Las Vegas billionaire pays $1.8M in prize money for winning essays on life after death

Mysteries

Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace stands next to a model of an inflatable habitat that could be used for future space exploration during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 7, 2016. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

MYSTERY WIRE (KLAS) — An international competition to find the best evidence for life after death has announced its winners. The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies will award nearly $2 million to its prize winners, including $500,000 for the best essay about life after death. 

Billionaire aerospace tycoon Robert Bigelow spent some quality time on phone calls Monday morning. He personally dialed up the three top winners of his essay contest and shared some good news with the stunned professionals on the other end of the line.

“You know we were just calling to let you know you won half a million dollars, or you won $300,000 or $150,000,” Bigelow recounted what he told the winners. 

In early 2021, Bigelow created BICS, or the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies, and then used that organization to host a one-of-a-kind essay contest seeking the best evidence for the existence of an afterlife, proof that human consciousness survives physical death, that death is not the end.  

The question of what, if anything, happens to us when we die, is a central mystery of human existence. Mainstream science dictates that death is truly the end, leaving the existence of a soul or an afterlife to religions and philosophers. Bigelow wanted to know how many academics around the planet might be studying consciousness from a scientific point of view, so he sponsored an essay contest, offering large prizes for the top three essays. 

 “We had no idea how it’s going to go over and then we had almost 40 countries represented,” Bigelow said. 

There were as many as 1,200 applicants.

“We had criteria in order to be an applicant and then we looked at all the applicants and said alright we have to have some more criteria here as to the probability that you’re going to produce a good essay,” he said. “It may not be out of the ballpark, but it’s going to be a good essay, you know, and so that got down to about 200.”

The initial plan was to award $950,000 in prizes for the top three essays, with $500,000 for first place. BICS hired six esteemed writers and academics familiar with the subject matter to act as judges. Within a few weeks of poring through the entries, the judges realized that the high quality of the submitted essays might deserve more than three winners. So Bigelow added more cash to the pot and an additional 11 runners-up, each of whom would receive $50,000.

As the Nov. 1 deadline approached, the judges told Bigelow there were additional essays beyond the top 14 that also deserved recognition, so Bigelow decided to expand the pool of prizes, adding 15 honorable mention prizes of $20,000 each, meaning the combined value of the essay prizes was $1.8 million.   

“Universities don’t give you grants to go study this really important topic,” Bigelow told Mystery Wire. “They have to try to sell books to support themselves. A lot of these people spend their whole lives in this field of research.” 

The list of 29 winners has been posted on the BICS website. The top essay was submitted by parapsychologist Jeffrey Mishlove of New Mexico, well-known in the field for his interviews on YouTube.

His presentation to BICS, titled “Beyond the Brain: The Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death” was a unanimous choice by the panel of judges. Mishlove’s essay included video snippets and testimonies regarding near-death experiences, reincarnation cases documented by memories of past lives, and seven other types of evidence that consciousness survives physical death. 

The second-place essay, “The Continuity of Consciousness: A Concept Based on Scientific Research on Near-Death Experiences During Cardiac Arrest,” was submitted by a Dutch cardiologist Dr. Pim van Lommel, who launched a major study of near-death experiences as reported by patients who died of heart attacks, then were resuscitated and returned with vivid memories of what they encountered on “the other side.”   

Third place went to Leo Ruickbie, a British historian and sociologist of religion, for his essay titled “The Ghost in the Time Machine.” 

Bigelow says the plan is to publish all of the 29 prize-winning essays onto the BICS website within the next two weeks. He further plans to put all 29 essays into book form, a multi-volume edition that will be distributed for free to hospitals, hospices, religious organizations, and others to be determined. 

Will BICS launch a second essay contest in 2022? Bigelow says that decision has not yet been made. He is pleased the contest generated so much enthusiasm among researchers around the world but BICS is considering various options for next year and beyond. Bigelow spoke to us about the winners and about what’s next for BICS in an exclusive interview recorded on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021 and here below.

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