Wednesday, July 16, 2014

COLUMN: Believe

Do you guys remember the poster that hung in Fox Mulder's office in the background of nearly every episode of "The X-Files"? It was simple and it was perfect: "I WANT TO BELIEVE." It may as well be my official motto.

Like any other card-carrying geek, I'm a huge supporter of the unknown. If it's weird, wacky or left-of-center, odds are pretty good that I'm a fan. I don't care if it flies in the face of reason or requires a moderate suspension of rational thought, I still want to believe. We live in a pretty nifty world, but sometimes life can be just a tad mundane. What's wrong with spicing things up a bit with some unexplained hocum-pocum? Last weekend was the first-ever Quad Cities Psychic & Paranormal Fair at the iWireless center, and you better believe I had it marked on my calendar.

I want to believe in E.T. The universe is just waaaay too big for our tiny rock to be its only lodgers. I've never been on a night drive in the country without at least once glancing towards the heavens and hoping to see some unexplainable light in the sky or a cosmic passerby giving me a thumbs-up.

I want to believe in the spirit world. I've never missed an episode of "Ghost Hunters," even though their only solid evidence of the paranormal usually ends up being a creaky old building that makes creaky weird noises (which I'm pretty sure is the POINT of creaky old buildings in the first place, no?) Sometimes they capture an "EVP" (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) on a recorder. To me, these EVP's come across as muddled noise that kinda sounds like "mfphrargledifoop," yet ask a paranormal investigator and they're bound to hear the same thing and go, "This is concrete evidence of a haunting, as you can clearly hear a disembodied voice saying 'Help me, for I am a ghost, so like 'boo' and stuff.'"

I want to believe in mysticism, pseudoscience, and parapsychology. In some ways, I already do. I've been trained in Transcendental Meditation and I buy into its many benefits. I swear to you all that elderberry syrup cures the common cold. And I yearn to believe in psychics for one sole reason: Once upon a time, my mom went to one and was told in no uncertain terms that her only son (me) might very well be a reincarnation of Christ (true story), which admittedly would go a long way towards my ultimate goal of one day ruling the world with a cold iron fist.

I want to believe in monsters. I want there to be fanged chupacabras lurking in the Southwest, Sasquatches foraging through mountain forests, Devils in Jersey, and Nessies in Lochs. Of course, I probably say this because I don't live near the Southwest, a mountain forest, New Jersey, or Loch Ness. If routine monster avoidance was part of my daily commute, something tells me I wouldn't be so much of a fan. If it can kill somebody else on the other side of the planet, I'm fascinated. If it can kill ME, I'm terrified.

That right there is the flip side of the paranormal coin: If there really ARE things that go bump in the night, it might not be the best of news. Even deep thinkers like Stephen Hawking believe that aliens exist, but it was Hawking himself who recently pointed out that we shouldn't be too keen to make their acquaintance. Take it from Christopher Columbus, intrepid adventurers don't often take long journeys just to say hi and take some pictures.

Odds are pretty high that if any aliens ever were to set foot on Earth, they wouldn't be the smiling claymation stuff of Spielberg movies. They might just want to harvest our brains. Plus, if you believe the stories, the only task aliens seem concerned with is abducting rednecks and shoving things up their nether-regions. I like the fantasy of one day seeing a UFO, but if the reality ends up being an amateur colonoscopy, I'll take an interstellar rain check.

Same goes for ghosts. I've been on a handful of paranormal investigations, and once upon a time I was even the Quad Cities' rep for a major midwest paranormal team. If somebody in town called them and reported a haunting, it was my job to go and interview the family and scout out the location. But if I'd have walked into one of those basements and seen a real ghost with my own eyes, I would've peed myself directly on the spot. Ghosts aren't well-known for their kindness. You don't hear stories like, "Friendly ghost assists local man with housework."

Another true story: I have a friend who works at a Davenport school, and this week, the microwave in her break room started turning itself on and off while displaying "666" on the digital readout. She thinks it's interesting fun. I'd be barricading myself in a church.

More than anything, though, I'm burdened by logic and a pesky natural skepticism. If psychics were real, wouldn't our president consult with them routinely? And even if you could accept that a cunning race of stealthy Bigfeet could have somehow escaped detection for centuries, wouldn't some Grizzly Adams-type have found some Big bones by now? And if I really AM a reincarnation of Christ, wouldn't I have better things to do than lay here on this couch typing on a laptop with a mouth full of Doritos?

I want to believe... but I'm a skeptic, and I never realized quite how much until I stepped into the heart of it all at the iWi last weekend. More than maybe anyone else in town, I was yearning for the event to be a raging success. By all accounts, it was. The parking lot was full when I showed up and the foot traffic was body-to-body. I hope it becomes an annual event, and if it does, I'll be there every year to soak it all in.

Too bad, though, that it was such a tough pill to swallow. I mean, I think crystals are neat and pretty and a wonder of nature. I do not, however, believe that placing them strategically around my chakra points will make my ankle stop aching. I'm not seeing the evidence that an amethyst is going to protect me from "treachery and surprise attacks." I don't believe tumbled rocks have magical powers, and I'm not sure if the shamanic healer I saw was being entirely truthful when I overheard him claim he was being assaulted by an attendee's "pointy aura."

But I still loved it. And just because I'm a skeptic now doesn't mean that one day I won't live in a crystal house and allow tarot cards to make all of my life's decisions. You guys just need to bring it even harder next time. I promise I'll be there. I can't help myself. Just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.


Lawson English said...

TM isn't pseudoscience. You can hook the TMer up to an EEG machine and see a difference between meditating and not-meditating.

You can compare TM with other practices the same way, and find that each practice has its own EEG signature.

You can even examine people who fit the TM definition for being "enlightened" --at least in the first stage thereof-- and find distinct differences between enlightened and unenlightened people.

Read this article for more info:

Also, consider the words of TM founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, defending the scientific study of meditation:

"Every experience has its level of physiology, and so unbounded awareness has its own level of physiology which can be measured. Every aspect of life is integrated and connected with every other phase. When we talk of scientific measurements, it does not take away from the spiritual experience. We are not responsible for those times when spiritual experience was thought of as metaphysical. Everything is physical. Consciousness is the product of the functioning of the brain. Talking of scientific measurements is no damage to that wholeness of life which is present everywhere and which begins to be lived when the physiology is taking on a particular form. This is our understanding about spirituality: it is not on the level of faith --it is on the level of blood and bone and flesh and activity. It is measurable.

-Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

-shane- said...

True... it wasn't my intention to label TM as a "pseudoscience," and it was poor writing on my part to infer as such. Like I said, I practice TM myself and I buy into most of its supposed benefits. Apologies.