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What Does ‘Paranormal’ Mean?

Paranormal Definition: The word ‘paranormal’ refers to phenomena and experiences outside ‘the range of normal experience or scientific explanation’ [source]. The prefix ‘para’ has different meanings, including (in its Latin derivation) ‘outside’ or ‘against’ – so paranormal experiences are set apart from those of everyday life, and which are outside the realm of scientific understanding.

It is possible that as science advances, phenomena currently classed as paranormal might become more fully understood. However, paranormal research is fraught with difficulties, as paranormal phenomena do not (by definition) conform to the usual laws governing the behaviour of the physical world, and as such, investigations and experiments are unlikely to produce the type of evidence required for scientific validation. During the 20th century, ‘parapsychological’ investigations into the paranormal were quite common, although this is less the case these days.

flame In popular use, the meaning of paranormal is basically all things supernatural – ghosts, psychic powers, magic and the like, as well as with aliens and UFOs. Many people from diverse walks of life claim to have personal experiences with paranormal phenomena. Belief in the paranormal is very common too: a 2005 Gallup poll of Americans asked participants if they believed in any of ten different types of paranormal phenomena (astrology, channelling, haunted houses, clairvoyance, ESP, witches, reincarnation, ghosts, communication with dead people, and telepathy), and found that 73% of those polled believed in at least one of these.

The paranormal is also a very common theme in popular culture, especially in TV and movies, where stories based on ghosts, vampires, zombies and similar themes have captured the popular imagination. This isn’t a new development either; ghost stories have been passed down in the traditional folklore of cultures around the world for centuries, and became particularly popular in the west during the 19th century, so these themes have been a part of the human experience long before a formal definition of paranormal phenomena was made in the 20th century.

Overall, the paranormal is a fascinating area with many facets, some of which are discussed in greater depth on this site.

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