I once saw a video of Richard Dawkins speaking at a skeptics’ conference. His subject was the “paranormal” versus the “perinormal.” What a difference a couple of letters can make.
The perinormal means all those things that exist in reality that we do not yet know of, and may never know of. Assuming that we will never be able to conceive all that is real, there will always be fields of the perinormal to discover. The parAnormal is belief based on shaky evidence, or no evidence. The paranormal is an intellectual dead end. It is propped up by wishful thinking, and generally demolished by critical thinking. Decades or centuries go by and it is never proven.
When an item of the perInormal is proven to exist in reality, it moves into the realm of settled science and is called a new discovery. This happens all the time, and no genuine scientist is afraid of such a thing. Paranormal buffs will claim that science suppresses their beliefs out of a fear that too many entrenched interests would be upended, sacred cows disturbed, or apple carts turned over. But to verify an extraordinary claim is the stuff of Nobel Prizes, big paychecks, and career skyrockets for a scientist. They don’t fear it, to say the least.
Eventually it comes time to ask if there is any downside to the national obsession with the paranormal. In terms of its damage to our intellectual integrity, the answer is clear to anyone who is honest. Continuously believing in what the British call bollocks has negative consequences for the mind.
Youtube has tens of thousands of videos with people promoting as reality stuff like werewolves, fairies, and mermaids. Living dinosaurs rampaging across the American west is accepted as almost a banality. Not everything attains the status of classic, like the Rainbow Lady video. But exotic energies, inter-dimensional “entities,” time travelers, gnomes, elves, genies . . . there is apparently nothing that is so insane that great numbers of people are not embracing it as real.
It is long past time to start speaking up about this. Also, the next time you see a “true ghost” or “true demon” documentary on TV, on a supposedly educational channel, spare a thought for the people who can be actually damaged by such crap. The mentally ill. The only-slightly mentally ill. The uneducated. The uninformed. And how about impressionable kids?