of the world around us is the 'normal' part of the word and 'para' makes up the above, beyond, contrary, or against part of the meaning.
Para has a Greek and Latin origin. Its most common meaning (the Greek usage) is 'similar to' or 'near to', as in paragraph. In Latin, para means 'above,' against,' 'counter,' 'outside,' or 'beyond'. For example, parapluie in French means 'counter-rain' – an umbrella. It can be construed, then, that the term paranormal is derived from the Latin use of the prefix 'para', meaning 'against, counter, outside or beyond the norm.'
Approaching paranormal phenomena from a research perspective is often difficult because even when the phenomena are seen as real they may be difficult to explain using existing rules or theory. By definition, paranormal phenomena exist outside of conventional norms, if they exist at all. Skeptics contend that they don't. Despite this challenge, studies on the paranormal are periodically conducted by researchers from various disciplines. Some researchers study just the beliefs in paranormal phenomena regardless of whether the phenomena actually exist.
This section deals with various approaches to the paranormal including those scientific, pseudoscientific, and unscientific. Skeptics feel that supposed scientific approaches are actually pseudoscientific for several reasons which are explored below.
"the orthodox conventionality of Science", which were odd events originally printed in respected mainstream scientific journals or newspapers such as Scientific American, The Times, Nature and Science. From these researches Fort wrote seven books, though only four survive. These are: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); one book was written between New Lands and Lo! but it was abandoned and absorbed into Lo!.
Reported events that he collected include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with coining); poltergeist events, falls of frogs, fishes, inorganic materials of an amazing range; crop circles; unaccountable noises and explosions; spontaneous fires; levitation; ball lightning (a term explicitly used by Fort); unidentified flying objects; mysterious appearances and disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges. He offered many reports of OOPArts, abbreviation for "out of place" artifacts: strange items found in unlikely locations. He also is perhaps the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction, and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
Fort is considered by many as the father of modern paranormalism, which is the belief in paranormal phenomena.
Experimental investigation of the paranormal is largely conducted in the multidisciplinary field of parapsychology. Although parapsychology has its roots in earlier research, it began using the experimental approach in the 1930s under the direction of J. B. Rhine (1895 – 1980). Rhine popularized the now famous methodology of using card-guessing and dice-rolling experiments in a laboratory in the hopes of finding a statistical validation of extra-sensory perception.
In 1957, the Parapsychological Association was formed as the preeminent society for parapsychologists. In 1969, they became
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and its periodical, Skeptical Inquirer.
As astronomer Carl Sagan put it, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", and experimental research into the paranormal continues today, though it has waned considerably since the 1970s. One such experiment is called the Ganzfeld Experiment. The purpose of the Ganzfeld Experiment, like other parapsychological experiments, is to test for statistical anomalies that might suggest the existence of psi, a process indicating psychic phenomena. In the Ganzfeld Experiment, a subject (receiver) is asked to access through psychic means some target. The target is typically a picture or video clip selected randomly from a large pool, which is then viewed in a remote location by another subject (sender).
Ganzfeld experiments use audio and visual sensory deprivation to remove any kind of external stimulus that may interfere with the testing or corrupt the test by providing cues to correct targets. A 'hit' refers to a correctly identified target. The expected hit ratio of such a trial is 1 in 4, or 25%. Deviations from this expected ratio might be seen as evidence for psi, although such conclusions are often disputed. To date there have been no experimental results that have gained wide acceptance in the scientific community as valid evidence of paranormal phenomena.
Ghost hunters taking an EMF reading which proponents say may show evidence of ghosts.
While parapsychologists look for quantitative evidence of the paranormal in laboratories, a great number of people immerse themselves in qualitative research through participant-observer approaches to the paranormal. Participant-observer methodologies have overlaps with other essentially qualitative approaches as well, including phenomenological research that seeks largely to describe subjects as they are experienced, rather than to explain them.
Participant-observation suggests that by immersing oneself in the subject being studied, a researcher is presumed to gain understanding of the subject. In paranormal research, a participant-observer study might consist of a researcher visiting a place where alleged paranormal activity is said to occur and recording observations while there. Participation levels may vary. In studying a supposedly haunted location, for example, the researcher may conduct a séance or participate in other activities said to cause paranormal activity.
Criticisms of participant-observation as a data-gathering technique are similar to criticisms of other approaches to the paranormal, but also include an increased threat to the objectivity of the researcher, unsystematic gathering of data, reliance on subjective measurement, and possible observer effects (observation may distort the observed behavior). Specific data gathering methods, such as recording EMF readings at haunted locations have their own criticisms beyond those attributed to the participant-observation approach itself.
The participant-observer approach to the paranormal has gained increased visibility and popularity through reality-based television shows like Ghost Hunters, and the formation of independent ghost hunting groups which advocate immersive research at alleged paranormal locations. One popular website for ghost hunting enthusiasts lists over 300 of these organizations throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.
The debunking approach is a response to claims of paranormal phenomena, and consists of finding a "normal" explanation instead of paranormal for the account. The basis for this approach is that the debunker feels that the normal explanation is the likelier of the two. This is sometimes referred to as Occam's razor, which suggests that the simplest solution is the best one. Since standard scientific models generally predicts what can be expected in the natural world, the debunking approach assumes the position that what may appear to be paranormal is a misinterpretation of natural phenomena, rather than an actual anomalous phenomenon. In contrast to the skeptical position, which requires claims to be proven, the debunking approach actively seeks to disprove the claim.
Former stage magician, James Randi, is a well-known debunker of paranormal claims. As a skeptic with a background in illusion, Randi feels that the simplest explanation for those claiming paranormal abilities is trickery, illustrated by demonstrating that the spoon bending abilities of psychic Uri Geller can easily be duplicated by trained magicians. He is also the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation and its famous million dollar challenge offering a prize of US $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties.
While the validity of the existence of paranormal phenomena is controversial and debated passionately by both proponents of the paranormal and by skeptics, surveys are useful in determining the beliefs of people in regards to paranormal phenomena. These opinions, while not constituting scientific evidence for or against, may give an indication of the mindset of a certain portion of the population (at least among those who answered the polls).
One such survey of the beliefs of the general United States population regarding paranormal topics was conducted by the Gallup Organization in 2005. The survey found that 73 percent of those polled believed in at least one of the ten paranormal items presented in the survey.
Items included in the survey were as follows (the percentage of respondents who indicated that they believed in the phenomenon is in parenthesis): Extrasensory perception (41%), haunted houses (37%), ghosts (32%), telepathy (31%), clairvoyance (26%), astrology (25%), communication with the dead (21%), witches (21%), reincarnation (20%), and channeling spiritual entities (9%).
Only one percent of those surveyed believed in all ten items.
The items selected for the survey were chosen because they "require the belief that humans have more than the 'normal' five senses."
Another survey conducted in 2006 by researchers from Australia's Monash University sought to determine what types of phenomena people claim to have experienced and the effects these experiences have had on their lives. The study was conducted as an online survey with over 2,000 respondents from around the world participating. The results revealed that around 70% of the respondents believe to have had an unexplained paranormal event that changed their life, mostly in a positive way. About 70% also claimed to have seen, heard, or been touched by an animal or person that they knew was not there; 80% have reported having a premonition, and almost 50% stated they recalled a previous life.
This section explores the notable paranormal beliefs that appear in popular culture.
For believers, ghosts are generally seen to be the spirit or soul of a deceased person. Alternative theories expand on that idea and include belief in the ghosts of deceased animals. Sometimes the term "ghost" is used synonymously with any spirit or demon, however in popular usage the term typically refers to a deceased person.
The belief in ghosts as souls of the departed is closely tied to the concept of animism, an ancient belief which attributed souls to everything in nature. As the nineteenth-century anthropologist James Frazer explained in his classic work, The Golden Bough, souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body. Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.
A widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists speculate that this may also stem from early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person, most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person's breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of "breath" in certain languages, such as the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as animating Adam with a breath.
Numerous theories have been proposed by skeptics to provide non-paranormal explanations for ghosts sightings. Although the evidence for ghosts is largely anecdotal, the belief in ghosts throughout history has remained widespread and persistent.
The possibility of extraterrestrial life is not, by itself, a paranormal subject. Many scientists are actively engaged in the search for unicellular life within the solar system, carrying out studies on the surface of Mars and examining meteors that have fallen to Earth. Projects such as SETI are conducting an astronomical search for radio activity that would show evidence of intelligent life outside the solar system. Scientific theories of how life developed on Earth allow for the possibility that life developed on other planets as well. The paranormal aspect of extraterrestrial life centers largely around the belief in unidentified flying objects and the phenomena said to be associated with them.
Early in the history of UFO culture, believers divided themselves into two camps. The first held a rather conservative view of the phenomena, interpreting it as unexplained occurrences that merited serious study. They began calling themselves "ufologists" in the 1950s and felt that logical analysis of sighting reports would validate the notion of extraterrestrial visitation.
The second camp consisted of individuals who coupled ideas of extraterrestrial visitation with beliefs from existing quasi-religious movements. These individuals typically were enthusiasts of occultism and the paranormal. Many had backgrounds as active Theosophists, Spiritualists, or were followers of other esoteric doctrines. In contemporary times, many of these beliefs have coalesced into New Age spiritual movements.
Both secular and spiritual believers describe UFOs as having abilities beyond what is considered possible according to aerodynamics and physical laws. The transitory events surrounding many UFO sightings also limits the opportunity for repeat testing required by the scientific method. Acceptance of UFO theories by the larger scientific community is further hindered by the many possible hoaxes associated with UFO culture.