Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Research Note : Experiments in Mediumship on the Web


One of the key problems facing any investigator of psi phenomena is bringing the work to colleagues and to the public. This has traditionally involved first peer-reviewed journal publication, followed by publication in mainstream media such as books on a subject suitable for both scientific and lay audiences. Introducing colleagues and the public to the work in the early phases is a challenge. Traditionally this did not pose a great problem, since experimenters and investigators typically wanted to refine methods and protocols privately before publication. But a new type of field experiementation lends itself to early feedback. The key challenge is making the work available to colleagues spanning the globe in real-time. This challenge has been overcome using Internet technology. In a pilot project a public video server was used to make field research work available to the public as a technology experiment. This proved quite successful.


Online technology provides a seamless way to integrate research partners and the public into real-time experiments irrespective of the location of the parties. Co-location has been a problem traditionally. When the experimental setting moves out of the laboratory and into the field, the problems are magnified even further. Ideally, we would like to maintain control of the enviornment while at the same time making it possible for as many colleagues as we wish to see the work in real-time. Using the Internet and streaming video servers answers this need.

We decided to start not with a traditional parapsychology experiment, but instead with something potentially a bit more edgy and likely interesting to the general public. We promoted a field investigation at the world-famous Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, California. We have had some success in that setting communicating through trance channel with the legendary Beautiful Stranger of the Hotel Del Coronado. Her story has been told and retold for over a century. But the story seems to be very wrong, as we were told by her in 2006. We have been able to substantiate this information with careful historical research over two years' time. We are now confident that the legend is wrong and that we have the correct telling of the story. It is time to embark on a new phase of this research and we decided to expose our process to the public, online, unrehearsed and unscripted.

We chose to record the video in a guest room at the Hotel Del Coronado. At the same time, we streamed video to a publicly available video server at www.ustream.com. The trance medium, Bonnie Vent of San Diego, promoted this using her usual contact channels across the Internet. The broadcast went up on ustream.com at 5:15 PM Sunday, September 7, 2008. The 1 1/2 hour broadcast was archived at www.ustream.com/bonnievent for later viewing. It is available at www.sdparanormal.com under the Hotel Del Coronado section.


We said at the outset of the broadcast that we had no idea who might speak that evening, and we were certainly correct. We have never had trouble making contact, and this evening was no exception. However, aside from hearing briefly from the Beautiful Stranger herself for a short time, most of the remainder of the evening was spent talking with one or another inter-dimensional individual characterized as "high-level guidance". Eventually we were able to use the ustream.com chat facility to enable our viewers to ask questions interactively, to which this apparent inter-dimensional being was able to respond.

Questions spanned topics including demons and demonism, how those in other dimensions communicate with us, reactions to commercialization of paranormal topics, how to communicate with a particular spirit person, the reaction from spirit when someone in the physical world rebukes or fears attempted communications, the 'shadow people' phenomena and a discussion of reincarnation. Also included was a brief explanation of the nature of this 'guidance' and how it related to the medium as an individual.

Perhaps most interesting and measureable was the time spent in trance channel. Most trance mediums find they become quite tired after no more than twenty minutes. It is rare to go on longer. In this case we timed the trance channel session at over 55 minutes. This is the longest time this medium has spent in continual channel and the longest channel that I have ever observed anyone in channel having worked with mediums for over forty years. It is possible we set a record not only for one of the first online web cast of actual trance channeling from the Hotel Del Coronado, but also for the length of the trance channeling.


The obvious question one must ask is 'was this real?' This is certainly top of my mind. The nature of the communications were certainly unexpected. Comparing the work with that of Bonnie Vent's earlier channel of the Beautiful Stranger, the two are quite similar in mode and personality. Even though the two events were separated by almost two years, we have the earlier communications on video and can compare the two. While there are some slight differences, the style and personality is markedly similar to conversations with the Beautiful Stranger in 2006. As to the others who came through in September 2008, it is notable that their style is reminiscent of Bonnie Vent's personal style. However the communicators were more erudite than Bonnie. Some aspects of the trance personality pervade Bonnie's personality. This is not uncommon in trance mediumship. We find traces of the medium's personality interlaced with the various communicating trance personalities. We do not consider this evidence against the validity of the mediumship. Especially in the case of historical mediumship information is often given that at the time even historians knowledgable in the history believe to be wrong. Later it is not uncommon for them to discover the information to be correct, thus changing the history itself. This is the ultimate validation of these events and characterizes much of our previous work.

Future Work

It is our intent moving forward to use this approach for two purposes. One is to provide us with an alternate way to record and archive our field work with minimal site and personnel coordination. A second purpose is to enable colleagues (and where appropriate the public) to join in our investigations. Several investigators have commented that the more eyes on the field work at the time the better. We agree with this position. Properly executed, this approach has great potential for capturing raw original work in the field.

One obvious caution arises in the context of implicit controls to the environment. While in a laboratory setting controls are easier to enforce, this approach neither weakens nor strengthens controls in field settings. While it might argued that not having physically present observers opens the door to potential chicanery, in this type of mediumistic setting it is reasonably easy to see what is in fact occuring. If the medium had done pre-work to present a more convincing case it is unlikely this would be discovered during information gathering. This sort of finding typically surfaces post-hoc during the data analysis phase of the research. However it is still important to have the usual controls in place apropos the experiment in question.


An experimental prototype was designed and executed wherein a trance medium was observed and queried by observers from the public on the Internet. This prototype was a proof-of-concept that such as technology plan could bring research colleagues together from across the globe in a common research information gathering effort. This prototype was designed for maximum engagement of a public audience. Future work would be more private and would primarily involve research colleagues online.