Buck Bannister: The term "believer" has become a badge of honor among certain people it seems. Often when viewing websites I will see someone state that they are a "believer." But what does that mean? I believe in the existence of paranormal phenomena. I have experienced it personally. However, I am often called a "Non-Believer" because I seek rational and natural explanations first before I make the call that something is "unexplained" or "paranormal". Recently, I was asked to review a photograph for a woman. It was obvious from the most cursory view that the photograph was snow falling from her roof. In ordinary circumstances it would have been a lovely photo for her scrapbook. However, this woman called herself a "true believer" and although every serious researcher called the photograph for what it was she was not convinced. She decided that we were "Non-Believers" whose only purpose was to deny the existence of spirits and the paranormal.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We seek nothing more than to advance the study and understanding of phenomena. Most of us have had a few if not many experiences ourselves. We've seen truly unexplained photographs, videos, and audio. We've had personal encounters with unseen entities.
The difference, however, is that we use our critical thinking skills, knowledge, and experience to separate ordinary events from extraordinary events. By looking first for any natural causes we can move on to exploring truly unusual and interesting phenomena.
So many of these people don't realize that to bring paranormal studies into the realm of a serious scientific endeavor we must necessarily discard those false positives and concentrate on truly unexplained happenings. This is not a case of "not believing" but rather part of the scientific process.
In paranormal studies we often employ a principle called "Occam's Razor" (from Wikipedia):
Occam's razor (sometimes spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae ("law of parsimony" or "law of succinctness"): "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", or "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity".
This is often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood.
Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim (rule of thumb) that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity, often or especially in scientific theories.
In simple terms this means that when we assess evidence if there is a reasonable explanation for the event that is most likely the true cause and therefore we must consider this the most plausible explanation.
Recently, I wrote about the new orbs book, The Orb Project. If we apply Occam's Razor to a photograph taken in an old building with dust and debris present and catch "orbs" in the photographs then the call is most responsibly made based on the environment that the "orb" is simply dust or debris particles.
This is not a case of "not believing" in paranormal activity, but rather a case of the simplest explanation being the most plausible.
However, let us consider that in this same environment we take the photograph and instead of orbs we see the figure of a person who was not present. In this case, since there would be no plausible explanation beyond a paranormal event, we would make the call that we have captured something that is anomalous and therefore possibly paranormal.
Every investigator has made a call using this principle that he or she wishes could have gone the other way and most of us would be thrilled to find out with further study or analysis that we were wrong.
Perhaps that is the difference though, while we hold open the possibility that a call we've made could with further data be reversed, those on the other side of the issue often refuse to acknowledge that their belief in a paranormal cause for every anomaly could be incorrect as well.
As for me, if I must set aside my critical thinking skills and accept anything as "paranormal" regardless of the weight of evidence against that assessment in order to be called a "believer" then I will gladly accept the "non-believer" moniker despite it's implied insult.
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