science

Psychology of the Paranormal Pt. 1

Have you ever heard a voice in your head? Seen something that you can only describe as visualized, or perhaps seen with the Mind’s eye? Many paranormal encounters are described with terms such as these- and just as many scientists discredit them as being instances of Mental Imagery.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy, Mental Imagery is quasi-perceptual experience. This means that it resembles a perceptual experience, but occurs without the appropriate triggers- scent without a source, piano music without a piano, etc.

The argument from a scientific standpoint, as it appears to me at least, rests on the heels of perception. Not everyone’s brain will interpret stimuli in the same manner; therefore, many ‘paranormal’ experiences are merely normal experiences interpreted differently.

This altered perception is often described as mistaken or illusive perceptions (such as seeing a small bush some distance away and, because it is dark and indistinguishable, perceiving it to be a bear) or as plain imagining- like seeing a shape in a cloud. As an example, check out the picture below:

optical illusion

Did you see a duck? Or was it a rabbit? Both?  It’s all in the perception, and that is why no individuals ‘mental imagery’ experiences can be credited as being scientific proof for an encounter with the paranormal.

The thing I find most interesting about this out-of-hand dismissal of so-called mental imagery can be found in the fact that scientists themselves can’t really figure out what mental imagery is; they’re not sure what causes it, they don’t know if it has a singular purpose or if it is simply a part of the ‘way we work’. There are several active theories that attempt to explain mental imagery, but each one is highly contested by other theories.

Which leads me to wonder if perhaps our inability to understand and quantify paranormal experiences is due to a lack of ‘belief’ in the experiences, or a deeper inability to understand the workings of our own minds.