Comment of the Day: “‘Who Ya Gonna Call?'” Paranormal Ethics, and the Irony of Same”

"I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for this. Let's go figure it out in a motel."

The Comment of the Day is an interesting one from Melissa Leath, a psychic who is published on the topic of psychic ethics. She is responding to the recent post here about proposed standards for paranormal investigators.

Her measured response forces me to confront my own ambivalence on this issue. I am, as she says, a skeptic; more than a skeptic, really, as I intellectually am committed to the position that all paranormal, psychic and spiritual phenomenon, including those in the realm of religious believe, are imaginary at best and fraudulent at worst. I would have said “unshakably committed, ” but emotionally, I have to confess am not as sure as I would like to be, or should be. Perhaps I watch too many horror movies. I don’t like Ouija boards, and won’t have the damn things in the house. If my kitchen furniture suddenly rearranged itself like it does in “Poltergeist,” or if my ultra-rational son started telling me that an old man in 1940s clothes kept appearing in his room at night and saying that he was going to hurt him, or if I saw dark, inky shadows crawling up the wall like in “The Grudge,” I can say with conviction that I would not be the one insisting that there must be a rational explanation and hanging around waiting for the bed to start raising off the floor. I would be the one out the door and checking into a motel, and from the safety of which  insisting that there was a rational explanation, but also secretly fearing that my house had been built over a Native American burial ground.

I realize that this is inconsistent and silly.  But I have a good friend who is as normal and sincere as someone can be who is a serious astrologer. And when I see the late Telly Savalas finally tell his personal ghost story in a YouTube clip, after personally watching him refuse to repeat it on TV talk shows for decades because “it was too scary,” I do wonder, even as I rebuke myself for wondering. Knowing that I wonder, however, it is only fair to give Melissa her say.

Here is her “Comment of the Day” on “‘Who Ya Gonna Call?'” Paranormal Ethics, and the Irony of Same.”

“I enjoyed your article. And appreciate your candor, considering you are skeptical of the subject. Being a psychic and medium for 30 years, gives me the edge on this one, I guess. But that is why I wrote a book called “Psychic Integrity, The Respected Practice of Modern-Day Mystics”. Not only is ethics important, but integrity in the field is even more important. Ethics generally has to do with the business of, whereas, integrity has to do with the personal foundation and understanding of the paranormal field (how you work with your client, rather than business dealings). It deals with being honest and forthright. Another area I would have loved to see L.S. Watts address is the ethical idea of “treating” the occurrence. She spoke of the clients being those who owned the property. but what about the potential “ethereal” clients? That is another story indeed. And it opens the thoughts of free will, and imposing your investigation on a departed spirit. However, those spirits haunting a location are technically earthbound ghosts, not fully transformed spirits. These have need for respect as well, along with special procedures for addressing them. (Oops, did I open another can of worms?)…”

6 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “‘Who Ya Gonna Call?'” Paranormal Ethics, and the Irony of Same”

  1. Great choice for “Comment of the Day”! I’m with you when you write:

    “Her measured response forces me to confront my own ambivalence on this issue. I am, as she says, a skeptic; more than a skeptic, really, as I intellectually am committed to the position that all paranormal, psychic and spiritual phenomenon, including those in the realm of religious believe, are imaginary at best and fraudulent at worst. I would have said “unshakably committed, ” but emotionally, I have to confess am not as sure as I would like to be, or should be.”

    That said … I know, with absolute certainty, that there are those who can see clearly into other’s minds – if only for brief moments at a time. So it follows that certainly all in the field are not “quacks”. Here’s an example:

    My mother and my father’s mother (ie they were not related by blood) were both in the same room when I was a child – my mother ironing, my grandmother reading a book. My grandmother was reading a passage in the book describing a scene where gypsies were dancing around a fire. My mother, not knowing what my grandmother was reading, and never having done so before, started humming a tune from the opera Carmen.

    Incidences like this, involving people from both sides of my family, have happened on too many occasions to be just coincidence. My youngest child regularly voices thoughts I am silently mulling over in my head. This is not uncommon with a certain segment of developmentally challenged children. So, skeptical as I remain about some things, I think there is more we have to learn and I try to be open-minded. And I’m happy to learn that there are those in the field who are serious and ethical about what they do, especially in recognition that there are so many in this field who are not.

    Now if only a certain segment of the legal profession would use this woman as an example!

    • Confirmation bias. Base rate bias. Optimism bias. Appeal to questionable authority. Misattribution of causation. On and on.

      I agree that being open minded is important. Skepticism IS about being open minded. If anyone ever actually had real data, any true skeptic would incorporate it into their beliefs.

      That people have claimed the paranormal forever, but no one has successfully demonstrated it is evidence that the paranormal doesn’t exist. Take your example with your developmentally challenged child. Isolate them from being able to read your body language and separate their stimulous from yours (whatever led you to think X), and this magical property goes away.

      I agree there’s more to learn about our universe, but, unless something changes to doubt our current evidence, there’s no reason to rehash what we’ve already learned… and we’ve learned that medium’s and psychics don’t actually communicate with the dead and cannot predict the future.

  2. For any professional code of ethics, the first bullet should be validation that you are actually doing what you claim to do. For most professions, that’s already been met, but not for psychics and paranormal investigators.

    As such, I would like to cordially invite Melissa to take the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html. If she’s actually a psychic, her “gift” can be legitimized, while she also earns a cool 1 million dollars and changes scientific understanding of reality.

    If she fails and continues to call herself a psychic and medium, then we can know she’s a charlatan.

  3. I am not sure what I think about paranormal activity. Sure does seem to be a lot of things which can be argued either way. That said, if you stare long enough at a person who is not looking at you, why does that person then look up and stare back at you?

    • I can argue that killing indescriminately is good, that doesn’t mean I have any evidence to back it up.

      As for your question, the answer is “they don’t.” They don’t look up any more frequently than people not being looked at, and once they see someone looking at them, returning said look isn’t paranormal. You’re falling victim to the base rate fallacy. You see people look up when you’re looking at them, but don’t take into account how often they look up on their own.

  4. Evidence for paranormal phenomena closely parallels evidence for many alternative medicines. Anecdotal evidence is overwhelmingly cited by those who are believers. Careful attempts to provide scientific evidence are enthusiastically embraced when they support pre-existing convictions and haughtily dismissed when they conflict with such convictions.

    For my part, I am skeptical by default, and thus far I have seen insufficient evidence for defeating that initial skepticism.

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