BALANCING THE STRANGE
When we take our first steps onto our roads into the paranormal field, each of us does so because we are drawn to the subject for a particular reason, or several reasons- be it curiosity due to previous unexplained experiences that have occurred to us, general curiosity as to the nature of strange phenomena..or perhaps for some it is a wish to find an explanation for such things, be that explanation based in processes that stem from the natural environment, or those which originate in the human mind.
When it comes to paranormal or supernatural phenomena, there are of course different schools of belief. There's "survival of personality beyond death", the core focus of the Spiritualist movement, that explains ghosts, spirits or apparitions- for some people..
Others, however, may lean more towards the belief that ghosts or apparitions are due to telepathic or extrasensory access of information- "energetic output" - which has been left residually by the memories of others and "stored", immaterially and externally of them, either in a locale itself or in a non-local sense..and then there's also the related consideration that some such phenomena are perhaps due to the external projection of our energies- our own "subliminal selves". Some may consider a portion, or all, of those avenues of approach..
For some, we will "wear several hats"- straddle several fences- during our time here. I'm most definitely speaking from experience, as over my more recent time in this field (and even more so since being diagnosed with Vertigo, which sometimes keeps me from field investigations), I've found myself delving more into the realms of in-depth reading, study and learning about Psychical research..and the related study of Psi processes and theories, and a little parapsychology too (although I'm assuredly still a novice there!), all of which involve looking further beyond just the "what" of unexplained phenomena, and more into the "how, why, and what if", and into where the workings of the subliminal and energetic self might come into play.
Regardless of whether our basis is in field investigation alone, or we explore Psychical, Psi, and Parapsychological research and theory, or whether we wear several hats, there are perhaps still some crucial things we should keep within our consideration, and in a way there is a bit of a balancing act involved in doing so..
I'm a student of psychical research, Psi theory, and parapsychology, but at the same time, I do still participate in field investigations with my team, and occasionally host public events too..that in itself is a balancing act of its own, and the duality of thinking required may seem unusual..but in a field with many angles of approach, many angles of thinking can only ever be beneficial!
As investigators we are required, as part and parcel of our time and our conduct in this field, to maintain an open but critical mind, and to never accept a situation at face value, and to seek empirical evidence, and to not fall prey to supposition.
Yet at the same time, as the number of considerations taken into account by the paranormal field are increasing, those who are also researchers and students are required more often now to contemplate that which would not have been conceived of as being relevant only a short while ago. Who would ever have thought, a few decades ago, that such concepts as Panpsychism, multiverse theory, quantum entanglement, or some of the other theories involved in physics and quantum physics, would be considered part of the equation?
It's a strange balancing act indeed- straddling the fence that forms a tenuous boundary between the world of the investigator, and that of the researcher..
Be logical, rational, critical yet open-minded..follow scientific method..yet explore concepts and theories still sneered at by much of mainstream science and academia- concepts that require some rather abstract thinking sometimes..it's assuredly a very weird spot to be in!
There are two things I feel are pertinent though, regardless of which road we take, or if we straddle any fences..those are the awareness of the effect of our beliefs, perceptions, and expectations upon our translation of experiences..
And secondly, there's the somewhat contradictory awareness that our beliefs and expectations lead to intent, which leads to emotional output- energy we may be creating and emitting externally due to those beliefs and expectations, without our necessarily even being aware of it.
DO YOU BELIEVE?
One thing I wanted to touch on briefly is belief systems, and their effect upon our interpretation of various experiences. We all have belief systems regarding various matters (and I'm not just talking those of a paranormal or spiritual nature, either).
Beliefs, no matter what they pertain to, are all subjective. It's impossible to prove objectively that our beliefs are superior to or more viable than others..but that doesn't stop us holding those beliefs- it's being aware of their effect on our translation of experiences that's more important.
In "Detecting Paranormal", a quite early addition to my reading list last year (and a highly-recommended one too!), author Greg Lawson provides a summary of the psychological factors which are responsible for shaping our perceptions which is, for my mind, an absolutely accurate one.
He sums up these influential aspects in one very fitting acronym- V.A.B.E.'s- Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, and Expectations.
These are each created and defined by various factors- such as our upbringing and familial influences, our religious, cultural, and social influences, and also by that which we read, learn of, or view.
So how might these have an effect on our translation of our experiences?
Almost everyone present in this field, in any context, will be familiar with the term "Confirmation Bias". This is defined as "the tendency to search for, recall, and interpret information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses"..and it's quite common.
Indeed, confirmation bias is common enough that it can be seen even in E.S.P. testing situations under laboratory conditions- in 1942, Gertrude Schmeidler, professor of Psychology at New York's City University, coined a term for its presence in that context- she called it the "Sheep-Goat effect".
To give a few examples here..if we are religious we may attribute occurrences or experiences that others see as irrelevant, random, or meaningless to being the actions or interventions of a Deity.
If we strongly believe in ghosts/spirits we might assign importance to the "responses" given by some of the devices we may use in an investigation, or to any unusual feelings or experiences we may have, through believing that we are communicating with a surviving consciousness or personality..and thus disregarding the possibility that we may be misinterpreting the device's response to something natural or man-made, or indeed misinterpreting our own responses..
If we believe that a Ouija board is communicating with spirits, we may disregard the possibility of ideomotor effect being responsible for the movement of the planchette across the board, due to those beliefs.
If we believe that demons exist , we may be inclined to attribute any unusual experiences we have which greatly frighten or disturb us to the presence of a demon.
If we are told that a certain date, a natural phenomenon, or a certain weather condition (i.e. Halloween, a thunder or rain storm, geomagnetic storms, a full moon) can affect "paranormal activity" levels, might not our beliefs, and therefore our translation of experiences, be influenced by that notion?
This can also occur with the locations we visit, or with natural phenomena or weather conditions. If we are told that a location we are visiting is supposed to be haunted, and we believe in the existence of ghosts, it can be that much easier to unconsciously misinterpret a strange experience as something paranormal.
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
So..what do we really know?
Despite many decades of research and experimentation, there is as yet nothing related to any phenomena in this field that is considered as empirical fact. This in itself should not be considered a negative thing- it merely means that there exists a great degree of critical and analytical thinking, which is of course vital. It also means that there exists an acknowledgement of to just what a large degree belief and subsequent perception may come into play regarding our interpretation of any situation- in the field, or in the laboratory, or in everyday life. These purely subjective aspects of the human psyche are the groundwork of our realities, after all.
I recently re-read one of the "classics" in psychical research literature, G.N.M. Tyrrell's 1953 book "Apparitions", in which he summarises the contrast between knowledge and belief via a brilliant analogy. Tyrrell states (1953, pp 83-84):
"..material things are not what they seem. If we are looking at a common object, such as a brick, we feel that, in the act of looking at it, we are being made directly aware of the existence of a brick and of some of its properties. There is, we say, a brick about such a distance away- an oblong-shaped, solid object with square corners, reddish in colour and having a rough surface. We say this without any feeling of doubt.
In fact, to the person who is entirely unacquainted with the philosophy of sense-perception, it probably seems absurd that there is anything in it to argue about. His view is that "seeing is believing". We feel that in the act of vision we know that the brick is there, and what it is like. But in fact, we do not know this. The feeling we have is not knowledge, but only belief.
We may, after all, be mistaken. The object may turn out not to be a brick at all but a very skilfully made cardboard imitation. And even if we are right about its being a real brick, reflection shows that we cannot be right in our conviction that we are directly aware of it as it now is.
For time must have elapsed since the light left it which now reaches our eyes; and more time still must have been taken by the nervous stimuli engendered in the optical processes of vision to travel from our eyes to our brain..At best, therefore, we do not see things as they are, but as they were.." "..Vision does not, therefore, give us direct acquaintance with material things, as, in looking at them, we believe that it does. It only gives us indirect information about them, and this in a piecemeal manner. In Perception we go ahead of our data."
Tyrrell goes into a great deal more philosophical depth regarding this analogy, but his basic point is clear- even that which we may feel is a certainty often really comes down to our perception, beliefs and expectations.
Beliefs and expectations may be capable of more than just influencing our translations of our experiences too, though..they could, in fact, also be responsible for some of the phenomena we seek and/or experience, if the following experiment is to be taken into consideration..
THE PHILIP EXPERIMENT- A "GHOST" CREATED?
When you take into account the possibility that we may be capable of projecting our subliminal selves, our emotions and our intent onto our environment..well, that certainly gives us something else to consider too, doesn't it?
Tying in with that concept, also, there's the possibility that via that subliminal
self-projection, we may be capable of creating our own ghosts, our own "thoughtforms". It can't be ruled out, given a notable past attempt to consciously do so, which is known as the "Philip Experiment", and is well- documented, and often written of.
In September 1972, the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, along with Dr. A.R.G. Owen, an expert in poltergeist phenomena, set out to accomplish one objective- to create a ghost. Not to conjure or contact one, but to create one. They wanted to further explore the Tibetan Buddhist concept of "Tulpas", or thoughtforms- the possibility that one can will into existence an independent energetic being through the power of their own mind.
The group involved in the experiment was composed of 8 individuals, each with varying interests and occupations, and although Dr. Owen had extensively studied Poltergeist phenomena, none of the other group members claimed any psychic abilities or leanings. They began the experiment by creating a fictional character whom they named Phillip Aylesford, and devised a backstory of his life- his likes, dislikes, life history, and even a tragic end via suicide. They also drew a picture of what they would envision him to look like (see above).
The next step taken was for the group to meditate upon all the details they had devised- to visualise Phillip, and imagine him present. It seemed to the group that sometimes they could almost "feel" him nearby..but after about a year of no detectable phenomena occurring, they began to wonder if their endeavours were pointless.
At the suggestion of a psychologist, Dr. Kenneth J. Barcheldor, they decided to try a traditional Spiritualist method of communication- a seance.Barcheldor suggested that some members of the group may be having difficulty focusing on Philip because they knew he was made up, and thus holding a seance- dimmed lights, a table surrounded by chairs, and Philip's "personal artifacts" on the table, might aid their concentration by setting the mood.Strange things occurred once the group tried that approach- an unknown force began to tap on the table! Thus began a series of communications, between the group and the fictional "Philip".
They devised a "one knock for yes, two for no" system for communication, and all the answers- which they already knew of course as they'd created Philip, were consistent with their backstory. Philip's "personality" began to develop, and he revealed further details of his life that the group had not devised, some of which were apparently quite accurate regarding the period of time in history in which Philip was envisioned to have lived.
Other unexplained phenomena were reported as having occurred- lights would dim or flicker, and even table levitation was reported. Philip, it seemed, was becoming "independent".
What was going on there? Could it have been an unusual example of Confirmation Bias, or groupthink- "herd mind"..or an extreme example of the power of suggestion? Did the sitters create a shared hallucination? Were the strange occurrences perhaps a manifestation of the collective unconscious of the group? Could the accurate answers that Philip gave, and the other phenomena, have been a combination of the group's own collective thoughts and knowledge, expressed via psychokinesis (PK, or "mind over matter")? Was it a thoughtform- a Tulpa?
Whatever we may consider the answer to be, when we consider the fact that nothing much really started to happen until the concept of a seance setting was introduced, it raises the possibility of what the sitters' expectations of the outcome of a seance may have been, and thus the possibility that through energetic projection, and the strength of their beliefs and expectations, they did indeed create their own ghost- by perhaps wishing for a certain outcome, and subconsciously hoping to have their expectations fulfilled.
IT'S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
In a field where there are no definitive answers we must consider a broad spectrum of possibilities, including the possibility that the information we are given can easily affect and thus shape our perceptions and beliefs, and expectations..And then of course there's also that other possibility to be taken into account- that our beliefs and our subsequent expectations, via our emotional output, may in fact be responsible for some of that which we perceive as paranormal phenomena- we may well be capable of creating our own ghosts, if we believe strongly enough, or have strong enough expectation, or intent.
It may be a strange act- balancing the seemingly opposing thinking involved in various aspects of this field sometimes..but it's nonetheless an important one!
What are your thoughts? feel free to let me know in comments- I'm always interested in hearing them!