Contest: Can Robert Bigelow (and the rest of us) survive death?

January 22, 2021

Is there an Other Side? Robert Thomas Bigelow would like to know—and he’s offering nearly $1 million in prizes to the person(s) who can give him the answer, The New York Times reports.

Bigelow is not just anyone, or any 75-year-old, mourning a wife and a son, and confronting his own mortality. The Times describes him as “a maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, U.F.O.s, and the spirit realm.”

But, specifically, what he is looking for is “the best evidence for “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death.”

It’s a daunting quest, perhaps fringe to some, but the shaggy maned and mustached entrepreneur, the sole owner of Bigelow Aerospace and Budget Suites of America, is not easily discouraged.

The money he has made from his business ventures has enabled Bigelow to indulge a celebrated, if sometimes derided, interest in what he called “anomalous events” including his 20-year ownership of a spooky Utah ranch overrun by flying orbs and other creepy phenomena.

Indeed, the strange goings-on at the ranch drew the interest of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, through funding secured by Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, led to the formation of a Pentagon effort to study unidentified flying objects—the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programrevealed by The New York Times in 2017.

Now retired, Reid told the Times that Bigelow is “brilliant” and said they developed a close working relationship—noting, “He’s looked into areas other people only think about.”

Last June, four months after bone marrow disease and leukemia claimed the life of his wife of 55 years, Diane Mona Bigelow, at 72, Mr. Bigelow quietly founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to support research into what happens after death. But he may have been interested in the afterlife for more than a decade before that: His son, Rod Lee Bigelow, died of suicide in March 1992.

Entrants must qualify as serious researchers by February 28, with a record of at least five years of study of the field and preferably an affiliation with groups like the Society for Psychical Research in Britain. Submissions of up to 25,000 words are due by August 1, to be judged by a panel of specialists. Bigelow said he had an idea what that best evidence might be, but “it would be prejudicial to say.”

The panel to judge the submissions includes Dr. Christopher C. Green, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State College of Medicine who served with the Central Intelligence Agency; Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University; and the investigative reporter Leslie Kean, the author of the 2017 book “Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence For an Afterlife,” the basis of a six-part series on Netflix.

Winners will be announced on November 1. Bigelow said that of two “Holy Grail” question—whether bodily death marked the end of existence and whether we are alone in the cosmos—he put survival of consciousness first, with a special moral aspect. “It may matter what you do while you’re here,” he said. “It could make a difference on the other side.”

Research contact: @nytimes

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