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A Parapsychologist Writes

Being an occasional series in which we ask a leading Dorset parapsychologist cutting edge questions of general interest to the public

As a parapsychologist I am often asked: are apparitions real and what happens if, after you bale out, your chute fails to open? These are two different questions.

To be clear - and to deal with the second question first - parapsychology is the study of alleged psychic phenomena (extrasensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, a.k.a. telekinesis, and psychometry) and other paranormal claims, for example, those related to near-death experiences, synchronicity, apparitional experiences, etc. Of these. the near death experience comes closest to matching the failed rip-cord scenario, though even this may provide only a partial answer if, in fact, actual death result from the more rapid than expected extra-cockpit excursion. In this case we turn, appropriately, to the first question: the experience of phenomenon generally "unexplained" and frequently from “beyond the grave” as the layman might put it.

Reports of "sightings", "manifestations" or "apparitions" are widespread in both time [dating back to the invention of the camera obscure in 916BCE] and space [eg Corfe Mullen and Canford Cliffs have both had reported sightings within “living” memory, though the Canford Cliffs case remains somewhat sketchily assembled*].

* The circumstances are clear enough - at about 11pm on a dark winter’s night, two fairies appeared to a man shortly after he left The Throttler’s Arms, Bere Regis. They performed pirouettes around his cranium, whispered in his ear [“we’re the little pixies”] and stole his wage packet before evaporating into thin air. The RDC investigated the matter but concluded that there was nothing paranormal about it. Mr Menndayschuss maintains to this day that his week’s wages were stolen by sprites. Mrs Menndayschuss [née Skepp-Tickle] who made a regular habit of "going through his pockets" is not so sure.

Photographs - such as this fully authenticated example of Abraham Kidder and his late father - have done much to secure the status of so-called paranormal manifestations.

Though much of the evidence for parapsychological activity borders on hearsay and is, by its very nature, difficult either to prove or gainsay, such indisputable proof as we do have comes mainly from the era of photography; the camera possessing a unique ability to capture what the eye can’t see but the heart can most certainly grieve over [eg the loss of a relative or loved one].

That said some maintain that the camera can indeed lie and though - photographic manipulation notwithstanding - the case for “faking” ghostly images and other manifestation remains understandably unproven, the lack of - to some - solid evidence means that parapsychology is frequently termed pseudoscience with majority of mainstream scientists continuing to reject it.

The popular image of a parapsychologist is often misrepresentative of the standards of professionalism maintained throughout the industry. Not all practitioners conform to "fairground" stereotypes, though most could benefit from a restyle.

As a parapsychologist [and - in the guise of Madam Sarastro - sometime clairvoyant], I can see where the critics are coming from [generally from in front with all guns blazing] whereas the majority of the phenomena I deal with on a day-to-day basis usually come from behind and often wear a thin veil to emphasise their incorporeality. “Creeping up on people” is a characteristic of the ghost or poltergeist*, so we should not be surprised to learn that the atmosphere that accompanies their “appearance” is an eerie one, frequently described as “spooky”** or “weird”. Temperatures can also drop, but rarely in June - September unless in the UK.

* A German version of the same so, naturally, better educated but more aggressive.

** The term spooky derives from the noun spooks. To the younger generation this has connotations of surveillance or spying - a not inappropriate extension of the original meaning since ghosts and apparitions are termed spooky because they can generally be best detected using the clandestine techniques and hidden equipment [cameras, microphones etc] generally employed - outside the parapsychological field - by those engaged in the espionage business. [For the early use of Eastern European fountain pens in covert intelligence gathering, see The Professor and the Wall [HERE].

It should be added for the purposes off completeness that Parapsychologists study a wide range of ostensible paranormal phenomena [ie not just pixies] including but not limited to:

  • Telepathy: ie. the transfer of information of thoughts or feelings between individuals by means other than the five classical senses [rationality, empiricism, hypothetic-deduction, reason, and normality]

  • Precognition: ie the [mis] perception of information about future places or events before they occur [aka gambling]

  • Clairvoyance: ie obtaining information about places or events at remote locations, by means unknown to current science [eg female intuition especially in the case of a commuting husband who missed the 5.52 so "just had a few drinks with my secretary"].

  • Psychokinesis: ie. the ability of the mind to influence matter, time, space, or energy by means unknown to current science [see above].

  • Near-death experiences: ie. an experience reported by a person who nearly died, or who experienced clinical death and then revived [for example those descending to earth attached only to a failed parachute or anyone who has attended A&E in the last 12 months].

  • Reincarnation: ie. the rebirth of a soul or other non-physical aspect of human consciousness in a new physical body after death [See also cosmetic surgery or any episode of Dorset Celebrity Makeover [Thrupiece TV].]

  • Apparitional experiences: ie phenomena often attributed to ghosts and encountered in places an individual is thought to have frequented, or in association with the person's former belongings [see Cash in the Attic, Celebrity Bargain Hunt, The Antiques Roadshow or any property managed by the National Trust].

Next time: My mother-in-law is definitely dead. Is this why my wife is turning into her?

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