Paranormal phenomena are events, circumstances, or things whose existence has not been proved by science. Such phenomena include psychic abilities like telepathy and precognition; experiences that suggest the spirit survives the body’s death, such as reincarnation and ghost sightings; encounters with unknown beasts such as bigfoot or the Loch Ness monsters; and sightings of extraterrestrials and their spacecraft. Some of these phenomena have been reported on multiple occasions, perhaps in several locations, whereas others are apparently one-time events. For example, whereas ghost sightings have been reported throughout history and throughout the world, sightings of creatures like the Flatwoods Monster—a large-headed creature that supposedly emerged from a crashed alien spaceship near Flatwoods, Virginia, in September 1952—appear to be one-time events.
When reported, such sightings are typically met with skepticism regarding whether the person claiming to have encountered the phenomenon really did see or experience something unusual, to the point of the most ardent skeptics accusing the person making the claim of being mentally unstable. In other cases, the witnesses are simply said to have been mistaken in identifying what they observed.
For example, particularly bright stars or planets are often misidentified as extraterrestrial spacecraft; in poor lighting a large dog may be mistaken for a mysterious beast. On occasion, though, an observation really does seem to defy explanation— and when it is reported by multiple credible witnesses, skeptics have a harder time dismissing it as the product of mental instability or mistaken identification. Still, skeptics are reluctant to accept as real any observation whose possibility cannot be proved scientifically. In fact, most skeptics say that only phenomena with clear, scientifically accepted explanations are real. This logic has been applied to sightings of mysterious beasts, such as the Loch Ness monsters and bigfoot. If years of scientific exploration have not uncovered any hard evidence of the beast, the argument goes, the beast must not exist, no matter how many people have reported seeing it. Believers in the paranormal counter such skepticism by noting that something can be real even if science cannot prove its existence. They point out that there have in fact been cases in which the passage of time has provided the proof that skeptics demanded. For example, until the late nineteenth century skeptics ridiculed people who claimed to have seen a kraken, described as a many-armed sea monster of enormous proportions. Then, in the 1870s, after several creatures fitting this description washed up on beaches in Newfoundland and Labrador, skeptics were forced to acknowledge that the kraken (now known as the giant squid) was real. Believers in the paranormal say that scientists will eventually have to acknowledge the existence of all kinds of currently unexplainable phenomena.
Such acknowledgements tend to come grudgingly, if they come at all. Skeptics demand a great deal of evidence before accepting any unusual observation as credible— and their view of what constitutes evidence is very different from that of be- lievers. For example, when scorched earth is found at a site where some people say an extraterrestrial spacecraft, or UFO, once landed, believers in UFOs take this as proof that the UFO landing actually occurred. Skeptics, on the other hand, say that reports of the landing were invented after the discovery of the scorched earth, which must have some ordinary, though unknown, cause. Similarly, when a person claims to have foreseen an event, believers take this as proof that precognition (the ability to see the future) is real, whereas skeptics attribute the apparent prediction of the future to coincidence.