Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bring Out Your Dead

Is it possible to hear from the Dead? That is question asked at the top of a three quarter page ad taken out by the Forever Family Foundation in the October 15, 2008 edition of the Shopper's Guide.

The advertisement is for a conference sponsored by the Forever Family Foundation that is being held in nearby Woodbury on November 8, 2008. The conference purports to be an "extraordinary opportunity to learn about and experience a world beyond this physical experience."

And what exactly does the Forever Family Foundation do? According to the organization's mission statement, its purpose is:
  • To establish the existence of the continuity of the family, even though a member has left the physical world
  • To stimulate thought among the curious, those questioning their relationship to the universe, and people who are looking for explanations of certain phenomena
  • To financially support the continued research into survival of consciousness and Afterlife Science
  • To provide a forum where individuals and families who have suffered the loss of a loved one can turn for support, information, and hope through state-of-the-art information and services provided by ongoing research into the survival of consciousness and Afterlife Science

And what is "Afterlife Science"? It is defined as "the study of phenomena associated with survival of consciousness after death; including near death experiences, after death communications, life after life (death), and reincarnation."

First up on the roster of speakers is Dr. Claude Swanson, a physicist and author of the book The Synchronized Universe. Below are some excerpts from the Introduction:

A closer examination of the world’s religions reveals that, beneath the conflict and cacophony of dogma, there are certain universal truths. It is these universal truths which make religion powerful and satisfying to people. They may have different names for these truths, but in each religion, there is prayer and meditation, and these are powerful and healing. In each religion, an afterlife of some form exists, and a soul which survives the death of the body is an article of belief. In every religion there is a belief in superior beings, invisible, but very wise, to whom one can communicate.

There is no place in modern science for a view such as this. Modern science does not allow for the possibility of the soul, or invisible beings, or have any laws of force which can account for the power of prayer. But what if modern science still has a few things to learn? What if present-day physics is leaving out a few important truths about the universe, as well?

Even more dramatic conflicts are seen in the areas of consciousness studies and paranormal effects. "Paranormal" is often viewed as a pejorative term, but it usefully categorizes a broad class of phenomena which defy the present scientific paradigm, and for which there is good scientific evidence.

One of these is "remote viewing". This is a process by which a person goes into a light trance and can describe distant objects or events. It has been demonstrated to be successful in a two-decade program conducted by the U.S. military. Despite public disclaimers that it did not work, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, as we will see in Chapter 1. How it works is a mystery which defies our present understanding of space and time, and of physical laws.

Part of the power of remote viewing is its ability to examine targets which are truly "remote" in space and time. One of the great anomalies of this new science is that time and distance do not seem to matter. The target can be ten feet away or ten thousand miles away. And even more surprising, a target event in the past or in the future can be examined just as easily and accurately as one in the present. The consciousness of the viewer seems able to "go" there with equal ease.

One of my first reactions to Dr. Swanson's claims that the U.S. military has had success in a two decade program with remote viewing was to ask rhetorically "Why haven't they found Osama bin Laden yet?" A surefire way to set off my personal bullshit detector is when someone says that the U.S. government or the U.S. military has these special powers or technologies (e.g., acquired from crashed alien spacecraft) that somehow never seem to translate into any beneficial real world applications.

Next up are Tom and Lisa Butler of The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena. From their website:

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) concerns unexpected voices found in recording media. It is a form of after death communication. ITC is a newer term that includes all of the ways these unexpected voices and images are collected through technology, including EVP. Of the many hypotheses designed to explain these phenomena, the Survival Hypothesis has been found to be most effective in answering the evidence.

The Survival Hypothesis holds that we are nonphysical entities who are able to exist in the physical aspect of reality because of our physical body, but that when our physical body dies, we as Self, change our point of view to nonphysical reality. In effect, we exist before and after our current lifetime. The working hypothesis supported by AA-EVP is that these messages are, indeed, nonphysical in origin and that the Survival Hypothesis is essentially correct. It is the goal of AA-EVP and its membership to find ways to improve the reception of these messages and to better understand their origin.

I must confess I have not really read much about EVP, though I understand that the Michael Keaton film "White Noise" is based on this alleged phenomenon. In fact, the ad for the conference mentions that Tom and Lisa Butler served as consultants for the film. Regarding the above-mentioned "Survival Hypothesis," I would have to ask that if we are in fact nonphysical entities, then why do we have physical bodies at all? Since human beings result from a male sperm cell joining with a female egg, from whence does this nonphysicality arise? Is it a product of the union of the sperm cell and the egg? Or, are there nonphysical beings out there waiting to swoop in and take residence whenever a newly formed zygote is created? And are people who are assholes in their physical bodies still assholes in the afterlife?***

Rounding out the morning portion of the conference is a "Research Medium" named Janet Mayer. On her website, she addresses the question how mediums can speak with the dead:

The truth is that each medium has their own unique way of receiving information. Although often they may be similar or seem the same you have to keep in mind each person is unique and so each reading will follow in its own personal pattern. As for me, I am blessed with a visual ability as my strongest connection, which is called Clairvoyance. It is like watching a silent movie or seeing lightning flash in the sky that leaves an imprint in my mind of a loved one's message. I also hear words that sound androgynous every once in a while, which is referred to as clairaudience. And lastly, sometimes I feel pressure that comes into my body or I just feel spirit around me, this is known as Clairsentience.

According to the ad for the conference, Ms. Mayer "will deliver a channeled message from the Yanomami." The Yanomami, for those who may not know, are a tribe that lives in the rainforests of South America. The tribe numbers approximately 32,000 people.

So, will Ms. Mayer be channeling a message from the entire tribe collectively, or one particular individual from the tribe? I mean, it's not like there is going to be a live webcam set up in a Yanomami village so the audience can see which member or members of the tribe she is supposedly channeling. Otherwise, it's not really much more credible than if I were to claim that I was receiving messages from an extraterrestrial living on a planet orbiting a star in the constellation of Orion.

After the morning's enlightening discussions there follows a "Gourmet Luncheon" wherein you can "call upon your deceased loved ones to join you for an afternoon of Spirit Communication conducted by nine Certified Mediums." (Italics mine)

If I had $200 to burn (the cost of the full day package for non-members of the Forever Family Foundation) and enough vacation days left for the remainder of the year (I'm saving them for the week of New Years, because my kids schools will be closed) I might actually consider attending this conference and posing my aforementioned questions to the speakers. Heck, maybe I could have even written an article for Skeptical Inquirer magazine about it. But alas, I will have to pass on this one. However, I would be interested to hear from any of you who might have challenged some of these people and what their responses were.

*** I would like to point out that these questions would be equally applicable to the claims of Christians, Muslims and members of other religions about the concept of the soul.

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