The 1990s Scole Experiment Aimed To Obtain Scientific Evidence for Life After Death
March 08, 2022 1:00 AM ‐ Paranormal
Photo: © lucigerma
In 1998 a five-year experiment concluded which some believed provided the most compelling evidence for life after death ever presented. The experiment was conducted in Scole, a village 19 miles south of Norwich on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.
The experiments were carried out by two married couples, researchers Sandra and Robin Foy, and mediums Diana and Alan Bennett. The roughly two-hour-long sessions were conducted in a dedicated partially-underground room nicknamed 'the Scole hole' in the cellar of the Foys' 17th century farmhouse.
The sessions were carried out in a similar style to Victorian séances with the group sat around a table in the middle of the room. Like Victorian-era séances, the house itself wasn't haunted but the mediums claimed to have the ability to form a direct line of communication between the living and the dead.
Even a skeptic might find it hard to totally discredit the findings of the experiment, especially since it was investigated by some high-level and respected members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) who, despite having some unanswered questions and doubts, concluded generally in favour of the legitimacy of the experiment and its results.
The mediumship group claimed that their combined energy enabled them to communicate with a "spirit team" which instructed them on how to execute the experiments. This included the instruction to hold the séances in total darkness, no video recording or night vision technology was used. However, they were able to make audio logs of the sessions, which were later transcribed into reports that were published in the groups newsletter. The spirits the group claimed to have contacted can be heard speaking in distinct voices in the recordings.
The Scole group presented a huge amount of evidence that they claimed proved that there is an afterlife. This evidence included light anomalies, which were seen in the form of pinpricks and spheres of light which reportedly responded to the investigators' on demand. These points of light appeared to strike crystals and illuminate them from within. Furniture moved, objects such as jewellery and coins spontaneously appeared, moved or levitated, and sitters felt as if they had been touched in the darkness and even been sprinkled with water.
They also reported hearing crackling sounds, responsive taps, bells ringing and musical instruments being played elsewhere in the house. Plus sightings of materialisations of moving and walking human forms, as well as the forms of cats, dogs, and shadowy and angelic forms.
Two years into their experiment, the group were joined by observers from the SPR who wanted to assess the groups claims that they had proof of survival after death. These prominent members of the society were a former SPR president Arthur Ellison, psychology professor David Fontana, and researcher Monty Keen. After the experiments, the SPR published an extensive report on the experiment, which was generally supportive of the legitimacy of the team's claims.
One of the happenings that the SPR observers investigated was perhaps the case's most curious claim, that images and messages could spontaneously appear on unopened camera films. This feat was initially achieved with the new, undeveloped film being placed in a camera which was held by a member of the group.
The developed images showed depictions of familiar photographs, portraits or abstract shapes, and at times written messages. In latter sittings similar images appeared without any human interaction or even a camera while the factory-sealed film was padlocked inside of a wooden box. However, the box was provided by the mediums and whenever any other box was used, no images ever appeared on the film.
The feat also failed when psychologist and author Prof. Richard Wiseman tested the claim by having the blank film placed in a secure envelope, this resulted in the professor summing up the experiment in six words, "it was a load of rubbish."
However after attending over 20 sessions over a three year period, the SPR observers weren't so dismissive. They concluded that they were "unable to detect any direct indication of fraud or deception, and encountered evidence favouring the hypothesis of intelligent forces, whether originating in the human psyche or from discarnate sources, able to influence material objects, and to convey associated meaningful messages, both visual and aural."
However, they did summarise their conclusion, "evidence pointing to survival: inconclusive." They added, "our evidence, although some may feel it points towards survival, will not carry conviction in this area for everyone." Their lack of conviction was mostly based on a lack of clarity over who the group were allegedly in contact with. There were also doubts over several pieces of presented evidence and the fact that certain things, like the photographic film images, failed when replication was attempted under different conditions.
The SPR's observers might have been mostly convinced, but the conditions under which the evidence was obtained wasn't ideal.
Precautions were taken to convince observers that no trickery was involved, such as wearing luminous wristbands to show that sitters' hands weren't moving in the darkness, but as no night vision technology was permitted at the request of the spirits, it could be that the mediums were able to slip out of their wristbands or that other forms of trickery were at play - the wristbands may have merely been a form of misdirection, after all, they were provided by the mediums themselves. A better safeguard against fakery might have been the more simple option of having all sitters hold hands with an impartial observer or researcher sat on either side of the mediums.
The problem with the rules imposed on the séances is that it was alleged the instructions came from the spirits, but they were channeled through the mediums - the very participants who would benefit the most from these rules in order to cover their tracks if fraudulent activity was taking place. The investigators didn't enforce any of their own rules or controls on the mediums. We've seen claims of alleged psychic abilities unravel time and time again once those alleged abilities are tested in controlled conditions, unfortunately that wasn't done as part of the Scole Experiments.
Another important factor when considering the evidence provided is the fact that much of the reported phenomenon is visual in nature, moving objects, strange lights, levitation and manifestation. As there was no visual log of proceedings, this evidence has only been recorded in the transcripts produced from audio recordings of the séances, which makes it very subjective. Details may have been omitted and claims could have been inadvertently embellished.
When presented with extraordinary claims like these, you really have to ask yourself is it really possible that out of everyone on the planet and everyone who has ever lived, these are the only two mediums who are able to achieve these things. If these sort of experiments were a repeatable, scientific possibility then similar experiments should have made headlines all around the world.
Over the years the group demonstrated their spirit contact with hundreds of people, even travelling overseas to perform sessions. After the experiment ended, the Bennetts continued their paranormal research, beginning the Norfolk Experiment in 2006.
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