Sunday, July 31, 2022

Anomalous information reception: Taylor excerpt #15

Greg Taylor writes: Dr. Julie Beischel – who has been investigating mediums on a full-time basis since 2003, first at the University of Arizona and subsequently at the Windbridge Institute – understands the necessity of accounting for dazzle shots when scientifically evaluating mediumship. As such, in her experimental set-up participants choose which of several readings they think is the one that is most meaningful to them. That way, she says, “if one reading contains true dazzle shots but not a lot of other correct information, that may be reflected in the raters' choices.”

Dr. Beischel’s experience in researching mediumship has informed numerous other aspects of her experimental process. She realized that, in order to optimize the chances of uncovering concrete evidence of the survival of consciousness, she should be testing only the best mediums. “If we wanted to study the phenomenon of high jumping, we would find some good high jumpers,” Dr. Beischel points out. “We wouldn’t invite some people off the street into the lab and tell them, ‘go jump over that bar’. In mediumship research, we would select participants with a track (and field) record of reporting accurate information about the deceased.”

As such, Dr. Beischel and her research team have employed an extensive screening, training, and certification procedure that consists of eight steps, during which prospective mediums are firstly interviewed, and then tested to see if they can achieve a certain level of accuracy with their readings. Those that pass the testing stage are then put through a training schedule and, once they have completed all the necessary steps, they are then inducted as a ‘Windbridge Certified Research Medium’ (WCRM). Contrary to the widely held perception of mediums as money-hungry fraudsters, there is no payment involved for either the certified status, or for the medium’s time in taking part in experiments. They give their time freely for the experiments, and Dr. Beischel makes clear that they are willing, for the purposes of science, “to attempt experimental protocols that go well beyond their comfort zones...they have a genuine and personal interest in our research questions and are willing to volunteer their time to assist in answering them.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Beischel and her team still take extensive measures to protect against the possibility of fraud and unintended assistance, partitioning off every person involved in the experiment from being able to relay information about the sitter, the deceased person they wish to be in contact with (‘discarnate’), and which is the correct reading:

We need to eliminate all the normal explanations for how the information the medium reports could be accurate. To rule out fraud, we have to make sure the medium can’t look up information about the sitter or the deceased person online or in any other way. We also need to account for cold reading... To prevent that from happening, the medium will be what’s called masked or blinded to the sitter. The medium won’t be able to see, hear, smell, etc., the sitter during the reading: but, as stated above, the sitter should be involved somehow in order to optimize the environment, so we’ll just make sure his intention is that his discarnate communicates with the medium.

Now if I as the experimenter know things about the sitter or the discarnate during a reading, I could also cue the medium... So in our design, let’s also blind me to the information about the sitter and the discarnate... That just leaves the sitter. When a person reflects on the accuracy of a mediumship reading that he knows was intended for him, his personality and psychology affect how he rates the statements.

A person who is more laid-back and forgiving may score more of the items as accurate whereas someone more cynical and strict may only score a few as right. That phenomenon is called rater bias... To maintain blinding, the sitter won’t be able to tell which reading is which... So, to account for fraud, cold reading, experimenter cueing, general statements, and rater bias, an experiment in which the setting is similar to a normal mediumship reading but where the medium, the sitter, and the experimenter are all blinded.

The results of these tightly controlled experiments were highly evidential, Dr. Beischel and her fellow researchers concluded, of “the phenomenon of anomalous information reception (AIR), the reporting of accurate and specific information about discarnates without prior knowledge about the discarnates or sitters, in the absence of any sensory feedback, and without using deceptive means.” Or, in more simple terms, as Dr. Beischel puts it: “When I applied the scientific method to the phenomenon of mediumship using optimal environments, maximum controls, and skilled participants, I was able to definitively conclude that certain mediums are able to report accurate and specific information about discarnates (the deceased) without using any normal means to acquire that information.” 

Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Friday, July 29, 2022

Scientific study of mediums: Taylor excerpt #14

Dr. Emily Kelly
Greg Taylor writes: Other modern researchers have dared to take on the yoke of investigating mediumship within a scientific framework. Dr. Emily Kelly of the University of Virginia and former hospice chaplain Dianne Arcangel undertook a study of the information given by mediums to recently bereaved persons, the results of which were published in early 2011 in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. Kelly and Arcangel’s findings also offer evidence for the validity of mediumship.

In one experiment, Kelly and Arcangel employed nine mediums to offer readings for 40 individual sitters – two of the mediums doing six each, while the other seven mediums did four readings each (each sitter had just one reading done). The sittings were done without the actual sitter present (the researchers acted as a ‘proxy’ to sure a ‘blind’ protocol), and audio recordings of the mediums’ statements were later transcribed. Each sitter was then sent six readings – the correct reading, and five ‘decoy’ readings drawn from those given for others in the group – but were then asked to rate each overall reading on how applicable they thought it was to them, and comment on why they chose the highest rated reading. Thirty-eight of the forty participants returned their ratings – and, amazingly, 14 of the 38 readings were correctly chosen, a number significantly above what would be expected by chance. Additionally, seven other readings were ranked second, and altogether 30 of the 38 readings were ranked in the top half of the ratings. What’s more, one medium in particular stood out above the others: all six of this person’s readings were correctly ranked first by each sitter, at quite astronomical odds. Sitters, asked to explain why they chose the correct readings, often cited the specific, personal details that stood out. For example:

...the medium referred to “a lady that is very much, was influential in his [the deceased person’s] formative years. So, whether that is mother or whether that is grandmother... She can strangle a chicken.” The sitter commented that her grandmother (the deceased person’s mother) “killed chickens. It freaked me out the first time I saw her do this. I cried so hard that my parents had to take me home. So the chicken strangling is a big deal...In fact I often referred to my sweet grandmother as the chicken killer.”

Such exact hits on highly personal information by mediums are sometimes called ‘dazzle shots’. To use an example from popular culture, for those that know the movie Ghost, it is when Demi Moore’s character Molly is stopped in her tracks by the mention of one familiar word from Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae: “He says ‘Ditto’.” It might be only one piece of information out of many that is specific enough to get the attention of the sitter, but it is so correct that it stands out above everything – and it is usually something so personal and idiosyncratic that no medium would likely have been able to guess it or uncover it through investigation.

Reports of dazzle shots like the one mentioned above abound in the research literature. Trevor Hamilton, who undertook his own investigation of mediums in the wake of his son Ralph’s death in a car accident, told of one such incident when sitting with a certain medium who for most part was not providing much evidential information. The medium all of a sudden noted that they were being given a mental picture of Trevor “agitated at a table, tapping on it with a penny, in the registry” – a seemingly random and obscure statement that was in fact spookily correct. “I had to sort out the legal matters to do with Ralph’s death,” Trevor notes. “I remember going to the registrar to prove probate and get the death certificate, and sitting outside her office staring at the little table in front of me, tapping aimlessly with a couple of pennies on the tabletop, confronted by the utter meaninglessness of it all.”

Another good example is from the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard. Mary White was a distraught widow who wrote to the researchers of the S.P.R., requesting a sitting, when her husband Gwyther died from stomach cancer aged just 38. During a proxy sitting – where another person sat in on behalf of Mary White, to minimize the possibility of information leakage through cold reading and so on – that was full of evidential hits, the medium referred to a piano: “You know the piano, you tap on his teeth, the one with the big white teeth?” When Mary White read the transcript of this sitting, she was amazed. “Gwyther often called my piano ‘the animal with the big white teeth’,” she noted. In a subsequent sitting where Mary White was an anonymous guest (so that the medium was unaware of her identity), Leonard spelled out Gwyther’s pet name for his wife: ‘Biddy’. The convinced sitter noted that this particular name was very special, as it was only Gwyther that used it. He also mentioned “the house of sweet scents,” which was a specific phrase that he had invented to describe potpourri.

Leonora Piper provided Richard Hodgson with a dazzle shot during his initial sittings, when she provided highly specific personal information about a girl he knew in his home country of Australia – a lost love by the name of Jessie Tyler Dunn (discreetly referred to in Hodgson’s reports under the simple pseudonym of ‘Q’). Dunn had died in Melbourne some 8 years previous – and yet Piper correctly stated that “the second part of her first name is –sie.” Hodgson was then jolted by a description from Leonora Piper’s control personality ‘Phinuit’ that seemed to defy any rational explanation:

She then began to rub the right eye on the under-side, saying, “There’s a spot here. This eye (left) is brown, the other eye has a spot in it of a light colour, in the iris. This spot is straggly, of a bluish cast. It is a birth-mark. It looks as if it had been thrown on.”

‘Q’ had a splash of what I should call grey (rather than blue) in the right eye, occupying the position and having very nearly the shape assigned by Phinuit.

It is difficult to imagine how Leonora Piper could have accessed this stunning ‘hit’ through any normal means. 

Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Society for Psychical Research: Taylor excerpt #13

Greg Taylor writes: One group that conducted detailed, skeptical investigation of mediums – for many decades, starting in the late 19th century – was the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.), who as we have already seen also carried out research into ‘crisis apparitions’ at the time of death. The S.P.R. has included in its ranks some of the finest scientists, academics and public figures of their time, along with plenty of skilled investigators who in many instances had an understanding of magic tricks and the techniques of fake mediums.

While, through their skills, they certainly outed their share of frauds, the S.P.R.’s investigators also uncovered a number of mediums who consistently communicated information that was highly suggestive to them of the survival of consciousness. One of those mediums is now considered as perhaps the most tested of all time, and possibly offers the most substantial collection of evidence for the survival of consciousness collected thus far: Leonora Piper.

The prodigious talents of Leonora Piper were first uncovered by Professor William James of Harvard University, one of the most highly regarded thinkers of the 19th century (his texts Principles of Psychology and The Varieties of Religious Experience are classics in their respective fields). James had an interest – if a rather skeptical one – in the claims made by Spiritualists of communication with the dead, so when his wife’s family told him about an extraordinary trance medium they had visited in Boston, he thought it might be worthwhile to investigate further.

Ever the skeptic, James was careful to ensure that Mrs. Piper did not know who he was when arranging the visit and was wary of assisting the medium through any cold reading attempts, taking “particular pains” to not give Piper’s ‘control’ personality any “help over his difficulties and to ask no leading questions.” And yet the entranced Mrs. Piper consistently produced extremely accurate private information that James found convincing. “My impression after this first visit,” James later noted, “was, that [Mrs. Piper] was either possessed of supernormal powers or knew the members of my wife’s family by sight and had by some lucky coincidence become acquainted with such a multitude of their domestic circumstances as to produce the startling impression which she did.” While his skeptical nature is obvious in the caveat in this initial summation, continued visits with Piper subsequently led him to “absolutely to reject the latter explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers”:

I am persuaded of the medium’s honesty, and of the genuineness of her trance...I now believe her to be in possession of a power as yet unexplained.

On the basis of William James’ opinion of Leonora Piper, the S.P.R. assigned one of their toughest skeptical minds, Richard Hodgson, to the case. Hodgson had made his name with a high-profile debunking of the leader of the controversial Theosophical movement, Helena Blavatsky, as well as papers pointing out the poor observational ability and gullibility of sitters at séances. “Nearly all the professional mediums,” he had scowled in one report, “are a gang of vulgar tricksters who are more or less in league with one another.” Hodgson ended up investigating Leonora Piper for almost twenty years, using detectives to shadow her and her husband, arranging sittings for others anonymously, and taking numerous other precautions, while transcribing the information produced and checking it carefully. To test whether Piper was truly in a trance, Hodgson pinched her suddenly (“sometimes rather severely”), held a lit match to her forearm, and forced her to take several deep inhalations of ammonia (another researcher poked her with needles without warning). The entranced Piper showed absolutely no reaction to these tests – though, as Hodgson rather coldly noted, she “suffered somewhat after the trance was over.”

Hodgson collected thousands of pages of testimony and analysis, and reams of evidence suggesting that Leonora Piper had access to information beyond her normal senses. While it is impossible here to properly transmit the collective weight of the evidence produced during such a detailed, careful investigation over an incredibly long period of time, Hodgson’s official conclusion should at least offer some idea of its effect. The scrupulous investigator, who had started his research with unbridled skepticism, was now, he said, convinced “that the chief ‘communicators’...have survived the change we call death, and... have directly communicated with us...through Mrs. Piper’s entranced organism.”

The opinions of Richard Hodgson and William James on the mediumship of Leonora Piper were in no way outliers. Professor James Hyslop , another of the S.P.R.’s skeptical researchers who devoted a number of years to studying Piper, concluded that her mediumship provided evidence “that there is a future life and persistence of personal identity.” Frederic Myers, one of the founding members of the S.P.R., said of his own sittings that they “left little doubt – no doubt – that we were in the presence of an authentic utterance from a soul beyond the tomb.”

Leonora Piper was hardly the only focus of the S.P.R., however. They investigated many other mediums, and outed some as frauds, but also found a significant number of cases of mediumship to be evidential of the survival of consciousness. For example, another trance medium who impressed the S.P.R. was Gladys Osborne Leonard. Like Leonora Piper, Leonard allowed herself to be studied by the S.P.R. for a large portion of her life, from just prior to the First World War until after the Second World War had come to an end. And as with Mrs. Piper, the S.P.R. applied a skeptical attitude to their investigation, to the point of having detectives shadow Mrs. Leonard to determine if she was researching sitters’ details.

Again, the conclusion of investigators was that Leonard possessed some sort of supernormal power. A skeptical researcher who asked for one particular set of sittings – classical scholar E.R. Dodds – was left with no rational explanation for the information received. In contemplating the summary of the sittings – of 124 pieces of information given, 95 were classified under ‘right/good/fair’, and only 29 as ‘poor/doubtful/wrong’ – he noted that “the hypotheses of fraud, rational influence from disclosed facts, telepathy from the sitter, and coincidence cannot either singly or in combination account for the results obtained.” The experiment, he said, seemed to present investigators with a choice between two conclusions that were equally paradigm-shattering: either Mrs. Leonard was reading the minds of living people and presenting the information so obtained, or she was passing on the thoughts of minds “other than that of a living person.” Dodds concluded that he could see no plausible explanation that would allow his skeptical mind to escape this “staggering dilemma.”

Looking back on the many decades of research done by the S.P.R. since the late 19th century, it is quite extraordinary to note that these positive findings by diligent, skeptical researchers – as mentioned already, some of the finest minds of their time, who undertook detailed, long- term investigations of mediumship – and their larger conclusion for what it means for the survival of our consciousness beyond physical death, have simply been ignored by mainstream science. 

Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Communication with the dead: Taylor excerpt #12

Greg Taylor writes: While the idea that certain people can ‘talk’ to the dead is a popular one in modern pop culture, the practice has been an intrinsic part of human culture since the dawn of time. The archaeological record and historical literature contain many references to apparent communication with the spirit world. In the Biblical Old Testament, the ‘Witch of Endor’, mentioned in the First Book of Samuel, was “a woman that divineth by a ghost”: what we today call a ‘spirit-medium’, or more simply just ‘medium’. In China, spirit-mediums are known as wu, or ji-tong, and their historical origin can be traced back at least 4000 years. In Japan, the itako were blind, usually female, shamans from northern Japan who were said to have the ability to communicate with the dead. And the original word shaman, which most of us know today, is taken from the Evenki people of northern Siberia, and denotes a person who, among other duties, could act as a vehicle for making contact with deceased ancestors.

The word ‘medium’ is self-explanatory: it refers to a person who acts as the medium, or conduit, for communication between the spirit world and ours. It’s important to note that there are different types of medium. Physical mediumship is where the communicating spirit is believed to interact with the physical world: objects are moved/appear, lights are seen or wind is felt, and sometimes the dead even seem to appear in physical form. Mental mediumship, on the other hand, is concerned with communication through the mind of the medium. And mental mediumship itself is often divided into two particular types: trance and non-trance.

Trance mediums will typically, at the beginning of the session (‘sitting’), slip into an altered state, and their normal personality is displaced by an intruding intelligence – apparently that of a deceased person – that takes over the medium’s mind and body. The trance personality then communicates with those present (‘sitters’), sometimes by holding conversations through the medium’s voice, or sometimes via writing and general gestures. Often a certain trance personality comes to be the main ‘control’ of the medium, acting as the intermediary between sitters and those on ‘the other side’.

John Edwards  
Non-trance mental mediumship includes the sub-group most are familiar with today: similar to well-known television mediums, like John Edwards or Theresa Caputo, they remain conscious during communication, but get feelings, hints and visions from the deceased communicator. They might receive the letter of a name or be shown an object that is a metaphor for some important facet of the sitter’s relationship with the spirit; communication through this type of medium is often based in symbols and impressions. 

Another type of non-trance mental mediumship is that where conscious control of just part of the body is relinquished, allowing communicators to take control – the most well-known example of this is the Ouija Board. Another similar method is what is known as automatic writing, where the medium relinquishes conscious control of their writing arm to the communicating personality.

Scientists and skeptics tend to dismiss mediumship out of hand as not being worthy of investigation and, to be fair, there are a few good reasons for that sentiment. Mediumship is an area that has had, throughout its history, more than its fair share of charlatans and con men. When people lose loved ones, they are often left emotionally devastated, and will give anything to feel connected to their lost family members and friends one more time – and are therefore vulnerable to being exploited by dubious characters.

Fake physical mediums lean heavily on the techniques of stage magicians, and also often on a requirement of the ‘spirits’ to have a dark room before they will manifest their powers. The high number of fraudulent physical mediums, and the need for manifestations to occur in an environment not conducive to observation and scientific testing, has meant that very little hard evidence has been gathered on physical mediums – and what evidence has been collected, is often simply the uncovering of fraudulent techniques. That is not to say there aren’t some very interesting cases of physical mediumship that remain a mystery (see, for example, the Icelandic medium Indridi Indridason), but for the purposes of gathering strong evidence for the survival of consciousness we will concentrate in this essay on mental mediums.

As such, it’s worth being aware of the techniques used by fake mental mediums. One of the most prominent is ‘cold reading’, or ‘fishing’: the medium starts with vague, educated guesses and then focuses on only the positive responses from the sitter, becoming more specific as the sitter continues to ‘bite’ on the successes and offer useful feedback. Fake mediums also use what is termed the ‘Forer Effect’ to their advantage. This is the tendency for people to ascribe a personal connection to vague, very general statements that apply to most people (also known as ‘Barnum statements’, in reference to a quote by the famous entertainment businessman P.T. Barnum: "we've got something for everyone”). Statements like “you tend to be critical of yourself” and “you pride yourself as an independent thinker” feel personal, but actually describe most people.

Fake mediums also employ techniques of stage magicians and mentalists in order to achieve amazing effects, such as ‘muscle reading’. Muscle reading takes advantage of the ideomotor effect, where very slight involuntary reactions to questions can be picked up through physical contact, often by holding a person’s hand or wrist. And ‘hot reading’ is the willful collection of information about the sitter prior to meeting with them. Fake mediums might search through obituaries, town records, social media accounts and so on for specific information that they can later ‘miraculously’ pull out of thin air at the sitting.

The infiltration of mediumship by frauds and con men has meant that to pursue scientific research in the field, and attempt to publish papers on mediumship experiments, seems often to be taking the short route to professional suicide. However, there have been individuals and groups over the years who, intrigued by the evidence – like those scientists who saw something curious in reports of anomalous meteor sounds – have taken the bit between the teeth and looked at the subject in a scientific manner. 

Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Terminal lucidity: Taylor excerpt #11

Greg Taylor writes: One other strange phenomenon witnessed near the time of death is what is variously referred to as ‘terminal lucidity’, ‘lightening up before death’, or ‘premortem surge’. In these cases, those who care for people suffering from dementia or other severe ailments report that their patients spontaneously and unexpectedly (given their diagnosis and disease severity) “speak or behave in ways that appear to suggest lucid awareness of their environment, including return of memory and verbal function,” in the hours or days before their passing. This ‘return to lucidity’ often allows dying patients to say goodbye to family members. Cases such as these are hard to explain in terms of mainstream brain science, given they occur in situations where the medical diagnosis makes the possibility of spontaneous remission unlikely, as damage to the brain suffered by these patients “is considered to be irreversible.”


In a British survey of caregivers, approximately 70% stated they had witnessed terminal lucidity in the preceding past five years in dying patients. Similarly, in an Irish study, “one of the most frequent experiences” reported by palliative carers (57.5% of respondents) was ‘Patients in a deep coma becoming suddenly alert enough to say goodbye to relatives’.  


Dr. Michael Nahm noted that such cases have been reported throughout history, with classical scholars such as Hippocrates, Plutarch and Cicero all recording its occurrence; and with a research team he collected 83 case reports of terminal lucidity.

In a prospective study carried out in New Zealand, 100 consecutive deaths in a hospice were observed. In six of those deaths, unexpected spontaneous return of cognitive functions and verbal ability occurred in the 48 hours before the death of the patient. A more recent study, focusing exclusively on 124 cases of dementia-related (i.e. those in which medical science says there can be no spontaneous cognitive improvement) paradoxical lucidity found that in around 80% of the cases, complete remission with return of memory, orientation, and responsive verbal ability was reported by observers, with the majority of patients dying within a day of the episode:

[P]atients were rated as “clear, coherent, and just about normal verbal communication” during the lucid episode. In terms of the duration of the lucid episode, the median value was between 30 and 60 min... In 123 of the 124 reports (one report didn’t list this data), the median survival after the lucid episode was between 2 and 24 hr.

The researchers in this study also pointed out possible parallels between terminal lucidity and the NDE, as both often feature “unexpected cognitive arousal” in the face of compromised brain function, remembering that in the majority of NDEs mental functioning was reported to either be as good as usual, or even markedly improved.

What are we to make of all this – death-bed visions and Peak in Darien accounts, experiences of family and carers at the bedside (sometimes involving multiple witnesses), death-bed coincidences and crisis apparitions, and terminal lucidity? At some point when digging into the huge volume of cases of these types, we feel as if we’re desperately reaching for mundane explanations to satisfy the current scientific paradigm, rather than simply following the evidence to the obvious conclusion: that all these witnesses are observing what happens during the transition from this world to the next.

Comparing eyewitness testimony regarding extraordinary phenomena at the death-bed to the testimony of witnesses to meteor falls prior to the 18th century – including many incidents in which multiple people saw the same thing – it feels we are repeating the same situation all over again: a fight to integrate anomalous evidence into an incomplete system of knowledge, rather than simply updating that system based on the evidence.

To quote Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick, diligent researchers of ELEs:

To keep on citing ‘coincidence’ for all the very convincing accounts we have been given, becomes first a weak and then a frankly implausible explanation... [T]he hypothesis of extended mind manifesting at the time of death is a much more persuasive explanation for most of these experiences than coincidence or expectation.


Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Monday, July 25, 2022

Crisis apparitions: Taylor excerpt #10

Greg Taylor writes: Anomalous experiences at the time of death are not restricted to the dying or those in the room with them: many people have reported having ominous feelings, seeing apparitions, and dreaming of the dead at the time of their passing, despite being removed from them by some distance. Over the years literally thousands of these experiences have been reported and investigated.

One astounding account is that of a mother who dreamt that her son had drowned:

I saw my twenty-two-year-old son walking toward me, his clothes dripping wet. He was talking to me, telling me that he was dead but that I was not to worry or be upset because he was all right... When I woke I was very disturbed and tried to contact my son. I found out later that day that he had drowned the previous night. I am convinced that he did contact me... I have drawn great comfort from his visit to me over the years.

Respected psychologist Dr. Stanley Krippner has told how he, at the age of 12 – while awake – “had a sudden premonition that my uncle had died. And, I was in my room, and heard downstairs the phone ring, and then I heard sobbing and crying, and indeed my cousin had just told my mother, saying that her father – my uncle – had just died. That was quite an alarming experience, I didn’t tell anybody about that for years.”

A major investigation of cases of this type was undertaken in the late 19th century by the British Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.), an organization blessed with a membership consisting of some of the most respected intellectuals of the time, who nevertheless were committed to scientific investigation of strange phenomena suggestive of the survival of consciousness beyond death. The S.P.R. invested much time and effort collecting testimony from the public about such phenomena, even publishing advertisements in major newspapers and periodicals. The response to their enquiries was overwhelming, and one experience that was reported often was that in which a dying person was ‘seen’ by family at a remote location as they passed away (labeled ‘crisis apparitions’ by the S.P.R.). 


The Society’s researchers quickly realized that crisis apparitions differed substantially from the more commonly known ghost stories, not least due to their lack of ‘spook factor’: such tales, were – apart from the extraordinary nature of what they implied – overtly ordinary. Witnesses simply saw someone they knew, who would then disappear from view – there was no fright involved, only confusion as to what was just seen. It was only after some time had passed (remembering that in this era, communication took some time) they would they find out that the individuals who had appeared to them had died around the same time as the vision.


In 1886 the S.P.R. published their detailed report on such accounts as a book, under the title Phantasms of the Living. More than 1300 pages long and consisting of over 700 cases, the work involved in compiling the two-volume report was meticulous: researchers would follow up each case reported to them, interviewing the witness and verifying the account with testimony from third parties, contemporary written reports, and so on.


One ‘textbook’ case presented in Phantasms of the Living was that of Lieutenant-General Albert Fytche, who served as the Chief Commissioner of the British colony of Burma during the 1860s. Arising from bed one morning, Fytche was please to find an old friend had come to visit him. He greeted him warmly and suggested to the friend that they meet on the veranda for a cup of tea, though the man didn’t seem to respond in any way. When Fytche went to join him a few minutes later, the friend was nowhere to be found. Fytche was shocked to later read in the newspaper that this friend had died at the time he had seen him, some 600 miles distant.


The S.P.R.’s investigation revealed the huge volume of accounts of this nature occurring to everyday people. And in the modern day, Dr Peter Fenwick’s survey of palliative carers shows that they continue unabated: a full half of respondents said that they were aware of “coincidences, usually reported by friends or family...who say the dying person has visited them at the time of death.”


Could it be, as many skeptics might argue, that the prosaic explanation for such ‘coincidences’ is that we should in fact expect them as random, mundane occurrences in any survey of a large number of people? The S.P.R. investigated this by surveying more than 5000 individuals and extrapolating the results; they found that chance could not explain the number of well-attested crisis apparitions in their collection. And S.P.R. researcher Edmund Gurney was scathing on the question of whether accounts may have been made-up, noting that they had been collected from well-regarded members of the public, and the S.P.R.’s investigators had done much work to corroborate stories before including them. “When we submit the theory of deliberate falsification to the cumulative test...there comes a point where the reason rebels,” he wrote.


Furthermore, like cases at the bedside of the dying, some reports also featured multiple witnesses. For example, in one case a man and his son simultaneously saw his father’s face above them, although his wife did not (though she did acknowledge witnessing their reaction and comments at the time), only later learning that the man’s father had died at this time.


In the mid-20th century, researcher G.N.M. Tyrell identified 130 cases in which crisis apparitions were perceived by two or more people. Furthermore, he remarked that he had “no doubt that this list is not exhaustive.”

Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Death-bed phenomena: Taylor excerpt #9

Greg Taylor writes: Strange experiences reported at the time of death, including NDEs and death-bed visions, are often dismissed by skeptics – incorrectly, as we have seen – as artifacts of the dying patient’s misfiring brain. But such ‘skeptical’ explanations are confounded by the fact that, in quite a number of cases, other healthy people present in the room with the dying also experience similar visions.

For example, while those dying have commonly reported being immersed in a loving, peaceful light, many of those caring for the dying – who are not ill or approaching death – have also described seeing a bright light surrounding the dying person, exuding what they relate as “a raw feeling of love.”  And again, this anomalous experience is not a rare occurrence: a survey found that one in every three palliative carers reported accounts of “a radiant light that envelops the dying person, and may spread throughout the room and involve the carer.” In a similar Dutch study, more than half of the carers surveyed reported witnessing this ‘light’!

One respondent to a questionnaire put to palliative care nurses in Australia told how he, another nurse, and the patient’s husband all saw a light leave the body of the patient and drift toward the ceiling. “As she died we just noticed like an energy rising from her...sort of a bluey white sort of aura,” the nurse explained. “We looked at each other, and the husband was on the other side of the bed and he was looking at us... he saw it as well and he said he thinks that she went to a better place.” This experience was transformative for the nurse: “It probably changed the way I felt about people dying and what actually happens after death.”

Similarly, Dr Peter Fenwick relates an instance in which a person, at the time of their brother’s death from cancer, witnessed “odd tiny sparks of bright light” emanating from the body – and these ‘sparks’ were also seen by her brother’s wife, who was also present. Given the phenomenon is seen by multiple people at the bedside, we can confidently discount mundane explanations such as it being caused by a stress-induced hallucination or wishful thinking.

Strange lights are not the only thing witnessed by family and carers at the bedside of the dying. There are many eyewitness accounts in which what is described variously as “smoke,” “mist,” wavy air “like the heat haze of a mirage,” or a “very wispy white shape” is seen leaving the body, usually from the chest or head area. For example, one witness saw “a plume of smoke rising, like the vapor that rises from a snuffed-out candle, but on a bigger was being thrown off by a single blade of phosphorus light. It hung above Dad’s bed, about 18 inches or so long, and was indescribably seemed to express perfect love and peace.” Another carer’s experience was of seeing “distinct delicate waves/lines of smoke (smoke is not the right word but I have not got a comparison)” above the body which then disappeared, leaving them with “a sense of peace and comfort.” Immediately after the death of a friend, a woman says she saw “the air was moving” directly above her body, “rather like a heat haze you see on the road but swirling slowly around.” A doctor assisting somebody who had a heart attack said he witnessed “a white form that seemed to rise and separate from the body.” And an Australian carer was actually inspired to conduct academic research into the subject of ELEs because of her own experience: “There was a young man who had died in the room with his family and I saw an aura coming off him,” she recounts. “It was like a mist. I didn’t tell anybody for years.”

Family, carers and physicians have also reported a multitude of other phenomena occurring at the time of death: apparitions of the dead, voices calling, the sounds of heavenly music/angelic choirs singing, the feeling of a strong wind blowing, and mechanical/electrical failures at the time of passing. Dr Peter Fenwick’s survey of British palliative carers found that 33% noted experiences of “synchronistic events” at the moment of death, such as clocks stopping, electronic devices shutting down, and lights going on and off.lxvi More than a hundred years before that survey, a 19th century researcher found so many recorded reports of such happenings that he concluded that they “cannot be considered a mere fiction.”

In his book Death-bed Visions, Sir William Barrett told of a seventeen-year-old girl who, after a prolonged illness, was in her final days. Her already-widowed mother, facing the second major loss of a loved one, was tending to her when she noticed the girl was absorbed in something nearby. Querying her as to what she was so focused on, the girl pointed to the bed-curtains and asked what her mother saw. “I followed the direction of her hand and saw a man's form, completely white, standing out quite clearly against the dark curtain,” the mother recalled later. “Having no ideas of spiritism, my emotion was intense, and I closed my eyes not wishing to see any longer.” The girl was puzzled by her mother’s silence, asking why she didn’t reply, but her mother – through fear, or incredulity – was unable to admit to the vision.

“I had the weakness to declare to her, 'I see nothing'; but my trembling voice betrayed me doubtless, for the child added with an air of reproach, 'Oh, little mother, I have seen the same thing for the last three days at the same hour; it's my dear father who has come to fetch me’.

Dr Peter Fenwick was told by a lady that while sitting at her dying husband’s bedside there was suddenly “a most brilliant light shining from my husband’s chest.” The light began to rise toward the ceiling, and she heard “the most beautiful music and singing voices,” filling her with an overwhelming feeling of joy. Researcher D. Scott Rogo catalogued many accounts of transcendent music being heard at the time of death: one such case was that of a woman who was caring at home for her aunt, who had terminal cancer, when one day, while walking up the stairs to the aunt’s room to bring her lunch, she felt “a rush of very warm air.” Then, as she approached the door to the bedroom she was “startled to hear faint strains of beautiful music, that came from her room and dwelt lightly in the hall where I was.” Upon opening the door, it was immediately obvious to her that her aunt “was seeing something that I could not, even though I did hear the music.” As she stood spellbound by the sight, her aunt turned to face her, “smiled the most peaceful and happy smile I ever saw,” and gently fell back on the pillow, dead.

When the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Arthur James Balfour was on his death-bed, his niece Jean Balfour – who was sitting by his bedside – experienced “a sensation of a mighty rushing wing (which was entirely subjective, as nothing around me was even stirred), and that the room was full of a radiant, dazzling light...[and] it seemed to me that there were people there too; they had no concern with me, they were invisible; but I knew that they were clustered about A.J.B.'s bed, and that their whole attention was concentrated on him.”

These phenomena have, quite simply, been experienced constantly throughout the ages at the time of death – and they defy skeptical explanations. 


Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Visions of the dying: Taylor excerpt #8

Death-bed visions are experiences in which a dying person sees already-departed loved ones – and also on some occasions, what appear to be otherworldly entities such as ‘angels’ – visiting their bedside in the hours, days, and sometimes weeks leading up to their passing. These incorporeal visitors are said to have come to greet the dying individual and guide them into the afterlife. For example, a recent account from a palliative carer told how a woman...

...about an hour before she died said, "they’re all in the room; they’re all in the room.” The room was full of people she knew and I can remember feeling quite spooked really and looking over my shoulder and not seeing a thing but she could definitely see the room full of people that she knew.

They are extremely common experiences, found across cultures worldwide, and have remained remarkably consistent across time. As the writer Frances Cobbe explained in The Peak in Darien – her 1882 book that discussed strange phenomena reported by the dying – over and over again death-bed visions are described “almost in the same words by persons who have never heard of similar occurrences, and who suppose their own experience to be unique.” Dying patients recount these visions calmly and rationally to others at the bedside such as family or carers; so much so that they are often observed to be almost living in two worlds, swapping nonchalantly between chatting to those in the here-and-now, and then with already-dead loved ones, or being immersed in an alternate reality full of love and light.

Sir William Barrett
One account related a century ago by the British physicist Sir William Barrett offers a fine example. Hattie Pratt was a schoolgirl who passed away from diphtheria in the early 1900s. As her family gathered around during her final hours, another family member –already deceased – appeared to greet young Hattie and guide her onwards. Hattie’s brother recounted that while Hattie’s throat “was so choked up” it required close attention to catch all of her words, “her mind seemed unusually clear and rational”:

She knew she was passing away, and was telling our mother how to dispose of her little personal belongings among her close friends and playmates, when she suddenly raised her eyes as though gazing at the ceiling toward the farther side of the room, and after looking steadily and apparently listening for a short time, slightly bowed her head, and said, “Yes, Grandma, I am coming, only wait just a little while, please.” Our father asked her, “Hattie, do you see your grandma?” Seemingly surprised at the question she promptly answered, “Yes, Papa, can't you see her? She is right there waiting for me.” At the same time she pointed toward the ceiling in the direction in which she had been gazing. Again addressing the vision she evidently had of her grandmother, she scowled a little impatiently and said, “Yes, Grandma, I'm coming, but wait a minute, please.” She then turned once more to her mother, and finished telling her what of her personal treasures to give to different ones of her acquaintances. At last giving her attention once more to her grandma, who was apparently urging her to come at once, she bade each of us good- bye. Her voice was very feeble and faint, but the look in her eyes as she glanced briefly at each one of us was as lifelike and intelligent as it could be. She then fixed her eyes steadily on her vision but so faintly that we could but just catch her words, said, “Yes, Grandma, I'm coming now.”

Hattie’s brother remarked that her clear-headedness during her final minutes, and alternation of attention between her dead grandmother and the rest of her still-living family (what Barrett calls ‘double consciousness’), “were so distinctly photographed upon the camera of my brain that I have never since been able to question the evidence of the continuance of distinct recognizable life after death.”

Hattie Pratt’s experience is just one of many cases discussed by Barrett in his seminal 1926 book Death-bed Visions. In researching the phenomenon, Barrett was particularly impressed by the commonalities related by those of a younger age, who would likely not have had a cultural expectation of the visions they saw. In fact, in several cases, the dying visions of children categorically did not agree with what their Christian upbringing had primed them to expect. For instance, 10-year-old Daisy Irene Dryden exclaimed during a death-bed vision in the final days of her illness, “We always thought the angels had wings! But it is a mistake; they don't have any.”

Like NDErs, the dying describe the realm they will soon move to as being bathed in love, light and peace. For example, in Italy a wife ran to her dying husband’s side only to be told by him that her mother – who had died 3 years previously – was “helping me to break out of this disgusting body. There is so much much peace.” Furthermore, Dr Peter Fenwick points out, those having death-bed visions also sometimes experience other elements of the archetypal NDE, such as a life review and a border that must be crossed to transition to the afterlife realm. The similarities between NDEs and ELEs, Fenwick says, “suggest that both could be experiences of the same after-death reality.”

Frances Cobbe
And there is a category of death-bed vision that is similar in evidential value to the veridical NDE, offering even further support that what these people are seeing is real. In The Peak in Darien, Frances Cobbe wrote of an incident “of a very striking character”: a dying lady suddenly became joyful, and told those at her bedside that, one after another, three of her dead brothers had appeared in the room. Then, strangely, a fourth brother appeared alongside the others, despite being believed by all present to be alive and well at his residence in India. As this occurred in the late 19th century, there was no way of instantly checking on the brother, but letters were subsequently received informing the family of his death – at a time before his dying sister saw him in her vision.

Though Cobbe’s book covered a variety of strange phenomena, its title has become the unofficial name for this specific type of death-bed account, in which the dying are visited by an individual who was believed by them to be alive, but were actually deceased at the time of the vision: Peak-in-Darien experiences. Sir William Barrett believed such experiences provided “one of the most cogent arguments for survival after death, as the evidential value and veridical (truth-telling) character of these Visions of the Dying is greatly enhanced when the fact is undeniably established that the dying person was wholly ignorant of the decease of the person he or she so vividly sees.” Barrett’s contemporary Professor Charles Richet, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1913, noted that “among all the facts adduced to prove survival, these seem to me to be the most disquieting, that is, from a materialistic point of view.”

Like veridical NDEs, there are a surprisingly large number of Peak in Darien experiences recorded in the literature. Sir William Barrett devoted an entire chapter of his book Death-Bed Visions to cases of this type. One well-documented example was a woman named 'Mrs. B' (also referred to as 'Doris'), who had just given birth to a baby, but died shortly after from heart failure. Lady Florence Barrett was present as the attending obstetrician, and after she told her husband what happened, he investigated further and gathered testimony from others present during the incident.

As she began to slip away, Mrs. B had gripped Lady Barrett’s hand tightly and asked her not to leave, saying “It’s getting so dark...darker and darker.” Mrs. B’s husband and mother were sent for, but her desperation suddenly turned to rapture. Looking across the room, a radiant smile lit up her face. “Oh, lovely, lovely,” she cried. When asked what she was seeing, Mrs. B replied “Lovely brightness, wonderful beings.” Lady Barrett was shaken by the conviction with which she said this, noting it was difficult “to describe the sense of reality conveyed by her intense absorption in the vision.”

Mrs. B then focused on a particular point in the air and cried joyously when a deceased loved one appeared to her: “Why, it’s Father! Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming.” Mrs. B spoke to her father, saying, “I am coming,” before turning to her mother at the bedside to tell her, “Oh, he is so near.” On looking back to the vision of her deceased father, she then said, with a puzzled expression, “He has Vida with him.” Vida was Mrs. B’s sister, whose death three weeks previously she had not been informed about, so as not to cause any aggravation to her own health. Mrs. B died within the hour.

A similar example from more modern times is that of a Chinese lady, terminally ill with cancer, reported by hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley in their 1993 book Final Gifts. The dying lady had been having recurrent visions of her deceased husband, who was calling her to join him:

One day, much to her puzzlement, she saw her sister with her husband, and both were calling her to join them. She told the hospice nurse that her sister was still alive in China, and that she hadn’t seen her for many years. When the hospice nurse later reported this conversation to the woman’s daughter, the daughter stated that the patient’s sister had in fact died two days earlier of the same kind of cancer, but that the family had decided not to tell the patient to avoid upsetting or frightening her.

As with veridical NDEs, the sheer number of Peak-in-Darien cases provides evidence that cannot be brushed away simply as chance occurrences.


Greg Taylor, “What is the Best Available Evidence for the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death?” An essay written for the Bigelow contest addressing this question. I am presenting excerpts without references, but this essay is available with footnotes and a bibliography at


Gödel's reasons for an afterlife

Alexander T. Englert, “We'll meet again,” Aeon , Jan 2, 2024,