Proving woo-woo

Woo-woo

I am a visionary writer and an open-minded skeptic. I like to daydream about how life could be for humanity if we re-invented ourselves into a more loving, caring species.

I have always loved the idea that we don’t stop living at death, that somehow in some form our consciousness goes on, caterpillar to butterfly, and that we pass to a much more fair, just, and loving universe. Yet I have grown up with enough analytical skills to want proof that I am not caught up in some sort of Utopian afterlife woo-woo fantasy that I am all too equipped to create. This became especially true for me when my parents crossed, both in their nineties and tired of dealing with their worn-out bodies. It would be nice to know how they’re faring.

However, if you are not well-connected, finding proof that there truly is an afterlife can be challenging. What do I mean by well-connected? Have you seen spirits or heard voices? Do you have some mystical experience that offers solid personal proof and removes the fear of death from your consciousness? Do you have access to a skilled evidential medium whose accuracy left you convinced that a loved one is still around?

Currently, my connections are in short supply. I have read plenty of books, watched dozens of afterlife-related videos, even attended an afterlife conference. Much of this has been very persuasive, yet I am still an open-minded skeptic. I still want to have my own big kahuna of personal breakthroughs to put me over the top.

AFTERLIFE RESEARCH

I find it strange how slowly our society moves on afterlife research. While some researchers say there is more than enough evidence to conclude that soul survival is real, we the people are still nowhere near the tipping point of group consensus. With so much evidence teasing us in books, all over social media, YouTube, and alternative channels, I am still in frustrated awe at how slowly research progresses.

Here are a couple examples of afterlife-teasers from YouTube:

The Afterlife Investigations: The Scole Experiments is a fascinating look at phenomena which strongly suggest that consciousness does not die.

A prominent afterlife researcher Gary Schwartz PhD speaking at an Afterlife convention in 2013 shares his experiences and projects including his work on the so-called soul phone.

In contrast, just google something like “stupid research projects” and see how much money is being spent answering questions that hardly rock humanity as much as afterlife research would. Imagine if we took the kind of money we spend on weapons research and studied whether or not consciousness truly dies (including that of everyone killed in wars.) We would probably get enough change back from this research to end global starvation, and that does not include the change it would bring for our daily lives.

Until that time happens, those of us not well-connected go searching for answers in what I find to be a surprisingly tight-lipped culture (unless you’re buying what they’re selling.)

ROCK STAR CULTURE

We seem to be in an era where stand-out mediums become like celebrity rock stars. This trend of blending our spiritual nature with ordinary show business disturbs me. It arguably makes personally meaningful research more challenging.

On one hand, celebrity mediums help draw attention to the afterlife in general, which is good. Brand name mediums fill many of us with wonder. That could lead to a popular demand for better afterlife research and more answers.

But then comes marketing, marketing, marketing—as happens with any celebrity. Mediums end up hiring a staff to deal with demand, then PR/marketing pros to increase demand for services to pay for the increased overhead. Up go the reading fees. Then comes the ordinary ego-driven, fear-based marketing techniques used to lure in customers. This then becomes a business like any other.

Celebrity mediums often have waiting lists for over a year and charge more than a good doctor, lawyer, or engineer. They often do this without any certification of authenticity. The customer usually pays in advance, and the sessions are conducted under the medium’s terms, which sometimes includes a “no questions” policy, which means that what they offer is not a two-way conversation with the deceased. Don’t ask us; we’ll tell you.

Celebrity mediums tend to be packaged as people with special magical powers. We turn them into gods and goddesses, and they often draw followers and worship. I think of them as cosmic government employees given special security clearances for top-secret contract work. They get to know more than ordinary people get to know. Knowledge is power.

CHANNELING ERIK

In the YouTube-driven universe, we have great access to videos galore, a mostly unrestricted larder of mind food. Back in 2014 I encountered a video of the medium Jamie Butler channeling the late Robin Williams. (For some unknown reason, that video is no longer online.) I was fascinated by Jamie’s apparent ease in having free-flowing conversations with the other side. No problem seeing or hearing dead people. She also had the most infectious smile and sweet personality. To my eye she showed no body language sign of making this stuff up.

I watched other videos in the Channeling Erik series. Jamie had tete-a-tetes with Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Jesus, Buddha, Adolf Hitler, Jack the Ripper, etc.

This open-minded skeptic became very excited about the possibility that mediums could have such easy-going conversations with chatty dead people. I imagined all the incredible things we could learn from our ancestors if this was true.

But my wild optimism was tempered by logic. If Jamie Butler is the real deal, why hasn’t the afterlife research community descended on Atlanta, Georgia to do whatever it takes to employ her for serious research purposes? Does she not want to? Is she too expensive for research? Are researchers not watching YouTube to discover her? Are they doing research but it’s secret?

Jamie announced late in 2015 that she was no longer channeling Erik. Elisa Medhus, Erik’s mother, apparently sought out other mediums. The current mediums also display a similar conversational style as if they can see and hear Erik and others just fine. However, for me they are less believable than Jamie. It’s a feeling thing.

Too many mediums in general appear to be guessing, fishing, or pontificating. Sometimes they use cold reading techniques, a known magician’s trick. Sometimes they shotgun multiple items to see if one makes an impact. If the medium says “Your grandfather liked bowling, gardening, and travel” and only one was recognizable, was that a hit or was it 66% wrong?

For the average person, $500+ an hour for a private reading is cost-prohibitive. I call it a rip-off if the material received is like a platter of spiritual platitudes available in a $9.95 paperback. It’s one thing if the medium can demonstrate absolute authenticity through passing along details that only the physically-deceased would know. It’s another if mediums fill up the time with smoke and mirrors.

I am reminded of a schlocky estate lawyer my family had once. He charged a bargain $350 an hour! His bill included all the small talk. He essentially charged us to listen to all of his small talk which had nothing to do with the legal issue. Mediums sometimes fill up their readings with gratuitous talk that the sitter ends up paying for.

Skeptics have a field day suggesting how mediums commit fraud. I must say that I am just as skeptical of skeptics, especially professional celebrity skeptics like James Randi who make their living off playing the antagonist role. I don’t think it helps truth-seeking, which is the role of true skepticism, when skeptics become nay-saying pottymouths who seem more argumentative than truly inquisitive.

Yet on the other hand, the whole rock star medium scene displayed in many YouTube videos seems like a party game that screams “for entertainment purposes only.” Pretty pricey entertainment, too.

AFTERLIFE LITERATURE

Many authors of afterlife books had compelling personal experiences that gave convincing-to-them proof of a hereafter. That turns out to be great for them, but until I have my own experiences, it means that I depend on someone else for insight. Not so good. Religion is like that, too. Religious faith is usually based on being inspired by someone else’s revelation of what the truth is.

Researcher Roberta Grimes (The Fun of Dying, the Fun of Staying in Touch, Liberating Jesus, The Fun of Growing Forever) had two childhood experience with the light. As a young man, researcher Gary Schwartz (The Afterlife Experiments, The Sacred Promise) had a life-altering mystical experience hearing voices warning him of an impending crash. Anyone who has written about a near-death experience relies on their own cosmic adventure for truth-seeking. Mediums like John Edward, James Van Praagh, George Anderson, Gordon Smith, Jamie Butler, Sylvia Browne, and others are/were all super-charged with conviction through their own talents and skills.

Those who’ve had intense spiritual experience that they relate in their books all seem to insist that we are never alone. They make it sound like there is a squadron of angels, guides, and family all eager to help us out at a moment’s notice. But some of us live in a darkened sound-proof booth without tangible evidence that this is so. We are left to faith. It is for us that a strong evidence-based case for the afterlife would be especially useful.

MY READINGS

Recently I volunteered to be a sitter in a scientific study of mediumship. There was to be no contact between the medium and me. I sent in a fabric swatch that the medium used as a tool for psychometry. The researcher sent back written feedback from 7 readings the medium conducted from 7 fabric swatches. I was instructed to score each one for accuracy as if each one had been intended just for me. I knew that only one had been. After scoring, I was to send back the form and would then receive 7 drawn portraits, one of which had been based on a description of what the medium saw when doing the reading based on the fabric I had sent.

To my disappointment, none of the readings were recognizable as either the person I was hoping for contact from or from anyone else I knew. Maybe a 10% accuracy? One reading not intended for me seemed to be more accurate! When the portraits were sent to me, one of them had a small physical resemblance, but turns out it was not the one intended for me. I did not recognize the one intended for me.

A few weeks after that I had a mini-reading in a live streaming event with a medium I had seen in a public demonstration at an afterlife conference I attended. (I am intentionally not saying who the medium was.) Of the seven items mentioned as being for me, only one was semi-recognizable. By semi-recognizable, I mean that it was a broadly true statement but lacked enough specificity to be considered evidential.

One intriguing thing about the experience was that both mediums mentioned the same somewhat uncommon name, even though I did not recognize it as anyone I knew. I look forward to seeing if that name pops up in some meaningful way in the future.

OPEN-MINDED SKEPTICISM

As a visionary writer, I have already created for my own delight stories about the afterlife and multi-dimensional existence. I believe that I could write a convincing near-death experience account, which would be fiction. I could also probably write a convincing dialogue from spirit, which, given lack of proof that my guides exist, would also feel like writing fiction.

So I am definitely rooting for mediums who want to help humanity with their gifts. My skepticism only reflects that I want the best proof possible that mediumship is a legitimate avenue of evidence for the afterlife. As I have posted before, I personally believe that the future of humanity is at stake.

FUTURE POST

In a future post I will suggest what I would like to see in a book written by a medium that would be most helpful to an open-minded skeptic like me. I would like to see a book go to the next level besides the same ol’ Q&A. I have intriguing questions, and I hope they would have intriguing answers.