No paranormal events

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There exists an informal but widespread belief among the scientific community that there are no paranormal events, and that basically such anomalies can't happen. In the words of Richard Dawkins, "the paranormal is bunk".[1] A paranormal event would be any of numerous classes of phenomena not currently accepted as genuine by science, such as telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, ghosts, reincarnation, etc. No such paranormal event has ever been confirmed as being anything other than a perception error, and there is no accepted scientific evidence for their existence.[2][3] There is a vast amount of testimonial and anecdotal evidence claims, however.

Paranormal research

There are literally millions of personal stories about strange and uncanny occurrences, involving moving objects, and physical perceptions or mental visions that hint at higher powers,[4] but such events are not reproducible. These reports are informally investigated by the skeptical community. Skeptics refer to some stories with the term "woo", suggesting the tales have been embellished to make them more interesting rather than true. Many but not all paranormal claims have also been debunked as coincidences, illusions or delusions, or natural events; but not all can be explained. Many scientists have a dismissive attitude to such stories, however.

The scientific field of parapsychology has investigated the possible existence of extrasensory perception since the 1930s, starting with the work of J.B. Rhine. This research continues to the present day; however they have been unable to establish the existence of ESP to the satisfaction of other scientists. Parapsychologists have published many papers detecting weak ESP. The "best" evidence for the existence of paranormal events is probably the Ganzfeld experiment, that claims that test subjects can guess lists of hidden numbers slightly better than should be possible by chance. While there have been many weak replications of this experiment, skeptics like James Randi say these had methodological errors, rendering their results meaningless.[5] The experimenters may also be biased to preferentially publish positive results, while discarding negative data.

Philosophy

The philosophy of metaphysical naturalism asserts that everything that exists can be explained through natural laws and principles, and denies the existence of supernatural phenomena. That does not preclude paranormal phenomena controlled by currently unknown natural laws, however.

There are some major questions that science can't currently answer, like the reason for the existence of the universe, or the nature of consciousness, but these are not considered paranormal phenomena. Some proposed natural explanations for paranormal phenomena are themselves outside the purview of accepted science, like the theory that ghosts are hallucinations caused by magnetic anomalies.[6][7]

It is generally accepted to be impossible to prove a negative, so the existence of paranormal events can't be ruled out. Many subtle phenomena are reliably detected by science however, even those with very weak signals, as long as they follow normal laws of statistics (for example neutrinos, radio signals from distant space probes, and changes in starlight caused by orbiting planets). If paranormal events happen they must be rare, unpredictable, and may even deliberately hide themselves from scientific investigators - the so-called "shyness effect".[8] In that case scientists might be right to dismiss such claims, since they can't be investigated anyway.

It has been argued that quantum mechanics allows almost any event to occur by pure chance, and therefore paranormal events must also exist. However, quantum mechanics is believed to follow strict statistical rules, and such "paranormal" events would be incredibly rare and ultimately meaningless outliers, masked by many near misses. Statistically, no such event should have occurred in human history.[9] Quantum physics has become a popular cultural explanation for paranormal powers, however.[10] The existence of some real-world version of quantum telepathy seems unlikely but has not been completely ruled out.

References

  1. SkepticalAboutSkeptics.org article, ref. Sunday Mirror Feb 8 1998. http://www.skepticalaboutskeptics.org/investigating-skeptics/whos-who-of-media-skeptics/richard-dawkins/richard-dawkins-cops-out/
  2. Quora.com question thread. https://www.quora.com/Has-there-ever-been-any-credible-and-robust-scientific-documentation-of-any-type-of-paranormal-activity
  3. Quora.com question thread. https://www.quora.com/Has-there-ever-been-a-credibly-and-legitimately-documented-supernatural-event
  4. Reddit.com subreddits "paranormal" & "glitch in the matrix". https://www.reddit.com/r/Paranormal/ - https://www.reddit.com/r/Glitch_in_the_Matrix/
  5. http://web.randi.org/g---encyclopedia-of-claims.html
  6. ParaPedia encyclopedia, Paranormal Activity Network Investigation Center. http://www.panicd.com/encyclopedia/paranormal-theories.html
  7. "Paranormal theories and science", Maurice Townsend, Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, 2008. http://www.assap.ac.uk/newsite/htmlfiles/Paranormal%20theories.html
  8. The Skeptic's Dictionary, Oct 27 2015. http://www.skepdic.com/shynesseffect.html
  9. Stackexchange com question thread, 2011. http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/15339/is-it-true-that-quantum-mechanics-technically-allows-anything-to-happen
  10. TV Tropes list. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/QuantumMechanicsCanDoAnything