by Karen Frazier, Managing Editor
In his most recent blog post on TIPS, Dreamsinger posted about why personal paranormal experiences weren’t evidence. He makes some great points and, as always, his blog is well worth reading.
Personal paranormal experiences are the third rail of paranormal investigation. Certainly, there is nothing scientific in personal experiences; and yet, without them, we wouldn’t have a thing to investigate. Every paranormal investigation is sparked by some kind of a personal experience.
As scientific evidence, personal paranormal experiences don’t fly. When you look at medical studies, for instance, a drug is not approved based upon the strength of anecdotal evidence – no matter how strong that evidence. There have to be objective findings, as well.
That being said, objective findings are very difficult to come by in paranormal investigation. Mostly because we don’t know what it is we’re looking for. We don’t know what to test, so we test whatever we think we can find. Paranormal investigation is sparked by a subjective experience and any “evidence” collected is somehow correlated to that experience (or not).
Let’s take a look at a sequence of events. A mist forms in a room. At the same time in the same place, there is a significant EMF spike. The person in the room, at that very moment, feels a sense of dread and then an unseen hand smacks him in the back of the head. Review of digital audio reveals a voice saying, “GET OUT!” at the moment of the EMF spike, the mist and the head smack.
Here, then, is a combination of personal experience combined with some type of objective findings. Here’s the problem, though. We don’t know what those objective findings really are. What caused the EMF spike? There is a hypothesis that ghosts may cause EMF spikes, but this hypothesis hasn’t been tested using the scientific method. Likewise, an EVP is often assumed to be ghostly evidence; however, once again, this hasn’t been tested because we just don’t really know where EVPs come from. The head smack and feeling of dread are pure personal experience. The mist? Who knows?
I think that most paranormal investigators would tell you that the above sequence of events seems to point to paranormal activity. And in this, I agree. It would be remarkably coincidental to have all of the above occur simultaneously and be a series of random findings. There is a preponderance of evidence here that might lead a jury to believe that what happened was more likely paranormal than not.
But science isn’t a jury trial. Science asks that you make as few assumptions as possible. And yet, scientific discovery has often started with a hypothesis laden with assumptions – and then the problem is worked backwards. Certainly we should continue to try and establish a baseline – to discover the science behind what is happening with all of the personal paranormal experiences. But at the same time, maybe it is okay to make a leap of logic, start with assumptions and work the problem backwards. With a two pronged approach, who knows? Maybe we’ll figure something out.
I talked about this in a recent blog post in our science blog, A Non-scientist Examines Scientific Method in Paranormal Investigation.
Not to belabor the point, but I believe that there is a place in paranormal investigation for both scientific exploration and personal experience. As I have said repeatedly, for those who are looking for answers just for themselves, then personal paranormal experience is probably what they need. I haven’t had that definitive personal paranormal experience where I can’t find other logical explanations for it yet, but I know others who feel they have. Certainly my friends who were in a room and watched a plastic bag full of tapes levitate, shake around and then drop to the floor feel that they need no further evidence. And if I saw something like that, I would probably feel the same way.
So, if personal paranormal experiences are good enough for our own peace of mind, does this mean that we should stop trying to use scientific method to quantify and prove or disprove the paranormal? Absolutely not. But at the same time, personal experiences do have a place in the exploration of the paranormal. Personal experience can tell us a lot of things. What to investigate. Where to investigate. Why to investigate. It is up to us to take what we know from the personal paranormal experiences and establish a scientific way to check them out.
Right now, paranormal investigators are doing their best to do this. Are they making a lot of assumptions? Probably. But it may be one of those assumptions that finally causes someone to stumble on a true way to quantify paranormal experience. So, while their investigatory methods are not scientifically proven at this time, it doesn’t mean that the efforts are wasted. Discovery starts with an idea followed up by action. Those who have ideas – keep chasing them. Explore and investigate. Your efforts just may lead to scientific discovery.
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