03-Mar-87 11:52 MST Sb: AP 03/02 Afterlife Experiment By A.J. DICKERSON Associated Press W

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03-Mar-87 11:52 MST Sb: AP 03/02 Afterlife Experiment By A.J. DICKERSON Associated Press Writer PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (AP) -- The head of the Survival Research Foundation says he doesn't mean to seem morbid. But about 100 of the group's 250 members worldwide have signed up for a "Is there life after death?" study, and it can't be finished while they are alive. "I'm waiting for people to die," says Arthur Berger, who runs the 16-year-old nonprofit group from his home here. Participants in the project have devised messages that can be deciphered only if they are contacted after they die to give out the top-secret decoder keys. "We take no position on there is or isn't an afterlife. Our job is to collect empirical data," said Berger. "We're trying to get this thing clarified ... to crack this puzzle once and for all." So far, only Cambridge psychology professor Robert Thouless has died, and the two messages the British national left before his September 1984 death remain a mystery. Such projects aren't new. Before magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died on Halloween 1926, he reportedly prepared a coded message for which he was to send his wife the decoder key from the hereafter. Despite years of seances, the key never came. Scattered similar projects have had equally inconclusive results, but people keep trying. Priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley last month reported that 42 percent of polled Americans believed they had contacted someone who had died. Berger's project isn't "any more strange than anything else in parapsychology," said Jeff Munson of the Institute for Parapsychology, a private research group based in Durham, N.C. "I admire his work because it's so tough and it has such tremendous religious implications," said Munson. However, most parapsychology experts don't believe communication with spirits is possible. Berger would need an airtight argument to quiet critics if he should enjoy any success, Munson said. Berger has been studying paraspychology, which deals with such phenomena as clairvoyance, extrasensory perception or telepathy, since the 1970s. He said he's ready for skeptics. Participants swear never to reveal their decoder key and never to write it down. Then there's the chance of a participant telling a medium the key. To quash that, Berger plans to have mediums trying to contact participants they couldn't have known. In fact, he'll select them from different continents if possible. The odds of someone getting a key through sheer chance are 600,000 to one, he said. And while participants are alive, the foundation challenges mediums the world over to try and find message solutions. If a message is decoded early, the participant writes a new one. None have been prematurely decoded. "Should anyone be able to communicate and we have a result, we will not claim this to be proof of life after death, because one experiment isn't enough," Berger said. "We need 100 successes, we need 1,000. "We're trying to get hard evidence." Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved. 03-Mar-87 11:52 MST Sb: APfl 03/02 Afterlife Experiment By A.J. DICKERSON Associated Press Writer PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (AP) -- More people must die before a Survival Research Foundation experiment can succeed. It's nothing malicious. But about 100 of the group's 250 worldwide members have signed up for the "Is there life after death?" study, and it can't be finished while they are alive. Participants have devised messages that can be deciphered only if they are contacted after they die to give out the top-secret keys for decoding communiques. "We take no position on there is or isn't an afterlife. Our job is to collect empirical data," said Arthur Berger, who heads the 16-year-old private, nonprofit foundation from his home in the town of Pembroke Pines in southwest Broward County. "We're trying to get this thing clarified ... to crack this puzzle once and for all," he said. But so far, only Cambridge psychology professor Robert Thouless has died, and the two messages the British national left before his September 1984 death remain a mystery. A $1,000 reward is offered for each decoder key. "I'm waiting for people to die. This may seem morbid. I don't mean it that way, but no one has died except for Dr. Thouless," said Berger, who gave up his New York probate and real estate practice as he approached retirement age. "There comes a time in every man's life when he sits down and says, `What is it about? What is my destiny?' The law doesn't answer those questions," he said. Since the 1970s, parapsychology studies have taken Berger to the Physical Research Foundation of Durham, N.C., where he became a research associate from 1977-80. Parapsychology is the branch of psychology that deals with such phenomena as clairvoyance, extrasensory perception or telepathy. He became foundation president in 1981 and launched "Project Unrecorded Information" the next year. His legal training is more invaluable than ever now. "I'm able to look at evidence and know good from bad evidence. There's a lot of bad evidence" on the question of life beyond the grave, he said. The afterlife project isn't a new experiment. Before magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died on Halloween 1926, he reportedly prepared a coded message for which he was to send his wife the decoder key from the hereafter. Despite years of seances, the key never came. Scattered similar projects have had equally inconclusive results, but people keep trying. Priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley last month reported that 42 percent of polled Americans believed they had contacted someone who had died. Berger's project isn't "any more strange than anything else in parapsychology," said Jeff Munson of the Institute for Parapsychology, a private research group also based in Durham. "I admire his work because it's so tough and it has such tremendous religious implications," said Munson. However, most parapsychology experts don't believe communication with spirits is possible. Berger would need an airtight argument to quiet critics if he should enjoy any success, Munson said. Berger said he's ready for skeptics. Participants swear never to reveal their decoder key and to never write it down. Then there's the chance of a telling a medium the key. To quash that, Berger plans to have mediums trying to contact participants they couldn't have known. In fact, he'll select them from different continents if possible. The odds of someone getting a key through sheer chance are 600,000 to one, he said. And while participants are alive, the foundation challenges mediums the world over to try and find message solutions. If a message is decoded early, the participant writes a new one. None have been prematurely decoded. "Should anyone be able to communicate and we have a result, we will not claim this to be proof of life after death, because one experiment isn't enough," Berger said. "We need 100 successes, we need 1,000. "We're trying to get hard evidence." Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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