Thursday, 17 March 2016

Angel Visitation: Paranormal Belief & Mental Wellbeing

What do you see in this picture? What’s the child looking at? Do you see the body and wings of an angel?

This picture was taken nearly 15 years ago when I worked in a shoe shop. We used to take photos of the children’s first pair of shoes with a Polaroid camera for parents to keep. After the picture developed I could see what looked like angel wings and a torso. Two weeks earlier I had lost my Grandmother. For me this image was possible confirmation she was there and watching over me. 

Looking back with a sceptical eye, I think there was a malfunction with the camera or the developing. I seem to remember there was a problem with the mechanism. Despite that the picture is still special to me, whatever the explanation. 

I am a confirmed sceptic and atheist but many in the sceptical community don’t like to acknowledge the emotional comfort that belief in religion and the paranormal can bring. Some dismiss these as ‘delusions’ but they have real psychological benefits. For example, superstition can give someone a sense of empowerment over randomness, religion a moral framework and purpose in life and belief in an afterlife can help those who face death. This may explain why paranormal beliefs are so prevalent (see my earlier post: Sceptics vs Believers). 

If you take an evolutionary perspective these beliefs are adaptive. Having an existential outlook as I do – the world is full of random events, everything is meaningless, there’s nothing after death – is NOT. This worldwide is unlikely to inspire you to carry on in the face of adversity. But that’s enough about my teenage angst…

A recent study found that found that 6 out of 10 people had contact with a dead partner. It’s not difficult to see how this may happen. There’s an expectation to see someone who’s always been there and psychological comfort in maintaining that connection, even if that’s your mind playing tricks on you. 

Whilst we may argue about the legitimacy of certain beliefs and constructs, I don’t see a contradiction in acknowledging their positive effects. Who am I to tell someone what to believe? I am not able to see or experience the world as they do and I certainly don’t have a monopoly on ‘the truth’. 

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