Although outsiders see Spiritualism as superstition, practitioners consider it scientific. According to the National Association of Spiritualist Churches, "it investigates, analyzes and classifies facts and manifestations demonstrated from the spirit side of life."
UW-Madison journalism professor Deborah Blum's new book, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, outlines the quest of 19th-century scientists to investigate the claims of Spiritualists. Back then, says Blum, science was "just discovering the structure of the atom, radio wavelengths, and the whole idea of communication by invisible energies." Then, as now, Spiritualists believed "the spirit world functions on a kind of energy-transmission level."
Modern-day Spiritualists often feel their beliefs have been proved. Blum, while maintaining the need for replicable results, says some 19th-century investigations she researched were "really well done, carefully controlled. About 5% of what they found was completely inexplicable."
Blum has become more open-minded since writing the book, seeing "interesting patterns in people's experiences." She thinks there may be something to "crisis apparitions," when someone you know dies far away, and "you have a sense of them or see them." And although Blum thinks "We are very prone as a species to see patterns or assign meaning to things that are meaningless," she's not willing to write off such phenomena as mere coincidence: "Either we're all prone to incredible hallucinations or there is something really interesting there that we don't know yet." Science "still hasn't figured out what the major energy balance of the universe is. They call it dark energy...but we don't know what it is."