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Robert Bigelow’s Search for Evidence of an Afterlife: The Next Phase

At the start of 2021, wealthy Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow announced a million-dollar essay competition, asking for summaries of the best scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness beyond death. For the last few decades Bigelow has been an active funder of research into ‘fringe science’ topics running the gamut from UFOs to the paranormal, and with this essay competition (along with the creation of the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies, or BICS) he stated he was trying to bring some focus (and financial resources) to a fundamentally important topic that had long been ignored by mainstream science.

“We’re trying to do something we think and hope is good for everybody’s work,” he told journalist George 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.”

(Full disclosure: I entered the Bigelow Afterlife Essay competition and was awarded an ‘Honourable mention’.)

Now, the second phase of Bigelow’s support for the search for evidence of some sort of an ‘afterlife’ has begun, with the announcement of the BICS Challenge Grants Program for 2023 by Robert Bigelow and Colm Kelleher at this year’s International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) conference, with another $1million on offer:

While the initial competition was a vehicle for researchers and writers to summarise the best evidence for an afterlife so far, the BICS Challenge Grant Program is more about providing support for scientists and researchers to design experiments and uncover new, convincing evidence. The $1million in grants is currently designed to be split up in the following way, to allow multiple groups to investigate different areas:

  • 12 grants of up to $50,000 ($600,000)
  • 4 grants of up to $100,000 ($400,000)         

The grants will only be given to research that is on ‘the survival of human consciousness beyond permanent bodily death’, and exclusively focused on “contact or communication with the ‘Other Side’.” BICS also prefers that the research should “preferably break new ground.”

Preliminary proposals/letters of intent have a deadline of 1st of January 2023, with applicants then being picked from those to submit official proposals by April 1st. Grantees will be announced on 1st of August 2023, with final reports being due at the start of May 2024. The program is open to researchers across the globe.

“If this is successful,” Bigelow noted at the program’s announcement, “then we go on to Phase 3”. He then intimated that funding at that level might possibly be closer to around $5million per year.

It’s interesting that, despite the essay competition showing there are many different areas of research that have offered evidence for survival of consciousness, this next phase is targeting ‘contact’ or ‘communication’ with deceased personalities. That is, things like mediumship, channeling, remote viewing, automatic writing, hypnotic regression and lucid dreaming – rather than some of the very interesting research into things like veridical near-death experiences where people access information about their surroundings that they should not have been able to access (e.g. seeing things occurring at a distance while they were unconscious and near-death).

Listening to the initial presentation, and the questions afterward, I was also left a little confused by Bigelow’s talk of wanting ‘wisdom’ and ‘guidance’ as part of the evidence. For me, anomalous perception of verifiable information from apparently deceased individuals should be key to any type of proof in these experiments, but the intimation seemed to be of wanting things that would be more ambiguous or nebulous (what one person perceives as ‘wisdom’ might be perceived by another as a bland platitude). So it would be good to have more clarity on this element.

Another notable part of the presentation was Bigelow’s response to a question about whether this sort of research requires safeguards. When I heard the question, I assumed it was about ethical safeguards, but Bigelow seemed to answer in terms of weird/scary/dangerous paranormal phenomena happening to people involved in the research (the so-called ‘hitchhiker effect’). He noted that since the formation of BICS in March 2020…

…members of our family and especially members of our staff had a lot of things begin and it hasn’t stopped…so there seems to be some kind of connection to attention and the stimulus from the various phenomena

He then perhaps referred back to the hitchhiker effects said to have occurred as a result of his involvement with Skinwalker Ranch, saying “it also happens in a sister area or another subject, the same kind of thing… so you don’t know exactly how to predict what’s going to be happening, sometimes it’s adverse in a very small minority of instances”.

A later question returned to the topic somewhat, and Bigelow then elaborated in far more depth on the ‘hitchhiker effect’, saying it was a topic that “isn’t often focused on by researchers” into evidence for the afterlife, but…

…if any of you have done a lot of research then you understand there there is a dark side to some of it. Okay i see a head or two nodding…we know that this has to be taken very seriously.

There are philosophies and policies, procedures in your own heart and your own mind that you have to adopt and embrace – love is the most powerful component of all as to the objectivity of the entire end result.

…But there there is a dark side to other features. ‘Earthbound spirits’, according to the research, outnumber vastly all the other levels combined, and they’re an amalgam of different kinds of human kinds of of attitudes, just as bad as anybody walking on the face of the Earth that’s already incarnated.

You don’t want to go down those paths, there’s ways of avoiding them and ways of not giving them power – but you have to respect them you have to respect every spirit, and the process on the other side is to try to help them to try to elevate them, and it’s a matter of function of whether you want to be helped or not as to whether you’re going to make any progress on the other side. That’s what the literature and the research say.

We’ve had to deal with these kinds of things, so we’re not novices entirely in this field, even though we’ve been in a relatively short time. But thank you very much for sharing [your experience] because this is a very important thing. It’s real, it’s not to be laughed at or joked about ,and if you do it’s because you haven’t done any research or you haven’t done enough, you haven’t talked to enough people, you haven’t read enough or you haven’t had anything happen to you or somebody that you know.

…All of our studies and all of our research in the field – that almost never happened happened with some scary things that happened to people that we were connected with, government people…but in our particular experience people didn’t get physically hurt fortunately.

One can certainly see Bigelow’s critics and skeptics latching on to such comments to paint him as being irrational and unscientific – but it does also suggest that his own experiences in the paranormal over the last couple of decades have resulted in a number of strange experiences that have had a significant effect on him.

In any case, it will be interesting to see the researchers who submit proposals for this second phase – hopefully we will see some well-constructed experiments that can stand up to scrutiny if they produce positive evidence.

  1. Odd things happening because you start investigating don’t just happen there. I write novels that touch on this stuff and what I have always called “Quantum Events” start happening all around me, from little things to deeply strange things.

    Just reading Hansen, or Ecology of Souls, can stir things up.

    The act of writing Fiction is a transgressive act. People don’t recognize it as such because they think people just “make things up”. That’s good. Keep thinking that way. It’s safer.

    Story comes from Corbin’s Imaginal Realm, or Stephen King’s “Boys in the basement” or Michael Ende’s Fantasia or the books sitting on the shelves in Dream’s Library(Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman). This is not a metaphor, it is literal. Stories are not “made up” they are harvested by human translators. It requires a human mind to translate Story from the Imaginal Realm to the page.

    “The universe we see playing out in space and time may be just the surface level, where we float like little boats while leviathans stir in the deep.”

    — George Musser

    I have always seen it like in the movie Constantine:

    “When you can see them, they can see you.”

    Notice, I’m being vague for a very good reason. HA!

  2. Looks like a heck of an opportunity for Gary Schwartz’s “Soul Phone” study, which has already produced some early prototypes for communication with the “other side”, but has been starved for funding. And yet, this kind of interest in communicating with the dead has gone on for centuries. You have to wonder if there’s a reason we haven’t been able to answer this question; Maybe we’re not supposed to.

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