Across the Great Divide

 “The Perception of Believing”

It is often said that seeing is believing. That is to say that there is no definitive proof that something exists- that something is real- until it is seen or heard by the eyes and ears of a human being.

That seems a bit arrogant in its base. It is scientific fact that animals, such as dogs, sense and perceive things in our environment that are physically beyond our comprehension, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Or is it that believing is seeing? That one cannot have a sense of something’s existence unless they first believe in the possibility of it, thereby opening up their mind to having the experience.

As a psychology scholar I have had a very keen interest in the psychology of perception because the perceptual process is what allows us to experience the world around us; and makes the human condition an enjoyable personal story.

No one’s world experience is exactly the same. It is the end result of the beliefs, education, behaviors, and witnessed events specific to that individual; and as such, is constantly evolving and changing.

No two people can have exactly the same set of these variables outside of exact clones programmed with the very same set of memory engrams, psychological profile, and physiology. But the moment the two are created they are no longer exactly the same because their view of the world, at least in the sense of visual acuity and position, is no longer the same.

Two friends can witness the same event, say for example a car accident, but remember the details in different ways, or even in a different order. Their proximity, field of view, emotional state, and memories all can play key factors in how they recall the incident.

The belief in, or the experiencing of paranormal activity may be the result of a coping mechanism within the perceiver to make sense of the witnessed phenomenon.

That’s not to say that the experience wasn’t real. In the mind of the perceiver it was, or is, for all intents and purposes, a very real event; but that doesn’t necessarily translate to empirical evidence in the eyes of science.

That’s why personal experiences and anecdotes related to psychical research are never used when determining the validity of clams of paranormal activity. These are by their very definition subjective, rather than objective experiences. If it can’t be quantified or confirmed by an impartial third party (i.e. scientific data collection) then it didn’t happen.

It has been suggested by Joe Nickell, senior investigator for the Skeptical Inquirer, that there is no proof of life after death or other claimed paranormal phenomenon.

Using leprechauns as an example, he points to the lack of scientific evidence that leprechauns exist beyond the realm of cultural folktales because most people don’t have any personal motive for believing in them or in seeing them.

William Butler Yeats would have retorted, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

“We also have no scientific proof that ghosts and extraterrestrials exist,” he says, “yet most people do believe they’re real.” This is because of the promise of something more- something greater than the current human condition. Believing that we can go on after death or the belief that we’re not alone in the universe has specific emotional incentives for most people.

The questions involving the perception of paranormal activity are as vast and as complex as the answers themselves. Entire studies have been conducted and full-length works have been written exploring both sides of the debate. But, as always, I open the floor to you, my fellow explorers. Is it that seeing is believing, or is it that believing is seeing? Perhaps it is a simple matter of seeing what we want to see.

There are things about the physical universe that we know, and there are a greater number of things that we do not know, and between them both is a door that swings both ways waiting for us to have the courage to step through.



© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions