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The Tom Tom Founders Festival is a week-long conference and cultural event organized every year at Charlottesville, VA, “celebrating innovation in entrepeneurship and civil life.” This year they asked Monty Python’s John Cleese to moderate a panel of experts from University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DoPS), to discuss and answer questions revolving the oldest mystery of all: Is there a life after death?

It’s a fantastic choice of panel members to give some real insights into the topic, as the Division of Perceptual Studies is renowned for its open-minded, level-headed investigation of the question of the ‘survival of consciousness’ beyond death. As such, each of the five panel members are among the most important researchers in parapsychology and life-after-death studies to date.

As just one example, when the Daily Grail‘s own Greg Taylor was researching his book Stop Worrying, There Probably is an Afterlife, the person he said he absolutely had to interview for the section about near-death experiences was Dr. Bruce Greyson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at DoPS, as he has been perhaps the most important and influential figure in near-death experience (NDE) research for many decades now (the ‘Greyson Scale’ used for measuring the depth of an NDE is named after him).

And if you’re wondering why John Cleese was the panel moderator, it’s because he has a deep personal interest in the nature of consciousness, and whether it is more than just an ‘accidental’ by-product of physical brain function. Over the past couple of decades Cleese has attended numerous events hosted by, or involving scientists from a number of organizations at the cutting edge of research into the stranger side of consciousness, including the Esalen Institute, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) founded by Apollo astonaut Edgar Mitchell), and DoPS.

Here’s the video – below it you’ll find information about the speakers and the topics they covered:

After a short three minute introduction from John Cleese each researcher summarizes their research, in the following order:

3:50 – Bruce Greyson, M.D. (Chester F. Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences, UVA): Bruce talked about his 40+ year study of NDEs, telling anecdotes to illustrate phenomena for which there is still no good physical explanations –e.g. enhanced mental functioning at the time when the brain is critically impaired, ‘seeing’ things accurately while their consciousness is perceived as ‘detached’ from their physical body (OBE), observing deceased family members or friends they didn’t know they were deceased at the time, or encountering deceased people they didn’t know prior to the experience.

16:15 – Jim B. Tucker, M.D. (Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies, Bonner-Lowry Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, UVA): Jim has continued the late Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research on children who remember their past lives, using a very solid scientific approach to make the case in favor of Reincarnation; although his personal conclusion on the phenomenon is ‘naturalistic’, instead of a religious one which may invoke notions about Karma –why is it, he asks, that victims of violent deaths are the ones who seem more prone to ‘come back’ showing birth marks alluding to the way they died? This seems to have more to do a sense of ‘unfinished business’ than a penalty for ‘past sins.’

28:45 – Emily Williams Kelly, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor of Research, Division of Perceptual Studies, Dept. of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Studies, UVA): Emily’s line of expertise has to do with ‘deathbed visions’ and how dying patients seemingly interact with individuals and entities not present in the room, a phenomenon so common hospice workers have learned to equate it as a sign of imminent death –much more interesting, however, is when the caretakers share the visions. She also talked about ‘crisis cases’ or how people are able to learn a loved one has passed away (regardless of the distance separating them) and also about cases of ‘terminal lucidity’ in which patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia suddenly recover their mental faculties shortly after they die –almost as if the mind suddenly breaks free just when the brain is shutting down.

38:00 – At this point John Cleese initiates a break from the on-stage speakers, and opens it up to some audience questions for around 25 minutes.

1:02:30 – Kim Penberthy, Ph. D. (ABPP, Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, UVA): Kim is a clinical psychologist and her work with mindfulness-based therapies forced her to take a look at the diverse anomalous phenomena which are oftenly reported by people who practice meditation, from ‘clairaudience’ episodes (hearing voices) to spectacular abilities concordant with the ‘Sidhis’ of the Hindu religion (e.g. psychokinesis, precognition, etc). Studying what seems to be a dormant aspect of the human condition might help us tap into those levels of consciousness in a deliberate way –effectively turning us all into ‘supermen.’

1:10:00 – Edward Kelly, Ph. D. (Professor of Research, Division of Perceptual Studies, Dept. of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, UVA): Ed talked about his of work at the famous Rhine Institute during the early years of his career. To him the whole point of PSI phenomena is that they challenge wildly-held views of what it is possible, and that eventually Science will have to expand in order to accomodate them. He also mentioned 2 books published by him and his colleagues: Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism, whose combined goal was to present evidence of phenomena which are hard or impossible to explain through a reductionist, materialist model of Science, and to explore new theoretical models which may help us to move beyond the limitations of said reductionist doctrine.

For almost two hours the panelists regaled their audience with fascinating anecdotes and tried to answer questions as best they could –no small feat when it comes to this type of subject– but perhaps the most salient comments came from Cleese, who not only quoted a chapter in Dean Radin’s book Real Magic –regarding the opinion of the president of the American Statistical Association (ASA) on how the amount of statistical evidence in favor of PSI is so overwhelming, “it would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane”– but also reminded the audience how it would be foolish to expect these phenomena to be easily understood. If quantum physics is totally incomprehensible –even to the geniuses who have devoted their lives studying it– the British comedian remarked, what makes us think life after death should be any simpler?

A great observation made by an astute and funny gentleman. Here’s hoping that when my time comes to pass through that fabled tunnel of light, on the other side I shall be met by a tall being of light with a Norwegian blue parrot on his shoulder, greeting me while performing a funny walk.