Monday, August 27, 2012

Parapsychology and psychology; madness and the paranormal

Listening to Loyd Auerbach on a recent podcast somewhere, I marveled at how such a rational, objective researcher could be involved with the paranormal... until realizing that while he is a parapsychologist, he is not, necessarily, a paranormalist. Still, he observed that parapsychology is essentially a social science... i.e., not a physical science. As such, it examines human perception and behavior. And I can understand why mainstream psychology does not become involved with the para end of things. Psychology fought like the dickens for years to be considered a "real" science, and with the burning at the stake of rationalists by belief zealots within historical memory, science strives to maintain a safe distance from irrational believers.

Still, I think that there's a bridge somewhere here, but I haven't yet figured out what it means. It's one that is almost never noticed by paranormalists, except in a dismissive way. Otherwise, the connection is discretely ignored: the overlap between several common psychiatric disorders, and the accounts of some of the more fringe paranormalists.

Does this mean that people who, for example, detail intricate and terrifying encounters with "aliens" (uncorroborated by others) mentally ill? Not necessarily. What about those who adamantly claim to channel Archangel Gabriel? What about the conspiracists who frequent "Coast" with warnings about "government" spooks that harass experiencers with mind control devices? Should we accept their testimony at face value, or rather, at least make reference to mainstream scientific descriptions of psychopathology?

I'm not arguing that "real" supernatural or paranormal encounters are evidence of mental illness--but some of them might be. I'm not even arguing that mental illness is at the root of paranormal experiences, even though that's possible, too. But I do think that total immersion into the anti-structural world of the paranormal might result in some psychological damage.

In other news: About a third of the way through "Flipside: A Tourist's Guide on How to Navigate the Afterlife," someone (either the author or an interviewee) recounts a past lifetime memory of his death in the gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen during World War Two. Problem is, there were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, an easily checkable historical fact. So, what was the accountant "remembering"?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I actually hope that the global warming skeptics are right, but I'm afraid they're not.

I recently caught the "Coast" interview with Dr. Roy Spencer, who I guess would describe himself as a global warming skeptic. I was impressed with his argument which, on the surface, is reasonable: that we can't demonstrate a strong causal link between the rise of atmospheric CO2, and the apparent rise in relative temperatures in the Northern hemisphere. I personally "believe" in science and I am willing to be persuaded by a well-reasoned scientific argument... And as Dr. Spencer made his case, I found myself rooting for him. But I was ultimately unpersuaded, for a couple of simple but profound reasons.

First, I think that the "global warming" debate is mis-framed. The issue is not that the "rise in CO2 levels is causing the weather to get hotter." To me, the issue is that "the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels is resulting in unforeseeable but damaging changes to the ecosphere." Example: a measurable increase in oceanic acidity, due to the declining inability of the oceans to absorb increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2. This increase in acidity has been linked to coral reef die-offs and other imbalances in the ocean. The most apparent explanation for this phenomenon is the increase in atmospheric CO2, which, presumably, did not rise all by itself.

Second, the sea level is also rising, noticeably, and this is already causing problems along the American east coast, as salt water is encroaching onto the mainland and killing off coastal grasslands. The simplest (as in Occam's razor) explanation for this sea level rise is offered by the global warming "proponents."

Fundamentally, the increase in relative temperatures predicted by the global warming models is the least of our concerns. Even the debatable increase in "weird weather" is not especially problematic (although this is predicted by the same models). But if the oceans die, then so do we. And if the sea levels rise precipitously, civilization will be affected.

Ultra-hot summers and squirrelly weather events tend to alarm global warming believers, because they intuitively recognize them as harbingers of events more ominous. The skeptics would do an invaluable service to the world by furnishing irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A miscellanea of things

I debated all day about whether to comment on the arrest of Dr. Melvin Morse for the alleged abuse of his 11-year-old daughter.  Dr. Morse is well-known in metaphysical circles, appearing regularly on "Coast." I've listened to his interviews... I have a book or two of his. A pediatrician, his specialty has been the study of he near-death experiences of children.  He's done good work.  If in fact he is proven guilty of child abuse, does this invalidate his research in NDEs?  Not really, I don't think, but I have to wonder how it is possible that he same man who wrote:

I began my career in Critical Care Medicine. I cared for hundreds of critically ill children, while working for Air Lift Northwest. Most of these children died. My goal is nothing less than to change our current culture so when parents have visions or intuitions about their child who has died, they trust and believe their own spiritual experiences.

...could have "grabbed his 11-year-old daughter by the ankle, dragged her across their gravel driveway, brought her inside his home and began spanking her.... [The daughter] told police her father held her face under a running faucet, causing water to go up her nose and all over her face."

Now, it is possible that there's much more to this story than is sketched out in the mainstream press. Still, I can't conceive of any circumstance that would push a father to punish a child in this manner, except maybe one: alcohol.  My suspicion is reinforced by the behavior of the mother, Pauline, who witnessed the acts of abuse but stood back and did nothing--stereotypical enabling behavior.

This story--if factually reported--is not quite like that the priest caught abusing choirboys, or the televangelist consorting with floozies. There is nothing about the current "consciousness movement" that requires a person to behave in any particular way, except to follow one's highest ideal.  So I really don't think this invalidates Dr. Morse's research (although it does much to discredit it).

In my life, I've known such a man as Dr. Morse. He was highly intelligent, gifted, and spiritually sophisticated.  His children regarded him with a mixture of awe and terror. After he died, he appeared to me (and many others) in dreams, dropping bits of wisdom about the after-death state. He was a good man when sober, but he was an alcoholic, and when drunk, he viciously beat his daughters while their mother pretended not to see.  He was my grandfather.  I never worshipped him like my cousins did. Instead, as a teen, I was disgusted by him, and continued to condemn him until my own life experiences knocked some sense into me.

I now believe that my contempt of him then was a greater sin than his alcoholism.  I view him now with understanding and compassion.  He could not help his addiction, but I have since learned that we become what we detest in others. So I am mixed about the story of Dr. Morse.  I am reluctant to cast any stones, yet.  I will wait until the invariable "confession" of "troubles" and "personal failings" required by our culture, along with the requisite stint in rehab, with maybe a weekend of picking up of trash along the Interstate.  We'll roll our eyes, and Dr. Morse will move on.  His children, however, may not.