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.