Recently I read some comments on social media in which a reader was arguing that the idea of a scientific study of paranormal events was not only contradictory, but impossible. This is topic that is very close to home for me as my group is primarily focused on objective scientific observation of paranormal events. While my immediate reflex was to debate the merit of his statement, ultimately I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my thoughts on the subject before going any further with the conversation. And while my broad ideas on the topic are pretty much the same as when I started, I was able to finer tune some of the points I really wanted to highlight.
To start with, there’s much of his statement that is true and I feel like I actually agree with what I believe his intended meaning was. Paranormal activity is in fact describing events that lie outside the current scope of what current science understands. For something to be paranormal it means that it absolutely cannot be explained with a rational scientific explanation. It’s this understanding of the meaning that I feel makes most people defensive when you offer rational explanations to their experiences. Proof or not, a rational explanation threatens the validity of what someone would consider a fantastic event. However, as history has shown, as science moves forward and advances less and less previously thought “paranormal” events will be considered supernatural in nature.
I’ve often times quoted Clarke’s third law on the subject and I think it still rings true. The things we don’t understand will always mystify us. But, the idea that using science to explain these things being a futile effort, disappoints me on many levels. There are many things in the not so distant past that we simply didn’t understand how they worked. But, if we had not put in the time and effort to think of ways to test those things we never would have developed and understanding of them. To throw our hands up and say to ourselves that it simply can’t be done is no way to look at the problem at all.
The main issue that any respectable scientist or researcher will have with paranormal investigation is going to be the lack of a control. In every experiment a control must be established. With the paranormal you are dealing with the unknown. It may seem at first glance that it would be impossible to establish control over the environment or even to interpret the results. For example: You have a device with a blinky light that reacts to static charge in the air. Your hypothesis is that spirits in the area might create fluctuations in the environment. Sometimes it blinks when you ask ghosts to make it blink, sometimes it doesn’t. To the same effect it reacts the same whether you ask spirits to make it do it or not. That would be a clear lack of control and there’s nothing about those results that I could validate scientifically. Static fluctuations happen all the time in completely random patterns depending on the environment. The only thing you have proved is that you can make a light blink.
However, giving up at that point is not the solution. Evaluate what the holes in your experiment were and work backwards. Find a way to establish a control. In this same example create a controlled environment. While it may sound hard at first, a logical thinker would realize that reducing the size of the environment would make the control much easier. Plastic is a good insulator against electrical charge. In theory we could repeat this experiment by placing this device in a small acrylic box that can be sealed off from the outside air fluctuations. We could even ground the box to further prevent outside interference. Furthermore we can test this setup in multiple environments over time to make sure that the instances of random occurrences are eliminated or at the very least minimized to a less than five percent error rate. Once we have taken the steps of establishing a reliable control, then we can begin the experiment. At this point I would find it acceptable to take this setup into an “active” environment and begin the process of looking for intelligent manipulation of the device.
And while the steps above may not be fool proof, I stand by the idea that it’s thinking in the right direction. Even if the experiment is a success you cannot say for sure that it was a spirit. However you can say that there is a strong possibility that static fields within your controlled environment of that box could be manipulated on command. And once you have the proof to back that claim, then we are free to theorize what that could mean. Science is an endless expanse of possibility and through it we can only learn more.
I have been called closed minded simply for being skeptical of evidence that I felt had plenty of plausible explanations. Just because I choose to examine the facts of an event does not mean that I am closed off from the idea that paranormal or supernatural things exist. However, to completely shut down the idea that science could aid us in the understanding of the unknown, in my mind at least, is even more closed minded than my desire to find truth.
So, the definition of paranormal indicates that something is an experience that lies outside the range of normal experiences or scientific understanding; it is not to be assumed that one day some of them might be. The only crime would be in not trying.