Sunday, July 01, 2012

What Is To Come

Frankie Robertson, a member of my local RWA chapter, gave a talk on paranormal investigation at our last meeting. For a period of time, Frankie and her husband belonged to a group that investigated reports of hauntings and apparitions (there's a difference). She described how they would go into a location and separate, each person going into rooms individually so that they could experience whatever might be occurring uninfluenced by other members of the team.

A self-avowed skeptic, she didn't experience a lot of the things some of the other sensitives did. She was also very aware of how experiences could be "contaminated" by events surrounding the investigation. For example, if you're reading a book about a ghost right before you go to sleep and, in the middle of the night a ghost wakes you up and speaks to you, there's a good chance the experience was a dream caused by your pre-bedtime reading material.

That's not to say she never experienced anything. However, she was aware that certain phenomena could be induced by stimulating specific areas of the brain with an electrical current. So she questioned whether what she experienced was real or just a momentary lightning storm in her brain. When she mentioned this to one of the others, that investigator said, "Just because you smell bacon when a scientist sends electricity through your brain doesn't mean there is no such thing as bacon."

Parapsychology was included as a subset of paranormal in Frankie's talk. I hadn't thought of Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), which includes telekinesis, precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance as paranormal, but I suppose they are. As a teenager, I was fascinated by these abilities. I had experienced bits of precognition in my own life, like knowing the telephone was going to ring seconds before it actually did, and felt that there had to be something factual to it. I suppose I also wanted to be able to see the future more clearly or move objects across a table with my mind. Definitely the fantasy of a girl without athletic abilities, but with a higher than normal IQ.

I did my senior term paper on J.B. Rhine and his studies into parapsychology at Duke University. Most of these centered around telepathy, which he tested using a deck of Zener cards.

The researcher would stare at the image on the card and the subject would attempt to "see" what the researcher was looking at. Statistically, there's a one in five chance of the subject guessing the correct symbol. Anything more than twenty percent accuracy was taken as evidence of the subject "reading the mind" of the researcher.


Near death experiences (NDE) are another form of paranormal phenomena. Coincidentally, just the previous weekend, my church had Heavenly Harp perform at a service. Karin Gunderson works at a hospice facility, playing music and providing comfort to those who are close to death. With her daughter, she played and sang some beautiful hymns. She also told some amazing stories that touched all of us.

We've all heard stories of what people who have been died, then come back to life, have experienced. A bright light. Loved ones who have gone on before us. A sense of peace and joy. Karin told stories about this, too, from the people she has worked with. Even an atheist saw Jesus beckoning to him from the other side of a stream.

Okay, but the brain undergoes a lot of changes when a person is dying. It's possible that the phenomena people report from NDE are triggered by random electrical impulses, drugs given to ease the pain of terminal cancer, natural chemicals released by the body.

Possible, yes. But maybe it's like the smell of bacon. I prefer to believe that the visions people see, while they might be explained by other things, really do exist.
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