Is there Life After Death?
Dr. Julie Beischel is Director of Research at the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential. She will be speaking about mediumship and afterlife research at a public event at the San Diego Scottish Rite Event Center on Friday, March 20th, at 7 pm. When Dr. Beischel was in graduate school she lost her mother to suicide and started to question what science had to say about the afterlife. After receiving her doctorate in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Arizona (UA), she accepted a position at UA studying mediums in the summer of 2003. She went on to serve as Co-Director of the VERITAS Research Program at UA with Dr. Gary E. Schwartz. When that program closed at the end of 2007, she and her husband, Mark Boccuzzi, created the Windbridge Institute so they could continue screening and training research mediums and performing survival research. Dr. Beischel's visit to San Diego is being cosponsored by OpenSourceScience, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) San Diego Community Group, and the San Diego Bereavement Consortium. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: www.windbridge.org/sandiego.htm
TLC: Hello, Dr. Beischel. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. What are your plans for your upcoming visit to San Diego?
Dr. Julie Beischel: In addition to the public event on March 20th, I will also be spending several days meeting with a number of key grief support and hospice care professionals from the San Diego community. Together, we will be discussing the applications that mediumship readings and afterlife research might have in those fields and how future research can best address the needs of this and other communities.
What does the survival of consciousness refer to and what does research into this matter encompass?
The survival of consciousness, or simply survival, is the fancy scientific term for the concept of life after death. Survival research involves areas including near death and out of body experiences, reincarnation, and ghosts and hauntings. The survival research I perform involves studies of mediums' communication with the deceased and their experiences of that communication.
Is other related research being conducted at Windbridge?
On the survival front, we also investigate technologies that may be useful in enhancing non-mediums' communication with the deceased, and we address reports of ghosts and hauntings using both field and laboratory methods. Outside of afterlife topics, we are interested in applied intuition and intention, planetary consciousness and health, and complementary and alternative therapies for personal health and healing.
What is the significance of increased public interest in parapsychological phenomena, as evidenced by television programs such as Medium and Ghost Hunters , movies such as The Sixth Sense and White Noise , and books by highly visible mediums such as John Edward, James Van Praagh, and Sylvia Browne, being regularly on the New York Times Best Seller List?
This is actually a double-edged sword. The presence of survival in so many areas of the popular culture brings it to the attention of the public which is definitely essential for our—pardon the pun—survival. There is very, very little funding for survival and other types of parapsychological research and, at Windbridge, we rely on the support of our members to be able to—perform this important research, so getting people interested in these topics is important for us. However, in the case of television shows, the majority are just that: television shows intended for entertainment purposes. They often do not accurately portray the phenomena or proper scientific investigative methods so, as scientists, we have to work harder to educate the public about what has actually been proven as well as the true nature of mediumship and controlled investigations of allegedly haunted locations.
What is the relationship between survival research and other investigations of psychic phenomena, such as distance healing, remote viewing, etc.?
Evidence for the survival of consciousness is also supportive of other psychic phenomena because it implies that while we are alive our consciousness is not tied to our bodies and can perform non-local tasks like relaying healing energy to someone far away or perceiving the details of a location at a distance.
How do you investigate mediums in a controlled laboratory setting?
At Windbridge, our mediumship research has two main fronts. We perform what is called proof-focused research in which we test mediums' abilities to report accurate information about the deceased; we are looking for proof that mediums can actually do what they claim to be doing. During these studies, we use five levels of blinding which control for all the normal explanations that could be responsible for the mediums' success. For example, we perform phone readings with only the medium and an experimenter present on the phone. This accounts for and eliminates the possibility of “cold reading,” a technique in which a fraudulent medium uses visual, auditory, or verbal feedback from a client to create what appears to the client to be an accurate reading. Historically, the vast majority of mediumship research was proof-focused.
The second mediumship research front at Windbridge involves process-focused studies in which we scientifically analyze the mediums' experiences during communication with the deceased. To do this, we use questionnaires and interviews to document the mediums' experiences. Historically, the mediums studied were often trance mediums who had no recollection of the readings that took place while they were unconscious in trance, so studying their experiences was not possible. Our research mediums remain fully conscious and aware during their readings so we are able to gather important information about their experiences from them.
In addition to research, we also train and certify research mediums using an intensive 8-step screening procedure that takes each medium several months to complete. The Windbridge Certified Research Mediums on our team are truly a unique and elite group of skilled, ethical, and professional individuals.
How strong is the evidence from your mediumship research and how do you measure the strength of the evidence?
To measure the strength of the evidence, we use traditional statistical analyses that are chosen prior to data collection. We consider studies positive if those analyses reach the criterion accepted by the general scientific community as supportive of a phenomenon (namely, a p value of less than 0.05 which relays a probability of 95% that if the study were run again, the same or stronger results would be obtained). We also submit our findings to peer-reviewed journals where several experts assess the validity of the methods used and examine the strength of the data. Articles published in peer-reviewed journals have a kind of independent stamp of approval that the conclusions drawn are reasonable and not just wishful thinking or unsupported claims. It is important to remember that information found in popular books or on the Internet most likely has not been subjected to this kind of rigorous scrutiny and should only be accepted as true after careful consideration. Just because someone claims to be a researcher or claims to perform scientific experiments, it does not mean their conclusions are valid.
From the peer-reviewed data we have collected to date, we can conclude that certain mediums are able to reliably report accurate and specific information about the deceased loved ones (called discarnates) of living people (called sitters) without any prior knowledge about the discarnates or the sitters. And due to the controls we use, we can confidently state that these mediums do not acquire their information using fraud, deception, or cold reading.
We cannot, however, conclude that survival of consciousness (life after death) exists or that the mediums are communicating with the deceased. The data also fit two other parapsychological explanations that do not involve survival. The first is called Super-Psi and contends that mediums are retrieving information about discarnates by using clairvoyance, precognition, and/or telepathy with the living. The second is the Psychic Reservoir hypothesis which claims that mediums are accessing some kind of reservoir or database of information stored somehow in the universe. So, further research is needed to get to the heart of this Survival vs. Psi debate.
Can you distinguish for us the difference between a medium and a psychic?
Generally speaking, a medium is an individual who experiences regular communication with the deceased and a psychic is a person who regularly acquires information about living people, non-local places, or the future. It is possible for an individual to have both mediumistic and psychic abilities.
The comparison of these two abilities is one of the reasons why process-focused research is so important. Because the proof-focused data cannot distinguish between survival and the psychic/psi theories, we are turning to the mediums' experiences to help differentiate between the two. During a recent study, one medium stated, “A psychic reading is like reading a book and a mediumship reading is like seeing a play.” If a quantifiable difference between mediums' experiences of survival and psi exists, then we can start leaning toward survival as the better-supported explanation for the data. This can only be done with further research.
What potential benefits do you think can be gained from mediumship research?
There are several areas of society that may directly benefit from this research. For example, scientific evidence for life after death could help to lessen the fear and angst felt by hospice patients and their loved ones. Mediumship readings may also be helpful during grief counseling. Mediums may even be able to reliably locate missing persons and help law enforcement agencies during investigations. I will be discussing these and other applications for mediumship in more detail during my presentation on Friday, March 20th.
Where, other than at the Windbridge Institute, is this type of research being conducted?
To the best of my knowledge, Windbridge is the only research organization in the US whose primary research focus is mediumship and survival. In addition, I think we are unique in our two-sided, proof- and process-focused approach. Survival-related research also takes place in the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. Other areas of parapsychological and consciousness research that do not include survival take place at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and the Rhine Research Center.
What advice do you have for people interested in receiving a mediumship reading?
I will be speaking about this in detail during my public presentation on March 20th, but briefly, people can find a list of reputable and skilled Windbridge Certified Research Mediums on our website. It is important to note the substantial evidence supporting the accuracy and significance of telephone readings, so a medium does not need to be in your area to provide a reading for you.
How can people and organizations get involved in supporting your research?
We would be grateful if people visited our website, www.windbridge.org , and told their friends about Windbridge by sharing with them this article or our site. We encourage people interested in this topic to join our email list or become Windbridge members to stay up to date on the latest news. Members pay discounted prices for Windbridge events; have access to our private online groupsite where they can interact directly with Windbridge mediums, investigators, and advisors; and receive our quarterly e-newsletter Winds of Change . A complimentary copy of the newsletter is available on our website. Those interested in parapsychological topics can also visit our online bookstore. We welcome online contributions in any amount to help offset the costs of research, travel, supplies, journal subscriptions, etc. Attending or sponsoring a Windbridge event like the one on the 20th is also very helpful and our upcoming events are always listed on our website.
For more information about Dr. Beischel and the Windbridge Institute and for copies of peer-reviewed articles on this topic, please visit www.windbridge.org
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