By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Science, the Paranormal and the Supernatural
posted 17-Oct-2015  ·  
4,861 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

In a recent column, I wrote about modern science and technology being on the verge of solving all our maladies. As we all know, science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.  Advances in science are always demonstrable. The term "paranormal" consists of two parts: para and normal. The definition implies that the scientific explanation of the world around us is “normal” and anything that is above, beyond, or contrary to that is “para”. Paranormal inquiry relies on explanations for alleged phenomena that are well outside the bounds of established science. It refers to a series of purported phenomena which happen "alongside" what is normal, but are claimed to be legitimate subjects of scientific study. They use the words and trappings of science and claim to be "investigators" while not using the scientific method, are not rigorous, and their claims cannot be independently verified. The term “supernatural” goes a little bit further. It is by definition something beyond nature, basically magic and religion. The supernatural makes no attempt to prove or disprove supernatural beliefs, since they depend basically on faith, superstition and magical thinking.

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However, I found another discipline between science and the paranormal. It is not exactly within the bounds of science as we know it, but slightly beyond it. Unlike purely paranormal phenomena it can be confirmed scientifically. Examples are the feats performed by Tibetan Monks and Indian Yogis who seem to have an unusual talent for manipulating their physiological processes while in deep meditation. In some experiments, the yogis reportedly slowed their heart down so slow that it was only detectable via an EKG machine. Another group of researchers traveled through India with an eight-channel electro-encephalograph and various other instruments, which they used to monitor the yogis’ brain activity, respirations, skin temperature, blood-volume changes, and skin conductance. Two of their test subjects were placed in air-tight sealed boxes, on two separate occasions, and were monitored for 8 to 10 hours. During that time the Yogis showed biological characteristics similar to sleep and were able to slow down their heart rate and respiration to low enough levels that oxygen and carbon dioxide quantities inside the box remained virtually in the same proportions as found in air at sea level. Thus, it was shown that by slowing down their bodily processes and not panicking the Yogis could survive a live-burial for far longer than the average person, possibly even weeks longer.

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Paranormal events include extrasensory perception (ESP), telekinesis, ghosts, poltergeists, life after death, reincarnation, faith healing, human auras, and so forth. The explanations for these allied phenomena are phrased in vague terms of "psychic forces", "human energy fields", and so on. For the reason that they cannot be verified by scientific methods, there are those who insist that paranormal events are sheer quackery. Anecdoctal accounts of the paranormal, lacking the reproducibility of empirical evidence, are not amenable to scientific investigation. Often, the anecdotal approach resorts to “cherry picking” of evidence that conforms to a pre-existing belief and the disregard of others opposed to it. There is nothing scientific about the anecdotal approach because it leaves verification dependent on the credibility of the party presenting the evidence. But it remains to be a common approach to investigating paranormal phenomena. This, to be sure, bred a lot of skeptics, astronomers often standing at the cradle of skeptical organizations. Magicians too. Harry Houdini investigated and exposed many fake mediums, and even wrote a book about it titled "Miracle Mongers and Their Methods." James Randi, another magician, invited anyone with paranormal claims to demonstrate that his claims were real with the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. There seems to be no report of anyone claiming the prize up to now.

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Let us take one paranormal phenomena known as telekinesis. It is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction. The idea of people being able to move objects through mind power alone has intrigued people for centuries. Sometimes small tables would tip or levitate, disturbed either by unseen spirits or the psychic's mind. Though many people were convinced, some were unveiled as just trickery employed by some fraudulent psychics using everything from hidden wires to black-clad accomplices to make objects appear to move untouched. In the 1970s, a man named Uri Geller became the world's best-known psychic and made millions traveling the world demonstrating his claimed psychokinetic abilities including starting broken watches and bending spoons. Though he denied using magic tricks, many skeptical researchers observed that all of Geller's amazing feats could be — and have been — duplicated by magicians.

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Also included among paranormal events are ghosts. In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person. Alternative theories expand on that idea and include belief in the ghosts of deceased animals. Sometimes the term ghost is used synonymously with any spirit or demon, however in popular usage the term typically refers to a deceased person's spirit. The belief in ghosts as souls of the departed is closely tied to the concept of animism, an ancient belief which attributed souls to everything in nature. As the 19th-century anthropologist George Frazer explained in his classic work, The Golden Bough, souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body. Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress. Although the evidence for ghosts is largely anecdotal, the belief in ghosts throughout history has remained widespread and persistent. I will not venture anymore into the world of the supernatural, such as religion, because one’s faith is as good as anybody else’s..

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: My short answer to the question of whether or not I believe in the paranormal is a tentative “I do not know.” It is always best to maintain an open mind on this. There were those who argue that individual actions are based upon the beliefs of the person acting. If the beliefs are unsupported by evidence, then such beliefs can lead to destructive actions. There are also reports of fraud by psychics and faith healers, like the cure-all snake oil of popular lore. Critics of alternative medicine also point to bad advice given by unqualified practitioners, leading to serious injury or death.

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