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"?

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