An event or perception is said to be paranormal if it involves forces or agencies that are beyond scientific explanation. Many paranormal events are perceived as paranormal due to ignorance or pure imagination. Those who get involved in these claims, they assume that if they can’t perceive a naturalistic cause for an event, it must be paranormal. Collecting anecdotes about experiences that we feel we can’t explain without appealing to paranormal forces is not compelling scientific evidence, even if the anecdotes number in the millions and even if the storytellers are anointed saints with Noble prizes. Such a process puts too high a premium on our ignorance and laziness. Just because we can’t come up with a naturalistic explanation for an event, whether it be one we’ve experienced ourselves or one that someone else has claimed to have experienced, does not mean that the supernatural or paranormal explanation is the best one. If it’s truth we’re after, we shouldn’t turn to paranormal or supernatural guesses every time we can’t think of a naturalistic explanation of an event. Richard Dawkins calls this “lazy thinking.”
We are often ignorant of the causes of our thoughts and yet we sometimes attribute a paranormal or supernatural cause, despite that ignorance. We dream of aunt dying and we find out later that unbeknownst to us, she had died within the past twenty-four hours. We think something paranormal has occurred. We don’t believe it could be coincidence; so, we think there is a causal connection between our dream and our aunt’s death.
Parapsychology: Spirit Science-
This is the word coined for studying the paranormal phenomena scientifically and under test conditions. This has become a sort of spirit science. This science should provide us with ways of testing paranormal hypotheses that avoid the many pitfalls and illusions we face when interpreting experiences and stories. Yet, it turns out that spirit science, so far, has done little more than muddy the waters. More than one hundred and fifty years of scientific investigation has proved nothing of note. Many brilliant men have investigated the paranormal but they have yet to find a single person who can, without trickery, send or receive even a three-letter word under test conditions. The spirit scientists themselves seem as enthusiastic and as self-deceived as many of the individuals whose belief is not based on scientific investigations.
What seems to drive many of the spirit scientists is the desire to prove scientifically the folk belief in spirits—non-physical, conscious perceivers with intentions and immortal existence. Science, on the other hand, has resisted non-material, non-mechanistic forces, and has been moving away from dualistic and supernatural explanations of events in the world we experience.
Is it, then, a waste of time to do scientific studies on the paranormal? No, we can learn much about ourselves by such studies. We can learn how easy it is to deceive ourselves. We can learn more about how we come to beliefs in general and how our senses work to construct whatever belief system we end up with. We know there are only a few logical possibilities to explain the consciousness of paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Perhaps we just do not give alternative explanations a chance: we don’t accept psychological or physical explanations that account for the phenomena, or we don’t investigate the possibility of a hoax or fraud.
Neuroscientists, are trying to find physiological bases for alleged paranormal experiences. There is hope that neuroscience may help us truly understand many aspects of paranormal experiences. Explanations of weird experiences in terms of unconscious experience; selective memory; affective, cognitive, or perceptual illusions; brain aberrations; or other naturalistic processes can be very fruitful in building up a body of knowledge about paranormal beliefs that provide us with a better understanding of ourselves and how we experience the world. Even knowledge of hoaxers, deceivers, and so-called con artists can help us understand not only how we come to believe in the paranormal, but also how we might avoid being duped in the future.