Is Paranormal Research Really Science?

Like many of my human peers, I have an insatiable desire to understand my environment.  Knowing this, I’ve come to appreciate some of the lesser known, and often ridiculed, sciences of metaphysics and parapsychology. This same quest of charting the unknown is seen in ghost hunters and paranormal researchers. Very often these folks have experienced something beyond understanding, and want to recreate it in a scientific manner. Studying energies, ghosts and, yes, even faeries is not considered classical science, and metaphysical researchers are often branded as kooks and charlatans.  Is there validity to their work, and can it be considered true science?

The short answer to both questions is yes, paranormal occurrences can be tested with science and technology.

At the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, researchers and scientists work to bridge the gap between science and the paranormal. The Center has ties to Duke University, which established a parapsychology laboratory in the 1930s to research paranormal phenomenon such as precognition, apparitional experiences (ghosts), dreams, clairvoyance, near-death experiences, and reincarnation. Using state of the art equipment, experiments are conducted to collect data for further research.

Duke is not alone in the study of parapsychology.  In the early 1900s, Stanford University was the first academic institution to open a research facility for the study of paranormal events in a laboratory setting.  Today there are two Universities that have active parapsychology labs.  The Division of Perceptual Studies, a unit at the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychiatric Medicine, and The University of Arizona’s Veritas Laboratory.

To study experiences that lie outside the normal range, or that have no scientific explanation, one steps into the world of metaphysics.  This branch of philosophical science works to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world.  In essence, metaphysics gives us the tools to study ourselves, in our own environment, experiencing ourselves in that environment.

When we look at these words, and see how they work from the inside out, it is clear that the academic world believes in the supernatural.  So why must we make fun of individuals who devote their life to the study of ghosts, psychics and that which lives between the realms? Aristotle believed that metaphysics was just as important as the other subjects, and deemed it the “Queen of all Sciences.”

Know that I’m not an academically certified scientist, nor do I even play one on television, but I am a very hard-core researcher of all things science, technology and that which bridges the two. In my life I’ve encountered things that go beyond my understanding.  And, while trying to explain the situation to others, have found myself working to recreate the parameters in which the event happened.

Science! Technology! Answers!

Now this is where I really start geeking out.  For years there were no tools for studying the unseen sciences.  To prove the existence of air, you could hold up a piece of cloth and see it float away.  Showing that ghosts exist, however, was not so easy. Despite what your relatives may have said about the the old Johnson house down the road, the ability to see any type of energy moving around was difficult.

Enter technology.  The same tools that NASA uses to see far into space, or listen for stars to sing songs, are quite similar to what professional paranormal researchers use.  Along with the high-tech gear they also use things like voice recorders, digital cameras and thermometers.  Using the scientific method and technology, those who study the unseen are coming back with quantifiable data that begs for further study of the metaphysical sciences.

I do have to put a bit of my spin to this, because of my deeply held beliefs and opinions.  As stated above, my life has been enriched with experiences that defy understanding.  After going to ministers, pastors and priests, and being rebuked (for lack of a better word), I went to the researchers.  Then my studies took me to the mystics and shamans of the world’s faith systems, so that I could get a deep understanding of what “unseen” meant.

During this journey I learned that there are those who really want to know about what is outside of us, and what is all around our world.  This was not done to sensationalize or debunk, but rather to share with others that we, all of humanity, the cosmos and all of the Universes, are really more than the sum of our parts.  Sadly, I’ve also learned that there are those who would use this to debunk, shame and sensationalize those who had paranormal experiences.  No matter what we believe, or what our faith system may be, there is no place for shaming others for how they walk in this world.  We are called to give help, not to judge.

- Kim Upton, Rogue Geek Tech Editor

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • Voidhawk

    “Sadly, I’ve also learned that there are those who would use this to debunk…”

    That’s the whole point of science, to come up with a hypothesis and then have it stand up to the most ferocious criticism and attack. It isn’t just other scientists who should be trying to knock down claims of ghosts and the paranormal, but paranormal researchers themselves.

    If they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing science. However many thermometers they swing around.

    • Kim Upton

      Very true, and I agree.

      My hopes were to show that parapsychology et al are valid, and should be part of the full genre of science. Instead these researchers are somewhat pushed to the back alley, while being mocked in public.

      And, yes, while this is true in all the sciences (just look at the autism/vaccination issue), and researchers know that hecklers come in all genres, I’ve not yet seen the Amazing Randi throw out a million dollar challenge to someone who studies quantum physics.

      • Voidhawk

        Because quantum theory demonstrably works, whether its the radioactive clocks used to keep GPS systems accurate or more ‘simple’ experiments like the double slit observation.

        We don’t see that with paranormal ‘research.’ I had an aunt who dragged me along with a lot of ghost walks, seances, etc and it was remarkable how unargumentative people were. One proponent would state something totally opposed to the next person and both would just nod and accept that was ‘their interpretation.’ there was never any attempt to dismiss false positives and weed out bad hypotheses.
        If the paranormal really does reflect the real world then those researching the paranormal should be able to present a swathe of theories which are observable and non-contradictory.

        • Kim Upton

          Ah, okay.

          I, too, have been taken along on paranormal outings. What you talk about has happened to me as well, so I fully understand what you are saying.

          In the same breath, however, I’ve watched scientists tear each other apart over the health benefits of raw milk. I’ve attended conferences where “data” has been used to prove that corporal punishment of children is okay (and backed by scripture).

          In my spare time I find it amazing fun to read the opposing views on any particular science topic. For example, give an artifact to 5 different archaeologists and watch them beat each other to death with it before they agree about what it might be.

          My goal in writing is not to convince anyone that my way of thinking is the best, or that I’ve got some kind of secret insider information on science and tech. Just showing that there is always more than one side, or view, to the world. Also, many wonderful science facts have come from a hunch or best guess, and I’ve yet to find anyone who can explain that kind of phenomenon. :)

          “The functional validity of a working hypothesis is not a priori certain, because often it is initially based on intuition. However, logical deductions from such a hypothesis provide expectations (so-called prognoses) as to the circumstances under which certain phenomena will appear in nature. Such a postulate or working hypothesis can then be substantiated by additional observations … The author calls such expectations and additional observations the prognosis-diagnosis method of research. Prognosis in science may be termed the prediction of the future finding of corroborative evidence of certain features or phenomena (diagnostic facts). This method of scientific research builds up and extends the relations between the subject and the object by means of a circuit of inductions and deductions.” — Reinout Willem van Bemmelen

          • Voidhawk

            That brutal debate over findings is precisely why science works. Even things which should be ‘common sense’ are battered to within an inch of their academic lives. The five archeologists might vehemently disagree with one another but after such a pounding they will all (usually) come to a grudging agreement as to which best fits the evidence.

            “Also, many wonderful science facts have come from a hunch or best guess, and I’ve yet to find anyone who can explain that kind of phenomenon. :)”

            A hunch usually comes from us ‘joining the dots’ even subconsciously about the world around us, even animals do it (See the experiment wherein a pigeon was fed pellets randomly but the bird seemed to think that its actions produced the pellets, so it wnoticed that a pellet came out when it bobbed its head and it made the (incorrect) deduction that bobbing its head made the pellets come out)

            We then test those hunches and refine them until they accurately model the world. Trusting a hunch or common sense would hold that light travels faster if you shine a torch out of a mkoving train, that heavy objects fall quicker than light ones and going faster in orbit will get you around the planet quicker. All of these guesses would be wrong.

          • Kim Upton

            Thanks for sharing your input. I greatly appreciate it, as I don’t always get to have such engaged conversation online.

            Sounds like you got it figured out. Again, my point here was to open up the possibility that there is something out there that we don’t know about, or may not understand, but with the scientific method…it might just be possible to “prove” something.

            All science came from the desire to know more about our surroundings. And while I’ve never moved space time to see what the past was truly like, my best guess is that a whole lot of “bunk science” went on before more proven data was established. You know, with all that “bodily humors” stuff that caused people to bleed to death and such.

            Again, thanks for this wonderful discussion. I appreciate all the time you’ve taken to show me your side of things.

          • Robert

            Hi Kim,

            Great article, your thinking is very elegant. Hold fast to
            your hopes of seeing the paranormal shift more and more into the mainstream.
            With the proliferation of cheaper and cheaper measurement equipment and the
            free learning resources available on the internet it’s only a matter of time.
            Unfortunately, currently there are many very bright young researchers out there
            that make faulty assumptions without any supporting data. These bright kids are
            unfamiliar with the scientific method or how to design basic experiments to
            disprove or prove their hypothesis. So when they state their argument there are
            always small minded people out there that will ridicule them with ad homonym argument
            tactics. When this happens these kids are all too often shamed into silence and
            never progress into the outstanding researchers/scientists that they could have
            become. Real intelligent researchers and scientists would never attack the
            person with the new hypothesis but rather they would attack the data.
            Furthermore, if they see that they are dealing with an inexperienced researcher
            they will often stop debating and begin to help the young researcher to develop
            the correct methodologies.

            Back to my original statement, it was only 30 or so years
            ago that all of mainstream science considered us alone in the universe. Now
            even world renowned scientists will tell you that given the statistics it is
            just about impossible that in the entire universe we are the only planet to
            develop life.

            So hang in there and don.t let the little ignorant folks dissuade


  • jcon526

    Good article. I think the fact that quantum physicists have come to various, unsettling conclusions about the characteristics of matter’s smallest particles, such as the fact that they respond differently when simply being *observed*, should give many of us pause as to what we know and believe regarding how the world works.

    Many human beings who are not clinically crazy have experienced paranormal events, so for educated people to write them off with extreme prejudice comes across more as an emotional rather than an empirical response.

    • Kim Upton

      Very well stated. :)