- A unique scientific experiment has produced startling
evidence that some "spirit mediums" may indeed have paranormal
- Scientists involved in the study at the University of
Arizona say that the findings are so extraordinary they raise fundamental
questions about the survival of consciousness after death.
- Until now, the whole issue of the "afterlife"
has been dismissed by most mainstream scientists, with spiritual mediums
being regarded as either self-deluded or charlatans. Now the first serious
laboratory study of a group of mediums has found that they share an uncanny
ability to state facts about the deceased relatives of people who come
- The experiments, details of which will be published this
week, involved five mediums and two "sitters" unknown to the
mediums, whose deceased relatives they were asked to contact.
- In the first experiment, each medium spent an hour with
one of the sitters in a laboratory, with a screen preventing visual contact.
Under constant video surveillance, each began talking about aspects of
the sitter's deceased relatives. The sitter was only allowed to respond
to specific questions from the medium with the words "yes" or
"no". At the end of each session, the information gleaned by
the mediums was analysed for its accuracy.
- The transcripts of each session showed that the mediums
typically produced more than 80 pieces of information about the deceased
relatives, ranging from their names and personal idiosyncrasies to the
precise circumstances of their death. When analysed for factual accuracy,
the mediums achieved a success rate of 83 per cent, with one achieving
an accuracy of 93 per cent.
- Similar success was achieved in experiments involving
the second sitter, and even when the mediums were not allowed to communicate
with the sitter in any way. Sceptics have long argued that the success
of mediums is due to so-called "cold reading", in which mediums
make educated guesses about deceased people - such as asking if a husband
died of heart disease, which is a common cause of death.
- The team claims to have dealt with this objection after
a panel of more than 60 people was asked to supply the same information
as the mediums about the sitter. The average score was only 36 per cent,
with the most successful guesser achieving just 54 per cent.
- Reporting their findings in the forthcoming issue of
the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the researchers conclude:
"Highly skilled mediums are able to obtain accurate and replicable
information." Professor Gary Schwartz, who led the team, told The
Telegraph: "The bottom line is that there is a class of highly skilled
mediums who are doing something extraordinary."
- The secret of their success is unclear: every precaution
was taken to rule out unconscious cheating or outright fraud. In one experiment,
a medium claimed to have been in communication with the sitter's deceased
mother three days before the meeting - and supplied a prayer that the mother
used to recite for the sitter as a child.
- Prof Schwartz said such evidence is consistent with claims
of mediums to deal directly with the dead, rather than merely with the
minds of the sitters. He said: "All the data gathered so far is consistently
in accord with survival of consciousness after death. Based on our data
to date, the most parsimonious explanation is that the mediums are in direct
communication with the deceased."
- Sceptics said that while the results are intriguing,
they leave many questions unanswered. Dr Chris French, a leading expert
at Goldsmiths College, London, said: "Parapsychologists have become
disillusioned with studies of mediums because the results are usually nothing
more than you would expect by cold reading. This study has results that
are so out of line that one would want to have a very close look at how
it was done."
- The implications of the study are to be discussed at
an international meeting in Arizona this week. Prof Schwartz admitted that
the findings were likely to disturb many people. He said: "Some of
our colleagues would like us to do this research elsewhere."