Science, the paranormal and shadow people

Lawrence LeShan. A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research Quest Books. 2009.

Back in the day, in the 1970s, I was very much taken with LeShan's arguments, and they fed into articles such as Doves are Just Middle Class Pigeons. Today they seem more like the precursors of some of the more troubling forms of postmodernism. His essential argument is that the notion of a single reality embracing the whole of nature, an idea derived from the enlightenment, is in some way false. LeShan does not here seem to be presupposing traditional Cartesian dualism, but something more complex.
 
In this book, LeShan argues for a science of spontaneous phenomena, rather than laboratory parapsychology, which he sees as going nowhere, and provides examples from the literature and his own experience of the type of experiences he thinks this new psychical research will examine. Critics are likely to point out that psychical researchers studied much of this material for decades in the years before J. B. Rhine, and there is no reason to believe that any new psychical research will make any further progress.
 
Charles T. Tart The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together. Noetic Books/New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
 
Long on rant and cheap rhetorical tricks (see for example the ludicrous 'Western Creed' reproduced herein. I would expect any group of teenagers doing a philosophy GCSE to able to work out the logical errors in this. Short on evidence, mainly the same old stuff, and no sense of a continuing programme of productive research.
 
It is not at all clear that any claimed evidence for anomalous forms of cognition or other scientific anomalies could provide any argument for or against the existence of transcendent values. Only in the case of pure telepathy could one argue that they could provide evidence for non-physical realities. In the cases of clairvoyance, precognition and above all psychokinesis, which are claims of anomalistically acquiring information about or influencing the physical world, these imply processes interacting with the physical world, i.e. by definition physical processes, albeit perhaps otherly-physical processes.
 
Offutt, Jason. Darkness Walks: the Shadow People Among Us. Anomalist Books, 2009.
Folklore in the making. Ten to fifteen years ago nobody had heard of 'Shadow People', now they are the latest Fortean phenomenon with a huge number of websites devoted to them. Much of the folklore and memorates collected here come from these sites and their correspondents and many of these have prior ties to the paranormal/occult community, so it is not clear how far this lore spreads in the wider community.
 
The experiences recounted in this book fall into a number of categories, many clearly are cases of hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations, usually with aware sleep paralyses. Others are waking hallucinations, perceptual distortions, paradolia, micro-REM episodes etc. In some cases where people seem to see shadowy figures everywhere or flying about, these may point to undiagnosed optical conditions. Cultural influences, particularly from childhood, are obvious, for example there is sub-category of ‘shadow people’ who wear cloaks and fedoras - the Sandeman sherry 'Don' and most relevantly the radio/TV/comic book character The Shadow! (a point Offutt fails to recognise). It is perhaps no coincidence that Shadow People become a phenomenon after the 1994 film based on the character.
 
The range of explanations offered lean very much towards the supernatural and suggest the influence of a syncreatic culture drawing on fundamentalist Christianity and pop paranormalist, with a sprinkling of remodelled 'Native American' culture. -- Peter Rogerson, originally posted on the Magonia Review of Books blog, July 2009
 

--------------------------------------------------------------------

No comments: