If you've lost a loved one, if you are a fan of Jonathan Edwards or James Van Pragh or Sylvia Browne, this book will be a pleasure.
The book reports on scientific findings about consciousness after death from the University of Arizona Laboratory of Gary Schwartz, former Yale and Harvard professor. He works with mediums, who are "superstars of mediumship" including Jonathan Edwards.
The findings are based on data the mediums report based on their contact with people on "the other side" who are associated with "sitters" who are volunteers for these experiments.
For example, if a person says to a sitter that she had a grandmother, that's not impressive. If the medium says the grandmother loved the sitter very much, that's not too impressive either (My grandmothers died before I was born so it would be a wrong answer in my case) But if the sitter said that the grandmother is talking about daisies and her wedding-- well, that stands out. And if the medium reports that the daisies were in the sitters hair.. That's pretty amazing. Schwartz's research takes hundreds of items like this and then has the trained sitters rate them for accuracy. The mediums never meet, never see or hear the sitters, except when the medium hears the sitter in the next room sob, if the medium really nails a connection.
This work has evolved as a logical step in Dr. Schwartz's research into human energy systems and energy medicine, and from ideas that he first developed and reported with Lynda Russek in the book Living Energy Universe.
This research is very controversial, and while exciting and comforting to some, it is upsetting to some of the science skeptics, like James Randi, who seems to have made Dr. Schwartz his number one target recently. I've read his attacks though, and the attacks are personal and subjective, and if Randi submitted his own statements about Schwartz to the same requirements he expects of others, well, we wouldn't be hearing from Randi. I expect that I'll get more than the usual number of negative feedbacks on this from people who are skeptics, regardless of what the content of the review is.
The findings in this book are fantastic and call for further research and replication. And Schwartz is bravely continuing to do just that. Hopefully, as his research reaches broader audiences, other scientists will be encouraged to come out of the closet (there are plenty who believe, based on existing data) and start publishing and researching more on these and related parapsychology topics.
on April 2, 2006
The author wrote the book to address our intellect, not our emotions. There is nothing "misty" and "spiritual" about his writing style or his facts. He is a scientist who, with professional hoax-exposers (hired to spot any funny business or "magic tricks"), put five psychic mediums through a series of tests to either prove or disprove their claims that they communicate with the deceased. Then they tested the results against a control group of non-psychics, and reported their findings.
The book begins with what, at first sight, appears to be a self-congratulatory chapter where the author seemingly brags about his background, education, and standing within the scientific and academic community. As dry as that is, I got the sense that he wasn't bragging, nor was he being defensive. He was simply trying to demonstrate to us he that isn't a kook, and was looking for the truth whatever that is. He put his career at risk to complete this experiment, and was merely telling us he risked quite a lot.
His conscientious attention to detail and completely balanced approach to the experiment appealed to me. I'm not looking for the misty and the spiritual; I want facts as much as he does, and I'm less concerned with what the truth is than with what can be proved. If something can be proved, I get over myself and accept it whatever it is and regardless of how sincerely I wanted the truth to be something else. So an approach that others might find dry works well for me - and was particularly fascinating because his Scientist Hat kept slipping momentarily as the author got more flabbergasted and excited with the results, and with the careful calculations of probability (he explains them to you so you don't think he's merely tossing numbers) that suggest to a factor of one in hundreds of millions that this is no coincidence.
Someone else might be looking for a book that supports their opinion that psychic stuff is all smoke and mirrors. Or, they're looking for someone who is going to stroke their need to keep spiritualism mysterious and creepy. If you're that person, avoid this book. If you're up for a challenge to your way of thinking, however, read it. I don't think you'll find a flaw - though the author repeatedly invites you to look for one.
Opinion: This is one of those times when society is going to have to shift its paradigm and accept the fact that the world is NOT flat, and that the sun does NOT circle the earth. It's tough, but the human race has done it before and survived. There are now reams of scientific data that indicate that there is life after death, and that the dead are around us and communicate if we can, or are willing to listen.
I saw the documentary of this experiment when it aired on HBO some years back. It blew me away to the extent that I bought a ticket to a John Edward seminar to see for myself. And I did. The stuff is real, like it or not, and it has now been scientifically tested and documented. Believe it or don't believe it, but you can't change the results or make them go away. That's all this book does: reveal the results of an amazing and mind-boggling laboratory test.
Rejecting the data because it is "saner" not to believe it is the antithesis of critical thinking, and is anti-science. There are those for whom NO evidence will EVER be sufficient because they already know all the truths of the universe (they'll tell you so!), and they happen to know life after death is hogwash. Let them. The author's tests were increasingly more stringent, and he's continuing to look for ways to improve them. Even without a perfectly airtight set of tests, the results suggest that 100% airtight testing won't change anything: mediums will still be able to communicate with the dead. Just read the book, and reach your own conclusions.
In offering evidence that consciousness survives bodily death, the author goes well beyond the "preponderance of evidence" standard required to prove civil law suits and, in this reviewer's opinion, easily exceeds the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required for criminal cases.
Certainly, Dr. Schwartz has the credentials of a true scientist. He received his doctorate from Harvard and taught at Yale before moving on to the University of Arizona, where he is professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery as well as the director of its Human Energy Systems Laboratory. But Schwartz is not your mainstream scientist. Even though very much a skeptic himself, he had the courage to take on a research project in a scientifically taboo area after being introduced to a medium who immediately began communicating very evidential material from his mother.
Schwartz arranged for five mediums, including the well-known John Edward and George Anderson, to undergo testing at his laboratory. All possible scientific controls and precautions were taken. The conclusion by Schwartz and Dr. Linda Russek, who collaborated with him in the research, was that the mediums were indeed gifted and able to communicate with spirit entities.
In in the initial stages of the research, Schwartz found it difficult to believe what he was seeing and hearing. "My degree of doubt in the presence of all data was frankly irrational," he writes. "I was experiencing skeptimania." But as the research continued, Schwartz was forced to face the truth. "I can no longer ignore the data and dismiss the words," he continues. "They are as real as the sun, the trees, and our television sets, which seem to pull pictures out of the air."
While the appendix to the book reads like a scientific journal, the book itself is well written in layman's language. To the "believer" in survival of consciousness, this book should signifantly bolster his or her faith. To the "true" skeptic, the book will open some eyes and the light might be allowed to penetrate an open mind. To the pseudo-skeptic, however, it will, unfortunately, do nothing more than raise eyebrows. These pseudo skeptics are the intellectually arrogant with closed minds who don't really examine the data. If Schwartz's research can't convince them, nothing can.
on April 16, 2002
I wish I had written this book!
This book has been adequately summarized by the other reviewers so I won't reiterate. However, I will say that as a biomedical scientist I understand 1) the professional risk Dr. Schwartz is taking, 2) appreciate his initial reluctance to take a firm stance on the meaning of his data, 3) and applaud his courage in shouting to the world - "Wake up and see what's in front of you!" Life is a lot more interesting when your eyes are open.
I'm not psychic, but when reading this book I sensed that it would long be remembered as the start of a scientific revolution, and perhaps even a spiritual revolution. This is not hyperbole - in my humble opinion this book is just that good, and that important.
From my perspective as a skeptic (but not a cynic) and as one who both writes and reviews physical and biomedical research proposals and papers, I was constantly on guard for weakness in the study and exaggeration in the book's reporting. Sure, there were a few design flaws initially, but the researchers constantly worked to improve their protocol. That's hard work - and dishonest or lazy scientists don't go to the trouble.
I have two thoughts about the book's reporting style. If I had witnessed what Drs. Schwartz, Russek and the rest of their team had seen, I also would be exuberant. In fact, in my estimation they used considerable restraint.
Secondly, scientific discourse is by nature exacting, which often makes it painfully tedious. Gary Schwartz has fulfilled his obligation to scientists by publishing his results in peer-reviewed scientific journals. To fulfill his obligation to laymen a different style is required. So I'm guessing that some of the ebullient style of writing in this book is the influence of the publisher (not a hard core science publisher) and the writer William Simon. They clearly know how to make a book accessible to the masses.
And accessible it is - I read it at every opportunity: during lunch, before going to work, and until late at night. I didn't quite finish it in one sitting; it is after all a relatively large book. But I thought about it throughout my workday, and could not wait until I got back home to resume reading. Now that's a good book!
I strongly suggest you consider the author's thought provoking question posed near the end of the book: What if this was all true? How would you, and all humanity be changed?
on February 28, 2002
With a foreword by Deepak Chopra, this new book details experiments on mediumship conducted under the best set of scientific protocols yet attempted. Over the years, Gary Schwartz, an Ivy League psychologist with impeccable credentials, assembled his Dream Team of mediums and convinced them to work under strict supervision-usually not their venue of choice.
The experiments constituted significant risk for all involved. For Gary Schwartz, his academic standing was on the line. As a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery at the University of Arizona, venturing into such controversial and uncharted waters could be devastating. The mediums participating also were placed at risk in that it was made known that anyone caught cheating would be publicly exposed. For those making a livelihood from readings with departed loved ones, such official denouncement could hurt them financially.
Schwartz is first to acknowledge that readings from mediums are rarely perfect. In fact, he uses the Michael Jordan analogy. Jordan is acclaimed, not because he is perfect, but rather, because he is better than everyone else playing the game. His lifetime shooting average is about 45 percent. That's scoring less than half of the time. So too, Schwatz's Dream Team was made up of individuals who have remarkable track records, most of which have held up over a period of many years. Their exact averages have not been established, but they are far better than average or chance.
In designing the experiments Schwartz carefully listened to the established skeptics and incorporated their concerns and criticisms into the protocols. Foremost among these was the notion of a cold reading in which some self-professed psychics use feedback from the person to zero in on relevant issues. To prevent leakage of information, the protocols prevented direct visual contact between the medium and the sitter. In fact, during the initial phase of the experiments, the mediums provided their impressions with no feedback whatsoever. Only later in the process was controlled acknowledgement incrementally provided to them.
Just as Michael Jordan occasionally has a phenomenal game, some of the mediums have had extraordinary hits. Schwartz includes these as the White Crow Readings, ones in which the amount of specific and verifiable information exceeds any expectations, let alone chance. As an example, one medium, Laurie Campbell, a delightful young California housewife, correctly identified close relationships between George, Michael, Alice, Bob, and Jerry before any contact had been established. While most people might have relationships between friends and relatives with one or two of those names, five for five is well above chance. It gets better from there but you can read the rest of the story yourself.
It should be noted that the protocols call for the readings to be divided into information segments and then judged by the sitters to ascertain the degree of correctness. What seems to be most striking is when the mediums correctly identify specific information, previously unknown to the sitter. Only after later verification does the sitter learn that the reading was correct. With sufficient specificity, such examples can rule out any possible inadvertant information transfer between the sitter and the medium.
Most who claim the title of skeptic are really debunkers. For them, no amount of evidence will ever suffice. For the vast majority, who have an open mind but would like to believe we outlast our mortal coil, The Afterlife Experiments will provide both reassurance and guideposts. The true believers are often far out on the other end of the spectrum from debunkers. For them this book will be preaching to the converted. Still, it will provide facts to support their beliefs in a nonsectarian manner.
Ultimately, death remains the final great mystery. Gary Schwartz has yet to solve this teleological puzzle definitively, but he has gone a long way in presenting hard evidence in support of the nearly universal theories and belief systems that consciousness, in some form, continues beyond cessation of bodily functioning. If you're planning to make the trip-and who isn't-then I highly recommend you read this book.
on December 9, 2002
Life after death has been one if the many controversial topics of discussion. Inductive arguments exist such as is there life after death, are love and life eternal, and is there a survival of consciousness after physical death. In this book Dr. Gary Schwartz and his research partner Dr. Linda Russek set out to investigate this phenomenon. With the help of a handful of well-known mediums, they set out to prove, or disprove, the existence of an afterlife through a series of well-controlled experiments.
I had a hard time in the beginning of this book believing in it. Being one of I am sure many people these days that are questioning their faith, the thought of life after death was pretty much a doubt to me. It is hard not to become a believer however after reading this book. The circumstances of the experiments left me rereading the scientific results searching for my own explanations, however I could not find any. Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Russek were very careful to control their laboratory conditions in each experiment they conducted. In these controlled experiments the mediums attempted to contact those family and friends who had past on of "sitters" who at times were hidden from view and kept silent so as not to allow the mediums any opportunity to get any kind of hints from the sitters. The two Dr.'s first started testing the survival of consciousness hypothesis before moving through several other experiments each getting more and more controlled with the use of curtains, walls, and silence. Through several experiments including a single blind experiment, kept secret from everyone but the experimenter, they were able to scientifically rule out telepathy and remote viewing, amongst other things, while the mediums accurately conveyed several facts with no help from the sitter. Not only were the mediums accurate independently, but as a group collectively. Through out the entire book the Dr.'s remained their biggest skeptics. The thought of being deceived lead them to be more cautious about accepting "evidence" from their experiments and the people in them no matter what their credentials. They used arguments of elimination to rule out logically the various possibilities of deception, telepathy, and even remote viewing.
At one point Dr. Schwartz states that science is a systematic approach to obtaining knowledge. After several of the experiments Dr. Schwartz goes so far as to compare the results with control groups outside the experiments to see if they could come up with the same results as the mediums. Science must continue to address the issues of the fraud hypothesis. The only way to do this is by repeating the same conditions and examining the results over and over under these conditions if any one is to believe in mediums. The one thing that grabbed me the most about the book was surprisingly not the extraordinary accurate information that these mediums were able to obtain in these highly controlled experiments, but the fact that Dr. Schwartz welcomes any help in discovering any flaws in his experiments in order to develop better ones. It is as if he does not want to believe his own findings.
Was there a possibility of deception by the people involved in these experiments? With each experiment the chance of deception decreased as the control levels increased to disprove each deception. Each experiment is described clearly and the findings were for the most part consistent. I feel that Dr. Schwartz presents his findings of an afterlife with scientific evidence through his controlled experiments. I believe his findings to be valid and convincing. There were some attacks on the mediums which could fall under the fallacy of "arguments against a person" where people felt that the mediums were using nothing but magic and forer effects to get there information. But it is in my opinion that the highly controlled experiments and the measures that were taken disprove these attacks.
The claim of an afterlife is well presented in this book. The evidence collected in these experiments support the claim of an afterlife with 80% accuracy and disproves other hypothesis like telepathy, magic, fraud, deception, and remote viewing. The use of control groups double-checking the evidence support the accuracy of the evidence collected. I would have to agree with Dr. Russek when she states "Let the data speak, whatever the data says". The experiments conducted by Dr. Schwartz make it hard not to believe in an afterlife.
on March 1, 2002
To say I'm a total skeptic about psychics, mediums, and communicating with the dead puts it too mildly. Can't be, isn't, never was, won't be.
And yet, and yet...I wss surprised to find this book compelling reading and with experiments under scientifically controlled conditions that are just spooky. Something's going on. I don't know what it is; I'm still a skeptic, but it certainly appears that a small number of mediums are able to do things that are well beyond explanation.
It helps that the sessions with the mediums were well planned and very carefully carried out, and that the book is so well written that it holds your attention like a mystery novel. Quite a feat, given that I'm such a non-believer. I'm not sure what I am now; I still don't believe, but I'm not as ready to say it can't be done!
on March 26, 2007
If you are a skeptic about the afterlife I highly recommend this book. It's written by an unbaised scientist who has spent years testing mediums; his mantra is "let the data speak" - and BOY does it! If you like this genre, or are interested in mediums and what they have to offer, you will love all of the readings in this book and all of the scientific proof that there really is another life after this one. It's one of the best books I have read about the afterlife and I have a bookshelf devoted to nothing but books of this type
on June 13, 2003
Anyone who arrives at this site should do himself or herself the favor of ordering this book and forming an independent judgment. In particular, be wary of today's dogmatic "skeptics," so desperate to discredit anything that might disclose a flaw in their rigid worldview. Be from Missouri (the "Show Me" state), read the book, and weigh the evidence first-hand.
The remarkable thing here is the author's credentials. Schwartz (whom I don't know personally) was a Harvard Ph.D. hired by Yale, who spent many years on the Yale faculty. Normally, if you come out of a Harvard Ph.D. program and are hired by Yale, you represent the crème de la crème of your profession. Schwartz was someone destined to spend his career in the top reaches of Ivy League academe. The only reason he ended up at Arizona is his love for the American Southwest (and who wouldn't prefer the climate of Tucson to that of New Haven?). He is well-established in his profession, the author of 400 peer-reviewed articles, an academic at the top of his game. The man clearly knows how to design a sound scientific study, and he applies every iota of his expertise to this project. Part of the drama of the narrative is the story of his progressive refinement of his experimental design--in effect, making it harder and harder for the mediums to gain cues from the "sitters" by reducing verbal and other interaction to near-zero--even though the results of his initial set of experiments are already quite persuasive. It's not a case of a professor gone nutty, but of a guy who stumbles on phenomena that seem to flatly contradict the secular worldview, and who chases the truth down like a bloodhound, using every scientific resource at his disposal. Notably, Schwartz had the full backing of his university authorities in these experiments, a strong sign that professional colleagues around him do not perceive that he has gone off his rocker. In fact, one can only admire the courage and intellectual honesty it must have taken to win approval for this project and undertake it.
While the book is written in a popular style (though hardly "carnival barker"), its appendices include the full texts of the scholarly articles that came out of the experiments. So if your true passion is histograms and p-values, there's also plenty here to satiate your cravings...
on October 5, 2003
First and foremost, to address some 'ugly' things:
1. The vast majority of criticism of this book seems to be the ever so popular a priori criticism: please read the book, then question.
2. The research is not 'soft' on evidence; the quantative data is there, albeit abhoringly incomplete: this is to be expected, this book is one of the first of the kind.
3. CSICOP 'rebuttal' of this book is awfully weak, I expected more. The part that would be most devastating, aligations of cold reading, is also the weakest because the people sampled in the Afterlife Experiments do a beginning session without gathering any information. Schwartz has a reason to be righteously indignant on this point: if it is cold readings, PROVE it. It is easy to be an armchair critic, but doing one's own experiments is considerably harder.
Now, having cleared this, although the research is flawed, particularily the sample size, this is to be expected. However, regardless of this, the qualitative side is so thorough that it makes the sample almost irrelevant. I do not think this book 'proves' consciousness survives: no experiment in my mind can completely prove it. However, we may now perhaps begin formulating the afterlife THEORY, which is downright exciting.
I am not sure if research like this will ever hit mainstream, however. Materialism is still much too popular to allow for extensive research, which would make the sample size stronger.