his body immediately and he felt no pain. He wants her to know this."
Debra continued, "Did he leave behind some kids?"
"Yes." I shared.
Up to this point, Debra was right on the mark with everything...but she was about to venture into other matters I knew nothing about.
"He says to tell her about the bath-the bathtub. She will know what he means."
"He also says that there was something red-like a ribbon or banner over his casket."
"And he wants to make mention of "the little boy."
It was time for me to leave, so Debra asked me to share this information with Linda. She also asked me to have Linda call back later on for a reading, which would be furnished at no charge.
I hopped into my car and immediately called Linda. As soon as we connected I told Linda how Debra had identified her brother's cause of death-including the fact that he'd died instantly, and also the reference to his kids. To say that Linda was overwhelmed by the validations would be an understatement.
I then shifted to other comments made by Debra-first asking about the "bathtub" remark. Linda then explained that she and her husband had raised her brothers' three kids for a few years while he was dealing with some personal struggles. She told me that during this time-frame the children's favorite activity was to bathe together and wage "water wars."
I then asked about the reference to "the little boy." Linda shared that this was clearly a reference to her brother's grandson, recently born to his older daughter (i.e. not one of "the kids").
And it turned out the Debra's mention of a "red ribbon or banner over her brother's casket" was also meaningful...Linda told me that a red banner had indeed adorned his coffin.
Reflecting on this information, Debra's comments about the bathtub and the red banner could not be attributed to telepathy with me because I had no foreknowledge of either item. Further, the red banner was placed on the casket after Linda's brother had died, suggesting that his "soul" or "spirit" may have been aware of events that had transpired after his death-and that he may have communicated these things to Debra.
Later that evening Debra gave Linda a reading over the phone and furnished more validations. She accurately identified her brother's favorite food as pizza. Debra also passed along a "thank you" to Linda for changing the music at the service, from country western-which he hated, to hard rock-which he loved. Linda confirmed that this statement was right on the mark.
Debra also said that the brother shared the phrase, "Live, Love, and Laugh." Linda told me that he had never said these words to her during his physical life yet, remarkably, she confirmed owning a piece of art inscribed with these very words. Also, Linda told me that she has been planning to get a tattoo with this exact phrase.
After meeting many qualified mediums, these kinds of experiences have become almost commonplace in my life-but they never cease to amaze me. And while these events did not occur under controlled conditions in a lab, it doesn't diminish the validity of what I witnessed by one iota.
Considering all the available evidence, it is ultimately up to you to determine which explanation makes the most sense. Perhaps science will one day "prove" the existence of the afterlife, but for now the matter seems to fall into the category of subjective belief, depending on your own personal experience.
With that said some individuals have undergone remarkable occurrences-ranging from near-death-experiences, to lucid dreams, and apparitions-rendering what we label "belief" as something closer to "knowledge," from their perspective.
*Interview with Dr. Beischel appeared on The Daily Grail.