Putting the Normal back in Paranormal

The Temptation of St. Anthony by Martin Schongauer. 1480-90

All over the world, since the beginning of time, people have been having experiences that have defied their understanding of the world around them. With the advent of science and reason, however, mysteries that had long been considered unsolvable were finally being exposed and explained once and for all. Somewhere along the line, however, the scientific mind was repressed. The last of the great mysteries were suddenly regarded as forever unexplainable or, worse yet, completely nonexistent. Nowhere are these current and all prevailing attitudes of ignorance more prevalent than in the study of those things that many deem “paranormal.”

The term paranormal can be defined as “pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation[i].”

No great scientific mind has ever, not even once, claimed that people were not experiencing “paranormal” events. In fact, there are many theories as to why certain paranormal incidents occur. A common theory is misidentification of what is seen or experienced. Another is mental illness. Some have made claims that these experiences are related to energy and are some type of hallucination. Sometimes drugs are suspect. There has also been speculation that certain paranormal incidents occur because of an event in the brain similar to a dream. Others have said that the mind is far more powerful than we are aware, and that we are able to manifest unexplained events or energies subconsciously (sometimes called a tulpa). In fact, there have been many proposed theories for various incidents over the years such as those I write about in my post Science and Ghosts.

Of course, there are also those theories that I like to refer to as “the Paranormal Status Quo.”

The status quo for hauntings, for example, would be that a dead person’s essence is somehow visiting or present. The common belief about Sasquatch is that it’s an undiscovered ape. The term UFO – which simply means unidentified flying object – has come to represent a spacecraft of an unknown alien life-form from another planet. These status quo theories are usually based 100% on correlations found between accounts or on communal speculation. In a haunting, again, individuals claiming to see deceased individuals represent the bulk of the evidence for believers in the “spirits of the dead” theory. These status quo speculations are merely mainstream conjecture. They’re usually the result of blind acceptance to reported correlations.

A correlation is when two or more things are found to be related to one another. There is a correlation between overeating and weight gain for example. A correlation does not, however, necessarily mean that a cause has been identified. In certain geographic areas, for example, people have claimed that a person’s race is a determining factor in crime. Despite there being a correlation between race and crime, we now know that race is not the cause of criminality. The cause is most often social based and has to do with poverty and other factors such as the community norms accepted within a specific area. In short, correlation is not the same thing as causation. In a haunting, once again, simply seeing the image of someone deceased does not automatically mean that that deceased individual is really present. This correlation has led people to conclude that ghosts are the spirits of the dead. Case closed? I don’t think so. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m left to wonder, then, why can’t mainstream society simply accept that there are things in this world we cannot currently understand or explain? Worse yet, why are there only two sides presented in any of these arguments? Looking at hauntings one might determine that there are only two stances in North America: Either you believe in ghosts – as the spirits of the deceased – or you believe that all of these stories are make-believe. In my opinion, both conclusions are simpleminded and unscientific.

Until a “ghost” is somehow measured it will never officially exist. I tell you this as a person who has had my own experiences. I do not know if incidents such as hauntings are caused by the spirits of the dead and neither does anyone else. In fact, anyone who tells you that they do – including psychics – are only contributing to an ignorance of the collective. It is speculation at its best and we should all call it what it is.

On the other hand, those that merely disbelieve for the sake of disbelieving are lost somewhere in the realm of misinformed scepticism or outright fear. If they’re spiritual or religious they believe in the paranormal already, but just have different theories or views as to what the causes of these experiences may be. If they see themselves as science-based then instead of merely stomping their feet in childlike protest why wouldn’t they choose a speculative theory like an actual science-based person would? If they thought we were all misidentifying what we’ve seen, for example, then they should say so. It sounds a lot smarter than contradicting what science has already accepted, that these incidents are perceived as real by the bulk of those experiencing them.

The problem with the Paranormal Status Quo is that these whimsical theories do have an impact on our ability to solve remaining mysteries. Most scientists today, for example, will not go anywhere near the study of anything that may be deemed supernatural or paranormal. Not only are controlled conditions very difficult or impossible to come by in the first place, there’s also a stigma attached. As a result, many scientists have claimed that a study in this realm is not worth the risk to their career. Likewise, funding from reputable sources is often said to be virtually non-existent for the same reason. Also of consideration – because of the difficult nature of the study – is that the likelihood of success is very limited. In other words, studying the paranormal’s not usually considered a respectable pursuit in the scientific community, or a lucrative one either. This is both unfortunate and problematic if we ever hope to solve some of these last great mysteries.

Things may not be so black and white, however. There is a third group that warrants consideration in any discussion of the paranormal. This is the community of hoaxers. Unfortunately, many individuals have chased fame by claiming the capture of evidence that had been contrived. Truthfully, trickery has likely existed just as long as legitimate experiences of paranormal events. The motivation for these individuals varies, but there’s usually some sort of financial reward involved. For example, spirit mediums and exorcists have always been able to ask for money, which can be seen as clear motivation for a hoax. Likewise, modern video and image evidence may lead to a career that involves book deals or even a documentary. There are also hoaxers that seem to find some sort of amusement or pleasure at the expense of others. Lying is easy. Unfortunately, we’re entering a technological age where we’ll no longer be able to accept video or images as evidence at all. CGI gets easier, photo manipulation technology gets better, and the ability to see evidence in its original unaltered state will be based on nothing short of blind trust. In a world of hoaxers, trust just isn’t enough anymore. Maybe it never was.

People who have had these experiences are often left extremely shaken. Some individuals become obsessed in proving to others that what they saw was real. Others become silent. Many have claimed to suffer a variety of symptoms that sound surprisingly similar to PTSD. Problems sleeping, fear of being alone, avoiding certain locations, terrifying dreams, anxiety, spiritual uncertainty, relationship collapse and feelings of “craziness” are all commonly reported. Rarely are paranormal experiences said to have been fun or desirable. In fact, most report that they wished that the paranormal event had never occurred in the first place.

So where does that leave us? Do we really need to accept that entities such as ghost are real? No, we do not. We merely need to accept, as the scientific community already has, that certain individuals have experienced these events. No one knows what the truth is despite what any one person may claim. That is why these types of events – such as hauntings – are considered unexplained.

No matter how crazy the truth may be, we can rest assured that a day will come where we’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt what that truth really is. That answer may be a chemical imbalance, or it may be something far more significant such as proof of life after death. I do not know what that truth will be, and neither do you. Until then, all we have is speculation. At this rate, maybe speculation is all we’ll ever have? I hope not.

On a personal level, I can work within my own beliefs as I continue to grow and to evolve. I will try to keep in mind, however, that spiritual practices are viewed as faith-based for a reason. The only thing that I do know for sure, is that the older I get the more frustrated I become by people who claim to absolutely know the truth about anything. When it comes to the world of the supernatural, this is especially frustrating, because no one does. That’s why we use the term paranormal in the first place. These events are simply beyond scientific explanation… for now.

Paranormal

The Ghosts of Togo and his Wife by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. c. 1850

About Shanon Sinn

The Spirit of Vancouver Island. Nature Beings, Shapeshifters, Ghosts & Ancestor Spirits. The Earth is Sacred.
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