Friday, August 6, 2010

An Interesting Take on Parapsychology

A few years ago, I read a book that examined the paranormal from a semi-Freudian perspective—incubi, succubi, ghosts, poltergeists, stigmata, spontaneous combustion, past lives, mediums, automatic writing, hypnosis, etc. It even touched on UFOs. The author, Stan Gooch, detailed real-life accounts, but only the ones documented by researchers, psychologists, and medical professionals, and spoke objectively about them. He discussed the neuropsychological aspects as well—what parts of the brain turn on or off, etc. He also brought up mythologies and ancient languages, where they have bearing on the material. Like the fact that djinn behave like incubi and like poltergeists, and they're not the only mythological creature world-wide to have both abilities. Or the fact that pretty much every Indo-European language has a cognate of "mare" (as in nightmare—click link for examples and etymology) which has something to do with night and terror and sexual desire and forces pressing down on you and occasionally getting bitten. (Yes, he agreed that sounds like a vampire.)

Gooch makes a convincing case that 1) the paranormal exists as a manifestation of the unconscious and/or what he calls the "hidden observer" and 2) paranormal phenomena are one end of a spectrum that includes psychosis and multiple personality disorder. He does this by invoking Occam's Razor a lot (For instance: You see your sister, who's alive in New York when you're in LA. Do we say "ghosts can be of living people" or "astral projection" or "hallucination likely brought on by loneliness"?) and by tying various elements of each phenomenon together (for instance, people hypnotized into talking about past lives change their entire manner, voice, face shape, etc. So do mediums and people with MPD.)

There's also a lot about the power of the mind. People with "past lives" are really recalling info they heard or read long ago, because they give factual errors for dates or locations, and they recall this without remembering they know the stuff. Stigmata appear where people think they will, not where they actually should be, and they appear in contexts that don't involve religion, such as vivid remembering of a childhood beating. If a hallucinated person ("ghost") "changes" some part of the hallucinator's environment, the hallucinator's nervous system reacts as if the change were real, not imagined. For instance, if a hallucination covers your eyes, your visual centre in the brain will register a lack of light.

"You experience what you 
want to experience" is what this boils down to.

Of course, there are problems with the book. Gooch is pretty heavy on the Freud in some places and there are some parts of some phenomena that he doesn't explain, such as poltergeists (one's excess psychic energy) moving objects around, or the fact that a large percentage of automatic writing is backwards and/or upside-down. Instead, Gooch argues that, based on the fact that they can't be discounted so must exist somehow, we need to do more research. I'm inclined to agree with that. I have a weakness for psychology along these lines, and definitely have a weak spot for the paranormal.*

Which brings me to the reason why I just summarized a book. As you probably know, I'm a geek. I've been into the paranormal since I was 9 or 10 and read every book on Nessie, Bigfoot, ghosts, UFOs, hoaxes, fairies, unsolved mysteries, and the like that I could get my hands on. Putting the paranormal into your creative work is the quickest and easiest way to get my attention (followed by superpowers, then magic). I'm a fan of 
Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other things.

So, I want to talk about this and get people thinking: 

  • What does it say about the worlds of  Supernatural or Buffy or any other similar fandom/verse, if the reality of that world is that the baddies are hallucinations of subconscious or unconscious desires, and that the people who see them have some psychic ability, whatever that means? 
  • Is there a paranormal phenomenon I haven't touched on here that can/cannot be explained through Gooch's theory, or that hasn't been touched on enough for you-the-reader to know if it can or not? I'm summarizing, after all. There's things he's said that I haven't. 
  • Can we use this take on psychic and paranormal phenomena to generate a whole different type of urban fanasy?

I'm open to any kind of thoughts or comments, including (polite) rebuttals and counter-arguments. Over to you. 

* I also bought the book for research. It asks some interesting questions I can use to start stories, should I ever want to.

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