Seers. Mediums. Clairvoyants. Psychics. Telepathy. Prophesies. Paranormality. Hypnosis. Ghosts. I love it all—the hope that deceased loved ones are indeed still with us, in a way, bearing comforting messages.
The mystery of things we can’t prove or disprove—the excitement and freakishness when a psychic’s prediction comes true, no matter how vague. However, perhaps what I love most is how it all makes GREAT television. A typical John Edward conversation with a studio audience usually goes a little something like this:
Edward: Okay, I’m getting a feeling over here, in this section. (waves hands broadly) I see the letter J. (pause) and a car. Does this mean anything to anyone?
(Man tentatively stands up) It might be me?
Edward: Yes, I’m getting a strong feeling…Jessica?
Man: My niece Jessica died in a car accident last year. (audience’s sharp intake of breath)
Edward: She wants you to know she’s okay. There’s something about your wife and a locket?
(Man tears up and sits back down, too overwhelmed to answer)
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It’s compelling and irresistible. Granted, I’m already a sucker for this stuff (a significant portion of my college memories from sophomore year involve a Ouija board), but I’m also a sucker for neuroscience. But is there any scientific evidence behind mediums and psychics, or are they just another type of illusionist? In 1882, Britain founded an organization called the Society for Psychical Research.
Its goal is to “promote and support” research into paranormal claims in a “scientific and unbiased way.” Famous members included evolution theorist Alfred Russel Wallace, psychiatrist Carl Jung, poet W.B. Yeats, and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. Since 1884, the society’s journal has published scientific research surrounding events that “appear to be inexplicable.”
The Society For Psychical Research Has Since Grown Worldwide
At the 1962 South African SPR meeting, G.K. Nelson presented perhaps the most extensive study regarding the validity of mediums (communicating between the dead and other living humans). The group examined twelve participants—two men and ten women. Furthermore, it consisted of eleven mediums and one automatic writer.
An automatic writer is a person who writes via spiritual input without conscious awareness of what they’re writing. The participants were subjected to photic stimulation (a fancy phrase for “flashing lights”) while being examined by electroencephalography (EEG). Essentially, EEG records electrical activity in the brain. During the examination, experts paste electrodes onto the scalp, then connect the electrodes to an amplifier.
During an action potential, ions (most notably sodium and potassium) rush into and out of the neural cell (neuron), causing voltage fluctuations—these changes are what the EEG picks up. As a result, eleven of the 12 subjects showed signs of “temporal lobe instability”—electrical activity in the temporal lobe was different between the brain’s two halves.
Professionals described the EEG spikes in four subjects as “the kind usually associated with epilepsy.” This discovery was significant because none of the volunteers had a history of seizures. Nelson concluded that, if anything, mediums “operate” by a kind of temporal lobe dysfunction not seen in regular individuals. However, this study did not have a control sample of regular non-mediums to compare.
The flashing light stimuli also raise a red flag—is it so surprising to see epileptic-like electrical activity? A study published by Lynn and Rhue in 1986 found that particular personality types are more likely to exhibit “psychic” tendencies. Individuals were grouped by their openness to hypnotic and psychic abilities, and they based these abilities on their scores on standard imagination and suggestibility scales.
The Most Talented Mediums Were The Most Open-Minded
Those considered “excellent hypnotics” had strong roots in fantasy and imagination, described so real as to be hallucinatory. In addition, these individuals claim vivid sensory experiences, strong memories of their early life, and other telepathic and precognitive experiences.
In essence, very little scientific research surrounds the validity of people who claim connection and understanding of the paranormal. Is there inadequate funding for this type of research? Lack of interest? Too freaky? Unfortunately, we may never know what’s going on in the brains of people speaking to the dead, predicting world disasters, or seeing ghosts. Article Courtesy Of Penn Live
Read about how Psychics Helped Psychiatrists Understand Schizophrenia here.