Paranormal, Supernatural and High Strangeness.
We live in what can be called chaos, a chaotic world where still — after all these years — some kind of war between materialism and non-materialism is fought. It can be between religions or religion and atheism, between debunkers and skeptics against ufologists and paranormal investigators. There’s very little space for the famous gray scale, the concept that we have no damn idea what’s going on. For some reason most of us either need to be able to touch and analyse what we experience — or what others claim to experience — to be able to understand what it is. We have shaped this world through divisions and definitions, as many of us think that will help us understand. Maybe the best way to cope with it all is to be the observer, to step back in order to be in it. To see the wholeness of what we lovingly call the phenomena (ghosts, cryptids, ufos — you know the deal) instead of banging our heads bloody against details. Still, from the point of view of a research structure can be good, just to be able to categorize it for the sake of order (imagined or not).
The word para means many things, and is often seen from the eye of the beholder. What’s abnormal for someone is normal for someone else. But I prefer to see it as something that is alongside our common consensus, or the consensus of the majority — the materialistic concept of our reality. What goes on the side, on the same path but on a different level, is at least as normal — just unexplored compared to the more accepted science.
It all depends from which angle you observe the so-called impossible objective/subjective events and experiences, with the eyes of a scientist or a paranormal researcher. But they’re more connected than one can think and it should be a collaboration between the two. In his essay Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination, published in Profiles of the Future, 1962, Arthur C. Clarke wrote down what’s now called Clarke’s three laws:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
A critical mind is always welcome, but to let that critical mind stop you from exploring is downright dangerous, just look at all the discoveries been made just because someone decided to break the rules, glaze beyond the veil and take a step back to actually understand — or at least study — the mechanics of the things we call paranormal, supernatural and high strangeness.
Let’s take a closer look at the three expressions, all with images and opinions attached to them. Is it even possible to separate them? Is it even necessary? Paranormal is something that goes outside what’s considered “normal”, as I stated above. It’s the chair that moves by itself, the bump in the night and footsteps over an empty floor. It’s more about the physical concept that the sensation makes you feel, a more practical look at the phenomenon.
Supernatural, on the other hand, is a lot broader. You could say that it’s just a different word for the same thing, but while “normal” (as in paranormal) implies something that’s not out of the ordinary and controlled, static, “nature” says that it is something completely out of the ordinary, as nature can’t be controlled. On top of that do you have “super” — extraordinary, something that exceeds even what’s natural — what’s behind the famous veil or what’s looking back on us from the abyss. I would — in the name of division, and for the sake of structure, separate paranormal and supernatural like this:
Paranormal is when the object/event communicates but is not aware of itself. Let’s say it’s a poltergeist phenomena or everything that can be seen as an automatic reaction to the external environment, by itself without intelligence. Give a tap on the kneecap and the leg will kick. It’s something that will happen no matter what, uncontrollable more or less.
Supernatural is when the object/subject communicates and is aware of itself and its environment. It’s more of a personal, maybe profound experience than a merely physical event. It’s when the ghost communicates with you, the alien abducts you. When it’s something that might change your view on existence, something that touches you. It can be a religious experience or some kind of alien/ultraterrestrial interaction. The user @rebirthofcore on Twitter describes paranormal in relation to supernatural like this:
Paranormal is when the cup floats off the table to the floor gently. Supernatural is when you pick it up and notice there is a tiny forest at the bottom of it that contains all your fears and hopes. @rebirthofcore
The reason to separate these two things could be seen as a way to categorize the phenomena, to make it easier to do research. The study of paranormal phenomena is called parapsychology, where the aim is the explore stuff like — according to Wikipedia — “alleged psychic phenomena (extrasensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, a.k.a. telekinesis, and psychometry) and other paranormal claims, for example related to near-death experiences, synchronicity, apparitional experiences, etc”.
Since the early seventies the expression High Strangeness has been more popular. First popularized by Dr J. Allen Hynek’s excellent dissection of the UFO phenomenon, The UFO Experience: A scientific enquiry (1972), but there’s indications that the term was used earlier than so but never gained popularity. Hynek used different kinds of strangeness levels, as he pretty vaguely describes in the book: “More precisely, it can be taken as a measure of the number of information bits the report contains, each of which is difficult to explain in common-sense terms. A light seen in the night sky the trajectory of which, cannot be ascribed to a balloon, aircraft, etc., would nonetheless have a low Strangeness Rating because there is only one strange thing about’ the report to explain: its motion. A report of a weird craft that descended to within 100 feet of a car on a lonely road, caused the car’s engine to die, its radio to stop, and its lights to go out, left marks on the nearby ground, and appeared to be under intelligent control receives a high Strangeness Rating because it contains a number of separate very strange items, each of which outrages common sense.”.
Let’s go back to the cup parable, written down beautifully by @rebirthofcore on Twitter (in this thread). What can high strangeness in relation to this? Let’s say it is like this: when you look closer into the cup you see a bigfoot dressed in an old-fashioned striped bathing gown, on its head is a silly hat and from the mouth comes bubbles that have all your fears and hopes. It’s just plain bizarre, and this example could be very high up on the high strangeness scale. In our shared mythology it’s Joe Simonton and his space pancakes, the gnomes of Wollaton Park, the case of the mysterious Inrid Cold, Richard Höglund’s contact with aliens during the 70’s, Mrs Jean Hingely’s encounter with the fairy like aliens in Regis Rowley, The Argentinian Classroom Encounter where children saw a small bus-like vehicle appear in front of them inside a classroom, the Pascagoula incident and the Whitley Strieber timeline of events… to name a few.
These are all incidents where the supernatural part, the meeting with unknown beings, has added “strangeness” on some level. Details where even the most hardened researchers take a step back to scratch their balding heads and decide to maybe leave it out of their reports. It’s the black sheeps of “serious” research, stuff you normally won’t touch as both you and the witnesses would seem plain mad! It’s those details that even defy the logic of those into the subject, and much of it borders on something profound mixed with the absurd. There is often a dream logic in these incidents, which makes some think it’s all about dreams of some kind — even day dreaming. So it’s all in your head then? Well, wait a second. One can ask this important question: why would these witnesses even consider telling such outrageous stories if they were totally made up?
Every witness and experiencer will in one way or another meet ridicule, even if it’s just describing a bright tiny light up in the sky, just because they connect it to something out of the ordinary. Why add such bizarre details? Why exaggerate it into the realm of the silly? It would be simpler, at least regarding a deliberate hoax, to keep the details down a bit. Make them more realistic in regards to what other witness accounts have come forward with. Remember that belonging to a crowd is a lot easier than standing alone, and by using a more sensible story they would automatically get more support from like minded people.
I’d say that these reports, those filled to the brim with weird details and conclusions in many ways, are more convincing than — let’s say — yet another report from an anonymous fighter pilot. The sometimes senseless worship of “government officials”, “ex-agency employees” etc is dangerous for many reasons, one of them is the worship aspect itself. But what do I mean with worship? These guys and gals are critical towards the government, isn’t that true? Yeah, for sure, but as they see the government/three letter agency/ex-employee as the only source of truth — it IS worship. Like there’s no other sources to be trusted.
A high strangeness report on the other hand is in its nature more personal, more revealing and open on a private level — and therefore a more interesting thing to study. These stories tell much more about the witnesses themselves, sane or insane, than what’s on the surface. The added weirdness disconnects it from the gospel of leaked documents, fighter pilot testimonies and shady government suits, and therefore becomes more free and unbiased.
If this is a consciousness related experience, something manifested from our own minds and/or belongs to a non-physical reality (in comparison to our consensus reality of course), it’s far more important than many other kinds of extraordinary experiences.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, occultist and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of four books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.