A wealthy man just gave gave away $1,800,000 to 29 different people for writing essays that “prove” — “beyond a reasonable doubt,” no less — that there’s an afterlife.
If all of that sounds completely insane, that’s because it is.
The wealthy man in question is Robert Thomas Bigelow, who made his fortune as the founder and owner of the hotel chain Budget Suites of America and later founded Bigelow Aerospace. When the New York Times profiled him earlier this year, there was a lot of column space discussing his pursuit of the paranormal. Bigelow is interested in UFOs, believes in aliens (“I’m absolutely convinced”), and has spent millions of dollars trying to bring credibility to those pursuits.
That explains why he launched the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies (BICS) last year, months after the death of his wife. He was hoping BICS could draw attention to the idea of the afterlife by supporting research into the topic.
(Side note: I will never understand how someone with hundreds of millions of dollars could spend all of about $7 creating a website. Did Bigelow do research into time travel and take us all back to 1998? Space Jam had a better designed website.)
But the main draw to the website was the essay contest. Bigelow was offering nearly $1,000,000 for proof that the afterlife existed. But he didn’t just want kooks to apply:
… Entrants must qualify as serious researchers by Feb. 28, with a record of at least five years of study of the field and preferably an affiliation with groups like the Society for Psychical Research in Britain. Submissions of up to 25,000 words are due by Aug. 1, to be judged by a panel of specialists. Mr. Bigelow said he had an idea what that best evidence might be, but “it would be prejudicial to say.”
Bigelow also added that religious anecdotes or Bible verses wouldn’t count as proof because who cares.
The winners would receive $500,000 for first prize, $300,000 for second, and $150,000 for third.
It was all very Creation Museum-y and Templeton-esque. By throwing money and superficial legitimacy to something that’s outside the reach of science and proof, the funders hope to persuade people there’s credibility to their beliefs.
You knew it was nonsense when Bigelow promised to give away the money from the beginning. When James Randi offered $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate supernatural powers, there was always the possibility no one would get the cash. Everything depended on the demonstration. But with Bigelow, the cash giveaway was always going to happen regardless of the quality of submissions. That right there should convince you they weren’t expecting anyone to find proof of the afterlife.
If there’s any sign that Bigelow understood all this, it’s that he said he wasn’t looking for “scientific” proof. He just wanted “legal” proof — that is, proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So even if you couldn’t demonstrate with certainty that someone is still alive after death, a mass delusion — where lots of witnesses all have similar stories — could theoretically pass his test.
Anyway, at long last, BICS has finally announced the winners. And not just three of them. Bigelow apparently upped the prize pool from three people receiving a total of $950,000 to 29 winners receiving a total of $1.8 million. (The top prizes remained the same, but 11 runners-up got $50,000 each, and 15 others got $20,000 each.)
BICS also said there were about 1,200 applicants, about 200 of whom met all their criteria.
The winner? Parapsychologist Jeffrey Mishlove.
His presentation to BICS, titled “Beyond the Brain: The Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death” was a unanimous choice by the panel of judges. Mishlove’s essay included video snippets and testimonies regarding near-death experiences, reincarnation cases documented by memories of past lives, and seven other types of evidence that consciousness survives physical death.
Testimonies. Reincarnation. “Seven other types of evidence.”
In other words, the kinds of things that are taken seriously by Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers, not academics or scientists. Even a judge would laugh this out of the courtroom. What else would you expect when the winners are all the kinds of people who’d be right-at-home on basic cable documentaries about aliens?
BICS says it will publish all 29 essays in the coming weeks on its website and later compile them into “5-6” books that are “hard cover, richly bound in faux leather with gilted pages and ribbons.” All of that’s fine, I guess, but you’d think if this proof was so overwhelming, they’d be bragging about the proof instead of offering a short vague description of it.
Moral of the story: Wealthy people have too much money. Tax the rich.