Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro shares two experiences he had with ghosts in this interview:
Sandie Gustus, author of Less Incomplete, was interviewed in the second half of a recent edition of George Noory's radio show Coast to Coast.
According to the show's website, she "reviewed the work of Brazilian consciousness researcher Dr. Waldo Viera, who proposed the theories of projectiology and conscientiology that suggest that human consciousness exists independently of the body. Projectiology studies the projection of consciousness outside the body, such as out-of-body experiences (OBEs), and bio-energy; and conscientiology looks at consciousness as a series of reincarnated lives...."
Afterlife researcher Julie Beischel of the Windbridge Institute has put out a terrific new Kindle ebook, Among Mediums: A Scientist's Quest for Answers, covering her experiences investigating mediumship. It's a short book and a quick read — entertaining, humorous, unpretentious, almost breezy, written in a conversational style, with many parenthetical personal asides. The content is rather light, but an appendix offers extensive links to supplemental reading of a more technical nature.
Among Mediums is not intended to convert skeptics. Beischel is speaking to the interested layman, and not to people whose minds are already made up. I find this approach refreshing, as I've come to think that far too much energy is expended in trying to persuade the unpersuadable.
Beischel observes that her principal interest in mediumship is not the mechanism behind the phenomenon, but its social utility. As she points out, science does not understand the mechanism behind many widely accepted natural phenomena, but this does not prevent us from taking advantage of them. For instance, until recently the mechanism by which aspirin reduced inflammation and pain was unknown, but people still received the benefits of aspirin, even if they didn't know how it worked.
Beischel writes: "Because I was trained as a pharmacologist, the unexplained things that come to my mind are the many drugs on the market that work through mechanisms we don't fully understand." Among these drugs are the anethestics used in surgery, leading her to make a humorous point:
In a blog I wrote on this topic, I pointed out that if skeptics need to have surgery, they must then forgo the general anesthesia since the doctors cannot define the precise mechanisms of action of those compounds. Those skeptics must be forced to conclude that any previous loss of consciousness demonstrated in other patients when exposed to these drugs was surely due to error, fraud, chance, or statistical manipulation.
She feels it should be possible to gain advantages from mediumship even if we don't have a theory by which to explain it. One of her top priorities is the study of mediumship's value in the grieving process. As our society ages, this topic may become even more relevant than it is today.
In the early part of the book, Beischel briefly reviews her studies in pharmacology and her eventual transition to the very different field she works in today. Interestingly, she discusses the research she conducted with Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona only in the most general terms, and Schwartz's name appears nowhere in the book.
For me, the most interesting part of Among Mediums is Beischel's discussion of her own sitting with a medium some years ago — the one and only formal sitting she ever arranged for herself. Beischel writes:
Angela began talking about a male in my generation, she provided the name Ron, that we were teenagers together, that he had died in a car accident, that he was reckless, that he drove too fast, that people had warned him about driving, that he was 17 when he died, that he drove a restored Mustang or other "muscle car," that drinking was involved, that he was aggressive, that he was in my close group of friends, and that he and I joked around a lot. There were a total of 16 pieces of very specific information.
And not a single one was right.
The alleged communication meant nothing to Beischel. She was ready to dismiss Angela as a "crazy charlatan" until the medium proceeded to transmit a second communication that related strongly to Beischel's deceased mother, who had passed by suicide.
A couple of years later, Beischel began dating someone who'd attended her high school and college, though they hadn't known each other during that time, and was surprised to discover that he had known a young man whose description and manner of death closely matched that of the communicator who'd come through in the early part of the medium's reading. The names were slightly different, however; the medium had given the name Ron, and the actual name was Rick. Since death in an auto accident is not too uncommon among teens, this apparent hit may have been coincidental. Who knows?
From a scientific standpoint, the meatiest part of the book is Beischel's discussion of the protocols employed by the Windbridge Institute to rule out information leakage in testing mediums. If I understand it correctly, the experiments are quintuple-blinded, meaning that multiple layers of sequestration are imposed on the researchers, sitters, and mediums. The precautions are almost paranoid in their elaborateness, and it's hard to see how even the most determined skeptics could poke holes in the procedure (though I'm sure they will try).
The payoff in this section is, I felt, a bit anti-climactic. Although we are told that the mediums' success rates exceeded chance by a statistically significant amount, we don't get to read excerpts from the transcripts and we don't hear about specific hits. I suspect that Beischel left out this material because she does not want to sensationalize her research, but I would have liked to see some of it.
Among Mediums gives a clear sense of the fund-raising challenges faced by the very few people who devote their careers to this marginal area of research. Beischel notes that people are always suggesting possible avenues of research to her, but there is simply no money to pursue them.
Speaking of such suggestions (as pointless as they may be), I've sometimes thought it would be worthwhile to see how mediums perform under hypnosis. There is evidence dating back to the 19th century that hypnosis can intensify psychic abilities even in people with no obvious psychic gifts. The more recent ganzfeld studies also suggest that a semi-hypnotic state (more precisely, a state of mild sensory deprivation) is conducive to enhanced psi. If mediums allowed themselves to be hypnotized, would their accuracy rates improve? Would the messages come through more directly, in the manner of trance mediumship? It would be interesting to find out. But I'm sure other people have thought of this, and there just isn't enough money to pursue it.
Overall, Among Mediums is an excellent introduction to scientific research into purported communications from "the other side," and one that should appeal to intelligent, open-minded readers, especially those with little prior exposure to this subject. And revenues generated by book sales will help fund the Windbridge Institute's research.
So … buy it already!
Julie Beischel of the Windbridge Institute has published an ebook, Among Mediums: A Scientist's Quest for Answers, about her ongoing scientific investigations of mediumship. I plan to read and review the book ASAP, but in the meantime here's a link to the Amazon sales page:
Some time ago I posted a few thoughts on the introduction to The Afterlife Interviews, Volume 1, by Jeffrey A. Marks. I'd read the introduction online, and I was critical of it because I thought the author had oversold the novelty of his book, suggesting that detailed descriptions of conditions in the afterlife had seldom or never been channeled through mediums. Still, I felt a little bit bad about dismissing the book on the basis of the opening pages, without having read the rest. So after some delay, I finally got around to reading the book itself. And I enjoyed it.
Marks is a medium living in Washington state, where he is involved in a ghost-hunter society. His plan for the book was fairly simple. He wrote out a list of questions that he wanted his sitters to ask during his sessions. The sessions were recorded and transcribed, and his answers became the basis for this book. Before fielding questions about the afterlife, Marks brought through enough evidential material to satisfy the sitter and himself that he had made legitimate contact with the other side.
Naturally, the all-important question is: how do we evaluate material like this? I don't know of any really scientific way to do it. It is, after all, always possible that the medium got the evidential material from the other side (or via telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.) but relied on his subconscious mind to supply the non-evidential communications. Most mediumistic sessions seem to consist of a mixture of legitimate messages and subconscious invention, and it may be impossible to entirely separate the wheat from the chaff. The fact that we are dealing with only a single medium here complicates the situation. Had several mediums been involved, and had their statements dovetailed even though the mediums were kept in the dark about what their colleagues had said, the results might be more scientifically meaningful.
Still, any information along these lines can be helpful – and ultimately I think it has to be assessed according to one's own personal, subjective sense of what rings through or feels right. I admit that this is in not a scientific approach, but there are limits to the scientific method, especially when dealing with esoteric matters. And I have to say that nearly all of what Marks communicated did ring true to me. Moreover, some of it fit in rather neatly with my own speculations about the nature of the afterlife, as expressed in some of my previous posts. Perhaps it's just confirmation bias, but when a medium starts channeling information that matches my own hypothesis about how things work on the other side, I'm more inclined to take it seriously.
As regular readers know, I like to think of the afterlife as an extra-dimensional realm. Some of Marks's communicators use the same kind of language. For instance:
She shows me that once you get through the whole process of this Life Review, she shows it to me as water under the bridge… She says you get a whole new perspective on everything you did in your life. The imagery she's showing me is that we live in a two-dimensional world, and when you pass, you get to see it in three dimensions, and you go, "Whoa! This is what it's really about… Or this is how things really happened and what they are… And this changes my view on everything."
The communicators are insistent that, contrary to what some people believe, we do not gain omniscience simply in the act of crossing over. Instead, we gain a new perspective, but not necessarily a great deal of new knowledge – at least, not right away.
He's saying, "As in someone just waving a wand and ding! No. It's like anything, it's a matter of how you change your perspective." He says, "When you are there on earth you have one perspective; when you get out you have another perspective, but it is your own perspective. The universe isn't granting you any more wisdom than what you have." It builds slowly and in little pockets based on your perceptions and observations, is what he's showing me. "Because you are in this mold here on earth, you are predisposed to – based on the limitations of existing reality – to come up with certain ideas and thoughts. But once you are out of that…" He's showing the Other Side being like a box that goes over the three-dimensional realms and says, "Okay, this kind of expands… It incorporates the physical, but it also shows you a little bit beyond that. That does give you a little bit different perspective." He also says it doesn't make you a messiah or Moses....
He says, "If you're referring to some notion that the transition, the passing from here to there, wipes certain things away from you intellectually, no, no, no." He says, "You bring that forward. As you continue forward into this realm, you wind up leaving more of it behind, so there is a gradual letting go of pretty much everything that you no longer want to hold within your being… But going from here to there, no, you don't lose who you are." What is gained? Self-love.
By "self-love," what is meant is essentially self-acceptance, a realization that you've been doing the best you could and that you're where you need to be. In fact, the whole idea of striving for spiritual perfection is downplayed in these communications. Instead, we are told that in the extra-dimensional world of the other side, we have already achieved perfection even while we still progress toward it. This is a paradox in terms of earthly time, but not in terms of the "No-Time Zone" that constitutes the afterlife.
He shows Time like an ocean that has different currents going along at the same time (no pun intended). Like an upper current, a middle current, and a lower current. In some ways you're already there because of the way Time operates. He says he's already enjoying you there. But that's a very hard thing to grasp; it's a very hard concept to grasp. He shows me upper, middle, and lower. This complete lower one, he says is this idea of simultaneous time… Here, it's all wrapped up… "In that state, I can feel you and me wrapped up. It's a very real…" It's very – another one of his words – "cogent." He says, "In order for me to reach that state, I have to go into that middle ground… It's almost like a meditative state."
In this No-Time zone, your past and even your future earthly incarnations already exist. You can meet them and interact with them if you choose, though many people prefer not to.
She says, "I see and I can talk to that consciousness that I would perceive in a Time-sense being another lifetime two lifetimes down the river. Over here, that person is here with me; she has individual experiences and stuff that are unique to her. She has individual and unique experiences because of her life on earth. That is what separates her from the other personalities. That is what separates the personalities out – is that they are down in this soup of the earthly plain [sic]. When they come out of this on the Other Side, with there being No-Time… They're all connected, but due to the nature of separation of experience through the prism of Time, each personality retains their individual sense of being. However, we understand how this all wraps up into the greater identity of 'I.'"
And people who are still living on earth nevertheless also exist on the other side.
He says this is one of the things that really magnetized him to go forward into the spirit world. He seemed to have some kind of recollection or knowledge that Time was not a factor… And therefore when he reached wherever he was going, you, Debbie, were already there – because without Time, part of you would already be there. So, it was like, "I was already reunited with my family…" Now, he says, "This is not something you're going to easily grasp, but you're already there. You're there."
The Debbie in question is the sitter, still very much alive on earth, but apparently also present in the afterlife.
For him… He says when you're in the No-Time Zone and you see these other incarnations, you instantly become aware of an idea of levels… However in No-Time, since you are seeing all of this, you also get this notion that it's already completed… Whenever these levels are, they are already done.
As Marks puts it, discussing the idea of a hierarchy of levels on the other side:
To sum up, the whole idea of "levels" like a ladder is a misnomer to most spirits. Apparently there are energy frequencies – and awareness seems to play a role in which frequency one exists. And these frequencies allow for certain abilities or functionalities over others, yet no one is judged based upon what frequency they exist in. This freedom from judgment stems from the idea that at some point in the frequency domain, another portion of the Oversoul for which a lower vibrational personality is existing is also balanced out by a self existing in a higher frequency range.
Now, I find all of this interesting, mainly because it coheres pretty closely with a post I wrote some time ago and which I republished recently with additional thoughts. I won't repeat or summarize the whole thing here. But if you read that earlier post, I think you'll see the close similarity between my speculations and these channeled messages.
The idea that all of our experiences are recorded and stored as data also shows up in these communications.
She says, "Honey, the Akashic Record is a metaphor for the lives that are 'written in the universe.'" She's showing me this field of space and saying, "Take two or three lives here, their experiences are more or less laid out like data… There is no emotion attached to it. You can access the data if you want to… Everything is written in the universe and accessible..."
As for why we don't get more help from the other side, we are told that it's often not possible. Spirits do experience a degree of stress – even distress – in seeing our struggles and troubles on earth, but they are largely powerless to intervene.
Grace interjected with the next logical question: "Can you help from the Other Side?" Her grandmother responded:
"All we can do is ask for more guidance to be given, more energy to be given, but the people down on earth are the ones who make the choice for their own lives."
Reincarnational personalities are separate and distinct but come from a common source. Marks uses the image of fingers of the hand – each finger is a separate digit, yet all the fingers are extensions of one hand.
"You don't stop reincarnating until you feel you are ready; until you are done." He's making me feel like, it's an internal thing, it's a knowing when you are ready to advance somewhere else. But then he also says, "Okay, but keep in mind, Time is an illusion. The idea of you losing who you are right now to become another person is not necessarily really going on. It's another person; you retain who you are and you still live your life in the spiritual realm," but this other person – this future person "you," comes from the same – he's showing me, he comes from the same beam of light as you, so carries your… Okay… You know how you get some of your qualities as a human from your parents? So you could say your "parents" are in you and you are expressing them in your way. The future self has the experiences, the "DNA" of your experiences. So you are carrying the experiences of your former selves in you like you are carrying your parent's DNA; therefore, yours will also carry forward into the next individual. You're all part of the same energy being, though, that's being parceled out. But the experiences are cohesive and progressive.
This also dovetails with the explanation of reincarnation as something that occurs outside of time, involving simultaneous parallel lives, as presented by the channeled spirit Silver Birch and as implied by my own visual impression (during meditation) of the soul as a diamond, each facet of which is a separate living entity.
Overall, I found The Afterlife Interviews a very interesting read, and I regret being dismissive of it merely on the basis of the author's introductory remarks. I think most readers of this blog would find it interesting, and it does cast some additional light on many of the subjects we speculate about here.
Again, if you are looking for a textbook-style "scientific" treatise, you won't find it in Marks's book. And there is certainly room for books like that. But there's also room for books that push the envelope a little bit and provide us with insights that we can accept or reject according to our own predilections. I found a lot of truth in The Afterlife Interviews, and maybe you will too.
Lately there's been some discussion on this blog about the problem of pain -- the difficulty that human suffering poses for the idea of a just and loving God. But as some commenters have pointed out, pain is a theological problem only if we're talking about a certain kind of God -- one who controls every last detail of our lives. In that case, if you get a bacterial infection and suffer horrible symptoms, it's God's will. Then you have to justify God's will by saying that the pain will teach you a lesson and aid your spiritual progress, or that it's punishment for your misdeeds. Or you give up on rationalizations and say God's ways are unknowable.
Now, there may be some truth to each of these propositions. God's ways may very well be unknowable to limited mortal minds. Perhaps if we attained a higher level of consciousness, we could ward off most illnesses. And certainly suffering can prompt people to learn and grow.
But I don't think any of these answers is entirely satisfactory. The sheer amount of suffering in the world goes far beyond what should be necessity to provide us with learning opportunities. Probably no amount of spiritual development can spare us from all illnesses, natural disasters, human evil, accidents, etc. And God's mind may be unknowable, but if it is utterly alien to our own, then we're hard pressed to see it as a "mind" at all.
Perhaps a simpler explanation is that we're not dealing with that kind of God. There seems to be a large element of randomness in the world. You may have gotten that bacterial infection not as part of any larger plan, but simply because there are countless trillions of toxic bacteria floating around, and by the law of averages, some of them will get into your system and overwhelm its defenses from time to time.
We might speculate that God -- however we understand that word -- monitors everything that happens, essentially recording every smallest detail in a cosmic database. ("The very hairs of your head are all numbered.") But it does not follow that God causes everything to happen, any more than a camera that records a football game is responsible for how the game plays out.
But if God has our best interests at heart, why wouldn't he prevent this suffering? Maybe he can't. There's an old logical paradox: Can God create a boulder too heavy for him to lift? Either a yes or a no answer places a limit on God's omnipotence; either he can't create it or he can't lift it. The usual resolution is that omnipotence does note entail the ability to carry out logical impossibilities. (This, too, limits God's omnipotence - in this case, to what is logically possible.)
Suppose there's also an impossibility entailed in controlling every aspect of the physical world. Instead of lifting a boulder, let's set ourselves the task of rolling a boulder downhill. We could do this by building a machine that picks up the boulder and drops it onto the hillside, and then let gravity do the rest. Or we could (in theory) build a machine that would precisely control every motion of the boulder throughout its descent. Clearly, the second machine would be vastly more elaborate than the first.
Similarly, setting up the universe and letting it run on its own with minimal interference requires a vastly less complex mechanism than running the show on a minute-by-minute basis. If God is powerful but not all-powerful, then he would have to choose certain efficiencies in order to be functional at all.
Whenever efficiencies enter the picture, we are dealing in trade-offs. And this offers another way of looking at the problem. Maybe our imperfect world is the result of certain necessary trade-offs and compromises.
A human body that was impervious to toxic bacteria might be overly efficient at killing off helpful bacteria. To get the benefits of "good" bacteria, you may have to accept the risks of "bad" bacterial infections.
Car manufacturers could make a car so heavily armored that the driver could survive almost any accident. Why don't they? Because such a car would be prohibitively expensive to purchase and operate. Instead, manufacturers seek a trade-off between safety and affordability. Making the car lighter means greater fuel efficiency but less stability in a crash. Making the car heavier improves crash performance at the expense of mileage-per-gallon. There is no perfect solution. Also, as the car gets heavier, it's less maneuverable, making it harder for the driver to avoid a crash. The lighter car may suffer more damage in a collision, but may also be better able to swerve around the obstacle in the first place. Which is preferable? There is no one "right" answer.
Why should a less-than-omnipotent God be any different than a car manufacturer? The trade-offs that come with "building" a universe or an organism are much the same as those that come with building a car. Only if God is unbound by any limitations whatsoever could we expect him to build something that's perfect. If God is limited in any way, then the problem of pain ceases to be a problem and becomes merely a fact in an imperfect world.
It's probably a mistake to think that God could control every sniffle, stubbed toe, and upset stomach of our lives if he really wanted to. More likely, a degree of randomness (and injustice) is simply built into the physical world. As our parents wisely taught us, "Life isn't fair."