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Parapsychology

Parapsychology

 

Author/s:

Meaning "beside psychology," term used to describe the study of paranormal, or psi, phenomena, the most significant being extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK).

 

The study of paranormal activities and phenomena has been riddled with controversy since its conception. It is claimed that some people, utilizing senses beyond the ordinary, exhibit powers that cannot be explained by traditional science. Skeptics of the paranormal point to the fact that in over a century since the first serious studies of the paranormal began, usually dated to the opening of the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882, no replicable demonstration of any such powers has ever been conducted. Yet many people continue to believe in the existence of the paranormal.

 

The most studied and debated paranormal phenomena are ESP and psychokinesis. ESP is an acronym for extra-sensory perception and encompasses clairvoyance, the ability to perceive something without the use of the senses, and telepathy, the ability to communicate with another person without the use of the senses. (Parapsychologists currently refer to telepathy as "anomalous processes of information or energy transfer.")

 

Clairvoyance was the first paranormal phenomena to be seriously considered by scientists, probably because devising tests to prove or disprove its existence was easy. In the late 1920s, many such tests were devised by J.B. Rhine, a psychology professor who had left Harvard University to help found the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. Rhine's tests often produced positive results for clairvoyance, and at the time his work was seriously regarded. In recent decades, however, much of Rhine's work has been discredited as being biased, careless, and, in some cases, utterly fraudulent.

 

Recent studies have proven more reputable but far from conclusive. One such study revealed statistically significant telepathic abilities among 100 men and 140 women tested in Scotland over six years in the mid-1980s. In the tests, "senders" focused on images or video clips and attempted to send those impressions to a "receiver" in a sensory-isolated room. The researchers reported that one in three sessions led to a "hit," meaning that the receiver reported visualizing images similar to those being sent. A hit is expected to occur by chance in one in four instances. On the other hand, the Central

Intelligence Agency of the United States discounted the existence of ESP after conducting its own experiments in "remote viewing." The agency concluded that there were not enough evidence for its existence.

 

Psychokinesis (PK) is the ability to manipulate physical objects with the mind. Probably the most infamous purveyor of psychokinetic powers was the Israeli psychic and entertainer Uri Geller, who became an international celebrity by bending spoons, supposedly with his mind. During his career, he would never demonstrate his spoon bending ability in a controlled environment, and he was on several occasions shown to be faking. Another form of PK is known as spontaneous PK, in which a physical action occurs in response to psychological trauma. There are personal accounts, for instance, of clocks and watches stopping at the moment of a loved one's death. J.B. Rhine was one of the first to conduct experiments in PK, primarily with the use of dice. He tested a subject's ability to influence the outcome of a toss and found that many people demonstrated a slight ability, beyond chance, of "controlling" the dice.

 

There are other phenomena studies by parapsychologists, including hauntings, UFOs, near-death and after-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, psychic healing, and many others. All of these share the curious nature of ESP and PK in that, anecdotally speaking, occurrences are widespread, believed by members of many cultures, and discussed throughout history. Yet none have been scientifically demonstrated or reproduced. Despite the lack of proof, many people firmly believe in the paranormal, as evidenced by personal testimony, the popularity of television shows such as "The X-Files," and by the huge profits generated by psychic phone lines and other occult enterprises. One of the reasons the scientific community is skeptical about paranormal phenomena is that there is no apparent basis in physical laws for such phenomena. In every other scientific discipline, it is possible to speculate reasonably that events occur as they do because they follow a recognized natural law, such as gravity or conservation of energy. Parapsychologists have failed to develop adequate theoretical reasons for the existence of the phenomena they purport to demonstrate. Nevertheless, it seems that most people are open to the possibility of the paranormal despite the lack of evidence.

 

Paranormal

An event or perception is said to be paranormal if it involves forces or agencies that are beyond scientific explanation. Many paranormal events are said to be experienced only by those with psychic powers, such as extrasensory perception or psychokinesis.

Some events are perceived as paranormal due to ignorance. For example, parapsychologist Charles Tart explains how he first got interested in the paranormal:

 

There was a time, years ago, when I was highly skeptical of any paranormal claims of any kind. One of the things that convinced me that there must be something to this is a strange experience that I personally went through. It was wartime. I was at Berkeley, California, and everybody was working overtime....the young lady who was my assistant at the time worked with me until very late this one night. She finally went home; I went home. Then the very next day she came in, all excited....She reported that during this night she had suddenly sat bolt upright in her bed, convinced that something terrible had happened. "I had a terrible sense of foreboding," she said, but she did not know what had happened. "I immediately swung out of bed and went over to the window and looked outside to see if I could see anything that might have happened like an accident. I was just turning away from the window and suddenly the window shook violently. I couldn't understand that. I went back to bed, woke up the next morning and listened to the radio." A munitions ship at Port Chicago had exploded. It literally took Port Chicago off the map. It leveled the entire town and over 300 people were killed....She said she had sensed the moment when all these people were snuffed out in this mighty explosion. How would she have suddenly become terrified, jumped out of bed, gone to the window, and then - from 35 miles away, the shock wave had reached Berkeley and shook the window?

 

There is no need to perceive this event as paranormal, according to James Randi, who recorded this story. A shock wave travels at different speeds through the ground and through the air. The difference over 35 miles would be 8 seconds. Most likely the shaking earth woke up the young lady in a fright and 8 seconds later the window shook. She and Tart assumed that the explosion took place when the window shook, making her experience inexplicable by the known laws of physics. This explanation only makes sense, however, if one is ignorant of the known laws of physics.



Ghosts/Spirits: What Are They?

 

Do you believe in ghosts? The many thousands of reports from all over the world leave little doubt that haunting experiences are quite real. But what causes them and why?

You've seen them depicted in movies, read stories of their unnerving activities and have seen television shows and documentaries sensationalizing them. You have probably seen rare photos of them and have likely heard of first-hand ghostly encounters from friends and relatives. I receive dozens of reports from readers every month. Perhaps you have even seen a ghost yourself.

 

But what are ghosts? I'll give you the answer straight out: No one knows for certain.

There are, however, many theories to explain the thousands upon thousands of documented experiences that people around the world have had since the beginning of recorded history. Ghosts and hauntings seem to be a relatively common part of the human experience. And there appear to be several types of ghosts or hauntings, and more than one theory may be needed to explain them all.

 

Dead people
The traditional view of ghosts is that they are the spirits of dead people that for some reason are "stuck" between this plane of existence and the next, often as a result of some tragedy or trauma. Many ghost hunters and psychics believe that such earth-bound spirits don't know they are dead. Veteran ghost hunter
Hans Holzer says, "A ghost is a human being who has passed out of the physical body, usually in a traumatic state and is not aware usually of his true condition. We are all spirits encased in a physical body. At the time of passing, our spirit body continues into the next dimension. A ghost, on the other hand, due to trauma, is stuck in our physical world and needs to be released to go on." 

Ghosts exist in a kind of limbo in which they haunt the scenes of their deaths or locations that were pleasant to them in life. Very often, these types of ghosts are able to interact with the living. They are, on some level, aware of the living and react to being seen on the occasions that they materialize. Some psychics claim to be able to communicate with them. And when they do, they often try to help these spirits to understand that they are dead and to move on to the next stage of their existence.

 

Residual Hauntings or Recordings
Some ghosts appear to be mere recordings on the environment in which they once existed. A civil war soldier is seen on repeated occasions staring out a window at a house where he once stood guard. A dead child's laughter is heard echoing in a hallway where she often played. There are even cases of ghost cars and trains that can still be heard and sometimes seen, even though they are long gone. These types of ghosts do not interact with or seem to be aware of the living. Their appearance and actions are always the same. They are like spirit-level recordings - residual energies - that replay over and over again.

"A traumatic moment in time leaves an indelible impression on the building or area," says Strange Nation in "What Is a Ghost?," "replaying itself for eternity. This could be anything from a 'glimpse of the past' - a recreation of some traumatic or emotion-laden event - to footsteps up and down a hallway."

 

What causes these recordings to be made and how and why they are played back is a mystery. "How and why past events are recorded and replayed repetitiously is not understood," writes Lauren Forcella. "Whatever the actual mechanism, it apparently possesses longevity as the encore performances of a haunting can continue for decades or longer. Generally, the haunting is a fragment or portion of an actual event."

 

Messengers
These kinds of ghosts may be the most common. These spirits usually appear shortly after their deaths to people close to them. They are aware of their deaths and can interact with the living. They most often bring messages of comfort to their loved ones, to say that they are well and happy, and not to grieve for them. These ghosts appear briefly and usually only once. It is as if they intentionally return with their messages for the express purpose of helping the living cope with their loss.

 

"This category commonly involves one-time visits to someone with whom the apparition has close emotional ties," says Lauren Forcella at Paranormal Investigations, who calls these ghosts "crisis apparitions." "Though the encounter usually seems to be a type of farewell, sometimes important and useful information is relayed to the 'viewer.' Though dying is the most common crisis, other life-threatening situations can also trigger apparitional visits."

 

Poltergeists
This type of haunting is the most feared by people because it has the greatest ability to affect our physical world. Poltergeists are blamed for unexplained noises, such as wall-banging, rapping, footsteps and even music. They take our possessions and hide them, only to return them later. They turn on faucets, slam doors, turn lights on and off, and flush toilets. They throw things across rooms. They have been known to pull on people's clothing or hair. The malevolent ones even slap and scratch the living. It is because of these sometimes "mean-spirited" manifestations that poltergeists are considered by some investigators to be demonic in nature.

 

Other investigators, however, believe that poltergeist activity is not caused by ghosts at all, but by certain living people under stress. "During a poltergeist experience," writes Lauren Forcella, "the agent, in an attempt to relieve emotional stress, unknowingly causes the physical disturbances using mental forces. The mental mechanism that allows the

poltergeist agent to unconsciously cause these physical disturbances is called psychokinesis."

 

Projections
The skeptics' point of view - if they are willing to admit there is anything to haunting experiences at all - is that they are all in our minds, or are products of our own minds. Ghosts, they say, are psychological phenomena: we see them because we expect to or want to see them. A grieving widow sees her dead husband because she needs to; she needs the comfort of knowing that he is alright and happy in the next world. Her mind produces the experience to help itself cope with the stress of the loss. Since we know so little about the power and capacity of our own minds, it's possible that they can even produce physical manifestations, such as apparitions and noises - projections that even others may be able to see and hear. But they are not "real" in any sense, say the skeptics, just the conjurings of powerful imaginations.

 

Are there such things as ghosts? The phenomena of ghosts and hauntings are very real experiences. It is their true cause and nature that is the ongoing mystery.

 

 

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