Still on the subject of mediums, I heard recently from Dr. Julie Beischel at the Windbridge Institute. She has a new e-book out describing her ten years of research: Among Mediums: A Scientist's Quest for Answers. She has published journal articles (eg here), but this is more for a lay audience,
people who are interested in what science has to say about modern mediums ... who have seen what television producers imagine appeals to the public and who now want the real story.
It's a little gem - short and succinct, highly readable, and packed with interesting insights. It's also very accessible - £3 for Kindle owners ($4.99 in the US).
Beischel studied at the University of Arizona where she gained a PhD in pharmacology and toxology. There she joined the VERITAS program of mediumistic research. When the funding for her position dried up she started her own venture, the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential. She says she has only ever sought one reading with a medium for herself, which she describes in some detail. Her mother had killed herself during this period, and she rated the statements relating to her as 93% successful.
As a result of her research Beischel 'definitively' concluded that certain mediums are able to report 'accurate and specific information about discarnates without using any normal means to acquire that information'. She doesn't give much detail about this, but is good on the issues involved: that is, the need for fully blinded conditions, optimal environments and maximum controls. She also stresses the need for skilled participants. Windbridge has around twenty mediums who have all been put through an extensive screening, training and certification procedure. They are part of the research team, and donate four hours per month or more.
They assist in protocol development, participate in research readings, and perform demonstrations during public events. They are willing - for the good of science - to attempt experimental protocols that go well beyond their comfort zones and, in an upcoming hematological and psychophysiological study, some of them are even willing to let me poke them with needles to draw their blood. Therefore, we want them to be kind, honest, trustworthy, compassionate, humble, and respectful: the kind of people we want to be around (a characteristic that many mediums I have met do not share). Mediums who do not follow the ethics guidelines are (and have been) removed from the program.
No money changes hands at any point. Ninety percent of the team are women, which Beischel thinks accurately reflects the general mediumistic population, at least in the US (interesting, as I've always believed it was more around the two thirds mark). It's quite costly to test mediums, apparently: up to $10,000 each. But the sample is big enough, she says, to be confident that it represents American secular mediums as a whole.
Windbridge focuses on three areas: the content and accuracy of the information; the process; and the practical social applications. Psychic research has been big on the first of these, but less on the second, so it was good to see that covered. (I have wondered about what mediums actually experience, how the perceptions seem to them, as mental experiences, but for some reason psychic researchers seldom ask, and mediums themselves rarely bother to describe it.)
It's interesting that there are important differences between what mediums and psychics experience. Beischel reasonably argues that this helps to throw light on the difficult question of where the information is coming from - discarnates, the sitters' minds, or some psychic reservoir of information - which is hard to determine conclusively from the statements themselves (she herself 'leans towards' survival).
In just the mediumship readings, the [mediums] reported the presence of signs that contact had been made. These signs included sounds like rings or whines, light flashes, or feelings of vibrations or heat. They also reported the mediumship experience as involving independent autonomous communicators who could surprise and even frighten the medium with their presence and who had opinions with which the mediums didn't always agree. Another difference between the mediumship and psychic reading descriptions was that while the mediums actually experienced the emotions of the discarnates during mediumship readings, they were merely aware of the emotions of the living clients during psychic readings.
The emphasis on physiological changes is important; Beischel notes, as it 'may help show that mediumistic communication is a normal human process...' Such data has been gathered, and there are plans to include fMRI scanning data, if funding permits - details to be published later. As regards psychological profile, 83% of the mediums were categorized by Myers-Briggs indicators as being strong on intuition and feeling, a potentially significant finding as this is true of only 16% of the US population. The category with the lowest representation of these qualities are police and detectives, who score only 4% on these two personality features - perhaps one reason why the relationship between the two groups can be tense, Beischel suggests.
As regards applications of the research, Windbridge doesn't have the resources to investigate the value of 'forensic' mediumship - the help mediums can give in police investigations of murder, missing persons and suchlike - although the book includes some links. But Beischel has quite a lot to say about its potential therapeutic value in treating grief caused by bereavement. She points to a meta-analysis of studies of conventional grief counselling, which concludes that it provides little benefit. This contrasts with studies that show that after-death experiences, whether spontaneous or induced can dramatically reduce grief. Examples are Allan L Botkin's work with traumatised war veterans; also Raymond Moody's mirror gazing procedure.
Beischel would like to see credentialed mediums working together with licensed mental health professionals to help the bereaved cope with grief. She has designed a clinical trial to analyse the effects and see whether reading accuracy correlates at all with changes in levels of grief. (She is having trouble funding it, however, so if anyone is interested in getting involved in a planned crowd-funding initiative, join the email list at www.windbridge.org).
Beischel also thinks that there's a role for mediums in the context of hospices and palliative care, helping to make the prospect of transition easier to deal with.
I am regularly saddened by the fact that we in Western cultures spend so much time, energy, and resources to train pregnant women on what to expect and how to best deliver yet we don't give the dying even a hint of what to expect or how to prepare. Perhaps mediumship readings may be part of a new training system for the dying.
There are many questions still to research, such as whether mediumship is something that can be taught, and if so, who are the best candidates and what is the best method. Is there a genetic component? Who can mediums communicate with? Can they provide medical information? How does mediumship differ across cultures? What are the social implications of belief in an afterlife?
It's encouraging that this research is going on, and did not simply disappear with the closure of the VERITAS programme in 2008. Considering how much attention it got, I'm curious that Beischel skates rather quickly over her involvement with it, and avoids even mentioning Gary Schwartz by name. Perhaps she didn't want to get sidetracked into discussing what became a rather controversial episode. Still, I'd be interested to hear her views about that work.
I'm glad, too, to see that someone is starting to think beyond the business of proving mediumship to be genuine, towards what this new knowledge might mean for society in the long term. My view is that the difficulties here are underestimated. It's easy to see how mediums might help in the way Beischel describes, but not hard either to imagine the controversies that this sort of activity might create in the medical and healthcare community - of the kind that has long existed in the realm of police investigation.
If two-way communication ever becomes scientifically validated, then mediums will come to hold some kind of authority that they do not now possess. In that case, potentially the recently-deceased become active agents in human affairs, and not necessarily always in a good way. Just to take one example, Beischel throws out the possibility of discarnates one day being able to finger crime suspects - but do we imagine they will always tell the truth? The miasma of suspicion such a thing could create hardly bears thinking about.
But perhaps this is unduly pessimistic. There's certainly little prospect of it happening in the near future. In the meantime, there's no reason why we should not start seeing local initiatives in which mediums co-operate with healthcare professionals who are convinced by what they do in order to help alleviate human suffering. If that happens, it will be largely thanks to pioneering scientific investigations like Windbridge, and the example it gives for other researchers to follow.