There is a widely held belief in the paranormal. Much of this belief is based on anecdotal evidence rather than empirical scientific research. The Journal of Parapsychology defines paranormal phenomena as:
“.any phenomenon that in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible according to current scientific assumptions.”
This is a very broad definition. It can cover anything from ghosts to cryptozoology. Among my family and friends I can count many stories of paranormal activity that have been recounted to me over the years. I intend to answer the question of whether I believe in the paranormal by critically examining a few of these accounts in the article below.
A close relative once recounted the following story that occurred over a decade ago when he was a teenager. Bob (not his real name) was putting his bike away in the back shed. This shed was a three room building that was similar in appearance to a small house. Bob wheeled his bike into the shed and noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye. He turned to face what appeared to be “lasers” that originated in mid air. These lasers were several feet long, about 1-2 centimeters in diameter and colored in a variety of colors (I have forgotten the exact colors that Bob described.). The lasers moved slowly through the air and began tracking over Bob’s body. By this point Bob was terrified and ran out of the shed into his house. For the next couple of hours Bob could still feel these lasers tracking over his body. Some time after Bob recounted this event I spoke to Bob’s mother. She told me that he was clearly upset by what had occurred and that she believed he had experienced something profoundly disturbing.
I know Bob well. He is truthful. He did not drink at the time of this event, nor did he take drugs. Bob has also never had a mental illness. How then do we explain what occurred? My first thought was that maybe the lasers were caused by the headlights of a passing car shining through holes in the tin walls of the shed. I was able to discount this upon visiting the shed at night. The lights from passing cars look nothing like lasers from within the shed. My next thought was that maybe there was some sort of alien component to this experience due to “lasers” being seen. There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case though. These lasers could just as easily be ascribed to ghosts as they could be to aliens. Contemporary accounts of ghosts suggest that they may be able to manifest themselves in a multitude of ways. For all we know they could appear as misty phantoms, orbs or even lasers. If we discount some external cause for these lights we are left to consider the possibility of the event being a brief mental glitch. I’m not prepared to categorically state that these lights Bob experienced were due to aliens, ghosts or some other agent. At this point I can only conclude that the cause of these lights is unknown.
Another relative, who lives alone, once told me that she had woken one night to find somebody shivering in bed next to her. Alice (not her real name) simply pulled the blankets up, rolled over and went back to sleep. I asked Alice why she had not jumped out of bed upon discovering the visitor. She replied that she had not been scared and that the visitor only wanted to get warm. A close friend of mine also had an experience with a night time visitor. Allan (not his real name) was awoken by something that pinned him down and tried to enter his body. Although the entity remained unseen Allan described it as a demon. Allan struggled with the entity for some time before he was able to break free and jump out of bed. There was no reoccurrence of this experience either that night or at any other time for Allan. I can also claim a personal experience with night time visitors. Many years ago when I was visiting my mother I had gone to bed and was laying there in the dark thinking random thoughts. I had only been laying there for a few moments when I heard a deep male voice say “You are going to Wagga tomorrow”. My eyes flew open, I quickly turned on the bedside lamp and jumped out of bed. A thorough search of my room proved that I was alone. I went back to bed but slept with the light on that night.
How do we explain these night time visitors? Is the cause paranormal, or is there some other explanation for these events? One possible explanation is that these visits occurred as described and that the cold ghost, demon, and disembodied voice, really did exist. Another possibility is that all three events were nothing more than dreams. Scientists know that it is quite common to hallucinate in that period when we are just drifting off to sleep. This is referred to as hypnogogia. In this state the individual may experience various visual and auditory hallucinations. They may also experience fear, the sensation of a nearby malevolent presence, and a feeling of pressure on the chest that may make breathing difficult. Where the person is also unable to move the situation is referred to as “sleep paralysis”. Hypnogogia or sleep paralysis could plausibly explain all three of the night time visitors described above. Whether or not this is the right explanation for these nocturnal visitations is unknown.
I will give one final example of an event that I personally experienced. My mother in law died several years ago. The day before her funeral I was cleaning up her bedroom. Whilst cleaning I noticed that the light bulb was beginning to flicker. The flickering continued for a couple of minutes and then the light went out. I assumed that the light had blown. As it was day time and I had sufficient light I did not bother to change the light bulb. I continued cleaning for another twenty minutes and then left the room. As I left I noticed that the light switch had been turned off. I turned it back on and the light came on. In the entire time that I was cleaning that room nobody entered and switched the light off. The only possible explanation that I can think of for explaining this event is that when originally switching the light on I may not have fully depressed the switch and it may have hovered mid way between on and off before eventually flicking to off. Many would consider this to be a plausible explanation. However, in our house the light switches are the modern spring loaded kind. They are either fully switched on or they are fully switched off. You cannot position the switch so that it is mid way between the two states. Given that this is the case I am left with the possibility that the light was switched off via paranormal means.
“Everyone who believes in telekinesis, raise my hand!”
These accounts do not prove the existence of paranormal phenomena but they do make you wonder about the unexplained phenomena that people experience. Proof of the paranormal is very difficult to come by. As yet science has no proof that the paranormal exists. I do believe in the paranormal, but my belief, like everyone else’s is subjective. It is very unlikely that we will ever get the kind of proof for the paranormal that James Randi is seeking. What is more likely is that people will make up their minds about the paranormal when they are confronted by personal experiences that have no other explanation. The truth may be out there but we may never know what the real causes of the paranormal are.