Some investigate the paranormal to provide proof to the World that there may just be something to the things that go bump in the night. Some are driven by an experience they had as a child fueling them to understand more or even just to experience it again. Some have made it their purpose to double down on their beliefs that such things don't exist. We all have our different belief systems, experiences and ways of doing things. What unites and divides the paranormal field more than anything else is what we believe.
There is a common scenario that I see play out on social media and one that I often find myself entangled in. In one particular instance, a person had what they felt was a very strong and profound experience that was also experienced by others. To accompany this experience, they had a photo where a green-like orb could be seen. Many of you may already know where this conversation was headed. They sent me the photo to ask my opinion of what it could be. I usually will tell a person "sorry I don't review photos", but in this case, I could see the cause straight away and it was something I have written in-depth about. They seemed to genuinely want to understand what it was and they were also someone I had briefly spoken to through social media before. I went on to explain that it was lens flare and in particular a form of ghosting. I showed diagrams of why it happens and even mapped out the light source on their photo so they could understand it how and why it happens. I also went on to say that just because this green light is not something paranormal, it doesn't mean their experience didn't happen, I just didn't think this green light was evidence of that. Of course, it ended as it always does with the person arguing that it wasn't lens flare and it had to be paranormal because of the experience they believed to accompany it. I later saw this person asking others on social media the very same question. In the majority of cases, most were stating that they thought it was lens flare. Becoming frustrated, the person who posted the photo said "Why won't anyone believe me?". At this moment I could sense the desperation. While their actions of posting the photo may be interpreted differently, this person wasn't offering a photo to prove to the World the paranormal exists. They wanted to prove it to themselves. They wanted to prove that what they experienced happened. They weren't seeking to prove the paranormal exists in the World per se, they were seeking to prove their personal experience was something out of the ordinary.
These sorts of discussions are both frustrating and fascinating. The fascinating part is the way humans respond. While I don't think a photograph submitted via a social media group is going to change someone who has their mind made up, what if there was genuine information at a Scientific level? Would this convince them, or cause a dilemma?
I came across an article that posed what seems like a real problem regarding Science accepting the concept of ESP (Extra Sensory Perception). It talked about Daryl Bem, a social psychologist teaching out of Cornell University. He used his classes for his own research project which was funded out of his own pocket. It was intended to demonstrate that we all are capable of precognition. Hundreds of undergrads were paid $5 per test of what had been a 10-year study. Bem wrote his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A 10-year investigation with 9 experiments and a thousand subjects was submitted with care and intricate detail. Bem knew that no matter what he presented, the sceptics would not accept the results. He also felt however that his results were so conclusive that they could not be ignored.
“But for most observers, at least the mainstream ones, the paper posed a very difficult dilemma. It was both methodologically sound and logically insane. Daryl Bem had seemed to prove that time can flow in two directions—that ESP is real. If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.”
ESP is what allows us to potentially have a paranormal experience in the first place. It may be what allows us to 'see' or maybe even cause what a person thinks is a ghost. So what happens if you don't believe in ghosts for example, yet you are offered evidence that challenges what you believe? Does our psychology make up allow us to accept it?
While we may be confronted with an instance that goes against what we believe, are we willing to accept legitimate evidence if it goes against everything we believe?
In Mind Beyond Brain, the neuroscientist David E. Presti, with the assistance of other distinguished researchers, explores how evidence for anomalous phenomena--such as near-death experiences, apparent memories of past lives, apparitions, experiences associated with death, and other so-called psi or paranormal phenomena, including telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition--can influence the Buddhism-science conversation. Presti describes the extensive but frequently unacknowledged history of scientific investigation into these phenomena, demonstrating its relevance to questions about consciousness and reality. The new perspectives opened up, if we are willing to take evidence of such often off-limits topics seriously, offer significant challenges to dominant explanatory paradigms and raise the prospect that we may be poised for truly revolutionary developments in the scientific investigation of mind.
Mind Beyond Brain: Buddhism, Science, and the Paranormal
by David E. Presti
Herein lies the question. Are we willing to accept evidence if it is contrary to what we believe? Has it already been offered up but we are ignoring it or writing it off because it challenges what we think we know? Now of course this is something that can work on both ends of the stick when it comes to the paranormal. You can be offering evidence to a person that their photograph is not paranormal and they refuse to accept it. You can be offering evidence to a person of something paranormal and they refuse to accept it. Look at something like the flat Earth theory for example. You can offer proof that the Earth is indeed round, but they choose to not accept this and write it off as propaganda as they know the 'absolute truth'. They are not delusional as some people may imply as mentally they are very sound, however, they are in a form of denial and by presenting this evidence, you are in some ways making their belief stronger. It is what is called 'The Backfire Effect'.
The one simple question we have to consider, is while you may be able to accept it, is society ready? Will society ever be ready? If we take again for example the notion of ghosts and the afterlife being proven to exist, how would society respond?
If the afterlife was proven as fact, it could pose some interesting dilemmas for some religions. While the majority of religions believe in some sort of afterlife whether it is heaven, reincarnation or just sticking around, these are the ‘nice solutions’. Some religions do not encourage or allow communication with spirits as they believe they are evil. If a ghost exists as a fact, does it mean that things like Angels and Demons then exist too? What would happen if all the things people were scared of thanks to the myths based on their religion turned out to be true? During the Hungry Ghost festival in China for example, people are not allowed to walk near water at night, as they believe a spirit can pull them into the water. They leave out bowls of food and gifts so that the spirits will not harm them. Does this mean they have confirmation that this will happen? Suddenly a myth or urban legend told to scare kids is very real. There is a big difference between believing in something and having confirmation, which I will talk about a little bit lower.
A lot of religious folks believe in some sort of heaven and hell. In simple terms, the good go to heaven, the not so good to go to hell, and then some unrested souls end up in purgatory. Would this affect how people would behave? Knowing that a spirit really does exist, would they take better care of their soul? Would crime rates decrease? What about the atheists? Would it change their views? Would it mean that if a spirit existed, so could some form of god?
Reincarnation and Karma
People from a range of religions and some who don’t believe in religion at all believe in a cycle of life. They believe that we have a physical body, but our soul never dies. It can be reincarnated in another living creature. Things we have done in our past lives can influence the way we live our current life. It is based on the concept of karma. I have many times heard people say that they are having such a run of bad luck that they must have done something horrible in a past life. If spirits are proven as real, what does it do to this theory? Does it mean that this idea goes out the window or does it prove it? Does it mean that people will adjust their behaviour so that when they live ‘their next life’ they might have better luck?
What would this do to the sceptic movement? If there was scientific proof, would they still be questioning it? It is often referred to as a bit of ‘woo’ and that we are a bit delusional. Would they admit they were wrong? Would it turn into another ‘conspiracy theory’? What would it do to Science itself? I would hate to see the social media interactions.
The biggest concern in my eyes would be how society would handle this information. While a percentage of the population does believe in the afterlife in some shape or form, some people are scared of it, and then some are unsure. They believe it exists but have doubts. What happens when it is confirmed? As I mentioned above, there is a difference between believing in something and having it confirmed. Could society mentally process this information? This I am not so sure of. I have referenced this before in an earlier article, but the movie ‘The Discovery’ comes to mind. In the movie, a Scientist proved that there was an afterlife and that you came back to live a new life. What came next was a high rate of suicide. People who were tired of their lives opted to start the next one because they had some sort of guarantee that it wouldn’t be the end. While it was a movie, it was a very interesting concept that could very well be one of the responses.
I could go on and on, but my point is there are billions of people all trying to process information in delicate and personal ways. What if mentally some people cannot process this information? Would we as a society react calmly or would there be mass hysteria? I suppose it begs the question "if we could prove it exists, should we?" I find it a really interesting subject and of course, the answer is well we don’t know what would happen. Ask yourself though, what do you think you would do? If you already believe in the afterlife in some form, how do you think you would react to it being proven? Do you even need to it be proven?
I guess the last question to ask would be, "Would it still be paranormal or will it just be the new normal?"
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