“…if you don’t believe in reincarnation, then the odds are that you have at least felt a ghostly presence behind you in an “empty” house. Or that you have heard loved ones speak to you after they passed away. Or that you have a lucky shirt. Or that you can tell when a certain person is about to text you, or when someone unseen is looking at you. For if you have never had a paranormal experience such as these, and believe in none of the things that science says do not exist except as tricks played on the gullible or—as neuroscientists are now beginning to see—by the normal workings of the mind carried to an extreme, well, then you are in a lonely minority. According to periodic surveys by Gallup and other pollsters, fully 90 percent of Americans say they have experienced such things or believe they exist.
This excerpt is taken from Newsweek (Monday, November 3, 2008). Are you surprised to find that 90 percent of Americans claimed to have had a paranormal experience or to hold to the belief that the paranormal exists? I wasn’t, but researchers sure are. They continue to study the phenomenon, flabbergasted by the idea that in today’s modern, science-based world people continue to cling to these archaic beliefs.
In 2006, researchers Neil Dagnall, Andrew Parkera and Gary Munley published an article titled, “Paranormal belief and reasoning” in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences. The article addresses the psychology of the paranormal, and the abstract’s first sentence shows exactly where the document is headed:
“This paper examined whether belief in the paranormal is linked to a general weakness in probabilistic reasoning, or whether belief in the paranormal is directly linked to the perception of randomness (misrepresentation of chance).”
Probabilistic reasoning, also known as probabilistic logic, refers to problem-solving techniques that center on “the use of probability theory for weighing evidence and inferring conclusions.”1
Interestingly, the results of the study weren’t what one might expect. Instead of proving that those who believe in the paranormal have a weakness of probabilistic reasoning, they found that weakness was a deficit in perception of randomness. From the article:
“These results suggest that paranormal belief is not associated with a general weakness in probabilistic reasoning but arises from a specific deficit associated with perception of randomness (misrepresentation of chance).”
In the article,”Putting Randomness in its Place,” author Gennady Stolyarov II addresses this topic further.
” A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.
To see randomness as metaphysical is to see it as an inherent aspect of reality as such?as embedded inextricably in “the way things are.” Typically, people holding this view will take it in one of two directions. Some of them will see randomness pejoratively?thinking that there is no way reality could be like that: chaotic, undefined, unpredictable. Such individuals will typically posit that, because reality cannot be random, it must therefore be centrally planned by a super-intelligent entity, such as a deity.
Others, however, will use the metaphysical perception of randomness to deny evident and ubiquitously observable truths about our world: the facts that all entities obey certain natural laws, that these laws are accessible to human beings, and that they can inform our decision-making and actions.”
This view isn’t unique; in fact, if you search Google Scholar for ‘paranormal weak mind,’ you’ll turn up roughly 5,000 results. So the question becomes simple- in the face of all this scientific proof to the contrary, how and why is it possible that these paranormal beliefs continue to thrive