May 3 – Paranormal Day

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Paranormal activity (and no, I don’t mean the slightly underwhelming movie) is defined as anything outside the scope of reasoned, scientific understanding. It includes things such as Ghosts, Cryptids (animals that are not confirmed to exist, e.g. The Loch Ness Monster, unicorns, dragons), telepathy, fortune telling, curses and the list goes on. The idea of the paranormal is most frightening – we can explain murderous people and natural disasters…but we can’t begin to explain the paranormal, if indeed it does exist.

It seems a great deal of people do believe in the existence of some level of paranormal activity. A survey by Gallup in 2005 showed that almost 3 out of every 4 people in the U.S. have some kind of paranormal belief out of the following: extrasensory perception (the 6th sense), haunted houses, ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance (to predict the future), witches, astrology (so far as the alignment of planets and stars can effect peoples lives), allowing a spirit-being to temporarily control the body, reincarnation and being able to mentally communicate with the dead. The most common belief was in the existence of a 6th sense (extrasensory perception), with 41% of people believing, followed by the existence of a haunted house with 37% of people believing. Christians are slightly more likely to believe, with 75% of them  believing in at least one, compared to 66% of non-christians (however this doesn’t say if those non-christians were of another religion. It would be interesting to see the correlation between non-belief in the paranormal and atheism.) A similar poll in 2001 showed 76% of people, overall, believing in at least one of the aforementioned, so belief is on the decline. However, that’s still  a lot of people believing things in which they have no concrete evidence for, other than heresy and personal experience.

Dr Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire (who does some really interesting stuff, you should check him out when you have time) was involved in the conduction of a study in which a couple of hundred volunteers visited the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh and the Hampton Court Palace in England – supposedly two of the most haunted locations in the UK. The study found that even without prior knowledge of the locations of the majority of supposed hauntings, the volunteers recorded a strikingly larger number of paranormal experiences in those areas where many people had previously claimed were more haunted. After studying different environmental factors of the rooms felt to be most haunted – the size, light intensity, temperature etc, Wiseman believes that people are merely responding to environmental cues and thus the general spookiness of their environment, and that “Hauntings exist, in the sense that places exist where people reliably have unusual experiences. The existence of ghosts is a way of explaining these experiences.” (Richard Wiseman, to BBC online 2003).

Do you believe in the paranormal? I’d like to consider myself a rational thinker, an atheist who believe in things once I am presented with reasonable evidence…I haven’t had any experience with the paranormal, the closest I’ve come being staying in a hotel room that was totally harmless apart from being extremely, extremely uncomfortable to be in…but hey, you can keep that ouija board the hell away from me, cause I still ain’t touching it.

~ Darcie Rae

Info-links:
The poll on belief in the paranormal: http://www.gallup.com/poll/16915/three-four-americans-believe-paranormal.aspx
Dr Richard Wiseman on the paranormal: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3044607.stm

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