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.

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