Smart People See Ghosts
Higher education supports belief in the paranormal
By Brad Steiger
April 2006 issue of Fate Magazine
"Believe it or not," Robert Roy Britt writes in the January 20, 2006 issue of LiveScience, "according to a new study higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena."
Even though researchers Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward of University of Central Oklahoma admitted that they had expectations of finding contrary results, their poll of college students found that seniors and graduate students were more likely to believe in haunted houses, ghosts, telepathy, spirit channeling and other paranormal phenomena than were freshmen.
Although the results of the survey are not surprising to long-time researchers in the metaphysical/psychic fields, what is startling is the fact that the poll analysis is published in the January-February issue of The Skeptical Inquirer magazine, the journal of true unbelievers. While the poll may have been conducted with expectations of demonstrating that as students became more educated they dropped questionable beliefs in favor of more skeptical attitudes, The Skeptical Inquirer must be congratulated for publishing results that they really did not wish to find.
Farha's and Steward's survey was based on a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents. The results of the Farha/Steward poll discovered that gaining more education was not a guarantee of skepticism or disbelief toward the paranormal. While only 23% of the freshman quizzed professed a belief toward paranormal concepts, the figures rose to 31% for college seniors and 34% for graduate students.
The complete results of the survey may be found in the January-February issue of The Skeptical Inquirer. The percentages are rounded, and I have indicated the Gallup Poll 2001 figures in parenthesis, the Farha/Steward percentages in bold:
Belief in psychic/spiritual healing: 56 (54)
Belief in ESP: 28 (50)
Haunted houses: 40 (42)
Demonic possession: 40 (41)
Ghosts/spirits of the dead: 39 (38)
Telepathy: 24 (36)
Extraterrestrials visited Earth in the past: 17 (33)
Clairvoyance and prophecy: 24 (32)
Communication with the dead: 16 (28)
Astrology: 17 (28)
Witches: 26 (26)
Reincarnation: 14 (25)
Channeling: 10 (15)
It is in the "Not Sure" column that the researchers found that the higher the education level achieved, the more likelihood there was of believing in paranormal dimensions and the possibilities of a broader spectrum of reality.
Belief in psychic/spiritual healing: 26 (19)
Belief in ESP: 39 (20)
Haunted houses: 25 (16)
Demonic possession: 28 (16)
Ghosts/spirits of the dead: 27 (17)
Telepathy: 34 (26)
Extraterrestrials visited Earth in the past: 34 (27)
Clairvoyance and prophecy: 33 (23)
Communication with the dead: 29 (26)
Astrology: 26 (18)
Witches: 19 (15)
Reincarnation: 28 (20)
Channeling: 29 (21)
Why do skeptics find it so difficult to believe that individuals who achieve a higher education may still maintain a belief in the paranormal? The world of the paranormal is one where effect often precedes cause, where mind often influences matter, where individuals communicate over great distances without physical aids, and where the spiritual essence of those deceased may be seen. Why, especially in an age of new theories embracing quantum physics and other dimensions, should skeptics find it difficult to believe in a world that lies beyond the five senses and the present reach of science?
For those of us who have been researching and writing in the paranormal, UFO, and spiritual fields for many years, the repeated allegation that we and our readers must be undereducated and unaware of the science and technology of our contemporary culture becomes very annoying. As early as 1965, when I was researching ESP: Your Sixth Sense--which, in addition to becoming a popular book became a college and high school text, complete with workbook and study guide--the pioneering work of Dr. Gardner Murphy, Dr. Montague Ullman, Dr. Stanley Krippner, Dr. Henry Margenau, and many others had already demonstrated that contrary to common assumption, intelligence has little connection to paranormal abilities or beliefs. Neither is it the "odd" or poorly adjusted members of society who most often demonstrate high degrees of psychic ability. Quite the contrary appears to be true. Those individuals who are well-adjusted socially and who are possessed of an extraverted rather than an introverted personality are the ones who score consistently higher in ESP tests.
The January 12, 1994 issue of USA Today carried the results of a survey conducted by Jeffrey S. Levin, associate professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, which stated that more than two-thirds of the U.S. population has had at least one mystical experience. Furthermore, Levin said, although only 5% of the population have such experiences often [that's around 15 million people], such mystical encounters "seem to be getting more common with each successive generation." And very interestingly, Levin added, individuals active in mainstream churches or synagogues report fewer mystical experiences than the general population.
The November 1993 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology announced the finds of psychologists at Carleton University of Ottawa, that people who report seeing a UFO or an alien are not any less intelligent or psychologically healthy than other people. Their findings clearly contradicted the previously held notions that people who seemingly have bizarre experiences, such as missing time and communicating with aliens, have "wild imaginations and are easily swayed into believing the unbelievable."
Dr. Nicholas P. Spanos, who led the study and administered a battery of psychological tests to a large number of UFO experiencers, said that such individuals were not at all "off the wall." On the contrary, he stated, "They tend to be white-collar, relatively well-educated representatives of the middle class."
Becoming More Common
Psychiatrists Colin Ross and Shaun Joshi have affirmed that paranormal experiences have become so common in the general population that "no theory of normal psychology which does not take them into account can be comprehensive."
It may well be that we are turning into a nation of mystics regardless of the frustration of organized science or organized religion. And we might add, a nation of intelligent mystics.
The October 27, 2004 issue of USA Today declared that "a spiritually inclined student is a happier student." According to a national study of students conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California- Los Angeles, being spiritual contributes to one's sense of psychological well-being.
"A high degree of spirituality correlates with high self-esteem and feeling good about the way life is headed," Sarah Hofius wrote of the study that took place at forty-six wide-ranging universities and colleges, encompassing 3,680 third-year students. "The study defines spirituality as desiring to integrate spirituality into one's life, believing that we are all spiritual beings, believing in the sacredness of life and having spiritual experiences."
Another survey that should have offered an enormous amount of proof that one can achieve a higher education and still believe in the paranormal was released on December 20, 2004, revealing that 74% of medical doctors believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 73% believe that miracles can occur today. Sixty-seven percent of the doctors encouraged their patients to pray; 59% admitted that they prayed for their patients.
The national survey, conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary, polled 1,100 physicians throughout the United States. According to Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of the Finkelstein Institute, doctors "although presumably more highly educated than their average patient, are not necessarily more secular or radically different in religious outlook." Perhaps because of their frequent involvement with matters of life and death, medical doctors do not lose their belief in the miraculous as their level of education increases.
A Believing Skeptic
In 2002, the National Science Foundation found that 60% of adults in the United States agreed or strongly agreed that some people possessed psychic powers or extrasensory perception (ESP). In June 2002, the Consumer Analysis Group conducted the most extensive survey ever done in the United Kingdom and revealed that 67% of adults believed in psychic powers and that two out of three surveyed believed in an afterlife.
Michael Shermer, the ubiquitous talking head who represents the skeptical view in dozens of television documentaries each year, author of Why People Believe Weird Things (2002) and editor of the aforementioned The Skeptical Inquirer, was among those who deplored the findings that such a high percentage of Americans accepted the reality of ESP. In Shermer's analysis, such statistics posed a serious problem for science educators. Complaining that people too readily accepted the claims of pseudoscience, Shermer concluded his regular column for Scientific American (August 12, 2002) by stating that "for those lacking a fundamental comprehension of how science works, the siren song of pseudoscience becomes too alluring to resist, not matter how smart you are."
Shermer must have been somewhat surprised some years earlier when he interviewed Martin Gardner, the prolific science writer, author of the classic Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and the founder of the modern skeptical movement, who told him that he believed in God, that he sometimes prayed and worshipped, and that he hoped for life after death. Gardner explained (Skeptic, Vol. 5 No.2 1997) that he called himself a "philosophical theist, or sometimes a fideist, who believes something on the basis of emotional reasons, rather than intellectual reasons."
Gardner also identified himself as a "mysterian," explaining that "there are certain things I regard as ultimate mysteries. Free will is one of those. Another is timeTime and space are the ultimate mysteries. Free will is bound up in the mysteries of time about which we can never understand, at least at this stage of evolutionary history."
In my opinion, humankind's one truly essential factor is its spirituality. The artificial concepts to which we have given the designation of sciences are no truer in the ultimate sense than dreams, visions, and inspirations. The quest for absolute proof or objective truth may always be unattainable when it seeks to define and limit the Soul. And I truly believe that one can achieve a high level of education and still maintain a firm belief in the unseen world.