The neuroscience behind why people see ghosts and demons

Do you need a specific type of brain to experience paranormal abnormalities? Some scientists think so, but there can be two ways.

On the one hand, researchers specializing in parapsychology – the psychological study of the paranormal – have spent decades studying whether and how these abnormalities exist in nature, outside the human body, and how some people may be more susceptible to experience. them. In particular, they want to know if some people have unique “abilities” that allow them to, say, see ghosts, spirits and any other beings that could exist outside the person experiencing it (ie. not in their minds).

On the other hand, skeptical scientists in neuroscience and cognitive psychology are trying to show that it is more about how some people subjectively process reality in their brains. Some people may just be connected produce these experiences in their minds, although they may not be real.

We need parapsychology, because if there was telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, predictability, ghosts, any of these things, then science must be radically removed.

Susan Blackmore, University of Plymouth

Although you may assume that parapsychology revolves around ghost hunters, bending spoons, and levitating wizards, this is not the case. Parapsychology, also called “dogs”, is an academic branch of psychology studied at universities and research centers around the world. Scientists in this field believe that more academic, experimental, theoretical and analytical research will show that what science knows about the nature of the universe is largely incomplete.

“There is more than enough data and research at this time to make a reliable claim that the oddities of basic science are actually happening,” Brian Leith, director of the Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience and a member of the Parapsychological Association, told SETimes. The Daily Beast. In fact, there are more than a century of peer-reviewed research on these topics. Leith said it was statistically unlikely that the hundreds of doctors producing the study were fraudulent or incompetent. “Where people are struggling is the meaning and interpretation of these discoveries, which are largely guided by theology and philosophy, as opposed to issues of analytical science.

However, critics say that the procedures and methods of parapsychology are not in line with strict scientific standards, the results are too fragile and, most importantly, that many of these experiments cannot be repeated, which is the basis for the validation of science.

And there is one big problem that continues: there are no valid theories to support most of the findings. Some theories are based more on physics, others are focused on consciousness, but parapsychologists find it difficult to finalize which ones explain everything. Of course, this often happens in all scientific disciplines, Leith said, but skeptics disagree.

“We need parapsychology because if there was telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, predictability, ghosts, any of these things, then science needs to be radically taken down,” said Susan Blackmore, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth and a parapsychologist. a skeptic told The Daily Beast. “I am just happy to have other people doing it. And then, of course, I’m not very surprised. They do not find any reliable findings. They have no theory that works. They do not have any discoveries that could contribute to any theoretical progress. So they always just ask the same question. “

It is great to learn and understand what these experiences are for people, but that does not mean that there is no pre-existing medical explanation to justify them.

This is exactly what Michil Van Elk, a professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, is trying to do. The self-determined “modest skeptic” has a lab focused on cognitive differences, which he says are at the heart of why people believe and experience the paranormal. According to his study, paranormal believers are more likely to trust their intuition and emotions and are less guided by analytical thinking. They seem to perceive more “illusory agents” in randomly moving displays, which means that they may have a penchant for seeing shapes and objects when there are none.

“And we’ve found that paranormal believers have a stronger penchant for self-attribution, where in a game of random card guessing they’re more likely to take credit for positive results that are actually caused by chance than skeptics,” Van Elk told The Daily Beast. . “These findings are in line with the broader view that paranormal believers are prone to a number of cognitive biases, but at the same time that these biases can be adaptive to promote mental health and well-being.

Charlotte Dean, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, recently published a meta-analysis of 71 studies over the past three decades examining the links between belief in paranormal phenomena and cognitive function. Most of the findings are consistent with the hypothesis that experiencing paranormal activity is associated with specific cognitive traits, Dean told The Daily Beast.

“Believers are usually characterized by an intuitive style of thinking. So it’s such an inner feeling. And they will try to explain something they can’t explain otherwise, “Dean said. “While people who are skeptical of the paranormal tend to be more analytical. So they will go through each different way of solving a problem before reaching a conclusion. And we call this something “cognitively flexible.”

However, according to Dean, research such as this is not in complete dissonance with the field of parapsychology. Parapsychologists tend to agree, to some extent. Of course, some people are more prone to paranormal experiences, and neurological traits, beliefs, and sociocultural backgrounds facilitate this experience. But they say it is not entirely correct to say so only cognitive traits or neurology are responsible for paranormal experience.

“While not devoid of value, this approach, taken in isolation, seems similar to acknowledging that some people who claim to be ill are prone to hypochondria,” Chris Rowe, a professor of parapsychology at the University of Northampton, told The Daily Beast. “And then continue to adopt a model of human disease that focuses only on factors that affect hypochondria or sensitivity to placebo effects. [The British] The National Health Service would indeed be in a very serious condition.

There is some evidence that people who have more paranormal experiences have more hemisphere communication, for example, and a greater potential for cross-disruption.

Christine Simmonds-Moore, University of West Georgia

The propensity for paranormal experiences is widespread, according to Christine Simmonds-Moore, a parapsychologist at the University of West Georgia. But this does not exclude the presence of anomalies. For example, parapsychological research shows that the concept of transliminality, a fine line between the conscious, the unconscious, and the environment, is a strong predictor of haunting experiences because it allows people to access paranormal experiences.

“There is some evidence that people who have more paranormal experiences have more communication between hemispheres [of the brain]”For example, and more potential for cross-disruption,” Simmonds-Moore told The Daily Beast. “There is more permeability between areas of the mind and between people and the environment and social and other, and potentially paranormal information,” with information being outside of the human brain that experiences it.

She argues that different frameworks of science can be applied to study the same thing, and sometimes both can be true. “I appreciate ideas that suggest that reality can be both physical and mental, and that there may be a third aspect that contributes to both,” Simmonds-Moore said. She believes that research should examine paranormal experiences with the help of both cognitive psychology and what she knows, and parapsychology. “Sometimes both normal and paranormal can happen,” Simmonds-Moore said. “The reality is complicated.”

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