For those aware of the compelling evidence for psychic phenomena and mediumship—satisfied with the reality of their existence—one question remains, dating back to the Society for Psychical Research’s earliest investigations more than a century ago. Presupposing that mediums operating under controlled conditions are able to provide relevant and specific information about deceased persons, this query focuses on the underlying question of how such phenomena occur.
Most mediums, the majority of people who consult mediums, and some researchers subscribe to the “survival” hypothesis. This theory, also referred to as “survival of consciousness,” implies that information furnished by mediums comes from deceased persons communicating from some adjacent realm of existence. Further, it is asserted that these communications are most often conveyed telepathically.
There are other hypotheses that endeavor to explain how mediums do what they do, each offering vastly different explanations. Before delving into these alternative models, let’s start by exploring some of the various forms of psychic phenomena—the ways people access information without utilizing their five physical senses.
Because parapsychologists observe so many different types of psychic phenomena, they have devised descriptive categories based on certain characteristics. Within the branch called “mental phenomena” (as opposed to “physical phenomena”—dealing with manifestation of things like “independent voice” and materialization, which won’t be addressed here), several categorical definitions have been established:
• Clairvoyance: “Clear-seeing”—to visually see in the mind’s eye, or in some cases externally, beyond the limits of time and space, past and future.
• Clairaudience: “Clear-hearing”—nonvisual information reception, such as thoughts dropping into one’s awareness. Occasionally received in auditory fashion. (Psychic mediums I know still refer to this term, although modern parapsychologists don’t use it.)
• Clairsentience: “Clear-sensing”—perception of information through smell or feelings.
• Telepathy: Thought transfer between two minds.
• Precognition: The ability to accurately forecast events before they transpire.
• Psychometry: The ability to read energy/information emanating from physical objects.
• Psychokinesis: The use of one’s mind to affect material objects/physical systems.
• Remote Viewing: Clairvoyance at a distance—the ability of a percipient to accurately visualize nonlocal physical systems, such as objects, buildings, vehicles, and so forth.
• Remote Perturbation: The ability to perturb or disrupt an otherwise random event through mental means.
Because no one knows the modus operandi for these phenomena, it cannot be established whether some forms of psi may be facilitated by spirit communication. So with these issues in mind, following here are some alternate theories that attempt to explain how certain mediums are able to provide accurate and meaningful information about discarnate individuals.
Proponents of a model often termed “super-psi,” or just “psi,” presuppose that mediums are actually talented psychics who utilize a sort of supercharged psi ability—presumably leveraging any of the aforementioned faculties, allowing them to access any information—anywhere, anytime. Expanding on this, Tricia Robertson, of the Scottish Society of Psychical Research, explained to me, “Super-psi, according to its supporters, allows a person to access every book, human thought, every journal, etc., everywhere in the world. It has no limitations, as anything can be accessed.” She went on to say, “Super-psi cannot be seriously considered a scientific theory, as any theory must have boundaries that can be tested. Super-psi has no boundaries and no explanation.”
So while this model has adherents, it may never be proven. By the same token, it may never be disproven until an alternate theory is accepted that renders super-psi infeasible.
Another hypothesis referred to as the “archive theory” suggests that mediums tap into a sort of universal database or energy field. This cosmic storehouse of information, akin to the Akashic field referenced in Eastern traditions (and in the work of the “Sleeping Prophet,” Edgar Cayce), can be thought of as “God’s memory.” This schema suggests that a medium may tune into a subject—be it a question, a person, a place, an object, or something else—and then culls pertinent information from the aforementioned nonphysical database.
In such a scenario, one might envision a medium conducting a reading for a bereaved person who wishes to hear from a deceased loved one. Let’s assume that the medium has a striking number of hits and the sitter is pleased with the quality of information shared. In this situation, the archive-theory proponent would argue that the medium has tapped into the universal database or energy field and is simply reporting on information contained there.
Another argument asserts that mediums use telepathy to read the mind of the sitter and then report back pertinent information. One might assume that addressing this concern would be as simple as separating the medium and the sitter, but telepathy cannot be eliminated as an explanation, even in controlled readings, where the sitter and medium have no direct contact. This is because telepathy’s boundaries are not known, and distance does not appear to be a limiting factor (as with entanglement). But such controls are useful in removing normal sensory information, thereby eliminating other explanations such as “cold reading,”—the term for a process whereby body language and other cues taken from the sitter are interpreted—and then guesses are made and subsequently modified based on sitter reactions. The practice of separating medium and sitter by two or more levels is commonplace among today’s researchers at the Windbridge Research Center, the Scottish Society of Psychical Research, and the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies.
Speaking about the viability of telepathy as an explanation for the aptitude of talented mediums, Tricia Robertson of the SSPR notes, “Telepathy does not cut it . . . although telepathy exists. It is a very weak faculty between living persons.”2
Let’s now return to the survival hypothesis—the theory that mediums are able to obtain relevant information via communication with discarnate persons. Some of the most compelling evidence for the survival hypothesis comes from what are referred to as “cross-correspondence” experiments. Early cases of this type, documented by the Society of Psychical Research, involved messages from multiple mediums situated in various locations. Each medium received fragmentary information including drawings, sentences, geometric designs, and even Chinese characters, which were immediately corroborated by phone and telegraph. This enabled the message to be deciphered by joining the fragments into a whole. Individually, the messages seemed meaningless, but when combined, a mosaic effect became apparent, and a complete meaning was revealed. The complexity and elaborate nature of these experiments suggested that information conveyed to the mediums had been disseminated as the product of intention from an intelligent source.
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