There is a type of paranormal phenomena that no one seems to talk about anymore, maybe because it’s so difficult to talk about. Here is an example.
One night I was having a discussion with my adult daughter about the lamentable lack of interest in literature today, especially among young men. I was referring not just to the lack of readers, but also to the weakness of modern novels, at least in North America. That’s one of my pet peeves, but I’m not alone in this thinking. The American novelist/critic Annie Dillard once wrote:
If I actually believed that the progress of human understanding depended on our crop of contemporary novelists, I would shoot myself.
Anyway, I had got on this tack, and at one point I said to my daughter,
“When did you last see a young man on the subway reading War and Peace?“
The next morning, riding the subway to work, I was dozing on a bench seat along the wall, the kind that face the standing passengers. As I approached my station, like any other day, I woke up, but this time to a startling vision.
No more than a foot from my face was the brightly colored cover of a large hard-cover edition of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Holding it open, reading it, was a young man standing directly in front of me.
I got up and went to the door, ready to get off at my station, more than a little bemused. I looked back at the young man and I was startled again.
Standing around him, in a kind of box among the other standing passengers, each one more or less at a corner of the box, were four more young men, and each of them was reading a book that looked like a novel.
Well, well, I thought, you’ve been put in your place haven’t you?.
The debunkers, of course, will say this was a coincidence, the favorite refuge of those who can’t bear the reality of these things.
Their last resort, of course, is to call you a liar. There are those, often found in the scientific/academic community, who suspect that someone like me is just a mischievous liar playing games. Others might suggest that I’m only semi-sane, prone to hallucinations in the middle of the day.
Because of that, I’m well aware that this event proves nothing to anyone – except me. I saw those young men and their books and I’m 100% convinced that they and their books were really there. I learned something that morning.
Coincidence? In a case like this that idea borders on the facetious. I’m going to do a post shortly in which I’ll demonstrate that meaningful coincidences (synchronous events as psychologist C. G. Jung called them) are more improbable than most people think.
To me, an event like this one – more unlikely I’m sure than winning first prize in any lottery – is too improbable, too artful and perfectly contrived, to accept it as anything other than real.
Of course, many religious people will say this was a message from God. Well, I must say that I did feel a bit like Job in the Biblical story when, after arguing for weeks with his detractor peers whether God was punishing him justly or not, God reveals himself, declares to the humans cowering in fear,
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine [etc – who are you to question anything?]
and poor Job is finally reduced to declaring:
…… therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes
But most scientists and other supposed ‘realists’ deny the existence of gods. Because they can’t see how the physical laws identified so far by science can allow for something like my War and Peace reader, they routinely refuse to accept that events like this can be real.
“Of course they do,” I can imagine someone saying, “how can you ever explain something like that?”
Since when does something have to be explained before you can accept that it is real? Our hominid ancestors had to live in this world for about seven million years without being able to explain much at all. But I’m sure they didn’t often try to deny that the plants and animals, seas and mountains, skies and rain were real.
No one has yet explained how the molecules that make up our brains produce thoughts and images, yet no one doubts that we have minds.
Sure, I wish I could explain it. I would love to investigate paranormal phenomena the way I investigated motor vehicle accidents and other human misadventures for 40+ years. Something in me longs to start the search for clues. But with something like this, where would you start?
To be fair to scientists though, we don’t have the tools yet. Maybe when we have supercomputers, vastly more intelligent than we are, in the next century, or maybe in three centuries, they will be able to investigate such things. But just because we can’t investigate them now is no reason to deny that they are there.
To me events like this are facts of existence.
I call them paranormal, but what does that mean? This is not a ghost or spirit. I suppose you might say it was a kind of apparition. Telepathy is often said to be at the core of most paranormal phenomena, including apparitions, but how can you envision these five young men and their books as a product of telepathy?
Was God putting me in my place? Well, I have no idea who or what God is, or what ‘gods’ are. I don’t align myself with any religion. I take what I consider the most realistic view – the agnostic view – that I just don’t know what is going on.
But, if someone wants to believe that the young man reading his big copy of War and Peace in front of me on the subway was a comeuppance message to me from God, well, I’ll accept the rebuke.
Maybe I too should repent in dust and ashes.