The University of Hong Kong
1st semester 2005-06
December 01 2023
Gary Schwartz, psychology professor and co-founder of the University of Arizona Human Energy Systems Lab speaks about his work at the UA. Schwartz and co- founder Linda Russek are conducting research on the "Russek paradigm" which involves some of the most famous mediums in the world. Arizona Summer Wildcat
A team of UA scientists and students conducted a unique experiment this weekend, probing the possibility of an afterlife by studying how mediums commune with the dead.
Researchers at the University of Arizona Human Energy Systems Lab invited a panel of mediums to meet with 10 people whose loved ones recently died. The mediums tried to receive information from the deceased without prior knowledge about the deceased and while under observation.
"The first responsibility of a scientist is to ask questions," said Gary Schwartz, psychology professor and co-founder of the lab.
What happens to consciousness after death is one of the most important questions a scientist can ask, he said.
Schwartz invited four mediums to participate in the study, including famous "superstars" of the psychic world such as author John Edwards, and unknowns such as California housewife Laurie Campbell.
The research design, which Schwartz dubbed the "Russek paradigm," was mostly the work of the lab's co-founder Linda Russek.
The medium sat facing a wall while a researcher looked on. A "sitter", who had recently lost a relative or friend, would then enter the room and sit six feet behind the medium.
Schwartz acknowledged that a few of the sitters were acquaintances of the mediums.
For up to 10 minutes, the medium and the sitter would sit in silence. The medium, who could not see the sitter, would concentrate on receiving psychic impressions.
A question and answer session followed, in which the sitter was allowed only to answer "yes" or "no."
Schwartz said that the mediums did not play "20 questions" with the sitter in an attempt to weed out personal information. Instead, they tried to clarify impressions they were receiving.
"They often try to get confirmatory information," he said.
Schwartz said that the study was set up to minimize communication between the medium and the sitter, avoiding conscious or subconscious prompting between the two.
"It's complicated to determine what is psychological and what is spiritual," he said.
While the final results have not been written up, Schwartz said he was impressed with the mediums performance.
On several occasions the mediums were able to pick out the names and personal information of the deceased, he said.
There were also several "jawdroppers" when the mediums revealed highly personal information or facts so obscure that the sitters themselves didn't know them, he said.
In one case, the medium revealed that the sitter had an uncle who had been killed during World War II. The sitter hadn't known about the uncle, but later confirmed the story with relatives, Schwartz said.
In other cases, the mediums were able to pick up facts such as the breed of a long-dead pet, he said.
Gary Mechler, an astronomy instructor at Pima Community College and co- founder of the Tucson Skeptics, is not convinced by such stories.
Mechler is a local representative of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, an organization of scientists he said is "ready to strike out for truth and light at a moments notice."
He said that professional mediums are very skilled at misleading the public.
"I've seen so many stories fall apart," Mechler said. "That's where (my) skepticism comes from."
But Schwartz insisted that such claims need to be investigated scientifically.
"Is it proof? Of course not," Schwartz said. "Is it interesting? Definitely."
The success of the mediums often depended on the sitters and their belief in life after death. All the mediums were able to get good information while working with a woman who had lost six loved ones in the past nine years, Schwartz said.
The best sitter was a UA undergraduate who had lost two relatives but felt connected to them, he said.
The worst sitter was a man who called himself a skeptic, Schwartz said, adding that none of the mediums could connect with his deceased relatives.
The researchers have noticed a link between belief and performance in other tests.
In one experiment, people had to guess whether researchers standing behind them were looking at their heads or backs. The subjects guessed correctly nearly 60 percent of the time on average, as opposed to the 50 percent that would be expected from mere guesswork, Schwartz said.
Those who believed in psychic phenomena guessed correctly more often than those who didn't, he said.
"It isn't really paranormal phenomena," said Patty Harada, one of Schwartz's assistants. "We are really trying to study energy."
"The energy from our bodies is actually going somewhere," she said. "It's actually doing something."
Many of the researchers expressed similar beliefs, and Schwartz added that a person's energy may survive after death.
Schwartz admits that the research into human energy systems is in beginning stages, and that many details remain a mystery.
"Because this is frontier work, as soon as you do one study you ask 20 questions," he said, "That's what makes it fun."
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research JANUARY 2001
When multiple mediums attempt to receive After-Death Communications (ADCs) for a single individual (the sitter/subject) who has experienced multiple losses, will accurate and replicable ADC information be obtained? Five highly skilled mediums were flown to the Human Energy Systems Laboratory for research on ADC. An Arizona woman, unknown to all of the mediums, who had experienced six significant losses over the past ten years, served as the primary subject. She filled out detailed pre-experimental questionnaires about her losses. Each medium met individually with the sitter. There was no communication between the mediums about the sessions. Two chairs were placed side by side, a few feet apart, separated by a screen that eliminated visual cues. Except for an initial greeting, the only communications allowed from the sitter were simple yes or no responses to possible questions from the mediums. Nineteen channels of EEG and the ECG were recorded simultaneously from both the mediums and the sitter. Two video cameras recorded the sessions. Verbatim reports were obtained from complete transcripts of the sessions. A second sitter was tested with two of the mediums. The mediums average accuracy was 83% for sitter one and 77% for sitter two. The average accuracy for 68 control subjects was 36%. In a replication and extension experiment, medium's average accuracy in an initial ten minute period that did not allow yes/no questioning was 77%. The data suggest that highly skilled mediums are able to obtain accurate and replicable information. Since all possible measures were taken to eliminate the factors of fraud, error, and statistical coincidence, other possible mechanisms should be considered in future research. These include telepathy, super psi, and survival of consciousness after-death.
By Robert Matthews (Filed: 08/03/2001)
A UNIQUE scientific experiment has produced startling evidence that some "spirit mediums" may indeed have paranormal talents.
Scientists involved in the study at the University of Arizona say that the findings are so extraordinary they raise fundamental questions about the survival of consciousness after death.
Until now, the whole issue of the "afterlife" has been dismissed by most mainstream scientists, with spiritual mediums being regarded as either self- deluded or charlatans. Now the first serious laboratory study of a group of mediums has found that they share an uncanny ability to state facts about the deceased relatives of people who come to them.
The experiments, details of which will be published this week, involved five mediums and two "sitters" unknown to the mediums, whose deceased relatives they were asked to contact.
In the first experiment, each medium spent an hour with one of the sitters in a laboratory, with a screen preventing visual contact. Under constant video surveillance, each began talking about aspects of the sitter's deceased relatives. The sitter was only allowed to respond to specific questions from the medium with the words "yes" or "no". At the end of each session, the information gleaned by the mediums was analysed for its accuracy.
The transcripts of each session showed that the mediums typically produced more than 80 pieces of information about the deceased relatives, ranging from their names and personal idiosyncrasies to the precise circumstances of their death. When analysed for factual accuracy, the mediums achieved a success rate of 83 per cent, with one achieving an accuracy of 93 per cent.
Similar success was achieved in experiments involving the second sitter, and even when the mediums were not allowed to communicate with the sitter in any way. Sceptics have long argued that the success of mediums is due to so-called "cold reading", in which mediums make educated guesses about deceased people - such as asking if a husband died of heart disease, which is a common cause of death.
The team claims to have dealt with this objection after a panel of more than 60 people was asked to supply the same information as the mediums about the sitter. The average score was only 36 per cent, with the most successful guesser achieving just 54 per cent.
Reporting their findings in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the researchers conclude: "Highly skilled mediums are able to obtain accurate and replicable information." Professor Gary Schwartz, who led the team, told The Telegraph: "The bottom line is that there is a class of highly skilled mediums who are doing something extraordinary."
The secret of their success is unclear: every precaution was taken to rule out unconscious cheating or outright fraud. In one experiment, a medium claimed to have been in communication with the sitter's deceased mother three days before the meeting - and supplied a prayer that the mother used to recite for the sitter as a child.
Prof Schwartz said such evidence is consistent with claims of mediums to deal directly with the dead, rather than merely with the minds of the sitters. He said: "All the data gathered so far is consistently in accord with survival of consciousness after death. Based on our data to date, the most parsimonious explanation is that the mediums are in direct communication with the deceased."
Sceptics said that while the results are intriguing, they leave many questions unanswered. Dr Chris French, a leading expert at Goldsmiths College, London, said: "Parapsychologists have become disillusioned with studies of mediums because the results are usually nothing more than you would expect by cold reading. This study has results that are so out of line that one would want to have a very close look at how it was done."
The implications of the study are to be discussed at an international meeting in Arizona this week. Prof Schwartz admitted that the findings were likely to disturb many people. He said: "Some of our colleagues would like us to do this research elsewhere."