Is there life beyond the grave? Does conscious thought exist after death? These are big questions, but here's an even bigger one: at TVNZ, does conscious thought exist before death?
OPINION: Information just in suggests we can confidently answer "no" to that last question.
Last week, Sensing Murder psychic Deb Webber appeared on TVNZ's Breakfast show with Paul Henry.
While Ms Webber does not believe in watching the news media on the grounds that it's all "pretty much fear-based," she was happy to put her principles to one side to flog tickets to her upcoming tour.
Ms Webber, who calls herself a "metaphysical researcher", mentioned in passing that she'd love to get involved with the search for missing two-year-old Aisling Symes.
At a press conference about Aisling's case held later that day, TVNZ reporter Amy Kelley suddenly piped up that Ms Webber had given them information about what had happened to the toddler, and demanded to know what police planned to do about it.
TVNZ approached a friend of Aisling's family to suggest that they have a meeting with Ms Webber. When asked whether it was appropriate for our national broadcaster to introduce a TV psychic to a couple enduring every parent's worst nightmare, a TVNZ spokesperson replied: "You know what they are doing? They are being human".
Don't you love this display of righteous indignation? Sure, it's great publicity for Ms Webber's tour, and sufficiently good publicity for TVNZ for their reporter to announce it during a press conference but, hey, the real reason the meeting was set up is because everyone at TVNZ is so very caring.
There are many reasons why people believe in psychics. They may, for example, be thick. They may be extraordinarily gullible, in which case I have an exciting Nigerian investment opportunity they may be interested in. Or they may be mired in grief, and willing to suspend their judgment in exchange for the hope of hearing one last time from someone they have loved and lost.
I don't blame anyone for believing in psychics, any more than I blame myself for having once believed in the Easter bunny. But it's a different matter when our state broadcaster stops treating psychics with any degree of scepticism.
Ms Webber's Breakfast appearance came only a week after the show hosted Lisa Williams, the medium who claims to have foreseen 9/11 but didn't think to mention it to anyone in advance. TVNZ even advertises psychics' tour dates on its website.
Let's look at the evidence backing up TVNZ's view that it is justified in intruding on the privacy of the Symes family, and in asking police to take time out from the investigation to examine Ms Webber's leads.
Sensing Murder is a franchise that has been running in several countries for years, and is notable for having failed to solve a single case.
Here it has provided no new information to New Zealand police, which means its sole purpose is to exploit the vulnerability of the families of murder victims for the purposes of entertainment.
Given the show's strike rate, it's no surprise that none of its psychics have taken up Christchurch businessman Tony Andrews' offer of $20,000 if they can prove their paranormal abilities in a simple test.
Last year, Eating Media Lunch replayed a sting by Australia's Channel 7, in which Ms Webber managed to communicate with three dead people who didn't exist. She has developed a far slicker act since then, and her appearance on Breakfast was a masterwork in sidestepping, fudging, evasion and prevarication.
Ms Webber claimed to be on the show not to sell more tickets, but to alert people to the fact that "the consciousness of the earth is changing". Fear is out, love is in, and karma is going to "hit you in the face".
To his credit, Paul Henry did raise the thorny issue of why the spirits of murder victims never get around to saying who killed them.
Ms Webber's answer is this: "Let's say we want today to find the murderer. What if the person has a contract with life or the universe to still live and affect other people still? . . . 'cos everyone's affecting everyone."
Do I have a contract with life, too? And if so, could I have the paperwork back, please, so I can write in a clause about not having to listen to this bullshit on publicly funded television?
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- The Dominion Post