Sometimes certain people—they may be called “mediums,” “psychics,” “sensitives,” or (a more recent term) “channels”—transmit what are purported to be messages from departed souls. The medium may speak in trance, or his or her hand may produce writing automatically. This is a field in which parapsychologists have done extensive investigation. It’s a problematic field. Frauds abound.
Much of the material transmitted tends to be stereotypical. The wisdom and insights dispensed by “departed spirits” often consist of a tired litany of new-age platitudes. For discriminating minds, this doesn’t create a lot of confidence.
Most material generated by mediums or channels is unfalsifiable—there’s nothing specific enough to either prove or disprove.
Even when material is specific and impressive and fraud seems ruled out, explanations other than communication with departed souls are available, and almost always more likely.
- The channel may have acquired information normally. For example, if a “sitter”—a person consulting a medium—asks about a particular departed person, the sitter may give various clues about that person, even unintentionally.
- The information may also be within the channel’s normal area of knowledge—Greek or Egyptian history, for example. Or the channel might have received information from an ordinary news item. Or from friends or acquaintances.
- Sometimes the channel might have acquired the information long before, even in childhood, and forgotten it—but still have it available in his mind for access. This is called “cryptomnesia.” Reliably investigated cases show that one might unconsciously retain impressions from even a few lines of text read years before—and might unconsciously use this material to construct a “paranormal” event.
- The channel may in fact receive information paranormally, by telepathy or clairvoyance. That is, one might pick up the information from the mind of another living person, or by remotely “seeing” an existing object—the page of a book, for example. Whether these abilities exist, and to what extent, are also subjects of controversy. But if one assumes they exist, they provide alternative explanations to communication with departed souls.
This doesn’t mean that all mediumistic communication or channeling can be dismissed as worthless. Some carefully investigated cases do seem to hold up under scrutiny and show evidence for possible survival of bodily death. But those cases are rare.
And even if there were genuine communication with a departed spirit, this wouldn’t in itself prove reincarnation. The spirit might presumably be communicating from heaven, from hell, or from some sort of limbo, without any “succession of births.” For that matter, even if a “departed soul” tells us there’s reincarnation, how do we know he’s telling the truth? When people here in this world can be such liars, why not people “there”?