I had a request to outline my views on the paranormal in my blog, eclectic as it is, so I’m taking a short break from current events, and this post is for you, Linda.
I can’t say that I have personally witnessed any kind of apparition, rattling chains, frigid zones, or things that go “bump” in the night. I’ve never felt a touch on my shoulder from someone who wasn’t there, or felt an eerie vibe in an old building. I don’t even watch Ghost Hunters on TV. The home next to ours — a spooky-looking dwelling if ever there was one — is supposedly haunted, but I’ve never noticed anything unusual over there. The previous owners told me of several hair-raising incidents, but the current owner says he has yet to experience anything, after having occupied the place for more than a decade and a half. Then again, it could be in the eyes of the beholder: perhaps one must be open to the possibility of supernatural manifestations to pick up on them.
What I will say, however, is that I’ve heard a multitude of first-hand accounts of ghostly goings-on over the years, all from eminently credible witnesses. One of my neighbors says she’s seen spirits in various places she’s gone, and I have no reason to doubt her. I recently edited a biographical account of thoroughly ugly paranormal activities which occurred with at least two people present in each case. I highly doubt that multiple individuals would somehow have the same hallucinations at the same time. Nor do I immediately resort to the answer that there must be a scientific explanation for, say, hundreds of spiders to appear in one room of a home in the space of a few hours. Of course, there could be a science-based explanation for that occurrence, and for several subsequent invasions by other insects in the same home in the same manner over a couple months’ time. I’ll admit that the average person on the street might very well look askance at the teller of such a tale. Nevertheless, the above incidents were related to a steady stream of other uncanny, seemingly inexplicable happenings at the home, which the inhabitants took to be increasingly threatening. It all added up to a thoroughly convincing report.
During my young adulthood, I was a serious devotee of the brilliant Carl Sagan, the ultimate skeptic when it came to phenomena that could not be replicated under experimental protocols. His application of the scientific method would invalidate the ectoplasmic sightings often chronicled in ancient structures. I tended to follow his principles, and to be a doubter of things that couldn’t be proven by rigorous testing. But even Dr. Sagan said that the unknowns of this world are limitless, that with enough questioning, we reach the end of knowledge, sooner or later. I remain a huge Sagan fan, and I believe his contributions can’t be overstated. Still, in the course of my life, I’ve encountered mysterious situations that, yes, could never be replicated, tested, or measured, but did in fact happen to me. I think most people would say the same.
Of course, the fact that similar experiences are recounted by many people doesn’t prove that those incidents are paranormal. When a friend had a premonition and warned me against going somewhere with an ex one night, she may have been unconsciously picking up his body language and micro expressions, which silently signaled danger for me, because I’d be with him. Many so-called psychics have tapped into this ability to do what are called “cold readings;” that is, tracking tiny points of feedback and translating them. Or, my friend could actually have “known” that there was trouble ahead. She told me of several times in her life when she had “seen” in real time an accident or some mishap related to someone close to her, and then was expecting the phone call with bad news when it came.
I’ve seen objects literally fly off shelves and mantels in our house. Vibration from traffic, or the work of ghostly visitors? I’ve smiled and spoken to the air, “Having fun today?” After a series of such events, I once burst out in irritation, “Hey! Knock it off already!” and the annoyances ceased. Was there actually a presence responsible for those things, and did it listen to the reprimand? Over the years, I’ve been the recipient of mental messages from loved ones far away, and I’ve likewise unnerved people in a room with me when I predicted some small occurrence in the immediate future which did indeed come to pass. These things can be ascribed to intimate knowledge of the individuals and circumstances, and logical, if subconscious, extrapolation. Or to lucky guesses. I’ve had tarot readers tell me very personal, specific things about myself that I’d never told anyone and which they could not possibly have known; and also had them correctly predict forthcoming events, complete with exact timeframes. Again, lucky guesses, cold readings, standard patter customized to my expressions, or genuine abilities beyond those of average people?
Given my own history, and given the accounts I’ve gotten from others, I have to come down on the side of the existence of forces unseen by most people. If I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, guiding me to safety when I was in danger of drowning in icy water a hundred miles away from her, then I have to give credence when someone tells me her house is haunted by her grandmother’s spirit, which comes to her at night.
Dr. Sagan counseled against taking anything on faith, because therein lies the chance for error: delusion, deception, or misunderstanding. He also said, however, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In short, believing or disbelieving something absolutely, without having proof one way or the other, is not the path to the truth. For him, proof was arrived at via exhaustive experimentation. Without such testing, he believed the truth was unknowable. When it comes to the paranormal, there are yet no experiments to verify the existence of forces or entities cited by one or more people. What would proof look like? Ghosts in a location could be detected 24/7 with certified applicable instruments, for example. That hasn’t happened so far. Therefore, there’s no objective, definitive answer. I know what I’ve seen and heard, as do friends, neighbors, and thousands of other people, past and present. Certainly, phenomena can easily be faked, à la Oda Mae Brown’s routine in Ghost, but many of us have had unfake-able experiences we can’t rationally explain; we can’t deny that they did happen. What those experiences consisted of, though, we can’t define with the knowledge we have to this point. Might they be constructs of our own minds, exerting powers we haven’t yet consciously tapped? Or are they from some other plane of existence? For now, the truth is unknowable.