Saturday, 24 April 2010

Too Many Questions and Too Many Answers: The Paranormal Scene

The global paranormal scene is a fascinating social phenomenon rife with opposing groups and theoretical standpoints. At the very basic level we see the long standing rift between those that would be classed as “believers” and those that are called “sceptics”, but this is just the simplest distinction. These two categories can be further subdivided revealing an ever bifurcating conceptual root system of different interpretations and conclusions drawn from a variety of ostensibly paranormal phenomena and experiences.

There are investigators who apply scientific, laboratory based, methodologies to the study of so-called psi phenomena (telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis and so on), and those who employ a more direct experiential approach in attempting to develop these abilities for themselves. Some researchers have positive results, others inconclusive results and negative results There are researchers looking into the neurochemistry of paranormal experiences: those who suggest that paranormal experiences can be explained through a detailed study of the functioning, or malfunctioning, of the human brain, and those who argue that this endeavour is futile and overly reductive. Some psychologists consider claims to paranormal experience as evidence of a plethora of pathological disorders, while others see such experiences as entirely natural transformative episodes that benefit the psyche. There are anthropologists studying witchcraft beliefs, spirit possession, mediumship and shamanism in exotic locations around the world. Amongst these are those who essentially “go native” and adopt the beliefs of the peoples they are studying for themselves, and those who go out of their way to explain away any apparently paranormal experiences in rational and reductive terms. There are sociologists who study paranormal belief without commenting on whether these beliefs are valid, and phenomenologists who are interested in the way that the paranormal is experienced.

Within ufology we find those who believe in the existence of UFOs in a purely physical sense (referred to as “nuts and bolts” advocates), and within this subgroup there are those who believe that the UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin and those who believe they have a terrestrial origin (whether human or otherwise). Then there are the proponents of much more transcendent interpretations that see UFOs as non-mechanical inter-dimensional vehicles working on the level of consciousness. There are those who understand the UFO and abduction phenomenon to be a continuation of the historical folkloric traditions of fairy encounters. There are religious interpretations that see these unidentified objects as somehow linked to biblical descriptions of strange angelic vehicles. Certain theorists have proposed that the abduction phenomenon is in someway related to the action of psychoactive chemicals on the human brain, or of the interaction of electromagnetic energies, potentially opening portals of perception to other worlds. There is the time travelling hypothesis, which suggests that the occupants of the UFOs are human beings from the future on a mission to prevent a course of planetary destruction that we are currently in the process of laying out for ourselves. Are crop circles messages from UFOs, inter-dimensional beings, humans from the future with potent messages for mankind or elaborate hoaxes? Who are the men in black? Is there an international conspiracy?

Ghosts provide yet another moot point around which we construct diverse theories and opinions. Some believe that ghosts are the spirits of the dead trapped in the world of the living because they have “unfinished business”. Certain researchers have vouched for the so-called “stone tape theory” which suggests that ghosts are recordings of emotional events captured in the structural material of buildings. Photographic anomalies are interpreted by some as evidence of ghostly intervention and others as nothing more than technological faults. Some mediums believe that they are receiving information from entities claiming to have existed on the earth at some point in history; others believe that their communicators have never been incarnated. Channellers claim to receive communications from a variety of different sources, from distant planets and other dimensions, heavenly beings, ascended masters and higher selves. Spiritualists believe that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, but certain groups prefer mental mediumship (that is receiving telepathic messages from the deceased in a symbolic form) while others prefer to communicate with the dead via trance or physical mediumship. Are the successes of mediums down to the survival of human consciousness after death or the super-psi hypothesis (that is information received telepathically from people still alive on the earth or from galactic stores of information – the akashic records)? Some spiritualists believe that these are dangerous practices, as do many fundamentalist Christian groups, while sceptics see nothing but fraud. Are these communicators really who they say they are, or is there something more sinister going on? Are they demons? Is it evil? Some say yes, others say no. What exactly is glossolalia, or talking in tongues, if not another form of channelling? Or is it a related phenomenon at all?

Cryptozoologists argue about whether Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster are actual animals, perhaps as yet unrecorded species or survivals from prehistory, or much more transcendent supernatural entities. Is the chupacabra an alien or some sort of wild animal? What are hallucinations, and do they have any form of reality beyond the subjective? Is there a secret entrance into the hollow earth at the North Pole? Could there possibly be bases on the moon? If so, are they made by humans or aliens? What is their purpose? There are hundreds of theories. Who were the Atlanteans and Lemurians, if they ever existed at all? Were they simply ancient civilizations, a highly technologically advanced race or supernaturally powerful beings?

What are the mystics experiencing? Can these divine mysteries be described or explained in our limited linguistic vocabulary? Are they reconcilable with a rational, scientific, appreciation of nature?

There are practicing witches who swear by the efficacy of their ritual actions, charms and spells, and those who utterly denounce any such practices as irrational, illogical and ineffective. Some people are very superstitious, some believe in luck, others in synchronicity and astrology, while there are those who claim all such beliefs are outmoded primitive hangovers from a bygone age of ignorance. Some call telephone psychics and tarot readers to tell their fortunes, others wouldn’t dare but would instead be happy to attend a reading in the flesh. Spiritual healers continue to work with mixed results: some claim amazing and immediate cures, others are left disappointed. Mainstream medical science continues to condemn these practitioners, along with other forms of alternative healing, and yet the practices persist, indeed they flourish.

Does God exist? Thousands of people claim to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary, and yet there are those who would suggest that mass sightings like those at Fatima and Lourdes were nothing but illusions. What is enlightenment, and how can it be achieved? Which religion should we follow, if any? Is Richard Dawkins right, is it all delusion and illusion?

There is hardly a more confusing and controversial area of investigation. Just what is going on here? It seems as though there is no way that we can ever come even close to a consensus agreement on any of these issues, there are too many questions and too many answers. Perhaps this is the way it has to be, by the very nature of the beast in question: a trickster of massive proportions.


  1. Wow, that was truely an amazing commentary. So well thought out and complete. Really give one something to think about. Thanks!

  2. I'm glad you found it interesting. It is a really confusing state of affairs.