For Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow, “those are the two Holy Grails, those are the biggest questions there are.”
Bigelow, who built a fortune as founder of the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, has long been known for his interest in – and funding of – research into UFOs and alien contact, most notably through his 1990s research group NIDS (the National Institute for Discovery Science) and later Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS).
But he has also had an almost lifelong interest in the question of whether consciousness survives the physical death of our body. That interest has now manifested in the funding of another research organisation, the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies. And he is seeking to raise the profile of the topic with the general public by funding an essay competition on the “Best Evidence for Afterlife”.
We tried to think about what we could do as a new organisation to create some energy. So the idea was let’s create a contest: we have a first, second and third prize: $500,000 first prize, $300,000 second prize, and $150,000 third prize. And the contest is for essays to be produced, to choose among a variety of essays – and we hope we have more than three to choose from – that express in the best way, the best evidence for establishing that the ‘other side’ is real, it exists. What is your evidence for that – and by the way, you’re not allowed to quote scripture because anyone can do that, and we don’t look at that as the appropriate kind of proof that we’re looking for. We’re looking for something more tangible, more concrete.
So what’s the legal construct here, what’s the basis of this so-called ‘proof’? So we’re saying it’s acceptable to use the standard that the American court system, and the court system in the major western world uses: ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Beyond reasonable doubt doesn’t say you have to be 100% sure that you committed this crime in order to be sentenced. We have to be beyond reasonable doubt that you did. And witnesses matter – who the witnesses are matters, and how many witnesses there are matters. So that’s part of the criteria for what you’re trotting out in your 25,000-word or less essay.
The rules for the competition are available on the BICS website. In short, possible entrants must first apply to be a part of the competition before February 28 – BICS are restricting entries to people with experience in the field or the other necessary skills needed “to make the papers as high quality as possible”. Entrants who are accepted into the competition then have until August 1 to submit their essay.
“We’re trying to do something we think and hope is good, for everybody’s work,” Robert Bigelow tells Knapp. “So many people have spent their lives in this field and haven’t received much recognition…it’s not a field that attracts masses of people as researchers. So we’re trying to stir the pot and create some excitement.”
Bigelow says his interest in the topic was originally inspired, and later reinforced, by two personal tragedies. “The first impact for that was when I was 18, and my father was killed in a private plane crash. It took me 10 years to stop having dreams about him…that’s a long time. They weren’t paranormal dreams, it was just an event where someone very close passed over. So the seed is planted, the curiosity – ‘is there survival’?”
Then, “in about 1980 my wife and I we lost our son, and I had been fortunately already been investigating this topic, and it helped me to cope with his death. It was very comforting to me. We had visitations with maybe three mediums. It helped us a great deal with that tragedy.”
Bigelow feels that if having knowledge about evidence for an afterlife can help people deal with tragedy, like it did for him, then more people should know about it:
If people can be helped in a grief situation by information, and the information isn’t something that hurts you, it’s a good gift to have that information come to you, and maybe give you a belief [where] parochial religion wasn’t enough… In my particular situation, that’s the case, so I think well, maybe other people are in the same boat, and the more they can grab on to, the better off they’ll feel.
Will Bigelow’s research group use the ideas in the essays to pursue research further themselves? “We like to get our feet wet, we like to get our fingers into things, and just see what possibilities there might be as to what we can do to help,” Bigelow notes to George Knapp. “BICS looks at itself as being a research organisation.”
And that research might not be restricted to the evidence for an afterlife. If that question is proven, Bigelow says, we need to “explore what is the other side all about.”
“Because it’s a big deal – if we’re going to be spending a minority amount of our spiritual existence here, incarnated here, and 99.9% of our spiritual existence isn’t here…to me it’s pretty damn important as to what is it that you should be preparing for…does it matter how you conduct your life here?”