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12 Possible Reasons why Thomas Edison Failed to Communicate After Death

Posted on 20 June 2022, 7:45

A recent television program dealing with mysteries of the unknown featured a story about the great inventor Thomas Edison (below) giving the famous mentalist Joseph Dunninger 10 words that he would attempt to communicate to him through a medium after his death, as evidence that he had survived death. As I did not anticipate writing about the story I neglected to record the details, the name of the program, or even the network. A week or so later, a very skeptical friend mentioned having seen the same program and saw it as evidence that the whole idea of spirit communication is just so much bunk.


The gist of the story, as my friend and I recalled, is that sometime after Edison’s death in 1931, Dunninger, (below) who had a reputation as a debunker of mediums, arranged for a sitting with a female medium named Warner (or Werner) near the top of the Empire State Building with several other people in attendance. The location was chosen as it was “closer to heaven.” There were all kinds of raps and racket coming through initially, but eventually only one word came though the medium. It had something to do with location of Edison’s laboratory, but it was not, according to Dunninger, one of the 10 test words. Moreover, Dunninger later determined that all the noise resulted from plumbers working on some pipes floors below the séance. Thus, he supposedly ruled out “spirit raps.” I don’t recall it being stated how many of the 10 words the medium had to get through for the experiment to be a success, but I suspect that Dunninger would have deemed it a failure if only nine of the 10 words came through.


There might have been more information that we don’t remember and there is likely much more to the story that the television producers did not mention. I made a cursory attempt to search for more details on the internet and in my library, but I could find nothing about the story. The television commentator reported that Dunninger clearly proved that the medium was a fake and it might have otherwise been inferred by the viewer that Edison had not survived death. My friend asked for my thoughts on the matter and I replied with 12 possibilities:

1. Actual Fraud: Dunninger may have been right – the “medium” was a fraud. However, that does not mean that all mediums are charlatans or that Edison did not survive death. No information was given as to how the medium was chosen or how successful she had been under test conditions by objective researchers, if she had been studied by any.

2. Prearranged Failure: Having a reputation as a debunker of mediums, Dunninger may have seen success in the experiment as damaging his reputation. Therefore, he could have arranged it to fail or could have falsely reported any success. There was no indication by the TV commentator as to what others in attendance had to say about the sitting or if others confirmed the presence of plumbers causing the raps. 

3. Hostility: It has often been reported by researchers and mediums that a hostile or negative attitude prevents effective communication and that harmonious conditions provide the best results. Even if Dunninger did not set up the experiment for failure, his hostile attitude toward mediumship may have blocked Edison from making contact. In his 1901 book, The Law of Psychic Phenomena, Thomson Jay Hudson, Ph.D., LL.D., discussed this.  “Exhibitions of the phenomena of spiritism are constantly liable to utter failure in the presence of avowed sceptics,” he wrote. “Everyone who has attended a ‘spiritual’ séance is aware of the strict regard paid to securing ‘harmonious conditions,’ and all know how dismal is the failure when such conditions cannot be obtained.”

4.Telepathy: Dunninger had a reputation as a mind-reader.  If he actually had telepathic abilities, he still rejected the idea of spirits and spirit communication. Thus, if the medium had been successful in communicating some or all of the 10 words, Dunninger might have seen it as resulting from reading his mind. Rather than suggest that the medium had abilities equal to his, he opted to call her a fraud. 

5. No Sympathetic Link: The “medium” may have had mediumistic abilities, but she was unable to establish a “sympathetic link” to the spirit of Edison for the desired communication for reasons other than Dunninger’s hostility. Such is the case in many mediumistic efforts. Even the best of mediums fail completely in some sittings, partially in others. “We are persistently told at circles that mutual confidence is essential – confidence of the medium in the sitters, and confidence of the sitters in the medium,” researcher Dr. Isaac Funk wrote. “There must be a receptive conditions in the circle. The requisites are serenity of mind, confidence in the integrity of each other, and calm desire.”

6. Symbolic Language: Research indicates that many mediums must interpret messages that come through symbolically from the spirit world. Thus, if Edison had communicated, the words might have been synonyms for the actual words given to Dunninger. “The easiest things to lay hold of are what we may call ideas,” Sir William Barrett communicated after his death. “A detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in a detached sense; that is far more difficult than any other feat of memory or association of ideas.” Barrett added that he could remember a name on his side when he had a “complete mind,” but that when he came back to the earth realm to communicate, he was forced to separate the conscious from the subconscious, thereby forgetting much. “I cannot come with my whole self, I cannot,” he told his widow. When Lady Barrett asked him to elaborate, Sir William pointed out that he has a fourth dimensional self which cannot make its fourth dimension exactly the same as the third. “It’s like measuring a third dimension by its square feet instead of by its cubic feet,” he continued, “and there is no doubt about it I have left something of myself outside which rejoins me directly I put myself into the condition in which I readjust myself.”

7. Unawakened: Indications are that most spirits are slow to awaken to the larger life, some not even realizing they are dead. Intelligence does not necessarily convert to consciousness in the spirit world, and it may be that the spirit of Edison had not yet gained the necessary consciousness to be able to communicate. I don’t recall any mention of how long after Edison’s death the Empire State Building experiment took place. After Dr. Richard Hodgson, another researcher, died in 1905, he began communicating through the mediumship of Leonora Piper, the Boston medium he had studied for 18 years, apparently then not fully awakened to the celestial life. “I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” the surviving consciousness of Hodgson told Professor William Newbold in a July 23, 1906 sitting. “And I am not wholly conscious of my own utterances because they come out automatically, impressed upon the machine (Piper’s body)…I impress my thoughts on the machine which registers them at random, and which are at times doubtless difficult to understand. I understand so much better the modus operandi than I did when I was in your world.”

8. Limited Memory: Many spirit communicators have stated that their memory of their past earth life is very limited and that forgetting code words is no different than humans forgetting computer passwords or having so many computer passwords that the critical one cannon be recalled. It appears that names are no easier to remember in the spirit life than they are in the earth life. “Tell them I am more stupid than some of those I deal with,” Frederic W. H. Myers communicated as he struggled to remember the last time he had seen Sir Oliver Lodge. He mentioned that he could not remember many things, not even his mother’s name. He went on to say that he felt like he was looking at a misty picture and that he could hear himself using the medium’s voice but that he didn’t feel as if he were actually speaking. “It is funny to hear myself talking when it is not myself talking,” he went on. “It is not my whole self talking. When I am awake (i.e., not communicating through a medium),I known where I am.”

9. Advanced Insight: Edison may have had the ability to communicate through a medium, but from his new perspective was able to see Dunninger’s devious motive to debunk the medium and therefore saw no point in attempting communication and playing Dunninger’s game.

10. Lacking Ability: Research suggests that only a small percentage of spirits have the ability to communicate with the physical world. In his attempts to communicate with Anne Manning Robbins though the mediumship of Leonora Piper, Augustus P. Morgan, the former mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, explained that several other spirits trained him for many months in earth time in how to communicate. “They have held me up and showed me the Light, and said, ‘do this and do that, and see this and see that,” and shown me the details, and the ins and outs and the whys and wherefores, and why shouldn’t I learn something after having it hammered into me all the time.”

11. Too Advanced: Spirit communicators also state that it is easier for lower-level spirits to communicate than more advanced spirits, as the lower-level spirits are closer to the earth frequency than those higher. The higher spirits often require lower-level spirits to relay their messages to humans and indications are that it is difficult to find reliable lower-level spirits to cooperate in such an endeavor. Edison may have found himself at too high a frequency to effectively communicate and unable to find a reliable go-between, the existence of which are apparently rare. 

12. Necessary Doubt: Edison may have settled in with an advanced soul group that believes that “doubt” is a necessary part of life’s experience and that such proof of his survival would be detrimental to human progress. Moreover, Judge John Edmonds, one of the earliest researchers, was informed that there is in the spirit world much opposition to intercourse with the physical world, “and that a combination has been formed to interrupt and, if possible, to overthrow it, and one mode is by visiting circles and individuals, exciting their suspicions of spirits, and bad thoughts as to their good faith and purity of purpose.”

My friend wasn’t buying many of my 12 reasons because they were based on spirit messages, not on “science.” Again, there might be much more to this story recorded somewhere, possibly in one of Dunninger’s books, but, considering Dunninger’s reputation as a debunker, I would expect a biased report. One thing I did come across on the internet is how Dunninger was able to make paraffin hands, thereby supposedly demonstrating that the researches carried out by esteemed scientists in Europe in which paraffin hands were materialized were nothing more than tricks by the medium. The fact that the European researchers held the hands of the medium behind locked doors while the paraffin hand molds were being produced and otherwise controlled the conditions does not seem to have been factored into Dunninger’s analysis. It was enough that they could be made. (See blog of July 25, 2011 for more about the paraffin hands experiments.)

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.
Next blog post: July 4

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A Longing After Immortality

Posted on 06 June 2022, 6:09

Many thanks to guest blogist Howard N. Brown, D. D. for writing this blog.  It first appeared in the March 1914 issue of the Journal of the The American Society for Psychical Research (Volume VIII, No. 3.  Since it was written entirely by Dr. Brown, (below) no quotes are used.


Much has been said of the moral value of the idea of immortality both as a warning to prospective evil-doers, and as a support to those who must endure present wrong. It is, distinctly, in these ways a moral power. But of far greater consequences it is that, in the end, our feeling and persuasion of the rationality of existence are at stake upon it.  Moral considerations have slight force when life becomes to a man what it was to the man Macbeth – “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.”  Moral impulses may survive, for a long time, in the agnostic mind, which is not sure whether or not it lives in a rational universe, since that mind leaves open the possibility that reason rules, after all. But morality cannot make much headway except as it finds under its feet a strong conviction that life is a reasonable thing, and is going a road whose ultimate goal is worth what it costs to get there.

The ordinary mind may not think things out very far, but it is quick to feel when the central entrenchments of its life are being undermined; and to nothing is it more sensitive than to attacks on its belief in the immortal life.  It feels, and has a right to feel, that when this is destroyed there is nothing left, at last, but a mad and ruthless scramble for the material enjoyments of this present life.

Critics of the belief have vastly overworked the suggestion that it springs out of the desire for continued existence. If man could keep his life here indefinitely, in bodily health and vigor, no doubt that is what he would prefer.  But it is no wise probable that many people do feel so much “longing after immortality.” They are generally in no haste to take that boon when it appears to be close within their reach. While we know so little about that other life it cannot be so very attractive to us. The instinctive belief in it springs from a deeper root.  We are bound to believe if we can in a rational universe, and we know in our hearts that it cannot be made to seem rational without the idea of immortality.

But while all unsophisticated life is in the habit of taking freely what it wants and not bothering much about the logical justification of such proceedings, we have come to a time when a rapidly increasing number of people will not and can not jump these intellectual chasms.  It is not enough for them to know that they much prefer to live in a rational universe, nor even that it is essential to common morality to have it appear a rational universe.  The question still recurs: “Is it, in fact, a rational universe?”

And here is the true bearing of the work which psychic research has undertaken.  If it can find proof of the persistence of personal memory and personal intelligence after death, then there is an answer to the doubts of the cultivated man when he queries whether, after all, life is worth living. That shows him a way by which to uphold, intelligently, the rationality of existence.  Lacking this, he is thrown back into more or less uncertainty whether the great drama of the world’s life has any meaning or an end.  The academic world ought, at this moment, to be hanging with breathless interest upon the result of experiments and examinations that are being conducted with this purpose in view. That it is not, we must ascribe to the fact that, save in the use of certain technical tools, the academic world is not so very much wiser than some other folks. No doubt in a matter of such vast interest more than ordinary precaution is likely to be preserved among thinking people. But it might be more generally recognized that even a small amount of good evidence tending to uphold belief in a future life, and so to strengthen the conviction that existence is a reasonable reality, would possess untold moral value.

To champions of extreme democratic ideas this may not mean so much.  It may be said that the great mass of men always have, and always will believe in immortality, with or without evidence; and that it is only the life of this mass which really counts. But all who think that the general life is much swayed by and largely takes its tone from the character of the more intellectual classes, will realize the moral significance of the question whether or not the intellectual man is to continue to keep the idea of an immortal life. It may be frankly granted that, apart from some kind of evidence, it is practically an unbelievable idea; I think, notwithstanding all our fine-spun theories to account for its origin and rise to power, common sense will say it never could have obtained its hold upon the general mind without evidence which that mind regarded as satisfactory. The attempt now to supply the trained intellect with evidence of the continuance of life beyond death, evidence which it can and must respect, is one that every lover of his kind should wish might be finally crowned with success.

I very much doubt whether any human thought can fathom the infinite mind.  But what I want is enough of drama or plan in existence, as it is known to me, to give assurance that I can ultimately arrive at some more perfect understanding of the mysteries of being. With the future life in view I can be satisfied that the world, so far as I am able to know it, is a reasonable creation, and has a reasonable movement toward a reasonable end. This does not answer all the questions about the universe that I am disposed to ask. But for some of these answers I can wait till more light is afforded me.

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post: June 20

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When did you ever become less by dying? by Stafford Betty – When Samantha was just shy of her fifth birthday, an age when her delight in every manner of living creature was well underway, she noticed a slug on the sidewalk. This was the same slug she noticed just a few hours earlier, slowly crawling down the front steps of her home. Only now it was smashed on the sidewalk. "What happened to it?" she asked. "It looks like it got stepped on, Samantha," said her mom. "But why isn't it moving?" Her mom looked at her husband as if handing off the conversation. He said, "Samantha, it's not moving because it died." Read here
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