Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Thirty five years on!

ASSAPThis month marks the thirty-fifth year of ASSAP's existence. And what have we learned in those years? Well, other sciences have made considerable progress over that same period. In contrast, progress in our field of anomaly research has been glacial. I could speculate about why that is but, instead I'll ask, is there a better way forward?

One area that has change dramatically since ASSAP was formed is the study of ghosts. I'm sure there are more people actively examining ghosts now than there have ever been before in history. And yet, there remains little evidence for the existence of paranormal ghosts.

To unpack that last statement a little, we first need to consider what a ghost is. While many people would say a ghost is a spirit that is not a useful definition from the point of view of scientific research. Instead, I would say a ghost is "a human (sometimes animal) figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present". That definition is based on actual reports of ghosts as opposed to legend, tradition or fiction. Using this definition it becomes obvious that there can be no serious dispute that ghosts exist. Such human figures are reported continually. I've seen several myself! By contrast, there is still no compelling evidence that ghosts are spirits. While there is, perhaps, a little evidence that some ghosts are paranormal, most sightings are discovered, on careful investigation, to be caused by such things as misperception, hallucination and coincidence.

When ASSAP began, most ghost research was indirect. By that, I mean, it relied primarily on interviewing witnesses and examining the places where they saw apparitions. There was also a little 'direct' research, involving ghost vigils. These consisted on people hanging around at haunted locations hoping to witness something strange. In the vasty majority of cases, nothing unusual was recorded.

Nowadays most ghost investigation effort is of the 'direct' variety. However, the results are equivocal at best. Unfortunately, many such investigations are assumption-led making them of limited value in determining the true nature of ghosts,. The central assumption is usually that ghosts are spirits which, as I've said, has no compelling evidence to support it. But even those taking a more neutral approach have found little to support the idea of paranormal ghosts. So could there be a more fruitful way to approach the subject?

I've taken another path in recent years which has at least provided definite measurable progress. It is the xenonormal study approach. This method does not ask 'what are ghosts' so much as 'what causes people to experience ghosts'. By examining all the natural things that cause people to experience ghosts, it can reduce the number of 'apparently paranormal' or 'unexplained' cases drastically. This allows investigators to concentrate their efforts on the small number of cases without obvious xenonormal causes.

If looking for a paranormal ghost is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and experience suggests that it is, then xenonormal studies can reduce the size of the haystack. Well, that's what 35 years of effort has told me anyway.

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