“I’ve followed you on many adventures, but into the great unknown mystery, I go first, Indy,” the dying man said to Harrison Ford in a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
It’s a clever line from the 1984 Steven Spielberg hit — but layered within it is the eternal question for anyone who has ever lived. What actually happens to us when we die?
Maverick entrepreneur Robert Bigelow hopes to provide meaningful answers on November 1, 2021. The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies (BICS), located in Las Vegas, is putting up $1.5 million toward that end.
Earlier this year, Bigelow announced that BICS is launching an essay contest with large cash prizes for the winners. The assignment: “What is the best available evidence for the survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death?”
Six judges with highly burnished resumes will read the essays and select the winners: $500,000 for first place, $300,000 for second, $150,000 for third, and $50,000 for each of the 11 next best compositions.
“We are trying to stimulate conversation on a subject that is, to some people, a little scary,” Bigelow told KTNV television in Las Vegas. “You don’t want to contemplate your own death. It’s a pretty serious subject.”
Recently, Bigelow said he was satisfied with the way the contest was proceeding. The first deadline came on February 28 when the applicants submitted their credentials. All had to evidence at least five years of serious scholarship on the topic.
“We carefully vetted the applicants,” Bigelow said. “We have some very heavy hitters.”
With the entrants now chosen, the next big deadline is 5 pm on August 1 when the essays have to be emailed to BICS. It’s then in the hands of the judges: the winners will be announced November 1.
Bigelow said that he suspects it will be an onerous decision because of the “high quality of contestants.”
From an outside view, the most rewarding aspect of the contest will occur after the victors are announced: all fourteen of the top essays, plus the work of any “high quality runners up” will be posted on the BICS website, available for reading by the general public.
Bigelow stressed that his own personal views, as well as the views of the BICS staff, will have no determinative force in the outcome. “I personally believe human consciousness does survive and it probably matters what you do with your life while you are here,” he said. “I am already convinced, but that’s not what this is all about.”
The underlying purpose of the contest, he asserted, is to “generate research, discussion and stimulate debate….we’re stirring the pot.”
So, who is Robert Bigelow and why does he have these cosmic concerns? Is there a hidden agenda in play with the contest?
The preponderance of available information suggests Bigelow is a highly successful, innovative businessman who has a strong epistemological side. He majored in banking at Arizona State and proceeded to make a prodigious fortune with his extended-stay residences, Budget Suites of America. That fortune grew when he founded Bigelow Aerospace and did projects with NASA — he also teamed on a venture with Elon Musk.
Bigelow used these vocational pursuits to fund ventures aimed at resolving what he calls the two “Holy Grail” issues: what happens to humans after death and whether we are alone in the heavens.
“My goal was always to make enough money to explore these other questions,” he said. When asked about his arcane interests by Forbes, Bigelow offered this explanation: “I grew up in Las Vegas. This was a unique town because it was the only place where you could stand out in your front yard and watch (rocket) launches and nuclear bombs go off.”
Bigelow’s personal connection to the “Holy Grail” stems from profound episodes he experienced early in life.
He was three years old when his maternal grandparents had a “close encounter” with a UFO while driving on a country road — “there were missing hours that terrified them so much, they couldn’t talk about it,” Bigelow reported. “It was 1947 and we just didn’t have a lot of information about ETs.”
An even more traumatic event occurred when Bigelow was eighteen–his father was tragically killed in a private airplane crash. This loss first spurred him into wondering about human consciousness after death.
Years later, Bigelow suffered a series of difficult family fatalities, including his 24-year old son and 20-year old grandson. Diane, his wife of 55 years, passed away last year after a courageous battle with leukemia and related complications.
These deaths, Bigelow noted, triggered in him “a renewed interest” in the survival of consciousness–but he is taking a “hands off approach” when it comes to judging the BICS contest. “I am a facilitator to help people find answers,” Bigelow said. “I want to make a difference today.”