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Life After Death: When Skeptics Expect Too Much

Posted on 19 July 2021, 10:23

Whenever the mainstream media cover something of a paranormal nature, they are sure to call in a “skeptic” to provide the viewer or reader with the questionable aspects of the phenomenon.  Perhaps the two best-known media skeptics are Michael Shermer, Ph.D. and Susan Blackmore, Ph.D. Actually, I consider them both “debunkers” rather than skeptics, but that may be a matter of semantics. While recently browsing the PSI Encyclopedia, offered by the Society for Psychical Research, on the internet, I read the entries on both Shermer and Blackmore and was a little surprised to learn how they came about their skeptical views. 

I knew that Shermer, an American who studied experimental psychology, was a “born again” evangelical Christian at one time and had plans to be a theology professor, but I wasn’t aware how or why his worldview changed until I read the encyclopedia entry on him. It explains that the change came about as a result of his inability to overcome various ailments by using unconventional health practices.  Also, when his girlfriend was seriously injured in a car accident, his prayers didn’t seem to help her.

I find it very odd that a man with Shermer’s obvious intelligence would revert to nihilism because his prayers and holistic health practices didn’t appear to work for him. If those things had been my criteria for believing, I should have become a nihilist 50 or more years ago.  I feel fortunate in that I have been able to look back upon many adversities and failures in my life and see that valuable lessons were learned, and that in most, if not all, cases the adversity or failure eventually led to a more positive path. To again quote the advanced spirit known as Imperator: “It is necessary that afflictions come.  Jesus knew and taught that. It is necessary for the training of the soul.  It is as necessary as physical discipline for the body.  No deep knowledge is to be had without it.  None is permitted to scale the glorious heights but after discipline of sorrow.  The key of knowledge is in spirit hands, and none may wrest it to himself but the earnest soul which is disciplined by trial.” 

Blackmore, a British psychologist, headed the student psychical research society at Oxford and had a very vivid out-of-body experience (OBE) before doing some experimental laboratory work and finding it did not support a spiritual view.  “I no longer think anything leaves the body in an OBE,” she is quoted in the encyclopedia. “Rather it is the brain’s attempt to construct a convincing ‘model of reality’ from memory and imagination when its sensory input has failed to provide one.”

I also find it equally strange that Blackmore would change her views and convert to nihilism simply because she couldn’t validate her experiences in the laboratory. I can’t make claim to any laboratory experiments, but I will admit to failing in all attempts at automatic writing, remote viewing, astral travel, and the Ouija Board without being discouraged from a spiritual outlook.  I also failed in my youthful ambition to be a baseball player, but I am not one to say I can do anything if I put my mind to it.  I recognize my limitations. Apparently, not everyone does.

Professors William James of Harvard University and Charles Richet of the University of Paris were considered two of the most brilliant men of science during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  James is listed as one of the founders of modern psychology, while Richet, a physiologist, won the 1913 Nobel Prize in medicine for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substance.  He also contributed much to research on the nervous system, anesthesia, serum therapy, and neuro-muscular stimuli.  In spite of their brilliance, both men struggled with the spirit hypothesis, apparently assuming that spirits, if they exist, should be very intelligent, maybe even all-knowing.

“The primâ facie theory, which is that of spirit-control, is hard to reconcile with the extreme triviality of most of the communication,” wrote James, referring to the mediumship of Leonora Piper. “What real spirit, at last able to revisit his wife on this earth, but would find something better to say than that she had changed the place of his photograph? And yet, that is the sort of remark to which the spirits introduced by the mysterious Phinuit (Piper’s spirit control) are apt to confine themselves.” 

Surely, a man of James’s standing should have recognized that the trivial messages are the most evidential. When physicist Sir William Barrett began communicating with his widow, Florence Barrett, a physician and surgeon, through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard, he at first told her of his current existence and explained that at death the conscious and subconscious unite but that when he came back to talk with her through a medium they again separate and there was much he could not remember or relate.  Lady Barrett found all that interesting, but she didn’t see it as evidential and asked Sir William how she might satisfy people that she was really talking with him.  He replied that it depends on the type of mind, commenting that reference to a tear in the wallpaper in his old room might satisfy some people and not others.  Lady Barrett noted that a month before his death he had pointed out a tear in the wallpaper in one corner of his room.  Sir William then said that some higher minds have gone well beyond the need for such trivial verification, mentioning another distinguished British physicist, still in the flesh, Sir Oliver Lodge.  “Lodge is nearer the bigger, greater aspect of things than most,” he stated. (See Personality Survives Death: After-Death Communication from Sir William Barrett by Florence Barrett, White Crow Books)

Richet had similar concerns. He wondered why these “deceased personalities” were not providing advances in science to help mankind. “They have not helped us to a single step forward in geometry, in physics, in physiology, or in metaphysics,” Richet wrote. “They have never been able to prove that they know more than the ordinary man on any subject soever. No unexpected discovery has been indicated; no revelation has been made…”

Neither James nor Richet gives any indication of being familiar with more informal psychical research that took place between 1850 and the formation of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882.  Much of that research was carried out by scientists and scholars of the time and while not subject to strict controls there was much in the way of knowledge, truth, and wisdom that came from the spirits – knowledge that far exceeded that of the medium and was often in conflict with the ideas of the medium. To that extent, it might be considered evidential.  Judge John Edmonds, Chief Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and Dr. George T. Dexter, a New York physician, collaborated in a 1953 book simply titled Spiritualism.  Its two volumes extended to nearly one-thousand pages of “teachings” given through Dexter’s automatic writing from the spirits of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th Century Swedish scientist, and Lord Francis Bacon, a 17th Century English philosopher. 

Add in the “teachings” given to Cora L. V. Scott (Richmond) and French educator Allan Kardec during the 1850s along with the teachings of the Imperator group through Anglican minister William Stainton Moses during the 1870s and you’ll have a library of references on every conceivable subject relating to the purpose of this life and the nature of the larger life, including God, universal space, the spirit world, Christ, spiritual evolution, spirit bodies, reincarnation, relationships beyond the grave, spirit influence, spirit possession, war, capital punishment, slavery, dreams, free will, suicide, and fear of death, to name just some. I cannot think of any subject covered in books published over the last 140 years that are not discussed in those references.  Much discernment is required in reading them, just as there is in reading the Bible.

If James and Richet were familiar with those four references, how they could have complained about the triviality of spirit messages is beyond me.  If Richet expected the spirits to offer scientific knowledge that would significantly advance our materialistic pursuits, he must not have considered the inability of humans to emotionally and morally adjust to progress in science, the problem we seem to be having in today’s world.  If James thought that the spirits should have provided greater enlightenment, he probably didn’t read these words of Swedenborg, as given through Dexter: “What would be the benefit conferred on man by opening to his comprehension all the mysteries of spirit life and all the beauties of the spheres – revealing the truths belonging to his material and spiritual nature, if we were not able to teach him how that life on earth should be directed; how to govern his passions, how to progress, how to live that his death may be productive of life everlasting in happiness?”

But back to Sir William Barrett.  He further explained to his widow that his objective in communicating with her was not simply to add to the mass of evidence already given concerning the survival of consciousness at death but to help find a working philosophy to guide those on earth who are struggling with finding a purpose in life.  “It seems to me from where I am most people are not even struggling but meandering on purposelessly, blindly, because they have no definite philosophy as a starting point,” he communicated.  He went on to say that knowledge of the afterlife opens the gates of inspiration and makes the intuition keener.  With that comes greater enthusiasm, greater understanding of the beauties of life, even the perceiving of beauty where ugliness had appeared to exist.

“Life on my side seems so extraordinarily easy compared to earth,” Sir William offered in a 1929 sitting with Leonard, “because we simply live according to the rules of love.”  The bottom line to all this is that one can be brilliant, yet not especially wise. Of course, the nihilist simply scoffs at that idea.

Next blog post:  August 2

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 book

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Does Consciousness 101 Violate Church-State Separation?

Posted on 05 July 2021, 8:37

Considering the insanity going on in the world today, many people believe that religion should be offered in our public schools. They claim that it will result in higher standards of morality and a more meaningful life. Those opposed argue separation of church and state and the payment of taxes for non-scientific ideas that are based on mere superstition and folly. They also point to the many wars and conflicts brought about by religion and say that morality is not related to religious beliefs. It all seems to boil down to religion vs. secularism, or theism vs. atheism.

As I see it, the issue should not involve religion, church, or even an anthropomorphic God. It should be about schools offering existential thinking – philosophy courses that explore the meaning of life and the nature of consciousness, including whether that consciousness is independent of the brain and survives bodily death. Call it Consciousness 101, Existentialism 101, or Metaphysics 1A and 1B. The subject matter would transcend religion, church, and even a humanlike deity. To put it another way, consciousness and meaning antedate religion, church, and the God of most religions, all of which grew out of the concerns people had for life’s purpose along with the nature of and survival of consciousness at the time of death; thus, there would be no Church vs. State conflict involved in such classes.

Most of the topics discussed at this blog – mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life memories, deathbed visions, and other phenomena relating to consciousness – provide evidence which science has ignored or rejected, primarily because it seemingly jumped to the conclusion that all things unseen and not subject to its methods of testing belong to religion and are therefore within the jurisdiction of the churches, when, in fact they are not. Clearly, psychical research and parapsychology are not religions or within church domain.

As a sidebar, along the same line of thinking, one might ask why a statue displaying the Ten Commandments should be under the religion and church umbrella. While my knowledge of biblical events is very limited, it is my understanding that the Ten Commandments came to Moses before he was part of any organized religion or church. Therefore, the Ten Commandments preceded church and religion, and statues depicting them in public places should not violate any laws pertaining to separation of church and state. Because religions were later organized and embraced the Ten Commandments does not give religion or the churches ownership of them or bring them within their jurisdiction.

Likewise, the teachings of Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed preceded religions, and churches were later formed around their teachings. Jesus was not turned into a God until the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Is it not possible to discuss their teachings in a public- school course dealing with consciousness and meaning without imposing religion and church upon innocent children? Weren’t the Greek philosophers, headed by Socrates and Plato, once part of classroom study independent of religion and churches?

If I am correctly viewing history, we changed from inductive to deductive reasoning in our belief system over the centuries. Early Christianity was based on phenomena that defied human logic and understanding, often referred to as miracles or marvels. It was inductive reasoning, all adding up to an unseen world of spirit and the immortality of the soul. The Creator at the helm was secondary. It was an a posteriori approach – knowable upon experiences involving an unseen world, experiences reported by credible people, sometimes involving objective signs, such as apparitions, apports, levitations, stigmata, veridical dreams and unexplainable healings. However, when science began to demand proof of those paranormal occurrences, the Church gradually changed its focus, the emphasis being on worshipping and pleasing God. The afterlife became an ancillary to a belief in God. It was an a priori proposition – knowable without experience and beyond scientific inquiry. The debunkers found such an approach easier to attack and now usually begin their diatribe with arguments that there is no “proof” of God, thereby implying that there is no “evidence” of an afterlife.

“All the progress since the revival of sciences has been in the direction of achievements for materialism,” is the way psychical researcher, psychologist and philosopher James Hyslop explained it more than a century ago. “All the facts which the mediaeval philosopher appealed to support the existence of a soul are either discarded or denied in settling the case. The progress of science has been for methods of evidence which philosophy did not use in its long domination of human thought.”

The “one life at a time” argument would no doubt be made by the nihilists in opposing consciousness studies in classrooms. It says that we should be focusing on this lifetime and not concerning ourselves with a future life, whether or not such a life exists. Therefore, its proponents ask, what is the point of discussing whether consciousness continues beyond the present lifetime? They don’t grasp the fact that the meaning and purpose given to this life by the belief in a larger life adds to the appreciation and enjoyment of the present life, especially in one’s declining years. To quote Sir Oliver Lodge, the eminent physicist of yesteryear: “It is no doubt possible, as always, to overstep the happy mean, and by absorption in and premature concerns with future interests to lose the benefit and training of this present life. But although we may rightly decide to live with full vigour in the present, and do our duty from moment to moment, yet in order to be full-flavoured and really intelligent beings – not merely with mechanical draft following the line of least resistance – we ought to be aware that there is a future, a future determined to some extent by action in the present; and it is only reasonable that we should seek to ascertain, roughly and approximately, what sort of future it is likely to be. Inquiry into survival, and into the kind of experience through which we shall all certainly have to go in a few years, is therefore eminently sane, and may be vitally significant. It may colour all our actions, and give a vivid meaning both to human history and to personal experience.”

If our children are not offered some kind of existential teaching, we leave them to be dumbed down by the nihilists and continually influenced by the entertainment and advertising industries. If they are encouraged to believe that life is nothing more than a short march toward an abyss of nothingness – that it has no real meaning or purpose beyond pursuing a materialistic lifestyle – they are motivated to make the most of each day by eating, drinking, using drugs, having casual sex, and being merry without restraint. Humanists argue that morality is not dependent on religion, and they may be right. Here again, it is a matter of getting to the basic issues of consciousness and meaning through the study of paranormal phenomena which suggest survival and concomitantly give meaning to life, but the humanists, nihilists, atheists, whatever name they prefer, seem incapable of reasoning to that extent. Then again, the churches are just as guilty.

The problem, as I see it, with introducing consciousness or metaphysical studies, independent of religion and church, to fertile young minds in public schools is that the biases of the instructors would be part of their teachings. We would likely get the same materialistic-minded teachers that we now having teaching in colleges, those who do not have a good grasp of the psychic phenomena discussed at this blog and elsewhere. In all their “wisdom,” they would preach nihilism and brainwash their students as so many are doing in college. At the same time, the spiritually minded teachers would occasionally let the G- - word slip into their talks, maybe even use “heaven” to describe the survival of consciousness, and thereby would come under attack by the nihilists for contaminating innocent young minds with “religious” ideas. The school principals would be under pressure to be politically correct and, lacking any fortitude, they would have to fire them.

“Despair over the earthly or over something earthly is really despair about the eternal and over oneself, in so far as it is despair,” Soren Kierkegaard, considered the father of existentialism, offered. This is consistent with what Carl Jung, the pioneering Swiss psychiatrist, said – that most of his patients were non-believers, those who had lost their faith. “They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking,” he wrote. “Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning.”

Toeing the line between consciousness studies and religion would be as difficult as walking a tightrope over an alligator pond. There would have to be an approved curriculum and strict adherence to that curriculum without the biases of the instructors creeping into the discussion. It would be next to impossible for the instructor to keep his biases to himself. Consciousness 101 seems like a good plan, but, sadly, it wouldn’t work. And so the world gets crazier every day.

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 19

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“Life After Death – The Communicator” by Paul Beard – If the telephone rings, naturally the caller is expected to identify himself. In post-mortem communication, necessitating something far more complex than a telephone, it is not enough to seek the speakers identity. One needs to estimate also as far as is possible his present status and stature. This involves a number of factors, overlapping and hard to keep separate, each bringing its own kind of difficulty. Four such factors can readily be named. Read here
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