Science and the Afterlife
A Review of a Lecture Presented at the San Diego Bereavement Consortium
March 20, 2009
Recently, Dr. Julie Beischel, a premier investigator in the fields of survival of consciousness and mediumship research, spoke before an audience of perhaps one hundred people in San Diego at a lecture at the Scottish Rite Event Center. Early in her presentation, Dr. Beischel requested a show of hands in the audience of those who believed that consciousness survives death, and not surprisingly, 90% raised their hands, though I was not among them. This was due to my agnosticism on the topic, despite my own first impulse to raise my arm.
“Survival after death,” reported Dr. Beischel, “has a body of data at least one hundred years old.” She described three established types of after-life research: 1). proof-focused (i.e. validity studies); 2). process-focused (phenomenology of the medium herself); and 3). applied (i.e. field work). Beischel’s approach is clearly proof-focused. She herself is well-schooled in laboratory science having earned her doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arizona—an impressive prelude to her present career as researcher/bridge-maker to the other side.
According to Beischel, researchers agree that “the perception is real” (regarding contact with the dead), though what actually is occurring in such cases is less conclusive. Of course, irrefutable scientific proof for survival, an afterlife, and direct communication with the “discarnate,” would most certainly be a gold ticket in the annals of science research, on a par with evidential proof of alien contact, the cure and eradication of cancer, or even a treatment for male-pattern baldness that worked. Moving from perception to causation in this controversial territory is like moving from the belief in faeries to having one sing with the band at your daughter’s wedding.
Dr. Beishal reviewed her fairly rigorous eight-step process at The Windbridge Institute to screen and train competent mediums as subjects (often on the phone) for controlled experiments. Both mental mediums and “trance mediums” (who remain dissociated during their transmissions) are utilized. Training includes grief counseling to help mediums better relate to their bereaved sitters during contact sessions. Curiously, the words ‘ghost’, ‘apparition’, or ‘spirit’ are not used in this vocabulary, and Beischel admits a double-edged sword in the current pop culture fascination with mediums, spirit possession, ghost hunters, and the like, which, at once, trivializes her research as a kind of thrill-ride for hormonally-ravaged teenagers, but also raises public awareness for the much-needed funding in this universally relevant area.
I found especially interesting Beischel’s discussion of the three likely mechanisms researchers use to explain ‘anomalous information receptions’ (AIR): namely, 1) consciousness survives death. 2) a super psi effect is triggered in such cases (in which case, what’s actually occurring is psi, not survival). 3). A ‘psychic reservoir’ or universal data bank (ala the Akashic records, etc.) is tapped.
The first option feels circular to me, and not mutually exclusive of the others. Receptions occur “because consciousness survives” seems like saying “we float in the water because the ocean is wet.” There must be a second half to this explanation. Option 2--the super psi effect--seems to be the confounding factor that ambiguously follows this work to its conclusion (or stalemate) without ever being ruled out, or adequately control for. What may appear like valid contact between medium and discarnate may actually be some telepathic snatching up of the sitter’s memories (with, or without, anyone realizing it). In that case, the after-life has not been unwrapped so much as hijacked by super-psychics! Option 3, however, the ‘psychic reservoir hypothesis’, despite its Aquarian acoustic, resonates most with my own sympathies as a Jungian psychologist and tarot expert. I can easily visualize The High Priestess channeling subtle, subliminal, collective memories accessed from her deeply intuitive predisposition.
Option 3 also suggests ‘absolute knowledge’ (Jung) arising synchronistically between medium, sitter, (and possibly discarnate as well). The connection, however, is ‘acausal’ in nature, i.e. emitting no energy exchange between senders and receivers (the holy mantra of synchronicity theorists!). Like in divination procedures, a transpersonal intelligence or awareness seems simply to open up (or is recognized as having always been there) under the proper conditions. Whereas super psi posits something is happening here (albeit subtle)— an energy still is exchanged (and sought after for measurement by scientists). In any event, Dr. Beischel admitted without hesitation to the audience that the question itself remains open.
The psychology of abundance seems another relevant piece to the life-after-death puzzle. Unlimited amounts of anything—cash, phone minutes, refills, or lifetimes—make sudden ceasing to be seem so less pressured and irredeemable. Could survivability, and its implied endlessness, have such a paradoxical effect? Might surviving into the afterlife take some of the umph out of the “now or never?” Beischel reports that grief-stricken family members feel better after consulting a medium than after consulting a mental health worker. (Why am I not surprised?). Could this artifact be merely some opiate effect in the service of denial? Or could something far less predictable be going on here-- the foreshadowing of a vast paradigm shift with respect to consciousness surviving after death. As Dr. Julie Beischel noted at the end, perhaps the greatest effect of her findings for the medical community is simply that: “Death is then viewed more as a transition, than a failure.” Could this be the larger hypothesis that we are looking for?
Dr. Art Rosengarten is a Jungian psychologist in Encinitas, California, The Director of Moonlight Counseling, the author of Tarot And Psychology: Spectrums Of Possibility (2000), and the creator of Tarot Of The Nine Paths: A Guide For The Spiritual Traveler (2009). He completed the first scientific study of tarot divination for his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute Of Integral Studies (1985) and has since researched domestic violence through the synchronisitic lens of tarot readings. Dr. Rosengarten is owner/moderator of tarotpsych: an online discussion group for tarot experimentation and community. His articles, services, books and deck can be found on his website: www.artrosengarten.com