Anything useful in parapsychology
Parapsychology: Some things cannot yet be explained scientifically - a blog conversation with Alexander Schestag
Alex and I met when we were both still studying in Heidelberg. In addition to his technical support for my web activities, psychological topics have been the subject of our countless conversations over the past two decades. I am particularly fascinated by his interest in parapsychology. Now we have taken up the topic again for a blog conversation:
You have been offering advice on parapsychological questions for a long time. I find that extremely exciting, because I've often heard everything that can come to light when you get to the bottom of supposedly supernatural incidents. But that sometimes they are really inexplicable. What kind of questions are people coming to you with?
The questions are very different. I would distinguish them on two levels.
One level is the question of content. There are inquiries on all topics of parapsychology such as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, telepathy and spooky appearances. Haunted and ghostly apparitions make up the bulk of the questions. In addition, I am also brought up on issues that do not belong directly to classical parapsychology. For example, I remember some conversations about unidentified beings.
The second level is the intention of the requests. The vast majority of concerns relate to personal experiences. Affected people look for explanations for what happened to them or want to know whether what happened to them is dangerous. Often there is a lot of suffering that I try to take away from those affected. In a few cases, however, people simply want general information about a phenomenon. And even if I explicitly state on my website that I do not provide such services, I am still occasionally asked for contacts to “clairvoyants”, “spiritual healers” and similar offers.
Are there things with which you would turn to such advice?
Yes, if something happened to me that I can't explain, it would. But so far (* knock on the wood) everything has cleared up by itself. I am quite open and do not immediately consider supernatural reports to be crazy. Too much has happened to me myself that could not be explained scientifically. In the end, however, these were always positive experiences.
But I assume that the people who come to you have a certain level of suffering or fear? Then what do you do for them or with them?
First, a small note on the concept of the supernatural. I avoid it because I am convinced that the phenomena in question are not outside of nature. Some things cannot yet be explained scientifically, but we are working on it. 😉
Your question is one of the central tasks of my advice. Many people who turn to me actually have great suffering or fear or are at least highly unsettled by what they have experienced because it shakes the very foundations of their worldview. Most people are also afraid of being declared “crazy”.
What I do for you then depends on the question you ask me with. It is always important to convey the feeling that you take issues seriously and take people seriously. Because they are often unsettled by the fact that those around them do not. People who have extraordinary experiences are very often given the stigma of being mentally ill, although in the vast majority of cases this is not the case. Even some consultants are very careless about pathologizing those affected.
For some, a conventional explanation is also very important. If there are plausible approaches, I will offer them to you. That already helps many. But some don't want that either. As a rule, the following applies: How the phenomena can be explained is often less important than the question of what the experience means for those affected.
If people are very afraid of what they have experienced, it can be useful to point out that the phenomena are usually not dangerous, even if I do not have a plausible explanation. In 20 years of consulting work, I have never seen a single case that people have been seriously harmed.
It has also proven very helpful to explain to those affected that they are not alone with their experiences. 70% of Germans have a paranormal experience at least once in their life.
You write above that your experiences have always been positive so far. Would you like to describe one of your experiences?
Gladly. It was about my connection to a friend who was 1000km away from me in a coma. He later knew things about me from the time he was unconscious that he couldn't know. And the circumstances in which it came about that he was not disconnected from the life support devices, as advised by the family doctors, were extraordinary. This experience - painful as it was during the period of uncertainty - changed my life. And since I wrote it down, it has helped many other people. The whole thing can be read here: http://www.annetteschwindt.de/2010/10/30/in-alle-ewigkeit/ and that's exactly what happened.
This story completely changed my view of life and death. To be so connected with others, no matter where they are, is a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, many are not open to it because it scares them or they think it's crazy - or both. I also remember that some people didn't take me seriously when that happened to my boyfriend. If I hadn't had others around me who listened and sometimes reported similar experiences myself, I might have thought that I would have gone crazy. How do you know that?
Yes, that is a very impressive experience. And the same applies here: You are not alone with it. I have read and heard similar experiences very often.
Only in very, very rare cases is the experience really based on a serious mental illness such as an acute psychosis. Then it is of course inevitable to carefully get those affected to seek professional psychiatric treatment. Unfortunately, this can also lead to acute crisis situations, for example if the person is suicidal because of what they have experienced. Then make sure that she gets such treatment as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in case of doubt, coercive measures are also necessary to protect the life of the person concerned. This then has nothing to do with parapsychological counseling, but falls under crisis intervention. Fortunately, as I said, this is extremely rare. But you have to be prepared for it.
Incidentally, your experience fits very well into a very often applicable explanatory scheme. In many cases it turns out that behind the experiences - regardless of the explanations - there is often stress or strain. Time and again I experience that the phenomena subside or disappear when I advise those seeking advice to look for such factors and consider how they could be eliminated. In acute crisis situations like the one you describe, such experiences also occur more frequently. My experience shows z. B. that people who had to experience wars report about them more than average.
I would therefore like to answer your question with a counter-question: Why should one be “crazy” just because one has an experience that one cannot explain to oneself? Isn't that rather the blinker mentality of a society that rejects everything that cannot be explained rationally? Maybe also because it unsettles her by finding out that not everything is as controllable as it seems at first glance?
Yes, I'm sure you're right. We live in a performance society, something like that doesn't fit. Nevertheless, there is also more and more scientific evidence that everything is interrelated. Who knows if we won't be able to explain at some point what still seems to us to be rationally incomprehensible today?
And yes, in times of stress like grief or illness, people seem to become more approachable to the topic. In some cultures you are basically more open about it, especially when it comes to the connection to your ancestors and other loved ones. I actually think that's very nice and since the story mentioned above I have my own approach. Most people are afraid of this and they want to suppress it. If it does find its way into their consciousness, then they cannot deal with it.
You have been doing such consultations for a long time, do you perceive a change in the way society deals with such phenomena?
In dealing with the classic phenomena such as extrasensory perception, spook and the like, rather not. There are still many people who consider all of this to be nonsense and those affected to be “crazy”. The frequency of experiences has not changed either.
What has changed enormously, however, is the media presence and processing of the topic. While a documentary on the subject was rarely seen in the past, reality shows on television have been sprouting up for a number of years. In most cases, these are US American series that often deal with so-called “ghost hunters” who - using scientifically questionable methods - look for evidence of ghost apparitions in all possible places. But there are also a few German formats. There are also numerous publications by individuals or small groups on the Internet, especially on YouTube, in social networks and in blogs. The possibilities of Web 2.0 to publish content yourself have led to a tremendous development. That's exactly your topic. How do you rate this development?
I could imagine that many people post on YouTube just for the horror or as sensational reporting. There are sure to be a lot of would-be Ghostbusters out there, right? "Don't cross the beams!" 😉 That probably makes it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. How do I, as a layperson, know which of them are serious and which are not? Are there any serious contributions on TV or the Internet at all? Maybe also forums in or outside of social media? Where do you turn as a seriously interested person?
It's complicated. Most YouTube channels go to great lengths to be well-founded and reputable. Nevertheless, one notices that belief often dominates and the scientific background is missing. The same applies to forums and the like. They are by no means uninteresting, especially because of the experience reports, but also dangerous for those affected. Because people seeking advice are often persuaded to have fears. There is talk of evil spirits and demons who are supposed to be responsible for what has been experienced. From a scientific point of view, this is untenable and only leads to people becoming insecure.
At the other end of the spectrum are so-called skeptic organizations that completely negate the existence of the phenomena without having the appropriate scientific background. That is not helpful either.
For this reason, I can only recommend three other websites besides my website that offer reliable information on the subject. There is the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene in Freiburg, which can be reached under the URL https://www.igpp.de. The parapsychology chair of the University of Freiburg was previously located there. In addition, the Scientific Society for the Promotion of Parapsychology with its parapsychological advice center at https://www.parapsychologische-beratungsstelle.de is worth a look. Last but not least, the Society for Anomalistics, which I co-founded, offers interesting information at https://www.anomalistik.de. However, their range of topics extends far beyond that of parapsychology. Incidentally, my advice service was originally located there.
In addition, I can actually only recommend classic books, above all “Ghosts are only people” by Walter von Lucadou, in which he deals with cases from his above-mentioned WGFP advice center. If you want to get a good overview of parapsychological research, we recommend “The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena” by Dean Radin. Both books are understandable for laypeople, even if Radin's unfortunately only available in English.
In general, unfortunately, it has to be said that the Internet is a difficult place for scientific topics, because information and its origin are often difficult to verify. You can find scientific articles from renowned journals online, but they are often difficult to understand for laypeople. How is your experience of the quality of information on the web?
To be honest, I've never researched it, at most I came across articles through my networks. Most of them came from traditional print media in English-speaking countries. In Great Britain in particular, “haunted places” have a completely different tradition than in Germany.
I often come across belief in evil spirits when talking to others about near-death experiences, or "the other side," as I call it. While I (see story above) associate it with love and being protected, others shudder at the mere hint of the topic and quickly distract them again.
What are the typical cases why people contact you? And how can they be explained? Have you already had cases in which you could not help?
I can almost always help, even if only by calming people down and taking away their fear, even if I cannot offer an explanation. I can't really help in three cases. There are people who come to me with ready-made, mostly esoteric explanations and who just want to have them confirmed. Of course, I won't do that if I think the explanations are incorrect. I then try to explain why I see it that way. If that doesn't work, it falls under resistance to advice. There is also that. And then there are people who absolutely want to have a clairvoyant or something similar, although I explicitly write on my website that I do not do that. I can't help there either. Last but not least, I very rarely receive inquiries from outside the field. So today someone asked me if she could sue a spirit healer. Of course, this is primarily a legal question that, as a non-lawyer, I cannot answer.
Typical cases look different. An example: Often people come to me because they want to have seen an apparition. How this can be explained depends on the individual case. There may be physical causes such as infrasound or strong electromagnetic fields that can trigger such perceptions, including feelings of fear, in individual people. But so-called pareidolia are also common. People see patterns in things as well as shapes, although there are none. This is a completely normal function of our brain and can happen to anyone. However, there are also very few cases for which there is no plausible hypothesis based on the information available. That is not to say that if more information was available, there would be none. But you also have to be prepared to leave something open instead of desperately “explaining” an experience away.
Another very typical phenomenon is what is commonly referred to as poltergeist. People hear knocking noises or steps, sometimes things move by themselves or fly around. In one case, part of the apartment was completely devastated. However, humans are usually not harmed. If you disregard fraud, which I cannot recognize in most cases, there are also different explanations here. Steps or knocking noises can be caused, for example, by animals or by wood “working”. When things move by themselves, physical effects such as magnets or moisture can be a possible cause. But here, too, there is a small proportion of cases that cannot be explained. It has been shown that at least psychological problems or stress play a role in the triggering person, also known as the focus person. One theory is that this stress quasi “discharges” through the physical phenomena. How this might work is the subject of further research. But at least this focus person model seems to fit well in the vast majority of cases. If the stress is reduced, the incidents subside.
That sounds really exciting! Especially with the physical phenomena.Assuming that everything is made of energy and that there is evidence of such a thing as quantum entanglement, that is no longer so unlikely. There are also studies, for example, that show that sick people who are sent positive energy (also called prayer among people who believe in God) recover better. There is also no measurable physical contact and something happens anyway.
Do you have to deal with people in your work who are good at this kind of thing? For example healers or media? There are certainly tons of charlatans there. But are there also real ones?
First of all, there is skepticism about any explanations via quantum physics. A lot of nonsense is being told by laypeople, even if there are a few physicists like Walter von Lucadou who do research in the field and whom I take seriously. I'm not a physicist myself, so I don't speculate about it. The studies on the effects of prayer are methodologically highly controversial. So you have to be careful there too.
I am of the opinion that there are no real spiritual healers or media. That's why I don't mediate. I now consider some phenomena such as telepathy to be well documented. But research shows that these things occur spontaneously and are not controllable, as self-proclaimed clairvoyants or the media claim. Most use psychological techniques such as cold reading - skillfully guessing things based on prior information - to elicit information from their clients. There is nothing paranormal about it. This can also be seen in the inquiries from people who have been to the so-called media and then seek advice on how to explain the result. Occasionally there may be minor effects in the healing area, but these usually only correspond to the placebo effect. There is no evidence of general effectiveness.
Presumably, the mere fact that someone takes care of you in detail instead of being dealt with according to time, as usual, already makes a big difference. I can only confirm that from my own experience. Perhaps one shouldn't explain everything at all, but leave room for mysteries. I like the idea that energetically we are all one with the world and connected in (more or less) love even after death. That's why I don't experience paranormal phenomena as creepy or threatening, but actually always as an expression of this connection or the search for it.
Thank you for talking to me about this this time in a blog so that others can also participate.
About my interlocutor:
Alexander Schestag is a qualified psychologist and IT service provider. One of his areas of interest is parapsychology and its scientific research. For 20 years he has been providing advice on parapsychologische-beratung.com for people who have had so-called paranormal experiences and are looking for advice on the basis of this.
Cover photo: MonikaP, Pixabay
Photo Alexander Schestag: private
Illustration by Annette: tutticonfetti
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