Wellness

A Research Scientist on What Happens to the Brains of Mediums When They Talk to the Other Side

For those who are deeply curious about the work of mediums, the Windbridge Research Center is an invaluable resource: Not only do they certify and study mediums, but they have published their findings in numerous studies. (Our guide to healers includes several who are certified research mediums through Windbridge.) As their Director of Research, Julie Beischel, Ph.D. (whose doctorate is in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology) explains it, Windbridge’s mission is “to ease suffering around dying, death, and what comes next by performing rigorous scientific research” and sharing what they learn widely. We interviewed Beishcel about how she tests Windbridge’s Certified Research Mediums, what they do (and don’t) know about what happens when mediums connect to the other side, and how this might change the way we think about the survival of consciousness beyond the body—and provide some comfort for our time here, too.

A Q&A with Julie Beischel, Ph.D.

Q

What tests did you structure to vet the mediums who are currently part of your research group?

A

The testing procedure we used to certify the mediums on our team involved eight peer-reviewed steps but the most important one, Step 5, tested if the mediums could report accurate information about specific deceased people under controlled conditions. That ridiculously complex multi-part test was designed with the same two principles we use for all of our research: optimize the research environment and maximize the experimental controls. My favorite analogy for this is: You can’t put a seed on a table and then call it a fraud when it doesn’t turn into a tree. You have to give the seed what it needs—water, sun, soil—if you want to study how it grows. Similarly, if you want to study how the seed grows naturally, you can’t supplement the soil or use an UV lamp. The sports analogy that also works is: You can’t study football on a baseball field using hockey equipment and the rules for soccer and then claim you’ve disproven the existence of football.

We test things in situations that are similar to how they exist in the real world: The mediums performed the test readings on the phone for regular people wanting to hear from their deceased loved ones. But then we also control for all the normal explanations for the source of a medium’s information: An experimenter (me) serves as a proxy on the phone in place of the actual sitter who does not hear the reading as it takes place and who later scores a decoy transcript along with their own transcript without knowing which is which. We also ask the medium specific questions about the deceased person’s personality, appearance, hobbies, and cause of death. Different experimenters perform different tasks during the different phases of the experiment.

“You can’t study football on a baseball field using hockey equipment and the rules for soccer and then claim you’ve disproven the existence of football.”

This scenario controls for cold reading, cueing, rater bias, and fraud. Cold reading is a method where fraudulent mediums use cues from the sitter to create what seems like an accurate reading. Cold reading can also include the reporting of information so general it could apply to almost anyone. Cold reading is eliminated as an explanation in our testing because the medium receives no information prior to the reading, no feedback during (or after) the reading, and is asked specific questions about the deceased. The testing also controls for cueing (intentional or not) by the person who is on the phone with the medium (me, the experimenter), because I don’t know who the sitter or the deceased is or the answers to the questions. It also controls for rater bias because the raters receive more than one reading to score without knowing which is theirs. Fraud or any unintentional sensory leakage are also eliminated as plausible explanations because the five participants in the experiment/test (medium, sitter, and three experimenters) are all blinded to different pieces of information.

This is obviously a time and resource-intensive procedure. We were able to build our team of Windbridge Certified Research Mediums through support from a grant and at the end of that grant we stopped certifying any new mediums. However, we have started collecting data from mediums all over the US about their experiences, practices, and histories using online surveys.

Q

What exactly are you studying and/or looking for?

A

At the Windbridge Research Center, we are asking three questions about mediums: Can they do what they claim to be doing? If so, what is unique about the people who can do it? How can it help society? Our three mediumship research programs, named Information, Operation, and Application, respectively, investigate: the accuracy and specificity of the information mediums report under controlled laboratory conditions; the experiences, psychology, and physiology (body and brain) of mediums; and the use of mediumship readings as a treatment for grief.

Q

What have you observed in terms of where in the brain they receive and process psi information? Is there a difference between psychic and medium information?

A

The rule of thumb is that all mediums are psychic but not all psychics are mediums. While anyone can potentially have mediumistic or psychic experiences, mediums experience regular communication from the deceased and psychics regularly experience information about, or from, living people, distant locations or events, and/or times in the future or in the past (that they did not originally experience).

We did one EEG study and concluded that mediums’ experiences of communication with the deceased is a mental state different than fabricating information or recalling facts previously obtained. However, because mediumship involves the mediums talking, which uses facial muscles, EEG, which is susceptible to muscle movement artifacts, is really not the best method for studying mediums’ brain activity. We have designed a study using alternative brain imaging techniques to look at mediums’ brain activity during communication with the deceased, as well as several other conditions, including obtaining psychic information about the living, for comparison. The use of imaging technologies is expensive so we will need to acquire funding in order to perform the study.

We are also studying the mediums’ actual experiences during mediumistic and psychic tasks. As would be expected, the two types of psi experiences have similarities. For example, they both seem to involve multiple “senses” (seeing in the mind’s eye, mentally hearing, feeling in the body). There are also differences: psychic readings for living clients don’t seem to include taste as one of the senses experienced, whereas during mediumship readings, mediums may taste the deceased’s favorite foods and share that information with the sitter to help identify the deceased. We just finished a study in which we analyzed descriptions of the two kinds of experiences from more than 120 self-identified mediums in the US. The results from that study will be available on our website once they are published.

Q

How involved is the frontal lobe?

A

That’s a good question and no one knows the answer. Very little research of any kind has been done with modern-day mediums and even less has been done studying their brains.

Q

What are you ultimately trying to determine?

A

At the Windbridge Research Center we are ultimately interested in helping people alleviate suffering using research and education. Specifically, we hope to normalize phenomena like mediumship and spontaneous after-death communication experiences in regular people (for example, sensing the presence of the deceased, dreams about them, smells, or music) so people who have those experiences—which are very common—can stop feeling like they are crazy or delusional. The body of research on spontaneous experiences of a deceased loved one has found that they occur in roughly 30 percent of people at some point in their lives and that about 80 percent of people will have at least one experience in the first year following the death of someone close to them. Those are numbers people should have.

“No ‘body’ is getting out of here alive. But it’s only the body—not the whole self—that will die. And really knowing that can make any life at least a little easier.”

We are also very interested in treatments for grief. The healthcare community has very little to offer the grieving but experiences like mediumship readings in which the bereaved experience their continuing bonds with the deceased seem to have substantial positive effects. However, further research is needed before we can say for sure.

We are also interested in providing evidence-based materials demonstrating that consciousness survives after the physical death of the body as a way to alleviate the fear people experience contemplating their own deaths. This is relevant for people currently dying and their loved ones as well as for the rest of us. No “body” is getting out of here alive. But it’s only the body—not the whole self—that will die. And really knowing that can make any life at least a little easier.

Q

Based on your research, do you have any theories about the relationship between consciousness and the brain? Can you imagine how science might eventually be able to determine what’s going on there?

A

The theory that the brain creates consciousness is called “materialism” and it’s just a theory that somehow got stuck in textbooks, classrooms, and movies. Materialism is equivalent to thinking that a radio creates the sounds that come out of it.

The alternative theory views consciousness as “non-local,” a term coined by physician Larry Dossey. In the non-locality explanation, consciousness is not localized to the brain, not bound by space or time, it is infinite, and it is merely funneled or translated by the brain. This theory accounts for phenomena like mediums communicating with people after their deaths, children who remember past lives, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, the Army’s Stargate remote viewing program, knowing who’s on the phone before it rings, dreaming about tomorrow’s events, and on and on.

“Consciousness—the signal—exists separate from the brain which is just the antenna.”

An example people may be familiar with is a mother who knows her child just got in a car accident all the way across the country. How could her brain know that if it is here and her child is there? With non-locality there is no here or there, no now or then; consciousness can be any place and any time. We don’t experience it like that day-to-day because our brain is busy remembering to eat and breathe and not step out in front of that bus.

Consciousness—the signal—exists separate from the brain, which is just the antenna. Yes, if the antenna is damaged, the signal comes out wonky or if it breaks entirely, the signal doesn’t come through at all, but the signal still exists. Science has already been gathering laboratory evidence for non-locality for decades but people fear change and shaking up the status quo is difficult. Ideas that are different—even evidence-based, empirically-tested, peer-reviewed ones—often struggle for attention, acceptance, and funding, but that’s where we are right now.

Q

What are your theories about what happens to the soul after death?

A

Soul isn’t a word most scientists are comfortable with but it’s a concept similar to the self, the mind, or consciousness. The different areas of research that support the idea that consciousness survives after the physical death of the body—the big three are mediumship, near-death experiences, and children who remember past lives—demonstrate that consciousness is non-local and will continue to exist after the body dies. It also seems that in this disembodied state, the consciousness continues to learn, and heal, and grow.

MORE ON CONSCIOUSNESS >>

Julie Beischel, Ph.D., is co-founder and Director of Research at the Windbridge Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to performing rigorous scientific research and creating educational materials focused on dying, death, and what comes next. (See their Facebook page here.) Beischel received her doctorate in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Arizona in 2003. Her current research interests include examinations of the accuracy and specificity of the information mediums report as well as their experiences, psychology, and physiology; and the potential social applications of mediumship readings. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed research articles, as well as the books Among Mediums: A Scientist’s Quest for Answers; Meaningful Messages: Making the Most of Your Mediumship Reading; From the Mouths of Mediums; and Investigating Mediums.

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