Research In Progress

Research projects of some members of the Survival Research Institute of Canada include:

  • cataloguing books acquired for the institute’s library
  • maintaining the online Directory of Spiritualist Organizations in Canada
  • preparing a historical photo essay of the T.G. Hamilton table levitation photographs
  • researching the history of Spiritualism in Canada for an eventual book
  • studying psychokinesis in relation to Spiritualist table-tilting phenomena for an eventual website

Research Overview: The Question Of Spirit Survival

Can individual human consciousness survive the death of the individual’s body?

For Western society, this question has been of persistent and absorbing interest, since the Greek philosopher Plato popularized the doctrine of the separation of soul and body. Two thousand years later, the French philosopher Rene Descartes argued the duality of mind and body, with “life” as the conjunction of the two. Today there is a growing body of evidence suggestive of life after death, including near-death experiences, death-bed visions, spontaneous apparitions, and spirit communication through mediums. While personal survival of death has yet to be scientifically proven, the potential implications of the evidence to date for philosophy, psychology, science and religion are enormous.

Spirit Survival Research

In the 19th Century, scientific investigation into the question of life after death was the domain of organizations such as the Society for Psychical Research in England (founded 1882) and the American Society for Psychical Research (1884). These organizations were established by academics who hoped that, through objective study of telepathy and investigation of the phenomena of Spiritualism, their research would determine whether the human personality survives death. The Canadian Society for Psychical Research was created in 1908 and operated until 1916; the principals were Toronto-based medical doctors and academics.[1] Much valuable survival research was conducted and published by these organizations and their founders.

From the 1930s onwards, these groups began to take a broader investigative view. Attention turned to quantitative parapsychological studies not related to spirit survival, such as Dr. J.B. Rhine’s studies of extrasensory perception, and to other paranormal phenomena. As a result, further organizations were founded to refocus research on human survival after death. The best known is the Survival Research Foundation, a Florida-based non-profit organization founded in 1971 in Arizona by Susy Smith who is the author of numerous books on aspects of the paranormal.

Historical Literature

Over the past 150 years, there have been numerous reports published by well-known and highly respected individuals which document evidence suggesting that some part of the human consciousness of individuals has survived bodily death. Perhaps the best known among those accounts are F.W.H. Myers’ Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), Sir Oliver Lodge’s Raymond, or Life After Death (1916), Charles Richet’s Thirty Years of Psychical Research, Arthur Findlay’s The Psychic Stream (1939), C.J. Ducasse’s A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death (1961), and Paul Beard’s Survival of Death (1966). In Canada, the experiments conducted by Winnipeg medical doctor T. Glen Hamilton and his colleagues are documented in Intention and Survival: Psychical Research Studies and the Bearing of Intentional Actions by Trance Personalities on the Problem of Human Survival (1942). Arthur S. Berger’s Evidence of Life After Death: A Casebook for the Tough-minded (1988) provides perhaps the best modern critical analysis.

Evidence versus Proof of Survival

In the many modern studies of spirit survival, it is recognized that evidence and proof are not synonymous. Black’s Law Dictionary provides useful definitions. Evidence may be defined as “testimony, writings or material objects offered in proof of an alleged fact or proposition.” Proof may be “any fact or circumstance which leads the mind to the affirmative or negative of any proposition.” Of course, minds can be changed over time, and what seems to be convincing to someone at one point might no longer seem so, later in time. Proof is not absolute.

Thus, proof depends on personal belief resulting from the presentation of information or evidence. American survival researcher Arthur S. Berger has written: “… belief is arrived at by a process of reasoning that goes on entirely within the mind of the individual to whom something is proved.”[2] No matter how acceptable evidence may be to one group of individuals, inevitably there will be others who still will not accept it as proof. Others still will not allow it to affect their own beliefs. Though spirit survival research is not concerned with religious belief and the faiths to which large portions of humanity adhere, some religions nonetheless provide evidence of spirit survival that cannot be ignored by serious students of the field.

Survival Theories

While spirit survival has not yet been established, the evidence suggesting that there may be some form of continuation of the human personality after death can nonetheless be documented and compiled. In 1978, British mathematician and psychical researcher Robert H. Thouless classified the existing theories about what happens to an individual stream of consciousness at bodily death into the following categories: non-survival, which argues that the stream of consciousness ceases at death; continued survival, holding that consciousness continues indefinitely through the time after death; intermittent revival, including the Eastern philosophy of reincarnation; terminal revival, the Christian resurrection; timeless survival; and survival in a different dimension of time.[3]

Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena

The physical and mental psychic phenomena suggestive of, and investigated for, evidence of life after death is typically described as falling within the realm of the “paranormal,” which includes physical and mental components. Physical psychic phenomena have included transfiguration, materialization and psychokinesis. The mental phenomena encompass telepathy, death-bed visions, mediumistic communication, trance states, out-of-body experiences, and the near-death experience. Spontaneous apparitions may combine elements of both the physical and the mental.

While scientific investigation requires the establishment of research protocols, control and test conditions, and repeatability, researchers in this field have long recognized that the imposition of any rigid conditions may cause mediumistic or psychic workings to “seize up”. The experimenters and conditions can become a part of the experiment.

In 1890, American philosopher and psychologist William James, who had helped found the American Society for Psychical Research, stated in what was to become a famous lecture “that to upset the conclusion that all crows are black, there is no need to seek demonstration that no crows are black; it is sufficient to produce one white crow; a single one is sufficient.” William James believed that Boston medium Mrs. Leonora Piper (1859-1950) was his white crow, an authentic medium capable of demonstrating evidence of survival through her clairvoyant ability.

In her history of the Society for Psychical Research, Renee Haynes, who edited the society’s journal and proceedings from 1970-81, concluded that 100 years of psychical research had established the reality of psychokinesis and telepathy, through careful observation and recording of spontaneous cases and through experimental work.[4] However, no general consensus had been reached with respect to life after death or the myriad other phenomena investigated. Though the scientific establishment has yet to incorporate any conclusions with respect to psychokinesis and telepathy into our broader knowledge base, the general public is more accepting of them.

SRIC Research and Publication

The Survival Research Institute of Canada (SRIC) was founded in 1991 to undertake academic study of the question of human survival of bodily death.

In over 100 collective years of investigation of the survival question, the first directors have been exposed to evidence suggesting that there is some form of continuation of the human soul after death. They are dedicated to the ongoing study of the field. SRIC will facilitate and conduct spirit survival research, investigate phenomena experienced by Canadians, study historical findings and analyze existing psychical research.

Many Canadians have long held the belief in the continued existence of the soul in an afterlife state, some through sheer faith and others through personal experience of mediumship and other phenomena. In recent years, as their generation grows older, the baby boomers are showing an increasing interest in the question. An Angus Reid poll (ca. 1997) has shown that over half of Canadians believe that their family and friends survive death in a recognizable form.

SRIC’s intent is to publish the best documented evidence, together with critical analysis, so that Canadians will have access to reference material to guide them through the myriad popular publications and theories relating to life after death. Its goal is to have research findings compiled in well-documented analyses that remain readable to the layman. It is not the intention of the Institute’s directors to publish popular anecdotal accounts of phenomena that might be readily explained through any of a number of different hypotheses. The focus will be on the evidence of spirit survival provided by the best cases and the provision of alternative explanations.

Plans are being made to undertake a detailed study of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s thirty-year investigation of Spiritualism (1919-1950). Another aim of SRIC is to publish an in-depth historical analysis of the paranormal experiments that Dr. T. Glen Hamilton and associates conducted in Winnipeg between 1918 and 1935. A great deal of research on this topic has already been conducted. It is anticipated that the study will be of interest to Canadians because of the large number of prominent historical figures involved.

Projects undertaken during the past few years have included, among others, a psychokinesis study. To connect other academic researchers to research subjects in the field, SRIC has also compiled and distributed six editions of a directory of Canadian spiritualist organizations.

Before any findings are published, they will be subjected to peer review by academics and others interested in and knowledgeable in the fields of psychology, parapsychology, religion, anthropology, physics, statistics, or other relevant areas of study.

Through documentation, workshop discussion and publication of examples of evidence in an objective and clear manner, the Survival Research Institute of Canada will provide interested individuals with the opportunity to come to their own conclusions with respect to this fundamental issue relating to the very nature of human existence.

The directors of SRIC look forward to being able to share the results of their endeavors with members of the research community, and appreciate their interest in this research overview.

End notes:

[1]Stan McMullin, Anatomy of a Seance: A History of Spirit Communication in Central Canada (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004), p. 87.

[2]Arthur S. Berger, Evidence of Life After Death: A Casebook for the Tough-minded (1988), p. 132.

[3]Robert H. Thouless, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 50 (March 1979): 1-8.

[4]Renee Haynes, The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982, A History (London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1982), p. 168.