Bigelow Contest Winners Announced

The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies has announced the prize winners for its contest to find the best evidence for life after death. And three people have found it.

I had known for five days that I would get a phone call on Monday the 1st of November, the day of the announcement – five nerve wracking days of wondering what the answer would be. I had received an email to check my telephone number and availablilty on Monday, nothing more. I had submitted an entry to the contest, of course, but I had also asked Robert Bigelow for another interview – it could be about either. Even then, would they phone just the first three winners, or the first fifteen, or all them? All I could do was wait.

In January, 2021, Robert Bigelow had announced a contest to answer the question ‘What is the best available evidence for the survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death?’ The story had been covered by the New York Times and was making headlines across the world.

For years my work has revolved around this question, looking at popular ‘ghost hunting’, apparitional experiences and mediumship, amongst other things. I had also been working on a book project with Robert McLuhan under the auspices of the Society for Psychical Research entitled, appropriately enough, Is There Life After Death? We had filled volume one and were working on the next. And then, I’m also editor of The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research and work daily with other researchers involved in this field, and I am a member of the SPR’s Council, helping to steer the Society. Even so, I was not sure that human consciousness could survive death. In fact, I rather believed that it did not.

It was an odd position to find myself in, both professionally and personally. So the contest offered a real challenge: was there sufficient evidence out there to convince myself? That alone would be worth the effort, but of course there was a lot more at stake.

I reckoned that were only about 400 people worldwide who could meet the contest’s stringent criteria, providing evidence that they had been seriously investigating the question of survival after death for at least five years. As it happened, 1,300 people applied to enter the competition: only 205 were invited to submit essays.

I had a lot of research on stock, as it were, but there was a problem: so had everyone else. Everyone would be working with the same material – there was a lot of it, but it fell into certain well-rehearsed themes: reincarnation, near-death experiences, and so on. So the hidden task was not just to provide the ‘best available evidence’, but to find an original and cogent way of presenting it – and then find that extra something that would elude everyone else. As bizarre as it may seem on the face of it, Charles Dickens would provide my secret sauce.

After dealing with some other projects, my schedule was clear and the long task began of finding my way anew through this well-trodden field of grief, hope, fraud and a few tantalising facts. I started work, eight or more hours a day, seven days a week. The summer holidays came and went, the hours got longer even if I could not get any more days out of the week. My other work had not entirely gone away, new things came up and others became more urgent. All the while, the deadline drew closer.

When the telephone rang on Monday evening, my heart was in my mouth. Robert Bigelow and Colm Kelleher were on the line, their voices faint and still with that trans-Atlantic time delay as their words passed across thousands of kilometres of deep-sea cable. ‘Hello’ and ‘how are you?’ seemed to take unbearable ages.

‘The competition was strong,’ said Bigelow, ‘and it was a difficult choice choosing the winners.’

My essay, ‘The Ghost in the Time Machine’, had won third place.

The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies will publish the winning essays on its website, with an awards ceremony in Las Vegas on 4 December 2021.

Bigelow Contest Winners, Runners-Up and Honorable Mentions

Showing amazing generosity, Robert Bigelow extended the number of prize winners, first from three to fourteen, with an additional eleven runners-up, and then to twenty-nine by adding another fifteen honorable mentions. I was delighted to see many of my friends and colleagues in the list of winners, including four other members of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research:

1st Prize: Jeffrey Mishlove Ph.D.

2nd Prize: Pim van Lommel M.D.

3rd Prize: Leo Ruickbie Ph.D.

Runners-up: Michael Tymn, Stephen Braude Ph.D., Nicolas Rouleau Ph.D., Bernardo Kastrup Ph.D., Elizabeth Krohn, Sharon Rawlette Ph.D., Jeffrey Long M.D., Michael Nahm Ph.D., Julie Beischel Ph.D., Alexandre Rocha Ph.D. et al., David Rousseau Ph.D. et al.

Honorable Mention: Robert Mays et al, Chris Carter, Steve Taylor Ph.D., Christopher Kerr M.D., Ph.D., Bruce Leininger, Vernon Neppe M.D., Ph.D., Helane Wahbeh N.D. et al., Chris Roe Ph.D. and Callum Cooper, Ph.D., Peter Fenwick M.D. et al, Walter Meyer zu Erpen, Akila Weerasekera Ph.D., Greg Taylor, Nick Cook, Andreas Sommer Ph.D., Sam Parnia M.D. Ph.D. et al.

Michael Tymn and Sharon Rawlette have also written about winning the competition.