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Parapsychology is the academic study of certain types of reported phenomena which cannot be explained by current scientific understanding. These paranormal phenomena are often popularly referred to as psychic, but parapsychology also includes phenomena such as reincarnation, which do not fall under this umbrella. Parapsychology as an academic discipline began in 1882 with the founding of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London, England.
The term paranormal describes reported phenomena which cannot be explained by current scientific understanding. Parapsychologists do not study all types of paranormal phenomena, and many parapsychologists specialize in a particular area. Parapsychology does not encompass all paranormal phenomena- examples of excluded ideas include UFOs and cryptozoology. This book seeks to encompass both parapsychological and other paranormal ideologies.
This book uses the word phenomenon for the purposes of objectivity. Proponents and skeptics may use other terms that more closely fit their point of view.
This book is divided into two main sections:
- This is the study of unexplained activity centered around people. This includes extra-sensory perception, street light interference, telekinesis, poltergeists etc.
- This section addresses the paranormal- unexplained events which do not seem to revolve around a particular person. It includes apparitions, hauntings, reincarnation, near-death experiences, etc., and the methods of testing environmental changes surrounding these events.
Parapsychology is the study of unexplained activity centered around people.
Psi is a blanket term referring to all parapsychological phenomenon. It is divided into two types:
- Psi-Gamma: This refers to cognition, e.g., extrasensory perception and remote viewing.
- Psi-Kappa: This refers to action, e.g., telekinesis and street light interference.
Parapsychology is considered to be on the fringe of standard science, due to its difficulty in testing and measurement. Demonstrations of parapsychological phenomenon can, however, be observed.
The field was created by Joseph Banks "J.B." Rhine, a graduate of both Wooster College and Ohio Northern University in Ohio. He attended graduate school at the University of Chicago in the early 1920s, earning a Master's and Ph.D. in botany. He then attended Harvard University to study psychology with psychologist William McDougall. McDougall left for Duke University in 1927, and Rhine went with him. While at Duke, Rhine attended a lecture by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was amazed. He began experimenting with extrasensory perception through psychological tests, and would later test psychokinesis. He continued his studies at Duke for many years, founding the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man in the early 1960s. It was Rhine and McDougall coined the term parapsychology. Today, the FRNM is the Rhine Research Center Institute for Parapsychology, and continues research in parapsychology.
Anomalous operation is a term used to describe the use of psi to explain paranormal activity.
Paraphysics is a term of debated definition. It dates back to the late 19th century; however, many varied definitions have been used, and as a term, it is not widely used. A more modern definition differentiates paraphysics and parapsychology by saying the focus is on physics and psychology respectively. However, such a small part of parapsychology extends into physics that it is not studied as a science.
Extrasensory perception, or ESP, is the ability to acquire information without observing it with one of the five basic senses. There are multiple ways in which it manifests:
- Clairvoyance or Remote Viewing: The subject experiences a vision an event that they are not a part of, possibly from a far location.
- Precognition or Retrocognition: The subject not only sees an event that they are not a part of, but one that takes place in a different time. In the event of retrocognition, they experience something from that past that they did not experience when it occurred (which could be before the subject's birth). In precognition, the subject sees into the future, later realizing that they had foreseen the event.
- Psychometry: The subject obtains information about an individual from an object belonging to that individual.
- Telepathy: The sending of decipherable messages without the use of the five senses.
- Out of Body (OOB) Experience or Astral Projection: The subject mentally leaves their body and experiences event occurring at the current time. This often occurs during sleep or lucid dreaming.
- Mediumship: The ability to communicate with dead spirits.
- Psychokenisis: The ability to move objects without touch.
All of these facets of ESP are extremely difficult to prove scientifically. For example, should someone claim that they experienced precognition, they could be accused of making it up on the spot. Obviously, the general public does not write every image that enters their mind, and would have no record of their earlier thoughts. Additionally, some claim that precognition is simply the sudden remembering of formerly repressed memories. Mediumship and psychometry are often attributed to cold reading. In addition, there is no way to conclusively prove that communications through a medium are real- should a supposed medium invent information, it could not be known by others.
Clairvoyance and remote viewing refer to the same phenomenon- the ability for one person to see something, occurring at that exact moment, through means other than the five senses. Along with telepathy, it is one of the two major forms of Anomalous Cognition (gaining information without the five senses). The existence of this phenomenon has never been scientifically proven.
The term clairvoyance is often differentiated by the fact that it does not occur in a controlled environment. This leads to even more difficulty in ascertaining its existence.
In the early 1970s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and later the U.S. Air Force, began funding experiments to test the existence of remote viewing. It lasted until the mid 1990s. At that point, the data was analyzed. Some test subjects had scored above simple chance, however, it was not by a great deal- 10 to 15%. Additionally, the methods of testing were called into question. Ultimately, no consensus could be reached as to whether remote viewing existed, and it remains unproven.
Precognition is the ability to receive information about events before they occur. Retrocognition (or postcognition) is the ability to receive information about a past event that they did not experience. This is often used in crime solving. Both are considered forms of Clairvoyance.
The existence of these is often disputed, as it is attributed to selection bias. Famous examples of precognition do exist, however. Two weeks before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln had a dream in which he saw himself in a casket. Mark Twain is said to have witnessed his brother's death in a dream weeks before.
Since it describes future events, precognition may occur without anyone recognizing it for years. Such was the case in Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella Futility. This story described the sinking of a massive "unsinkable" ship, the Titan, with great loss of life due to insufficient life boats. This echoed almost exactly the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, which occurred in 1912. While the details of the sinking were different, the other circumstances were nearly identical. Both occurred in the same month (April); both occurred in the Atlantic Ocean. The Titan was described as 800 feet long; the Titanic was 882. The Titan was traveling at 25 knots, the Titanic, at 23.
Despite these occurrences, many debunk precognition as observer bias- we may remember events that seem to indicate precognition better than others, or believe to have foreseen something, when our "vision" did not actually occur as close to the event as we remember. Psychics often claim precognitive abilities; however, many are proven false after the event occurs. Notable among these is psychic Sylvia Browne, who has made multiple incorrect predictions, including the outcomes of the 1992, 2000, and 2004 United Stated presidential elections.
Retrocognition is often cited by psychics, many of whom also claim clairvoyance. While this may be true for some, many instances can be attributed to cold reading. Many well known psychics, including James Van Praagh, have mad predictions about the locations of a murder, only to have the area reveal no evidence.
- wikipedia:Mark Twain
- wikipedia:Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan
- wikipedia:James Van Praagh
- wikipedia:Criticism of Sylvia Browne
Street Light Interference
Street light interference, or SLI, is a phenomenon where people inadvertantly trip the daylight sensors on daylight-sensing light fixtures. People who experience this phenomenon notice it occurring on certain lights- for example, in a parking lot with over a dozen light fixtures, there may be one that will turn on and off when the subject is close to it. This particular light fixture will act strangley, while every other one in the parking lot will remain on.
This phenomenon is similar to psychokenisis, however, one major tenent of it is that the subject cannot control it. Many SLIders (as the subjects are called) do report that the phenomenon occurs more frequently when they are in a heightened emotional state.
Much of the research in this area can be attributed to Hilary Evans, who authored a book, The SLI Effect. The causes of this phenomenon have yet to be determined; however, surveying has created a statistical analysis of what the phenomenon encompasses.
Critics usually attribute the phenomenon to two things. First, the lights are simply shutting off for explainable reasons- for example, sodium vapor type lamps will blink on and off when they start to fail, as they have experience voltage spikes. Second, due to observer bias, the SLIder notices the light turning off (or on), while they pay no attention to lights that are operating normally. SLIders have attempted to rebuke these through demonstration; however, as yet, no one has been able to cause interference during a demonstration.
Near Death Experiences
True-believer syndrome is a common occurrence in parapsychology. It is, broadly, a belief without logical foundations. Frequently, this translates to someone believing so strongly in the truth of something, that they refuse to accept when it is proven wrong, even if this proof is irrefutable. Just as skeptics are often too quick to dismiss, supporters often take the other route, and refuse to dismiss in light of evidence.
This occurs frequently in paranormal phenomenon with the staging of events. Someone may become so convinced that an encounter with a UFO, apparition, or cryptozoological figure is real, that they tend not to believe it to be a hoax, even if the original author of the evidence makes the statement.
This concept also occurs completely outside of parapsychology. For example, when a fraud is committed, many victims continue to profess the good faith of the scammer. The term is, however, rarely used outside of parapsychology.
The term was coined by M. Lamar Keene in 1976, in Keene's The Psychic Mafia. Keene attributed the success of many mediums to this. Ironically, people apparently suffering from true-believer syndrome were Keene's downfall. He had originally been a psychic, and in The Psychic Mafia, stated that his practice was fake. The book caused such a firestorm that Keene left the psychic business. However, death threats continued to follow, culminating in a drive-by shooting. Keene subsequently changed his name and relocated, and his whereabouts are unknown.
Paranormal addresses the supernatural- the unexplainable that does not revolve around a particular person. It includes apparitions, hauntings (or the perception thereof), poltergeists, etc., and the methods of testing environmental changes surrounding these events.
Paranormal activity describes unexplained activity in nature. Often, this includes the unexplained movement of objects, or unexplainable sensations. People experiencing (or claiming to experience) paranormal activity may see, smell, feel, or hear things that can't be explained by another source, and may be consistent with other aspects of their lives (e.g., someone who had recently lost a relative who was a smoker, may smell smoke reminiscent of that relative).
Critics of the study of the paranormal often cite this correlation as evidence that these occurrences are mentally created. Investigators (often known as "ghost hunters") have made definite observations, however, such as electromagnetic fluctuations, audio recordings, and images on still photos. As these events can be caused by other means, their value as evidence is debatable.
The Argument: Genuine or Negative Proof?
All aspects of parapsychology are challenged based upon the difficulty of scientific testing. Paranormal activity is often considered to be pseudo-science; that is, not tested through scientific means.
Part of this belief comes from various "successful" tests, that later turned out to be fraudulent. One group of experiments, known as the Soal-Goldney Experiments, were taken as proof that extra-sensory perception existed; it was later revealed that the raw data was manipulated.
Specifically to paranormal activity, scientists cite selection bias, that is, the fact that evidence given always points to a positive existence of the phenomenon, without any testing that may provide a negative. In a general sense, supernatural events cannot be tested, and therefore can neither be proven nor disproven.
There are, however, collectors of physical evidence that deal with paranormal activity, commonly know as ghost hunters. These hunters use a variety of equipment to record abnormalities, see Recording Paranormal Observations. Many of these can be explained by other means (e.g. orbs in still photos can be caused by light reflection), as such, critics consider these not to be conclusive evidence.
Common Characteristics of Hauntings
Measurable Environmental Differences
Several measurable changes in the local environment will often accompany less measurable signs of paranormal activity. When these are recorded, they are taken as hard evidence of paranormal activity. Often, fluctuations will occur around a place of interest- for example, a haunt believe to be a dead relative may cause readings near their favorite chair, or a portrait of them.
- Temperature: Areas where a ghost or apparition appears to be may show a significant temperature difference than the surround room, and are known as "hot spots" or "cold spots" accordingly. While these may be felt, a more measurable reading can come from thermometer recordings. Heat-sensitive video recordings can show a shape to these areas; usually they appear as a blob, though the SciFi channel show Ghost Hunters once recorded a thermal image with a human form†.
- Radiation: Similar to the spots of temperature differences, electromagnetic radiation detectors may show fluctuations in magnetic fields. Similarly, small amounts of radioactivity may appear. Setting these aside from typical environmental fluctuations is the tendency to occur in one place (especially a place of special meaning), where there is no apparent outside cause. EM radiation is particularly susceptible to false positives from electrical wiring.
- Electronic interference: Radios, television sets, or other wireless equipment may behave strangely, appearing to be caused by stray signals. Remote control televisions may change channels, or have a change in volume. Video cameras left to record may turn off or experience audio or video static.
†Ghost Hunters episode #213 at the Crescent Hotel; original broadcast date 19 October, 2005.
Recording Paranormal Observations
Various tools are used to obtain hard evidence of paranormal activity. These include:
- Still photography, which may capture odd lines, circles, or marks.
- Video cameras, which may capture odd movement, often in a human form.
- Audio recordings, which capture odd sounds or voices (see Electronic Voice Phenomenon, below). The audio track of video recordings may also record abnormal activity.
- Electromagnetic sensors: areas believed to contain paranormal activity often have electromagnetic fluctuations.
- Temperature measurements, especially infrared video cameras, may show pockets of extreme temperature differences. In the case of a video camera, spots of different temperatures may appear to be human-shaped.
Sometimes, psychics are employed to communicate with spirits; however, this is not considered to be evidence, as their statements cannot be confirmed. The evidence must be all-inclusive to show that there wasn't alteration of it, for example, an audio recording alone might be done via whispering into a microphone. If, however, the audio taping was also on video, it could be confirmed that it was an open microphone.
Electronic Voice Phenomenon
One method that is widely used, and an easy and cheap means of communication, is by searching for voices via an audio recording. This is known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP. Ghost hunters often allow a recorder to record while they ask a perceived ghost questions, hoping to find an answer on the tape. Voices may be quiet, muffled, or otherwise difficult to understand, though numerous recordings of high quality have been made, semi-validating this practice.
EVP is observed through recording some type of background noise- it is believed that voices modulate from this noise. Often, low quality equipment is used, as this equipment introduces background noise. Other methods include using a running electrical appliance (e.g. fans) or a radio or television not tuned to a station. Using a non-tuned television or radio is not a reliable means, as a weak signal on this device could be picked up. There has been an instance, however, of a tuned radio picking up an EVP- a radio was tuned to a French station, and the words modulated to English.
Opponents take several issues with EVP. First, many produced recordings can't be proven to be authentic. Often, to show that there was no tampering, a video recording will be made showing the audio recording/playback taking place, though more intricate forgeries could circumvent this. Also, there is the potential for the sound to be background noise, white noise, or others' voices caught on the recording (supporters often argue that the EVP answers a question asked, therefore, it is too great of a coincidence for an unrelated voice to match). Additionally, many skeptics argue that there is no voice response at all- that the brain is misinterpreting mere noise to be something greater, a phenomenon known as Auditory pareidolia.
Cryptozoology as paranormal phenomenon
U.F.O.s as paranormal phenomenon
Urban Legends and Paranormal Activity
Urban legends often circulate around very popular areas of paranormal activity. Many communities have one or more local haunted areas, of which stories abound. Often a legend follows these, which claims to explain the cause for the haunting. For example, there are perhaps thousands of "Crybaby Bridges" across the country, and these are almost always an accompanying tale about a young mother drowning a baby, throwing her baby off of the bridge, etc. Many areas have ghost hitchhikers; there is almost always an explanation involving a car accident death.
One must approach these legends with critical thinking, and in almost every case, a major question is immediately raised: If the story is true, how would anyone know? Here is a prime example: In Cleveland's Erie Cemetery (across the street from the Indians' Progressive Field) lies chief Joc-O-Sot. According to legend, Joc-O-Sot was part of a Vaudeville troupe that traveled to England. While there, Joc-O-Sot took ill (varying stories list his cause of illness as a previous gunshot wound that became aggravated, or tuberculosis). He wished to return to his native home in Minnesota, but died while passing through Cleveland, and was buried there. He is claimed to haunt the cemetery and the baseball stadium, and it is said that he shattered his headstone out of anger (the headstone is indeed shattered).
One should immediately realize that, without the ability to speak to the dead, it would not be possible to know what happened to the headstone. Unless there is historical evidence that Joc-O-Sot was angry prior to his death, knowing that he wouldn't make it to Minnesota, this part of the legend also cannot be proven. What is known is that there was indeed a chief Joc-O-Sot, who is buried at the cemetery. Historical research could determine whether or not he was a chief, how he died, and whether or not he was part of a Vaudeville troupe. Scientific testing could find evidence of paranormal activity in the area, and possibly point to Joc-O-Sot, should his image appear in photos, through EVP recordings, or unusual measurements in the exact location of his grave. These would not, however, confirm the urban legend.
Contributors to this book
The following WikiBooks editors have contributed significantly to the creating of this book:
- Jeremy McCracken (User:JeremyMcCracken)