ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
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Paranormal is ambiguous

Many researchers first became interested in the paranormal by reading a book or watching TV. Many were impressed by a dramatic-looking real-life case where the paranormal seemed the only likely explanation. However, the media likes to emphasize the more dramatic episodes. Many serious researchers never get their own 'Hollywood moment' (see right).

It is an odd fact of paranormal research that fewer apparently paranormal incidents are recorded in strictly controlled circumstances. So more dramatic things are usually witnessed in the tea breaks on ghost vigils than during the formal recording sessions. You get the same effect with lab experiments for ESP. The more controls you put on an experiment, the fewer hits you get. It is as if the paranormal 'likes' the ambiguous areas of life.


What would I see?

Imagine you are sitting in a haunted room on a ghost vigil. It may well be in the dark (despite the problems this introduces). You see a patch of light crossing an opposite wall. After your initial excitement, you realise it is caused by the headlights of a passing car outside shining through a gap in the curtains. You can even hear the car as it drives by. Then you notice your companion in the room is frantically scribbling and trying to photograph the patch of light. When you exchange notes later, your companion has recorded a mysterious phantom light crawling across the wall, accompanied by a faint moaning noise. Could it be an orb, he wonders?

Most of us, when faced with something unexpected, particularly in an unusual situation with expectancy running high, are apt to misinterpret natural phenomena. It is little wonder that some people see ghosts where others see only mundane phenomena, particularly given the sensationalist way the media portrays the paranormal.

When someone reports seeing a ghost, UFO or monster, it is always interesting to speculate about what an experienced paranormal researcher, had they been present, would they have seen? Would it be a UFO with portals and aliens looking out of them? Or would it be Venus in low clouds?

It is a very useful exercise, when investigating a spontaneous report of a paranormal occurrence, to visit the area in similar conditions to those at the time of the original report (same time of day, weather, etc). If you're very lucky, you might see what the original witness saw. It could well turn out to be something mundane, that only occurs in specific conditions, which has been misinterpreted. The paranormal tends to turn up when it is least expected (see left). Perhaps that's why those of us who actually look for the paranormal rarely see it (see right).


Hollywood moment

Have you had your 'Hollywood moment', when researching the paranormal? Few serious researchers have (though feeling a disembodied hand might count if there was more evidence).

What is a 'Hollywood moment, you may ask? It is that moment when you witness something which is unambiguously paranormal. It might be the ghost of someone you know, seen by a whole group of people, who walks out of a wall and chats to you. Or the UFO which lands in a field in front of dozens of witnesses disgorging aliens who ask to be taken to your leader. It's pure Hollywood - hence the name. And it virtually never happens.

Why is the paranormal so elusive? Why do we have to content ourselves with scraps of ambiguous evidence? Many researchers have spent decades at vigils but still never seen a ghost.

If you ever DO get your Hollywood moment, the chances are you will be on your own, with no equipment, maybe packing up after a vigil or going to a tea break! The most dramatic events tend to happen when we're not prepared for them. Just to stay ambiguous?
© Maurice Townsend 2007