Paranormal investigators say they look for evidence of paranormal activity. That phrase always confounded me. I don’t quite get it. What does it mean when someone says they have evidence of “paranormal activity”? And, how do you know it’s not normal activity that you just couldn’t ferret out?
There is a problem with how the word paranormal is used because it is often utilized in a way that is perhaps not consistent with the original intent.
Language evolves. Let me take a shot at unpacking some of these definitions about unexplained phenomena. See if it makes sense.
“Paranormal” and other terms for strange goings-on have changed over time. The word paranormal was coined around 1920. It means “beside, above or beyond normal.” Therefore, it’s anything that isn’t “normal” — or, more precisely, it is used as a label for any phenomenon that appears to defy scientific understanding. Ok, right there is a tripping point. Whose scientific understanding? The observer who is calling it “paranormal”? If so, that is problematic as a theoretical physicist sees things a lot differently than a dentist or a police officer. So, it appears too subjective to be precise. Each person may have their own idea of what constitutes “paranormal activity”.
The term “paranormal” used to just mean extrasensory perception and psychic power but, since the 1970s in particular — thanks to TV shows and proliferation of the subject in popular culture — the term expanded in scope to include all mysterious phenomena seemingly shunned by standard scientific study. It was a convenient way to bring many similarly peculiar topics under one heading for ease of marketing. So today, it can include everything that sounds mysterious: UFOs, hauntings, monster sightings, strange disappearances, anomalous natural phenomena, coincidences, as well as psychic powers.
Not everyone agrees that fields of study such as UFOlogy or cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster and the like) should be considered paranormal but, if we think about the fact that after all this time, we have yet to document what these things actually are, that is beyond normal. Therefore, paranormal (arguably).
What appears as paranormal could essentially one day become normal. This has happened before with meteorites and still mysterious but likely explainable earthquakes lights and ball lightning. Or, we might not have developed the right technology or made the philosophical breakthrough yet to provide an explanation for some seemingly paranormal events. Perhaps we may find an instrument that can measure whatever it is that results in “hauntings” of a particular type. (Notice that I didn’t say an instrument that detects ghosts — an important distinction.)
Contrasted with paranormal is “supernatural.” To say something is supernatural is to conclude that the phenomenon operates outside the existing laws of nature. We would call such phenomena . . .
It’s been a hot time for hoaxing thanks to the Internet. With Photoshop, citizen journalism sites, YouTube, and postboards for the latest photo leaks, it is way too easy to send a lie half way around the world before the truth can pull its shoes on.
In this post, I wrote about a busy week in paranormal-themed news. In chatting with a correspondent — Jeb Card, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department of Miami University — over a shared interest in the state of the paranormal today or “occulture,” we got to talking about the state of hoaxing.
Make no mistake, hoaxing has always been around. Hoaxers have been trying to fool people by displaying their special skills (scams) or stupendous stories since the beginning of civilization, I think. But there is a particular history of hoaxing in occulture. Lately, it has gotten more frequent (or we sure notice it more), more absurd (to outdo the last one) and more involved (because the payout can be big while the scrutiny greater).
There are many famous hoaxes from this scene. It’s hard to say if it’s more common now than in the past. Some of the hoaxes, notes Jeb, have been very influential in the creation of popular folklore. Big ones have defined UFOlogy: Roswell and the Men in Black. Not everyone would conclude these are deliberate hoaxes — there is a grain of truth to them — but they went way out of control and now there are hoaxed videos, documents and tales based on these events that never happened the way the lore says it did. Stories like that, which have taken on a life of their own as if they were true, are called “fakelore.”
The Bigfoot field is trampled over with fake footprints, stories, casts, photos and videos. It can’t be denied that the majority of Bigfoot stories are unbelievable, without supporting evidence, or obvious hoaxes. Every new bit of Bigfoot “evidence” these days makes us roll our eyes and say “SERIOUSLY!?” This reputation is damaging to those who truly believe something is out there to be found. The credibility of Bigfoot researchers scrapes the bottom of the barrel. The history of hoaxes colors this topic deeply when we realize that the seminal story of “Bigfoot,” Ray Wallace’s trackway, was revealed to be a hoax.
A longtime follower of the occulture fields, Jeb says he can’t think of a time when these communities weren’t awash with . . .
- Inside Source Claims “Shooting Bigfoot” Documentary Climax is Just a Big Hoax (illuminutti.com)
- Foiled Again: Lake Monster, Bigfoot Body and Alien Humanoid All in One Week (illuminutti.com)
- Where’s the Beef? Thoughts on the Lack of Paranormal Evidence (illuminutti.com)
- List of UFO-related hoaxes (Wikipedia)
- Join Us for Sharon Hill’s Workshop: “I Doubt That: The Media Guide to Skepticism” (randi.org)
- Yet Another Sylvia Browne Fiasco (randi.org)
- The Internet: A Superhighway of Paranormal Hoaxes and Fakelore. (zedie.wordpress.com)
- Score: Aliens-1 Bigfoot-0 (yankeeskeptic.com)
- The Loch Ness Monster Search & Bigfoot Mystery (disclose.tv)
- Rumors, hoaxes and myths of the week, then I tell you how to sort through it (idoubtit.wordpress.com)
- Friends spreading Internet hoaxes? How to make them stop (today.com)
Citizen Hearing on Disclosure: ET Believers To Get Congressional-Style Grilling From Former Lawmakers
Are we alone in the universe? Could UFO sightings actually be extraterrestrial spacecraft?
We ask these questions every day, especially on HuffPost Weird News, but now, four former lawmakers are about to open up the discussion to a congressional-style grilling.
The former federal legislators will convene in Washington, D.C. later this month and hold a serious meeting on the subject, called the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure. They’ll hear some 30 hours of testimony from researchers, military personnel and witnesses, all claiming to have proof of alien life.
Don’t worry, taxpayers, this isn’t an official meeting at the public’s expense. But it’s meant to focus public opinion.
The man organizing this event — Stephen Bassett of the Paradigm Research Group — is essentially a lobbyist for extraterrestrial issues.
The retired representatives will be paid, but they won’t be speaking to the press. That said, having a pseudo-official congressional-style hearing about aliens is an ambitious one, and it’ll all be recorded and released as a documentary.
Some even say that the “truth” will be revealed at the hearing.