The term paranormal has existed in the English language since at least 1920. 1 The word consists of two parts: para and normal. The definition implies that the scientific explanation of the world around us is ‘normal’ and anything that is above, beyond, or contrary to that is ‘para’ and events that can not readily be explained by “the range of normal experience or scientific explanation”. 2

A paranormal phenomenon is different from hypothetical concepts such as dark matter and dark energy. Unlike paranormal phenomena, these hypothetical concepts are based on empirical observations and experimental data gained through the scientific methodd 3

Popular culture and folklore often make reference to paranormal phenomena. 4

Scientific evidence does not support the existence of paranormal phenomena. 5

The term paranormal has existed in the English language since at least 1920. 6 7The word consists of two parts: para and normal. In many definitions, paranormal is described as anything that is beyond or contrary to what is deemed scientifically possible. The definition implies that the scientific explanation of the world around us is ‘normal’ and anything that is above, beyond, or contrary to that is ‘para’.

Paranormal Subjects
On the classification of paranormal subjects, Terence Hines in his book ”Pseudoscience and the Paranormal” (2003) wrote:

“The paranormal can best be thought of as a subset of pseudoscience. What sets the paranormal apart from other pseudosciences is a reliance on explanations for alleged phenomena that are well outside the bounds of established science. Thus, paranormal phenomena include extrasensory perception (ESP), telekinesis, ghosts, poltergeists, life after death, reincarnation, faith healing, human auras, and so forth. The explanations for these allied phenomena are phrased in vague terms of psychic forces, human energy fields, and so on. This is in contrast to many pseudoscientific explanations for other non-paranormal phenomena, which, although very bad science, are still couched in acceptable scientific terms.” 8

The most notable paranormal beliefs include those that pertain to ghosts, Extra-Terrestrial life, U.F.O.s and cryptids. 9

One could argue though, that subjects such as the Drake equation, do operate on logical grounds while still being “paranormal” in nature.

Ghosts and Other Spiritual Entities
In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person. 10 Alternative theories expand on that idea and include belief in the ghosts of deceased animals. Sometimes the term ”ghost” is used synonymously with any spirit or demon, 11 however in popular usage the term typically refers to a deceased person’s spirit.

The belief in ghosts as souls of the departed is closely tied to the concept of animism, an ancient belief which attributed souls to everything in nature. As the 19th-century anthropologist James George Frazer explained in his classic work, ”The Golden Bough”, souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body. 12 Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.

A widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists speculate that this may also stem from early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person, most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person’s breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of ”breath” in certain languages, such as the Latin ”spiritus” and the Greek language ”pneuma”, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as animating Adam with a breath.

Numerous theories have been proposed by scientists to provide normal explanations for haunted locations or ghost sightings. Although the evidence for ghosts is largely anecdotal, the belief in ghosts throughout history has remained widespread and persistent.

Extraterrestrial life and UFOs
The possibility of Extra-Terrestrials life is not, by itself, a paranormal subject. Many scientists are actively engaged in the search for unicellular life within the solar system, carrying out studies on the surface of Mars and examining meteors that have fallen to Earth. 13 Projects such as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are conducting an astronomical search for radio activity that would show evidence of intelligent life outside the solar system. 14 Evolution of how life developed on Earth allow for the possibility that life developed on other planets as well. The paranormal aspect of Extra-Terrestrials life centers largely around the belief in Unidentified Flying Objects and the phenomena said to be associated with them.

Early in the history of Unidentified Flying Object culture, believers divided themselves into two camps. The first held a rather conservative view of the phenomena, interpreting them as unexplained occurrences that merited serious study. They began calling themselves “ufologists” in the 1950s and felt that logical analysis of sighting reports would validate the notion of extraterrestrial visitation.

The second camp consisted of individuals who coupled ideas of extraterrestrial visitation with beliefs from existing quasi-religious movements. These individuals typically were enthusiasts of occultism and the paranormal. Many had backgrounds as active Theosophists, Spiritualists, or were followers of other esoteric doctrines. In contemporary times, many of these beliefs have coalesced into New Age spiritual movements.

Both secular and spiritual believers describe UFOs as having abilities beyond what are considered possible according to known aerodynamic constraints and physical laws. The transitory events surrounding many UFO sightings also limits the opportunity for repeat testing required by the scientific method. Acceptance of UFO theories by the larger scientific community is further hindered by the possibility of hoax associated within UFO culture.

A cryptid is an animal whose existence is not confirmed by science or an animal that is considered extinct. The study of these creatures is known as cryptozoology. Those that study the existence of cryptids are called cryptozoologists. Claims of cryptid sightings have occurred and been documented for centuries, and there are hundreds of distinct cryptids thought to be in existence today. Some of the more popular cryptids include Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, living dinosaurs, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, dragons, unicorns and werewolves.

Paranormal Research
Approaching the paranormal from a research perspective is often difficult because of the lack of acceptable physical evidence from most of the purported phenomena. By definition, the paranormal does not conform to conventional expectations of nature. Therefore, a phenomenon cannot be confirmed as paranormal using the scientific method because, if it could be, it would no longer fit the definition. (However, confirmation would result in the phenomenon being reclassified as part of science.) Despite this problem, studies on the paranormal are periodically conducted by researchers from various disciplines. Some researchers simply study the beliefs in the paranormal regardless of whether the phenomena are considered to objectively exist. This section deals with various approaches to the paranormal: anecdotal, experimental, and participant-observer approaches and the skeptical investigation approach.


  4. Pages 1 and 9 of Aniela Jaff’s ”Apparitions and Precognition: A Study from the Point of View of C.G. Jung’s Analytical Psychology”, University Books (1963), hardcover, 214 pages
  8. Hines, Terence. (2003). ”Pseudoscience and the Paranormal”. Prometheus Books. p. 20
  9. Stuart Gordon. (1993). ”The Paranormal: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Trafalgar Square. ISBN 978-0747236030
  10. Parapsychological Association, glossary of key words frequently used in parapsychology, Retrieved December 13, 2006
  11. Retrieved December 13, 2006
  12. Hamel, Frazer, ed. The Golden Bough, London: Wordsworth, 1993.