What happens when we die? Can people communicate with those who have passed on? Efforts to answer such questions using science have been underway since the late 1800s. Over the years, the methods have varied, some more convincing than others. One area that is both promising and amenable to rigorous science involves the study of mediumship, or “spirit” communication.
In a standard mediumship “reading,” a client (or “sitter”) asks questions about a friend or relative who has passed away (a “discarnate”). The medium reports that he can connect with the friend and offer reliable insights.
An important but unresolved question about such reports is whether the mediums provide reliable information about the deceased person. If so, can the results be explained by normal psychological terms such as fraud, subjective fantasies, and wishful thinking, or do they reflect some extended reach of consciousness?
Today, an innovative new study is underway at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) (noetic.org), in partnership with the Windbridge Institute. The carefully controlled research aims to investigate the accuracy of the information that mediums report and to systematically study their experiences during ostensible communication with the deceased. In particular, scientists are asking questions about the mental states that mediums report when performing a “reading.” The study also is looking to see if there are neurophysiological or physical correlates associated with information that is evaluated by the sitter (under blind conditions) to be accurate. While answers to such questions remain a mystery, modern brain imaging offers the potential for new discoveries about mediumship.
In this experimental protocol, each medium is given the first name of a discarnate and asked a series of questions about that person. Beyond the person’s name, everyone interacting with the medium is kept blind to any information about the discarnate or sitter. While they are performing the reading, the researchers record each medium’s brain electrophysiology and body activity (i.e., skin conductance, respiration, heart rate, and body temperature). After the readings, the sitters, who are kept blind as to which reading was done during their session, rate the accuracy of the medium’s responses for their reading and those of others. When the readings have been completed, the scientists will look for correlations between each medium’s brain and body activity that immediately precede the responses and the accuracy of these responses.
Because mediums have been shown to express emotional intensity during seemingly successful readings, the research is focusing on differences in the brain areas dealing with emotional processing, such as the anterior cingulate cortex. They are also measuring changes in brain regions such as the angular gyrus, an area that has been associated with out-of-body experiences. While the experiment cannot determine if life after death exists, results of this novel study may offer a deeper understanding of the reaches of human consciousness.