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Thursday March 8, 2001

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Conference examines consciousness after death

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UA professor Gary Schwartz studies the existence of consciousness after death with the help of his gamma-ray spectrometer (background). Schwartz is co-hosting a conference on life after death with his wife, psychologist Linda Russek. The conference beings today.

By Michelle McCollum

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Gary Schwartz uses physics to show spirit remains after the bodies die

Consciousness survives after the death of the body.

At least, Gary Schwartz's findings say it does.

"When we look at all of the data that's been collected in the laboratory, the most parsimonious answer is the right one," said Schwartz, director of the UA Human Energy Systems Laboratory and a professor of psychology, psychiatry, neurology and medicine. "The most parsimonious explanation of the data is actual survival of consciousness."

When he first stumbled upon this result, Schwartz avoided addressing it for fear that it would ruin his professional reputation.

But he soon met Linda Russek, a psychologist who wanted to scientifically know if her deceased father was still "here."

Schwartz agreed to help.

"We were pushed there by science, pulled there by love," he said.

Now, almost 20 years later, Schwartz and Russek are married and planning the three-day "Celebrating the Living Soul in the Living Energy Universe" conference, billed as "the marriage of science and spirituality." The conference is the first of its kind.

The Great Debate, the conference's main event, will be the first time a skeptic, a scientist, and a medium will be on the same stage.

The Great Debate promises "spirited discussion of serious issues," said Schwartz, and will begin at 7:30 tonight in UMC's DuVal Auditorium.

Schwartz explained that his consciousness theory, even with its spiritual theme, is based on logic and physics.

"All light, the electromagnetic waves above and below what we can see is coming (into our pupils) all the time - it doesn't show the second law of thermodynamics in that it doesn't just wash away, because if it washed away we would have no astronomy," Schwartz said.

"We are made of electromagnetic signals. That is what contemporary physics tells us. We are organized energy, and we are emitting this energy into space. We are as persistent as the light from those distant stars. The probability that our light and information continues is the same probability that the light from distant stars continues."

Schwartz fashioned experiments that display the ability of a medium to tap into the consciousness of a deceased loved one of a "sitter."

A sitter can be any person who has experienced the loss of a loved one. They listen as the mediums - people able to communicate with the dead -make suppositions about that loved one.

In the multi-medium, multi-sitter experiments, there were three mediums and five sitters.

Schwartz said the experiment was "cheat-proof," which means the sitters' order was selected the morning of the experiment so that "even if somehow (the mediums) tapped the phones, found out who the sitters were, and got information ahead of time, they wouldn't be able to use it because they wouldn't know when to use it."

Sabrina Geoffrion, a senior research specialist in the psychology department, was once a sitter for Schwartz's experiment.

Geoffrion said the sitting was "pretty phenomenal."

"I went into it with an open mind," she said. "The nature of the information was so specific and right."

The medium recited accurate information about Geoffrion's grandmother, like the color of her poodles and the fact that the white one tore up the house and the black one didn't. It was information, Geoffrion added, that no one could have known.

Schwartz's data instigated a worldwide explosion that is turning the heads of scientists, skeptics, and everyday people who want to speak to their deceased loved ones.

The University of Arizona is right in the middle of the explosion, Schwartz said.

"The UA is playing not just a local, not just a national, but an international role in asking - does consciousness survive?" Schwartz said.

While Schwartz's research is far from over, he said he is optimistic that just as people discarded the idea that the world was flat, people will soon discard the idea that the conscious dies with the body.



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