I'm struck by how casually most folks talk about - for lack of a better word, let us say - paranormal experiences. I was reading another blog yesterday concerning Alzheimer's Disease, and the lady who was detailing her experiences with a family member who had been afflicted with and eventually died from the disease mentioned ghostly experiences from her childhood. In no way was this the overall point she was making, merely a discussion of certain childhood memories that were taken for granted.
Of course as long time readers of my blog know, I was raised in a Pentecostal form of Christianity, where the Holy Ghost was routinely "poured out" upon eager seekers, manifesting itself in the forms of speaking in tongues, interpretation of those tongues, "dancing in the spirit," visions, prophetic dreams, and a very vivid demonology and angelology. Much of it I consider now as absolutely absurd. Then there were those uncanny things that are a bit more striking and if pressed for a naturalistic explanation I can only invoke the catchall of coincidence.
When I was a youngster one of my hobbies (besides reading) was magic. Thus, Houdini became a hero of mine, especially after I saw Tony Curtis' portrayal of him in that eponymous movie. I had I don't know how many books about the life of Houdini, and of course the last portion of his life was devoted to exposure of fraud in Spiritualism. I guess he was the Randi of his day, and in fact James Randi was inspired by him in his own career, both as magician and skeptic.
Well, from my study of Houdini and my sympathetic background to the religion of Spiritualism because of my own religious worldview, I was led to read more about the scientific study of Spiritualism. Interesting study, although its popularity waned as the twentieth century wore on and is quite in ill favor among the scientific-minded people of this day.
Yet still the common man and woman, I've noticed, have tons of lore about ghostly tales and paranormal experiences. What's more troubling to me is that I have had more than a few of these experiences in my life. That creates a bit of unrest within me because I slowly moved in my twenties from a supernatural world view to a naturalistic one. I tend to view my personal experience and those others have shared with me in the light of certain psychological ideas.
The problem with all this anecdotal "evidence" is that it isn't scientifically verifiable. I was once very close to a lady who suffered from schizophrenia. I saw witnessed her having hallucinations, witnessed her occasional almost total inability to distinguish between reality from unreality. Her world was occasionally filled with people and things that weren't "out there" - or least if they were I couldn't hear and see them.
My care for my father and his stroke-damaged brain was a study in hallucination and distorted reality in itself. Yet never did he waver from his conviction that the strange world he had entered was not real and that the things he saw, heard and experience were real.
Still, despite the problems with anecdotal "evidence," when one experiences these kinds of things first hand, they seem very compelling, especially when one has no known pathological brain conditions. And if one has a religious worldview that allows for the supernatural, experiences such as these don't cause a terrible conflict with reality as represented in the modern scientific worldview because science studies the natural and can thus neither confirm nor deny the supernatural.
Every reasonable person knows our senses can mislead us sometimes and for a variety of reasons. And memories are notoriously unreliable and subject to revision. For instance, I saw my first "ghost" when I was 8 years old and it was pointed out to me (curiously enough) by my six-years-older brother. All these years later I'm not certain if I saw what I "remember" seeing: a formless but clearly distinct faint green mist hovering over the floor gas heat unit. This occurred in a darkened room in the early morning hours before the sun was up. I don't put great stock in this memory, but it has had great staying power with me!
It isn't the only "ghost" I ever saw. One of my sightings occurred in a fully lit room. But that is a tale for another time. As it is I have run quite long with this post and didn't even get around to the hotly debated subject of UFOs.
Nevertheless, despite the problems with these fantastic anecdotes, the thing that holds my interest about this subject is the fact they are universal. And so many people all over the world have seen so many strange and ghostly things for at least as long as there has been recorded history. Mythology and folklore are made up of such things, and if it isn't evidence of an existent spiritual dimension, then it strongly suggests to me something at least similar to what Jung termed the collective unconscious.
Would any of my readers care to weigh in on this topic?