Mysterious And Unexplainable
Almost every one of us has experienced something that we thought seemed mysterious and unexplainable. For example, have you ever known that someone was going to call you just before the phone rang? Or perhaps you have had a dream about something that later came true. Some people think these occurrenccs are signs of the paranormal. Others explain them as merely coincidence.
Mysteries of the paranormal ("beyond the normal") are common. These are tales of unrighteous deeds, inexplicable vanishings, supernatural weirdness, and the stuff that nightmares are made of. For example, most towns have at least one place where inhabitants believe ghosts live. People report seeing strange lights in the sky that they believe are the spaceships of visitors from other planets. And scientists have been working for decades to discover the truth about sightings of mysterious creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.
Paranormal refers to any kind of observable event that cannot be explained by known and established scientific and technical means. Paranormal events include a wide range of phenomena including teleportation, psychokinesis, mind-reading, out-of-body experiences or OOBEs, ghosts and other apparitions, hauntings, spontaneous human combustion, and miracles. There are those who would argue that ETs and UFOs could properly be classified as paranormal.
The relationship between the media and psychical research has always been rather ambivalent. On the positive side, the media provide a valuable means of educating the public, a useful source of anecdotal material, contact with potential psychics and the opportunity to do experiments with a large number of subjects or to conduct surveys. On the negative side, the need for the media to entertain rather than conduct rigorous investigations often produces a somewhat sensationalised view of the paranormal, and this can be frustrating for the serious researcher.
Poised at the dawn of recorded history, the ancient Egyptians and their culture have fascinated mankind down through the ages. The Egyptians' beliefs and gods, their arts and sciences, their massive building projects, their mummification of bodies in preparation for the afterlife - all these elements coalesce to make the ancient kingdom of the Nile a magnet for wonder.
The world's museums and rare-book libraries are home to a number of artifacts that provide tantalizing glimpses of alternate storylines for mankind. Runestones and maps suggest Vikings explored America centuries before Columbus, while other curious objects seem to project modern-day technology, into the distant past.
Like Newgrange and Giza, Stonehenge and Delphi, the sacred sites of vanished cultures inspire endless speculation. Why, for example, did the pyramid form spread so widely across the ancient world? Were pre-Columbian Americans influenced by the work of the Egyptians-or is the four-sided tetrahedron a universal, primal image? The questions far outnumberthe answers
Once upon a time, millions believed that creatures existed; mythical or not, they embody mankind's wishes, fears and urges. Some, like fairies, are figures from folktales. Some, like the dragon and unicorn, are emblems of power or purity. And some, like the golem and the phoenix, are archetypes that express our deepest impulses: to create life or renew it eternally.
Sightings of UFOs are among the most prominent evidence for alleged alien visitations to Earth; among others are the weird cases of cattle mutilations reported around the U.S. Some believers find alien influences in ancient creations: Egypt's pyramids or Peru's Nazca lines. Scientists are now pursuing the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) from Earth - and in space.
Will I be rich? Married? Happy? When will I die? Few human fantasies are more common than the wish to see into the future. The mechanics of fortune telling take many forms. Some believe our fate is written into our bodies. Don't laugh: today we scoff at phrenology but swear by DNA. Some believe fate can be divined - revealed by the occult tools.
Since the days when Europeans first encountered Asian cultures, the mystical practices of the East have amazed outsiders. Swamis, yogis, fakirs and gurus, it is said, can perform astonishing feats through mental discipline obtained by long years of practice: they can walk over live coals or lie on a bed of nails without injury. Many of the showpieces are carnival stunts rather than mystical marvels.
Some believe every word in the Bible is true; some believe its stories are fables, written more to inspire than to serve as a road map for scientists; and many of us fall somewhere in between. Miracles and visions that seem to transcend nature's laws-and pilgrimages to the places where they are said to have occurred-are central to many of the world's great religions. An obsession with such supernatural events and relics helped ensure the long primacy of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe; abuses of them ushered in the Reformation. Yet the inspirational power of miracles lives on.
The Middle Ages were the great era of miracles, but a fundamentalist religious tide that began sweeping across the globe in the latter half of the 20th century has put apparitions and visions back on the front pages of newspapers. Often such events seem to reflect cultural attitudes as much as religious ones, and in many cases church authorities avoid endorsing them.
As the Civil War drew to an end, Abraham Lincoln summoned Americans to heed "the better angels of our nature." Although often associated with Christianity, these spirits who do heaven's work on earth also appear in the Judaic and Islamic traditions.
Older than history, ghost stories are told in every culture. Ghosts are generally believed to be the spirits of the departed who remain on earth in incorporeal form, often haunting sites where great psychic energy has been released, perhaps by murder, crime or betrayal. Although most scientists scoff at such tales, everyone loves a good ghost story-or a good ghost picture.
Haunted houses? You bet. Not only are certain homes said to be afflicted by spirits, but some of the world's most renowned buildings - including the White House, the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane - are said to play host to ghosts, in most cases, several of them.
Anomalies persist, of course, as do ridicule and wonder and speculation. Not a day goes by that UFOs, entity encounters, creatures, ghosts, poltergeists, sky falls, and even weirder things aren't reported somewhere. According to one often-stated but so far as I know undocumented assertion, web searches for UFOs are exceeded only by those for pornography. Every bookstore has a section on anomalies and the paranormal (usually, unfortunately, under the misleading heading "New Age," as if anomalistics were just horoscope-reading and crystalgazing by another name), and just about any day or night a cable network is running a documentary-an almost predictably cheesy one. None of this has made anomalous claims respectable; if anything, it's pushed them so far out on the margins that any moment now you expect them to fall off the cliff and into a bottomless pit, never to be spoken of again.
That will never happen, it is no doubt needless to say. Though official culture spurns them, at life's ground level, where the unofficial culture and most human beings can be found, the fascination continues, and so do direct experiences of the anomalous. And it is experience, more than anything else, that keeps interest and conviction from fading away as surely as belief in unicorns or nature sprites. Persons who are not liars or lunatics have strange experiences - which have, they insist, the resonance of reality, not of dreams - in no inconsequential numbers, even if most are reluctant to speak of them for the oldest and saddest reason of all: fear of being made fun of. Still, as the folklorist Bill Ellis succinctly puts it, "Weird stuff happens."
The problem is the definition of "happens." Anomalous occurrences may be experientially real, but it does not follow that all of them are "real" on an event level. When something intrudes into our line of sight, we naturally assume that the something that seems to be registering in our eyes is a part of this world. We do not consider, in other words, that "experience" and "event" may not be synonymous in all circumstances. An event occurs in the world and leaves its mark there; an experience of the anomalous may register only in consciousness, and however vividly it may affect us, in astonishment or fright, it is likely to prove vexingly difficult to prove to a doubting world that you really did see something that all authoritative opinion declares impossible.
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