Helping the Unknown Become a Little More Known: Identifying Misconceptions Within Paranormal Research
By Claire Salmons
Researcher & Investigator for Normal Paranormal
With an explosion of hit cable television shows, like Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, and major blockbusters, like Paranormal Activity, a growing interest in the paranormal has spurred across the country. According to a Huffington Post / YouGov poll, nearly half of America’s population (45%), "believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations." While the public’s growing fascination with the paranormal has added some long overdue visibility to the field, it has also caused some serious misconceptions. Here are some of the most common...
Paranormal Is Related Only To Ghosts
Paranormal does not equal ghosts. By definition the word "paranormal" refers to anything that is beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation. Ghosts, UFOs, cryptids and extraterrestrial life all fall under this category. Anyone who claims to be a paranormal investigator should be open to investigating and exploring all forms of unexplained phenomena – regardless of his/her personal doubts or beliefs. Furthermore, just because a place has reported paranormal activity does not make that place haunted. Rather, it indicates that there is activity going on that has yet to be explained.
Ghosts Are Only Active at Night
This is perhaps the most common misconception. Nearly every mainstream ghost hunting show depicts investigations that are conducted at night and/or in total darkness. While there are many reasons to conduct an investigation at night – less interference with the outside world, some locations are only open to investigations after business hours, eliminating the amount of light will in turn eliminate potential sources of shadows, etc. – most reported paranormal activity occurs during the day or with the lights on.
Only Old, Abandon Buildings are Haunted
We’ve all seen the films, so we know that any old Victorian house with broken windows, cobwebs and creaky doors is haunted. Right? Wrong. These houses may seem creepy, but that does not mean they are full of ghostly activity. While areas with long histories of violent murders or tragedies frequently do report hauntings, a location with no history of death or violence can be haunted simply because a spirit feels an attachment to the location. Any location, item or person can attract spirits. For example, it is quite common for homeowners to bring an old, antique piece of furniture into their home and shortly after, start experiencing activity. In these cases, it is not their home that is haunted, but the object itself.
If You Go to A Reportedly Haunted Location You Will Witness Activity
For many paranormal investigators, this can be the most frustrating of misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, most investigators will go on numerous investigations before he or she experiences anything at all. False alarms are a common occurrence when exploring the paranormal. Everything from poor electric wiring to household pets can be mistaken for paranormal phenomena. Just because a location is deemed or rumored to be haunted does not mean it is. Furthermore, activity is not guaranteed even in locations where documented evidence has been captured. It takes a large amount of energy for spirits to manifest in way that we can see or interact with. As a result, these experiences are rare and require a large amount of patience. Simply put, spirits do not appear on command.
Parapsychology Is Not a Real Science
Many people believe that the study of the paranormal is based simply on evidence gathered by amateur filmmakers. While no definitive proof of otherworldly, paranormal phenomena has ever been found, there are a number of highly respected parapsychologists who are making great advancements in the paranormal field. For years these parapsychologists have studied people’s claims of paranormal experiences using established scientific methods and laboratory methodologies. They have researched scientific explanations of what could have caused such experiences and have even applied laboratory research on ESP and psychokinesis to their field investigations. Some parapsychologists, like Dr. Barry Taff, are world-renowned scientists who have consulted for the CIA, FBI and NSA.
You Either Have to Be a Skeptic or a Believer
It is incredibly important to understand that not everyone in the paranormal field is a believer. A healthy dose of skepticism is necessary to debunk claims of activity and offer real explanations for what is happening. An investigator’s primary job is to first and foremost be a skeptic. Many claims of activity can simply be explained away and disproved. Once there is no logical or scientific explanation for the activity, then you have something paranormal, or outside the realm of normal experience.
On the flip side, being a believer does not make you gullible or illogical. There are many reasons for a person to believe - first hand experiences, evidence that cannot be explained through science or logic, personal religious beliefs, etc. Just because someone is a believer does not mean they will not or cannot take a skeptical approach. Good paranormal investigators should stand in the middle of belief and skepticism.
The Paranormal Fascination Is New
Interest in the paranormal has been around since the beginning of time, however it wasn’t until the 1800s that psychologists and philosophers, like William James, began to risk their reputations in order to study paranormal phenomena. In 1882, the Society for Psychical Research was founded. This was the first established organization to use scientific principles to study paranormal phenomena.
With the introduction of spiritualism, paranormal interest peaked in the United States in 1840s. At this time, it was very common for large groups to gather in homes or public auditoriums in an attempt to communicate with the dead. Even celebrities, like Mark Twain, were known for attending such séances. This fascination also went well beyond ghosts. During this time period, more and more UFO sightings were being recorded across the United States. Even future president Teddy Roosevelt wrote of an encounter with a bigfoot like creature in 1893.
Interest in the paranormal is as strong today as it was in the 1800s. While paranormal groups continue to form all across America, colleges and universities have also begun taking a more serious interest in the paranormal. Over 20 universities in the UK offer extensive courses in parapsychology and just last spring, the University of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia-based Ivy League university, formed the Penn Ghost Project, a paranormal research group comprised of faculty members from diverse disciplines.
Articles for investigators, researchers, paranormal enthusiasts and curious minds.