Unlike many of my colleagues, I have always had some interest in "Fortean" phenomena. (I don't like the term "supernatural" - I prefer to think of these things as simply "paranormal," which just means they don't seem to follow our currently understood laws of science, not that they exist outside of science.)
The world to me has always seemed a bit stranger than we imagine it to be, maybe I like that because I am a little bit strange.
I do think many of these phenomena are real. It could just be their mechanisms and nature are poorly understood. However, two of my favorite authors, Jacques Vallee and John Keel, have always emphasized one aspect of these phenomena is that they seem adaptive, mercurial, actually changing and "morphing" to meet the belief systems of percipients and witnesses. This is why Keel has said they may be like tulpas
, the Tibetan thoughtforms that take on physical reality. Other Forteans have run with this hypothesis, including Patrick Harpur, the author of Daimonic Reality
... one of the most interesting people I've read to discuss the subject.
Some spiritualists in the 70s conducted a fascinating experiment to prove that this theory could be true: they created
a ghost. http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghosthun ... -ghost.htm
The TSPR, under the guidance of Dr. A.R.G. Owen, assembled a group of eight people culled from its membership, none of whom claimed to have any psychic gifts. The group, which became known as the Owen group, consisted of Dr. Owen's wife, a woman who was the former chairperson of MENSA (an organization for high-IQ people), an industrial designer, an accountant, a housewife, a bookkeeper and a sociology student. A psychologist named Dr. Joel Whitton also attended many of the group's sessions as an observer.
The group's first task was to create their fictional historical character. Together they wrote a short biography of the person they named Philip Aylesford.
THE SÉANCES BEGIN
In September 1972, the group began their "sittings" - informal gatherings in which they would discuss Philip and his life, meditate on him and try to visualize their "collective hallucination" in more detail. These sittings, conducted in a fully lit room, went on for about a year with no results. Some members of the group occasionally claimed they felt a presence in the room, but there was no result they could consider any kind of communication from Philip.
So they changed their tactics. The group decided they might have better luck if they attempted to duplicate the atmosphere of a classic spiritualist séance. They dimmed the room's lights, sat around a table, sang songs and surrounded themselves with pictures of the type of castle they imagined Philip would have lived in, as well as objects from that time period.
It worked. During one evening's séance, the group received its first communication from Philip in the form of a distinct rap on the table. Soon Philip was answering questions asked by the group - one rap for yes, two for no. They knew it was Philip because, well, they asked him.
The sessions took off from there, producing a range of phenomena that could not be explained scientifically. Through the table-rapping communication, the group was able to learn finer details about Philip's life. He even seemed to exhibit a personality, conveying his likes and dislikes, and his strong views on various subjects, made plain by the enthusiasm or hesitancy of his knockings. His "spirit" was also able to move the table, sliding it from side to side despite the fact that the floor was covered with thick carpeting. At times it would even "dance" on one leg.
That Philip was a creation of the group's collective imagination was evident in his limitations. Although he could accurately answer questions about events and people of his time period, it did not appear to be information that the group was unaware of. In other words, Philip's responses were coming from their subconscious - their own minds. Some members thought they heard whispers in response to questions, but no voice was ever captured on tape.
Philip's psychokinetic powers, however, were amazing and completely unexplained. If the group asked Philip to dim the lights, they would dim instantly. When asked to restore the lights, he would oblige. The table around which the group sat was almost always the focal point of peculiar phenomena. After feeling a cool breeze blow across the table, they asked Philip if he could cause it to start and stop at will. He could and he did. The group noticed that the table itself felt different to the touch whenever Philip was present, having a subtle electric or "alive" quality. On a few occasions, a fine mist formed over the center of the table. Most astonishing, the group reported that the table would sometimes be so animated that it would rush over to meet latecomers to the session, or even trap members in the corner of the room.
The climax of the experiment was a séance conducted before a live audience of 50 people. The session was also filmed as part of a television documentary. Fortunately, Philip was not stage shy and performed above expectations. Besides table rappings, other noises around the room and making lights blink off and on, the group actually attained a full levitation of the table. It rose only a half inch above the floor, but this incredible feat was witnessed by the group and the film crew. Unfortunately, the dim lighting prevented the levitation from being captured on the film.
What I find interesting is the emergent nature of all this. "Philip," their imagined entity, didn't "know" anything they hadn't thought up of/for him already. Yet, it developed an independent personality and started acting in unexpected ways, not unlike other known "poltergeists", even acting on the physical world.
With so many of our questions, we always get stuck on the divide of "is this phenomenon imaginary" or "is it real"? According to Harpur and others, much of what we call paranormal may emerge from a liminal ('daimonic') realm (Jung's collective unconscious?) where these highly Cartesian distinctions between to merge.