I’m going to talk to the dead. Or at least try.
But I won’t be using some random psychic picked from a phone book – I’ll be using a “certified” medium.
We have certification procedures for all sorts of professions these days – from physicians and pilots, to electricians and teachers. Now, thanks to Dr. Julie Beischel, we have a vetting process for mediums who claim to converse with spirits of the deceased. So I’m starting off with a puncher’s chance.
Beischel, co-founder of the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential, needed to assemble, from a field filled with fraud, a team of genuinely talented mediums to scientifically experiment with. So she created a rigorous, eight-step screening, training, and certification process for claimants, then ran mediums through it. Each candidate performed readings under various blinded conditions; if their accuracy score achieved a certain level, they qualified for part two of the multi-month program, learning about the history of modern mediumship research as well along with regulations governing scientific research on human subjects.
Windbridge spent $7,000-$10,000 to test each hopeful, and one in four washed out. But some 20 survived (18 of them female) to become Windbridge Certified Research Mediums, or WCRMs. If you’re a medium lusting to be put to the test, you’re out of luck. Applications are now closed. “We’re in the business of performing cutting edge research, not certifying mediums,” Beischel says. The 20 they now have are enough to answer their current research questions.
Will I reach the (late) person I’m targeting? Who knows. I’m approaching this as one more intellectually engaging investigation into mediumship claims – a taboo topic I first explored in Best Evidence a decade ago, back when Science was just beginning to test mediums in a laboratory. Today, consciousness is a hot scientific focus, and its post-mortem survival is no longer an automatic laugher.
What Dr. Beischel is doing with her newly minted WCRMs – and what they’ve scientifically nailed down to date – is recounted with impish humor in her short, self-published, 76-page e-book Among Mediums: A Scientist’s Quest for Answers. I recently reviewed it for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, and find her science as solid as her conclusions are bold.
Here’s six things we know to date, per Beischel (my summary):
· Some mediums can and do regularly communicate with the dead.
· Some mediums can deliver accurate and specific information about the dead – the discarnate’s physical appearance, personality, hobbies, cause of death, and messages for the sitter.
· WCRMs can do it under tight protocols which rule out typical skeptical explanations – fraud, cold reading, experimenter cueing, and rater bias by the sitter. In her experiments, Beischel employs a quintuple-blind methodology (Look for the paper posted on the Institute’s website (www.Windbridge.org).
· The most parsimonious explanation for the source of the information received by Windbridge mediums is the dead. That may sit uncomfortably with parapsychologists, who collectively lean towards the “super-psi” hypothesis (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition) on the part of the medium; and undoubtedly disappoint New Age devotees who posit a psychic reservoir of information (think Akashic records). It will also enrage the acolytes of materialism, but Beischel is simply reporting the results she got. If you don’t like her conclusions, critique them honestly and professionally.
· Windbridge mediums seem to be physiologically and psychologically different than you or me. For example, 83 percent of Windbridge mediums fall in both the Intuition and Feeling categories of the Myers-Briggs personality test, while only 16 percent of the general U.S. population does. They suffer more chronic health problems – seven times the incidence of autoimmune disorders; twice the incidence of diabetes; more than twice the number of migraines as the general female population. Why, we don’t know, but Windbridge is collecting additional physiological data on its WCRMs (EEG, blood chemistry, etc.) and hopes to land a grant to conduct fMRI imaging as well.
· Mediumship has some promising applications. They include helping law enforcement officers catch criminals or find missing persons; and therapeutically treating grief caused by the loss of a loved one.
Beischel herself is as fascinating as her science.
She believes it’s important to know the background and potential biases of anyone serving up controversial claims. Consequently, Beischel spends the first quarter of her pint-sized book recounting her tumultuous early life raised in a Catholic family of German descent – which included earning a Ph.D at the University of Arizona in the hard sciences (Doctorate in Pharmacology and Toxicology; minor in Microbiology and Immunology/Immunopathology), and the suicide of her mother. The latter triggered her first and only personal sitting with a medium.
Some of her professors automatically dismissed her visit. Their reflex skepticism irritated Beischel enough that she sought out Harvard-trained Dr. Gary Schwartz (former professor of psychiatry at Yale) who at that time was running his controversial VERITAS project at UA, employing celebrity mediums like John Edward and George Anderson to test the hypothesis that consciousness survived death. Schwartz offered her a post-doc fellowship, and when his funding ended Beischel wasn’t ready to end her own intellectual quest. She and husband Mark scrambled to assemble a website, logo, scientific advisory panel, and chase grant money to create Windbridge.
Passionate as she is about her work, Beischel wants readers to understand she’s an “honest-to-goodness real person, not some kind of single-minded science machine.” To prove it, she provides possibly the funniest, quirkiest list of Facebook-style tidbits ever shared with the public by a research scientist: Beischel sleeps 10-12 hours a night; she owns a 90-pound dog named Moose (“My husband recognizes the pecking order – Moose came first.”); she’s a huge Denver Broncos fan (“thanks in part to two different boyfriends”); she knows a clever trick to treat ‘brain freeze” caused by eating ice cream too fast; she subscribes to an online comics service; she’s a practicing vegetarian but hates vegetables (“I’m more of a fruitarian”); and just in case you’re wondering, she’s not ticklish.
Among Mediums is hard science with a shot of humor, less than five bucks, instantly downloadable on your smartphone or ipad, and readable in 90 minutes. Skip the Starbucks today and spend the change on a look at the latest research addressing Science’s ultimate puzzler – does consciousness survive death?
I’ll let you know if I succeed in “lifting the veil,” as the Victorians quaintly put it.
Check back here in a month.