Supernatural Phenomena Is this an inexplicable event?

Parapsychology: How to explain haunted phenomena

Some people hear eerie voices, see objects that move by themselves, meet the dead. The physicist and psychologist Walter von Lucadou tries to explain such spooky phenomena scientifically - to help those affected

GEO WISSEN: Mr. von Lucadou, you run the only counseling center for parapsychology in Germany. Are you an expert on the supernatural?

Dr. Walter from Lucadou: Anyone who hears the term parapsychology often thinks of ghost hunters or people who seek contact with the souls of the deceased. In fact, the discipline is a branch of consciousness research: it examines unusual human experiences that have existed since ancient times and that are described again and again.

These include disturbing experiences such as spooks, near-death experiences or dreams that seem to come true in an uncanny way. If something like this happens to you, your view of the world often gets out of hand - and it is not easy to talk to other people about it without being declared crazy. We document these phenomena, try to explain them with scientific methods and help those affected to classify what they have experienced.

How many people experience such unusual phenomena?

We have around 3000 contacts with people looking for help every year. Unusual or apparently inexplicable phenomena are by no means rare: according to representative surveys in Europe and the USA, around 60 percent of the population report having experienced an incident of this kind at least once.

What are the experiences?

Most often people tell us about true dreams in which they have seen things or processes that actually happened later: They then met their father, for example, who something happened in the dream - and later it turns out that he had a fatal accident that same night is. Many also report of spooks, of inexplicable noises such as knocking, footsteps or rumbling, of objects that move as if by themselves. Another common phenomenon is apparitions - that is, seeing people who cannot actually be there.

Do you think such apparently supernatural events are possible?

Anyone who describes such an event is often too quickly dismissed as a weirdo, busybody or mentally ill person. In doing so, people usually know exactly what they have experienced - and they are often deeply insecure that what they have experienced does not fit into their worldview. I do not consider such events to be supernatural or unreal. We still know very little about how the brain creates our consciousness and its experience. Some common phenomena were dismissed as imagination just a few decades ago - and are now the subject of serious research. One example of this is sleep paralysis.

What is happening there?

With this phenomenon, people get into a kind of intermediate state between sleep and awakening: They become conscious and feel wide awake - but their body is still asleep and is therefore unable to move. The people experience themselves as helpless and paralyzed; that alone is a very eerie experience. In addition, their perception is often influenced by dream content.

Sometimes they experience terrible things in this state, but they feel completely real: They report, for example, scary visitors who sat on their chest, choked them or otherwise tormented them.

Such descriptions were dismissed as imagination well into the 20th century. Or, worse still, explained with the work of demons - and sometimes subjected those affected to horrific treatments in order to banish the evil spirits. The phenomenon has only been an established topic in sleep research for a few decades, and research is being carried out into what helps to prevent it from occurring.

Do we always meet ghostly figures in dream-like states?

Not at all. In a typical case, I got a call from a woman whose husband had recently passed away. That day she had come home in the evening - and saw her husband sitting in the armchair in front of the television, just as he usually did during his lifetime at this time of day. The woman was completely horrified and called the police. The officers saw no one. They offered the woman to accompany her to the psychiatric ward, but then first called in me.

I was able to reassure the woman - because I knew that an incident like this by no means has to be a sign of mental illness. Such a perception is by no means rare after bereavement with people who are very close to you, we know many such reports. If a person can take such an incident with relative ease, it is harmless and does not require in-depth analysis.

This is a heavily shortened version. You can read the entire interview with Walter von Lucadou in "GEO Knowledge No. 70 - The Power of Spirituality" - order here in the GEO Shop.