The above photograph was taken in my office. There are several things I could point out here: I am bordering on official hoarder status; at least half of these books are on the general subject of the ‘paranormal’; I have a morbid fascination with death; and maybe it’s time to buy another bookcase.
The reason I include this photograph has to do with some recent Facebook (ugh) fights among minor celebrities in the paranormal, and how we might avoid them in the future. These fights are typically about the same general issues, namely:
- Who is and is not an ‘impostor’ (translation: who does and does not have the academic credentials, experience and training to make any definitive statements on the existence of psi effects) in the general field of paranormal investigations;
- Who is a celebrity-seeking, arrogant, self-serving megalomaniac and who is a genuine person/researcher/investigator;
- Who is flaky and New Age and who is a real scientist (in other words: who functions as a medium/psychic or anyone who uses their intuition as a tool for divining information from the non-material realm).
I have a unique position in all of this infighting. I have academic credentials, but not in the sciences (Humanities, Literature and Languages); I was courted along with the other PHW by Hollywood for a brief time, and I did not refuse the attention. I could be accused of chasing celebrity for a couple of years, but that was a difficult time fraught with self doubt and the general feeling that I was betraying myself. I have been criticized for abandoning the Scientific Method in favor of New Age chicanery, because I discovered some intuitive abilities that allowed me to garner verifiable information from non-local, non-material sources (read: ghosts). However, to my knowledge, nobody has labeled me an egomaniac, a narcissist, or an arrogant twit.
Why all of this ugliness in the paranormal? It comes down to one word: EPISTEMOLOGY. Roughly speaking, the term refers to “ways of knowing.” How do we know what we think we know, and how to we communicate it? With what authority do we make statements such as “I have contacted the dead, and this is what they had to say”? Do we pretend to speak for everyone, or simply for ourselves? Is our “knowing” the truth about life after death based on our training in the hard and/or soft sciences? Is there any academic grounding to what we are claiming? Are we our own scientists? How do we prove that we are using a universally accepted methodology for collecting our EVP and other anomalous information? How do we interpret that information? Why should anybody else believe that our interpretations are correct? Why should we believe that someone is incapable of fraud, exaggeration, misrepresentation or simple self delusion?
Ways of knowing: What seems so clear cut is anything but. Why do people NEVER, and I mean NEVER, listen to my damn audio clips where I state, breathlessly, that I have caught paranormal voices of great import? The answer is simple: other investigators weren’t there, they didn’t record it, they may not trust my methods, they don’t believe that there aren’t one hundred alternate explanations for what I think I’ve caught. My anomalous information is PERSONAL. The audio clips did not enjoy the blessing of any institutional controls. In the end, the general field of the paranormal seems almost unknowable in any absolute sense, even with the backing of academia. That makes it all the more imperative to read and study what others have to say on the subject.
All you can do is read. Then, read more. You can start with the books below, but there are hundreds to choose from. Before we can blithely expect others to ‘believe’ us and take our ‘evidence’ as truth, we have to have a very solid grounding in the work that others have done before us. Education is the only route out of the maze we are caught in as investigators. The insults, mud-slinging and ugly accusations will continue as long as we ask each other to ‘trust’ us, to ‘respect our authority’ and to believe that we really, truly know what we are doing; what we should be doing is engaging in conversations on the previous and ongoing research that scientists/academics/professional mediums and others are engaged in, UNDER and VIA the controls that academic institutions impose. Failing that, we should at least be talking to one another. We aren’t speaking to each other; we aren’t learning from each other. In general, we stake our territories and defend them as if our work were under attack.
But our ‘work’ means nothing if it is carried out in isolation.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW