Why, one may ask, do I commit the unseemly crassness of saying the above?
Every single time the paranormal has been thoroughly investigated, every time a mystery has been solved, it has been shown to by decidedly something else, something mundane, but not boring, for the truth is hardly boring …NOT mystical, NOT supernatural, and NOT paranormal.
And every mystery not solved is simply not solved, due to a lack of sufficient explanatory data, hints and clues, and only that…
…not anything in support of paranormal claims at all, merely the unexplained, not the epistemically unexplainable.
“Paranormal,” like its synonym “supernatural,” is merely a placeholder for ignorance, and by itself explains nothing. It is just a label for what we don’t know, what we don’t understand, not a profound description of what we do.
If I may be so bold, I would even go so far as to say that, stealing a page from Michael Shermer, there probably isn’t anything supernatural or paranormal, only what’s normal, natural, and whatever things we haven’t explained just yet.
You cannot rightly declare anything unexplainable unless and until you make an honest, persistent, and systematic attempt to look first, before writing it off as an insoluble conundrum and a genuine mystery.
Even then, there may be an explanation for it that you or someone else are not resourceful enough to find, or imaginative enough to conceive.
There are limits on human abilities in the realm of knowledge-gathering and understanding, but those abilities still work with some reliability when used well — We do not and cannot know everything, but that does not mean we know nothing at all.
But aren’t I being a little harsh in saying that the paranormal just doesn’t meet the standards of coolness that it could?
Not at all.
Paranormal research hasn’t been completely useless, and I think it should be carried out so we can discover more about the human mind and how it works, such as mechanisms of self-deception and how we form and support our beliefs as personal truths, however misguided we may be.
Paranormal research has led to many new discoveries, especially those detailed in Richard Wiseman’s recent book, “Paranormality”… I recently finished, and highly recommend it to the genuinely curious.
But none of those discoveries support claims of the paranormal as they are offered by proponents and adopted by believers.
I’d put the paranormal into three groupings; Phenomena, Critters and Arcana.
Phenomena are those alleged forces, events, and places like UFOs, hauntings, out-of-body and Near Death experiences, poltergeists, spontaneous human combustion, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, claims of ancient astronauts, and crop circles.
Critters get a bit more personal and concrete, but no less questionable, ranging from alien encounters, Loch Ness monster sightings, Bigfoot sightings, the Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, and Springheel Jack, among many others.
Arcana are those “arts,” performed by humans claiming special knowledge and abilities, or animals claimed* by humans to have these, such as divination techniques including dowsing, astrology, automatic writing, and channeling human spirits, dead Martians or 35,000 year old Atlanteans, for starters.
*I’m looking at you, Punxutaney Phil, you little furry precognitive bastard…
What do all of these things have in common?
Consistently, each time these claims have been examined, when they have, an alternate, a more plausible explanation has been forthcoming, brushing aside the cobwebs of mystery to reveal what’s really going on, or looking closer into the origin of the claim to show there’s nothing deep or ineffable to groove over.
More often than not, at least to me, the truth turned out to be more interesting than the original claim, and it was the claim, not what’s really happening, that seems uninteresting and dull.
This is especially so when reading good fiction, when, even if the phenomena in the story aren’t spectacular in their effects, they are often unambiguous, perhaps even self-evident in their genuineness, not the result of hoaxing, illusion, delusion, sensory misinterpretation, flawed reasoning, or any one or more of a number of other confounding factors.
Even when such phenomena in a well-written fictional setting aren’t flamboyant, much less ridiculous in their obviousness, they are extremely difficult, even impossible at times, for a conjurer or mentalist to replicate in a performance and successfully pass such trickery as the real thing.
In the realm of the paranormal, there are few genuinely original and new claims, just the same old thing regurgitated over and over, recycled from generation after generation, and maybe it’s that fact that makes claims of the paranormal, at least at face value, hardly interesting in the long term to those without a rigid fascination for them.
For my part, the findings of science are much more interesting, elegantly parsimonious, intellectually challenging, and better, more evidentially supported than the claims of proponents by far.
- Americans’ Beliefs in Paranormal Phenomena (Infographic) (livescience.com)
- Common Brain Mechanisms Underlie Supernatural Perceptions – Richard Wiseman – Scientific American (richarddawkins.net)
- Richard Wiseman discusses Paranormality on For Good Reason (randi.org)