Monday, February 08, 2010

Science and the Supernatural


The last one.


All my life I've had a love/hate relationship with science.

In school I loved literature for its parables of the human soul, for its magic and mystery of myth and legend -- and excelled in math and physics.

So, regarding the supernatural, I am a skeptic who yearns to believe.

While tossing files last week I came across a newspaper clipping from 7 July, 1999 ( Nicholas D. Kristof, The National Post) discussing a disorder called sleep paralysis.

The article goes a long way toward destroying the anecdotal evidence used to support various claims of alien abductions, flying broomsticks (the primitive tech version,) demon attacks, perhaps even near-death experiences and visitations from the dead.

According to Kristof, sleep paralysis has been reported in many cultures from antiquity.

In China, the condition is described as gui ya - ghost pressure. The Japanese call it kanashibari. In the West Indies: kokma; in Newfoundland: old hag.

The symptoms remain remarkably similar, only the interpretations of the hallucinations vary.

Researchers explain these illusions (of transportation/panic /suffocation /malignant presence) occur when the body is still in REM sleep but the mind had disconnected from dream and is half-awake.

Seems logical. Ah well.

And then I think that science has merely provided an explanation for the conditions of the event. Moreover, at basis, the research remains anecdotal.

Bugger.

And while I don't really believe my dead father walked into my bedroom and spoke to me early one morning, still...

Skepticism goes both ways.

26 comments:

raine said...

I guess I'm 'skeptical' in that I won't believe just ANY ol' thing.
However, I'm just as likely to be skeptical of some scientific 'explanations', unless supported by tons of research and facts.
Anything can be explained away. :)

But I think I've seen some things that make our current abilities to define them seem lacking.
Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the visitation? ;)

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm skeptical too, even though I believe. But I'm alive because my great grandfather woke my mother up when I was an infant BY SHAKING HER FOOT. He told her to check on me, and I had stopped breathing and was turning blue.

So, you just can't tell me something odd was at work with that incident. I just don't know what it was.

writtenwyrdd said...

I meant you can't tell me that there was not something odd at work. Sheesh. No wonder double negatives are so hated, lol.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Part of the theme from SCAR is that personal journey means everything. If it comforts me to believe in the "fairies at the bottom of the garden," if it makes me a better person, then I'm going to damn well believe. But if someone else draws comfort from science, then bully for them.

We're all headed to the same destination. Whether you get there by planes, trains, or automobiles could matter less.

starvingwritenow said...

I'm a believer. I know there were spirits in the house where I grew up. And a few years ago I was at a writer's retreat and they hired a psychic to come in for career-related readings. During her group meeting she stopped talking and out of the blue turned to me and said, "Do you know your grandmother is with you?" She went on to say that I have my grandmother's name (I do, and I hadn't even told her my name) and that my grandmother told her she had wanted to write but never did. It was weird.

...but it also might explain why I'm forever worried about my keys and my pocketbook.

Bernita said...

"I'm just as likely to be skeptical of some scientific 'explanations'"

My point exactly, Raine. Perhaps I didn't articulate it clearly.

I may dismiss that particular incident on a loose variation of the explanation outlined in the article - but that still does not mean all such occurrances can be similarily and summarily dismissed.

Written, I know the psychologists' answer to that event - nevertheless, they would have to admit that something beyond the normal motherly instinct, something obviously extra-sensory was operating on that occasion.

"if it makes me a better person, then I'm going to damn well believe."

And that is a valuable point, Betsy.One often lost in such discussions.

SWN,I believe there are some true psychics and an awful lot of frauds.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like that. Skepticism goes both ways. True. I think sleep paralysis is a fascinating topic in itself. And it's relationship to alien abduction and other such phenomena make it very relavent in our world.

Lana Gramlich said...

I have to say, I'm probably too skeptical for my own good. I used to believe in things, or even just wanted to, but science kept nudging me & saying, "C'mon now...Really?"
That's not to say that all of the mysteries are solved, thankfully!

Natasha Fondren said...

I couldn't agree more. Especially these days. As a society, we're so invested in proving ourselves right, we've lost a lot of the openness necessary to discover anything.

hampshireflyer said...

I'm hard-wired to prefer rational explanations for things, I guess, but I also believe there are a lot of things we don't even understand how to explain yet.

When I read the part about sleep paralysis, I wondered whether it had anything to do with that falling sensation that wakes you (well, me) up in the middle of the night. I've had it ever since I was a child - and I think I could very well believe that I'd just been dropped out of an alien mothership or a fairy boat if I'd grown up internalising a different worldview where that sort of thing could plausibly happen...

Bernita said...

Yes, Charles! Fascinating, I agree.
We shouldn't accept science uncritically as a replacement belief system.

And the mind seems to be one of the greatest of those remaining mysteries, Lana.

Natasha, I'm not sure that desire is particularly new or even modern.

Bernita said...

I wondered that too, Alex, because I also experience that falling business occasionally.
However, the article doesn't mention it specifically - though I suppose we could infer it.

Anonymous said...

Resting at home in a new apartment, a few days before having my first child, I dreamed repeatedly of a male intruder coming down the hall while I lay on the couch unable to move.

The multiple dreams bothered me so much that I actually took leaves of sage (grown in my mother's garden) and burned them in a pot, carrying smoke throughout the apartment.

I don't pay much attention to herbology or folk magic. But I looked it up afterwards and found out that burning sage is often used to dispel unwelcome spirits.

I felt both scared and silly. I don't play with magic. But the bad dreams went away and my son was fine. Results matter.

Asa

Scott from Oregon said...

I knew a woman who would dream her boyfriend was cheating on her, then, when awake, not talk to him for days because of the indescretion...

Oh, and science isn't a belief system. It is a methodology. Skepticism lies at the root of that methodology.

Belief NEVER equals truth. Things are true or not true regardless of one's belief...

Humans, however, have brains that are good at tricking the brain owner leading us to assume belief equals truth.

Plus we combine a survival instinct with an imagination leading us to create survival scenarios for ourselves...

My two cents still worth a nickel.

Bernita said...

The "whys" may vary, Asa, but if something works, it works.

Scott, it's amazing the number of people who use science as a belief system.
And it's as prone to as much religious fervour as any other system.

December/Stacia said...

I've had those "waking dreams" a couple of times, where you're having a nightmare but are awake and can't move?

Ugh. Horrifying.

Bernita said...

December,
studies suggest almost 50 % of the population have had at least one of these episodes.

Chris Eldin said...

My children are at the age where they're fascinated with ghosts and UFO's and spoon-bending, etc.
:-)

One of my favorite movies is "Contact" with Jodi Foster--it was written by a scientist (Carl Sagan) yet manages to allow us to keep the wonder and open mind about our world, our universe.

I may rent it today, whilst snowed in between two blizzards. Canada is warmer, and I am rambling...
:-)

Bernita said...

I expect we'll get the fringe of that Colorado clipper up here, Chris, but so far winter where I am has been astonishingly light.
Odd to see it pile up south.

laughingwolf said...

ha! i posted my 'mini' earlier today, guess what it's about? ;)

i heard if i 'hit the ground' when falling in my sleep, i'd die... one night i willed myself to do so in my dream... nothing came of it, or perhaps i died and am no longer here?

as for belief: i believe what i believe at any particular time, til i no longer believe it, then believe something else!

right now, i believe i'll brew me a fresh coffee :O lol

word verif: braerie

Bernita said...

I believe in you, Laughing Wolf.

BernardL said...

I've seen so many weird things over the decades I 'trust but verify'. :)

jason evans said...

I'm a wishing skeptic too. The skeptic is the stronger, though.

I've experienced sleep paralysis a couple of times in my life. I can attest to the strong sense of someone/something in the room. Once, I woke from a dream where this little, furry, terrifying creature was lose in my room. My eyes were open, and I was awake, and I was convinced it was still there. However, as much as I tried, I couldn't call for my parents. It just came out as a croak. I couldn't really breath either. Pretty unnerving. It took about 30 seconds to regain the ability to move.

Bernita said...

A good rule to go on with, Bernard. One doesn't automatically assume that it's nonsense without any examination.

You've described a classic set of sensations, Jason.

laughingwolf said...

thx bernita, i believe in you as well :)

Bernita said...

LW...maritime mafia rulz!