Sunday, December 26, 2010

Of Hyper Skepticism & Via Negativa

The process of paranormal research in a field investigation case is indeed a deductive one, but one that operates in very much of a process of elimination fashion. Deduction is a system of reasoning in which a conclusion follows necessarily from the premises presented, so that the conclusion cannot be false if the premises are true.  Normally, one moves forward collecting a set of facts or premises, then builds to an deductive finding or conclusion. As a law enforcement officer, when we arrive on the scene of a rape for example, we begin moving forward through a process of "reading" the scene as soon as possible after securing the area, the evidence itself, and getting any needed help on the way.  That's because what our job is as first officers on the scene, is to locate and record the evidence as it is in its original position, then as investigators to say, "Okay, what kind of hand have I been dealt...what is the scene trying to tell me, that happened here."  Every piece of evidence has some clue or fact to offer that helps us "build" a case.  While we do not accept the fact as gospel that the victim was indeed raped, we do clearly move forward aggressively with that assumption.  Our investigation will backtrack to tell us indeed whether she was raped (collection of a rape kit at the hospital, talking to witnesses, interviewing her, checking her background etc.).  In the meantime, we are doing our best to collect evidence and track down leads on who might have raped her.  The clear assumption though, is that a rape has occurred, and we act upon that assumption. 

I do, of course, observe the scene to make sure what the person is saying makes sense and I observe them closely to make sure they aren't showing signs of mental illness.  Usually, there are family, friends or neighbors around that all contribute to the scene as being genuine (collateral evidence).  But to be honest with you, as first responders, while we watch carefully for signs of false reporting or psychological disturbance - we take a caller or complainant's word at face value.  We know the investigation will flush all that out, but the point is, unless something doesn't feel right, we assume they have a legitimate complaint.  (Notice the word feel.)  We have learned to trust our instincts and feelings, based upon experience and observation (science).  Both the feeling and science work together, intertwined and informing one another throughout the process.

In contrast, what I've seen being taught and portrayed as "true and proper" paranormal investigation technique into someone's claim of being haunted, is much more of an, "Okay, where do I begin to break their story or claim down?" kind of condescension.  It assumes a priori that what they are saying is not true!  That is a far cry from being wary that something may not be.  I hope you as a reader can get that very important difference.  I don't know where it started or where it came from (I have my ideas) but this is a stance that says from the get-go: there is no paranormal activity and "I must debunk what they claim is happening."  Paranormal investigators across the country think they are being faithful to the present age and culture of scientific rationalism by being "skeptical."  I think that is a bit ridiculous, unnecessary and unfair.  It's time someone called it for what it is.  In truth, what is happening in many instances is an atmosphere of hyper-skepticism and sheer condescension, and is being justified in the name of the god of "good science."
Furthermore, paranormal investigators for some odd reason, run like scalded rabbits from any hint of sensory, intuitive, or gut-feelings kind of input into a case.  I find it almost funny, especially when they push their glasses back up their nose, screw their faces up so seriously and say with a twisted lilt, "Well it's just not good science."  Relax Johnny boy, don't take yourself so seriously.  Science to that extreme only blinds you.  To wholly ignore the sensory or gut instinct inputs and to not trust to a complete and holistic world-view (yes, that means including the subjective - horror of horrors!!!) is a big, big mistake.  Both science and sensory have to work together.  Anything different is not only warped and unrealistic, it is false and a lie.  No one operates that way in any other part of life.  It is foolish and unrealistic (and dishonest) to try to do so in paranormal investigations.

This "hyper-skeptical" process begins with an assumption of that if it isn't something I can get with my super-duper ACME scientific tool kit, then it isn't real.  Its cynicism moves immediately and quickly as first steps to and through a litany of questions and probes; such as:

Are you nuts?
Do you have a psychological disorder?
Are you emotionally disturbed? 
Are you making this up? 
Are you embellishing this in any way? 
Oh, I'm sure it's just effects of high EMF (which isn't completely proven & is still being debated)
I'm sure it's just problems with your house

It's a plumbing problem, like a "water hammer"
What kind of drugs do you take? Or, is it alcohol? wink, wink
Oh, I'm sure it's just or lead paint or carbon monoxide, or some such (fill in the blank)
My, oh my...don't we have an active imagination (may as well pat them on the head)
Are you sick, you're not feeling well are you? (hand to their forehead)
You're lying to me aren't you?  

I can just see myself responding to a victim on one of my law enforcement calls like that!

This process is a via negativa approach, which means by way of negativity or elimination.  It literally is the approach of "what is it not?"  I'm not saying those are not legitimate questions, but to employ them first and to couple them with an attitude of I'm going to prove you wrong - is wrong.

Is it fair to automatically enter the scene with huge doubt about what is being said, with this attitude of hyper-skepticism?  Paranormal teams and ghost hunters gush with pride (I read it on the Internet all the time) at saying to one another, "Oh we are VERY scientific and skeptical when it comes to paranormal claims."  Well, let me put it to you straight up:  how would you feel if you called me to your house because you claimed someone raped you or your daughter and I put you through the same sort of "healthy skepticism" you see these ghost hunters be so proud of?  See what I mean?  Got a little different view of that now? 

As a law enforcement officer I don't stop to say, "Prove it to me beyond a shadow of a doubt first - scientifically - that you were indeed raped before I believe you and take action."  That would be absurd and insensitive.  But that's what we do in a paranormal situation isn't it?  Additionally, most ghost teams don't go any where near "taking action."  That would mean they have to make a judgement on what is causing it, and that takes belief or involves - gasp! - religion.  So, what we have is a situation in which someone calls about their house being haunted, would we please come help, and we are supposed to go there with the attitude that it is not really happening, they are: deluded, crazy, paranoid, sick, mistaken, or out-and-out liars and frauds.  If they make it through that gauntlet, then we say, "Well we got some interesting stuff, so your house might be haunted, see ya."

That is comparitive in the rape case of me showing up as a cop with a look of cold rationalism on my face and saying to you, "Oh okay, so you claim you were raped, eh?  Well...hmmm...let me make sure you are not...

asked for it and therefore got what you deserved
mentally ill
a fraud
a liar

...then, little lady, once you can prove that to me scientifically, then I can say, yeah, you was probably raped."  I then pack up my gear and leave you standing there right at that moment.  No help, no remedy, no assistance.  That's it.  That's how most paranormal investigations are - and how they are taught as being legitimate. 


Why do we act so differently for paranormal research and investigation?  Why do we do this?   I know, I know.  What you are likely to say is that the burden of proof is on us to provide compelling evidence to the skeptics; or, that often the cause is paranoia, emotional or psychological; or, some natural cause, yada yada yada. 

Sorry, but I ain't buying it, not for one second.

Like too many parapsychologists, many in this field fret and wring their hands all day long trying to figure out how they can approach this subject and still be considered by scientists that they too are "legitimate" and real scientists.  Well, let me put my arm around your shoulder and tell ya right now, that ain't gonna happen, Virginia.  That is a delusion.  Why do you need that anyway?  Is it pride?  Your client doesn't need that.  They need help and they need an answer and they need something that works.  There are many PI's (paranormal investigators) who think they have to dangle by the leash of skeptics in order to be true and legitimate PI's.  To hell with the skeptics.  They are never going to believe any way.  Haven't you got that yet?  I don't want to be a scientist.  I want to be effective.  M. Scott Peck tells of an atheist on one of his teams that watched a full blown exorcism for four days and still came away saying, "I didn't see anything that couldn't be described as a psychological problem."  Hello?  Another episode of blinded-by-science headed your way.  Haven't you ever heard Hellen Keller's quip, "There is none so blind as he who will not see"?  We spend far, far too much energy and time chasing the opinions of skeptics and scientists, when all that time and attention is not spent listening to and helping our clients.  Those fools are never going to "see" anyway.  (Yes, I called them fools, because that is exactly what they are. That, and deluded.)  We have it upside down.  If we want to influence the world with the truth, let's do it from the grassroots up, by the ordinary everyday person who is needing our help, not the intellectuals at the top who are never going to believe us anyway.  Huddle up, listen up and get this:  those knuckleheads are irrelevant.  Why do you listen to them?  It is you and your client.  Repeat after me:  It is me and my client.  It is you, your client and your help to them - your real and practical help - that is your little world.  Operate within that.  Control, influence, and operate within that which you can, and stop wasting your time and your clients' time by worrying about what irrelevant outsiders may say.  It does not matter if they don't believe you. Stop being manipulated and dangled by the end of their rope.  Cut it.

I have yet to find a single case where we were called that the people were crazy, nuts, mentally ill, paranoid to the point of making everything up, totally mistaken, ill, sick, deluded, emotionally disturbed, frauds or liars.  I do find them upset and stressed sometimes.  I do find them unnerved, depressed or even fearful.  I've found them even in tears.  However, while we do find a bit of matrixing and embellishment occasionally, invariably there is genuine paranormal activity - and by that I mean a ghost or spirit.  Occasionally we find a natural or psychological reason for perhaps three or four phenomena out of twenty or twenty five, but those are based upon freaking out about the real phenomena that is happening.  Never, ever, have we totally and completely debunked a case due to the reasons that are always stated of why we have to be so hyper-skeptical and scientific.

I'm not saying we should not be skeptical.  Do not mistake what I am saying.  What I am referring to is that I believe some have hijacked the term to mean "hyper-skeptical" when just plain ole skeptical will do.  Actually, I'd rather use the term "common sense" because the instant you tell some investigators to be skeptical, they go nuts with it.  The reason for that is we live in an age where most of us westerners are far too science oriented to begin with.  We have far over emphasized the role of science to where it has become a religion.  We have a serious flaw, and that is not to learn to trust our nose and instincts, and develop those.  There are some who will read this and scoff that this is much too subjective; but who would you rather have investigating your daughter's rape - an investigator who is excellent at the science, interviews and history AND who has excellent intuition and a great "nose" for getting to who-dun-it?  Get real!  Science can tell you a reading on a MEL meter in a paranormal investigation.  It can take a photo.  It can record someone talking.  It can give the history of a case.  But a human has to decipher, interpret and use his intuition, senses, and mind, as well as draw from his experience and world-view to solve a case and say what he thinks is going on, and then take action to remedy it.  He (or she) must be decisive and make a call.  A victim, client or family is in need.  Are you seriously going to limit yourself to merely the science?  Really?

Let's use science.  Let's use our common sense.  Let's even be skeptical.  But let's leave the condescension, hyper-skepticism and hyper-reliance upon "science alone" behind for good.  Time to leave behind "sola-scientola."  Let's be fair and real.

Mike Chapman
Natchez Area Paranormal Society Founder
Deputy Sheriff
Natchez, Mississippi
Copyright - December 26, 2010

1 comment:

  1. Mike, with so many verified paranormal events in the area do you have a lot of physical evidence? Do you think there is something unique about this area that makes it so active?