Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'm Baa-ack...

After taking a prolonged break from Creepy Corners, I've had a few friends convince me to come back.  I was hesitant because frankly, it's disheartening when I, and others like me, share information which is easily accessible and verifiable, yet it hasn't made much of a dent in the so-called paranormal field.  New ghost hunting groups and TV shows continue to crop up and mislead people with bogus "evidence" and whats worse, the general public seems more willing to eat it up rather than to use critical thinking skills and accept rational explanations.  Moreover, if you offer rational explanations to supposed paranormal events, it is often met with scorn and sometimes outright hostility. (I've have friends who have been threatened with harassment charges and/or being sued just for questioning some self-proclaimed paranormal experts' claims!)

As I mentioned in my post Ghosts and Pop Culture, many misconceptions about ghosts and the paranormal are ingrained in the public's subconscious.  During my Halloween spooky movie binge, I watched many movies, some dating back to the 1930's, with the same familiar recurring formula: a violent or sudden death = an angry ghost seeking vengeance on the living.  A scientist with fancy gadgets talking about "vibrations" and "energy" comes in to help, usually accompanied by a "respected" (AKA "the real deal") medium.  They discover the spirit's problem is and solve it so it "moves on"and everyone's happy. This theme is so deeply embedded in our pop culture, that many people blindly accept it as fact and get upset when presented with facts that challenge or disprove these unfounded notions.  I've been questioned why do I care if people believe in such things.  Honestly, if people are keeping their beliefs to themselves, I don't.  But if people are presenting certain things as FACT, in a public forum, or presenting themselves as "experts" and "educating" others on such topics, then I feel a need to speak up against blatant misinformation.

Several months ago, I was in the hair salon when the discussion turned to how a body of a missing woman had finally been found after twenty years.  Her car, with her remains inside, was found in a deep part of a large river, one used for commercial shipping.  One woman remarked that she remembered a local psychic saying the missing woman would be found in water, and felt this was "confirmation" of the psychic's abilities.  I disagreed, explaining that the psychic never mentioned any specific body of water, let alone that particular river, which might have been useful before 20 years had passed.  Furthermore, if her body was found in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I'd might be impressed, but it was found in a region where there is a large river emptying out into one of the Great Lakes, surrounded by multiple lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, etc.  It's a wet region, so it is not at all unlikely that a missing car and body would be found in water.  My rational answer wasn't met with any counter arguments or facts, just angry rolls of the eyes and shakes of the head.  The subject was abruptly changed.

A while back, an ghost hunter acquaintance proclaimed that while he's a skeptic, he can't deny the "unexplainable" things that he's seen with his own eyes.  (Newsflash: then you're not really a skeptic, buddy.)  I provided links to articles about visual misperceptions caused by physiological or environmental factors.  He completely dismissed these out of hand, arguing that other people have had experiences at the same location.  I explained that if it was an environmental factor, such as infrasound, it could affect more than one person.  But he held fast to his belief that he experienced something paranormal.  Here's where I'd like to address a pet peeve of mine:  many accuse skeptics of being "closed minded", often by people who don't really understand what the term skeptic means.  In the conversation above, this person, even when presented with objective information, would not accept the possibility that his experience could have been caused by something non-paranormal.  So who's the closed-minded one again?  Also, any true skeptic would know that jumping to the conclusion that something "unexplainable" must be paranormal is not scientific nor rational.  Remember, this is a ghost hunter who goes into people's homes to "help".

Before Halloween, I was visiting a nostalgic Facebook page for my hometown.  Someone posted pictures of the interior of an abandoned theater.  Having been in disrepair for some time, there is a lot of dust around, and therefore, "orbs" were in the picture. Inevitably, someone I will describe as a paranormal enthusiast mentioned the orbs and so another woman asked what they are.  The enthusiast answered that they are spirits of dead people and other psychic phenomena.  Yeppers.  So being the spoil sport that I am, I posted several links to articles with scientific explanations that orbs are really airborne particles.  My response got a few likes.  The enthusiast answered back how there are several stories of what orbs are and she chooses to believe that there are things around us of a spiritual nature, blah blah blah, but offered no objective information to challenge the fact that they are just airborne particles.  (Just an aside: I never once asserted there are no such things as ghosts, just that orbs have a natural explanation.)  No surprisingly, her response got more likes than mine, including a "Cool, thank you!" from the woman who asked her what orbs are.  The scariest part of this exchange?  The woman accepting the cool ghostie answer - which has repeatedly been debunked by photography experts and camera manufactures for years now - was running for school board! Yikes!

*SPOILER ALERT:  There are Season 5 "Walking Dead" spoilers contained in this paragraph.* Recently, there was an episode on "The Walking Dead" where Eugene, a scientist who was being protected by a former soldier for his knowledge that could save the world, admitted he lied.  He was not a scientist, nor did he have the answer to cure the infected.  Members of the group of survivors seemed shocked because he "sounded smart" and "knew things."   Even without reading the comics, I had him pegged as a fake right away.  Eugene reminded me of many ghost hunters I've met over the years.  They sound smart, using science-y terminology, using science-y gadgets when in actuality, they have no formal scientific training or education.  They know enough to "pass" as knowledgeable to those who have little to no understanding of topics like electromagnetic fields, acoustics, photography, etc.  And before anyone else accuses me of  "just out to bash ghost hunters",  let me be clear:  I once blindly believed so-called paranormal "experts" because I hadn't taken the time to learn more about these subjects myself, and I wanted to believe them.  Unfortunately, it is much more appealing for people to believe false "evidence" of ghosts rather than natural explanations. So sadly, as we've seen from the few of my encounters above, too many people will choose to believe the Eugenes of the paranormal community.  It continues to be an uphill battle for those of us trying to promote science and critical thinking in paranormal research.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Want To Believe

Because I often suggest possible explanations to paranormal claims, some people think I've become a cynic who doubts ghosts and other paranormal phenomena exist.  The truth, however, is this:  I don't know.   Have I seen any hard evidence that will convince me it does?  Not yet.  Have I experienced things that make me believe it is possible?  Yes.  But, as I've said before, belief is not fact, and it would be hypocritical of me to assert these experiences as such. 

This past year has brought about a transition of how I approach the paranormal.  As readers of this blog and my book know, I used to believe claims at face value.  I was raised in a family that practiced a faith promising eternal life and most of my real-world friends shared those beliefs.  Those who've read my book know my grandmother's experience that she told me about when I was a little girl.  Later, I initially approached paranormal "investigating" (i.e., ghost hunting) based on them.  

Then a few years ago I met people who were knowledgable in areas (such as psychology, electronics, accoustics, photography, physiology, etc.)  that could offer likely natural explanations about paranormal experiences.  After researching in this direction for myself, I came to doubt most claims had any supernatural origin.  I admit, this created some cognitive dissonance for me, as it was hard for me to set aside a set of beliefs I adhered to for four decades.

I have several friends and family who despite have degrees in sciences including psychology, chemistry, engineering, they still have strong spiritual beliefs, including ghosts.  Some told me they won't read my blog or book. Why?  Because they admit they want their beliefs to remain intact.  That is why I try to remain respectful of other's spiritual beliefs.  To some of my more skeptic friends' irritation, I also give some ghost hunters a "pass" if they disclose they are metaphysical and not "scientific" - and as long as they don't charge.  Psychologists have asserted that we are more comfortable believing than accepting any information which may challenge our beliefs.  I now know how true that is.

A year ago this month, my elderly dad suddenly became ill  and needed intensive care.  Our family had to make the difficult choice that he be cared for in a facility.  Even though I knew this time would be coming, I felt like the foundation that makes me who I am was crumbling away.   I became much less interested in the dead and more invested in the living.  

I am reminded how a few years ago, a popular ghost hunting show profiled The USS Yorktown.  My dad served on this ship during WWII.  After watching the first few minutes, I had to turn it off.  I felt sick inside because some of the spirits the cast was trying to communicate with were my father's buddies who died so young, away from their loved ones.   For the rest of his life, my father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to some horrific experiences in that war.  Suddenly, I felt an enormous guilt for all the times I went ghost hunting, asking for a sign of "someone's" presence.  Ghost hunters may rationalize that they are doing this for "research" or "to help", but honestly, it is also form of entertainment for them.  It upsets me to think that if spirits do exist and are able to revisit important locations from their lives, that my dad would run into some yahoo with an KII and a flashlight just trying to get some thrills.  Anyway, I didn't know it at the time, but my dad also watched that episode.   Luckily, he just laughed it off because he said they got facts about his ship wrong so he couldn't take it seriously.   

My father passed away three weeks ago.  Watching the strong, willful man I always knew deteriorate to a frail bed-ridden shell of himself was utterly heart-breaking.  During this time, family, friends and nurses assured me he was going to a better place and that he knows all the words I held in my heart and meant to tell him.  What struck me is how jealous I was of those people who knew - know - this.  Their belief is so strong, with no room for the slightest doubt.  And they are comforted in it.  

So I want to believe, and I choose to believe for the sake of my emotional well-being, that my father is at peace and is still with me in some form.  Don't worry, I'm not going to see Dad in dust particles in photos (as he was a professional photographer, he wouldn't approve anyway, haha). And I will continue to demand critical thinking in paranormal research - especially from those who go into people's homes to "help". But if I have an experience that supports this for me, then I will embrace it and cherish it.  However, I won't share it. Not just because I understand I could never present it as evidence. But because, as I've said before, if we truly have faith in our beliefs, then we don't need any proof.