Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crisis Apparitions

CNN has a piece up today on "Crisis Apparitions," one of the most common paranormal experiences. We've all heard stories about seeing visions of loved ones at the moment of their deaths, and in fact these sorts of ghost stories make up a pretty high percentage of the reported sightings. They certainly are much more common than tales of aggressive ghosts driving people from their homes, even though these more extreme tales tend to be the ones featured in movies and Discovery Channel paranormal series. Still, the CNN article includes a number of stories that are quite engrossing in their own right, and their greater frequency means that perhaps they can give us greater insight into the nature of paranormal experiences than the more occasional accounts of poltergeists or angry spirits.

"We don't know what to do with these stories. Some people say that they are proof that there's life after death," said Steve Volk, author of "Fringe-ology," a book on paranormal experiences such as telepathy, psychics and house hauntings.

Scientific research on crisis apparitions is scant, but theories abound.

One theory: A person in crisis -- someone who is critically ill or dying -- telepathically transmits an image of themselves to someone they have a close relationship with, but they're usually unaware they're sending a message.

Sometimes you just sense the presence of someone close to you, and it seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Others suggest crisis apparitions are guardian angels sent to comfort the grieving. Another theory says it's all a trick of the brain -- that people in mourning unconsciously produce apparitions to console themselves after losing a loved one.

As I mentioned in my recent article on the anatomy of the mind, memory can be a tricky thing. We can't always be certain that what we recall is exactly what we experienced. I can imagine a scenario in which a person may be thinking of a loved one around the time they died, because most of us think about our loved ones quite often. When he or she later becomes aware of the loved one's death, the memory gets recast so that it is recalled as a full-scale apparition. That, at least, is the explanation most skeptics are comfortable with.

Still, the stories keep coming in and it's clear that some sort of unusual effect is going on, whether it's a quick of memory or an actual telepathic link. Scientific investigation is difficult because these events are so seemingly random, but if you find yourself having an experience along these lines that strikes you as unusual the best thing to do is what magicians do - write down a short account of what happened right away. That way you know that what you're remembering is what really happened, and if the account contains information that you could not possibly have known at the time you wrote it you will then have solid evidence of a genuine paranormal experience.

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