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Room 101

2.28.10

Paranormal Dichotomy

The sheer mountain of eyewitness testimony, photographs, audio recordings, not to mention film and video evidence should be ample enough to show that the pantheon of phenomena popularly described as "ghosts" or "apparitions" exist. That's NOT to say any of this accumulating evidence approaches anything near scientific proof or verification of the paranormal. The fact that, by definition, paranormal activity falls outside the normal realm of scientific understanding and can't be repeated within a laboratory setting has left many researchers believing we'll probably never have irrefutable proof.

However, few investigators would argue that the phenomena continues, nonetheless, and is all too real for a wide spectrum of witnesses that come from all walks of life. Which raises two important questions: if paranormal activity really does exist, what does it represent and how might the answer, or answers, effect our collective understanding of the universe and ourselves?

Other than hallucinations caused by ultrasound, sleep paralysis and similarly mundane explanations, parapsychologists and other paranormal investigators basically subscribe to three main schools of thought on the matter. The first, and most obvious, of course, being that "ghosts" are exactly what psychic mediums and other sensitives have always claimed they are: the spirits of the deceased or whatever it is that survives of the human consciousness after bodily death.

It is the second and third alternatives that seem to be the preferences of most contemporary parapsychologists. That is that paranormal phenomena such as "ghosts" are either some kind of 3D psychic recording / temporal replay, or alternatively, the manifestation of the latent telekinetic powers of the human mind. When I interviewed Richard Holland editor of Paranormal Magazine the author/investigator, himself a witness to poltergeist activity, he speculated about a possible fourth alternative.

"When I was at university I read about bacteriophages, viruses so primitive that they can barely be called life at all. They attach themselves to bacteria and pump in their RNA. The rest of it, a protein shell, drifts away. The RNA recodes the bacterial DNA and lo! two viruses where once there was one bacterium. It made me wonder about a primitive consciousness, scarcely a mind at all, just a mass of electrical discharges that floats about and like the phage can only exist in any real form by latching onto a human mind Perhaps similar twilight entities answer our subconscious needs according to our current superstitious beliefs become fairies when we believe in fairies, then aliens when we believe in aliens. Perhaps they created some crop circles, too. More recently, I've been getting interested in the Islamic concept of the Jinn, incorporeal spirits created out of 'smokeless fire' at the same time as Man, and living alongside us. That comes quite close to what I've been groping at."

The danger, of course, when discussing "ghosts," just as with UFOs and pretty much any Fortean type mystery, is that people want a single definitive answer. The classic example being that UFOs are either "nuts and bolts" spacecraft from Zeta Reticuli or they're extra dimensional vehicles. And, as alluded to, a similar dichotomy seems to be entrenched in the paranormal field. It might be a bit of a overgeneralization, but generally speaking "ghosts" are either seen as evidence of survival after death, or else, they're interpreted as being some form of alternative psychic phenomena we currently don't understand as the parapsychologists would suggest. The problem being, why does it have to be one or the other: why can't it be both or as conspiracy author Jim Marrs likes to say: "all of the above" or even something else entirely?

Traditional style hauntings, poltergeist activity, stories of possession and timeslips: there is certainly no shortage of paranormal phenomena to choose from, however, perhaps none defy this paranormal dichotomy better than the "crisis ghost phenomenon."

Crisis ghosts are different from other apparitions in that they appear to be person rather than location based. They typically involve close friends or family members of witnesses appearing at a time of crisis, usually just before or after the person appearing dies. So common is the phenomenon that there is actually a case within my own family we can discuss.

I won't bore readers with all of the details but basically, years ago, while on holiday in the Tenerife, my father had a strange dream involving several deceased relatives "all dressed in white" and a close childhood friend he hadn't seen in about "two and a half years." According to my father, the white figures in the dream told him that "they were all alright and not to worry." After waking up, my dad assumed it was just a strange dream and got on with enjoying his holiday. On returning to the UK, though, he discovered, to his shock, that the friend in the dream had, unbeknownst to him, been ill for some time and had died while he was away.

Had the spirits of the departed somehow invaded my father's subconscious that night in Tenerife, or alternately, had my father somehow psychically picked up on his friends passing or imminent passing and this is how his subconscious mind dealt with it. Either explanation can be made to fit.

Stranger still, though, are the crisis ghost cases that take place while the witness (or witnesses) are wide and awake. For instance, there are many cases from the two world wars of soldiers returning home only to suddenly vanish or walk through a wall. News of their death arriving not long afterwards.

A classic example of this was featured in a memorable episode of Ghosthunters (the UK 1990s documentary series) focusing on the alleged ghostly happenings at Ireland's Castle Leslie. In the documentary we're told that "Uncle Norman" Leslie was seen by the old game keeper and others "walking the gardens" when last they heard he was in France fighting in the 1914 war. Thinking the army captain must have gotten unexpected leave, the servants rushed to get a meal prepared for the returning war hero. Strangely, though, he never turned up. Not long later, however, (within a week) the family learned the truth. "Uncle Norman" had died attacking a German machine gun post.

When you consider the wide spectrum of crisis experiences (some awake, some asleep, some alone, some with others etc) is it really likely that every case has the same explanation, or, is it more reasonable to think that some might be traditional "spirits" and some might be evidence for something else. Ultimately, though, as is the case with all Fortean or esoteric type topics, it comes down to a matter of personal belief.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist