You’re sitting in Philosophy class and the professor is talking and you listen and sometimes you take a note, scribble a half-decipherable word in a notebook, something that in the context of the page and the moment seems to make a perfect kind of sense, but given two weeks removed (if that), seems only a blurry part of a larger whole, missing those extra words of the professor’s lecture, the kind that float into the hallway outside the classroom and linger before drifting past with the breeze. You spread books and notebooks and papers and pages before you in the library the days before your final and you try to pull all the pieces together. Half truths and theories. If one approach is too broad there’s another too narrow, inappropriate, unfitting, that loses the general significance you’re trying to unravel.
There’s a distinction between the natures of Philosophy, religion, science and the paranormal. The longer we try to box paranormal investigation into another field, the more the most elegant and essential pieces of the approach will be lost, forgotten, cast into a bad light by those writing its definition.
The nature of philosophy, Professor Jeffrey Kasser tells his class, is that we are exploring the kind of questions children ask in the manner of lawyers. We’re turning big, wet sticky questions into questions of language. Philosophers are taking in the world with wide-eyes and breaking it into something rational, that if there’s no answer in sight, at least we can find the best answer.
Philosophy reaches into a kind of abstraction, an intangible realm, built of questions. The vertical; the moral, ethical. If there was such a way to touch what the philosopher studies, he would be the scientist.
Science is looking for answers in the great black mystery of the universe. They’re looking to press and prove what the world is made of, to make advancements in technology and way of life, in questions, in looking at the brick, the blocks, the tinker toys. Science asks a question and builds the answer in a laboratory. The pursuit of science is almost by nature impersonal. The scientist is looking for answers of the universe.
Religion is essentially defined, over and over again in any collegiate PHIL class, as being of two elements; belief and practice. A deity is unnecessary. Non-theistic religions (those lacking a deity) are practiced across the world. You’ve heard of Buddhism? Religions change lives in terms of practice.
Faith popularly draws misinterpretation that it is a belief in a proposition that cannot be true, when in fact faith is a belief in a proposition that one does not know to be true. Scientists can hold a faith in their theories before proving them. Faith can be a driving force behind any person’s approach to a mysterious world. Faith turns to religion as we know it when that belief establishes a practice; which includes rules or organization toward living your life.
Paranormal investigation seems almost to exist in the gaps between these more accepted forms of looking into the darkness. Striving for a tangible, graspable, quantifiable representation, it has not reached a level that science holds above it. Ghosts cannot be given in a laboratory.
Despite following along the same lines of early science, as they pointed their telescopes to the darkened heavens, we do the same with full spectrum cameras, just a few degrees closer to the horizon, and a bit nearer to the touch. But at the same time, for the same reasons the preternatural cannot yet exist in a laboratory, it falls between philosophy and religion in that it is searching for what is not quite held in one’s hand. By pressing into an unquantified realm, the investigator reaches into an abstract form, but with tools more physical than language, and with a mindset driven by faith without the dictation of an organizing practice.
And so, preternatural and supernatural progress, trying to flourish between these better established approaches, does not exclude itself from the artists, writers, and thinkers who may tackle the questions as philosophers. There is an exploration of the darkness, and in being faith driven, becomes a largely personal pursuit. While we are searching the air around us for an abstraction, a break in the invisible walls, we are guaranteed at the end of the day to find an abstraction not altogether different within ourselves.
It could even be argued that if the soul, that spark of consciousness and life, the self-awareness only glimpsed in any other animal, that center of emotion and understanding, of moral belief and faith, is indeed what exists long after the body, (be it in emotional imprint repeating in earthen bonds, or intelligent fleeting beings), then it would only be doing half the work for the paranormal investigator to put their full focus into the equipment and recording devices.
It seems likely then that there’s an unacknowledged introspection within the work. I find a discovery in artistic, emotional expression akin to a Saturday evening investigation with a sequence of questions and a thermometer.
A week ago, Ghost Hunters Academy’s Chris McCune and his girlfriend Andria were staying at my apartment on vacation. As I went over my limited equipment for an investigation later that evening, Chris asked me, “Are you sure that this is going to be enough for us?”
This investigation wasn’t for the cameras, nor the hotel’s owners, I told him. “This one’s for us. This one’s for the raw experience.”
Supernatural and spiritual work is not philosophical work, nor religious. And it certainly isn’t scientific. But it doesn’t have to be.
We can break out every camera we want, every EMF detector and EVP recorder, but we need to remember that the quest for the paranormal is also an intensely personal experience. Like searching for the pieces in scattered notebook pages two weeks too late, it’s easy to become lost. It’s easy to look in the wrong direction, to force your work in a direction it shouldn’t. So take better notes. Or better yet, don’t take notes at all. Try just sitting back and listening.