Research proves the existence of a ‘sixth sense’
Sunday Herald (Scotland), Apr. 27, 2003
By Karin Goodwin
Scottish academics claim to have found scientific proof of a ‘sixth sense’ after completing radical experiments which seek to establish how spiritual mediums obtain information supposedly transmitted from beyond the grave.
The controversial research, led by a University of Glasgow professor, appears to discount the common assumption that mediums are merely picking up signals from body language, or relying on guesswork and prior knowledge.
The findings come as a resurgence of interest in seances has been noted nationally by experts, with an increase in spiritualist church attendances and meetings and a spate of television programmes involving alleged psychics.
Head researcher, Professor Archie Roy, said: ‘There is no doubt from the work we have done that mediums can obtain information using more than the five normal senses.
‘The results so far have been assessed with hard maths and statistics. We believe that we have disproved the idea that all mediums are able to do is make general statements.
‘Until recently parapsychology was quite disinterested in spontaneous work with mediums. Now there seems to be a different attitude. You can do a lot of very good work with mediums as long as you are patient, spend a lot of time and are not too confrontational.’
Professor Roy’s experiments, said to be the most conclusive to date, used scientific techniques such as double blind testing in which the medium and the recipients, or audience, were placed in separate rooms.
Communication was established using a microphone and the identities of all involved kept under wraps. Now Roy wants to conduct further research to discover how the positive results of the last experience could be explained.
He said: ‘We now have to move beyond these findings. One theory is that the medium can access information in other people’s minds but how does the medium do this? This research will have to be followed up by all sorts of investigation.’
His work has already sparked fierce debate in the academic community. Yet even doubters have admitted his methodology seems sound, though many believe it will need to be replicated if it is to regarded as authoritative.
According to Gordon Smith, a medium involved in the experiments that spanned over four years, although some of his work can be explained by normal phenomenon the research proves he is also using senses that we don’t understand.
He said: ‘Basically you are using a heightened sense. It is just like radio waves. If there is an emotional tie with the person you want to contact a medium can pick up the signals.
‘A lot of scientists would argue that I am downloading the information from somewhere and I wouldn’t argue with that. There’s not always a spirit contact. If you were very emotional you’d give off a lot of feeling and I would be able to pick up the fact that you were going through a crisis time.
‘However with a lot of the work I’ve done with Archie Roy I can’t even see the audience and so I can’t fall back on body language.
‘When you are working with the scientific community you can’t make general statements — it is totally different from the way you might see people on TV just trawling for information with general statements like ‘I can feel someone over here has lost someone’.’
Despite widespread scepticism regarding the claims of mediums, seance attendances have rocketed. The Spiritualist National Union now has some 20,000 members and estimates regular attendances of around three times that number at over 300 churches in the UK.
While they believe some of the interest has been sparked by television series such as Living TV’s ghost-hunting show, Most Haunted, and high-profile stunts such as the supposed Princess Diana seance, they also point to social factors.
John Weir, Scottish chairman of the SNU, said: ‘There has certainly been an upsurge in interest. Young people particularly are looking from something different that is not being given to them elsewhere. Spiritualists are answering a need in the community.
‘The only person who can really know if it is genuine is the one who gets a message. When that happens it is certainly a wonderful experience and it can be really uplifting for someone going through grief. People are mostly in need of comfort.’
Yet many have warned against the exploitative techniques used by some mediums.
Though unscrupulous spiritualists can be prosecuted under the Fraudulent Mediums Act, brought in after the second world war to stop psychics claiming contacts with dead soldiers, the industry is not officially regulated.
Dr Richard Wiseman, psychology professor, at Hertfordshire university said: ‘Whether a medium is genuine or not, they may still make you feel better about your loss and no harm is done.
‘However there is the danger that they can be exploitative. The concept of bereavement counselling is about reaching closure. But a medium can work to keep that link open and if you start to become dependent on that medium that’s where it can become dangerous.’