LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas businessman is offering nearly $1 million for the answer to one of history’s enduring questions: “Is there life after death?" Robert Bigelow thinks HE knows the answer, but he’s wondering if YOU do.
In fact, Robert Bigelow doesn’t mince his words about why he’s holding the consciousness contest: “Personally, I don't need convincing. Okay. That isn't what this was all about. It's not me.”
The question is as old as human life itself. What happens when we die? Where do we go? Do we come back?
Those of faith believe they know the answer, but Robert Bigelow isn’t seeking the spiritual, he wants proof. He’s seeking the science.
“We’re looking for more kinds of commentary from evidence evidentiary kind of approach,” says Bigelow. “Witnesses matter.”
Bigelow thinks it matters enough that he’s putting down almost a million dollars of his own personal fortune in prize money to any qualified applicant submitting an essay of 25,000 words or less presenting the best evidence for “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death.”
Leslie Kean is one of the five contest judges. “It's going to shake up the scientific world. It's going to shake up our understanding of the reality that we live in.”
Kean is an accomplished author of several books of her own, including "Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife," the basis of a 6-part documentary on Netflix of the same name. “You know, there's a lot of evidence. It's highly suggestive of the fact that consciousness, certainly we know it can function independently of the brain, but whether it survives death, there's a lot of evidence suggesting that but I don't think we're ever going to have a hundred percent proof and, and maybe it is better that there are some things we don't know,” says Kean.
FULL INTERVIEW WITH LESLIE KEAN
Bigelow does know the space business; cooperating with the space program to develop expandable living quarters for the International Space Station and other applications. He’s able to fund Bigelow Aerospace largely because of his extensive real estate holdings, including Budget Suites of America. But Bigelow’s passion has always been with the unexplainable – UFOs and paranormal activity.
“So it's outside the five senses that we're familiar with. It's outside of all physics too, there are no explanations for these kinds of things. So our physics is very, very incomplete. Hugely incomplete,” adds Bigelow.
“If it does exist that there is life after this death, then it reframes everything we're thinking about what we're doing here,” says Gard Jameson, a professor of philosophy at UNLV. Jameson wrestles with existential questions in the course of his classes and studies on philosophy, but he’s not afraid to quote physics.
“What we know from the second law of thermodynamics, everything is preserved. So, you know, whether it's this material, body, the energy of this body or whatever it is if the laws of physics suggest everything goes on in some form,” says Jameson.
FULL INTERVIEW WITH GARD JAMESON
This brings us back to Bigelow’s consciousness question prompted in no small part by the recent death of his wife. “I just, I would say I have a renewed interest because of my wife's passing, but I was very interested in this in the '80s, in the late '80s,” says Bigelow.
Applicants for the contest are not allowed to quote scripture, but research into this subject can lead to conclusions that have familiar religious overtones.
If you truly buy into the worldview that life does continue. I think that changes how you look at this life and how you engage this life,” adds Jameson.
“I really do think there's never going to be any proof. I mean, hard proof. That there's an afterlife. I think the point of this is to bring out the best suggestive evidence,” says Kean.
Bigelow’s contest is already underway and will take much of the year to determine the winners, and hopefully the answer to life’s biggest question.
“I like the, the phenomenon aspects of, of the challenge, the paranormal, those are the two holy grails. And I think, and I think, uh, what happens to you after you, you die is the first holy grail. And the second one is, are we alone?” says Bigelow.
Applications are being vetted right now. To find out how you can participate, and read the contest rules here: Bigelow Institute. The deadline for applications is Feb 28.
This story originally reported by Dave Courvoisier on KTNV.com.