A gathering of an otherworldly nature is taking place in Durham this weekend.
It’s called “An Afterlife Convention: a convergence of noted organizations dedicated to the investigation of life beyond physical life”: i.e., life after death.
Robert Ginsberg, who founded the sponsoring Forever Family Foundation ( bit.ly/1tIvRoP) in 2004, said he’s well aware that many, if not most, people roll their eyes at any mention of such a thing.
“I was one of those people 11 years ago,” he said, “I would just say to people to learn about the evidence.
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“We think of ourselves as really a science-based organization,” Ginsberg said., “but we’re as much about spirituality as we are about science because the two are not as separate as people might think.”
The formal convention is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8-9, at the Marriott at Research Triangle Park, on Miami Boulevard near I-40, but there are day-long pre-convention events on Thursday and Friday, listed on the convention website, bit.ly/1yMMe3Y.
One reason the foundation is holding its eighth annual convention in Durham is because Durham is home of the Rhine Research Center ( rhine.org), where investigators apply scientific method to phenomena collectively known as “extrasensory perception.”
“We don’t have a close connection with them,” Rhine Center director John Kruth said, but one member of the Rhine center’s board, Loyd Auerbach ( bit.ly/13pltbN), is currently president of the Forever Family Foundation board.
“They’ve developed from a very experiential type of group, like people who ... have the experience of going to mediums, to bring in more of the scientific work,” Kruth said.
“When they start to bring in the scientific work, that’s where we get connected,” he said.
The Rhine Research Center, on Campus Walk Drive, is the descendant of the research into extrasensory perception that psychology professor J.B. Rhine conducted, with his wife, Louisa, at Duke University from 1927 and off-campus after his retirement in 1965.
Sally Rhine Feather, the Rhines’ daughter and director emeritus of the Rhine center, is one of the convention speakers.
“My topic is how the spontaneous psychic experiences that we are continuing to collect from the public may at times give suggestions of the afterlife, (such as) crisis apparitions that seem to give notice of the death of a loved one,” Feather said.
“I’ll discuss the need to develop guidelines to evaluate such evidence; that isn’t research per se but sets the stage for some qualitative research.”
Another speaker is Jim Tucker, psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine ( bit.ly/1vpzZGW), whose academic publications include “Getting rid of Ritalin: how neurofeedback can successfully treat attention deficit disorder without drugs” along with “A scale to measure the strength of children's claims of previous lives: methodology and initial findings.”
Tucker is speaking on “Return to Life: Children’s Memories of Past Lives.” And there is Julie Beischel from the Windbridge Institute for Applied Research in Human Potential in Tucson, Ariz., on “Among Mediums: Results from 10 Years of Research.”
“We’ve tried to put together a program that’s well rounded,” Ginsberg said. “A lot of people are not aware that these things are studied using the scientific method and there are many different areas of research that are going on.
“We also have as presenters, one on each day, research mediums who ... have proven (they) can do what they claim to do.”
Ginsberg’s own conversion from eye-roller to foundation founder came from personal experience: his wife, Phran, awoke on Sept. 1, 2002, with a sense that “something horrible is going to happen today,” he said. That evening, their daughter was killed and son seriously injured in an automobile accident.
“I had an obsession,” Ginsberg said. “I had to find out, A, how she knew, and, B, if there was a possibility that she got that message. I only had two logical conclusions: one, there are some people who have these cases of precognition where they can see the future; or, two, somebody was sending her a message. Hard as that was for me to believe.
“So I started my search. One thing led to another,” he said. Now, Phran Ginsberg is the foundation’s full-time volunteer director while Robert Ginsberg is vice president with a day job running his New York City insurance business.
“I always approached what we do from the science end of it; my wife always approaches it from more of a spiritual side. in that sense we’re a good team,” he said.
The foundation has members in 60 to 70 countries, Ginsberg said. It publishes a quarterly newsletter, has a syndicated radio program and organized discussion groups throughout the U.S. The convention is open to the public, intended to attract general interest.
“The mission of our foundation ... is to educate the public about evidence that we’re more than our physical bodies,” Ginsberg said.
“I think that more and more people are at least open (to the idea of afterlife) and I encourage everybody to be an open minded skeptic,” he said. “Just remain open and learn.”