Ghoulies, ghosties, things that go bump in the mind

This weekend is Halloween even though Oct. 31 is not until the middle of next week. There will be parties, costumes and even some trick-or-treating in Gringo enclaves.

The end of October and early November is firmly established as the paranormal high season. This is when Orson Wells broadcast his “War of the Worlds” and it is when Mexicans celebrate death with the Día de los Muertos.

So what about the real ghosts?

Is there a place in north San José, perhaps on the site of an old Indian village, where there is a portal to another dimension or another worlds?

Not as far as reporters and editors could determine, but the preceding paragraph illustrates the power of the mass media to create ghost stories and legends. Television, the movies and now YouTube are full of paranormal tales and paranormal claims. If not ghosts and goblins, there are space aliens, ancient giants, Bigfoot, Chupacabre, UFO and things that go bump in the night.

With such a flood of paranormal tales and claims, one could not be blamed for thinking that perhaps, maybe they exist.

The human mind appears to relish ghost stories and the paranormal because supernatural events validate beliefs in Heaven, life after death
and even Hell. The news media relish such tales because they enhance readership or viewership. Newspapers and television shows have a long history of over-dramatizing supposed supernatural events ranging from the Lock Ness Monster to the latest segment of a video series. Producers do not send out video crews to come back empty-handed.

A University of Delaware professor has just demonstrated the ease with which human minds can be manipulated. He staged an experiment to examine the influence of media messages on perceptions of credibility of paranormal investigators on the television screen.

The university reports that reference to scientific paraphernalia increases the the belief score.

The professor, Paul Brewer, asked experiment participants to read a short story and then evaluate the credibility of the paranormal investigator mentioned there.

The university said that one version of the article described a paranormal investigator’s scientific approach to his work, including his use of various instruments, and that this was the text that generated the highest credibility score.

One is reminded of the characters in “Ghostbusters” using devices to check the electromagnetic field and collecting samples of ghostly protoplasm.

But how about all those normal people who have seen strange things, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who spotted a UFO?

Another professor has a response to that. He is Matthew J. Sharps, a  professor of psychology at California State University, Fresno, and a specialist in eyewitness phenomena. He recently wrote in the Skeptical Inquirer, the online magazine of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Sharpe has had a lot of experience with witnesses at trial and recounts how individuals make up facts that jive with their personal background and perceptions. Said Sharpe:

“Research in experimental psychology has shown that many paranormal sightings fall directly within the realm of eyewitness memory. Experiments reveal that such ‘sightings’ derive from the psychology of the observers rather than from supernatural sources. Experiments show these proclivities.”

“It is clearly possible for a human being — for example, at twilight when visual acuity is reduced — to see an angry cow behind a bush but come out of the situation with a clear memory of a menacing Bigfoot,” he said. “A wisp of fog or smoke seen in the indirect glare of a streetlight becomes a ghost; the bright lights of a factory, seen at night through an industrial haze, become a UFO.”

Not all sightings are simply fodder for campfire stories. William J. Birnes is coauthor of “The Haunting of 20th Century America.” description says that the book shows how the paranormal has driven America’s political, public and military policies, including launching nuclear bomber squadrons toward the Soviet Union.

Most experts agree that Halloween grew out of pagan Celtic tradition. The Día de los Muertos in Mexico is Nov. 1, and this developed from a mixture of Roman Catholic and Native American traditions. This is the day when Mexicans bring food and drink to their departed relatives in cemeteries.

This day also is a time of celebration and parties.

But partygoers in Costa Rica have to be aware of La Segua, Cadejos, la Carreta sin Bueyes and even the Bruja de Escazú. These are the local legendary characters, and two have been been commemorated on a just-issued Correos de Costa Rica stamp. HERE!

As to the supernatural portal in north San José, television crews and cynical reporters prowl the older parts of town in search of houses that look haunted. One such home is near Parque Bolivar, and it shows up repeatedly in spooky reports. And the television show “Ghost Hunters International” recently sent a team to the country’s former prison island of San Lucas in search of the paranormal.

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