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The Hardest Thing—Discussing The (Supposed) Paranormal

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Perhaps I exaggerate in my title. But speaking with someone who swears they’ve seen a ghostly apparition or the levitation of an inanimate object, or that they’ve experienced a thought directly transferred to another mind or a feeling that was a prediction of future events, can be the hardest thing to do. Raising objection to the existence of such phenomena puts the other person on the defensive. They assume you think them a fool or a liar. When it is a friend or a family member, you do not have the option of walking away and never seeing them again. You must navigate such conversations carefully, or they will blow up into storms of acrimony that could permanently damage your relationship.

It is difficult to accept that someone you are close to could get so angry over your objecting to a claim they have made. But for many people, belief in the paranormal takes on a religious fervor. Even if they are not people of faith, they will cling to the truth of what they saw or experienced with a conviction and ferocity worthy of the most committed zealot.

“I know what I saw! I know what I heard! It must be true!” will be their line to their dying day. They will tell you how they’ve considered various natural explanations of the event and could not find one that satisfied them.

I will say straight out that I do not believe in the paranormal. Not because I don’t want to, but because I have seen nothing in the annals or journals of modern science to convince me of the occurrence of any event outside the bounds of the material world as we know it. The typical retort to this statement is that there exists unknown forms of energy that science has yet to explain. My riposte is that such a force may exist, but we have no right, intellectually, to attribute it to every phenomenon we cannot immediately explain or may have misapprehended.

When discussing the paranormal with your loved ones, it is best to counter their claims indirectly. Speak about general principles rather than their concrete experience.

Science works by making predictions about how a particular subject will behave under certain conditions. It then tests these predictions by placing the subject under the specified conditions and recording the observed results. The experiment is tested again and again by independent groups of researchers. The design of the experiment is intensely scrutinized to detect and weed out factors that might unduly influence the results. Only after years of rigorous testing can the original hypothesis be verified or refuted.

To date, there has not been a single scrap of evidence to suggest that inanimate objects can move of their own volition, that humans have the power to read or control other people’s minds, that consciousness can exist in a form outside of the body, that select individuals can commune with the dead and see into the future, or that alien spacecraft have visited the earth. It takes little more than a moment to realize the untruth of this last belief. Astronomers and meteorologists are people who dedicate their lives to observing and studying the sky. The fact that not a single scientist in either of these fields has spotted or had any indication of an alien spacecraft should tell you all you need to know about the truth of the claim.

Although you will feel frustrated and puzzled by the fact that people who are otherwise sane and reasonable believe in such nonsense, you need not fall out with them over it. You must, unfortunately, allow them to hold to their illusion. The only way of doing this is by employing an indirect challenge to their understanding of the way the world works.

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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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