You are reading part three of my essay answering the question, ‘what is the best available evidence for the continuation of human consciousness after permanent bodily death?’ If you haven’t yet read part one and part two, you can do so here (part one) and here (part two).
I have opened the comments up to everyone this time. I’d love to know what you thought of this part of the essay. Is this an experiment worth doing? Does it succeed in isolating and showing the influence of the spirit person?
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Part Three: Strengthening the Evidence for Survival
Judy’s sitting is unique in its evidential power for proving the existence of human consciousness after death. It seems that a third, disembodied mind, who knew both the question and the answer, had to be present at the time of the sitting to account for how Judy ultimately found her birth mother.
To further enhance the evidence for survival after bodily death through mental mediumship, we must devise a controlled experiment that replicates the conditions of Judy’s sitting. The objective of the experiment would be to show, conclusively, that a disembodied mind must be responsible for information transferred in a sitting where living participants’ access to that information is restricted. In other words, the medium, the recipient, and the experimenters must be blind to the specific piece of information we are looking for, if we are to exclude the possibility of MLAP.
If a piece of information were to come through the medium that we specifically requested from the communicator, whilst none of the participants knew that a specific piece of information had been requested, this would provide good evidence that another mind, with a different perspective from the blinded living participants, was present in the sitting.
Here are the bones of the experiment. A good, reliable medium is invited to give a sitting, in a controlled environment, to a recipient chosen at random by the experimenters. Audio and video of the sitting are recorded. Prior to the sitting, a specific piece of information pertaining to the communicator is requested from the communicator in the form of a question, without the medium, the recipient, or the present experimenters knowing about it. After the sitting, the fact that there was a question asked, and what that question was, is revealed to the experimenters. Their task is to review the footage and identify whether the requested piece of information was expressed by the medium during the sitting. Michael Sudduth raises the issue that:
“The simple notion of postmortem survival – the continuation of consciousness after biological death in some discarnate state – does not lead us to expect the data of mediumship, unless we adopt a variety of auxiliary assumptions about the afterlife. Since most of these assumptions are epistemically suspect (e.g., being unwarranted, untestable, or ad hoc), they are incapable of doing the necessary explanatory work.”
- (Sudduth, 2013. Loc. 978, Kindle Edition)
While it is true that to get the ball rolling we must adopt auxiliary assumptions, it is not necessarily so that they are ‘unwarranted, untestable, or ad hoc’. If we were to receive a statistically significant result, having excluded the possibility that the information could have come from among the living, then this relatively simple experiment would validate the presence of a communicator. Also, some important assumptions would be justified.
We could conclude that at least some disembodied minds exist, and that at least some mental mediumship is authentic contact with a disembodied mind. It could be assumed that this mind possesses properties of consciousness – intention, agency and understanding. There would be justification for thinking that these minds are somehow aware of what is going on in the present time, and that they are able to interact with the material world, and our intentions and minds, to some degree.
Let us now add some meat to the bones of this experiment and explore the effects of specific protocol variations. The first thing to discuss is the optimal number of participants, the data we ought to collect about them, and what the best use of that data would be. The following numbers are for illustrative purposes only.
Say we took fifty good mediums who can reliably perform, and had them complete ten sittings each, as per the experimental set-up described previously. That would give a sample size of five-hundred sittings, which would be large enough to discover if there were any instances of covertly requested information appearing in the medium’s utterances. We would also have to decide if we wanted to use the same ten randomized participants with each medium, or whether we wanted to source ten different recipients for each medium.
The pros of using the same ten recipients are that the numbers would be easier to manage, and variations would be reduced, making it possible to compare the results and process the data in a more controlled way. We may discover that the effect seems to occur repeatedly with one particular medium or recipient, or that one specific combination of medium and recipient achieves a good result. Working with fewer recipients would help the experiment to remain nimble so we could analyze causes and correlations quickly and course-correct towards justified hypotheses as we go.
The cons of a small pool of recipients are that, after fifty sittings with fifty different mediums, they may become tired, jaded, or apathetic; or undergo psychological changes that correlate with repetition, which would skew the results of the experiment.
If we worked with ten different recipients per medium, this would enable us to spot patterns across a wider cross-section of humanity. Are there particular personality types – in either medium or recipient – that are conducive to significant results? A larger pool of people would help us answer this question more conclusively, perhaps by employing the Big Five Personality Traits Test1 prior to each sitting and comparing the traits of particularly successful (and unsuccessful!) participants. The cons would be that an experiment of this size would be longer, more costly, and more difficult to manage, both in terms of the logistics in working with this volume of recipients, and in terms of processing the data.
Due to how little we know about the properties and mechanisms of the afterlife (if such a thing exists!), we are forced to make many auxiliary assumptions. The only justification we have for these are the parallels and similarities of the testimonies of credible mediums. We have no choice but to allow for these assumptions and treat them as secondary hypotheses that we are trying to prove or disprove concurrently with our main hypothesis. We must begin our experiments by presupposing that deceased communicators exist. We must presume they can perceive us; they understand us; they are aware of the present; they can choose to participate in our experiments; and that they can manipulate the utterances of the medium. We are mapping uncharted terrain, so we must stick a pin in the map somewhere and get started, fumbling around in the dark for answers, until the data begin to reveal causes and correlations that we can use to inform further hypotheses.
One way we could begin to understand the factors that affect contact with communicators, would be to set up two versions of the experiment. In version A, we do not address the deceased communicators at all – we simply proceed as if either they do not exist, or they do not require our direct attention to fulfil their role in the experiment. In version B, we presume that the communicators do exist, and we begin experimenting with ways to request their participation. It would be interesting to note whether the results from version B differed to the results from version A.
If version B yielded stronger positive results, it would add to the evidence that there is someone there receiving our requests, and that it matters that we include them. From there we could experiment with different ways of asking – through mental focus, meditation, music, writing down the hidden questions, or speaking them out loud, to establish whether communication is helped by the request being made in a specific way. This, in turn, would teach us something about the modes of transmission of information that disembodied conscious minds can participate in.
Another aspect of the experiment that requires careful consideration is the matter of which questions we should pose to the communicators, and which kinds of information we should request from them. The hidden questions would have to be universal enough that we could randomize them, but obscure enough that it would be highly unlikely for the medium to arrive at the answer by chance, luck, or coincidence.
In part one of this essay, I mentioned the special role of physical objects in mental mediumship because of their resistance to confirmation bias. In this experiment, categories of meaningful objects would be a compelling domain for our hidden questions and answers.
Almost everyone has objects which are special to them, making the request universal, but the specific properties of that object are completely unique to each person, meaning that any specific details given by the medium are highly compelling. Within the domain of meaningful objects, we could create twenty categories such as: Important items of clothing; family pets; cherished souvenirs; items passed down through the family; a much-visited building etc. We could randomize and preselect these categories, using a computer or a separate group of experimenters who would assign three categories/questions at random to each sitting.
Imagine Val, the medium, is paired up with Jo to conduct a sitting. Throughout the sitting, Val mentions a brightly coloured decorative plate that was purchased in Mexico, which belonged to Jo’s mother who has passed. After the sitting, it is revealed that the three random categories assigned to this sitting were: 1. Family pets. 2. Wedding mementos. 3. Cherished vacation souvenirs. The fact that a cherished vacation souvenir – the decorative plate – was mentioned, means this experiment would be considered a positive result, since it answers one of the three secret categories that were unknown to the medium and the recipient, but known to the communicator. The reason to include three questions/categories is to give the communicator a choice in case they do not have a relevant meaningful object in the other categories. If an item was mentioned in the sitting that belonged to one of the categories chosen at random for that particular sitting, this result would indicate an intentional response to the question by a disembodied communicator.
There are some criticisms of these types of questions. The first is that lucky guesses are possible. In advance of the experiment, we would have to perform statistical analyses of the likelihood of a lucky guess and have the analysis peer-reviewed and signed-off. We would have to adapt our hit rate to include lucky guesses.
Critics may also argue that we are faced with MLAP problems again - the medium could simply be perceiving information about significant objects belonging to the communicator from the mind of the recipient. But remember, the answers in-and-of themselves do not matter. We are interested in whether the medium gives an answer to a question that neither the medium nor the recipient knew was being asked. The communicator’s influence is in the matter of why the medium chose to speak about that particular object among all the facts she could have spoken about. Critics may also argue that despite pertaining to the deceased, these questions and answers may not show, definitively, that ‘Uncle Dan’ or ‘Aunt Mabel’ themselves are the ones delivering the information (after all, who is to say we continue with such identity demarcation after death?). But I believe that if positive results emerged, it would be enough to conclude that disembodied human consciousness is participating in the experiments. Identifying the exact properties of that post-death consciousness will have to be an experiment for another day.
You may wonder whether we should blind the experiment further by removing the medium and the recipient from each other as some experiments have done2. This may negatively affect the results. If successful mediumship is a function of the right hemisphere – which understands the world in terms of relationships etc. - then we ought not to eliminate human connection between the mediums and the recipients prematurely.
It does not matter if the medium could potentially receive cues from the sitter, since, in this experiment, we are only interested in whether we received an answer to the hidden question. Isolating the medium and the sitter from each other, in a study that is potentially underpinned by a strong current of emotional relatedness, would be like trying to study a marriage by isolating one partner from the other. We are making a conscious trade: natural conditions in exchange for tighter controls, which may lead to better results in this specific experiment. Given that the hypothesis and method of this study are not affected by the medium and sitter being in each other’s presence, I think that is a trade worth making.
There are additional hypotheses that would be extremely useful to confirm or disprove in our quest to enrich the evidence for survival: Is it the case that living-agent psi and mental mediumship are performed in different areas of the brain? If so, then MLAP is eliminated as an explanation.
Is it so that successful mediumship is the result of resonance between personality traits of the communicator, the medium, and the recipient? Are conscious personalities encoded on different kinds of waves, and, if so, does music, meditation, and the emotional state of the medium and / or the recipient correlate with specific outcomes in a sitting? The answers to these questions would inch us closer to knowing whether consciousness survives death, and if so in what form? They would help us finally grasp the reasons why we are conscious, and the mechanisms that bring consciousness about.
In summary: Specific mental mediumship experiments can be used to answer the question of whether human consciousness survives permanent bodily death. An experimental set-up that requests a specific piece of information from the communicator without the medium or the sitter knowing about it, serves to exclude the possibility that the information came from either the sitter or the medium. It also necessitates the conclusion that a third mind must have been present in the sitting, which has properties of consciousness.
To ensure the best chance of success, this experiment must be set up carefully and thoroughly, prioritizing a high volume of data, the specificity of the questions, and the concreteness of their answers. We must also account for lucky guesses and allow the mediums and sitters to feel at ease with each other until we know whether human connection is a contributing factor to successful contact. We must be undeterred by the number of auxiliary assumptions we are forced to make and treat them instead as secondary hypotheses that are valuable, and which will either be confirmed or disproven as we go. And if we do get a positive result, we must search carefully for any causes and correlations and seek to duplicate the experiment with an emphasis on those.
To be continued…
The Big 5 Personality Traits Scale originates with Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal and has been advanced and worked on in the intervening years. The big 5 personality traits are thought to be umbrella categories for all known human personality traits. They are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
Specifically, protocols applied by Julie Beischel and her team at the Windbridge Institute suggest replacing the sitter with a stand-in person who receives the information from the medium on the sitter’s behalf to further ‘blind’ the experiment.