Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Famous Paranormal History and Haunted Homesickness...

Being busy has its good and bad points. University has been a lot more work than I had anticipated. I have a few big projects for courses on the horizon (one where I worry I've bit off more than I can chew with the scope and work involved) so often when I write, it's only for class. I've even cut back on social networking, not just due to course load, but because it's a major distraction. There's only so much of Facebook and Twitter I can fit into a day. I need to make time for other things: far more important things.

Lately I've taken some time to get back into reading. My bookshelves are full of books I have every intention to read but never sit down and work into my schedule. My current reading material is a fascinating historical book, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by science journalist Deborah Blum. It appeals to me twofold. For one, it deals with history and early work exploring investigations into the unknown. Secondly, the topic centers around William James, one of the early founders of the science of Psychology. He is best known for writing the first official psychology textbook... his work in founding the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is glossed over by most scholars.

In Ghost Hunters, Blum takes a look at the first (if not only) time in history when some of the greatest minds of the time gathered together to try to scientifically explain and find proof of the paranormal. Since the early days of science, looking into ghosts, ESP, telepathy, and other oddities has been scoffed at and never given the time of day by the scientific community. It was labeled as "superstition" before anyone felt it worthy of being tested. Yet science is an ever-evolving process. Before Darwin formed his theory of evolution, it was common practice for science textbooks to claim that creationism was confirmed science.

A hundred years later, the topic is still largely ignored. Experimenting with "psychical research" is as much career suicide now as it was in James' time. There has always been an underlying understanding among scientists; "If you study these things, you will be blacklisted. Your reputation will be destroyed." It's a sad truth that any research in these fields must be underground with little funding. Even some of the most astonishing scientific research into some phenomena has been ignored and buried; some scientists (including the first president of ASPR) have even labeled it all "hallucinations, mental illness, and fraud" without even reading the reports.

The paranormal has been on my mind a lot lately, mainly because I miss it. I miss the mystery of it all, digging through musty history to find information about those living in the past, trudging through old buildings in search of the fainted hint of something unexplainable. After all these years, it's still exciting to me. And while, like James, I don't believe every story or experience is proof-positive that the dead walk the earth, I still want to understand the phenomena and its causes. I feel that psychology holds some answers, and other answers are still locked away inside the brain and nervous system. Perhaps J. B. Rhine was on to something when he labeled hauntings 'recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis' (or the mind's ability to tap into the past). And there may be some physical interactions happening as well, but I don't believe it's the result of electromagnetic energy. 

There are plenty of things still worthy of exploring in our world. World mysteries have not all been explained. Dismissing things as unworthy of exploration is absurd to me. I have some hope that many things will have definite answers one day. The key is unlocking the past and its discoveries and building upon them in scientific methods instead of constantly reinventing the study of the paranormal. We need to stop with the random gadgets that beep and flash and look into what we know, the function of technology as well as findings in research experiments, and go from there. Modern ghost hunting relies of case studies and naturalistic observation, but it doesn't focus on the role of hypotheses and theories. This doesn't mean everyone needs to conduct laboratory experiments in the field. We simply need some faction of the population to take matters a bit more seriously.


Cullan Hudson said...

I understand what you mean. I had grown weary, blase about much of it myself. In writing and writing and writing about it all, you get a skewed sense of its trajectory. I saw nothing but bunk and hoax at every turn; I became jaded.

Fortunately, this past fall, I had two unexplainable encounters within close proximity to one another. It really refueled my passion for it, I think. Now, I want to get out in the field more (if possible) and rest less on my laurels or desk chair.

Ken Summers said...

That's actually how things happened with ASPR in the beginning. They spent more time exposing fraud than unexplainable phenomena. Yet through all the rubbish they found some gems that deserved real attention.

The challenge for me is being in the mindset of "Something is happening... what is it?" still and occasionally feeling that there's no momentum. Yet I do feel there are answers out there. Many of them lie in dust-covered piles long forgotten, waiting to be rediscovered and pieced together. That's a challenge in a field full of selfish oneupmanship and following others along the same worn paths. Research breakthroughs happen with collaboration, not individuals playing the power struggle game.

I do want to get back out there, start testing some hypotheses, and engaging in even the most casual of investigations again. Let's face it: I'm a morbidly-inclined person. lol I love this stuff. It's part of who I am. And whether I make it boldly declared or not, part of my psychology degree will be put to use on exploring the unknown, just as William James envisioned psychology to be.