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Thirty Reasons Why the Afterlife Evidence is Ignored or Rejected: Pt. 2

Posted on 20 January 2020, 10:21

As discussed in the last blog post here, I see 30 reasons why the strong evidence in support of spirits and survival has been ignored or rejected.  Here are reasons 16 through 30. 

16.  The Roving Subconscious:  A goodly number of the pioneers of psychical research came to believe in the reality of psychic phenomena but remained skeptical on the spirit and survival issues. They hypothesized that a “secondary personality” buried in the medium’s subconscious telepathically picked up the thoughts of the sitters, somehow processed those thoughts, and intelligently communicated information as if it were coming from a deceased person.  When information came through unknown to the sitters, the researchers speculated that the medium could tap into the minds of anyone in the world.  When that didn’t completely explain it, they further speculated that there is some kind of “cosmic reservoir” from which the medium’s subconscious can access information.  Later researchers bundled it all up and called it superpsi.  But the more experienced psychical researchers concluded that there was too much personality and too much volition to dismiss it as anything other than spirit communication. Moreover, the pioneering researchers could see no logical reason why these so-called secondary personalities of mediums from different continents would all pretend to be spirits of the dead and saw no way they could have all collaborated in this worldwide deception. 

17.  Sheep-Goat Effect: The early history of mediumship clearly indicates the need for harmony in mediumistic settings. In order to produce phenomena, the spirits are said to have required the medium to be in a passive state, one apparently best achieved with music and prayer.  Some mediums could achieve the passive state in a minute or two, but there were times when it took an hour or longer for anything to happen and there were many times when a proven medium simply couldn’t produce at all on a particular night because the conditions weren’t right or she had too much nervous energy holding her back. Also, negativity by the observers defeated good results.  Some observers who got nothing on the medium’s bad night wrote off the person as a fraud and indications are that many true mediums were so disparaged. Researchers now refer to it as the “sheep-goat” hypothesis, wherein believers (sheep) in psi get results and non-believers (goats) come up empty.

18.  Too Hokey:  So much of physical mediumship seemed weird and exceeded the boggle threshold of nearly everyone.  Some materializations looked like mannequins or dummies; some were flat; some didn’t look like the person he or she claimed to have been.  Often, there was only a miniature face or a hand.  The fact that most mediums required darkness added to the belief that it was all fraudulent.  Even many of the researchers who accepted mental mediumship had a difficult time accepting physical mediumship.  But those who stuck with it long enough came to see the flawed manifestations as being the result of imperfect or incomplete thought-projection from the spirit world, or the inability of the medium to produce the necessary odic force, or ectoplasm.

19.  Too Much Gibberish:  Even with the best of mediums, there was much vagueness and ambiguity, even gibberish, in the communication.  Skeptics saw all this as evidence that the so-called mediums were charlatans, as they assumed that if spirits really exist they should be able to communicate in a much more intelligent and effective manner. But, as the more experienced researchers came to understand, the subconscious of the medium is a factor and often distorts the message as it is filtered through her or his brain.  Also, they concluded that sprits themselves are limited in their ability to effectively communicate and that it takes much practice on their side and development on our side.  Most of the communication was by thought-projection and symbolic, thus resulting in different interpretations.  Indications were that low-level spirits often got involved and completely muddled the communication.

20.  The Bifurcation Fallacy: Occasionally, the supposed discarnate communicator turned out to be alive, seemingly clear evidence to the debunker that the medium was a charlatan.  However, research suggests that living humans are capable of out-of-body travel, often while asleep, and further supports telepathic communication between humans. In the study of the near-death experience, debunkers argue that similar experiences can be had under LSD and other drugs, completely rejecting the idea that bifurcation of mind (soul) and body (brain) is not limited to death or a near-death experience.
21.  Trivialities:  Many of the early researchers, including William James, wondered why so much of what came through mediums was of such a trivial nature, like what happened to Uncle George’s watch or the location of a birthmark.  Why didn’t they talk about the nature of reality, what it is like on their side of the veil, etc.?  The fact is that much of the early communication did address more profound subjects.  The writings of Judge John Edmonds, Dr. George Dexter, Professor Robert Hare, educator Allan Kardec, and the Rev. William Stainton Moses offered very comprehensive reports on the greater reality,  but it was not evidential and much of it, according to the reporting spirits, was beyond human vocabulary and comprehension. It was the trivial message that was evidential and which the Society for Psychical Research focused on beginning in 1882. 

22.  The Omniscient Myth: The popular assumption seems to be that spirits, if they exist, are all equal in the “heaven” of orthodox religion, and are “all-knowing” and therefore they should all agree with each other. The fact that they disagree on some things, especially on the subject of reincarnation, suggests fraud.  However, as the pioneering researchers came to understand, spirits are at different levels of advancement, some not knowing any more now than they did when alive in the flesh.  Moreover, low-level spirits find it easier to communicate with us because they are closer in vibration to humans than the advanced spirits.  At the lowest levels, the spirits apparently don’t realize how little they know and therefore often give incorrect information.  It has been likened to an alien from another planet landing in the jungles of New Guinea and reporting back home that earthlings are all very primitive in their ways.

23. Varying Degrees of Ability:  As with most gifts or talents, mediumistic ability came in varying degrees. In physical mediumship, there were a few who were strong enough to produce manifestations under good light and some under red light, but the majority required darkness, as light affected the odic force or ectoplasm exuded by the medium and could be injurious. The researcher set on debunking the medium would see darkness as a cover for fraud, reasoning that if one medium could produce under lighted conditions then all should be able to do so.  If one medium was capable of producing a full materialization, then all should be capable of doing it. 

24.  Sainthood Expectations:  It was assumed by many that mediums should be especially holy people, candidates for sainthood. However, this was not the case. Most of them were very common in religiosity and many of them charged for a sitting, which was considered sacrilegious.  Indications are that there is no significant positive correlation between spirituality and mediumistic ability. One might result after the person recognizes his or her ability, but it does not necessarily originate with such a mindset. 

25. Historical Omissions & Distortions:  Much of the early physical phenomena was recorded following the observations and consequently lacked in detail, leaving many questions unanswered.  While much of the mental phenomena was recorded in shorthand, the reports were often abridged or highly condensed in order to avoid superfluous verbiage and wearisome reading. Moreover, researchers reported that some of the very best evidence was too personal to document. The same applies to some degree with more current research.  The net result is that much of the reporting is subject to the interests and biases of the researchers.  Second- third- and even fourth-hand summaries of the research over time by historians and pseudo-historians further abbreviate and distort much of the original research.  This is often observed today in various on-line references, especially at Wikipedia, the primary reference for many people.
26. Refocused Research:  Because psychical research conflicted with materialistic science, there was little support and funding for such research.  As the dedicated pioneers of psychical research died off, few came forward to replace them. Moreover, psychical research appeared to have reached a point of diminishing returns and was replaced during the 1930s by the field called parapsychology.  In order to attract funding, parapsychologists steered clear of the survival and spirit issues, focusing on extrasensory perception and psychokinesis.  Associating such paranormal phenomena with survival was and still is looked upon as professional suicide.

27. Machismo:  Various history books suggest that men of a century ago looked upon spiritual beliefs as a “woman thing.”  Men smoked cigars, drank whiskey, fought in wars, governed countries and managed businesses.  Religion had been impeached and such dreamy foolishness as spirits and angels was best left to the ladies.  A man’s afterlife was his legacy of earthly accomplishments and he was expected to greet his extinction with a stiff upper lip.  While women have significantly closed the gender gap since the Victorian era, machismo still seems to play a part in spiritual beliefs, as various surveys indicate that women are more inclined, generally, to believe in God and an afterlife than men.

28. Vanishing Phenomena:  While there are mediums still producing the same kind of phenomena observed by the pioneers of psychical research, the quantity and quality of such mediumship seems to have significantly diminished.  There have been many theories as to why this is, but the most accepted one seems to be that modern technology has resulted in too much “noise” in the world.  Before radio, television, computers, smart phones and the like, people had more quiet time.  They sat around fireplaces or on porches and knitted or whittled, being more open to altered states of consciousness and spirit influence, while also having more time to develop their inner selves.  Instead of playing with their devices at night, they gathered together and experimented with contacting the spirit world. In addition, many of the trance mediums developed after a serious disease, sometimes being near death, just as modern-day near-death experiencers frequently develop psychic abilities.  But science has eradicated many of the diseases that resulted in trance abilities.

29.  Absolute Proof Fallacy:  While the debunker and lay person demand “absolute proof,” the true scientists realizes that proof is subjective and a matter of evidence.  The evidence developed in psychical research is not within the domain of pure or exact science. Nearly all the phenomena are spontaneous and not subject to replication.  It is more “courtroom” science and therefore more subject to a “preponderance of evidence” standard, although some would say it goes far beyond that and meets the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. 

30. Necessary Doubt: When the great author Victor Hugo asked a spirit why God doesn’t better reveal himself, the reply came: “Because doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit.  If the day were to come when the human spirit no longer doubted, the human soul would fly off and leave the plough behind, for it would have acquired wings. The earth would lie fallow.  Now, God is the sower and man is the harvester.  The celestial seed demands that the human ploughshare remain in the furrow of life.” In effect, absolute certainty is not in our best interest. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

Next blog post:  Feb. 3.

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Thirty Reasons Why the Afterlife Evidence is Ignored or Rejected

Posted on 06 January 2020, 10:36

To any open-minded person who has thoroughly studied the psychical research that took place between 1850 and 1935, the evidence suggesting that consciousness lives on after death should be overwhelming. The evidence developed in recent years, primarily in the areas of near-death experiences, clairvoyance, past-life studies, instrumental transcommunication, electronic voice phenomena, and deathbed phenomena, has added significantly to the “old” evidence, which was primarily in the area of trance mediumship. The old research produced a solid wheel and the newer research has tightened the spokes, but the prevailing materialistic mindset in the modern world resists both the old and the new.

In my blog post of November 21, 2016, I identified 15 reasons why the evidence has been ignored or rejected.  In giving the matter further thought, I realize I missed many and there are at least 30 reasons, the first 15 of which are set forth below and do not match the numbering in the 2016 post.  While some of them overlap with each other, they are distinct enough to be listed separately.  Numbers 16 through 30 will be discussed in my next blog post here.

1. Fear of Death:  “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human mind like nothing else,” wrote anthropologist Ernest Becker in his 1974 Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Denial of Death. Becker explained that to free oneself of death anxiety, nearly everyone chooses the path or repression. That is, we bury the idea of death deep in the subconscious and do our best to escape from the reality of it while avoiding any discussion of what might come after, whether it be total extinction, a horrific hell, or a humdrum heaven. No consideration is given to the more dynamic and progressive afterlife suggested by modern revelation.

2. Philistinism:  In escaping from the reality of death, we concern ourselves with mostly meaningless activities – reading and watching fiction, playing games, idle chatter and texting, etc. – what Søren Kierkegaard, known as “the father of existentialism,” called philistinism.  A philistine was man fully tranquilized with the trivial.  As Kierkegaard saw it, most people are so absorbed in philistinism that they don’t even realize they are in constant despair from their fear of death.  Pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that most of his patients were non-believers, those who had lost their faith.  They were neurotics.  “They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking,” Jung explained. “Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon.  Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning.”  In effect, a philistine, even one who subscribes to a religion, becomes increasingly indifferent to matters of the spirit. 

3. Carpe Diem Syndrome: Being a philistine is one thing; going beyond that mundane state to “seize the day” in a pleasure-seeking life of Epicureanism (below) or hedonism is something else.  Believing in an afterlife involving punishment for our misdeeds, especially an eternity of torture in the hell of orthodoxy, conflicts with having free rein in pursuing a life of pleasure and comfort. If we are to “seize the day” in a hedonistic way, we should have no restraints, no fear of punishment after death.  Those subscribing to this philosophy find it convenient to dismiss the whole idea of an afterlife.


4. Religious Fundamentalism:  Based primarily on self-serving or misinterpreted passages in the Bible, most of orthodox religion saw the mediumship studied by psychical research as a demonic practice.  Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that some messages coming through mediums conflicted with various Church dogma and doctrine.  The position of orthodoxy remains much the same today as it was in the days of the pioneers of psychical research, thereby discouraging people who accept survival on nothing more than blind faith from moving on to true faith or conviction. 

5.  Scientism:  At the other extreme from religious fundamentalism is scientific fundamentalism, also called scientism, a belief that nothing can be accepted as truth unless subjected to testing by application of the scientific method, including replication.  The scientific method begins with a materialistic/mechanistic a priori assumption that brain and mind are one in nature and that no cause shall be invented when known causes can explain the facts. When no natural cause can be found, either deception or unexplored subliminal activity must be invoked. Since deception or unknown subliminal activity trumps spiritistic explanations, the spiritistic/survival hypothesis is defeated before it begins. It is a Catch 22 situation.

6.  The Causality Paradox: The religionist, the scientist, the media and the general public all assume that we must come up with proof of God before dealing with the survival issue.  No God, no afterlife, is their illogical reasoning. It is a deductive or a priori approach.  The inductive, or a posteriori approach, of first looking at the evidence for survival does not require identifying a Supreme Being, whether anthropomorphic (humanlike) or some abstract form of cosmic consciousness, but most people, even atheists, continue to cling to religious indoctrination that one must find and fully identify God before even considering the survival of consciousness at death.  Those stuck in the mindset that an anthropomorphic God is pulling the strings and is very cruel and vindictive in permitting all the evils we witness in the world, even allowing small children to die of diseases, are among the most steadfast deniers. 

7. Media Bias & Ignorance: Journalists like to think of themselves as intelligent investigators, and so they naturally align themselves with science.  At the same time, exposing shams and fraudulent schemes lends itself to sensationalism and makes for good copy.  Then, as now, the media frequently addressed any subject involving spirits as “woo-woo” stuff while putting a humorous or cynical twist of one kind or another on any story suggesting spirits of the dead.  In addition, today’s television producers don’t understand the “balance” issue.  When a researcher validates a medium, the producers believe they have to get a debunker involved in the program to counter the researcher, not taking into account the fact that the researcher has already dealt with and discounted the skeptical arguments.  It’s a “no-win” situation.

8. Hubris:  “Dabbling in the occult,” as some referred to it, was seen as a return to superstitions and follies of religion, and sanctioning it would have destroyed the foundation of the materialistic/mechanistic worldview and leave the majority of respected scientists and rational thinkers, especially professors who championed the materialistic worldview in academic institutions, embarrassed and humiliated.  They would have to rethink all they had taught and would not have answers for many things that go beyond known science.  Intellectual arrogance was and is characteristic of many leading scientists, while guerilla atheism has become very common in modern social media.  “We expect to prove our sanity by laughing where we are ignorant,” Dr. James Hyslop, professor of ethics and logic at Columbia University, once opined.   

9.  Fear of Peer Rejection: Many scientists and scholars were invited by pioneering researchers to observe certain mediums, but some feared for their reputations if word were to get out that they were showing interest in such “foolish” matters,” and they therefore refused.  There were a number, however, who accepted the invitations and observed genuine phenomena, but, with the same fears, they remained silent, not offering support for the more courageous researchers.  Sir David Brewster, a famous nineteenth century physicist known especially for his contributions to the optics field, is said to have witnessed a D. D. Home levitation.  Although seemingly quite impressed at the time, he later concluded that the only explanation was a trick he did not understand, or a delusion.  “Spirit is the last thing I will give in to,” he was quoted.  Such a mindset continues to exist.

10. Conflicting Objectives:  With reductionist science at one extreme and the new philosophy of Spiritualism at the other, psychical researchers attempted to remain objectively on the fence between the two as they searched for an explanation for phenomena that appeared to defy natural laws. Since the most fertile area of study was with mediums associated with Spiritualism, the researchers struggled to convince Spiritualists that strict controls, such as complete body searches and tying up the mediums, were necessary.  The Spiritualists saw such controls as counter-productive to good phenomena, as the discomfort of the medium as well as the anxiety created by the controls affected his or her ability to relax and achieve the necessary passive or receptive state.  Such discomfort and disharmony resulted in “off” nights for many mediums, who were then written off as frauds. 
11.  Too Many Variables: There were and are many different kinds of mediumship.  The physical mediumship of yesteryear included full materializations of spirit forms, partial materializations, e.g., a hand only, a face only, apports and levitations, while the mental type included the Ouija board,  trance-voice, automatic writing, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and clairsentience.  The direct voice, direct writing and table turning were a combination of the physical and mental. There were mediums who were proficient at one kind and had no ability in other kinds. There were simply too many variables for the few researchers to deal with.  They focused more on the trance mental mediumship.  It was all just too bizarre, too complex, too unworldly and too unscientific for the average person to grasp. 

12.  Semantical Issues:  Most people don’t know the difference between a psychic and a medium, and they lump gypsy fortune tellers, tarot card readers, witch doctors, astrologers, ghost hunters, psychics and mediums all together.  If they can’t predict the winner of the upcoming derby or come up with the winning lottery number, they must be frauds.  The only mediums they know about today are the clairvoyants they have seen on television and they are led to believe they succeed well beyond chance because the clairvoyant is fishing for information or has made a lucky guess.

13.  Actual Fraud: As the Spiritualism epidemic of the late nineteenth century grew, so did the number of charlatans – people pretending to have mediumistic ability by employing various tricks and duping the public for money. While Professor William James of Harvard said that Leonora Piper was his “one white crow,” the one who proved that all crows aren’t black, the more skeptical mind reasoned the other way: one black crow proved that all crows are black.

14.  Unconscious Fraud:  The spirit hypothesis held that while in the trance state, the medium’s body was controlled by a spirit or spirits and that various actions carried out by the medium’s body, which appeared to be fraud to the skeptical observer, were not consciously performed by the medium, hence not actual fraud.  If an ectoplasmic arm, sometimes referred to as the “third arm,” was produced by spirit agencies to effect certain phenomena, it was deemed fraud, whether conscious or unconscious, since spirits don’t exist under the mechanistic paradigm.  Here again, it was a Catch 22 situation.

15.  Undetectable Magic: The Great Houdini is said to have exposed a number of charlatans during the early decades of the last century, at the same time disparaging many true mediums with allegations of fraud and theories as to how they “might have” or “could have” duped many people, including men and women of science. Today, with mind-boggling tricks and illusions witnessed by tens of millions on television, such as with David Copperfield and Michael Carbonaro, no spiritual phenomenon seems outside the scope of human magic.  Moreover, “photoshopping” and other digital enhancements have calloused the senses to the extent that every visual abnormality is considered by many to be a trick of one kind or another. 

Next blog post: January 20 (reasons 16-30)  

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

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