Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Imagination into reality

Yesterday a friend and long-time loyal reader of Skeptophilia sent me a link to an article by the ever-entertaining Nick Redfern, well-known paranormal researcher and writer who has been featured a good many times on various television shows on the topic.  It's called "The Supernatural Hazards of Being a Writer," so naturally my interest perked up when I saw the headline.

Redfern's claim is that writing about paranormal stuff makes you more likely to experience it, and cites as examples stories about himself and his friends and colleagues who have had bizarre things happen after writing about the occult.  "When you immerse yourself in – and write about – the realms of the unknown," Redfern writes, "the 'things' that inhabit those same realms are quickly driven to intrude upon your personal space.  And, given the chance, they’ll manipulate you to mind-bending degrees."

So really, it's the New Age idea of the "Law of Attraction," wherein your positive or negative thoughts call such experiences into reality.  I shouldn't call it "New Age," though, because the Law of Attraction has been around for a very long time, especially in its negative connotations.  Worry and fear can conjure up such mental demons that it's very easy to slip into believing they're real, that your mind has given them form and substance.

And once you're there, the idea that you might have opened Pandora's Box is one more short step.  "I’m here to warn you," Redfern writes, "and to warn you to the absolute best of my ability – that opening doors of the occult variety is a relatively easy thing to achieve, whether deliberately, consciously, or even accidentally.  Closing the doors to the non-human things that so relish crossing the veil when called forth, however – or even as the mood takes them – is no easy task.  In fact, it’s nigh on impossible.  Unless, that is, you’re aware of certain procedures designed to forever banish their icy presence."

It's what H. P. Lovecraft wrote about so chillingly in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward -- "Do not call up that which you cannot put down."

So okay, pretty scary stuff.  The question, of course, is: is it true?

I'm pretty dubious, frankly.  Lovecraft himself is an interesting case-in-point; he wrote of some pretty terrifying supernatural entities, immersing himself in the evils of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu and Tsathoggua and the rest of the gang for his entire adult life, yet remained a staunch skeptic the whole time.  In fact, he once wrote to a fan who claimed to have had scary paranormal experiences while wandering in the ruins of the cursed town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, "I rather hate to point this out, but Innsmouth doesn't exist.  I know this for certain, you see, because I made it up."

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons BenduKiwi, Cthulhu and R'lyeh, CC BY-SA 3.0]

On the other hand, it's been pointed out more than once that Lovecraft died at the young age of 46, something that causes much eyebrow-waggling amongst people who think he might have been taken out by the Deep Ones for giving away too many of their secrets.  (In fact, I riffed on that theme in my short story "She Sells Seashells," one of a handful of quasi-Lovecraftian things I've written.)

On yet another hand (I've got three hands), I wonder about my own case, given that I not only write paranormal fiction, I've been delving into paranormal claims in this blog for nine years now -- and a lot longer than that, if you count an ongoing fascination with the occult that runs back into my long-past teenage years.  And I have never -- not once -- had an experience of the paranormal.  Even considering my immersing myself in books and legends and spooky claims, and being (not to put too fine a point on it) a suggestible type who has way too vivid an imagination for his own good, my life has been remarkably specter-free.

So I think Redfern's claim really boils down to dart-thrower's bias.  I'd easily believe that since he and his friends live in the world of supernatural claims, they're more likely to notice any odd stuff that happens, and (once noticed) interpret it as a manifestation of the paranormal.  Whether any of those things are actually examples of what he calls "unrelenting supernatural attack," I doubt.

However, if I'm visited today by a creature from the Shadow World, I suppose it'll serve me right.  It's a good opportunity, because my wife is out of town, and I'm alone in the house with two dogs who are (frankly) completely useless as watchdogs.  One is laid back to the point that I sometimes check her pulse to make sure she's still alive, and the other (a pit bull mix who looks threatening) is such a big coward that he's been known to hide behind me when confronted by something scary, such as a chipmunk.  So I'll issue a challenge to any spirits or monsters or whatnot that read Skeptophilia (hey, it could happen) -- bring it on.  I'll be waiting.

As the old lady said in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, "Go ahead, do your worst."


This week's Skeptophilia book-of-the-week is from an author who has been a polarizing figure for quite some time; the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has long been an unapologetic critic of religion, and in fact some years ago wrote a book called The God Delusion that caused thermonuclear-level rage amongst the Religious Right.

But the fact remains that he is a passionate, lucid, and articulate exponent of the theory of evolution, independent of any of his other views.  This week's book recommendation is his wonderful The Greatest Show on Earth, which lays out the evidence for biological evolution in a methodical fashion, in terminology accessible to a layperson, in such a way that I can't conceive how you'd argue against it.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum of attitudes toward evolution (and whatever else you might think of Dawkins), you should read this book.  It's brilliant -- and there's something eye-opening on every page.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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