Hempel’s Paradox and the Paranormal

The paranormal world is full of confusing elements that have us constantly questioning them, certainly I have known many investigations that have had me leaving with more questions than I arrived with and only a few answers. However, those few, those tiny few answers provide us with enough to maintain our interest and keep us coming back for more; week after week. Second to the answers, is of course the experiences we have at the locations we visit; as they provide us with an abundance of questions we need to find answers to. At least they do for me.

However, our personal experiences and understanding of the paranormal can often generate confirmation bias or certainly a misinterpretation of the information available to us. This is not something new and only restricted the paranormal field, Carl Gustav Hempel tackled this in his own way through Hempel’s Paradox or as it is often referred to the Raven Paradox.

Hempel suggested; suppose a researcher wanted to confirm their hypothesis that all ravens are black. Then the more ravens that are observed to be black, then the more probable the hypothesis becomes. However, rather than observing ravens specifically, the researcher may as well just stay where they are observing objects local to them. Each object that is not black and is not a raven confirms the hypothesis more so. Even observing objects which are black and are not ravens, still confirms the hypothesis. This is because the logic here suggests that all ravens are black and all non black objects are not ravens, are logically equivalent. The mean the same thing, but differ only in their wording. There is no flaw here in the reasoning, but there is a psychological difficulty in that it arises from misguided intuition.

How does this have anything to do with the paranormal I hear you ask? Oddly, it actually fits a great deal with the approaches and understanding of ghost hunters the world over. Especially as they often enter their investigations with the preconceived ideas of the cause for the haunting they may be investigating. Not all do, to be clear, but a vast number certainly do begin with a focus. This is due to a few reasons to be fair; firstly ghost hunters are of course searching for evidence of the paranormal, so many look specifically for that rather than actual explanations. This may have been popularised by TV shows in all fairness, even those that began with the intention to debunk first often do not deliver that approach in reality. Even some of my own investigations in the past have been most likely full of bias where I have searched specifically for a ghost.

This is where Hempel’s paradox begins to creep into the paranormal world. Ghost hunters can state they are looking for evidence of the paranormal, but their approaches alone define their actions as already believing that what they may find will likely be paranormal. For example, their hypothesis in these circumstances relates to the potential experiences of others that claim to have say encountered a ghost in that halls of an old building. The ghost hunter enters the building seeking a ghost. Hence any potential oddities are related to that ghost and presented as evidence of the paranormal. All strange activity is caused by ghosts, the more strange things that occur without a good explanation, the more evidence for ghosts we have. The problem is that often we also see other aspects creep into this too, other hypothesis become support for the paranormal rather than other explanations. We see a lack of actual investigation of the facts and more acceptance of elements that support the individuals experience as being paranormal.

As far as the paranormal goes there is equally an element of ghost hunters social dynamic almost requiring acceptance of each other through their own experiences. Whilst it is absolutely fine to be someone that has not had an experience or a connection with spirit, it is my opinion that often these people are labelled and fall into a position of group tech expert. That is not always the case of course. However, those who have an experience and a ghost story of their own to share, often appear to gain more popularity than others without. This maybe due a large part of ghost hunting events, certainly the larger ones with way over ten people present, are a more social event than a serious investigation of a location. This perhaps provides us with great supporting evidence to think about the language we use to describe what we do as paranormal investigators. What is the difference between a ghost hunter and a paranormal investigator; are ghost hunts and paranormal investigations different? In my opinion they are and certainly should be.

A Ghost Hunt relates more to those events where we pay for tickets to join many like minded people at purported haunted location. It is a social event where we may or may not be lucky enough to experience something personally. Those attending such events or indeed running them, could be referred to as Ghost Hunters.

A paranormal investigation should be a serious investigation of either a purported haunted location or a particular experience that someone has had previously; as an experience may or may not be linked to a single location. For example; the investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist case could be defined as an investigation of experiences had by the family situated at that location, but should not be restricted to the location alone or the individuals who originally reported the activity. This is because the primary interest is the potential paranormal activity, which should be investigated without assumption of its origins being related to the individuals or the location. Making such assumptions could lead to bias and incorrectly concluding the source.

The paranormal has kept me fascinated for most of my life, each time I believe I have an answer ton something; ten more questions quickly arise. Whilst many may seek evidence of an afterlife, my personal interest has certainly evolved and found much greater depth over the years. I still have only just started scrapping the surface of the subject, but hope to learn much more in the years to come. For many the paranormal is hobby, for some its fascination, for some its a business and others it is a passion.

We still have a great deal to learn in this area and to do so we need to be more open and understanding. Less personal ego and more collaboration will lead to great things here. However, if we want to make true advancements then we need to look beyond the afterlife as a source to the paranormal, we need to understand our own abilities beyond the norm like our psi capability. Ghosts, spirits and apparitions could be closer to our own minds than we think.

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