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Physical Mediumship
Seven reasons to research physical mediumship - even if you think it's all nonsense

Eckhard Kruse
This article has been published in Paranormal Review, The Magazine of the Society of Psychical Research, Issue 82, Spring 2017. This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of the Society for Psychical Research for personal use only and not for redistribution.

For more than a century the research on physical mediumship is driven mostly by a single question: Is it real or is it bogus? There have been countless experiments and studies, but proponents and skeptics still confront each other irreconcilably, with some publications looking more like propaganda than a scientific discussion. When it comes to providing theories about what is actually going on, not much progress has been made the last hundred years. I suggest to approach physical mediumship from a much broader research perspective: a perspective that does not obsessively reduce all research to the question 'true or false?'. This might help gaining new scientific insight into the phenomena and it might build bridges to skeptical scientists, who refrain from any research on the paranormal, because in today's mainstream science it is readily dismissed as nonsense. I am convinced there are many good reasons to do research on physical mediumship - even under the assumption that there are no paranormal phenomena at all. By discussing these reasons, this article also suggests alternative ways and questions which may guide future research on physical mediumship.
1. Physical mediumship is an important subject for science.
While this is a truism for readers of the Paranormal Review, it still should be mentioned, because large parts of today's scientific community probably will not agree on this, as they are very skeptical when it comes to anything paranormal and quickly dismiss it as superstition or nonsense. They should not forget: Whether something deserves the name 'science' or not, does not depend on the topic but on the method. After all, science has the goal to have a systematic look at our world to help to understand it better. Asking the question, 'why and how do certain phenomena appear in the course of mediumistic séances?', we hardly have a clue. Even if the 'how' could entirely be answered with 'fraud, illusions, etc.', the 'why' would remain: Why does physical mediumship exist? Why do apparently sensible persons spend so much of their energy and life-time on it (often without going public, such that 'earn money / become famous' cannot be the whole answer)? Why are phenomena often so similar, especially in former times, where ideas could not spread as quickly as in the internet age today? Why does this topic trigger such intense emotions and discussions that even equanimous scientists suddenly become angry and forget about good personal as well as scientific conduct?
2. Research on physical mediumship is a perfect showcase to discuss today's scientific methods, their shortcomings and potential for further improvement.
How do the scientist's human factors, emotions and wishes influence research? What can be improved? Is today's science system - with its strong focus on (technical, medical, etc.) applications and on economic value, often supported by considerable corporate funding - capable to efficiently explore certain (especially spiritual) aspects of the world? Where are the limits of scientific methods that are demanding objectivity, control, reproducibility etc. - limits, which are a problem whenever dealing with life and human beings and thus go far beyond the research on physical mediumship, including healing, consciousness, psychology. Can and should scientific methods be improved in order to more appropriately incorporate inner perspectives, subjective experiences, consciousness etc. and to give them a more prominent place in our scientific picture of the world?
3. Physical mediumship is a big challenge for the dominant worldview and conventional 'rational' thinking; this makes it the perfect training field for scientists to remain flexible and don't fall prey to dogmas.
The experience of a séance can be a serious challenge for a mind that conveniently relies on the apparent safety and completeness of our 'modern world view'. Apparently, some phenomena are so difficult to be accepted that the easiest escape is to simply say 'it's all bogus and trickery' – without even having a closer look. From that perspective research on physical mediumship can be a perfect training for scientists to stand the uneasy feeling of not having simple explanations readily at hand, and to refrain from drawing premature conclusions. As a saying by Dan Chaon goes: 'A conclusion is simply the place, where you got tired of thinking.' Research on physical mediumship requires our thinking to stay alert for a long way to go.
4. The controversies on physical mediumship provide a view on the mechanisms of all types of world-wide conflicts due to belief systems.
Many conflicts on earth today are related to different underlying belief systems, such as between different religions, capitalism and 'socialism', materialism and spirituality etc. It is amazing how otherwise sensible human beings may emotionally run wild, lose their good manners or even their humanity, when they see their own belief system challenged by something different. In a way, the sometimes obnoxious fights between skeptics and proponents of 'the paranormal' provides a microcosm where these mechanisms can be studied with a good distance from global politics and religious wars. Maybe be by finding a better way to deal with the 'paranormal belief wars', we can also learn something about global belief system conflicts.
5. It is not a prerequisite to prove the existence of certain phenomena before developing scientific theories about how they could be explained. Assuming physical mediumship to be true can be inspiring to push forward other areas of science.
Most research on physical mediumship is very much focused on proving that the phenomena are real (in fact, this applies to paranormal phenomena and related research in general), not even daring to think about how it could be explained. In contrast, in other research areas scientists much earlier start to hypothesize and develop theories, even with much less evidence. Think about astrobiology for example: It is perfectly accepted to muse about the conditions and probabilities which might lead to the development of life on distant planets, even though it is quite hard to even prove the existence of such planets and a direct contact with such supposed lifeforms will not be possible in the foreseeable future. But no-one says: 'Please, first I want to examine an extraterrestrial in my laboratory to prove its existence, before I theorize about conditions for life on other planets.' So, let us assume physical mediumship is real: How does it (with its ectoplasm, apports, etc.) challenge our current assumptions about physics, biology, psychology? Maybe, when having a close look at it, the required changes to our scientific theories are not always that big as commonly expected. Think about 'Matter through matter' or 'apport' phenomena: In some sense, on a microscopic level these are well-accepted quantum physics realities, namely quantum tunneling and vacuum fluctuation. Maybe some effects are just a matter of probabilities and scale?
6. Mediumistic séances can be a very interesting subject for the research on rituals.
Throughout the history of mankind, rituals and rites have a very fundamental role for human beings, their healing and development and their contact to the spiritual world (e.g. initiation rituals, shamanic healing rituals, the whole spectrum of religious services and so on). However, in today's western culture the knowledge about rituals seems to decay, e.g. Christian religious services often resemble more a popular event than a transcendent experience. Mediumistic séances have many characteristics inherent to rituals: A focus on some otherwordly forces, a joint creation of 'energy', where the individual takes a step back in favor of the group, rules and proper conduct, specific ritualistic activities (which are often hard to understand or accept by external people). Maybe séances should also be appreciated as modern rituals in a world where the churches often are no more capable to satisfy the very human need for rituals.
7. Research on physical mediumship can be a valuable contribution to consciousness research.
To understand human consciousness is still one of the biggest challenges in science, as the endless struggle with the mind-body problem exemplifies. While neuroscience, imaging technologies etc. made great progress we still don't know much about consciousness – because after all it is a subjective experience. On the other hand, a beneficial evolution of individual as well as of collective consciousness is deemed by many as THE solution to tackle today's global problems and challenges to humanity. Physical mediumship can shed a light on consciousness from different angles, such as: In what (altered?) state of consciousness do medium and sitters experience a séance? How do they personally change/develop as a result of their experiences? What can be said about the consciousness of the 'spirit' (or the dissociated parts of the medium's personality)? How do consciousness and matter interact? If physical mediumship demonstrates how a (dissociated or otherworldy) spirit/mind can have effects on matter, this might open new perspectives on the mind-body problem.
Or maybe: 8.?
Maybe physical mediumship really means much more than today's orthodox science wants to accept and it allows new insights into how our world might be functioning?