The Latin prefix para means beside or beyond. Like the word supernatural, paranormal refers to any phenomenon that eludes explanation through normal science or conventional wisdom.
Paranormal can be a misleading term because what is ‘normal’ is open to debate and subject to change.
Funnily enough, the US courts still provide an option for placing the right hand on the Bible while taking oath—and the Bible is a book that invites believers to enjoy eternal rest in the paranormal realm of heaven.
Likewise, more recent versions of the American psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-x) accept religious beliefs that include the paranormal, providing the religion is well established and actively practiced within a given culture. Individual beliefs, however, are far more suspect, which speaks volumes about the psychiatric worldview.
Traditional religious persons tend to be wary of the paranormal, saying that it deals with magic, evil spirits, the occult, divination and demonic realms. Heaven, on the other hand, is said to be a faith-based concept denoting God‘s realm. So traditionalists tend to use the word supernatural instead of paranormal, as if that resolves all ambiguity about what is good and not good in the uncharted world of the spirit.
Many who have had unusual experiences or who believe they have psi abilities probably do not report these for fear of repercussions. They would not want to be ridiculed, bullied, harassed, stigmatized, marginalized or perhaps, worse, rough-handled by a medical establishment that leans toward what C. G. Jung called “medical materialism.”¹
We can only wonder just how many genuine paranormal encounters go unreported. But one thing seems pretty clear: The data is questionable.
Social credibility bias, misreporting and unreliable statistics compel us to ask whether ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ are relative instead of absolute categories. Just as postmoderns deconstruct the idea of the ‘natural,’² the difference between normal and paranormal is relative to cultures and subcultures.
Cultural biases can be subtle but also pervasive. Bias often goes unrecognized because we are blind to our prejudices, expectations and limitations. And despite what many will say on either side of the fence, this happens with both kinds of believers—believers in the paranormal and believers in the normal sciences.³
¹ Things may be slowly changing for the better. But Jung speaks clearly about mid-20th century biases. See http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf p. 143.
² This approach was popular in the mid-1980s and 90s, just before widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
³ Some call for a new kind of relational science that could be applied to paranormal accounts. See http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/10/22/the-top-8-paranormal-scientific-studies-what-we-can-learn-from-them, “Daniel Siegel in conversation with Paul Zak” on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/182895570 and http://www.teemingbrain.com/2012/07/23/liminality-synchronicity-and-the-walls-of-everyday-reality/
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