I have spent some time researching paranormal literature, and more recently, theories of consciousness and biophysics. So, this blog is a revisit of the paranormal topics that I cover in my book (The Quantum Mind: Can Science Explain Paranormal Phenomena?) and an examination of their theoretical background. I will start with a brief overview of eight major paranormal topics.
Near-Death Experiences (NDE): This is when a person is close to death or dies and is brought back to life. A third of the people who are in this state experience an NDE. There are 14 commonalities with people who report NDE’s. However, there are variations across different cultures. It is not disputed in the paranormal literature that people have NDE’s.
The next question is, what causes an NDE? It is disputed whether it can be explained by Life after Death or can be caused by hallucinations (considering the brain is still capable of life). However, there are various case studies where the hallucinations hypothesis doesn’t seem a good fit, i.e., awareness of what is happening outside of the room.
Remote Viewing: Remote viewing is the alleged ability for a person to describe a set time and location without physically being present at the location. Research evidence started to emerge in the 1970s with a series of experimental results to support remote viewing. Remote viewing was of considerable interest to the US military during the 1970s up until the mid-1990s. From US military released files, many successful operations have been documented in the paranormal literature. Other research topics include Archaeology and Financial Markets. There is undoubtedly statistical evidence to support remote viewing and evidence of successful operations. Therefore, it is difficult to dismiss the evidence.
Mediums: Mediums are people with the alleged ability to contact spirits in another dimension. There are two types of research into mediums: (1) case studies and (2) laboratory experiments. Historically, there are many cases of mediumship research (between the 1880s and 1970s). These individuals were seriously investigated by scientists, magicians at the time, which found evidence of mediumship ability, i.e., no detection of a fraud explanation. In one case, the person was studied for 15 years, and no fraud was detected. On the other hand, there have been many cases of mediums conducting scams.
The next search for evidence comes in the form of laboratory research. In good quality mediumship experiments, several protocols need to be in place to eliminate the possibility of fraud. There is evidence of mediumship ability in these laboratory experiments. However, there are only a couple of laboratories in the world conducting these experiments (or at least writing them up in journals). All the evidence points to there being some mediums that can gain information beyond the usual means.
Haunting: For anyone interested in the paranormal, they would likely have come across a ghost haunting program. These programs are made for television rather than scientific journals. However, in the paranormal literature, there are thousands of eyewitness reports of hauntings. In surveys just under a third of people believe they have had a haunting experience. Similar to NDE’s, researchers don’t dispute that some people experience something, but the cause is often debated, i.e., whether it is supernatural or a trick of the brain. From my research in the literature, the majority might be explained by tricks of the mind, but there are some cases that a trick of the brain is unlikely (the same phenomena is witnessed by different people at different points of time).
Poltergeist: Poltergeist means noisy ghost. There is a difference between public perception and academic research into Poltergeist. In the paranormal literature, poltergeist cases generally last for 2-3 months, with numerous types of activity, e.g., throwing of objects, and have a person at the center of the activity. What I find interesting is there are similar neurological and psychological profiles with the central person, i.e., brain abnormalities, high level of suppressed frustration/aggression hypothesis. All the evidence in the literature points to genuine evidence of poltergeist phenomena with the most likely cause being the central person causing the activity by unknown means.
Extra Sensory Perception (ESP): ESP is the ability for people to receive information beyond normal means, i.e., not through hearing, seeing, etc. Most of the research published after the 1970s has been around a telepathy experiment called the Ganzfeld experiment. Hundreds of studies have been conducted in the Ganzfeld procedure. When combining the experiments within a meta-analysis, the results are small but significant. If we accept a general scientific consensus of statistical results, these findings aren’t by chance. Other types of studies around telepathy have found a similar pattern of results, that are small but significant.
Influencing objects beyond normal means: Much of the evidence of human’s influencing objects/persons beyond normal means comes from laboratory experiments. One common experience explored in laboratory research is that people can sense when they are being observed. As with the ESP findings, there is a small but significant effect. More research is being conducted on physiological measures, i.e., a person can influence another person physiology. Again, research finds small but significant findings.
Reincarnation/ Past Life Memories: This research examines the belief of reincarnation from children (usually between 2 and 6 years of age) and their claims of past life memories. There were hundreds of claims from children that they have past life memories. Researchers have come up with a number of common features in these children: (1) able to describe family structures (sometimes with names) of the previous deceased, (2) able to describe locations, (3) odd behaviour for children at a certain age, that is aligned to former personality, (4) phobias correlated to how they died in previous life and (5) similarities between birthmarks and how the previous deceased died.
In most of the cases, the families had found the alleged child’s past family before the researchers got involved. Although there are thousands of reported cases, the quality of evidence is low in most cases. However, there have been cases where researchers took claims of the child and found evidence that the child’s past life memories appear accurate. The current state of research is that there isn’t enough evidence to state the cause of past life memories. But more research is needed to produce a firm conclusion.
A common theme of paranormal research is findings of statistically significant results in experiments. There are two logical reasons for paranormal research findings: (1) all research into paranormal isn’t valid or (2) there is evidence for paranormal. We can rule out chance causing the results (based on so many experiments taking place showing statistically significant results).
There are two questions to paranormal research: (1) is there life after death? and (2) can human ability influence the environment beyond normal means? The life after death question, can’t be answered scientifically, i.e., there is no current mechanism that you can experimentally test two competing hypotheses around life after death (there is or isn’t).
What is more likely to produce a question that science can answer is whether a human can influence the environment beyond normal means? This can be tested. There are two strands of evidence: (1) field reports, and (2) laboratory experiments. There are rare individuals who appear to be able to move objects without touching them, independently verified by scientists, etc. We have seen earlier around poltergeist activity; there is enough evidence that this is a genuine phenomenon, most likely human-made rather than supernatural. Both the poltergeist cases and individuals with the exceptional ability to move objects appear to have a similar neurological and psychological profile.
There are hundreds of laboratory experiments that show a consistent small but statistically significant effect. These experiments include telepathy, precognition (animals and humans), predicting whether someone is staring at yourself and physiological influence experiments. Taking the literature as a whole shows evidence for paranormal phenomena.
So, this brings us to the causes of paranormal phenomena. Naturally, the first port of call would be research into consciousness. Consciousness has puzzled scientists and philosophers who haven’t been able to produce a definitive answer. Although this leads to a natural question. If we don’t know the limitations of consciousness, why do people rule out paranormal phenomena on scientific grounds when there is no evidence to rule it in or out?
There are numerous theories in explaining consciousness. The one that I find most interesting, is by Roger Penrose who has suggested that quantum mechanics has a role in consciousness. At the heart of the brain are billions of chemical reactions taking place. Part of the chemical reaction process relies on quantum mechanics. Therefore, it seems evident that it is likely that quantum mechanics is taking place in the brain. Traditionally, neuroscientists have dismissed quantum mechanics role in the brain as non-significant.
There is an emerging field of biophysics that examines the role of quantum mechanics within the brain. In the 21st Century, there is a growing field called quantum biology. At the heart of their discoveries is that quantum mechanics has a vital role in the migration of birds (The European Robin is the most studied), photosynthesis and respiration in cells, to name a few. The use of quantum mechanics in migration species suggests quantum mechanics might play a crucial role in the brain.
How does this apply to paranormal? The more I read about quantum mechanics, the more there are similarities with paranormal phenomena. Consider how Einstein refers to quantum mechanics as “spooky action.” So here are some principles of quantum mechanics.
Interference Pattern: Electrons can behave like a particle when observed and a wave when they are not observed.
Entanglement Theory: Two particles could influence one another at the same time despite being separated by distance.
Quantum Tunnelling: Particles can move across space despite not having enough energy to do so in the traditional sense.
Most of quantum mechanics doesn’t fit into the common-sense perception of the world. The same can be said about paranormal. How can telepathy experiments be statistically significant, how can a person move an object without touching it? An underlying assumption across various paranormal phenomena is that our normal perception of space/time is wrong. To some extent paranormal phenomena is aligned to the principles of quantum mechanics rather than our everyday experiences.
So where does this leave us? Firstly, we can’t dismiss paranormal as having no scientific basis as there are commonalities between paranormal and quantum mechanics. We know little around consciousness (which would likely be the primary driver of paranormal phenomena). Some theories have argued that quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness. We need to accept the possibility that quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness.
The theoretical basis for dismissing paranormal evidence doesn’t exist. Here are my reasons:
(1) there is no established theory of consciousness, but some theories contain elements of quantum theory.
(2) a newly emerging field, the science of quantum biology is showing evidence of quantum mechanics having a significant role in plants and migratory animals.
(3) it is absurd to suggest no quantum mechanics takes place in the brain because quantum mechanics is part of chemical reactions, of which billions take place in the brain.
(4) the materialistic approach can’t explain consciousness
(5) there is enough laboratory and field studies evidence to suggest some paranormal phenomena exists (even if we don’t know whether its human supernatural ability or something else).
If quantum mechanics can influence the brain (as seen in migratory birds), it would be wrong to assume that principles of quantum mechanics won’t apply to the human mind. Therefore, until we know much more about consciousness, we can’t have definitive conclusions on what the mind can and can’t do. Consequently, we shouldn’t dismiss paranormal phenomena based on something unknown. In the future, the link between quantum mechanics and consciousness might be proven or disproven. But until that time, we need to keep an open mind on paranormal phenomena considering there is evidence to support paranormal from laboratory research and eyewitness statements.
If you are interested in more details about paranormal, please visit my other blogs and the book The Quantum Mind: Can Science Explain Paranormal Phenomena by Ian Webb
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Thanks for reading, Ian