What is paranormal?

What is paranormal?
Milwaukee Area Paranormal Investigations

We are often asked, "What exactly does paranormal mean?" The term paranormal is used to describe a wide variety of activity and phenomena. According to the Journal of Parapsychology (a quarterly publication devoted primarily to the original publication of experimental results and other research findings as published by the Parapsychological Association), the term paranormal describes "any phenomenon that in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible according to current scientific assumptions." The actual word is derived from the Latin use of the prefix para meaning "outside or beyond" what is considered normal.

Many people associate the term paranormal as only dealing with hauntings and ghosts. However, the paranormal also includes subjects considered to be outside the scope of parapsychology including UFOs, cryptozoology, telepathy, ESP, faith healing, clairvoyance, and many other subjects.

An anomalous phenomena is an observed incident or experience for which there seems to be no agreeable scientific explanation. Because such observations do not easily fit into how many view our reality, these instances can be (and usually are) the subject of controversy.

Since paranormal phenomena is not generally accepted as real by traditional scientists, most of these ideas and theories about hard-to-reproduce anomalies are considered pseudoscientific (not a real science), partly because science needs evidence to be reproducible in a controlled environment.

Some anomalies eventually get a scientific explanation, losing their status as unexplained phenomena. For example, while the idea of stones falling from the sky was once considered anomalous, meteorites are now acknowledged and generally well understood.

So what exactly is a ghost? Ghosts are a phenomena which have several possible definitions:

*The spirit or soul of a person who has died, which haunts a place which was of emotional significance to that person when living.

*The personality of a person after his or her own death which is not directly tied to the soul or spirit. A type of psychic memory imprint.

*The character or memory of some being or thing which has died or, if it was never alive, has been somehow destroyed or dissembled, which nevertheless remains existent (and sometimes detectable) in a semi-corporeal form.

*An overlapping of parallel worlds into our own in which we can see, hear, feel, or occasionally interact with a person or thing that lives or exists in that parallel.

While some individuals accept ghosts as a reality, many others are skeptical of the existence of such. Much of the scientific community believes that ghosts, as well as other supernatural and paranormal entities, do not exist. Skeptics often explain ghost sightings with the principle of Occam's razor which basically states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. In short, when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation. Some examples of such would be:

*Ghosts are often associated with a chilling sensation, but a natural response to fear is hair raising, which can be mistaken for a chill.

*Peripheral vision is very sensitive to motion, but does not contain much color or the ability to sharply distinguish shapes. Any random motion outside the focused view can create a strong illusion of an eerie figure.

*Sound waves with frequencies lower than 20 hertz are called infrasound and are normally inaudible, but British scientists Richard Lord and Richard Wiseman have concluded that infrasound can cause humans to feel a "presence" in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread.

Psychological factors may also relate to ghost sightings. Many people exaggerate their own perceptions, either when visiting a place they believe to be haunted, or when visiting a site which they know unpleasant historical events have occurred. Certain images such as paintings and movies might "program" a person to automatically associate a certain structure or area with ghosts. Also, the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia (seeing recognizable shapes and patterns in every day objects ie: face of Mars, Rorschach inkblots) may cause people to perceive human-like faces or figures in the otherwise mundane surroundings of their environments, particularly in conditions where vision is partly obscured, as in a dark corridor or at night. Skeptics also apply this theory to EVP's (when anomalous voices, often purported to be of supernatural origin, are reportedly heard on audio recordings.)

Cryptozoology is the study of animals that are rumored to exist, but for which conclusive proof is still missing. Scientists have demonstrated that some creatures of mythology, legend or local folklore were rooted in real animals or phenomena. Thus, cryptozoologists hold that people should be open to the possibility that many more such animals exist. In the early days of western exploration of the world, many native tales of unknown animals were initially dismissed as superstition by western scientists, but were later proven to have a real basis in biological fact. Cryptozoological supporters have noted that many unfamiliar animals, when first reported, were considered hoaxes, delusions, or misidentifications. The Platypus, Giant Squid, Mountain Gorilla, Grizzly-polar bear hybrid, and Komodo Dragon are a few such creatures.

Perinormal phenomena
Perinormal phenomena is a term that has been used to describe previously unknown forces which at first appeared to be paranormal and were later verified scientifically. The name is derived from the Greek peri, meaning "in the vicinity of". While paranormal phenomena remains scientifically questionable ("beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation"), perinormal phenomena can eventually be shown to be "skeptic-approved".

One significant modern example of a perinormal phenomenon is electromagnetic fields (EMFs). At one time EMFs were debatable from a scientific perspective but later were proven to be real and is currently accepted by scientific and medical communities.

Some hauntings have an eerie resemblance to life, where apparitions are observed performing activities that are common to living people such as walking around a home or grocery store, or even working. Some people describe these hauntings in several ways. The first is that the entity is simply doing something that he/she did frequently in life. The second assumes that the concept of time-space continuum is real and that sometimes two time frames overlap. The third explanation is referred to as a "place memory", which is like a recording of a past event that has imprinted itself on the environment. These are also called residual hauntings and recordings. Images and sounds are impressed upon a place and later replayed in a phenomenon that is similar to watching a loop of a movie film. And despite what you may think, these experiences are not acted out by just the departed. It is very possible to experience witnessing yourself in one of these "memories." This is known as the doppleganger effect.

While it is the paranormal communities goal at large to turn all reported instances into the perinormal, it is my personal hope this simply will never be. While there are many answers yet to be discovered, I feel some things exist and happen simply because they can. Some things just shouldn't be too closely examined. As the old saying goes, "Do not meddle in the affair of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup."

What then shall we as a whole leave to mystery? I haven't quite figured that one out yet, but I do know that the world will become a very sad place when the last of life's mysteries are solved and there is nothing left to explore.

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