Psychotherapist and Medium claims communication with spirits reveals no reincarnation.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with August Goforth, author of The Risen.  During the interview Goforth discusses his beliefs about reincarnation:

Alex Tsakiris: You said that through your communication with on the other side that reincarnation isn’t a core part of the overall spiritual plan. Could you be wrong?

August Goforth: I have a huge library of books written by mediums and spiritualists that go back almost a couple hundred years. I noticed not a single one mentioned reincarnation.

Alex Tsakiris: I’ve spoken to plenty of mediums and many of them have talked matter-of-factly about reincarnation as being a reality.  And I’m a little bit familiar with some of the medium literature out there, and I think the idea of reincarnation comes up quite a bit.

August Goforth: It does now. It’s only been maybe in the past 10 years. I would also suggest that it’s a function of the ego-mind that invents these ideas about reincarnation because of its fear of losing its own consciousness. I may have these dreams or these feelings about an experience of being someone from the 14th Century and I get names and I get all kinds of facts and dates and rather than separating myself from it, there’s something about me–the ego-mind will do this, it will grab onto it and sort of put it on like a costume and say, “Okay, this is me. I’m having a past-life experience.”

Me not realizing consciously that I just experienced someone else’s life and they told me about their life in a dream or an astral experience. When I woke up, somehow it became very blurred and I had this desire because I don’t want to die, I want to live on, that if I can convince myself that I had these past lives that gives me a sense of continuity. It gives me a sense of feeling alive and grounded. I feel more expanded.

 

Alex Tsakiris: For reincarnation the best scientific work—and I’m sure you’re familiar with it—is the work of Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia and now Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia has followed up on this work. They have thousands at this point of cases of well-documented reincarnation accounts. It’s quite a body of research; it’s very impressive to anyone who looks at it. So I can listen to what you’re saying and I can be open to hearing it, but how do we resolve that? How do we resolve that when it brushes against what I think is some good, down-to-earth science that I can really lay my hands on?

August Goforth: I don’t know. These are just suggestions of how I’m interpreting what information has come to me as best as I can. My bias, if any, is that I’m not interested myself in reincarnation and God – no – I don’t want to come back to this place. But there are people who do or have a belief. It’s a core belief in some way or it’s necessary. But it seems more and more to me that everyone’s experience, whatever it is, is ultimately their own final test of what’s true for them.

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Alex Tsakiris: What Skeptiko is about is really three things. First, it’s about understanding the overwhelming scientific evidence that consciousness survives death. So if you just, from a science standpoint, if you look medically people die. They are brought back to life. And they have these incredible encounters with what happened when they had no brain, which means they were dead.

August Goforth: About the survival of consciousness, yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: Right. So survival of consciousness is, I think, a cornerstone to understanding this. The second point that we talk about and the real reason I wanted to talk to you today is at the same time we—as I say, jump that chasm—and say, “Okay, gee. Consciousness in some way that we don’t understand seems to survive bodily death.”

Okay, I accept that. I think we reach a point where we have to then start looking at these broad ranges of spiritual experiences. You’ve looked at one way of understanding that. It’s through this mediumistic relationship you have with Tim. And I will lay it out for you because we might touch on this, too.

The third main point, a kind of driving force of this show is the deception. So the fact that this is true and it’s scientifically provable from a number of different ways, why is there such a strong, strong force and pressure in our culture to deny the spiritual? To deny anything more than us being biological robots?

I don’t know if we’ll wind up going there but you might have some interesting thoughts on that, particularly because you come from a field, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, that is very protective of that materialistic model that brings us to that biological robot kind of thing.

So those are the three points. Maybe what I need to do is back up a little bit and have you talk a little bit about your work and your book, of course, The Risen, which tells about your experience of grief and then your experience of recovery through your mediumistic communication with your partner, Tim.

August Goforth: The book took about eight years to—some people would say write, I would say manifest because it was a joint venture. I come from a family background of people with mediumistic abilities and psychic manifestations. It’s kind of tolerated and not spoken much about and it wasn’t really a deep part of my life. I was pretty much just involved with living here.

Tim passed away in the late ‘90s and I dealt with that loss as much as I could in the ways that I could, but not through mediumistic ways. It wasn’t until one day he literally manifested. I had an experience of him manifesting physically in the same space as me and just to pop in and pop out.

It turned my whole world paradigm upside-down and things started happening very quickly and realizing that’s what’s going on. It’s a very long, long process and that went on for maybe 10 years, developing understanding of my ability. It took a while for me to understand, oh, I’m a spiritual medium. This is what it’s called.

And then Tim came to me and suggested would I help him with this project and some other people where he is to write this book. And this is a huge team of scientists and philosophers and educators and artists where he is who were very fascinated by the bond that the two of us had and had maintained somehow. That the two of us had managed to contact each other and stay in contact and continue our relationship in new and adventurous ways. So they wanted to do experiments.

They were scientists in ways of physical manifestation and astral projection and all stuff like that. It’s all very private but at some point they said, “Okay, now we’re ready to do this book.” I said, “What book? What are you talking about?” But I said yes and it took maybe eight years to get a lot of this profound material through. Somehow the book did get published.

Alex Tsakiris: I think that I’d like to back up for a minute. In fairness I’d like to push for a little bit and understand this physical manifestation of Tim. I do it because I’ve done it in the past with other folks I’ve had on the show who claim similar kinds of things. I think it’s only fair that we ask the question of how do you know? August, how do you know, how can you prove, how can you establish that this really happened?

August Goforth: To sort of back up and answer that, I’m not interested in proving anything to anyone.

Alex Tsakiris: No, you’ve got to be.

August Goforth: Or convincing anyone of anything because this is purely experiential.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, you may not be interested in convincing anyone. I am a genuine spiritual seeker. I have no reason to believe that you’re making any of this up but at the same time, appreciate where I’m coming from. I want to know the truth and I have conflicting versions of the Truth—with a capital T—and the truth—with a small t. So…

August Goforth: Of course. That’s commendable but you should seek that yourself. If you want these experiences you cannot live them through other people or other people’s words or believing what I say or what anyone says.

If you want it, if you want to understand it and know it, you have to be courageous and do it yourself. Find out how to do it; do the scientific thing. A scientist is going to say, “Okay, I get that. But let me try that out first. Give me some things that I can do that maybe I can replicate or duplicate your experiment.” And our book has some little things in there for people, how to do that.

But my job—I don’t have a job of teaching people how to do this or to do readings for them or to connect them with their loved ones. I can only relate—it’s a story, really, in many ways about what my experience is. So it’s kind of an experiential paradigm where even Agria White, who was well-known for her writings and analysis on spiritual mediums, that even a scientist who wants to examine and test a medium really isn’t in the best position to do that until they’ve had the experience themselves.

Alex Tsakiris: But August, hold on, because I’ve done dozens and dozens of spirit medium readings, mainly as the proxy, okay? So in an attempt to investigate this and share it with other people, I’ve served as an intermediary and have spoken with mediums on behalf of someone else. And I have to say that experience for me was extremely confirming of the reality of spirit medium communication on many levels.

So I’m not a doubter about that, but I would push back a little bit that I don’t have to directly experience that in order to understand or gain or appreciate the work of other researchers who do. Julie Beischel is the person I always…

August Goforth: So you’re sort of experiencing it secondhand, based on hearsay.

Alex Tsakiris: The counter to that, of course, is that you have only one experience and if you rely completely on that single experience and don’t open yourself up to the experiences that other people have had across time, across cultures, you are not giving yourself the chance to test your experience versus these other experiences.

August Goforth: Yeah, of course, and when the opportunities arise for me to do that—say I get an invitation to a sitting or a séance or a circle to go experience especially physical manifestations, I will do that, to go and experience what’s going on. Sometimes I’m able to because coming from my own experience, each time I experience something I gain a deeper understanding. It becomes a part of me. I encourage people to ask questions and sure, “What’s it like?” and “Explain it to me,” and I can. I can tell you all about the taste of honey and if you’ve never tasted…

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyone always says that. You know what? I really want to take the opportunity to kind of push back on that because there are so many ways of knowing. I can’t fully appreciate what it would be like to have the kind of profound experiences you do. I’m not tuned up that way, but what I do appreciate and what I think you are not fully appreciating is the work that others do. There’s a whole work associated with scholarship, with doing good science in the general sense of science being a method of discovery, a way of learning, that I think is discounted. So…

August Goforth: Yeah. So it sounds like you’ve read my academic papers on this subject already?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, okay, why are you saying that? A minute ago you said I have to experience it and I’m saying, “You know what? I don’t have to experience it.” I can actually choose not to experience…

August Goforth: Right. That’s right. That is a choice.

Alex Tsakiris: But August, I’m saying let’s acknowledge the validity of the scholar. I’m not a scholar but the academic scholar or the researcher who says, “I’m going to stand apart and I’m going to look at all these different experiences. I’m going to compare them and do the experiments. And I’m going to do it whether it’s going in spirit circles and testing and comparing.” I think that’s important work.

August Goforth: Yeah, well, I do that work, too. I mean, I do…

Alex Tsakiris: Isn’t that proving?

August Goforth: Is it proving? I don’t know if it proves anything at all.

Alex Tsakiris: Isn’t it attempting to prove something?

August Goforth: I don’t know. I mean, for some people it might be. For me it really feels more—because I’m intensely curious and I love to explore and I love to play. So it’s more like play. It’s that idea of always being open and yes, there are choices. You can choose to do anything you want.

You probably know that a great deal of people who identify as skeptics do a lot of skeptical writing about things, whatever it is, not necessarily mediumship. But they don’t always necessarily go and explore it and find out for themselves. Sometimes they do. It’s just a huge mélange of different kinds of people and I find it all very stimulating and exciting. It sounds like you do, too.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, I do. I don’t know, it seems like we’re kind of conflicting on stuff that I didn’t think would be that controversial between us.

August Goforth: But what are you seeing the conflict as?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I mean I said proof and you said no proof and then I said isn’t doing scientific work and publishing so that others can offer analysis and critique, which is a key part of the scientific process. If you’re getting published in peer-reviewed journals you’re opening yourself up to critique, which is the process of proving but yet you didn’t want to say where’s the proof. You didn’t want to offer the proof.

I can understand. You know, you don’t have to prove everything and you can choose to pick and choose the topics that you’re going to cover in that scientific proof-oriented way and the ones that are experiential. I think that’s fair, too, you know?

August Goforth: Yeah. I guess my question is what you mean by prove?

Alex Tsakiris: I guess where I was going early on, August, I had a gentleman on, an accomplished, smart guy who claimed that he had these spirit beings that appeared in his room over 17 times and conveyed all of this amazing information about the disappearance of the universe and it’s a very beautiful book and a profound book and all the rest of that.

But you have to ask the questions, “You had physical manifestation of these beings and you never recorded them? You never took a photograph of them? You can’t offer anything in the way of real proof that other people would accept that this really happened.”

August Goforth: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: Now you don’t have to go there but you have to acknowledge that people will want to hear that, will want to see that. That’s the natural question that anyone would ask when they hear that kind of account.

August Goforth: But it doesn’t mean they’re going to get an answer. When these things happen they’re coming from a place where it’s almost being orchestrated in a way, like it’s planned. It’s usually not spontaneous. Sometimes people can capture proof but when you’re in the midst of it and you’re trying to wrap your brain around what the heck is going on here, the last thing you’re thinking of is saying, “Could you give me your autograph or give me some proof or something?”

I’m very hard-nosed when it comes to the very field that I’m in, not just in psychology as a therapist because there are gazillions of therapeutic models and stuff like that. Some of them I have biases towards, perhaps rightly so, perhaps sometimes not.

The same thing in the realm of the spiritual mediumistic communities. I’ve been to séances where there had been—if I had a nickel for every time Saint Germaine came out and told me that he was my guide I would probably have a couple of dollars.

And I challenge them all the time. I don’t believe everything that comes out of—just because it seems to be coming out of the dark, out of a trumpet in the dark or something like that. So there are very strict guidelines for mediums who go to special schools. There’s the Arthur Findlay school in England and they’re taught to challenge any kind of a spirit.

I watched one medium when this supposed spirit was speaking to her in the dark from a medium, couldn’t see anything, and was kind of feeding her a line about something and she said, “Well, you know, thanks very much for offering to be my guide and I think I might be honored but I really need you to give me some proof that you are my guide. These are the things I want you to do. I want you to show me in some terms that I’ll understand that you exist, that you’re real, that you’re who you say you are, that you’re bona fide.”

That goes back to the very old actually Biblical tradition where you have to—Jesus would say to the spirits, “Show yourself, say who you are, tell me your name,” demanding this to have authority over, and at this séance the spirit got real uppity and said, “Well, if you don’t want my help I’ll find someone else who really wants my help.” It was so bogus. But I was so glad that the medium had this training to challenge this so-called spirit.

Alex Tsakiris: Wow. Interesting. You know what I wonder about all of that is how reliable is that communication channel of mediumship?

August Goforth: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: Because from what I see, it’s just fraught with problems. And I have to say, looking at broader terms at all the spiritual experiences, we seem to run into that again and again. You can only pull the strings so far and then you wind up creating this big—I think you used the word maze—but you’re back in the maze. You’re back in this confusion.

August Goforth: So maybe what we’re seeing is evidence that both are true on some levels.

Alex Tsakiris: And that brings up a great point. How can both be true? Some of these things seem to be clearly contradictory in a way that isn’t easily resolvable. How can they both be true?

August Goforth: It’s a suggestion that maybe there aren’t as many limitations or maybe no limitations in terms of how our human mind likes to overlay structures and rules and regulations and limitations on things. Perhaps this is outside the limit of our human brain or the mind to comprehend yet.

Alex Tsakiris: You said that through your communication and what you’ve learned from Tim and the other folks you’ve spoken with on the Other Side that reincarnation isn’t a core part of the overall spiritual plan. Could you be wrong?

August Goforth: I challenge also that idea of reincarnation and because I had noticed—I have a huge library of books written by mediums and spiritualists that go back almost a couple hundred years. I noticed not a single one mentioned reincarnation. So I said, “Ah, that’s clearly interesting because it seems like such a widely-held idea almost to the point of cliché in our society now.” And asked those questions.

Tim wrote the final chapter on reincarnation because it was something I couldn’t even begin to, and I was just blown away by the brilliance of it and yet I still could challenge. I said, “But what if the universe is unlimited and our creator source or God or whatever doesn’t deny us anything and we can have whatever we want because it’s an all-encompassing omniscient, omnipotent, ever-loving force and wishes us only good and gives us what we want, well, what if we want to reincarnate? Can’t we? Because if we can’t, that seems to violate some sort of a law that says we can. “

And the answer that I got back was that we can have anything we want. If we believe strongly enough that we want to reincarnate or have an experience that we could call reincarnation, we can have it. It’s not going to be what we necessarily think here as reincarnation. The fact that—and I’m saying it as a fact just as the point of discussion—that we do survive death, we are immortal, we move on forward. We don’t move on backwards.

But if someone wanted to have the experience of moving on backwards, I suppose they could. Since I subscribe to the no limitations in the universe, anything could happen so certainly it could happen or at least maybe it would just be the appearance of reincarnation. If people want to do it, then they can do it. Are people doing it? It appears not.

From what I’m seeing and my understanding with Tim and other people over there, at least in these areas there’s no one there who has any desire to return to the Earth. Once they’re over there, they’re so just amazed and awed by the potential of moving on and moving forward and growing that they do just that. A lot of them just forget about it.

So it’s an idea that may stick with us but I still can see that it would still hold true that if someone wanted to have the experience of reincarnation, somehow they would have it. I don’t know what it would look like or what it would be like, but somehow they would have it. It’s not for me to say one way or another whether they couldn’t.

Alex Tsakiris: This is where it becomes a little bit difficult and I don’t want it to be, but I’ve spoken to—I don’t know—plenty of mediums and many of them have talked matter-of-factly about reincarnation as being a reality.

August Goforth: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: And I certainly know that I just couldn’t lay my finger on a name but I’m a little bit familiar with some of the medium literature out there. Obviously I’m sure you’re much more familiar but I think it comes up quite a bit, the idea of reincarnation.

August Goforth: It does now. It’s only been maybe in the past 10 years. I would also suggest that it’s a function of the ego-mind that invents these ideas about reincarnation because of its fear of losing its own consciousness. I may have these dreams or these feelings about an experience of being someone from the 14th Century and I get names and I get all kinds of facts and dates and rather than separating myself from it, there’s something about me–the ego-mind will do this, it will grab onto it and sort of put it on like a costume and say, “Okay, this is me. I’m having a past-life experience.”

Me not realizing consciously that I just experienced someone else’s life and they told me about their life in a dream or an astral experience. When I woke up, somehow it became very blurred and I had this desire because I don’t want to die, I want to live on, that if I can convince myself that I had these past lives that gives me a sense of continuity. It gives me a sense of feeling alive and grounded. I feel more expanded. Rather…

Alex Tsakiris: Hold on, August, because now you’re just playing the game that skeptics play. I mean, you could hear Michael Shermer saying the same kind of thing that, “Oh, it’s just fantasy-prone and we know how the mind works and we know how it puts together things…”

August Goforth: Yeah. I love Michael Shermer. He’s very great at that kind of stuff.

Alex Tsakiris: I really don’t like Michael Shermer at all. I think he’s completely disingenuous. I think he also has a very closed mind. Even when he’s proven wrong he doesn’t acknowledge it.

But the point we’re kind of talking about is we quickly degrade into this mode where you’re offering up these explanations for how other people’s experience is incorrect. You know, for reincarnation the best scientific work—and I’m sure you’re familiar with it—is the work of Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia and now Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia has followed up on this work. They have thousands at this point of cases of well-documented reincarnation accounts. It’s quite a body of research; it’s very impressive to anyone who looks at it.

So I can listen to what you’re saying and I can be open to hearing it, but how do we resolve that? How do we resolve that when it brushes against what I think is some good, down-to-earth science that I can really lay my hands on?

August Goforth: I don’t know. These are just suggestions of how I’m interpreting what information has come to me as best as I can. My bias, if any, is that I’m not interested myself in reincarnation and God no, I don’t want to come back to this place. But there are people who do or have a belief. It’s a core belief in some way or it’s necessary. But it seems more and more to me that everyone’s experience, whatever it is, is ultimately their own final test of what’s true for them.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me ask it in a different way. This is really kind of putting you on the spot, but it’s something that really gets to the core of what we’re talking about when we talk about experiential knowing versus more abstract intellectual knowing. That’s how might you know if you were wrong? And what would it mean if you were wrong? Even on a tiny small little point because I think that’s the problem that we run into.

I’m not just putting you on the spot here but I’m putting on the spot every guest who’s ever been on this show who recounts their amazing, dramatic spiritual experience and they’re totally tied to the idea that every bit of it has to be exactly true because it’s come from some source beyond them and that therefore the whole thing has to be swallowed intact or it isn’t valid. I just see problems with that.

August Goforth: Oh, I would, too. That’s very limiting.

Alex Tsakiris: So might you be wrong? And what would it mean if you were wrong on even a more minor point than reincarnation?

August Goforth: It gets back to the idea of science and testing things and then if it turns out that at first it appears you’re right and then later on someone disproves it or proves that you’re wrong, that’s valuable information to have. You can say, “Okay, I don’t have to worry about all that stuff. Let’s look at what’s next to do.” So it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not worried. It’s just like more ah-ha information and discovery about myself.

Alex Tsakiris: But in this case it wouldn’t necessarily be information about yourself. It would be information about either the channel of communication or the people who are communicating with you on the Other Side. How do we begin to approach that in a scientific—a word that you and I keep throwing around here—or in an analytical way? I love your idea about the one medium who was very challenging to the spirit that was coming through and saying, “You know, I need some more proof before I go there.”

August Goforth: Yeah. And what she did was she asked questions. That to me seems to be the answer—to ask more questions. That’s like a basic tenant of my being a psychotherapist. I don’t assume when I’m talking to another person in the room, I’m not assuming that I understand them or know them. I have to understand their language and I have to ask questions and use words. “Tell me what that word means because I use that word all the time but maybe you use it a different way.”

So it’s always exploration moving forward, asking questions. That seems to be almost the answer here in our dialogue. It keeps coming up. Ask more questions; get more information. It doesn’t stop. There’s no end to the road. There’s no wall. There’s no closed door. It’s just opening more doors and opening more doors.

Even the process that you and I are going through is not a static process. It’s moving us forward in some way. Maybe not very dramatic ways but very subtle ways that speak to us and later on we’ll think about what we talked about and the feelings that we had.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, August, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. And best of luck with The Risen.

August Goforth: Thank you very much. Thank you for the opportunity. It was awesome.

 

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