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The Efficacy of “Paranormal” Investigations

by on March 2, 2015

              The Efficacy of “Paranormal” Investigations

                                                                   by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments. 

This piece is a revised version of one I published in a magazine previously.

Posted on 26 July, 2009 | Columnist: Marco M. Pardi

Can investigations into Near Death Experiences and related “paranormal” phenomena be considered science? Perhaps, as is so common, the answer is in the question. As Isaac Asimov reportedly said, “The most exciting sound in science is not ‘Eureka’ (I have found it), but ‘That’s funny’”.

Aside from a 23 year career in the premier American medical research institution, the U.S. Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), I have spent 10 years in full time and 14 years in part time university and college teaching of Anthropology. Anthropology is much more than the two dimensional cataloging of who is where; it is also the three dimensional examination of how people think and feel.

Since 1973 my specialization in Anthropology has been in the cross-cultural field of Death & Dying. And, with each semester’s wave of new Anthropology students I find that exhaustive examination of certain basics must occur before any progress may be made. These basics include the nature of science and the process of thinking.

Science is misunderstood by the public.
1. Research is just what it says – re-search. Science moves forward by doing original searches, sparked by experiences and ideas which are the foundations of Hypotheses. Research is only the re-examination of what has been found before, laying part of the foundation for a hypothesis, but not the evidence for new conclusions.

2. Science teachers teach finalized results; they do not concentrate on the processes that developed those results.

Science advances by organized collection of evidence.
1. Evidence is not always obvious and demonstrable; it must be understood as often (a.) “circumstantial” and (b.) “inferential”.
a. Unless a person admits to a crime and provides information only the perpetrator would know, or was seen by a credible eye witness, all evidence presented – even in murder cases, is circumstantial. The jury is asked to weigh the circumstances, not the “facts”, and see where they lead. In a rape case, the prosecutor points to the circumstances of the presence of the defendant’s semen and injuries on the victim as evidence of forcible rape; the defense points to the very same evidence as proof of as proof of consensual rough sex. Juries might arrive at “truth”, or they may not.
b. Although we can demonstrate evolution in other life forms, and can identify overwhelming fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution, we cannot “prove” human evolution since we cannot put it into a laboratory and do it all over again. We must infer, based on the evidence.

Our capacity for critical thinking, and therefore our ability to examine the thinking of others, is grounded in a thorough knowledge and understanding of the nature of thinking. The presumption that others are thinking in the same manner as we are is the heart of many communications failures. A common error, for example, on the part of eager young rational thinkers is the effort to engage “religious” thinkers (non-rational) in debate; the result is most often “talking past each other”. There are three fundamental categories of thinking:

1. Rational. More than just orderly, rational thinking is accountable at any point through demonstrable and presentable “facts” which may be externally examined for relevance, logic and veracity.

2. Non-rational. More properly considered different from rational rather than inferior to rational, non-rational thinking may proceed in a rationally orderly fashion, but it ultimately rests upon an unaccountable initial premise. For conversation to proceed, the participants must a priori agree at least to the conditional validity of the initial premise even if with the understanding that it may never be proven or demonstrated.

3. Irrational. Quite apart from the previous two, irrational thinking is disordered, unaccountable, and often considered evidence of psycho-pathology.

What are NDEs?
1. “Near Death Experience” is misleading because it is far too confining. There are several recognized phenomena associated with Death & Dying, and they do vary by culture:
a. OBE – Out of Body Experience, in which a person bi-locates, or is able to accurately view and describe events going on around his or her body from a usually elevated perspective.
b. SDE – Sympathetic Death Experience, in which a person is able to accurately pinpoint the death of another at a distance, and sometimes “accompany” the other in the transition.
c. PDE – Pre-Death Experience, in which a person experiences and reports a “preview” of his/her dying experience, sometimes being in contact with pre-deceased individuals they did not know had died.
d. ADC – After Death Communication – in which a person receives
audio, tactile, and/or visual information, often new information, apparently from a deceased significant other.
e. NDE – Near Death Experience, in which a person in medical crisis experiences an OBE, a sense of movement and arrival, a sense of being in another form of existence, and a return. These usually include radically clear perception of self and surroundings, visual and non-auditory communication with others, and tactile sensations.

Doesn’t all this just arise as a function of brain chemistry?
1. All related studies clearly demonstrate that the use of sedation in surgery severely reduces, if not eliminates the chances of an NDE.
2. While perceptions similar to NDEs occur under manipulation of brain chemistry, such events as anoxia (deprivation of oxygen) reduce mental function – the opposite of NDE.
3. Manipulation of brain chemistry cannot account for new information obtained by the near death experiencer.
4. While a few reductionist materialists ascribe all mental function to brain states, brain states are only operating conditions and they do not explain the content of ideation.
5. Ideation as a mere function of brain chemistry is moot under circumstances of demonstrable cessation of brain function.

Isn’t all this just a way of pushing belief in a God?
1. There is no logical connection between a belief in a God and an understanding of NDE associated phenomena. For example:
a. There may be a God; There may be an “afterlife”.
b. There may be a God; There may be no “afterlife”.
c. There may be no God; There may be no “afterlife”.
d. There may be no God; There may be an “afterlife”.

2. All of the above statements are equally logical. For example, a non-corporeal existence does not automatically necessitate the existence of a non-corporeal “Chief Spirit”. 

3. Many people fall into the epistemological convenience of posing All or None choices between propositions a. and c. Yet, this is only half of the logical and possible paradigm; b. and d. are equally possible. 

How should a scientist structure an investigative protocol for the paranormal? 

1. Beginning with a recognition of the limits of the Experimental Method, wherein a step-by-step protocol is carefully recorded, the notes and results gathered, and the process repeated by independent peers, the scientist must consider “one off” forms proofs.

2. Since, in theory if not also in practice, a scientist is essentially plunging his hands behind an opaque curtain (the realm beyond conventional senses) he must understand that certain steps are not necessarily replicable.

3. A “one off” form of proof includes valid information obtained by means which are unaccountable other than through the purported paranormal event. For example, many hundreds of recorded cases of “death bed visions” proceed as follows: “Mrs X sat up in bed and began excitedly talking to an upper corner of the room, where no one could be seen. She was apparently happy to see and talk with Jack. But then she displayed surprise and spoke to Henry.”
a. We may easily identify Jack as her pre-deceased husband and dismiss this as wishful fantasy, even a form of psychic self protection from the fear of imminent death.
b. However, on deeper analysis we find that Henry is Mrs X’s brother. Mrs X, a five year nursing home resident, has rarely been visited by family and has not been told that her brother Henry died several weeks before.
c. Obviously, we cannot have Mrs X repeat the event for the cameras and the “lab coats”.

Does science ever structure a faulty protocol, thereby pre-determining its own results?
1. Certainly. At this writing, a network of U.S. hospitals is engaged in a study of “out of body” reports during surgery. Following on the large numbers of patients who claim to have left their bodies and witnessed the operative procedures done on them, surgical teams at these cooperating hospitals have installed devices such as lap top computers atop cabinets in operating rooms with key words displayed on the monitors. The premise is that a disembodied individual will float up there and see and remember the displayed word. Revived patients who are unable to provide the word will not be deemed credible in their out of body witness accounts, no matter the fullness or accuracy of their reports if they cannot provide the key word.

2. The fundamental flaw in this protocol is the complete dismissal of focus. We know that “consciousness” is a matter of focus. The reader is, presumably, focused on this page, not on the elastic in their underwear (now you are). I am often home alone, cooking for myself. Should a home invader break into my kitchen, knife in hand, my focus will be on the invader and what he is doing with the knife; it will not be on whether the oven alarm is blinking. In the same way, a disembodied patient will be focused on the behaviors of the operating team, what they say, and what they do with the instruments in their hands; it will not be on items on top of cabinets.

In conclusion, then, what is called “paranormal” is, in reality, part of the normal, and can be studied as such. The problem lies not in the subject of study; the problem lies in the presuppositions of the examiner and how that examiner may take for granted or dismiss certain realities. For example, the reader is probably sitting on a chair. The chair is presumed to be a solid; it is holding us up, after all. But even first year physics students know that the hardest solid, when seen under an appropriate microscope, is almost entirely empty space peppered with the particles of the substance we see at the macro level. In fact, per unit of size and in relation to each other, the particles in the hardest substance are further apart from each other than are the stars in the visible universe. It takes only a minor shift in perception to bring this reality back to us, and most of us just say, “Uh huh” and keep on sitting; we do not worry about falling through the chair – or falling through the planet.

Clarity in thinking brings clarity in results. And, to modify an old bit of wisdom, clarity begins at home.

Marco M. Pardi

Article Copyright© Marco M. Pardi – reproduced with permission.

 

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8 Comments
  1. Dana permalink

    It is interesting to read this once again, Marco. It was one of your pieces I read soon after sitting in one of the first of your lectures. Of course I searched whatever there might be available online, hoping to discover more about this fascinating and brilliant individual.

    This is full of terrific material well-worth reviewing; glad you have posted it on this blog.

  2. Thank you, Dana. While awaiting responses to my Dear Reader entry I thought I would move this piece onto this venue. I’m sure you also know I’ve used this as a base for several STEM talks I’ve done through the University System of Georgia. Responses were always positive.

    Your Outstanding performance in both my Anthropology class and my Critical Thinking class make your comments all the more meaningful. I’m honored to know you.

  3. I guess , and hope, I would be in the Non-rational category 🙂
    There is a lot I would like to say about people going out of body and not being able to `read` or see a card or so.
    Among the OBE community , I often hear that if you go OBE with your `etheric` body (the closest to the physical) and end up in the first dimension after the physical, you won`t be able to read the card, because that dimension is a kind of replica of the physical, but with slight variations.(and that is why, many of the first volunteers failed the test) .
    It seems that to be able to see the `real` world, you have to use what they call the mental body (you would feel more like a speck of consciousness).
    Not everybody agrees on this of course . It is a very personal and subjective field of experience, but many of the `Big Wigs` do .
    And , by the way, Marco, “in this brain states are only operating conditions and they do not explain the content of ideation.” … I love the way you chose your terms !!

    • Thank you, FOAL. The bulk of the literature recording the testimony of people who, for example, went OBE during a surgery or related trauma indicates a previously unknown degree of hyper-clarity – and awareness of medical procedures with which they have no background. Yet, I understand your point about a different perspective, having gone OBE myself many times and having experienced both “realities” at the same time. Actually, I prefer the reality that leaves this one behind.

      I do like to be precise in terminology, and am always entirely open to suggestions and corrections which will better it. Marco

  4. Fascinating and well-written, I enjoyed this article very much. I wish there has been a Critical Thinking class available at Polk; I certainly would have enjoyed the subject. Like Dana, I always enjoyed learning from you.

    Like FOAL, I tend to think of myself a non-rational (by your definition) thinker. I’d like to believe that some things are true, even if they are not provable by experimental method.

    When I was at Merced College, I took a class in parapsychology. It was a largely a “they did this” type of class. I also studied Behavioral Psychology, in which the professor asked us to conduct a piece of “original research”. When I was a young child, I played a game with my great grandmother that we called “red or black”, the object of which was to guess the color of the card being held before you; the winner was the one who held the most cards after an established number of rounds. I used this game to see whether one person could influence the choice of another.

    The tests took three forms:

    1. The subject put the cards into two piles completely unseen. (double blind)

    2. The tester held the cards up and thought the correct color while the subject chose

    3. The tester held the cards up and thought the wrong color while the subject chose.

    I went through about five hundred cards per test; about 1500 cards per subject. It was exhausting. I didn’t have nearly enough subjects, and in the end could only conclude that while there may have been some influence on some of the subjects, the numbers were simply not large enough to prove significance.

    Can we influence a yes/no choice being made by others? Verbally, certainly, and perhaps non-verbally by use of body language, but probably not just by using our minds. It was a fun game, though, and an interesting experiment to conduct. It is as close as I ever expect to come to being a rational thinker.

    • Thank you, Rose. I also would have liked a Critical Thinking class at Polk primarily because you would have been in it and would have made it worthwhile.

      Your experiment with cards reminded me of a serendipitous event I had with friends in a cabin in northern Norway. One evening (I’ll call him Anders) and I decided to test his “psychic power”. With a shuffled deck I took the cards one by one and concentrated on them while he told me the card in my hand. We quickly saw his error rate greatly exceeded probability. I re-shuffled the deck and began again, this time realizing that he was not telling me the card in my hand but rather the next card coming up. He was nearly 100% accurate. Of course, a Vegas card counter would say the further we got into the deck the greater the likelihood his memory allowed him to predict the next card. To some degree that may be true, but I wouldn’t buy that, especially as he was right from the start.

      Your experiment calls into question sample size when dealing with this area. I do not think standard protocols serve this type of research; in fact, I think they inhibit them to a great degree. The issue is to venture beyond designs framed for objective phenomena in order to capture subjective phenomena, without allowing the intrusion of wishful thinking.

      These kinds of events, however, illuminate a different dimension from that we associate with NDE phenomena. Still, it is a fascinating insight. Marco

      • NDE and OBE are, by their very nature, individual experiences; they are unique, difficult to verify and impossible to replicate. It would be interesting to discover a protocol in which such a subjective occurrence might be studied objectively, but don’t see that happening anytime soon.

      • Rose. I’ve been asked many times to devise such a protocol, at least for analysis if not for replication. As I see it, the Gold Standard is veridical information – that which could not have been obtained by any other source. Of course, that leaves out the many stories of “seeing the light” and so on; it centers only on such things as whether the person encountered another person they had no way of knowing was dead, or had previously lived.

        The biggest obstacle is the certainty (faith) that people invest in their belief that such things can’t and don’t happen. I can well understand the fear that some harbor, thinking this must inevitably mean a god of some sort and all the claptrap which follows. This is why I’m adamant about putting forth that four part paradigm.

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