Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Para-normal or Para-empirical?

In the field of paranormal research, the words and terms we use are important.  Words and language are used to describe and construct reality, correct?  If so, then shouldn't we tighten up the words and language we use in this already confusing and controversial field?  Often, words and terms are thrown around that are actually improper (I'm certainly guilty of this myself).  For example, paranormal research is not the same as parapsychological research.  Paranormal is not the same as supernatural.  Also, while the terms are being improperly used, our entire basis of approaching the terms, in my view, is off as well. 

Paranormal Research is that research which is involved in investigating anomalies that people are experiencing which cannot be readily explained by "normal" life experiences.  At least, that is the basic definition we've always been given.  For example, let's say that doors that are closed and locked are being consistently found standing open, yet no one was there to unlock and open them.  Paranormal research would focus on both the experience and the underlying cause(s) of the mysteriously opening doors.  In contrast, parapsychology limits itself to just exploring and investigating the experience itself, and does not venture into what may have caused the alleged phenomena.  Parapsychology is much too timid to venture into such causal realms - it desires to stay as close to the hard sciences as it can in order to see itself as a legitimate and "real" science (although its brothers in the pure hard sciences still do not accept parapsychology as such - so it seems to be a lost cause anyway).  However, it must be said that parapsychology, in clinging to only the research into "the experiences" of anomalies and not the causes, does play an important and useful role.  It has revealed patterns and certain natures of important categories of anomalies and those who seem to experience them, that we can find useful.  For example, through decades of research in the study of extrasensory perception (ESP), parapsychology has uncovered four different categories (intuitive impressions, hallucinations, realistic dreams and unrealistic dreams), with each one being a field of study unto its own.  I view parapsychology as one tool to use in my bag of tools to try and discover what is going on.  Meanwhile, paranormal research goes further and does allow for causal explanations and possibilities that lie outside of natural, empirical (safe?) explanations.  This may be a bit cruel, but I tend to see parapsychologists as the ones who dip their toes in the water, but are never bold or decisive enough to dive right in and take a stance (say what is causing the phenomena).  In fairness, it really isn't their role.  But I still can't help but wonder if they go through life always saying, "Well, I just don't know what is causing it - but let me examine how that made you feel and just what kind of weird person you are that feels and experiences such weird stuff.  Oh, and let me see if your weird stuff is like other weird peoples' weird stuff."  My parapsych friends, no doubt, will want to kill me for saying that!

As for "supernatural," it is a word to describe that which is definitely spiritual in nature and not of this material world. 

Lastly, who came up with the term paranormal to begin with?  A close look at the term reveals that it assumes a skewed and biased definition of "normal" to begin with.  It automatically a priory defines normal from a scientific, empirical worldview, which has always to me been narrow, blind and closed-minded.  People who hold to a purely empirical, naturalistic scientific worldview have always baffled me and left me shaking my head.  They describe their understanding (which is that only what science can prove is normal) as "normal" and anything beyond it as "para" (beyond) normal.  How 'bout we turn the tables on them and start using the term "para-empirical" to describe reality as including more (beyond) than what they say it is.  By using the word para-empirical, we would be revealing them as small-minded and narrow.  Para-empirical advocates that what reality truly is, lies beyond (para) merely the world of the empirical.   

As a fellow student of mine, Robin Moerck, says, "I also believe that the word "paranormal" is a misnomer, given the number of people who have such experiences, though currently it may be a necessary term."  She cites an exchange between a guy named Krippner who is being questioned by someone named "Dr. Dave."  I think Krippner's response is perfect:

Dr. Dave: "Yeah, yeah. Now I was struck in the beginning of our conversation. You said you don't believe in much but I gather you do believe in some sort of rudimentary psychic phenomenon and I'm wondering if you've had any sorts of experiences yourself, personal experiences that would reinforce your sense that there's something going on, you know more than meets the eye, so to speak."

Krippner: "Well, my position is that yes, there's something going on here but it's not paranormal, it 's normal, it's not supernatural, it's nature and that's the framework that I operate in..."

Seems to me he's saying that to separate the "two worlds" in affect, into what is "normal" and what they consider to be "not-normal" is wrong - it's all one world, operating as it always has.  Normal is both normal AND what they consider is abnormal, and we shouldn't let them get away with letting them decide for us what normal is.

Natchez Ghosts: The Devil's Punchbowl is the official blog of N.A.P.S. - the Natchez Area Paranormal Society

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