Why Do So Many People Believe in the Paranormal?










For a long time, I prided myself on being a rational person.  College did it to me: take one philosophy class, become drunk on the ability to think.  I’m really grateful for that experience, and consider it worth the hefty heap of student loans.  However, I soon became disillusioned with the rational explanations for everything.  I sought answers to things in pseudoscience and mysticism.  I call this my “Grant Morrison” phase, because while it’s embarrassing to admit that one’s whole life view could be changed by comic books, that’s exactly what happened.  Sometimes we have the overwhelming urge to believe what we wish to be true rather than what we know to be true.  What if there really were aliens that existed outside of our dimension?  What if they created time to watch things grow?  These ideas stuck with me, and though I’d never see them repeated in science magazines or, you know, reputable sources, I chose to roll with them.    I started seeing connections in things, and rather than dismissing it as a function of the brain, which is wired to create connections, I saw them as fantastical occurrences, synchronicities that hinted at a future event that I couldn’t predict but somehow had a feeling would happen.

Like I said…yeah.  It’s weird.  It’s also a lot more fun to think that way.  And now, thanks to this article by Richard Wiseman in Scientific American, I can rest easy, knowing full well that I’m not as kooky as I thought I was.  Apparently, according to this article, it just means I’m right-brained.

In a series of experiments that began in the late 1990s, neuropsychologist Peter Brugger of University Hospital Zurich noticed that many of the effects that cause people to think they have experienced paranormal phenomena are associated with the right hemisphere [of the brain]. For example, these individuals tend to value intuitive thinking over rationality and are especially good at perceiving faces where none exist. Brugger speculated that those who regularly undergo seemingly supernatural happenings might have a more dominating right hemisphere.

The article goes on to explain why folks might see ghosts, which is rooted in an evolution: we have to be able to recognize the intricacies of our fellow humans’ faces.  Therefore, we are hypersensitive to anything that even remotely resembles a face.

So, the next time I get an overwhelming sense of the paranormal, I’ll brain myself on the right side.  That’ll clear up all that pesky weirdness.

via Scientific American


10 Responses to Why Do So Many People Believe in the Paranormal?

  1. My general belief's.
    Paranormal – Likely not real but still cool all the same.
    "Aliens not real" – F**k you die in a hole, don't you know how big this universe is?

  2. I got the impression from reading Sciam and Skeptic, and other popular sources that there was no evidence at all for Psi effects. But I picked up this book at a good-will store by Dean Radin. To my surprise the entire book is wall-to-wall analyses and statistical data. Radin goes as far as statistical meta analyses and thoroughly debases the "file drawer problem" stating that in many cases there would need to be upwards of a thousand negative results laying around in file drawers somewhere to offset the positive correlations observed on the papers that were submitted. Radin addresses all the skeptic concerns one by one and does a good job of it. I didn't intend to change my mind on these things, and can't say that I really have, but I've come to realize that skeptics also tend to cherry-pick information and attack "pseudoscience" at its weakest points ignoring the more thoughtful and potentially valid claims of "pseudoscientists".

  3. One of Radin's arguments took some time for me to swallow, but I finally saw his point. He said that Psionics was like batting at baseball. He said a batter who hits a couple of runs each game and strikes out the rest of the time is actually a star player. We don't expect batters to hit the ball every time or in any game of skill. He equates Psionics to a skill similar to batting in baseball and suggests we should not expect even the best Psi practitioners to achieve 100% accuracy or the equivalent of hitting a grand slam every opportunity. At first I rejected this argument on the grounds that Psionics could not be a skill, but I was reluctantly made to agree when I realized that skill is generally the case when a brain acts as determinant over the flow of causation. Billiard balls clacking into each other takes no skill, you can predict it with flawless accuracy, but you cannot predict that a pro will sink the 8-ball off the break every game, even if the pro has practiced such a move. The book is called "The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena" by Dean Radin.

  4. It may also be worth noting that the bulk of Radin's book is statistical metaanalyses and this is a classical "right-brain" function. It will be very hard to see where Radin has gone soft in this book or shifted into "left-brain" thinking. It should also be noted that the whole duality of left and right brain is oversimplified, a charicature of actual brain structure. It's almost always the case that when someone starts talking about sides of the brain that they are operating on a 30 year old knowledge of the brain. If they invoke the Triune brain model and start talking about the R-Complex, they are going back 40-50 years in neurology. Before the dualistic left-right brain model took over the Triune model was popular among armchair neurologists. They each have their merits, but neither is a good model for deduction.

  5. To be honest I've always taken the view that the universe is weird enough without inventing our own fairy tales and then trying like hell to prove that they're true.g that can be dreamed up by people's imagination and labeled "Paranormal."

    Why dream up something as boring as a ghost when we have a whole big beautiful cosmos out there containing more weirdness than anybody could ever be tired with?

  6. I don't know why you'd be surprised to find a book claiming psi is real. I guarantee you that I can walk in to a goodwill today and find a book claiming evidence that dinosaurs walked with humans. In my area there's a good chance I could find a book saying dinosaurs never actually existed. I'd suggest you try to confirm Radin's data through legitimate sources. That should be the first step.
    In addition, the baseball analogy is more than a little specious. No one is looking for 100% accuracy. They're looking for statistical significance, which is just higher than could be expected from sheer chance. These are not "arm chair neurologists" we're talking about.
    And to a couple of the comments above, no reputable thinker will claim that there is no such thing as alien life. It's the idea that they visit us that lacks evidence.

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