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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987