Apparitional Experiences: A Primer on Parapsychological Research and Perspectives
We wish to dedicate this primer to the memory of Dr. Gertrude R. Schmeidler (1912 – 2009), one of the leading female parapsychologists in the field, who, in 1966, had devised an ingenious method of applying the statistical techniques of laboratory tests to the field study of ghosts, apparitions, and hauntings.
Stories about ghosts and apparitions of the dead have long been the basis for much myth, fantasy, and folklore in human culture. But is there really something to them beyond pure imagination and superstition? According to a Gallup survey conducted in June of 2005, just under one-third of the 1,002 adult Americans surveyed (32%) had answered affirmatively to the question, “Do you believe that ghosts/spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations?” (Lyons, 2005). A poll of 808 Americans by CBS News in October of 2005 indicated that just over one-fifth (22%) have seen or felt the presence of a ghost (Alfano, 2005). Slightly higher figures were indicated in a poll of 721 British adults in February of 1998: 40% believed in ghosts, while 37% had seen or felt one (MORI, 1998). In addition, reports of ghosts and apparitions have appeared across many cultures over the course of time (Editors of Time-Life Books, 1988), suggesting that apparitional beliefs and experiences are a persistent and widespread phenomenon.
Experiences that people have had with apparitions are of interest to parapsychologists for three main reasons. First, the process of witnessing an apparition may perhaps involve the use of extrasensory perception, or ESP. If that is so, then this may provide us with a possible reason as to why some people (particularly psychics and mediums) are reportedly able to see or otherwise “sense” apparitions, while others are not. Second, some of the physical phenomena that can be associated with apparitions, such as odd sounds and occasional object movements, may perhaps involve the use of psychokinesis (PK), or “mind over matter.” It could perhaps be the case that the apparition seen was somehow formed through a PK-related process as well. Third, apparitions clearly seem relevant to the issue of possible life after death, and interest in this issue tends to be one thing that parapsychologists have in common with the diverse community of paranormal enthusiasts who have a broader interest of investigating ghosts and apparitions in relation to alleged hauntings. It turns out, however, that there may be more to ghosts and apparitions than just haunts.
This Halloween day, we are launching a third installment of our basic primer series – yet another “crash course,” if you will – for paranormal enthusiasts and the general public for the prime reason that there has been much misunderstanding within the paranormal enthusiast community regarding what has been learned in the past about ghosts and apparitions, particularly by parapsychologists. To help guide enthusiasts with their own background knowledge for field investigations, we will be providing a basic, accessible overview of the current parapsychological research and perspectives over the next week. We hope that this primer will help to bridge the gap between parapsychologists and paranormal enthusiasts when it comes to the study of ghosts and their relevance to the issue of survival after death.
Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
Annalisa Ventola, CERCAP
Mike Wilson, Psi Society
Alfano, S. (2005, October 30). Poll: Majority believe in ghosts. CBS News on-line report. Available over the Internet at: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/29/opinion/polls/main994766.shtml. Accessed October 8, 2009.
Editors of Time-Life Books. (1988). Phantom Encounters (Volume in the series “Mysteries of the Unknown”). Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.
Lyons, L. (2005, July 12). One-third of Americans believe dearly may not have departed. Gallup Survey on-line report. Available over the Internet at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/17275/OneThird-Americans-Believe-Dearly-May-Departed.aspx. Accessed October 5, 2009.
MORI. (1998). Paranormal survey [Conducted for the Sun newspaper]. Available over the Internet at: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2082. Accessed October 8, 2009.