“If someone’s really interacted with a ghost and can prove it, wouldn’t we all want to be the first to know? Until then, I take each claim as it comes.”

Question from Robert:
What is an Atheists position on the paranormal, and what do you say to people who have experienced paranormal activity?

Answer by SmartLX:
Save the capital A, please. It’s not named after anyone, it’s not a complete philosophical “school” and it doesn’t trigger the special case for deities. You wouldn’t capitalise a theist, so you shouldn’t capitalise an atheist either.

There is no one atheist position on the paranormal – by which, from your title “Hauntings”, I assume you principally mean ghosts. We’ve had self-proclaimed atheists here arguing with other self-proclaimed atheists over whether ghosts exist. It’s not necessarily a contradiction for an atheist to believe in ghosts if he/she sees a way people can persist after their own deaths without the help of a god. Personally, while I know people leave behind great legacies when they die, I don’t think they continue to exist as literal ghosts. And I don’t think there’s any available, substantive evidence for any other “paranormal” phenomena, which for me puts them all in the same category as gods.

Thus, there’s nobody I’ve ever spoken to who I can be confident has actually experienced paranormal activity. When people say that they’ve experienced paranormal activity, which sometimes they do, I ask for their evidence and I discuss alternative explanations with them. If someone’s really interacted with a ghost and can prove it, wouldn’t we all want to be the first to know? Until then, I take each claim as it comes.

5 thoughts on “Hauntings”

  1. I had asked a similar question on another site. My question was regarding paranormal activity – not ghosts per se. More about telekinesis, precognition and stuff.
    I do not believe in a deity or ghosts or anything, but till recently was a fence sitter about the existence of paranormal phenomena.

    My question had been inspired after reading a few pages of a “scientific” book on parapsychology – which claimed that the author had carried out experiments, the statistical analysis of which proved that the subject(s) of the experiments possessed paranormal powers.
    Books like “many doors many mansions” and the like fail to inspire me at any level. This book seemed promising as it said it proved stuff thru experimental design and statistics.

    My question was a bit premature, unfortunately – I had not read the book fully. After reading the book I found that the experimental design in most experiments was pretty round-about and not direct. Also the author spent an inordinately large portion of the book discussing basic physics and basic statistics – probably to highlight his scientific training. The material he covered had nothing to do with the subject matter at hand.

    In the forum where I posted my question, I was directed to the “Skeptical Inquirer’s” website – and a few hours spent reading its articles were enough to rid me of any vague doubts I had about the existence of un-explained paranormal phenomena.
    I’d advise Robert to spend some time on that site too.

    I think people who like to believe in paranormal phenomena are falling into the trap of wishing the mind and its powers to be more than they are. The mind is powerful no doubt – and the things it can do are amazing. For e.g. I find hypnosis and the power of the mind under it truly fascinating. But the mind does not control gross external matter in a tactile way without having machines or biology as an interface. Nor can it “sense” the future or “divine” the past. At-least I am not aware that anyone has convincingly shown that it can.

  2. I am sorry – I think I’m inching back towards the fence again.
    Humble pie does not taste so good … but I guess eating it is the price one pays for not doing one’s research well before forming an opinion.

    When I posted the above comment I was not aware of the Hyman – Honorton joint communique and of ganzfeld experiments.
    Apparently these experiments have consistently produced statistically significant results with images.

    This is something I came across while doing some lazy research on Hyman’s final stand on ganzfeld experiments:
    “In a 1995 paper discussing some of the challenges, deficiencies and achievements of modern laboratory parapsychology Ray Hyman said,
    Obviously, I do not believe that the contemporary findings of parapsychology, […] justify concluding that anomalous mental phenomena have been proven. […] [A]cceptable evidence for the presence of anomalous cognition must be based on a positive theory that tells us when psi should and should not be present. Until we have such a theory, the claim that anomalous cognition has been demonstrated is empty.[…] I want to state that I believe that the SAIC experiments as well as the contemporary ganzfeld experiments display methodological and statistical sophistication well above previous parapsychological research. Despite better controls and careful use of statistical inference, the investigators seem to be getting significant results that do not appear to derive from the more obvious flaws of previous research.
    —Ray Hyman, The Journal of Parapsychology, December 1995[22]”

    To me, the last line is compelling, at-least for now. Also, a scientist saying (as Hyman does) that acceptable evidence must be based on a positive theory is … well … disappointing.
    Its like saying that knowing about the precession of Mercury’s orbit around the sun is useless unless you can come up with the general theory of relativity to explain it. Till then the precession’s existence is meaningless (!).
    Demonstrating that an anomoly exists is independent of formulating a theory for its existence – and it has to be !! The theory may precede the demonstration or vice-versa, but that does not really matter, in my view.

    Having said all of the above, I’d like to add the existence or absence of psi would not impinge on my atheism. If I accept that it exists, it just becomes a very curious phenomena for me to find/ wait for a scientific explanation for. Reverting back to belief in the existence of a deity, simply because psi exists is something I am highly unlikely to ever do. It’ll be like asking one to revert back to belief in god because electromagnetism exists, or the weak nuclear force exists, etc.

  3. Yeah, the links there were good … but very few responses (only one I think). I guess they think I am bonkers :).
    Actually, off late I have been trying to settle this question of “psi” once and for all for myself. The non-replicability of psi experiments is apparently well known, which sort of makes them suspect I guess. But even academic psychologists do not seem to fully write psi off – as is evidenced by mention of psi in intro to psychology type books (I recently bought one written by Robert A Baron).
    I personally keep swinging on psi – based purely on the ganzfeld results on one hand and on non-replicability on the other. Also, there was this author I read in my college years – Colin Wilson. His work – the Outsider – was like my bible. Later this guy went towards writing about the occult and other silly stuff. I’ve always been amazed about how a guy of his intellect could delve into all this “psi” business if there was no substance behind it. One more reason I am a bit wary about leaving the fence I current am back on !

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