Limits of paranormal phenomena
The fascination exerted by unusual and incomprehensible phenomena
Paranormal phenomena capture our attention not only because they are unusual and strange, but above all because we can not explain how they can occur. In accordance with the approach adopted in the section on human psyche, concerning the distinction between the conscious Ego and the psychic experiences in which it is involved (and with which it is usually incline to identify itself), it is important to maintain a certain critical detachment also towards the psychic reactions aroused by paranormal phenomena. In this regard, we note that if we frequent for some time a person gifted with mediumistic faculties, the same events that initially aroused amazement and wonder end up becoming repetitive and even obvious: evidently we get used to almost everything. As Arturo Bergandi – who for many years kept Gustavo Rol's house in order, often witnessing his paranormal experiments – declared: «but it no longer surprised me, because I was so used to seeing this kind of things, that for me it was normal». Similar statements have been made by other witnessesi.
On the other hand, also the sense of wonder that we should constantly feel towards different aspects of the ordinary reality of this world is attenuated and extinguished by the repetitiveness and constancy of the phenomena we are witnessing, which can go far beyond our ability to understand: a striking example is offered by the functioning of our own body, which we ingenuously take for granted without even reflecting on its complexity. So even the fact that paranormal phenomena are inexplicable for us in their way of manifesting simply means that, at present, they are not included in that interpretive and intellectual scheme that allows us to have some knowledge and control, however partial, of physical reality. The human intelligence of which the conscious Ego can avail itself must confront with unexpected and conflicting psychic reactions, determined by the objective reality of events which, according to the normal interpretative framework, should not occur. As we have already observed, this conflict can be so intense as to induce some people to deny a priori the very reality of these events. To those who accept this reality, however, it remains a cognitive problem that leads us to critically stimulate the psyche to produce a more satisfactory interpreting scheme: the results of this effort depend on the very limits of human psyche and its possible evolution over time.
The correlation between paranormal phenomena and spiritual and religious psychic tunings
Another aspect associated with paranormal phenomena consists in the almost automatic activation of psychic tunings that refer to the relationship between our conscious Ego and entities of a «higher» and more evolved condition with respect to the human dimension in which we live. A supreme entity is often referred to by using the naive and culturally ambiguous term of «God», but the psyche can represent a complex picture of entities of a spiritual nature – opposed to the physical one by which we live our earthly experience – which usually we can not perceive with our senses. Some of these spiritual entities seem to be connected with the conscious Ego of people who have already lived in this world, or with people who are still alive. As we have seen, we can be led to believe that there is a link, a symbiosis, between the conscious Ego of a human being and a non-physical entity, which we call spirit, whose complex relationship with our conscious Ego has been examined in the page on the Theories about spirit. Various anthropological books of the past show extensive documentation that highlights not only the widespread belief in the existence of spirits in animistic cultures, considered less evolved than ours, but also the ability shown by shamans and yogis to see spirits and to exercise forms of control and command over them. A valid anthology of these documents can be found in the book by Ernesto Bozzano: Popoli primitivi e manifestazioni paranormali.
Thus, the existence of psychic faculties, typically subjective, through which it is possible to interact with intelligent energies (spirits) which show the ability to exert objectively observable effects and actions in our physical dimension, has been ascertained since antiquity. Only individuals endowed with uncommon mental faculties can have such psychic powers – to a greater or lesser extent – who almost always must submit themselves to an ascetic training under the guidance of a teacher. It should be remembered that in all cultures the existence of spirits, considered as entities with an autonomous life, is related to the survival of a quid associated with our existence as human beings, that is, of a spirit in some way connected with our conscious Ego. However, almost all cultures take for granted the existence in living beings of a double, or an etheric body, associated with the physical body: at death, this double would separate itself from the physical body, continuing its existence as a spirit. Around the psychic nuclei that define and interpret the relationship between the spirit (or the soul) and the Ego, religions have created, with their dogmas, rituals and psychic programs that are handed down and spread in the cultural system.
The creative and organizing function of intelligence
As we have highlighted in the page dedicated to human intelligence, the creative activity – which could be one of the prerogatives of our spirit – normally manifests itself in the physical dimension of this life through the collaboration between the conscious Ego, the critical intelligence and the psychic tunings that determine intuitive reasoning and knowledge. The adoption of more or less complex systems of cooperation among humans (these too conceived and implemented through intelligence) produced, especially since the late nineteenth century, a series of transformations of an increasingly advanced level, as for their information content, which have substantially changed the way we live, the interactions between humans and the duration of life itself. The complexity of technological products made by human organizations allows us today to move quickly from one place to another, to instantly communicate at great distances, to acquire and process information of all kinds via networked computers: all things even unimaginable in the nineteenth century. The majority of people, even though using technological devices every day, are completely unaware of the complexity of their functioning, the difficulties overcome in order to realize them, and the set of knowledge that was necessary to acquire and elaborate in order to design, realize and perfect them. From a creative point of view, the complexity of technological products made in recent times should raise in us at least as much astonishment as that caused by paranormal phenomena, yet no one would ever think of defining these products «miracolous» o «magical».
Human culture, at least in the context of technological society, has radically changed compared to the golden age of mediumistic phenomena, and the spread of technology throughout the world means that the conditions that favor paranormal phenomena in other cultures are disappearing over time. The need to recognize the existence of the spirit, or to resort to the spirits' assistance to solve certain human problems, to cure some diseases or to perform actions deemed as impossible, today has greatly reduced, because the advantages offered by technology are (or, anyway, we believe that they are) much greater, and certainly more subject to our control. The guarantee of good functioning offered by a technological product means that anyone can use it successfully, provided they know how to use it: even when it braks, it can be repaired or replaced without problems, apart from the cost of the repair. From a utilitarian point of view, in trivial terms, technology has proven to be more advantageous, safer and more universally usable than magic.
The essential agents for paranormal phenomena to occur
It may be objected that in many cases (such as in apports and in interpenetration or transformation of matter), paranormal phenomena are amazing because they present possibilities and potentials that go well beyond our scientific and technological knowledge. Or it would be useful, for example to the course of justice, to be able to resort to the mediumistic performances offered by the shamans of some African regions who, at least until the last century, were able to identify not only the guilty of theft (or murder), but also the place where the stolen goods had been hidden, thus highlighting the probative link with the person accused. These findings, based on a typically human common sense, are the basis of arguments aimed at promoting and funding research on the paranormal: it would certainly be a good step forward if we could know the laws that determine these phenomena, so to be able to produce and control them at will!
However, it must be recognized that paranormal phenomenology has its evident limits, the first and the main of which consists in the fact that mediums, indispensable for the phenomena to occur, are very rare today, as they were in the past, also in those cultures that could favor their development. Moreover, a medium's training can be difficult to bear and requires a considerable dose of spirit of sacrifice: a training that can be endured more easily when life conditions are anyway harsh and severe, and require a good resistance to deprivation and pain, while the socio-cultural system to which we are accustomed today (and which is establishing all over the world , at least as a goal to be achieved) is based on a model of life that is presented to the masses (and received by most of them) as positive, advantageous and comfortable. On the other hand, it is not possible to apply to mass societies the same cultural criteria that apply to tribal societies: in either case, the individual experience of life will show some positive aspects alongside other negatives.
Another objective limit of paranormal phenomena is that they depend largely on the collaboration of entities independent of the will and intelligence of the conscious Ego, whether these entities are identified and defined as autonomous spirits, or whether they are considered as personalizations of unconscious faculties attributed to the psychophysical system of an individual, even in the form of a spirit associated with our conscious Ego (as is often the case in our culture). The way in which these entities manifest themselves or exert their power remains aleatory, and often escapes the control of the medium's conscious Ego. In some cultural milieus, in the past, the medium (defined from time to time shaman, or wizard, or sorcerer) was trained and practiced in order to make spirits collaborative and obedient, putting them at the service of his/her own will. Not always, however, he/she was successful in this venture, which in several cases implied obligations assumed by both parts through a sort of contractual agreement not without risks, also because of the ambiguous and insidious nature of some spirit entities.
The limits found in the manifestation of different types of phenomena
One of the most common paranormal phenomena is telepathy, through which a medium becomes aware of thoughts or memories present in another person's consciousness, and in some cases also of events that that person had forgotten. The subject in the mind of which the medium seems to be able to read can be his interlocutor, but even a distant person. Another psychic faculty is clairvoyance, by which a medium can read in closed books or see through opaque bodies: a particular case of clairvoyance is the diagnosis of some diseases. Within the context of extrasensory perceptions (ESP) there is also the precognition of unpredictable future events. Retrocognition consists instead in the vision of past events not known to anyone, provided that it would then be possible to verify whether these events have actually occurred. All these forms of paranormal psychic knowledge are based on things that can be verifiable by ordinary means, with the exception of precognitions, which can only be validated over time: the literature on paranormal phenomena records many precognitions validated by facts also in details, next to others that instead turned out to be wrong. Furthermore, as is plausible, it is more likely that an exact prediction is remembered and recorded rather than a wrong one.
Similar considerations can be made about mediumistic diagnoses: they often surprise us by their exactness, however they are not always accurate, and in any case must be confirmed by medical and clinical examinations. More than anything else, they can be useful as warning signs. A separate discourse must be made for the so-called «miraculous healings», whether they occur as spontaneous remission of certain diseases (usually tumors), or thanks to the intervention of a healing medium. If it is true that these forms of healing occur and have been ascertained, it must also be recognized that these are very low percentages, almost irrelevant, compared to the total number of the sick people. It is confirmed in the case of pilgrimages, with more or less therapeutic purposes, to sanctuaries like Lourdes, Fatima or similar, where every year – compared to hundreds of thousands of sick people who go there – the cases of ascertained healing can be counted on the fingers of one hand. At the same time, millions of people are treated and healed of many serious illnesses in the clinics and hospitals around the world. Even the healings operated by mediums, if they are actually such, represent only a minimal fraction compared to those occurring within ordinary healthcare structures. Therefore, from an utilitarian point of view, paranormal healings – though not denying their reality – remain minority events, which can not compete, for safety, reliability and effectiveness, with the application of scientific knowledge.
Also with regard to apports and transformations of matter, these are always phenomena which, however amazing, can not be compared with the complexity of machineries and devices created through the collaboration between the human creative spirit and the intelligence of the conscious Ego: a case of a medium able to materialize a large permanent construction, such as a building, or something elaborated as an electronic device, never occurred. In the case of artistic paintings attributed to the intelligent spirit of some artist of the past, such as those obtained through Gustavo Rol's mediumship, they always are quite simple compositions, never complex and elaborate paintings of a comparable level with Italian or Flemish Renaissance painting. Fairly reliable evidence of permanent apports of flowering plants have been reported, such as those obtained by Elizabeth D'Espérance at the end of the nineteenth century, but all organic materializations related to human figures or animals of which we have news, dematerialized then the during the séance, and therefore were not permanent. Taken together, the various paranormal phenomena give the impression of a temporary raid, in our physical dimension, of intelligent entities coming from another dimension, usually separate from ours: the effects produced during these contacts, however surprising and inexplicable, remain subject to limits that can not be overcome either by the medium's will or by the power of the alleged intelligent entities involved in the process.
Some considerations on shared and organized mediumship
As we have seen, the specialized literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shows an amount of phenomena and paranormal manifestations attributed to the mediumship of acknowledged figures in the context of indigenous cultures defined as tribal, primitive or savage. These male or female personalities have been called shamans, sorcerers, fakirs, yogis, medicine-man, or with names attributed to their function in the local language (lobasha, jossakeed, kahunas, etc.). The reported paranormal phenomena, not infrequently ascribable to that particular type of interventions commonly called «black magic», are many and of every kind, both psychic and physical, and also the presence and operation of spirits (both benign and evil) are considered normal and obvious by the members of those cultures. These facts lead us to believe that mediumistic faculties were much more widespread and accepted in the past than today, especially in the context of our technologically advanced cultures. In a conference about The Magic of Africans held in London in 1935, Dr. G. B. Kirkland, official of the Government of Rhodesia, expressed himself in these terms: «Strange paradox indeed that of the Western people, who, as they advance in civilization, regress by the same in the knowledge about the true nature of human psyche...». Kirkland was obviously inclined to attribute the paranormal phenomena he had witnessed in Africa to the psyche, neglecting the fact that even among the natives, those gifted with mediumistic faculties were still a minority. But in any case mediumship was not questioned, and consequently paranormal manifestations were more frequent and widespread.
We may wonder whether the mediumship of two or more subjects could not be organized, as it happens for our intelligence, so as to obtain more controlled and complex effects, usable for our advantage. Experiments aimed at this (kept secret) have been and are still carried out – above all in the military field – by various state organizations, even if to date no significant results have been achieved. First of all it should be remembered that truly gifted mediums are rare, and secondly that the psychic conditions in which these sensitives find themselves have a strong impact on the results obtained: mediums can not be considered as lab rats. Finally, the energies that determine paranormal phenomena, even if in some cases subject to the medium's will, almost always keep their autonomy with respect to the conscious Ego, and in the case in which the medium manages to intentionally control the energies of the spirits involved, he/she will hardly be involved in an experimental program subjected to external controls. At least until today, everything leads us to think that the individual component of mediumship is fundamental, and that paranormal phenomena are determined by individuals or at most by small groups of followers: we are therefore far from hypothesizing forms of organized cooperation comparable to our business organizations, even the simplest ones, that effectively work in planning or production.
The ethics of paranormal phenomena
Paranormal phenomena can not be naively considered as signs of an evolutionary path aimed at improving human conditions and offering a spiritualized vision of life: ethical-inspired religions know something about it, forced as they are to recognize the existence and operational efficiency of evil and negative entities alongside good and beneficial ones. If it is true that the literature reports a great amount of edifying and ethically commendable communications of spiritual origin, presented as coming by very evolved entities, it is equally true that energies activated and made operative through mediumship (be they of psychic origin or attributable to alien entities) can also inflict pain and suffering, to the point of causing the death of some people. Evidence relating to witchcraft, black magic or voodoo rituals, although not as widespread as those of an edifying character, can be traced above all in the reports and studies of explorers, administrators and anthropologists who lived for a long time, up to the first half of the twentieth century, with populations of non-European and non-Western culture, studying their customs, practices, rituals and psychic orientations. The effectiveness of black magic practices, able to hit at a distance even the white man, did not fail to arouse the amazement of such witnesses who, even if they could not explain how such events could happen, had to recognize the extraordinary power that certain individuals, often referred to as «primitive» or «savage», were able to exert under the control of their will.
Even some of the paranormal phenomena that occur in our culture, such as poltergeist, infestation and possession cases, are characterized by negative, chaotic, violent or destructive elements. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that, even within our culture, at a popular mass level the most common requests that are addressed to self-styled magicians, sensitives, fortune-tellers, astrologer, and similar ambiguous characters (almost always with considerable profit for these figures), are mainly about love filters, amulets, advice for business success, spells for evil eye, remedies against evil eye, various therapies, etc. And the more paranormal manifestations are validated, defended and corroborated in their evolved aspects, the more the number of those who fervently abandon themselves (to their detriment) to the irrational components still prevalent in human psyche. There would therefore not be much to wonder if, over time, practices of witchcraft and black magic (the rituals of which already have a good number of followers) would again take on consistency and effectiveness in our culture. So let us not be deceived by the presumed evolutionary nature of paranormal manifestations: like all things concerning human psyche,even these particular experiences are characterized by lights and shadows.
Paranormal phenomena and the proof of survival of the conscious Ego
As we have already observed, the fascination exerted by paranormal manifestations derives from the fact that such events were often (though not always) considered as a proof of the presence, in the human being, of a spiritual quid, separate and distinct from the body and the conscious Ego itself. This is obviously an interpretation of a psychic nature, corroborated by the fact that paranormal phenomena alter and overcome the «game rules» that characterize all the aspects of our earthly life that we consider normal. As one of the universally recognized normal aspects, regarded as unavoidable, is the death of our body, the anomaly of the paranormal phenomenon can be a key to understanding how the conscious Ego, whose psychic experience in this physical dimension is determined by brain functioning, might continue to exist even when the brain stops functioning. Many NDEs, some of which are reported on this site, seem to confirm this hypothesis. Death, from this point of view, should be considered as a paranormal event that concerns every human being: even if we can not explain how the conscious Ego can continue to exist once it has been deprived of the support of the brain, such event could also occur, as well as the various paranormal phenomena we have described actually occur, regardless of the fact that we can not understand how they can happen.
However, it should not be forgotten that the continuation of the existence of the conscious Ego, even if it involves the transfer – albeit temporary – of memories and experiences related to the adventure of our earthly life that ends with death, implies a transition to a dimension different from the physical one, where psychic experiences are different from human ones. The possible perception of an earthly environment, belonging to this world or linked to our memories of this world, should normally be only temporary, and have the psychic characteristics of a subjective experience perceived as real. In fact, in order to access objectively the physical reality of this world and the psychic tunings that characterize human life, it is necessary to have the psychophysical instrument constituted by a body and a nervous system. Although some paranormal phenomena show the possibility that entities of a spirit nature exert specific effects on the physical reality of this world, the energies needed to perform such actions must in any case be taken from the psychophysical system of living beings (humans or animals).
Once we have recognized all this, however, we are not in a position to state with absolute certainty that the conscious Ego's survival to bodily death can be considered proven: the same randomness of paranormal phenomena, or experiences like NDEs, leaves doubts about it. and – as we have seen – mediumistic experiences of communication with entities of those who have passed away show controversial results: if strongly positive testimonies regarding the identification of communicating entities should not be underestimated, the contradictory ambiguity of many other communications remains. On examining mediumistic communications, we always have the impression of entering a territory unavoidably contaminated by a psychic subjectivity, that often succeeds to turn into reality, or at least to disguise itself as reality in a truly convincing way. In any case, the death of the body marks the end of our earthly life and of the psychic experiences that have characterized it.
Regarding the psychic tunings experienced in the course of human life, while bearing in mind the implications of a spiritual nature that underlie many paranormal phenomena, we should not forget the impairments and damages which result in brain injuries or pathologies of the nervous system. Experience shows that in this life, the loss of important faculties related to consciousness and memory due to anatomical or physiological alterations of the nervous system does not automatically result in an experience classifiable as «spiritual». Moreover, as we have already pointed out, the same mediumistic faculties often need, to manifest themselves, a state of trance (that is, a more or less complete unconsciousness) by the medium. Only by resorting to contemplative and meditative practices, or even through the use of psychoactive substances, the conscious Ego can in some cases experience psychic tunings pertaining to the spirit dimension, but even these practices are not without risks: often the results obtained are very different from those hoped for. Anyway, the psyche exploration is a dangerous, even if fascinating, process, because – as a rule – in this life the experience of the conscious Ego is determined by physical, chemical and informatic processes, as demonstrated by the effect of neurotransmitters on the functioning of mind.