Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove on Life Beyond the Brain and His $500K Bigelow Prize

David Levitt
7 min readDec 5, 2021

In a new interview, a scientist known worldwide for his serious research on unexplained phenomena has earned a huge Bigelow Prize for it.

Unexplained Death Connections
My wife Gail sat up in bed so abruptly she woke me, fully alert. Her face was stricken. She rushed into the bathroom. She heaved and vomited into the toilet. Then, again — so violently I looked for blood.

She stopped to take a breath. Her face changed from anguish to grief. She began sobbing and finally spoke.

“Uncle Willie just died.”

To our knowledge uncle Willie was not in the hospital, not on life support, not suffering from any deadly illness. But after a decade of living with Gail, I had little doubt. Less than two hours later we got a call from her sister. Willie had died at that same moment, amid violent projectile vomiting.

This has happened to Gail many times, especially when a loved one dies.

In fact it’s happened to many, many people. It happened to Jeffrey Mishlove as a young man — and it changed his life. Most people don’t talk about it because it doesn’t sound plausible. They don’t want to seem superstitious or crazy. They even keep it secret. How could she have known? That’s forbidden territory.

Every normal person and every respected scientist knows exactly what to do with this kind of evidence: dismiss it and discard it. It never happened. Attribute it to coincidence, wishful thinking or outright deception. Laugh, perhaps take a moment to demean or ridicule eyewitness accounts like mine, and then never speak of it again.

And then there are rare people like Gail who have experienced it again and again and can’t deny it; and rare people like Jeffrey who are so curious, smart, industrious and honest that they just won’t let it go — making a career of documenting and trying to understand such implausible phenomena.

You’re in for a special treat. Gail Hayssen interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove the other day, discussing:
• his very conscious career as a bridge between careful science and the unexplained;
• his immensely successful PBS TV show Thinking Allowed and current video podcast New Thinking Allowed;
• and the half million dollar award he received today for his meticulous research.

link to YouTube episode with video and comments

In a way Gail and Jeffrey are a matched set. She’s had a lifetime of unexplained experiences, some of them shared here on Medium with other stories. This summer she launched the podcast A Small Medium At Large, where she conducts intimate interviews with scientists, writers and strangely talented people like her, as well as appearing on other podcasts and radio shows. She hoped to reach people who’ve had similar experiences, provide some comfort, and share just how amazing the world really can be. And it’s already been an outrageous success — I’ve watched and read comments, as thousands of listeners have been thrilled by her peculiar frankness, joyous sense of humor, and astonishing true stories — and fallen in love.

Guests love her straightforward yet intimate questions. (It turns out already two of her recent guests are now Bigelow prize winners.) Hosts and audiences love her hilarious, astonishing stories. And some listeners gratefully explain that they finally feel permission to share extraordinary things that have happened to them — just as Gail had dreamed.

Gail and Jeffrey have discovered people are hungry to hear the truth, whether it’s readily explained or not. Jeffrey has interviewed Gail on several episodes of New Thinking Allowed this fall, with several more coming up. If you love provocative true stories and astonishing science, you might want to subscribe to it — and to A Small Medium At Large with Gail Hayssen.

Don’t be disappointed that this interview doesn’t provide the secret to immortality. The award winning essay is 95 pages, annotated with video and many references, that has been made public by the Bigelow Institute today, along with all the other winning entries.

Gail, Jeffrey and the Bigelow Prize

Brought To You By a Scientist
Who’s telling you this? I’m Dr. David Levitt, with degrees from MIT and Yale. I’ve taught at MIT and NYU — a computer scientist, software innovator, psychologist (the Artificial Intelligence variety), and theoretical and experimental physicist, with publications ranging from Physical Review Letters to a book at MIT Press.

Anyone who knows me at all also knows I’m insatiably curious, annoyingly stubborn, and absurdly honest — in ways that let’s say aren’t always crowd pleasers.

I’d be a fool to suppose sharing such stories could enhance my academic or professional reputation. I share them because they’re true.

I’ve spent three decades with Gail and known her since I was 10. She has exhibited gnarly powers from the beginning. She’s been a subject in laboratory experiments since 1998 — like the one documented in Dr. Dean Radin’s bestseller Supernormal. (Dean’s interview on A Small Medium At Large premiered last week.) His chapter on Telepathy describes a Ganzfield experiment Gail participated in from a sealed room as a receiver, where she rather exactly described photos a sender was looking at. Her voice could be heard electronically by Dean and the sender, but she received no status or feedback until later.

Bonus Telepathy
It wasn’t noticed in time for Dean’s book, but I have to share it here: as their successful Ganzfield experiment wound up and the sender began looking away from the target image, Gail — still in the sealed room — could be heard politely, unwittingly describing the other objects in Dean’s office the sender began looking at!

No one has a clue how she does this.

Epilogue: The Courage To Do Great Science, and the Bigelow Prize
It takes courage and rare integrity to honestly study unexplained phenomena. Beyond ignored and discarded data, paranormal research is widely treated with skepticism, contempt and censorship. Russell Targ’s immensely popular TED Talk on Remote Viewing has repeatedly been censored — always reappearing by popular demand. Researchers like Dr Radin and Dr Mishlove keep their reputations by following strict standards for peer review and, when possible, repeatable experiments. But as Gail Hayssen knows first hand, for visions triggered by a family death, planning and specific repeatability aren’t generally an option.

So before concluding, I’ll make a wider point: even amid easily repeatable experiments in natural sciences like physics, and highly reputed science like Einstein’s theory, people almost invariably believe what they want to believe and reject data and theories they consider implausible. Scientists and professors are not exceptions to this rule.

Even Physics Is Implausible
My favorite example of this is Einstein’s 1915 Theory of General Relativity, electromagnetism and gravity. It is now widely considered the undisputed standard theory of gravity — by millions of people who freely admit they don’t quite understand it.

If you point out that Einstein’s theory says the apparent attractive force of gravity is really a fictitious force that makes you believe you’re being pulled down when really you’re being pushed up by the surface of the massive earth, they’ll disagree as politely as they can. If you show them the Wikipedia entry citing Einstein’s theory that gravity is a fictitious force, they may ponder the error frequency of Wikipedia. If you show them Einstein’s metric tensor field equation that says how rigid rulers are actually stretching, they’ll wonder if really it means something else. If you show them repeatable experiments proving they’re being pushed upward and that an object apparently “falling” at 1 g isn’t accelerating at all, they’ll likely become uncomfortable and change the subject.

If a typical physics professor is asked directly to explain Einstein’s gravity theory, he may well leave out the fictitious force part, and hide Einstein’s elegant theory — and the simple experiments that let anyone prove it with a smart phone — under a 300 page avalanche of math. Because in his heart the professor still believes Newton’s theory about a real attractive force. He doesn’t believe the fictitious force theory and doesn’t want to. He doesn’t quite understand and accept Einstein’s spacetime curvature theory that when space itself is stretching, earth’s surface can accelerate outward without the planet getting any bigger in meters — though that’s exactly what the field equation says. He’s been bluffing.

(Tellingly, if you ask a secure Nobel Laureate like Cal Tech Prof. H. David Politzer whether gravity is a fictitious force, he’ll say of course and share how he explains gravity to students in his classes. He’s not a typical professor.)

People hate believing implausible things — it’s embarrassing — and will do almost anything to escape the cognitive dissonance. We think in narratives and routinely filter evidence. We believe what we want to believe.

(I’ve written a fun little book on this topic, The Secret Truth About Gravity, full of easy ways to understand and prove Einstein’s gravity theory qualitatively — using computer animation, experiments anyone can do, and almost no math — for publication in 2023. But I’m not here to plug my book.)

The point is, even for discoveries more than a century old about the most solid repeatable science — physics — our prejudices keep us from exploring, accepting repeatable results, and confirming facts. So when we’re studying the mind — and first person experiences that are inherently unrepeatable — the temptation to throw away the most startling data and gaslight anyone who recalls it can be overwhelming. No one wants to be banned on YouTube or made fun of by Penn and Teller.

In this context, the outsize integrity, honesty and courage of people like Mishlove and Hayssen can not be overstated. And now, finally, it is being rewarded, outside the traditional academic research community.

The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies gave out 29 awards totaling $1.8 million today in a competition of essays about evidence of consciousness independent of a living brain — and published the essays worldwide. Jeffrey Mishlove won first prize of $500K. Journalist and author Nick Cook — another guest of Gail’s on an upcoming A Small Medium at Large episode — also won one of the prizes. There is hope our natural tendencies toward bias, timidity, conformity, intellectual laziness and cowardice — our willingness to deny some of the extraordinary things we experience — can be partially offset by the incentive of such prizes.

Congratulations, Jeffrey! And happy birthday!

David Levitt, 4 December 2021

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David Levitt

computer, media and political scientist, writer, physicist, pianist, satirist, MIT ScD, Yale BS, augmented reality innovator and CEO of Pantomime Corporation