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Scientist Reports on 10 Years of Research with Mediums

Posted on 28 January 2013, 17:30

In the epigraph heading up Chapter 1 of a recently released e-book, Among Mediums,  Professor James Hyslop, a dedicated psychologist and psychical researcher of a century ago, is quoted as asking, in effect, why science aimed at discovering man’s origin is considered so honorable while science aimed at determining where man goes after death is seen as so dishonorable.  It was so “dishonorable” that when Hyslop, while teaching ethics and logic at Colombia University, showed an interest in psychical research one of his academic colleagues tried to have him fired. 

Dr. Julie Beischel, (below) the author of the book, has likely asked that same question many times during her 10 years of research with mediums.  At least, Hyslop had a little company in his research with mediums. Beischel is much more a loner in that respect.

julieb

Although Hyslop and a number of other esteemed scholars and scientists of that era who closely studied some credible mediums found an abundance of evidence strongly suggesting the humans survive death in another realm or dimension of existence, and even offered some clues as to what the “afterlife” is like, mainstream scientists and academicians turned up their noses at their findings, seeing it all as a retreat to the superstitions and follies of organized religion rather than “progress” – progress meaning acceptance of a materialistic philosophy holding that we are nothing but atoms and molecules marching toward an abyss of nothingness. 

During the 1930s, psychical research changed to parapsychology and the focus to extrasensory perception (ESP) while the survival issue was swept under the rug and the work of the pioneering psychical researchers filed away in dust-covered cabinets.  It became at least somewhat respectable to delve into our “sixth sense” capabilities, but few parapsychologists dared to link that sixth sense with spiritual consciousness or life after death.  To do so would likely result in loss of reputation and loss of funding.  No “enlightened” person could possibly entertain the idea that such things as spirits of the dead exist and can communicate with us through mediums.

Ironically, even orthodox religion rejected survival research, probably because some of the findings of the psychical researchers conflicted with established dogma and doctrine, thereby threatening the authority and wisdom of Church leaders.

When the study of near-death experiences (NDEs) began during the 1970s, researchers avoided the survival issue, saying that the research was aimed at helping people in the here and now deal with everyday problems.  The implications relative to the survival of consciousness after death were avoided as much as possible.  It has been only in the last 15 or so years that a few courageous scientists have risked showing any interest in studying mediumship and picking up where those esteemed researchers of yesteryear left off.  Dr. Beischel is one of those few. 

As Beischel states in the first chapter, the book is not for academics, although they, too, might learn something.  “This is a book for people who are interested in what science has to say about modern mediums,” she explains. “It’s for people who have seen what television producers imagine appeals to the public and who now want the real story.”

Unlike many scientists and academicians, Beischel doesn’t beat around the bush in stuffy language with a dozen references listed after every sentence. She gets right to the point, often injecting a little humor in her discussion of her research.  She quotes George Bernard Shaw, who said, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” 

Beischel explains how she became interested in mediums, telling of her first (and only) mediumship reading.  “I felt strangely normal for having just spoken with my dead mother,” she writes.  “I decided that the only thing weird about the experience was that somehow it wasn’t weird at all.  It felt very real and very normal.  She goes on to discuss the scientific methodology used in her studies while offering results and examining the arguments that to some extent conflict with the survival hypothesis.

“There are several spontaneous phenomena that occur during mediumship readings that tend to be more evidential of survival than of psi,” Beischel writes.  “These include mediums being ‘corrected’ by discarnates during readings and being surprised by the information they receive (which sometimes results in the giggles).  We wouldn’t expect those types of phenomena if the medium was using psi to reach out to acquire the information, but they are indicative of communication [with the dead].”  She goes on to explain that the difference between “retrieving” and “receiving” information lends itself to the survival hypothesis, before examining the practical application of her research and areas of future research at The Windbridge Institute, which she operates with her husband, Mark Boccuzzi, in Tucson, Arizona. (http://www.windbridge.org/)

As Hyslop and other researchers came to realize, we will never get absolute proof of an afterlife; in fact, such proof might very well conflict with the purpose of our lives.  However, such research as carried out by Hyslop 100 years ago and by Beischel and her associates today helps us move from blind faith and fear to real faith, or conviction, and peace of mind.

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Happy 110th Birthday:  On February 4, Dr. Alex Imich, no doubt the oldest living psychical researcher, turns 110   A resident of New York City, Dr. Imich was born in Poland and served an ambulance driver for the Polish army during World War I.  He became interested in psychical research during the 1920s and moved to the United States soon after WWII, where he continued his research.  Happy Birthday, Alex!!!  For more about Dr. Imich, see my blog of February 3, 2012 at Alex Imich 
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A Don’t Miss Conference:  The Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies, Inc. (ASCSI) will hold its 38th annual conference on “Spirituality, Consciousness and Science” at the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront in Virginia Beach, VA on May 17-19, 2013. Speakers such as Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D., PMH Atwater, L.H.D., Vernon M. Neppe, M.D., Ph.D. and James E. Beichler, Ph.D. will give presentations.  It is also an opportunity to tour Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E.  For details, go to the ASCSI website - www.ascsi.org - for photographs, biographies, presentation abstracts of all speakers and registration details with an Early Bird discount by March 1, 2013. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

Next Blog:  February 11

 


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Was William James a Wimp?

Posted on 14 January 2013, 14:38

Much has been written about the contributions of Professor William James of Harvard University to early psychical research and parapsychology.  It was James who took the lead in organizing the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in late 1884 and then “discovered” medium Leonora Piper, the primary research “project” for the ASPR, the following year.  Without a detailed examination of the research records relating to Mrs. Piper, one might easily jump to the conclusion that James did more than any other researcher to advance the survival hypothesis.  The truth is, however, that he probably did more than any other person of that era to impede it.

In fact, James (below) avoided discussing the survival hypothesis and remained on the fence relative to it his entire life. His opinions and attitude toward survival no doubt influenced many others who saw him as someone “in the know” and to be admired.  Although I was aware of James’s fence-sitting posture before doing research for my book about Mrs. Piper (Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, recently released by White Crow Books), his antagonism, if it can be called that, really struck a nerve when I went over the records with a fine tooth comb.

willjames

While other prominent researchers, such as Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson, Oliver Lodge, and James Hyslop, moved from skepticism to belief in spirits and survival after studying Mrs. Piper, James remained a skeptic to the end, at least publicly.  There was no doubt in his mind that Mrs. Piper was not a charlatan of any kind. “…..I am persuaded by the medium’s honesty, and of the genuineness of her trance; and….I now believe her to be in possession of a power as yet unexplained,” he wrote.

During the first six or seven years of the study of the Mrs. Piper, James appears to have been the leading proponent for the “secondary personality” and “telepathy” explanations.  That is, Phinuit, Mrs. Piper’s “control,” who claimed to be the spirit of an early 19th Century French doctor, was really just a dream personality of Mrs. Piper’s and this personality had the ability to read minds and then dialogue with the researchers and other sitters.  When information came through that was unknown to the sitter and therefore seemingly outside the scope of simple telepathy, the theory was expanded to something called teloteropathy, the ability to read the minds of people anywhere in the world, and also to tap into a “cosmic reservoir” or “universal mind,” which stored all memories and thoughts somewhere in the ethers. All of these theories were much later packaged and called superpsi.

While Myers and Lodge favored the spiritistic hypothesis over the secondary personality explanation after studying Mrs. Piper in 1889-90, Hodgson, who had become the chief researcher of Mrs. Piper, agreed with James. It was clearly the “intelligent” thing to do at a time when science had supposedly freed itself from the folly and superstitions of religion.  To express a belief in spirits would have invited the disdain of mainstream science and all “knowledgeable” people.  Myers and Lodge were initially guarded in stating their beliefs in a spirit world, but they were much more forthright than William James.  Hyslop, who had been teaching logic and ethics at Columbia, did not come onto the scene until 1899, but soon had his feet firmly planted in the spirit camp.

Attempts to verify that a “Dr. Phinuit” had actually existed as a person were unsuccessful and this was seen as supporting the secondary personality hypothesis.  However, in 1892, George Pellew, a 32-year-old member of the ASPR, died in an accident and soon thereafter began speaking through Mrs. Piper and sharing “control” duties with Dr. Phinuit.  As there was much evidence to suggest that it was actually Pellew communicating, Hodgson joined in the spirit camp.  Yet, James seems to have ignored the significance of the Pellew personality.
 
James complained about the triviality of the messages coming through Mrs. Piper, giving no indication that he was aware of the volumes of profound material coming through other mediums and documented by Judge John Edmonds, Professor Robert Hare, Allan Kardec, and the Rev. William Stainton Moses during the previous 35 years—volumes of material that presented a whole new spiritual philosophy.

As Hyslop and others pointed out, the trivial messages were the evidential ones, while the profound messages were in no way evidential, unless one considers the fact that the material was often well beyond the medium’s intellect or experience.

It has been suggested that, beginning around 1850, advanced spirits attempted to communicate the true nature of reality through mediums, but the world, for the most part, rejected it, since it was non-evidential.  Thus, those advanced spirits threw up their hands in despair and turned it over to lower level spirits to work on the more trivial and evidential messages.  Thus came Dr. Phinuit speaking through Mrs. Piper.

In his 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, James didn’t even mention Mrs. Piper or the extensive research carried out with her by the ASPR and the SPR in London. He alluded to it by mentioning a “discovery” in 1886 suggesting that there is a consciousness outside of the primary consciousness, but he steered clear of the “M” (mediumship) and “S” (spirits) words.  According to Hyslop, James asked Hodgson to review the proofs of his 1902 book, which was actually a collection of lectures he had given, before they were printed.  Hodgson was somewhat perplexed at the fact that in the 400-plus pages of the book James never directly addressed the survival issue.  He apparently let James know of his disappointment in that respect.  Whether to appease Hodgson or to correct his oversight, James then added a postscript to the book.  In that section of the book, he wrote:

“Religion, in fact, for the great majority of our own race means immortality, and nothing else.  God is the producer of immortality, and whoever has doubts of immortality is written down as an atheist without farther trial.  I have said nothing in my lectures about immortality or the belief therein, for me it seems a secondary point.  If our ideals are only cared for in ‘eternity,’ I do not see why we might not be willing to resign their care to other hands than ours. Yet I sympathize with the urgent impulse to be present ourselves, and in the conflict of impulses, both of them so vague yet both of them noble, I know not to decide.  It seems to me that it is eminently a case for facts to testify. Facts, I think, are yet lacking for ‘spirit return,’ though I have the highest respect for the patient labors of Messrs. Myers, Hodgson, and Hyslop, and am somewhat impressed by their favorable conclusions.  I consequently leave the matter open, with this brief word to save the reader from possible perplexity as to why immortality got no mention in the body of this book.” 

James went on to say that the only thing the religious experience can unequivocally testify to is “that we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace.” And yet, while claiming that survival was a “secondary concern,” he wrote that “the luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with.  Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have a mortal significance.”    James was said to have considered suicide in his younger years as a result of his “soul sickness,” or belief that there was nothing beyond this world. 

Early in the book, he stated that the “moralist” – apparently the name for the humanist at that time – can get by without religious beliefs until the body begins to decay or “when morbid fears invade the mind.”  The logical inference here is that he was referring to the moralist’s fear of extinction and the religionist’s hope for life after death. 

In concluding the book, before the postscript, James stated, “I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word ‘bosh!’  Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow ‘scientific’ bounds.”

Still, he continually beat around the bush on the survival issue, disguising it in other verbiage, sometimes alluding to it as the “eternal.” He said that a person should be content in his or her faith that there is a higher power, even if that higher power does not promise life after death.  “For practical life at any rate,” he concluded the postscript, “the chance of salvation is enough.”  In effect, he was saying that the blind faith of religion is enough, whereas the goal of psychical research was to move from disbelief or blind faith to conviction. 

In 1909, the year before his death, James, who called Mrs. Piper his “white crow,” the one who proved that all crows are not black, stated that he was “baffled as to spirit return….I personally am as yet neither a convinced believer in parasitic demons, nor a spiritist, nor a scientist, but still remain a psychical researcher waiting for more facts before concluding.”
 
Writing in the November 1919 issue of the ASPR Journal, Hyslop, who had known James personally, and, in fact, came to know of Mrs. Piper from him, stated that “James seems to have confused means and ends in the method of determining ethical truth, and also to have wholly missed the basis of scientific truth which may be wider than ethical truth.”  That is, James’s pragmatism was sound for ethics, but was not the criterion of fact which is the object of science and philosophy.

“While his aim was apparently to establish science in the place of dogmatism and abstraction,” Hyslop went on, “he stated his position so that it meant something else and only aroused controversy instead of solving a problem.  The opposition is between empirical and a priori methods, not between theoretical and practical, or between ‘rational’ and ‘pragmatic’ methods.”

Hyslop further stated that James leaned toward polytheism and seemed to prefer the doctrine of Spiritualism, but he could not openly avow such a doctrine. “When it came to that one doctrine and the application of his view to it, he halted with more respect than the logic of his pragmatism required,” Hyslop offered, adding that James never clearly understood the problems of psychic research and that he was thought to have played a bigger part in the Society’s work than he actually did.  “...the main point is that he could never boldly decide between the respectable philosophy of pantheism or monism and the logical tendencies of his pluralism which should have taken him with less evidence into spiritism than would be required to convert the materialist.” 

James wrote that he was willfully taking the point of view of the so-called ‘rigorously scientific’ disbeliever, and making an ad hominem plea, stating that tactically, it is better to believe too little than too much.  Reading between the lines of his reports on Mrs. Piper, I suspect that James was more of a believer than he let on, but lacked the courage to admit it, probably feeling that such an admission would have significantly damaged his reputation in the academic and scientific communities. To put it another way, he simply wimped out, as so many others have.
 
Then again, he might have been so stuck in the muck and mire of scientific fundamentalism that he was unable to see the forest for the trees. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

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Next blog, Jan, 29th


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