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No. 83: Sep-Oct 1992

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Is the paranormal only a set of subjective experiences?

Anomalists usually interpret paranormal phenomena as indications that our knowledge of the human mind and how it interacts with other minds and the socalled material world is sadly deficient. But some psychiatrists see paranormal phenomena as merely symptoms of mental disturbance and nothing esoteric at all. Such a view is supported by studies employing interviews with members of society at large.

In a revealing but demystifying study of 502 residents of Winnipeg, C.A. Ross and S. Joshi found: (1) That so-called paranormal experiences are very common indeed, with 65.7% of the interviewees reporting having had them. The most common were deja vu (54.6%), precognitive dreams (17.8%), and mental telepathy (15.6%). Many reported experiencing more than one of the 13 different types of paranormal phenomena included in the survey. But do survey statistics prove that such paranormal phenomena are truly objective?

The real nature of paranormal experiences, according to Ross and Joshi, lies in the close ties these paranormal phenomena have with dissociative phenomena (i.e., automatic writing), hypnotic phenomena, and childhood traumas. They theorize:

"A model is proposed in which paranormal experiences are conceptualized as an aspect of normal dissociation. Like dissociation in general, paranormal experiences can be triggered by trauma, especially childhood physical or sexual abuse. Such experiences discriminate individuals with childhood trauma histories from those without at high levels of significance."

(Ross, Colin A., and Joshi, Shaun; Paranormal Experiences in the General Population," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 180:357, 1992.)

Comment. Perhaps psychiatrists Ross and Joshi hold that those experiencing paranormal phenomena are "treatable." Clearly, they think that the whole of the paranormal is subjective. On a different tack, one must ask why humans are subject to paranormal experiences at all, seeing as they seem to have no survival value and should have been weeded out by natural selection long ago! Wouldn't humans be "fitter" without a proclivity for paranormal experiences? The same question can be asked about motion sickness and other human "weaknesses."

From Science Frontiers #83, SEP-OCT 1992. 1992-2000 William R. Corliss