The science behind why people see ghosts and demons


It takes a specific type of brain to experience paranormal abnormalities. Some scientists think so, but this can go one of two ways.

On the one hand, researchers specializing in parapsychology – the psychological study of the paranormal – have spent decades studying whether and how these anomalies exist in nature, outside the human body, and how some people may be more inclined to experience them. More specifically, they want to know if some people have unique “abilities” that allow them, for example, to see ghosts, spirits and any other entity that might exist outside of the person experiencing it (ie not in her mind).

On the other hand, skeptical scholars in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology have tried to show that it’s more about how some people process reality, subjectively, in their brains. Some people might just be wired to produce these experiences in their mind, even though they may not be real.

While you might assume that parapsychology revolves around ghost catchers, spoon bending and levitating wizards, that’s not quite the case. Parapsychology, also called “psi”, is an academic branch of psychology studied in universities and research facilities around the world. Scientists in this field believe that more academic, experimental, theoretical and analytical research will show that what science knows about the nature of the universe is largely incomplete.

“There is more than enough data and research at this point to reliably state that the quirks of traditional science do, in fact, occur,” Brian Laythe, director of the Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience and member of the Parapsychological Association, he told The Daily Beast. In fact, there is more than a century of peer-reviewed research on these topics. Laythe said it is statistically unlikely that the hundreds of graduate students producing such research are all fraudulent or incompetent. “The point where people struggle is the meaning and interpretation of those results, which are largely guided by theology and philosophy, as opposed to the questions of analytic science.”

However, critics argue that the procedures and methods of parapsychology are not in line with rigorous scientific standards, the results are simply too fragile, and most importantly, that many of these experiments are not replicable, which cuts the focus on how science is validated.

And there is a big problem that persists: there are no valid theories to support most of the results. Some theories are more physics-based, others focus on consciousness, but parapsychologists have a hard time finalizing which ones explain everything. Of course, this often happens in all scientific disciplines, Laythe notes, but skeptics disagree.

“We need parapsychology because if there were telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, precognition, ghosts, any of these things, then science must be fundamentally reversed,” Susan Blackmore, visiting psychology professor at the University of Plymouth and parapsychologist turned skeptic. he told The Daily Beast. “I’m glad there are other people doing it. And then, of course, I’m not terribly surprised. They do not find reliable evidence. They have no theory that it works. They have no results that contribute to any kind of theoretical progress. So they always ask the same question. “

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There is a lot of value in learning and understanding what these experiences are like for people, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an existing medical explanation that can justify them.

This is what Michiel Van Elk, a professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, is proving. The self-described “humble skeptic” has a laboratory focused on the cognitive differences that he believes underlie why people believe and experience the paranormal. According to his research, paranormal believers are more inclined to trust their intuition and emotions and are less guided by analytical reflection. They seem to perceive more “illusory agents” in random motion visualizations, which means they may have a propensity to see shapes and objects when there aren’t any.

“And we identified that paranormal believers had stronger self-attribution bias, where in a random card guessing game, they more often took credit for positive outcomes, which were actually caused by chance, than skeptics,” he said. said Van Elk to The Daily Beast. “These findings fit the broader view that paranormal believers are prone to a range of cognitive biases, but at the same time, that these biases may very well be adaptive to promote mental health and self-esteem.”

Charlotte Dean, a researcher at the Department of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, recently published a meta-analysis of 71 studies over the past three decades that explored the links between belief in paranormal phenomena and cognitive function. Most of the findings are in line with the hypothesis that the experience of paranormal activity is linked to specific cognitive traits, Dean told The Daily Beast.

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“Believers are typically characterized by an intuitive style of thinking. So this is that kind of gut feeling. And they’ll go after him to try to explain something they couldn’t otherwise explain, ”Dean said. “While people skeptical of the paranormal tend to be more analytical. Then they will go through every different way of solving a problem before coming to a conclusion. And we refer to this as a kind of “cognitive flexibility”. “

According to Dean, however, research like this is not in complete dissonance with the field of parapsychology. Parapsychologists tend to agree to some degree. Of course, some people are more prone to paranormal experiences, and neurology-related traits, beliefs, and socio-cultural backgrounds facilitate that experience. But they say it is not entirely correct to say so alone cognitive traits or neurology is responsible for the paranormal experience.

“While not without value, this approach taken in isolation seems like recognizing that some people who claim to be sick are prone to hypochondria,” Chris Roe, professor of parapsychology at the University of Northampton, told the Daily Beast. “And then proceed to adopt a human disease model that focuses only on the factors that influence hypochondria or susceptibility to the effects of placebo. [The British] The National Health Service would indeed be in a very sorry state ”.

A propensity for paranormal experiences is distributed among the population, according to Christine Simmonds-Moore, a parapsychologist at the University of West Georgia. But this does not exclude the existence of anomalies. For example, parapsychological research has shown that the concept of transliminality, a thin border structure between the conscious, the unconscious and the environment, is a strong predictor of haunting experiences because it allows people to access paranormal experiences.

“There is some evidence that people who have more paranormal experiences have more communication between the hemispheres [of the brain]for example, and a greater potential for crosstalk, “Simmonds-Moore told The Daily Beast.” There is more permeability between areas of the mind and between people and the environment and other social and potentially paranormal information. “with information out of the human brain that experiences it.

He argues that different structures of science could be applied to examine the same thing, and sometimes both could be true. “I appreciate the ideas that suggest that reality could be both physical and mental and that there could be a third aspect that contributes to both,” said Simmonds-Moore. She thinks that research should explore paranormal experiences using both cognitive psychology, and what is known from that, and parapsychology. “Sometimes, there might be a little bit of both, normal and paranormal, going on,” Simmonds-Moore said. “Reality is complex”.

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