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A Korean Psychiatrist Sees Mental Health Benefits in Believing in Life After Death

Posted on 29 October 2012, 13:06

When Jasung Kim, M.D., (below) a South Korean psychiatrist, contacted me about translating my book, The Afterlife Revealed, into Korean for possible distribution in his country, I welcomed his request and took advantage of the contact to discuss his views on the subject of life after death, as well as those of his countrymen.

sr kim 2

Dr. Kim is both a Korean and U.S. board certified psychiatrist, practicing at Dong-Hae Dong-In Hospital in Kang-Won, South Korea.  After doing his internship and psychiatric residency at Seoul National University Hospital from 1985 to 1989, he spent three years as a psychiatrist in the South Korean Army, followed by various positions in both Korea and the United States.  His U.S. experience included a fellowship at Yale University, training in psychoanalysis at Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute, four years at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and a year as assistant clinical professor at the University of North Dakota. 

I recently put some questions to him by e-mail:

Dr. Kim, how did you become interested in the subject of life after death?

“It was in the long context of my pursuing of religion/spirituality questions. From the fundamental Christian belief I was raised with, I began my quest to find a belief system I could accept. I developed an ongoing interest in religion/spirituality topics in this quest. I went through many Christian theologians’ works and later expanded to comparative religion studies. I became a psychiatrist, and with this, I was exposed to many different psychological traditions, including Freud, Jung, cognitive/behavioral, developmental psychology, and pure biological psychiatry. In the mean time, my question on the ultimate issue of whether there is an afterlife was put on the shelf. Basically, I stayed as an agnostic on this matter until finally I was exposed to the numerous scientific studies on the afterlife topic. My first encounter with this type of research was with Dr. Gary Schwartz’s “Afterlife Experiments.”. I thought his work was very convincing, and soon I came to know of many mediumistic books, near death experience studies, reincarnation studies, hypnotic regression studies and theoretical books with quantum physics and other related theories, which can possibly explain the invisible spiritual world.”

If you don’t mind sharing, what are your personal beliefs and how did you arrive at them?

“With all the readings I have done so far, I have come to believe that spirit or consciousness remains after physical death, and through either many reincarnations or through different levels of the spiritual world, our soul continues to experience and evolve. As I have learned from Hindu tradition, and all other sources, I believe now that human life is basically the school for spiritual development.”

What is the predominant belief in Korea relative to the survival of consciousness after death?

“Many people just simply say ‘I don’t know,’ but basically accept death’s finality, even among Christians and Buddhists in Korea. Most of the people coming to see me for psychiatric problems are non believers. But some core group of Christians or Buddhists will believe in either heaven or reincarnation.”

I understand that you have given talks on the subject of life after death to your fellow psychiatrists in Korea.  What is the basic message that you are trying to get across to them?

“Basically, there is a shortage of information on this matter. Transpersonal psychiatry is one branch in psychiatry that opens a door for this afterlife matter. Unfortunately, this is still not introduced enough both in the U.S. and here.  So, basically, I try to spread the information for fellow psychiatrists, and they can judge on their own. And I think if we truly believe in the afterlife, it could become the most fundamental fact of life and will become an excellent coping strategy of life issues, including death anxiety, coping with failures, or human sufferings in general.”

It would be very risky for a psychiatrist in the United States to openly discuss the subject of an afterlife with his peers.  His reputation might suffer.  Is that not a problem in Korea?

“I don’t think it is as extreme as in the U.S.  I think part of the reason why it is so extreme in the U.S. is a radical swinging from the traditional psychoanalytic/mind paradigm to the behavioral/biological psychiatry in the last 3-4 decades in the U.S.  So it became too extreme. Here there has been no such dramatic change of paradigms to begin with, so it may be not so extreme. Personally though, I don’t worry too much about a reputation. One reason may be because I have been through top academic institutions both here and the U.S. for my residency training, I feel relatively more freedom than my peers to express my view.” 

Do you feel that many mental problems can be related to a belief or non-belief in life after death?

“Yes. I think if someone has a strong afterlife belief, it will help in coping with many life issues, and the result will be fewer mental problems. It will work as an excellent coping strategy. I think uncertainty of life and hopelessness is the source of main psychological stress and it will create anxiety and depression related disorders. So the message of certainty and fundamental hopefulness from afterlife studies can become a strong foundation of good mental health.” 

Is the subject of life after death something that a psychiatrist in Korea can discuss with his patients?

“Yes, I think we can and should. But we were never exposed to this topic during our regular training. I learned this topic from my own personal spiritual/religious searching. So talking with patients about this topic is my own decision. I almost routinely address this issue with elderly depressed patients, when they mention issues related to family death or grief, and their own underlying death anxiety. I often find it becomes a very crucial help for them. I do have copies of Jeffrey Long and Peter Fenwick’s NDE books (which are currently in print in Korea) in my office and let patients or family members borrow or buy them.”

Are there many published books on such things as mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life memories, apparitions, and related phenomena in your country?

“I found there are some translated books on near-death experiences, including Drs. Moody, Long and Fenwick, and past-life memories through hypnosis, like Michael Newton, but not any on mediumship, etc. to my knowledge. Because of that, I decided to translate and publish your book, “The Afterlife Revealed,” for the Korean people. I found your book had a very good summary of the messages coming from mediums over the years.”

Thank you for your interest in my book.  One last question:  More and more mental health workers are coming to believe that some, if not many, psychological problems are the result of possession of the individual by earthbound spirits.  Do you have any thoughts on this subject?

“I have no direct experience on this matter, so I can only defer my own judgment on it.  But in a metaphoric way it is a good analogy to think of addiction as a possession. Like the concept of 12 steps for AA, the power of addiction is so demonic, and so often transcends our individual will power, that concepts like ‘surrender’ and ‘seeking Higher Power’ to overcome addiction are very similar to ‘possession,’ I think. (I have read Dr. George Ritchie’s NDE account and vision of a ghost getting into a drunken person, then possessing the individual for a while.)

“I have seen a few cases during my residency at Seoul National University, in which the patients were diagnosed as schizophrenic.  They were treated as possession cases in some Christian retreat type facilities, with prayer and some exorcism type procedure.  But during the procedure, they were scratched on the abdomen with bare finger nails, resulting in infection, or they were beaten with sticks and came to the hospital later with bruises. So definitely it can be mismanaged. I think if some cases are considered as possession, a team of psychiatrists and clergy people who are well acquainted with both sides should see patients together as a team and decide.”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die, href="" title="Transcending the Titanic">Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.

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Next blog:  November 12


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Paid Debunkers: How the Public Is Misinformed by the Media and Academia About Psychic Phenomena

Posted on 15 October 2012, 12:17

I was asked not long ago to write an essay on the subject of ectoplasm for an anthology covering psychic and spiritual matters.  After I submitted the essay, the editor requested that I revise it by making it “more balanced,” pointing out that many people from the scientific community would be among the readers.  He wanted more of the skeptical side presented as my paper clearly made a strong case for the genuineness of ectoplasm.

Ectoplasm exuding from the medium’s mouth

The editor’s request brought to mind my interview with Dr. Gary Schwartz eight or nine years ago.  Schwartz, who had done some significant research with clairvoyant type mediums at his University of Arizona laboratory, stressed that there are two sides to each story – the medium’s and the skeptic’s.  However, when the researcher, such as himself, found evidence favoring the medium’s side, the TV producers and other media people found it necessary to call in a paid “skeptic” or debunker to “balance” the issue. In effect, the TV producers saw Schwartz as having joined sides with the medium, as if he had become the medium’s advocate, and therefore insisted that “balance” be restored with a paid debunker, who, in all likelihood, had done no research of his own but based his arguments on debunking theory, such as cold reading, chance guesses, etc.  The contestants in the debate then became the medium and Schwartz on one side versus the debunker on the other side, when it should have been the medium vs. the debunker with Schwartz as the judge.  Instead of the viewing audience appreciating the strong evidence supporting mediumship, the desired result was a draw or a standoff.  And so it seems that this was also the desired result of this academic anthology.

With this need for balance by the media, as well as by academia, is it any wonder that no significant progress has been made in convincing the general public of the reality of mediumship and other phenomena lending themselves to the truth of life after death? 

Consider the subject of ectoplasm.  In my essay on the subject, I summarized the research of Professor Charles Richet, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Dr. Gustave Geley, a respected physician and scientist, Dr. (Baron) Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, a German neurologist, Dr. William Crawford, an Irish engineer and educator, Dr. Bernard Laubscher, a South African psychiatrist, among others. All of these researchers clearly began as skeptics or with objectivity, intent on confirming allegations of fraud or ruling it out.  In fact, both Richet and Schrenck-Notzing, though completely satisfied with the reality of ectoplasm, remained skeptics when it came to the spiritisic explanation.

goligher ectoplasm
Ectoplasm photographed from medium Kathleen Goligher, as photographed by Dr. William Crawford

“This ectoplasmic formation at the expense of the physiological organism of the medium is now beyond all dispute,” Richet wrote.  “It is prodigiously strange, prodigiously unusual, and it would seem so unlikely as to be incredible; but we must give in to the facts.”  Geley stressed that the experiments were carried out under very strict controls.  They were conducted in his laboratory, to which no one was permitted beforehand.  The medium was strip searched before the experiments.  Even gynecological exams were performed to be sure nothing was smuggled into the room.  “I do not say merely, ‘There was no trickery,’ I say ‘There was no possibility of trickery,” Geley emphasized. “Nearly all the materializations took place under my own eyes, and I have observed the whole of their genesis and development.”

Schrenck-Notzing had 180 sittings with one medium. He went so far as to require rectal examinations to rule out anything being smuggled into the séance room. “[The phenomena] are undoubtedly genuine, and only a malicious prejudice could doubt the reality of the occurrences,” he wrote.

Like Sir William Crookes before him, Crawford referred to ectoplasm as “psychic force” and later as simply “plasma.”  As he came to understand it, this “plasma” was taken from the medium’s body and reabsorbed by her at the end of the séance.  During his experiments, he began communicating with “operators,” his term for the “intelligences,” “invisibles,” or “spirits” on the other side.  One of the operators said that he was a medical man when on earth and that his primary function was to look after the health of the young medium. He told Crawford that two types of substances were used in the production of the phenomenon.  One was taken in large quantities from both the medium and the sitters, then returned to them at the close of the séance.  The other substance was taken exclusively from the medium in minute quantities and could not be returned to her as its structure was broken up. It was pointed out that it came from the interior of the medium’s nerve cells and if too much were taken she could suffer serious injury.

Crawford brought in a scale large enough to hold the medium while she was sitting in her chair.  He discovered that when a table was being levitated, the weight of the table, usually around 16 pounds, was transferred to the medium through the psychic (ectoplasmic) rods extending from the medium.  Most of the time, the transfer of weight would be a few ounces short of the weight of the table.  Further experimentation revealed that the extra weight was being transferred to the sitters in the room, who apparently furnished small amounts of the “psychic force.”

While initially subscribing to the subconscious theory of Richet and Schrenck-Notzing, Crawford gradually changed his mind and concluded that the ectoplasm and subsequent materializations were the work of spirits of the dead.

Sitting with the famous physical medium Alec Harris of Wales during 1965, Laubscher,  reported that he witnessed a number of full materializations.  Nine people, including one other physician, an engineer, and some businessmen, and their wives, sat in a half-moon circle in a room with only one door, which was locked.  Harris sat in a corner in a curtained-off “cabinet” in which there was nothing but a chair. The séance was held under red lights.  “After a while the curtains opened and we could see the medium in his chair apparently in a deep trance and unconscious of all around,” Laubscher described the event. 

“Then a white cloudlike column formed within the opening of the curtains and began to assume the outline and figure of a person.  It occurred to my mind that unseen hands were covering an unseen personality with some doughlike substance, namely ectoplasm, drawn from the medium as well as ourselves.” 

Dressed in flowing garments and a veil, all of ectoplasm, the figure moved and spoke in a female voice. “She moved among us and appeared quite solid and was recognized and greeted as the deceased mother of Mr. Harris, the medium,” Laubscher continued his report. He recognized that the skeptic would believe that Alec Harris was impersonating his mother or that a confederate had been smuggled into the room, but said that neither was a possibility, mentioning that he could see the medium in the chair and that the red light permitted him to see all others and any movement in the room while the door remained locked at all times.

I cited the work of other respected scientists and scholars in my essay, all equally certain of the reality of ectoplasm.  “Balance” would have meant finding a dozen or more researchers who wrote it all off as fraud. I know of no such researchers or references.  I know of many scientific fundamentalists who had one sitting with a medium and refused to believe that it was anything but fraud and I know that there were a number of actual frauds, using cheese cloth or some other substance to simulate ectoplasm.  But why bother with the one-time sitters or the actual frauds when such respected scientists as those mentioned, had scores, even hundreds, of sittings with genuine mediums and were able to attest to the reality of it? 

I wonder if all the research suggesting a positive correlation between lung cancer and smoking can be balanced by citing many research projects indicating no positive correlation, or even a negative correlation.  Or should all that research pointing to a positive correlation be discounted because every now and then we hear of someone 90 or older who claims to have been a life-long smoker?

Again, it must be stressed that Richet, Geley, Crawford, Laubscher, and all the others were dealing with the fraud aspect in their methodology.  The “balance” is already built in. Why must we continually reinvent the wheel over and over and over again?  How can the general public ever come to accept the research supporting the survival hypothesis and other psychic phenomena if the media and academia insist on balance?  We need truth not balance.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die, Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.

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An Interview with English Author Trevor Hamilton

Posted on 01 October 2012, 14:27

Anyone who has read Trevor Hamilton’s in-depth 2009 biography of Frederic W. H. Myers, one of the distinguished pioneers of psychical research (Immortal Longings), knows that he has objectively and thoughtfully explored the whole area of psychic phenomena.  He knows the evidence in support of the reality of various phenomena and the skeptical arguments in opposition to that evidence.
In his latest book, Tell My Mother I’m Not Dead: A Case Study in Mediumship Research,  Hamilton, who lives in the South West of England and is a member of the Society for Psychical Research, tells of his personal search for truth in the most important of all subjects, whether we live on after death.  It involves the death of his 27-year-old son, Ralph, in an automobile accident on July 7, 2002.  Over the next eight years, Hamilton had ten sittings with nine mediums in the hope of hearing from his son, as well carrying out a research project.  The first half of the book provides details on the 10 sittings with mediums, while in the second half, Hamilton reflects on mediumship research in general and its application to his own research.

With degrees from Oxford, London, and Sussex Universities, Hamilton (below) spent 40 years in management, education and training, retiring from his post in higher education at the end of 2006 in order to write full time.  I recently put some questions to him by e-mail.

When and how did you first become interested in this whole subject of mediumship research?

“I have always had a general interest in the field but the main catalysts for action were the death of my son in 2002 and more time to work on my own projects when I retired in 2006. I had spent half a lifetime writing turgid managerial prose and wanted to do something more meaningful. As I read more deeply into the subject I began to realize that by no means all of the individuals who had suffered loss approached mediums in a credulous attitude, searching, unthinkingly for any crumb of comfort from the sitting. Many were well educated and well balanced individuals and it was far too arrogant and superficial an approach to dismiss the whole experience as the product of wishful thinking by the sitter and highly skilful fishing and cold reading on the part of the medium.”

What motivated you to write the book about Myers?

“I did not want to investigate mediumship in depth without getting my bearings in the field: that is some sense of how people had gone about it in the past and what their conclusions were as to the processes involved and the issues they raised.

And, of course, I quickly found that Myers and his intimate friends Gurney and Sidgwick (and his wife, Eleanor) were the first to really tackle the subject in a systematic fashion. I became fascinated by Myers for three main reasons: firstly, because of the controversies surrounding him and the wildly differing views as to his character, motivation and achievements; secondly, the fertile richness of his mind. He has been called the Coleridge of psychical research. His masterpiece, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, is still full of imaginative and penetrating insights that have not been operationalized and followed up in a scientific environment.

Thirdly, I wanted to find out why a man with the background, intelligence and drive to go right to the top of any branch of Victorian life chose to put these huge advantages and gifts into the marginal field of Spiritualism and related phenomena.”

The Myers book must have taken many hours of dedicated research and writing.  What was the most difficult part of that project?

“The primary research for the book was conducted, over four summers, in the beautiful Wren Library at Trinity College Cambridge where Myers had been a fellow. My visits always seemed to coincide with a heat wave – the Wren often touching 90 F or more, with no air conditioning. The main intellectual problems were trying to get to the truth about him and his enquiries, wading through the various prejudices and disinformation that abounded. The prior work of Alan Gauld in this field was very helpful as were the PhD theses of Emily Kelly and Peregrine Williams, and in terms of contextualizing his ideas, the impressive book Irreducible Mind (the Kellys, Gauld, Grosso, Crabtree et al) was hugely valuable. A third problem was Myers’s wife, Eveleen. She was a possessive woman who, like many widows of great men at the time, jealously guarded his posthumous reputation. There is plenty of direct and indirect evidence that she weeded his archive and this has made the assessment of the evidence that convinced him of the survival of bodily death, very difficult.”

After completing your research, was your opinion of Myers greater or lesser than when you began?

“Greater. He moved, for me, from being a minor Victorian curiosity to being one of the major influences emanating from that period. In his life he was well known as a poet and a classical scholar (one of his early religious poems St. Paul went through 16 editions) and as a charismatic spokesman for the work of the Society for Psychical Research. But his more important and posthumous importance has been in his influence on the psychology and philosophy of his friend William James and on the gradual penetration (despite the twin opposition of Freudianism and Behaviorism) of his ideas (still a long way to go) into those parts of the wider scientific and psychological communities that are not hostile to parapsychological research.”

The mediums you visited in your attempts to hear from your son seem to be quite different from most of the mediums that Myers investigated.  Why do you think that is?

“As you know, better than I, there was a bewildering variety of forms of mediumship in the Victorian period and Myers investigated them all – trance mediumship, automatic writing, physical mediumship and so on. Nowadays (though physical mediumship seems to be making a comeback) most mediumship seems to be of the mental variety with the medium in either a normal or very slightly altered state of consciousness. I welcome this since a one-to-one sitting in a pleasant room in daylight is far removed from the sensationalist and potentially fraudulent group séance in the dark. I suppose that one reason for this change is the desire by mediums or sensitives to dissociate themselves from some of the potentially ‘dodgy’ practices of the past and possibly to align themselves with the greater potential professionalism associated with those working in the guidance and counseling industry. There are, however, dangers in this which I mention below.”

Overall, were you satisfied with your attempts to communicate with your son?

“Anne and I were very impressed by the first sitting two months after Ralph’s death. There was no fishing and the medium, with very little hesitation, poured out a string of accurate information. Sadly, it was the only sitting that was not recorded and we may well have missed useful evidential material. He no longer gave private sittings and we were too new to it all to appreciate the importance of taping/videoing (if possible) all sessions.

Impressive, too, in a more general sense was the consistency across the readings particularly with regard to Ralph’s life situation, character and interests, and also the personality of my father who ‘came through’ particularly vividly on occasions. Most persuasive, however, were the accurate and precise statements (it is always difficult to judge personal qualities) about things that could be checked and measured: the number of chapters in my draft biography of Myers, the name of the woman who baby sat Ralph as a child and what happened to her house, my mother’s birthday, the ornament that fascinated Ralph as a child and so on. Many statements that mediums make can of course apply to many people. I provide a full list of them in the book and readers can make up their own minds about the quality of them. The best sittings were moving and persuasive but there was one fundamental problem with all of them. Sittings with the great trance mediums of the past like Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Leonard or John Sloan, or direct voice mediums like Leslie Flint, allowed the sitter much more opportunity to converse with the apparent discarnate personality. Modern mental mediumship seems more fragile and when the sitter interrupts or tries to establish an extended dialogue, the sitting often falters. This is a topic crying out for research and investigation.”

Would you recommend that people who have lost loved ones sit with mediums, as you did?

“This is a complicated issue. I would not recommend going to a medium for at least two months after the death of the person they wish to make contact with. They should also read a little in the background literature – including skeptical literature – as preparation. They are in a vulnerable state and could be exposed to manipulation. However, if they have done some thinking and reading, and are recommended a medium by someone whose judgment they trust, or know of a medium who operates under the umbrella of a reputable spiritual organization, they are unlikely to be exploited. On the other hand, they should look carefully at the price (neither too low- the medium has to live – nor too exorbitant). They should also not sit too frequently, nor attribute undue authority to the medium’s statements, or expect an excellent reading every time. I have to say that though the readings I/we had varied in quality, I liked all the mediums as individuals and thought that they were genuine, even though in two cases I felt there was a bit of show biz patter when the ‘connection’ faded or an obvious mistake was made. Now a little personal prejudice: I am not, personally, in favor of the large-scale theatre displays by mediums or the use of medium and psychic chat lines. The potential for abuse is too great. But, I admit, some people have had remarkable experiences in both those categories.”

Why is so much indifference in the world to this whole subject of life after death, including communication with spirits?

“For me the question that stands out is – why is this whole field so marginal to life in the Western World?  One would not expect people, busy with their working and leisure lives (it would be unhealthy) to be constantly brooding on the topic of survival. But the lack of insight and knowledge of this area shown by many in the churches and the academic and scientific communities is staggering. It ebbs and flows to some extent over the years but always within fairly narrow parameters. I think the fear, quite rightly, of a return to pre-enlightenment thinking, and the impressive evidence that strongly suggests that consciousness and a sense of personal identity are totally dependent on the body/brain are the two main reasons for this. They have to be taken seriously and, as I argue in my book, only a concerted and equal partnership between sympathetic but rigorous scientists and gifted, thoughtful mediums, to produce high quality survival evidence under unimpeachable conditions, will do this. Such people exist and they deserve our support and, if we have it, our funding. Do we survive death? If we do, what is the nature of that survival? What are the implications of this for how we should live our lives now? These questions are not easily amenable to empirical scientific enquiry and they need to involve historical and philosophical scholarship as well. But Julie Beischel and her colleagues have taken impressive steps in engaging with the first question. My little book is just meant to provide some support, guidance and awareness raising for those who through general curiosity, or sadly through personal bereavement, start to tackle these great issues for the first time.”

Tell My Mother I’m Not Dead: A Case Study in Mediumship Research by Trevor Hamilton is Available from Amazon.

Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life after Death by Trevor Hamilton is Available from Amazon.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die, Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.

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Fallen Soldier Convinces His Famous Father of Life After Death – On September 14, 1915, Second Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, the youngest of six sons of Sir Oliver Lodge, a distinguished British physicist and pioneer in electricity and radio, as well as the former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was killed in WWI action in Flanders. Read here
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