Thursday, August 11, 2011

Presenting the amazing...paranormal escalator!

Props goes to fellow forum member, Cú Chulainn, for sharing a fascinating article on the way (alleged) paranormal phenomena can morph from witness to media.

Maurice Townsend's 'The paranormal escalator' illustrates the need to pay close attention to an eyewitness's original testimony. Go back to the source. It's easy for an original account to morph into something else, especially when overlaid with paranormal assumptions and interpretations on the alleged sightings in question. Benjamin Radford depicts this scenario in Scientific paranormal investigation: how to solve unexplained mysteries (Coralles, N.M.: Rhombus Publishing Company, 2010):
"I saw a Bigfoot."
"How do you know it was a Bigfoot?"
"It was large and dark and hairy and standing on two legs."
"Okay, so you saw something large, dark, hairy, and standing on two legs. But no one knows for certain what a Bigfoot is. So how can you positively identify what you saw as a Bigfoot?" (p. 21)
This supernatural presumption is a hallmark of paranormal investigation. The 'answer' is often pre-determined, despite the use of scientific equipment to make the investigation seem 'legit'. Radford discusses the 'logic' behind this and why it's inherently faulty:
Some people believe that paranormal phenomena are inherently unknowable . . . I have encountered the same position elsewhere; during a haunted house investigation in California for a TV show, I had a friendly discussion with a member of a ghost hunting group. I asked him why the evidence for ghosts never seemed to get any better, and he replied that ghosts were scientifically unprovable. I pointed out that his team . . . had brought with them a huge van full of thousands of dollars' worth of cameras, EMF detectors, and ghost hunting gadgets of all descriptions. What was the point of all that, I asked him? If he was certain that ghosts existed—and he was equally certain that their presence could not be scientifically measured—then all the high tech equipment they used was by definition worthless (pp. 53—4).
In other words, be wary of 'scientific evidence' of the paranormal and those who claim to have it! Especially when 'magical' elements rear their head during supposedly 'serious' investigations:
There are certain methods I can't really talk about. But the Society get together to form a psychic chain and direct the psychic energy towards the person in question., a bit like an exorcism. We very rarely do this unless its a very serious case, and this was a very serious case.
Though, when you think about it, if the paranormal can be examined through scientific means, then is it truly paranormal? Is it really supernatural? After all, if such phenomena can be 'measured' and demonstrated, consistently, doesn't that just make it natural phenomena yet to be verified with sufficient evidence? But if the evidence thus far isn't sufficient - at least, by scientific standards - then what exactly is being measured in the first place? Round and round we go.

Don't get me wrong. I'm far from discouraging attempts to verify the existence of the supernatural via scientific means. On the contrary: knock yourself out! However, the paranormal, by its very nature, is an 'extraordinary claim' that requires extraordinary evidence. The evidence, itself, must withstand rigorous - but fair and reasoned scrutiny - to justify itself as valid 'evidence'. Every alternate solution should be exhausted before a paranormal explanation is put forth.

When it comes to Highgate, how exactly do we prove that the cemetery was haunted by a vampire, ghost or 'psychic entity'? What is the evidence? To that effect, we are dependent on eyewitness testimony. But, as the 'paranormal escalator' shows, this, in itself, is not sufficient. Therefore, we have to examine the building blocks of which the case is composed. That's one reason I was asking about certain Victorian era sightings.

Essentially, these sightings were being used to 'prove' that the cemetery had been 'latently' haunted and its descriptions paralleled contemporary sightings. If so, let's look at the source. Let's see if they do match or whether the claim was pulled out of thin air or, perhaps clumsily shoehorned into something that didn't quite fit. You can see how that went down.

Therefore, the best approach I advise when examining the vampire/ghost/psychic entity is to examine the way the cases have been composed. What was the evidence the main protagonists used to arrive at their supernatural claims? Does it withstand scrutiny? Have all rational explanations been eliminated? Have the investigators displayed sufficient expertise - or deferred to it - to eliminate rational explanations? Are their accounts consistent? Are their investigative techniques sound? Are they prone to lying and misrepresentation? And so on.

In the meantime, I highly recommend scoring a copy of Radford's book. It's also on Kindle, if you're so inclined.

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