May 30, 2014

Complex Feelings on the Paranormal

"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." F. Scott Fitzgerald 

I constantly feel like I have my feet in two different worlds, and sometimes it gets pretty interesting. I am well-versed in the ways and methodologies of science, although I'm far from a scientist. My formal science education includes too many courses to even remember, all the way through the graduate level. I've been taught everything from diagramming cell structures to various theories in physics and advanced statistical analysis techniques. In my science-based education, I've been taught by people who have firmly believed science has answers for everything, as well as those who recognize its acute limits. 

At the same time, my schooling involved what intellectual snobs would term "soft" courses. These courses did not couch themselves in the scientific method or reasoning, but instead introduced me to alternative ways of thought. Those courses taught me to become comfortable with ambiguity and complex ideas that I only partially understood and that could not be independently tested. 

Now, as a professional, I spend much of my day writing about "concrete" things like science and technology as applied in the real world, plus the ambiguous nature of the paranormal in modern society. Like the quote from Fitzgerald above, I often find myself having discussions and even arguments in my head when it comes to science and the paranormal. It's a complex relationship for me, because I've had too much scientific-based education to genuinely believe that science can answer all of the questions in life. Sure, there are scientists who believe they can, but I view them as no different from religious leaders who claim to be able to do the same. 

The more I learn about the world and universe, the less I feel like I really know. It's probably because I keep butting up against areas where my knowledge is limited or even nonexistent, and I'm okay with admitting that. I've also come to the conclusion that same people do not like to dwell on what they don't understand, so they try to categorize such areas as "unimportant" or "garbage" and move on, eliminating that cognitive dissonance from their psyche. 

I also genuinely don't understand why some people in the paranormal community have the attitude that everything must be validated through scientific methods. The majority of these people have such an infirm grasp on the scientific method and collection practices that it's almost laughable to see them at work. I suppose they also feel that the only way to genuinely prove something is through the might of science. I question whether science will ever validate the existence of a soul, but for the most part I don't really care. I view science as a tool in a large chest I carry around in my mind, something that is useful for the right jobs. 

I don't really blame anyone for thinking that all things paranormal are "bunk" because that's a pretty easy line of thought. Anything we don't understand is easily discarded as pure superstition, but I still think it's lazy thinking. If I hadn't had some of interesting and inexplicable experiences in my own life, I would probably be more apt to think along those lines, though. There have been too many who leverage the paranormal for their own selfish gain, whether it be riches or fame, and that makes me very cautious about believing many purported paranormal events. 

I have to admit that oftentimes I've felt guilty for my complex feelings when it comes to anything paranormal. Often I have competing ideas in my own head, but lately I have run into other people who seem to experience the same "problem."  


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Think how many tax dollars are wasted trying to prove some of those things, too.

Not everything in this world fits neatly in a box. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try to figure it out, but science won't always have the answer.

mshatch said...

Boy can I relate to this! I do believe in science and evolution but there's that little part of me that always wonders whether science can actually prove everything. Isn't it possible that there are some things that can't be measured? Isn't it odd how perfectly this earth of ours is? Maybe like it was designed that way...but then by who? or what?

Interesting post.

Holli Moncrieff said...

Interesting post. I know some people who face the same struggle between science and religion. Can one be a scientist and still be religious?

The museum where I used to work was haunted. We had hundreds of reported sightings, and many of the people affected were staff who were originally afraid to come forward, lest their coworkers make fun of them.

In spite of this, some of the scientists still claimed that there was no such thing..even when they were the ones who had witnessed some of the phenomena.

How is blind faith in "science can explain everything" different from blind faith in anything else?

Annalisa Crawford said...

How much of today's 'science' would have been considered 'paranormal' in the middle ages?

Shah Wharton said...

I enjoy that so much of what's around us, of what we experience is undecipherable, but I still love that people try to decipher it. Human nature is to 'know' and learn, but also to believe, to have faith. I believe there is more in our afterlife than blackness, or heaven and hell. I could be very wrong, but by the time I find out I hope it doesn't much matter. :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Sigh. Your post reminds me of my historical manuscript about Psychical Researchers of the 19th century who tried to prove supernatural abilities through scientific inquiry. That one never found a loving home with a publisher, although I loved the story dearly.

VR Barkowski said...

The real problem is the assumption that we know all there is to know about science and the scientific method, and I don't believe that for one second. The scientific method is, as you say Steven, a tool, and a priceless one. But as someone who spent years researching the dangers of trying to quantify qualitative data, I assure you, the scientific method is not the be all and end all, and it is not perfect. Faith and love are not observable, empirical, or measurable. Does that mean they don't exist? What a sad world this would be.

VR Barkowski

Stephanie Faris said...

When it comes to the paranormal, we'll never have any idea how much we don't know or understand. That's something the scientific community probably can't admit, but writers know it's true!