Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have had the need to study and explain the world around them. Primeval tribes believed in all kinds of spirits inhabiting animate and inanimate objects around them. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians made significant advances in natural sciences such as mathematics, astronomy, and biology. What could not be explained yet was ascribed to divine entities. Christian tradition gave a start and fueled the development of a number of theological and philosophical studies, shaping outlooks many people share even today. Whereas God still remained the main force standing behind everything existing in the world, science and rational thinking gradually conquered the minds of people. The 20th century with its scientific breakthroughs and technological revolutions has left little space to the unexplained. Today, this space continues to shrink.
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At the same time, the more we learn, the more questions arise. It is an eternal paradox: the more knowledge is gained, the more there is to explain and discover. It is unlikely that science will ever give all the answers–and thus, there will always be room for speculations, superstitions, and fears. Throughout the course of history, human beings feared a lot of things: forces of nature, gods and demons, vampires and ghosts–the list is lengthy. Mostly being caused by ignorance, these fears changed along with humanity’s understanding of the world around. Ghosts have been extruded by radioactive monsters, demons have given way to UFOs and aliens, and instead of nature, we now fear rogue artificial intelligence and robot uprisings. It can be said that fears remain the same–it is but their shell, or form, that has changed.
There are, however, phenomenons that cannot be explained neither scientifically, nor by the tricks of an ignorant mind. Witnessed by numerous people, carefully documented by unbiased parties, and registered with electronic equipment, these phenomenons can be fairly called “paranormal” for the lack of a better term. Not necessarily mystical, occult, or supernatural in their nature, they yet await for satisfactory explanation. Here are just some of the examples.
Everyone knows the expression, “I am on fire.” In everyday situations, it means that a person saying it is on a winning streak, or is extremely productive/creative/successful doing something. However, in the case of spontaneous human combustion (SHC), its meaning turns from figurative to literal. The first reported case of SHC was recorded in 1400s, when an Italian knight Polonus Vorstius known for his passion for alcohol was seen bursting into flames from the inside (io9). During the course of history, other cases were recorded as well. For example, in 1951, Mary Reeser–a 67-year old widow from Florida–died from a spontaneous combustion that happened when she was sitting in her easy chair. According to the reports of police officers and firemen, all that was left from Mary Reeser was her ankle and about 10 pounds of what was left from her body. Her skull shrunk to a size of a teacup (Anomalies). Almost the same happened in 1986, when a fireman George Matt was found dead in his apartment in New York: all that was left of him was his leg, his skull, and his rib cage (CYA). There were numerous similar cases reported. The damage to the surrounding caused by SHC is not significant. It mainly affects the body, leaving little to none of it, whereas the environment mostly remains intact.
Another kind of paranormal activity that has been witnessed for centuries is poltergeist. It has something in common with ghost stories featuring an invisible force interacting with the living–except that ghost stories often turn out to be hoaxes. Poltergeist activity, however, is much more difficult to simulate, and there have been at least several cases that could not be explained scientifically. One of them is the Enfield Poltergeist. In 1977 and 1978 it was a sensation, mostly because many of the ghost’s manifestations had been recorded on film. Some of the photos depict Janet Hodgson–a middle daughter in the family whose house was haunted by the poltergeist–in near-impossible leaps, as she was thrown around her room by an invisible force. Police officers and the investigators of paranormal activity who inspected Hodgsons’ house often reported equipment malfunction upon entering the building. Despite skeptics constantly looking for arguments to disprove the story of the Enfield haunting, it still remains one of the most credible poltergeist stories so far.
An undeniably true but still unbelievable occurrence happened to Jean Hilliard from Minnesota in 1980. She was on her way home late at night when her car stopped working. Jean had just a mile or two left to the point of her destination, so she decided to walk on foot–her friend’s house was located about two miles away. Later in the morning, she was found lying on the ground, frozen in a rock-solid condition. When she was delivered to the hospital, doctors could not puncture her body with needles to make tests. Thermometers did not show Jean’s body temperature because it was lower than the one they were designed to display. The most incredible part of the story is that Jean was alive all along. As she thawed, her body gradually regained mobility, and all of her body functions were restored. After spending some time in the hospital, Jean was released home, and reported no negative health effects afterwards (Snopes).
People today feel comfortable thinking that the world around them can be explained in terms of science and rationalism. Relying on logic and knowledge, modern people believe there is nothing supernatural left to be afraid or aware of. In practice, this is not always true. Scientists still encounter phenomenon they cannot explain: spontaneous human combustion cases, poltergeist activities, or cases such as the one that occurred with Jean Hilliard support this statement well enough.
Inglis-Arkell, Esther. “10 Cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion.” io9, 16 Dec. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/5855700/10-cases-of-spontaneous-human-combustion.
“1951, July 1: Mary Reeser’s Fiery Death.” Anomalies, anomalyinfo.com/Stories/1951-july-1-mary-reesers-strange-death.
“The 9 Most Bone-Chilling Mysterious Phenomena That Still Remain Unexplained.” Can You Actually, Can You Actually, 9 Feb. 2017, canyouactually.com/the-9-most-bone-chilling-mysterious-phenomena-that-still-remain-unexplained/.
“The Enfield Poltergeist–The True Story of the Enfield Haunting and The Conjuring 2.” Haunted Rooms, www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/the-enfield-poltergeist.
“Jean Hilliard: Miracle on Ice.” Snopes, www.snopes.com/fact-check/miracle-on-ice/.
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