Science and Evidence
It is because of evidence that people join the Spiritualist movement and remain there. Some come to us because they have had psychic or mediumistic experiences themselves. They may have had an out-of-body experience (OBE), or a near-death experience (NDE). They may have had lucid dreams of being with a loved-one who has "died". They may have witnessed a "death-bed vision". They may have had an "after-death communication" (ADC) from a person who was very close to them in life. This latter experience is very common. Studies suggest that it happens to about 66% of the bereaved, thus making it a normal human experience. Sadly this is not generally known, and when it occurs may alarm a person who has no knowledge of, or belief in, the phenomena of Spiritualism. Some come to us, not because they have received evidence themselves, but because they are seeking evidence of the survival of a loved-one after their death. Many and varied are the reasons that people become involved with Spiritualism. Whether they are spiritual, mediumistic or psychic people or whether they simply have an interest in spirituality, mediumship or psychic phenomena, they will find an accepting, understanding community, who will allow them to talk freely about such matters, and not ridicule them as "cranks, kooks or loons". After they have remained with us for a while, they will have gained much more evidence that what we call "psi" phenomena exist, and that they are very real. They will gain much further evidence that the mind or consciousness is independent of the physical body, and lives on after the death of the body. People do not have to become members of a Spiritualist church or centre to enjoy the experiences that Spiritualism offers. They can remain with us as friends for as long as they want to. They may then leave when they want to, too. All we ask is that they be patient and respectful and keep an open mind. We ask that they do not judge a book by its cover, or even the first twenty pages, but give everything a fair trial.
The evidence that Spiritualism collects, organises and presents to the world has massive implications for science, especially for theoretical physics, consciousness studies and psychology. More importantly it has massive implications for all of us, because we are nearly all going to experience the death of someone we love, and we are all eventually going to "die".
Spiritualism studies mediumship and mediumistic phenomena, (messages from the spirit world), principally, but also the psychic phenomena that come into the message giving of mediums. Individual Spiritualists are likely to be interested in all related phenomena that have a bearing on the discipline that they love, and many will be quite knowledgeable about them.
Spiritualism is rich in mediumistic and psychic phenomena, which defy explanation if we cling to the materialist, reductionist, unscientific view of the universe that the physical matter that we see with our physical senses is all that exists and all phenomena can be explained and accounted for by learning more about it. The phenomena that Spiritualism has demonstrated again and again for centuries make materialist reductionist scientists feel uncomfortable. Sadly, a common way of easing their discomfort is to disregard the phenomena of Spiritualism, or to dismiss them as impossible and of no interest, and Spiritualists as gullible fools for believing that they have a reality independent of their own imaginations. It is sad to reflect that great scientists like Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Joseph Maxwell, William James and Charles Richet made careful, detailed scientific studies of mediums a century ago or more and were convinced that the evidence they produced was genuine, yet there are still scientists today not knowing or believing that credible evidence can be provided in this way. Such attitudes hardly do credit to science or to the scientists that have them. They are based on the a priori assumption that their materialist reductionist theories of the universe are correct and not in need of revision, which is a very unscientific way to approach science. Fortunately, by no means all scientists and by no means all reductionist scientific materialists display these attitudes. Unfortunately, some scientists who are sympathetic to the areas of life discussed by Spiritualism have reported that they feel constrained to hide their interests, at least in their professional, scientific career, because of the disapproval they get from less open-minded colleagues. Obviously, to any impartial observer, these dogmatic attitudes are going to hold up scientific progress, and should be resisted.
There is a scientific discipline that attempts to study scientifically the phenomena of Spiritualism and related phenomena, (near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, lucid dreams, death-bed visions, telepathy, remote viewing, psycho-kinesis, precognition, hauntings, etc.). It is called "parapsychology". By and large Spiritualists are happy to co-operate with parapsychologists, and there have been many Spiritualists who have also been parapsychologists. For the co-operation to work, parapsychologists have to respect the religious nature of Spiritualism, and appreciate the sensitive nature of mediumship, which being a faculty of the mind rather than of matter, needs a supportive, harmonious, loving atmosphere in which to flourish. Spiritualism does not welcome overtly hostile, threatening, obstructive, critical or sceptical attitudes while mediumship is taking place, because they can affect the quality of that mediumship. This is true of all forms of mediumship, but particularly physical mediumship.
Spiritualism is a Science
Secondly, Spiritualism looks carefully at the mass of evidence that mediums bring forth every day. It sees itself as a science, because it investigates, analyses, and classifies this evidence, the facts and manifestations demonstrated from the spirit side of life. It has the responsibility to assess itself the mass of evidence it gathers, and classify it as outstanding, good, average or poor in the support it gives for its central thesis - the continuous existence of the human soul, unaffected by the death of the body, living on thereafter in another dimension, which we call the spirit world. The best evidence it will share with others in its newspapers, magazines and books. In this Spiritualism can help parapsychology, and bring to its attention ongoing phenomena or particular mediums that would be worthy of further study.
Thirdly, Spiritualism is the science of life itself, because it encourages the search for truth in every department of existence, in morality, in nature, in nurture and education, and in human psychology. It looks at those universal spiritual laws and rules of the game of life that the materialist is often heedless of. The world view of the Spiritualist is much larger than the world view of the sceptical scientific-materialist-reductionist. It admits of far more possibilities. It is open to the unknown in a way that the materialist-reductionist scientist often is not. With this larger awareness of what human life really is and what it is about, comes a greater awareness of the moral responsibilities we have, and the importance of nurturing and developing the spiritual side of our lives. Morality and spirituality really matter. They are not just convenient expedients to ameliorate our existence on this earth. They have an eternal resonance, which is much more important. In bringing forth evidence to prove the existence of this eternal dimension and counsel from this eternal dimension on how we should be living our lives, Spiritualism is a discipline that is relevant to every person living in this world, which they may scorn at their peril. It is arguable that if more people in modern times had heeded the wisdom from more advanced souls in the spirit world, in the way that people in sustainable, pre-industrial cultures did, (people who understood the need to reverence nature and live lightly upon this earth), the world would not now be in its present catastrophic environmental mess, when we are seriously wondering if nature can support our current lifestyles and social organisation for very much longer.
There is a fourth area in which Spiritualism acts as a science increasing our knowledge and understanding. It is the science of the afterlife itself. Very many of the messages given by mediums allude to the afterlife and its conditions. This is unsurprising, because our loved-ones who have gone before us, beyond the veil we call death, often return to let us know that they are all right, or to allay any fears that we may have on their behalf. In addition there are some Spiritualists and mediums who channel or otherwise obtain the messages of after-life intelligences who want to tell us what the after-life is like. This may be done by means of automatic writing, spirit art, trance mediumship, direct voice mediumship, physical mediumship and mental mediumship, or be revealed in lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, near-death-experiences and deathbed visions. What is remarkable is the high degree of consistency of accounts given by sources taken from varied times and many places. Some spiritualists like to study these different accounts with the aim of bringing out their common features so that they can begin to build their own view of what the after-life is like, and what they can expect on crossing over to it. A common thread that emerges in these accounts is that the after-life is multi-dimensional. Just as in this world there are many levels and conditions of human consciousness, from the most unregenrate and morally primitive to the most enlightened, altruistic and noble, so in the next world there will be many levels and dimensions to accommodate these different types of beings. Another common thread is that we are each creating our own particular niche in the after-life by the way we are living our life on earth now. All Spiritualists accept the reality of the afterlife, but not all Spiritualists would want to investigate accounts of it. Some are happy to wait and see. However, I think there would be universal agreement among Spiritualists that we should live our lives now in the light of eternity and our eternal progress. We should think about and bring our lives now into tune with what we know about or can imagine are the most exalted aspects of the after-life. If we live our lives with love, if we can move from self-centredness and self-grasping to selfless service to others and altruism, not in the hope of gaining a reward, but because we want to, because we know and understand that this is the best way to be, then we are living our lives properly, and will have nothing to fear when it is our turn to move on to the next stage of being. See this website: "New Maps of Heaven".
Science and Repeatability
You are also recommended to view this video "Vistors from the Other Side" of Tom Harrison in interview with Pat Hamblin.
Distinguished Scientists Sympathetic to "Psi"
On his website, Victor Zammit has a page "Afterlife Hall of Fame", which details the many famous scientists who have validated survival evidence and/or been convinced of the reality of psychic phenomena. Michael Tymn has a similar page entitled "Distinguished researchers found evidence for survival" on the ASPSI website. The website SurvivalAfterDeath.org.uk has a page of links to more information on famous psychical researchers.
Questions About the Brain/Mind Relationship
How have the beliefs of Spiritualism and the massive amount of evidence that it holds to support them been challenged by the findings and research of genuine science?
Does Spiritualism encourage and support research into the workings of the brain?
Yes of course it does, both because it will help in understanding the cause of brain diseases and disorders, and in finding a cure for them. Spiritualism also believes, because of the evidence it has gathered, that this research will in the end lead to the clear understanding by all reputable scientists that whilst the brain is material, consciousness, though closely linked with and making use of the brain whilst we are alive in a physical body, is immaterial. We believe that it is made of some other energy or stuff that we don't yet fully understand and that this individualised consciousness can exist independently of the body.
What are the different theories about the relationship between the mind and the brain?
There are two basic positions, though there will be different shades of opinion within each position:
1) The first position is the materialist one. All forms of materialism claim that the brain creates mental states and consciousness and that mental states cannot exist independently of the brain. When the brain dies, consciousness is terminated. When you are dead you are dead. Within these parameters there are many shades of opinion. The most extreme is known as 'monistic materialism', there is only matter. The mind's experiences are claimed to be identical with the brain states that give rise to them and are one phenomenon, rather like the two sides of one coin. With this view consciousness is seen as an "epi-phenomenon" of brain processes, something of not much significance. This denigrates consciousness, and certainly religious and spiritual experience, which might be one of its aims. Others have said or seemed to suggest that consciousness is an illusion, which is plainly absurd. One has to be conscious to have an illusion. A less extreme position is that mental states are not identical with brain states, they do have a reality of their own, but there is a de facto causal relationship between them. This is discovered by observation and experiment. In this view the mind is seen to have a real existence of its own, but only when certain brain processes are occurring. An analogy would be the rainbow. It has a sort of independent existence, which we can all see and enjoy, but it cannot exist without certain weather conditions - when there is both sunlight and rain. We could imagine a rainbow existing without sunshine and rain together, but no-one has ever see that happen. In the same way we can imagine consciousness existing without a brain to create it, but ....... yes? ..... I am afraid many people have seen evidence of consciousness without a physical brain to make it happen - ghosts, death-bed visions, apparitions, materialisations - and many people have found the encounter enlightening, informative, or very helpful. This is the problem for materialist theories. They do not face up to paranormal phenomena that plainly happen.
2) The second position is that the brain does not create consciousness, but it transmits consciousness, and also somehow restricts or filters it. Consciousness has its provenance elsewhere. The brain transmits this consciousness, allowing it to control and use a physical body, and restricts it too for the same reason. A permanent state of exaltation seen in mystical and other non-ordinary states of consciousness would be rather a handicap when dealing with the practical problems of existence in this physical world. The brain is seen as the interface between the mind or consciousness and the physical body which it controls. It is a philosophical or scientific position known as 'dualism', (there are two things, matter, which includes living material like brains, and immaterial things like minds and consciousness). In a way this is a common sense position. We can look into people's brains by means of X-rays or MRI scans, or when they are on the operating table. We can to some extent observe and measure the electrical impulses and brain activity, but we cannot see their minds or the content of their minds, (even gifted psychics and mediums cannot see this content entirely, just a very small part of their conscious experience).
The fact that we cannot see the mind is probably why this theory is unpopular with some scientists. They have got used to working with things they can measure and observe. But a theory does not become false because some scientists don't like it or its implications. It is a theory which better explains the phenomena of Spiritualism and other phenomena classed as extraordinary or paranormal. By and large Spiritualists would hold this view of the relationship between the mind and the brain, and believe in other immaterial things too, like the soul, or spiritual body and discarnate spirit beings. You will find further discussion of this "transmission theory" of mind/brain relationships and support for it in the links in the right-hand column.
Are there other theories about the mind/brain relationship?
There is a different monistic position, which sees everything as mind or consciousness. A form of this theory was argued for by the Irish philosopher, George Berkeley, in the 18th Century. In a different form it has been aired again by some theoretical physicists recently. For example see this video: "Consciousness Drives the Universe" and this video: "The Conscious Universe - The Observer Effect" It is also found in some Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Mind creates the reality of matter. We do not see matter as it is, we see a mental construct of matter, which is really not the solid stuff we think it is, but simply a very dense form of energy, maybe an elementary form of consciousness itself. For people who hold this view the world is an illusion, a sort of mass hallucination. Although this might make sense from a theoretical physicist's point of view, and perhaps from an advanced spiritual master's point of view, it is difficult to square with common sense and the common concerns of science. It is not the view that Spiritualists generally hold. Most Spiritualists would make a distinction between matter, and Spirit, which contains mind, while at the same time acknowledging that that there is so much more we have to discover about the universe of mind and matter, and our learning will never end, both now and hereafter. For practical purposes we have to make a distinction between mind and matter. However it is a theory which recognises the primacy of consciousness, unlike our first set of materialistic theories, which think that matter is the primary stuff. It isn't. Consciousness is the primary thing. We only know of the existence of matter because of our consciousness. We can only measure and observe matter because we are conscious. Our consciousness limits what we can observe and understand. Without consciousness, the physical world would just be a configuration of atoms and molecules, of as much importance as the configurations of dust on a planet in a distant galaxy. Far from being merely an epi-phenomenon of brain states, consciousness is vital for discovering and understanding those brain states. It is consciousness which gives scientists the appetite and motivation for pursuing the science they love. It is consciousness which gives philosophers the ability to invent and comprehend their convoluted arguments. It is the pleasures and pains of conscious experiences that give every individual on this planet their total concerns in their daily lives, not their brain states. Even if they are a scientist thinking about brain processes it is their own consciousness which is trying to understand and grapple with the problems.
Also, it is true in a spiritual sense that mind creates its own reality. "As we think, so we become." (The Upanishads) "We don't see things the way they are, we see things as we are." (The Talmud) If we think that spiritual, psychic and mediumistic experiences are impossible, they will become impossible for us, and we will trudge through life spiritually leaden-footed. If we believe that we can use our intuition psychically and mediumistically, it will begin to work for us. I have seen this happen in Open Circles time and time again. People start to believe in and trust their intuition, and then they are able to give accurate messages to someone else. If we begin to believe and trust in the insights of great spiritual teachers, spirituality will open up for us, and we will begin to appreciate its beauty and value. Maybe we will in the next life see that everything is consciousness, I don't know. I would rather wait and see before I tackle that question. For now we have to negotiate the problems that matter causes us, and that is enough for most of us.
Isn't it the focus on consciousness rather than matter that is essential for spirituality and spiritual development?
Exactly. We grow spiritually by enlarging and refining our consciousness. We grow spiritually by not putting all our attention into the things of this world; the people yes, but certainly not the things. We grow spiritually by giving some attention to eternal values, like sympathy, empathy, love and compassion. We grow spiritually by trying to live to the highest level of morality and decency that we can conceive. If we cannot accept a literal eternity after death, we can still live in this way: How would I like to be best remembered? How can I live so that I can die without regrets? In trying to live in a spiritual way, by bringing these spiritual values and qualities into our lives, we will be working with our consciousness and trying to elevate it.
Materialist views that denigrate consciousness can do enormous spiritual damage. They tend to promote the wrong values and priorities in life, and lead into a cul-de-sac that can end in despair, and fear at the apprehension of death. They remove the urgency of trying to improve ourselves morally and spiritually. If you are convinced that materialism is true, you might think it does not matter how immoral or depraved you are, as long as you can get away with it. Death will save you from any judgement or retribution. Even if you are reviled by mankind forever after, you could persuade yourself it won't matter, because you won't be aware of it. Materialism offers a bleak vision, without hope or justice, and without consolation for those who suffer excessively. It offers a bleak future should it ever become the prevailing interpretation of reality. It is the refining and reforming influence of conscience and spiritual awareness that has civilised our societies and helped to promote what goodness and decency they have. Undoubtedly there are many good people among atheists and materialists, who do have a social conscience, and feel empathy and sympathy for others. How effective they will be at encouraging others to follow their good example, if they succeed in persuading them that death will erase all personal responsibility and accountability for our actions in this life, is debatable. They will have to make a greater appeal to the elevation of consciousness if they are to succeed, and that is difficult if you lack an understanding of the metaphysical basis of consciousness.
How has Spiritualism reacted to the aggressive stance of some reductionist scientific materialists and sceptics?
It is saddened that some sceptics and reductionist scientific materialists have resorted to ridiculing, sneering, character undermining, and ad hominem attacks, against people who take a different view from them - religious and spiritual people are attacked in this way, but also scientists of good standing and integrity who want to investigate the paranormal. We do not want to join in such conduct. We are interested in truth, wherever it may lead us, but we want always to be respectful and tolerant of those who believe differently to us. We believe that the evidence we have amassed does now, and will increasingly, play an important part in the true understanding of the nature of reality.
A word about scepticism. True scepticism involves the suspension of belief, or at least the willingness to change belief, not permamemt disbelief. As the 19th Century scientist, Thomas Huxley, so wisely said: “Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.” The term "pseudo-sceptics" has been coined for those who go on disbelieving no matter what evidence is passed their way. It is not in the Thomas Huxley way that they approach evidence that undermines their cherished theories. They are not true sceptics at all. They are ideologically motivated to resist anything that undermines their own particular beliefs and world-view.
Does that mean that Spiritualists would relinquish their belief in spirits and the after-life if science could show that the brain creates consciousness?
If that could happen, I suppose Spiritualists would have to change their understanding of what psychic and mediumistic phenomena are. Spiritualists would not change their appreciation of their inestimable value and help in living our lives. But it is a very big if. Scientists have not reached agreement yet about what consciousness is or how it is related to the brain. Because of the experiences they have had, and the evidence they have gathered, Spiritualists believe that scientists are not going to be able to show that consciousness is created by the brain. There will always be the question of psychic, mediumistic and other paranormal phenomena to explain. These are occurring now all over the world, to many people right now as we speak. Spiritualists know that psychic and mediumistic phenomena do occur, and are often of great help to us. It is only ignorance which says that these things are never real. Reductionist scientific materialism offers no explanation for all these things, partly because it is refusing, by and large, to properly engage with them, partly because such phenomena do not fit with its model of the nature of reality. In the most sceptical quarters, it seems it would rather remain ignorant if it can. Hence I suppose the ridicule that you find. Hence the sneers. But the internet is putting a lot of paranormal information out there, and opening people's minds to what is going on.
As for scientific evidence, if anything, it is all pointing the other way. The best evidence that brain science has given to reductionist scientific materialists is that if you electrically stimulate a certain area on the right hand side of the brain, the person gets an impression of being with a spiritual presence, or a sense of the numinous, or sometimes an experience which might be like an out of body experience. But the impressions gained have been vague and sketchy so far. Spiritual presences have not been clearly defined, unlike the spiritual encounters in out of body or near death experiences. Numinous experiences have been similarly vague and not life-changing, unlike genuine mystical or spiritual experiences. Out of the body experiences have been both out of the body and in the body at the same time. The situation seems to be that these methods for creating experiences don't fool the mind, which maintains its hold on earthly reality at the same time as these engineered experiences are occurring. This would seem to suggest that the mind is in some way independent of the brain rather than "the proof that religious, mystical and spiritual experiences are all creations of the brain" that some materialists have been trumpeting it as. It is not proof of the brain creating consciousness at all. It is only proof that consciousness is affected by changes in the brain. It could be argued equally plausibly that these electrical interventions are causing a dislodging of the mind or consciousness from its normal seat of operations, making it unable to maintain full control of the brain. This dislodged consciousness is then able to grasp some aspects of metaphysical reality, which in its ordinary state, firmly anchored in and restrained by the brain, it is unaware of. Spiritualists are ready to admit that there is a very close inter-relationship between the mind and the brain as long as the Spirit is operating and firmly anchored in a physical body. That is not in dispute. Consciousness will be affected by a diseased or mal-functioning brain. Consciousness will be affected by a normally functioning brain too. The question is not whether and how it is affected by changes in the brain, but whether it is actually created by the brain, and that is a very different matter and very difficult if not impossible to prove. It certainly won't be proven as long as paranormal phenomena continue to abound.
Here is an analogy. If you shine white light through red glass you will illuminate the area around you with red light. If you shine the same white light through blue glass you will illuminate the area with blue light, and everything will look very different. If you now put opaque black glass in the way, no light will reach you and you will be sitting in darkness. But get behind the glass and you will be bathed in white light in which everything will be seen clearly and as it should. Consciousness is like the white light, the brain is like the different coloured filters affecting the consciousness which gets through. The filters are not creating the light, only transmitting it and altering it. Similarly the brain is not creating consciousness, only transmitting it and altering it. Alter the brain states and the consciousness alters. The black opaque glass would mirror a comatose state in which the consciousness is shut inside a non-functioning brain, and nothing is registered. A near-death experience or an out of body experience would be like escaping from the influence of the filter and finding the pure white light. Death could then be viewed as smashing the filter, revealing the light beyond. Incidentally, a great but non-dazzling white light is a very common feature of near death experiences.
It is a matter of faith that consciousness is created by the brain, a belief, a hunch that materialists have, who have shut themselves off from spiritual experience and the larger realities of life, so what else can they think, but that it is the brain that is creating consciousness. This is their belief, not a fact that they have established. Spiritualists, like other dualists, believe that consciousness has its origin outside the brain. Spiritualists believe that it is eternal in nature, unlike the body which is temporary. Spiritualists have evidence for these beliefs and they think materialists are exploring a blind alley if they are trying to prove that consciousness is created by the brain.
Against the weak evidence produced by reductionist scientific materialists for their claim that consciousness is created by the brain, the Spiritualist can summon a vast amount of evidence to support beliefs that this is not so. Firstly there is the evidence from veridical near-death experiences, (by veridical I mean confirmed as real by the acquisition of verifiable information from another location, which could not have been gained from the body's sense organs because of its position or location). Then there is the evidence from veridical out-of-body experiences, from veridical lucid dreams. Sometimes normal dreams take us outside space/time and give us information that we could not have gained in the normal way, either by predicting a future or by bringing us information from a far-away location. There is the evidence of past lives and inter-life existences given both by those who can spontaneously recall them and by past-life regression therapy. The latter has been able to heal inexplicable pains and illnesses that the therapy has revealed have been caused by past life trauma. Then there is the evidence of witnessed and reported death-bed visions, and the evidence of after-death communications which are a normal feature of bereavement. Agencies like the police and the military, who are not bound by dogma or theories, but are only interested in what works, have used psychic visions and impressions, remote viewing techniques and induced out-of-body states to solve crime or to gather information. There is the evidence from gifted psychics, like the late Dr Richard Ireland, a psychic and medium of great integrity, who could still see when his eyes were taped shut. There is the evidence from gifted mental mediums and trance mediums which has given us outstanding evidence like "the cross correspondences", "the book tests", and many, many others. There has been the evidence of direct-voice mediums like Leslie Flint, who was one of the most studied mediums in history. He could not stop the voices talking even when they caused him much embarrassment, like in the cinema, which he loved to go to. Most convincing of all has been the evidence of outstanding physical mediums like Eusapia Palladino, (when she wasn't cheating - she admitted she did sometimes), Florence Cook, Daniel Dunglas Home, Helen Duncan, Minnie Harrison, Alec Harris, and those involved in 'The Scole Experiment', a tradition of incontrovertible evidence giving, which continues today in the outstanding physical mediumship of David Thompson, as well as Tom Morris at Hameau Montcabirol, the Englishman, Bill Meadows, and others. There are many other types of evidence and names which I could mention, but I hope I have given you enough leads for you to continue your own research if you want to.