This is part 2 of my serialized essay answering the question, ‘What is the best available evidence for the existence of human consciousness after permanent bodily death?’ If you haven’t read part one yet, you can check it out here.
If you enjoy this essay, please spread the word and share it. I have opened up comments to everyone this time, and I’d love to know your thoughts. Did I convince you that survival is the cause of the data of mental mediumship?
Part Two – Extraordinary Alternative Explanations for the Data of Mental Mediumship
Is it possible that the data of mental mediumship are caused by some phenomena other than survival of human consciousness after bodily death? Could it be that some combination of telepathy, remote viewing, ESP, and clairvoyance only makes it seem that the information is coming from a deceased communicator? In his book Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life After Death, Stephen E. Braude argues that:
“Assuming psychic functioning occurs…it may be driven by our deepest needs and fears (rather than those of which we’re immediately or consciously aware), and that it doesn’t occur only when parapsychologists set out to look for it. For that reason, the super-psi hypothesis in its strongest form, is really a motivated-psi hypothesis. That is, it posits the operation of psychic abilities in the services of some agent’s genuine or perceived needs or interests.”
- (Braude, 2003. P.13)
Michael Sudduth, in his essay Is Post Mortem Survival the Best Explanation for the Data of Mediumship?, adds:
“…the LAP hypothesis must be considered in conjunction with various auxiliary assumptions that illuminate plausible psychodynamics in which psychically acquired veridical information about other (deceased) minds is embedded and which may direct psi functioning towards particular manifestations. While LAP provides an alternative story about how someone other than the deceased could be the source of veridical data, a motivated LAP hypothesis explains why LAP would tap into veridical information relating to deceased persons and in a way that presents such information as ostensibly arising from the deceased. This would significantly increase the prior probability of the veridical features of the data and so significantly reduce the explanatory force of the survival hypothesis.”
- (Sudduth, 2013. Loc. 1344, Kindle Edition)
This theory posits that a kind of unfettered clairvoyance or telepathy among the living is the cause of the correct information received and relayed by the medium. Braude also argues that, “successful psychic functioning may be insensitive to task complexity, or at least more so than is commonly supposed.” (Braude, 2003. Pp. 37-38). This means that telepathy or clairvoyance could be used to receive information from a single living person, or multiple living persons to synthesize the impression that the information is coming from the deceased.
If all the information contained in a sitting was available from the minds of the living, it casts doubt on whether true and accurate information about a deceased communicator is genuinely indicative of their survival. I will call this position MLAP - motivated living-agent psi. MLAP asserts that the complex psychological needs of both the medium and the recipient, combined with the interaction of their psychic functioning, is sufficient to explain the content of mediumship sittings without the need for a deceased communicator. MLAP is thought to be the strongest challenge to survival as the best explanation for the data of mediumship for three reasons.
First, most mediumship sittings contain information about the communicator that the recipient already knows. Second, due to our lack of understanding of the rules and limitations of mental mediumship and/or so-called psi, proponents of motivated living-agent psi can simply pile on more and more powerful psi among the living to explain more and more compelling cases of mental mediumship. The third reason is that the survivalist is unable to argue that limitless psi among the living is unjustified without “the survival hypothesis being saddled with the exact same problem. The discarnate psi needed…involves psi of a magnitude and refinement equal to that needed for living-agent psi.” (Sudduth, 2013. Loc: 1482, Kindle Edition).
To maintain that survival of human consciousness after bodily death is the best explanation for the data of mental mediumship, I must demonstrate a case where information was transferred in a sitting that could not have come from interaction between the minds of the medium and the sitter, and I must definitively exclude increased magnitude of psi among the living as an alternative explanation. Let us assume that a mental mediumship sitting is as it appears to be, and that present, there is a deceased communicator, a medium, and a sitter.
The following table outlines all possible combinations of who-knows-what at the time of the sitting. It also shows what the result of each communication combination would be. O represents that a statement is true and known. X represents that a statement is either untrue or unknown for the duration of the sitting:
Many pieces of information that we would ordinarily find compelling as evidence of survival, such as the communicator’s name, their address, or the color of their favorite chair, could be the result of telepathy and/or clairvoyance between the medium and what the sitter knows about the communicator. The source of the problem for proving survival is that a ‘successful’ mediumship sitting is one where the recipient answers yes to all or most of the information. This is what we have habitually come to value about mental mediumship – the awe and amazement of immediate correctness. The trouble is, for the recipient to say yes, they must have known the information all along (combinations 1 and 4 in the above table).
To eliminate MLAP (telepathy etc.) as an explanation, we must find a case where there is a piece of information that is particularly known by the communicator, and which is unknown to both the recipient and the medium. We need, then, to look beyond the immediacy of the sitting itself to see whether anything was disclosed to the recipient, to which they answered no, that later turned out to be true. We need an example of combination number 5 (above). If I can show such an example, then MLAP is insufficient to explain it, and a third mind is both necessary and sufficient to account for it.
In June 2016, Judy won a sitting with me in a raffle at a charity ball. She arrived at my apartment, and I noted her to be a polished and poised woman in her fifties or sixties. We sat down in my living room, and I explained the procedure of the sitting. I offered her some water and asked if she was comfortable before pressing ‘play’ on the voice recorder on my phone. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to find resonance with Judy and her loved ones who had passed. I began speaking and delivering pieces of information, and the sitting was disastrous from that point onward.
Judy said ‘no’ to almost everything, without explanation or elaboration. I grew more frustrated, confused, and exhausted by the minute. The sitting ended after about thirty minutes of pure torture, and I hit ‘stop’ on the voice recorder. I could only apologize to Judy as to why none of the information had made sense to her, and I joked that if she had paid for the sitting, I would have given her a refund.
Around three months later, I received a phone call from a woman – a voice I did not recognize. “I need to see you for a sitting urgently – when are you available?” The voice asked. Arrangements were made, and a few days later I was shocked to see Judy standing on my doorstep. I welcomed her in and we sat down. She disclosed to me that she was adopted, and that for forty years she had been searching for her birth mother with absolutely no leads.
I had claimed that her father had passed, and that he was communicating with me. She had said ‘no’ to this because she did not know him, nor whether he had passed. Naturally, she could not confirm anything else he had to say.
She told me that she listened to the audio shortly after the sitting, and something her alleged father had said through me had given her a sudden gut feeling for where to look for her birth mother. In desperation, she had followed the hunch, which led directly to her birth mother, who was still living. They had met and reconciled, and Judy and her mother were due to spend their first Christmas together.
This sitting did not take place under laboratory conditions, however, there were some natural controls in place. I submitted my offer of a sitting to the charity event via the person running the event who is unrelated to Judy. The draw of a raffle is random, so the winner could have been anyone out of a few hundred people. I did not attend the event, so I had no idea who had won until they called me to book their sitting.
The power of this sitting to preclude MLAP as an explanation is in the chasm created by what Judy and I did not know. At no point was I made aware – through any ordinary nor extraordinary means – that Judy was adopted. I was completely oblivious to her search for her birth mother, and she was completely uninformed as to the identity and whereabouts of her birth mother. Thanks to Judy’s tight-lipped, single-word confirmation or denial of the information I gave, I did not receive any cues that Judy was adopted, as evinced by my persistent obtuseness to the matter. The first time I knew anything about Judy being adopted was when she returned to my home and told me verbally three months later.
If I did not know Judy was adopted, and she did not know the whereabouts of her birth mother, then the minds of Judy and I are insufficient to explain how her question was answered by information conveyed in the sitting. A third mind, at minimum, is required to explain the source of the relevant piece of information in this sitting (combination 5 above). A single mind had to be in possession of all the pieces of the puzzle. They had to know the identity and whereabouts of Judy’s mother, and that Judy was searching for her. That same mind encoded the answer to Judy’s unasked question and pushed it through me, despite my ignorance, and without either Judy or me knowing about it. Moreover, the facts of this example necessitate a third mind in possession of the hallmarks of human consciousness - agency, intention, and the ability to fulfil their intentions.
To this day, I do not know what specific piece of information caused these results. Due to what I did not know, I had no target upon which to work my motivated living-agent psi (MLAP). Judy’s mind could not have accidentally disclosed the location of her birth mother to me, because she was not in possession of that piece of knowledge to be able to disclose it. This sitting, I believe, eliminates MLAP as a possible explanation for the data. Piling on more and more powerful psi to either me or Judy is not a solution because the problem is not magnitude of psi.
The issue for MLAP is the lack of a target. To respond to this, the MLAP proponent would have to posit that I could, somehow, retrieve the answer to an unknown question from someone who did not know the answer. Even if an MLAP proponent takes Judy’s mind out of the equation and argues I could have clairvoyantly viewed the objective future, through some blend of super-psi and precognition, this still does not address the issue of how I could have known what information to search for if I had no idea that Judy was adopted.
The limitless power of MLAP would suppose that all of this went on subconsciously. Judy’s subconscious disclosed the question to my subconscious and then my subconscious searched using, to quote Aladdin’s genie, ‘phenomenal cosmic powers’ to find the answer amongst all the data of reality. This is what is entailed if we suppose limitless psi among the living. If I were the cause of this data, and these powers were my powers, whether conscious or subconscious, there would be more evidence of it in my daily life. I would have no fears, worries or apprehension about the future, and I would know how to resolve matters that keep me up at night.
The fact that factual and pertinent information could reach Judy through me without my knowing about it, shows the opposite to what MLAP suggests. It shows how little my own designs on my mediumship matter. Contrary to the powers MLAP wishes to grant me, in this example, I was powerless to stop the communication because I had no idea it had happened.
I believe that the epistemological1 dynamics of Judy’s sitting deal a fatal blow to MLAP as an explanation for the contents of mental mediumship in this case and others like it. There have been many occasions where recipients have reported back to me that some indirect comment or unintentional turn-of-phrase I used on behalf of the communicator turned out to be surprisingly accurate and meaningful. There may be more sitters who noted hidden meaning after their sitting but did not report back to me. Multiply these scenarios by the number of effective mental mediums in the world, and we may have a good-sized pool of these kinds of cases available for study. Each of which seems to necessitate a third mind, by eliminating the possibility that the information could have come from the combined powers of the medium and sitter alone.
Beyond theory, we can test whether MLAP truly is the explanation for the data of mental mediumship. Imagine we took a group of mental mediums who can reliably perform and had them participate in psi experiments that excluded the need for veridical deceased communicators. We could replicate the card viewing experiments of JB Rhine (Rhine, 1934) or the remote viewing protocols of the Stargate Project2. If MLAP is the cause of the data of mental mediumship, then we would expect the mediums ‘hit rate’ in the psi experiments to mirror the ‘hit rate’ of their mental mediumship sittings. If, however, the mediums under-perform in these experiments comparatively to mental mediumship sittings under similarly controlled conditions, then it suggests there are distinct differences between the skills collectively known as living-agent psi and those known as mental mediumship. If telepathy is to mental mediumship what artistic ability is to musical ability, then neither MLAP nor any of its component psi parts can be ‘straight swapped’ as the cause of the data within mental mediumship sittings. After all, an accomplished painter cannot necessarily get a tune out of a trombone.
There are good reasons to believe that mental mediumship and the skills that constitute MLAP are more different than they are alike in one important and potentially irreconcilable way. When proponents of MLAP offer it as an alternative to contact with a veridical communicator, they often base their understanding of psi on the results of experiments predominantly involving objects and machines.
Psi is posited as the cause of statistically significant number manipulation on a supposedly random number generator; a higher-than-chance number of correct guesses of symbols on cards; and success in perceiving items in envelopes, or locations at large distances as with remote viewing/clairvoyance. These well-known experiments do not account for the possibility that working with objects is a vastly different task than feeling and understanding deceased people. This oversight has led MLAP proponents to believe that MLAP is an appropriate alternative cause to genuine survival in cases of mental mediumship. However, I do not believe this substitution is justified.
Neuroscience has provided us with evidence that working with things and working with people are vastly different tasks correlated predominantly by different hemispheres of the human brain. Personally, I am horrible at object-focused psi tasks. What few experiments of this nature I have participated in, I managed to do worse than chance. I can tell you that your great-uncle Robert was born in India, owned a static caravan with gnomes around it, and loved to switch on the Victrola and dance around the living room with his wife, but ask me to perform psi tests that involve machines or inanimate targets and you will have a failure on your hands. I have long suspected it is because I have a great love for people, and a deep curiosity about the lives and stories of others. The only time objects appear in my sittings (as with the gold watch, sweater and necklace in the previous section) is when they come via the communicator because they were emotionally significant to the communicators and / or recipients. In his seminal book, The Master and his Emissary, Iain McGilchrist writes:
“… the right hemisphere is more concerned with living individuals than man-made objects. This flows naturally from its interest in whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, and its capacity for empathy – as well as from its capacity to see the whole, where the left hemisphere sees an agglomerate of parts … it is the left hemisphere alone that codes for non-living things, while both hemispheres code for living things, perhaps because the living can be seen as independent individuals (right hemisphere) or as objects of use, prey, ‘things’, and so on (left hemisphere). However, at least one study has found a clear divide between the hemispheres, the left coding for the non-living, and the right for the living, regardless of the task … musical instruments, presumably because of the intimate way in which they take part in the life of the body, sort with the living rather than the non-living.”
- (McGilchrist, 2019: Pp. 55)
What if we monitored the brains of mediums and/or recipients, and it showed that mental mediumship is a right-hemisphere-dominant experience, and that most psi tasks are left hemisphere tasks? What if these results showed that remote viewers and mental mediums are different kinds of people with different kinds of skills? If this is true, then the neural correlates of each would provide evidence that one cannot be a ‘straight swap’ explanation for the other. In short, many of the experiments that comprise MLAP are ‘object-centric’ having focused on viewing inanimate objects. Mental mediumship may be ‘person-centric’ - the verbal expression of the lived experience of another (deceased) human being. It would be fascinating to know whether the brains of mediums categorize contact with a deceased communicator as a task performed in relationship with a living thing.
Neuroscientific experiments could confirm whether left hemisphere dominance is present in successful cases of object-focused psi, and right hemisphere dominance is present in successful cases of mental mediumship. If this proved correct, then it would eliminate MLAP (a left hemisphere skill possessed by left-hemisphere-dominant personalities) as an alternative explanation for mental mediumship (a right-hemisphere skill possessed by right-hemisphere-dominant personalities). This would significantly strengthen the argument that MLAP is not the cause of the data of mental mediumship, leaving survival as the only known alternative.
The phenomenology of contact3 in my mental mediumship is different to what is described in most cases of living-agent-psi for which we have experimental evidence. The data of a mental mediumship sitting arises as a first-person, embodied experience of the communicator.
During a sitting, and sometimes even prior to, the feeling of what it is like to be me4 recedes to accommodate what it is like to be the communicator. Much of the true information that is most impactful for the sitter is felt and experienced rather than being perceived as if looking out onto an object, as in cases suggested by MLAP. I think MLAP has a difficult time accounting for this. MLAP proponents describe, “psychically accessing information”. (Braude, 2013. Loc. 678). This description puts me in mind of Ebenezer Scrooge going off with the three ghosts to look at a scene in the past, present, or future which is separate to himself. But this notion of ‘psychically accessing information’ does not capture the phenomenology of mental mediumship as I have experienced it. If the experience of MLAP is like searching for your car keys, then the experience of mental mediumship is like cradling your dog, child, or dearest friend when they are in pain and in need of comfort.
I am not in control of the information that arrives in any way. I merely receive it. There is no self-directed searching as with cases of remote viewing. What follows (if I am lucky!) is a brief but intimate experience of the communicator with varying degrees of richness or sparseness caused by a range of factors I do not fully understand. I briefly embody the actions they are sorry for, the injuries they sustained, the memories that made them laugh, the ideas they most want to express, and their desire to reconnect with the recipient.
The phenomenology of contact seems to come of its own accord, roughly around the time of the sitting, and it goes away at its own time and for its own reasons. A sitting can be going perfectly well, and if the communicator leaves, then the sitting cannot be recovered. This suggests that the experience is not caused solely by me or the sitter. If we truly are motivated by complex psychological needs, as MLAP suggests, we would not also collude to sabotage our own sittings intentionally.
A lack of understanding of the phenomenology of contact, and the experiential differences between mental mediumship and instances of other kinds of psi phenomena, has led to them seeming much more alike than they actually are. It is this false similarity that has created the confusion by which MLAP can seem to be easily substituted for authentic mediumship contact. If the phenomenology of contact were to be considered as part of the research data, stark differences between the felt experience of mental mediumship, and the felt experience of directed target object searching at the core of much MLAP experimentation, would show the distinctness of these two states, thereby weakening the case that one is an appropriate alternative explanation for the other.
To summarize this section: Motivated living-agent psi (MLAP) is offered as the best alternative explanation to survival. It explains the data of mediumship without the need for a veridical deceased communicator. However, MLAP faces serious problems in explaining a group of mediumship cases with specific epistemological dynamics; where both the mind of the sitter, and the mind of the medium have been eliminated as possible sources of veridical information that is transferred during the sitting. Moreover, in some cases, veridical information seems to bypass the medium’s own awareness, leading to the conclusion that it must have been intentionally encoded by another conscious mind; one that, in Judy’s case, knew both the sitter’s question, and the answer to that question.
The second obstacle for MLAP as an alternative explanation to survival is that many of the skills that comprise MLAP may be correlated with action in a different area of the brain than mental mediumship, thereby rendering it highly unlikely as an alternative explanation for the data of a sitting. It may be that mental mediumship is primarily correlated with the right hemisphere of the medium’s brain which is concerned with people and relationships, and psi experiments are correlated with the left hemisphere of the clairvoyant / remote-viewer’s brain which is concerned with inanimate objects. This hypothesis could be answered conclusively by cross-examining effective mental mediums to establish whether they are as proficient in simple object-focused psi experiments as they are at person-centric mental mediumship. If the results were correlative, then we would be justified in suggesting MLAP as a straight-swap explanation for the data of mediumship. If, however, there are significant differences in their performance, then we must explore the possibility that they are distinctly different skills, and that MLAP is not an appropriate explanation for the data of mental mediumship.
Additionally, MLAP as a straight-swap explanation is only possible by ignoring the phenomenology of contact and assuming that the felt experience of mediumship is like the felt experience of viewing cards or searching for a target using psi.
The communicator having the freedom and will to leave, thereby ending the sitting irretrievably, indicates that neither the recipient nor I are responsible, since our motivation (the M in MLAP) would make it unlikely that we would intentionally sabotage our own sitting.
This discussion has revealed not only that motivated living-agent psi is an insufficient alternative explanation for the data of mediumship, but that many cases of mediumship require a third mind to account for the transmission of true facts that were not known by any of the living participants at the time of the sitting. This information later turned out not only to be true, but to be a specific answer to an unasked question. This does not mean that every case of apparent mental mediumship requires a third mind, but even if only one case does, it indicates that human consciousness survives bodily death.
To be continued…
Epistemology is the study of what counts as knowledge, and what kinds of things can be known. (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/ ) Accessed on 01/07/2021.
The Stargate Project was a series of remote viewing experiments conducted by the CIA. Information about it was declassified and is available to view here: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/collection/stargate
Phenomenology is the study of the contents of first-person conscious experience. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/