The Departed

Julie Beischel, PhD, is the co-founder and Director of Research at The Windbridge Institute. She graduated magna cum laude and with honors with a BS in Environmental Sciences from Northern Arizona University and received her PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Arizona. Can we reach the dead?She served as Co-Director of the VERITAS Research Program with Dr. Gary Schwartz, investigating the alleged ability of mediums to 'talk to the dead', before moving the research of prospective research mediums to Windbridge in January of 2008. Her research interests center on the survival of consciousness hypothesis and include proof-focused studies on mediums' communication with discarnates and process-focused studies on mediums' experiences of that communication.

Q: Thanks for talking to The Daily Grail, Julie. To start off, can I ask how you ended up in this 'heretical' area of research that is certainly not known for its career-building potential? And can you tell us a little bit more about the Windbridge Institute and why it was formed?

Julie: Thanks for having me. Yes, I did commit a pretty severe case of professional suicide when I embraced this field of study. My PhD is in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology so my future was bright! But when I was in graduate school, my mom passed away and I started to wonder what science had to say about life after death. Through some strange coincidences, after I graduated I was able to take a position as the William James Post-doctoral Fellow in Mediumship and Survival Research and serve as Co-Director of the VERITAS Research Program with Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona. When the funding for that position ended and the VERITAS Program closed, my husband Mark Boccuzzi and I formed the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential in January 2008 in order to continue performing this important research into the survival of consciousness. At Windbridge, the primary methods for carrying out this research include: (1) investigating technologies that may be useful in enhancing interaction and communication with deceased individuals, (2) addressing reports of haunting and apparition phenomena using both field and laboratory methods, and (3) studying mediums (individuals who experience regular communication with the deceased) and the information they report as well as their experiences during the communication. Windbridge also screens, trains, and certifies the mediums who participate in research using a multi-step process that takes each medium several months to complete.

Q: You've come to the forefront of research into mediums rather suddenly, without the background that others in the field have. In many ways, I'd imagine this is a good thing - there's a lot of baggage and expectation from certain quarters, that comes with a prominent role in 'psychical research'. Have you encountered any resistance or criticism from those who have been involved a lot longer in investigating mediums?

Julie: Overall, the parapsychology community has been very receptive and supportive of our work. For example, when we formed Windbridge, a number of the "big names" in survival research and general psi research agreed to serve on our Scientific Advisory Board including Stephen Braude, Etzel CardeƱa, Bruce Greyson, Erlendur Haraldsson, Emily Kelly, Dean Radin, and Jim Tucker. These and the other board members continue to serve as an asset at Windbridge providing helpful comments about our research protocols.

Q: Michael Grosso has remarked on the disparity between the budgets for the 'technology of death' - that is, military spending - versus the funds available to research the question of life beyond death. Do you agree that 'afterlife research' should be better funded than it is, or would you say the current levels of financial support are probably commensurate with the speculative nature of the field, and the results achieved thus far?

Julie: I think survival research definitely requires more funding and deserves to be taken seriously. If you consider the numerous modes of studying the afterlife — near death experiences, children who remember past lives, mediumship, etc. — and the body of data collected, it is difficult to claim that nothing is going on. At Windbridge, we focus on applied research, that is, research the results of which will positively impact society. For example, we have begun a systematic investigation of whether mediumship readings are helpful in grief recovery and have forged relationships with various hospice and grief organizations in order to work together on this question. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how or why it works as long as it makes people feel better. The same can be said about a number of pharmaceutical therapies on the market today and that particular "keeping people sick" field is also highly funded compared to survival research.

Q: You have already published one quite positive study on mediumship, titled "Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol" (PDF file), with Dr Gary Schwartz. In that study, you found that "under stringent triple-blind conditions, utilizing a novel summary/global rating scale used by blind raters, evidence for anomalous information reception can be obtained." Indeed, with blind conditions and a binary choice, the results were that "sitters chose the readings intended for them 81% of the time." Since that study, have you found (or been told of) any possible weaknesses which may have contributed to such significant results?

Julie: Initially, some criticism was raised, but once people understood the complexity of the protocol in detail, it became apparent that those issues had been addressed during protocol design. That study successfully controlled for fraud, deception, information so general it could apply to anyone, experimenter cueing, rater bias, and "cold reading." That is, it provided evidence for anomalous information reception (or AIR), the phenomenon in which mediums report accurate and specific information about the deceased without any feedback during the reading, without using deception or fraud, and without any prior knowledge about the deceased or the sitter (the living person wishing to receive messages). The biggest limitation of the study was that it did not rule out psi (telepathy, clairvoyance, and/or precognition) as an explanation for the positive results. The data cannot differentiate between the survival of consciousness hypothesis and theories stating that mediums are using some form of psi ability to gather their information about the deceased. These include the Super-psi and Psychic Reservoir hypotheses.

In order to further test the existence of AIR and to replicate and extend that triple-blind study, we are now collecting data on a follow-up quintuple-blind study funded by the Bial Foundation. We have tightened controls with that new procedure and addressed criticisms regarding, for example, cases in which the first name of a deceased person given to the medium during a reading provides overt evidence about his/her ethnicity, culture, or religion (though that did not occur during the triple-blind study). For those interested, I provide a detailed description of the methods we currently use and the criticisms they address in a recent Journal of Parapsychology paper titled "Contemporary methods used in laboratory-based mediumship research" (available at http://www.windbridge.org/publications.htm). That paper also addresses historically proposed "ideal" studies for determining, once and for all, if AIR is real.

Q: A common debate over the past century in the psychical research community has been whether 'genuine' positive results are due to the 'spirit' hypothesis, or the 'super-psi' explanation. You do mention this briefly in the paper above, offering mainly opinion on which way the data leans. Though you seem to be concentrating at the moment simply on finding evidence for 'Anomalous Information Reception' (AIR), I wondered whether you think there is a scientific protocol that could move the debate beyond this impasse?

Julie: Actually, because the proof-focused research described above cannot differentiate between survival and psi, we are also engaged in process-focused research in which we are examining the mediums' experiences during mediumship readings compared to psychic readings for the living in which telepathy, clairvoyance, and/or precognition are used. Our Windbridge Certified Research Mediums (WCRMs) perform psychic readings for clients as well as mediumship readings and, when asked, report being able to clearly distinguish between the two experiences. My favorite quote about this from a WCRM is "a psychic reading is like reading a book... a mediumship reading is like seeing a play." Dr. Adam Rock and I have published both qualitative and quantitative studies in this area and are currently attempting to find support for the next step: a blinded, quantitative study of mediums' experiences during the two types of readings.

Q: When it comes to research on the talents of mediums, I've always wondered whether pure statistics doesn't offer a true test of a reading, especially when it comes to 'dazzle shots'. That is, is there a scientifically valid way of evaluating sensationally specific information? I'm thinking here of a situation where a medium might get 9 out of 10 items wrong (or just be vague), but then 'hit a home run' with a highly specific piece of information that identifies the discarnate perfectly.

Julie: I think the difference is one between statistical evidence and evidence that is meaningful to a sitter. A p value won't convince a sitter of communication and a dazzle shot doesn't provide objective evidence that can be statistically analyzed. At this time, we are relying on statistical evidence because the reality of AIR has not been unequivocally established. But in addition to item-by-item and whole reading scores, we also have raters choose which blinded readings they believe were intended for them so if one reading contains true dazzle shots but not a lot of other correct information, that may be reflected in the raters' choices. We also have a scoring system for the emotional significance of an item regardless of its accuracy and that captures dazzle shots, but we are only currently interested in mediums' accuracy scores given by sitters for readings intended for them compared to the scores those sitters gave other people's readings.

Q: For those who would like to learn more about modern research into mediums, what resources and papers would you recommend?

Julie: People can find our latest publications at www.windbridge.org and can join our email list at http://www.windbridge.org/news.htm#list to be notified when new papers are added. I recommend the books Immortal Remains by Stephen Braude (Amazon US and UK), Is There an Afterlife? by David Fontana (Amazon US and UK), and Irreducible Mind by Ed and Emily Kelly, et al (Amazon US and UK). We also have recommended book lists in a number of areas at http://astore.amazon.com/windbridge-20 And though this isn't about modern studies, for a really enjoyable discussion of historical mediumship research, I highly recommend Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum (Amazon US and UK).

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David's picture
Member since:
30 April 2004
Last activity:
41 weeks 6 days

Great interview with some very interesting hard data - thanks!

Blanche's picture
Member since:
11 July 2009
Last activity:
5 years 3 weeks

Not one medium has ever proven to really do what they claim.
Their exercise exists always by asking questions of those who are not able to move on after losing a loved one by dead.

We are conditioned very wrongly by religion by not accepting the fact that birth and death are interwoven and part of life.

All these mediums are just like the religious god-believers who have no evidence of anything they claim. It is a sign of an inferior mind being exploited by a mind who sees an opportunity to make a living.

As the saying goes: "One's death is one's bread.."
That sounds more rational analysis.

Just as the religious fraud claims to be send by god, to know god and claims to be infallible, the same fraudulent energy seems to be the root for these mediums.

It is very wrong to claim to know what you do not know and thereby exploiting the feeble of mind for the sake of your own survival.

Observe how these mediums operate- they know JackShit - but through specific questions asked, and having a keen inside of the suffering of human nature at the dead of a lost one. they know how to swim between the semantics claiming to know what they do not know.

Just as religion invented theology and theologians - and vice versa, who are nothing more than a pompous arrogant ignorant minds, claiming to know what they do not, even inventing a PH.D degree in this delusions grandeur of knowing god.

Heaven forbid the human mind is going to invent another PH.D degree in a field of which it can prove exactly
JackShit.

Greg's picture
Member since:
30 April 2004
Last activity:
52 min 15 sec
Blanche wrote:

It is very wrong to claim to know what you do not know

Interesting statement given the rest of your post.
;)

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Anonymous's picture
Blanche wrote:

Not one medium has ever proven to really do what they claim.
Their exercise exists always by asking questions of those who are not able to move on after losing a loved one by dead.

We are conditioned very wrongly by religion by not accepting the fact that birth and death are interwoven and part of life.

All these mediums are just like the religious god-believers who have no evidence of anything they claim. It is a sign of an inferior mind being exploited by a mind who sees an opportunity to make a living.

As the saying goes: "One's death is one's bread.."
That sounds more rational analysis.

Just as the religious fraud claims to be send by god, to know god and claims to be infallible, the same fraudulent energy seems to be the root for these mediums.

It is very wrong to claim to know what you do not know and thereby exploiting the feeble of mind for the sake of your own survival.

Observe how these mediums operate- they know JackShit - but through specific questions asked, and having a keen inside of the suffering of human nature at the dead of a lost one. they know how to swim between the semantics claiming to know what they do not know.

Just as religion invented theology and theologians - and vice versa, who are nothing more than a pompous arrogant ignorant minds, claiming to know what they do not, even inventing a PH.D degree in this delusions grandeur of knowing god.

Heaven forbid the human mind is going to invent another PH.D degree in a field of which it can prove exactly
JackShit.

I could bet 1000 dollars that you haven't read a single word of this interview, or you would at least know that these kind of experiments are done without the medium hearing a single word by the sitters..and obviously you know nothing at all about serious medium investigations in the past..but thank you very much for your dogmatic opinion!

p.s.= the methods used by mediums that you suggest are techinically called "cold reading" or "phishing", and if you read the article are strictly excluded by the protocol itself..

daydreamer's picture
Member since:
21 February 2009
Last activity:
1 year 36 weeks
Quote:

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how or why it works as long as it makes people feel better.

I disagree with this. Placebo works, just like if a parent is ill, but they tell you they arn't. I think there are just personality differences here, some people would want to know the truth and some wouldn't. I would want to know. I don't see any mystery in why it works though.

Quote:

and that particular "keeping people sick" field is also highly funded compared to survival research

I am interesting in what someone with a medical background thinks about the "keeping people sick" field. Presumably any field that does not actually cure (even though it may make claims of such) and instead just assists in management of disability or disease can be labelled a "keeping people sick" field.

Are you aware of any attempts to repeat trials by those who are skeptical of the trails claims? If I wanted to repeat the trial I would presumably have difficulty if I could not standardise the quality of mediumship involved. How would you ensure this standardisation so that the trial can be repeated without concern about noise in the data? E.g if i repeated the experiment 3 times with different sets of mediums and ended up with wildly different results, or even the same mediums?

How do you fare on how quantum information processing in different universes, such as is indicated by quantum computers and superposition might account for some of the quirkiness we experience in this world. Perhaps 'feeling' superposition of multidimensional data processing accounts for these types of phenomena.

Quote:

Though you seem to be concentrating at the moment simply on finding evidence for 'Anomalous Information Reception' (AIR), I wondered whether you think there is a scientific protocol that could move the debate beyond this impasse?

Again comparing mediums and psychics to try and gain a baseline of comparative experience to contrast and try and gauge relative differences in the hope of identifying involvement of survival or psi related phenomena will depend on some sort of standardisation of each group, preferably to some sort of confidence that each groups fairly represents the abilities. I am sure bigger numbers will help, but still, how will you make sure that the medium group is not half full of psychics or vice versa without an understanding of how these things work? If you end up with unknown amounts of crossed abilities in each of the groups you are hoping are separate then the data at the end will not show what it appears to - as repeat trials would presumably show. (especially if mediumship and psychic-ness is the same ability focused in different ways or extending in different ways so that separating into two groups isn't the same as separating by different ability, but by different use of the same ability - which I think would be more difficult to make sure that the same ability is not poking it's head up in the controls and data of the various groups)

Quote:

I've always wondered whether pure statistics doesn't offer a true test of a reading, especially when it comes to 'dazzle shots'. That is, is there a scientifically valid way of evaluating sensationally specific information?

This makes me wonder what the 'dazzle shot' frequency is for non-mediums. Lets say I gave 50 readings, would I get a 'dazzle shot'? Also since we are trying to do this scientifically how would we show that if I did get a 'dazzle shot' it would not be because I had a moment of mediumship. To assess a medium we would have to control it against the control group. Choosing people at random from the public might well include people with varying degree's of medium and psychic ability. Of course this would result in the medium looking less gifted - I think - perhaps not a problem for what we are trying to show.

I think it would be good if we could select 100 non mediums and 100 mediums before any practice or training then put them all through the same thing and graph their improvement (as you say, with such things a 'dazzle shots'). Presumably the mediums would always outclass the non-mediums as groups, but would we expect improvements in both groups? Might the luckiest of the non-mediums out perform the worst of the mediums? Would the gradients of each graph be different, with mediums getting better more quickly while the non-mediums just learnt magicians parlour tricks. At the end of the process would a random member of the public be able to tell the difference between the worst performing non-medium and worst medium or the best performing non-medium and best medium, or the worst medium vs the best non-medium?

Just some thoughts...

PsychicMedium's picture
Member since:
21 August 2010
Last activity:
3 years 23 weeks

Nice Article. There are always non-believers and that's ok. I decided not to waste time on converting people. Funny thing is they can end up getting converted after hearing what their friend was told by a psychic medium. I am thankful that a few places like Windbridge are open minded enough to research this. It took a long time to convince people the earth wasn't flat. Ok maybe that is still an ongoing struggle too. :)
Psychic Medium Cassandra Blizzard

RealityTest's picture
Member since:
16 August 2006
Last activity:
3 weeks 2 days

People may choose to expend energy arguing about this from either of the usual sides. They may choose to research the question, attempting to apply methods that really aren't applicable.

Each choice is as valid as any other.

I have much more respect for those who choose to explore this area -- and the related area of trance -- directly and with sufficient persistence to obtain at least a glimmering of understanding, if not a minimum facility.

It's not unusual for those open to such possibilities to assume that gifts or talents are required.

While such gifts do exist, as surely as some possess poetic, musical, or artistic gifts, and while the usual egoic condition instilled into most of us from an early age tends to block such pursuits, it's amazing what even the most ego-bound personality can discover, should they persist in what may at first seem like exertion but may later be perceived more as a kind of allowing.

Bill I.

Redoubt's picture
Member since:
14 July 2008
Last activity:
2 years 20 weeks

"It took a long time to convince people the earth wasn't flat. Ok maybe that is still an ongoing struggle too. :)"

I have often wondered why it is that we can pray directly to God (protestant reforms, etc.) but need a medium to connect to the spiritual network. While I do believe in life after physical death and the loitering of those dearly departed after said ending, I don't think there is any need for... excuse the gender specificity, a middle man.

Of course, I do remember Miss Cleo and the Psychic Friends who used to grace the ad space on the television during the 80s and 90s. I loved the faux Jamaican accent and the ethnically-enhanced hair-doos. I always thought that she and Elvira (Mistress of the Dark) would have made great ceramic book ends for my Poe collection.

Yes, the struggle goes on... and I hope that someday soon, someone will finally sail off the edge of the Earth and prove once and for all that we live on a giant Ritz cracker.

Cheers :)

"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."