1-Michael, tell us something about your background.
I grew up in Alameda, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and graduated from the San Jose State University School of Journalism in 1958. Because newspapers were closing right and left due to the growth of television in the years following college and military service, there wasn’t much of a future in print journalism. Therefore I ended up with a career in insurance claims management, although I did much freelance writing – mostly sports – on the side over the years. After becoming interested in spiritual matters during the early 1990s, I began writing more and more in that area. I have contributed articles on spirituality to at least a dozen different publications, many of the recent ones appearing in Atlantis Rising Magazine. My book, The Articulate Dead, was published in 2008 by Galde Press and my latest book, The Afterlife Revealed, has just been released by White Crow Books.
Much of my insurance career involved litigation management and so I applied the scientific method thousands of times in my 40 years in the business. Basically, my job was to weigh all the evidence and then decide whether to settle the claim or go to court, while considering the costs involved in the two alternatives. Yes, it was courtroom science, not laboratory science, but the evidence for the paranormal is more in the area of courtroom science than laboratory science. So when someone asks me what my science credentials are I tell him that I might very well hold the Guinness world record for applying the scientific method, 40-plus years of applying it on a daily basis.
Also, I have written a book about distance running, titled Running on Third Wind. A fellow runner recently asked me how I went from running to writing about afterlife research and I explained to him that running is all about learning how to die. In the perfectly run race, you metaphorically “die” at the finish line, but then, when you recover, there is great elation at what you have accomplished, sort of a “heaven on earth” if it is an especially important race to the person. I experienced it many times in my competitive years.
2-Why did you get interested in afterlife research and spiritualism?
Looking for something to read on a train from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta in 1989, I hastily bought a paperback about reincarnation. I found it intriguing and things just evolved from there – first Edgar Cayce, then books on near-death experiences, then mediumship. I had grown up a Catholic but left the church during my 30s. I was 52 when I bought that book in 1989 and was looking for something to believe in. I guess you could say I had a will to believe.
3-Have you had any personal, first-hand experience with some phenomenon suggestive of survival of consciousness?
I had a couple of fairly evidential readings at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain in London during 1999, but for the most part I have been a vicarious experiencer.
4-Your lastest book about the afterlife entitled The Afterlife Revealed has been recently published. Can you tell us what did motive you to write this book and which is the main contribution of it to the afterlife literature?
There is so much out there about dying and the afterlife, but it is scattered all around in different books and journals. I wanted to make an attempt at collating the best and most credible information. Dr. Robert Crookall did that 50 or 60 years ago, but I am not aware of any attempts at it since. As I quote Dr. Carl Jung in the opening to the book, “A man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it – even if he must confess his failure. Not to have done so is a vital loss.” I really believe that and believe that most of the chaos and turmoil we have in the world today is a result of non-belief in the survival of consciousness. Many people say they believe, but they really just hope for it. Religion has not given them anything to visualize beyond streets paved with gold and angels with wings and harps. Can you imagine an eternity of singing hymns and praising God 24/7? No wonder so many people claim to prefer extinction and turn to atheism. As I discussed in my last blog post, life after death is even a taboo subject in hospices.
It is my belief that once people see this life as part of a larger life, they better enjoy this life and become more spiritualistic and less materialistic and hedonistic. We hear so much about “living in the moment,” but the best way to live in the moment is to “live in eternity,” and the only way to do that is to be able to visualize a meaningful afterlife. That’s what I try to picture in my book.
5-Is your book aimed at a popular audience, or at scholars (or both kinds of public)?
It’s aimed at anyone who expects to die and wants to make the most of it.
6-Which is the best scientific evidence for the afterlife?
To quote Professor C. J. Ducasse, “The prima facie most impressive evidence there could be of the survival of a deceased friend or relative would be to see and touch his materialized, recognizable bodily form, which then speaks in his or her characteristic manner.” If my deceased parents or brother were to materialize in my presence and talk to me about personal matters known only to us, that would be the best possible evidence for me. While the great majority of materializations have been incomplete, defective or partial, there have been a few mediums who were strong enough to produce full materialized spirits who could stand and talk to the sitters. Joseph Jonson, Minnie Harrison, and Alec Harris are mediums that immediately come to mind. Dr. John King, president of the Canadian Society for Psychical Research, had his wife materialize through Jonson’s mediumship. She spoke to him for several minutes about very personal matters, before disappearing into the floor. Roy Dixon-Smith, a British army officer, tells of a sitting with Minnie Harrison in which his deceased wife, Betty, materialized, spoke with him, kissed him, and then disappeared. There were many such manifestations with Alec Harris.
Second best would be the direct voice, in which the voice resembles that of the deceased person while also relating veridical material. The most convincing reports of the direct voice were by Admiral W. Usborne Moore with medium Etta Wriedt. His books, Glimpses of Eternity and The Voices, are available on the Internet and I highly recommend them.
7-Do you think the super-ESP hypothesis can account for the best cases suggestive of survival?
The Super ESP hypothesis does not seem to have any limits for those who accept it. The key question which believers in Super ESP never address is why the subconscious is so intent on tricking the conscious self, and others at the same time. If all those communicating “spirits” are simply aspects of our subconscious, then we have to ask who programmed the subconscious to be such a trickster. Why is the subconscious pretending to be your deceased loved one or friend? What’s the game? In the evidential reading I had in London, it was an old friend I had rarely thought about in 20 years who communicated. Why did my subconscious surface him rather than my brother? If there is a God who programmed it that way, does that mean we have a God without an afterlife? If there is a “cosmic reservoir” out there with every thought and deed ever expressed, is that God? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory, said he couldn’t see how evolution could produce such a trickster. I think Occam’s Razor easily favors the spirit hypothesis over Super ESP or Superpsi. .
8-As an expert in the mediumship literature, what do you think of William Crookes' research with Florence Cook? As you know, skeptics who question Crookes' research with her have mentioned several important criticisms: 1-In at least two occasions, sitters grabbed a materialized spirit in one of Florence Cook's séances and found it to be Florence herself. 2-Cook had an association with Rosina Showers, who was a fake medium. 3-In the photos taken by William Crookes, they never clearly show Florence Cook and Katie King together. Moreover, in the photo that supposedly shows both of them, Florence's face is covered by a shawl. 4-Also, King has a amazing facial similarity with Cook, which is what we'd expect if they're in fact the same person. Critics argue that this evidence, taken as a whole, cast doubts on Florence's mediumship and hence on Crookes's positive scientific conclusions about her. What do you think of such criticisms?
It would take a 5000 word essay to properly address your questions. However, it seems well established now that physical mediumship is carried out by low-level spirits, not necessarily evil spirits, just not particularly advanced ones, and that they control the medium while she or he is in a trance condition. I am not sure that Rosina Showers was a “fake” medium any more than Eusapia Paladino was. That is, their “fraud,” if you want to call it that, was mostly unconscious action carried out by the low-level spirits who were influencing them to achieve an objective. I believe there is good evidence that Showers produced some genuine mediumistic phenomena, although it may not be as well documented as with Paladino. In fact, as I recall, Serjeant Cox, the lawyer who supposedly caught Showers cheating, concluded that it was unconscious “fraud.” I believe there were many other physical mediums disparaged and defamed because investigators couldn’t distinguish between these unconscious movements of the entranced medium and actual fraud. Moreover, many people look at some of the seemingly ridiculous manifestations from ectoplasm and they jump to conclusion that the mediums were fake, when in fact the spirits simply couldn’t master the materialization process and thus they produced incomplete and sometimes very hokey manifestations. Or the mediums weren’t strong enough in the first place to provide the spirits with sufficient working material.
As for the resemblance of Katie King to Florence Cook, it is my understanding that the ectoplasm, which comes from the medium, is to some extent responsible for this. That is, the medium’s vital fluids carry with them DNA or genetic material that results in the materialized spirit bearing a resemblance to the medium. But I believe that Katie was clearly 4-5 inches taller than Florence, according to Crookes and others and I am not sure she resembled her that much. But one has to understand that the ideoplastic nature of ectoplasm requires the materializing spirit to visualize what he or she looked like when alive and project that image into the ectoplasm. One spirit told Professor Charles Richet that he could not materialize because he couldn’t remember what he looked like when alive. The same thing happened with Florence Marrayat in a sitting with Florence Cook. Her friend appeared, but it didn’t look like him. He said something to the effect that he needed to practice a little and he would give it a better try the next night, which he did, and she recognized him the second time.
It is the same with spirit photography. Many of those old spirit photographs resembled portraits of the person when he or she was alive and so they were assumed to be fraudulent for that reason. But those photographs were what the spirit visualized when trying to remember what he or she looked like. If you were to ask me to project an image of myself to you on the other side of the world over the telephone, I suspect I would look much younger than I am, perhaps like an old photograph when I was 25. I tend to think of myself as being closer to 25 than 75 and sometimes shock myself when I look in the mirror and realize I don’t look as young as I think I do. When I think of my deceased brother, I think of him as he appears in a graduation photo I have of him. If I had to project an image of my brother to you, it would be that photo. Think about it. If we didn’t have old photographs of ourselves, would we remember what we looked like when we were younger?
I don’t recall for sure, but I think Katie King lived before photography and so she probably didn’t have a fixed image of herself when she was alive. Thus, she couldn’t mold the ectoplasm with Florence Cook’s characteristics very well and so ended up looking something like Florence.
9-What do you think of the contemporary materialization mediumship of David Thompson?
I have never had the opportunity to sit with him, but I find it difficult to believe that the many credible people who have sat with him, including Victor Zammit, under controlled conditions, could have been duped countless times. I think Victor has sat with him over a hundred times. I just can’t bring myself to believe that a trickster can get away with it that many times or that he has the desire or incentive to keep up the imposture for so long.
10-Chico Xavier was the most famous and respected medium in Brazil. However, some serious brazilian researchers like Vitor Moura Visoni have argued that Xavier was a fraud. Xavier never accepted scientific controls, his guide never existed, there is much evidence of cold reading and the books have passages copied of others famous books that Moura and other researchers have discovered and documented. Do you think the criticisms mentioned have refuted Xavier's mediumship? Was Xavier a real medium?
My only knowledge of Chico Xavier comes from Guy Playfair’s biography of him and sundry articles found on the Internet. . My guess is that Chico, being a physical medium, was also a victim of some low-level spirits on occasions and that this activity was accepted by his critics as conscious fraud. There was just too much phenomena that cannot be explained by magic or fraud to write him off as a charlatan. I recall that one of Vitor’s primary arguments is that Chico’s spirit control could never be tracked down or confirmed. Neither could Phinuit, Imperator, and other spirit controls, but the information that came through them was the evidence, not the prior existence of the spirit control. Indications are that some controls are not individuals but rather a “general spirit influence” that has given itself a name to simplify things. When a spirit was speaking through D. D. Home, Crookes asked for an identity. The response was that it was not one spirit, but several, as one spirit was not strong enough to control Daniel. When the purported William James began communicating through Susy Smith he gave another name as he assumed that if he gave his real name no one would believe it. Vitor seems to be applying terrestrial standards to celestial matters he doesn’t understand.
11-According to your research, does reincarnation exist? And if it's the case, how do we explain that many mystics and spirits in the afterlife have said that reincarnation doesn't occur?
I have come to the conclusion that reincarnation exists, but it doesn’t play out the way most people who believe in it think it does. I believe that the non-local aspects of time put it beyond human comprehension. I accept Silver Birch’s communication about reincarnation that “… there are what you call ‘group souls,’ a single unity with facets which have spiritual relationships that incarnate at different times, at different places, for the purpose of equipping the larger soul for its work.” I don’t really understand that, but I accept that there are celestial matters that are beyond human understanding and language.
12-What do you think of the teaching of Silver Birch? Are they reliable?
Everything that Silver Birch communicated appeals to reason, at least to my reason. I find nothing offensive or unreasonable in the teachings of Silver Birch. “By their fruits, ye shall know them,” is the best test.
13-What do you think of Jesus of Nazareth? Does your research suggest something about Jesus' resurrection?
I consider the Christ spirit as part of the hierarchy of souls, perhaps even the equivalent of Chairman of the Board, if we can apply terrestrial organization to the celestial spheres. I feel certain that orthodox religion has misinterpreted his resurrection. I believe his spirit body, whatever name one wants to give to it, separated from his physical body, as it does with all of us and that he later materialized in front of his disciples. There is speculation that Jesus chose his disciples based on their mediumistic ability so that he could easily materialize in their presence. I can accept that theory.
14-According to your research, the phenomena known as "ghosts" or "apparitions" is a real one? Do ghosts exist?
If we define “ghosts” to mean “spirits of the dead,” then, yes, I believe they exist. I believe there are many “earthbound” spirits hovering around us and sometimes making themselves known and influencing people in negative ways. But there are also more enlightened spirits who influence us in positive ways.
15-Do you think near-death experience provide good evidence for the afterlife?
Definitely. I don’t think is as good as some mediumship phenomena, but it clearly suggests that we have a spirit body as well as a physical one.
16-A very controversial line of evidence for survival is Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC). Do you think research in these fields provide good and reliable evidence for survival?
Frankly, the field has not interested me all that much. I have read four or five books about EVP or ITC, and they have been fairly convincing, but so much of it is like looking for faces in the clouds. Not all of it, but most of it. I recently read a book by Anabela Cardosa (“Electronic Voices”) that suggests that there is much more to it than faces in the clouds.
17-Do you think that the evidence for survival conflicts with contemporary science, specially neuroscience and evolutionary biology?
Not being a neuroscientist or evolutionary biologist, I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question. As they say in the law, Res Ipsa Loquitor, the evidence speaks for itself. The neuroscientist or evolutionary biologist should figure out how to fit his or her paradigm to the spiritual paradigm, not the other way around.
18-According to your extensive research, can you summarize what happens when we die?
There is a separation of the spirit body from the physical body. Depending on its spiritual consciousness, or its “moral specific gravity,” the spirit body awakens in its new environment or on its new plane of existence. If the person did not develop any real consciousness while alive, he won’t even realize he is dead and will be “earthbound” and may take years in earth time to awaken. If he developed a little spiritual consciousness, he might be in a stupor for some time, however time is measured there. It is a matter of degree. The more spiritually conscious person will quickly adjust and adapt to his new environment and take up where he left off, continuing to learn and evolve.
19-What reliable information coming from the afterlife have you read regarding God's existence?
I believe that God, whatever He, She, or It happens to be is beyond human comprehension. I lean toward God as being Cosmic or Collective Consciousness. I don’t concern myself with the existence or non-existence of God. It is enough for me to believe that consciousness survives physical death. Most people need an anthropomorphic God and to some extent I do, as I can’t visualize cosmic consciousness. So Jesus is still “God” for me in a way, occupying that Chairman of the Board position. There was a reason why the Church adopted Jesus as God. People needed to visualize a king figure or some kind. But then the churches muddled it all up with some ridiculous dogma and doctrine, especially the atonement doctrine.
20-What do you think of organized skepticism (CSICOP, etc.) and its militant and persistent opposition and hostility to psi and afterlife research?
I believe such pseudoskepticism begins as a reaction by left-brained people with strong egos against the superstitions and non-sensical teachings of religious fundamentalists without much, or any, understanding of spirituality outside of organized religion. It is scientific fundamentalism or scientism. They never really open their minds to true spirituality and they remain stuck in the muck and mire of their own closed-minded egos.
21-What books would you like to recommend about the scientific evidence for survival?
The best books were all written by the pioneers of psychical research – Crookes, Barrett, Lodge, Myers, Hyslop, et al. My book, The Articulate Dead, more or less summarizes their work, which is as solid today and it was a hundred years ago. If I had to pick one author, I would say the four or five books written by Dr. James Hyslop would be the starting point. It depends on the level the person is at in the first place.
22-Do you want to add something else to end the interview?
Life is like a long-distance race. There is a start and a finish. In between, we strive and we stride, we stumble, stagger, and struggle, but we surge on and we surmount. We sometimes surrender and we sometimes soar. The objective is to train properly and pace ourselves so that we completely soar just after hitting the finish line.