Think You Can See the Dead? Skeptics Can’t Wait to Test Your Brain and Find Out

One of my favorite articles of blogging past was the piece I did on “Spiritualism Camps” in which I mused over just how it was that a camp counselor medium like Judy Ulch could litterally see “stubble on their faces” of ghosts.  Just today I received the first and only comment on the piece… and was given a terrible review.  “Jean” even said that I looked stupid: trying to apply scientific hypothesizing to spirits, pshaw!  I’m crushed.

Of course, Jean was apparently so outraged by the mere idea of examining spiritual phenomenon that she didn’t bother to read far enough to see all her complaints addressed.  And her post did spark an bright idea of bloggy  back-issue synergism.

You see, just last week I came across a story about some scientists at Berkeley who are working on an MRI technique that could potentially allow scientists to reconstruct the images that a brain is seeing. Now, for mediums like Judy Ulch to be registering anything ghostly as a visual image at all, let alone something detailed enough to have distinct facial features, it almost certainly has to show up in her brain.  And if we can reconstruct that image… well you probably see where I’m going with this.  If we can see what they see, then we can see if they really see what they say they see.  See?

Of course, most mediums will probably balk at the very idea of testing their powers of paranormal perception in such a definitive fashion, and are as unlikely to let scientists strap them into an MRI machine set up in the middle of an Indian burial ground as they were to take James Randi’s million dollar challenge.

Which is a sad thing really.  If spirits really did exist, and mediums really could perceive them, then even a failure in this case could teach us all something.  That is, if a ghostly visage fails to appear on the processed MRI scan at the moment the medium claims to see one, then at the very least we’ve been able to rule out yet another false model of how spirit images work.  We could rule out all sorts of things in fact:

  • The possibility that mediums have special rods and cones in their eyes that allow them to detect spiritual radiation.
  • That any kind of optical image (light waves hit the ghost, bounce off, are captured by human eyes, etc.) is involved at all.
  • That mediums are really “seeing” the ghosts in any meaningful sense, as opposed to the ghostly gaze being somehow superimposed onto the mental results of regular vision.

And of course, there’s always the possibility that spirits would show up on the MRI technique, in which case mediums would be vindicated and heralded as ingenious and overlooked pioneers in a entirely new realm of scientific exploration.

I’m game.  I bet most skeptics would be.  All we have to lose is the money for the use of the machine.  What we have to gain, however, is knowledge, one way or the other.  Sounds good to me.

So how about it, mediums?  Ready to do your part for human knowledge?

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13 Responses to Think You Can See the Dead? Skeptics Can’t Wait to Test Your Brain and Find Out

  1. “So how about it, mediums? Ready to do your part for human knowledge?”

    If I may resort to a cheap ad hominem attack for once, I’m guessing they’re afraid that the MRI will show less brain activity while they’re using their abilities…

  2. eric b says:

    I think something would show up either way. In fact, I think you would see more brain activity if they are frauds, since they would be using thier imaginations to make stuff up.

  3. Nimravid says:

    “And of course, there’s always the possibility that spirits would show up on the MRI technique, in which case mediums would be vindicated and heralded as ingenious and overlooked pioneers in a entirely new realm of scientific exploration.”

    I don’t know about that. People having hallucinations are often absolutely convinced their hallucinations are real. Might their brain activity appear as if what they are hallucinating is really there? I don’t know enough about the topic to be sure, but it looks to me like even if it shows up on the MRI that a person’s brain thinks it is seeing something, that still doesn’t mean that something is really there. We know that zapping spots in the brain can trigger sensations (odors, for instance) that appear immediate and real. A person can smell cinnamon rolls without a cinnamon roll in sight.

    Of course I think it’s more likely that most mediums are making it all up in the first place.

  4. Bad says:

    Could be any of those things. The only scientific way we’re going to nail down what’s going on, of course, is to test and find out. Thus the call for brains. Brains! BRAINS!

  5. Judy Ulch says:

    I am Judy Ulch, the one you are discussing and I would be more than willing to be “tested” as you call it, as would most of my colleagues. As far as “seeing”, if you have never experienced it, you cannot imagine it!

  6. Bad says:

    That would be quite excellent, though you’ll have to excuse my skepticism about your colleagues, because as far as I can tell they really have shied away from any possible verification of their claims in a controlled test.

    Also, it’s quite true that I have never experienced it, which is why I endeavored to unpack your assertion that you do. And I shouldn’t need to imagine it if you can describe it in concrete terms, as well as rule out key possibilities for how the phenomenon works.

    For instance, when you see spirits, can these images be enhanced by optics? If you wear glasses and happen to forget them one day, are their visages as blurred as everything else? Or are they seen purely in the mind’s eye? Knowing something like that would be an excellent start.

  7. Ideaman says:

    Hmm…I always wondered about the psychological state of people who supposedly see spirits. Also, I wonder if animals have spirits.

  8. Judy Ulch says:

    First, the colleagues I mentioned would indeed agree to be tested. I am not speaking for mediums in general, just the ones I know, and myself.

    Second, the images that I speak of….I “see” them in my mind’s eye, I see them with my real eyes (and without glasses which I wear, they are not blurry at all), I hear messages which are like regular hearing but more “whispery or echo-y”, and I simply “know” things. This happens spontaneously during every day activities (something like “flashes”), but information is also very clearly presented to me in all these ways when I am doing a reading. I don’t know if these things would show up on scans or not, but I would be curious to see if they did.

    I also have the ability to shut it down when I need to do so, such as at a casino or noisy restaurant or bar (because of the desperation in some of the people there), at a sad event (such as a funeral), or any time I don’t want to “know” or “feel” or “see” what other people are experiencing. I have to shut it down so I don’t “tune in” to all of the negativity.

    And, also, it should be noted here that there is a HUGE difference between a medium and a psychic. Being a medium is part of my religion of Spiritualism, and we see Spirit(s). A medium can very well be psychic, but there are plenty of psychics who are not, nor will they ever be, mediums.

    Just so you know, my psychological state is just fine. Always has been great!

    And, animals do have spirits, too. I don’t believe that they have souls, though, as humans do.

    And, last, it has been my experience that when people don’t understand a phenomena such as Spiritualism, they tend to fear it and ridicule it. My religion is no different or scarey than any other religion. I feel blessed.

    Judy Ulch

  9. Bad says:

    I “see” them in my mind’s eye, I see them with my real eyes, (and without glasses which I wear, they are not blurry at all)

    I’m a little confused by this. Your real eyes would not be able to see spiritual things in a non-blurry way if spiritual objects at a similar distance are blurry. The images that eyeballs see are based on photons being focused in a very particular way onto sensory areas. If images are getting to your brain without these limitations, then either it is highly unlikely that your eyes are involved, or your eyes would have some very obvious and noticeable physical differences from the eyes of other people. If the images are not responsive to optics, then it seems very unlikely that these images are “out there.” If they were, then the means that they get from images to eyes to brain would provide a rich vein of things to test.

    If you are really interested in testing the phenomenon then that’s great, though this particular technology obviously has a ways to go before it would be a viable reconstructor of visual images from the brain.

    Leaving that down the road a few years at least, we would need some protocol that would be able to reliably determine the difference between the perception of spirits that physically exist in some way in the world, and more conventional explanations like mistake, imagination, or hallucination.

    Additionally, skeptic James Randi’s million dollar challenge is still available for two more years, and the JREF is very good at designing precise test protocols that will examine the specific claims being made in a definitive fashion, with, of course, the full participation and agreement of the claimant to all proceedures. They are also likely to pay for the actual test procedures should things advance that far. Having been profiled on CNN certainly seems like a qualification for their media coverage requirement, and if not any local qualifier might help advance the process.

  10. Ideaman says:

    “I “see” them in my mind’s eye, I see them with my real eyes, (and without glasses which I wear, they are not blurry at all)”
    What do you mean? Is it all your imagination?

  11. Judy Ulch says:

    It is not my imagination. If it were my imagination, it would be coming FROM my brain. The details, etc., come iINTO my brain. If it were my imagination, I would not be able to know names, descriptions, personal details, of the person I am seeing.

  12. leara says:

    ok im only 12 let me tell you guys somethng.im in 7 grade and i have one friend and one friend only who can do this also but none of my other frnds can do this.we see the dead we hear them they ask us for help i can see the future also.and when this first happen it scared me alot and now i have the ability to feel others emotions.and i hate it because it hurrts me.and im not hallucinating ive been doing this for 8 years now.soo leave us be or u cld hurt us with ur ideas were not ur lab rats.

  13. jessica says:

    i cant go into a grave yard without hearing them or seeing them. It started when my mother died and i saw her and talk to her this was back in 2000 and we steal talk and see one another every now and then.

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