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Scientists Are Figuring Out Why Some People Can ‘Hear’ The Voices of The Dead

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Scientists have identified the traits that may make a person more likely to claim they hear the voices of the dead.

According to new research, a predisposition to high levels of absorption in tasks, unusual auditory experiences in childhood, and a high susceptibility to auditory hallucinations all occur more strongly in self-described clairaudient mediums than the general population.

 

The finding could help us to better understand the upsetting auditory hallucinations that accompany mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, the researchers say.

The Spiritualist experiences of clairvoyance and clairaudience – the experience of seeing or hearing something in the absence of an external stimulus, and attributed to the spirits of the dead – is of great scientific interest, both for anthropologists studying religious and spiritual experiences, and scientists studying pathological hallucinatory experiences.

In particular, researchers would like to better understand why some people with auditory experiences report a Spiritualist experience, while others find them more distressing, and receive a mental health diagnosis.

“Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control,” explained psychologist Peter Moseley of Northumbria University in the UK.

“Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too.”

He and his colleague psychologist Adam Powell of Durham University in the UK recruited and surveyed 65 clairaudient mediums from the UK’s Spiritualists’ National Union, and 143 members of the general population recruited through social media, to determine what differentiated Spiritualists from the general public, who don’t (usually) report hearing the voices of the dead.

 

Overall, 44.6 percent of the Spiritualists reported hearing voices daily, and 79 percent said the experiences were part of their daily lives. And while most reported hearing the voices inside their head, 31.7 percent reported that the voices were external, too.

The results of the survey were striking.

Compared to the general population, the Spiritualists reported much higher belief in the paranormal, and were less likely to care what other people thought of them.

The Spiritualists on the whole had their first auditory experience young, at an average age of 21.7 years, and reported a high level of absorption. That’s a term that describes total immersion in mental tasks and activities or altered states, and how effective the individual is at tuning out the world around them.

In addition, they reported that they were more prone to hallucination-like experiences. The researchers noted that they hadn’t usually heard of Spiritualism prior to their experiences; rather, they had come across it while looking for answers.

In the general population, high levels of absorption were also strongly correlated with belief in the paranormal – but little or no susceptibility to auditory hallucinations. And in both groups, there were no differences in the levels of belief in the paranormal and susceptibility to visual hallucinations.

 

These results, the researchers say, suggest that experiencing the ‘voices of the dead’ is therefore unlikely to be a result of peer pressure, a positive social context, or suggestibility due to belief in the paranormal. Instead, these individuals adopt Spiritualism because it aligns with their experience and is personally meaningful to them.

“Our findings say a lot about ‘learning and yearning’. For our participants, the tenets of Spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practising mediums,” Powell said.

“But all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough.”

Future research, they concluded, should explore a variety of cultural context to better understand the relationship between absorption, belief, and the strange, spiritual experience of ghosts whispering in one’s ear.

The research has been published in Mental Health, Religion and Culture.

 



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An Astronomer Who Believes in Aliens Explains Why He’s Not Convinced by UFO Sightings

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If intelligent aliens visit the Earth, it would be one of the most profound events in human history.

Surveys show that nearly half of Americans believe that aliens have visited the Earth, either in the ancient past or recently. That percentage has been increasing. Belief in alien visitation is greater than belief that Bigfoot is a real creature, but less than belief that places can be haunted by spirits.

 

Scientists dismiss these beliefs as not representing real physical phenomena. They don’t deny the existence of intelligent aliens. But they set a high bar for proof that we’ve been visited by creatures from another star system. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I’m a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. Full disclosure: I have not personally seen a UFO.

Unidentified flying objects

UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less.

There’s a long history of UFO sightings. Air Force studies of UFOs have been going on since the 1940s. In the United States, “ground zero” for UFOs occurred in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico. The fact that the Roswell incident was soon explained as the crash landing of a military high-altitude balloon didn’t stem a tide of new sightings.

The majority of UFOs appear to people in the United States. It’s curious that Asia and Africa have so few sightings despite their large populations, and even more surprising that the sightings stop at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

 

Most UFOs have mundane explanations. Over half can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus. Such bright objects are familiar to astronomers but are often not recognized by members of the public. Reports of visits from UFOs inexplicably peaked about six years ago.

Many people who say they have seen UFOs are either dog walkers or smokers. Why? Because they’re outside the most. Sightings concentrate in evening hours, particularly on Fridays, when many people are relaxing with one or more drinks.

A few people, like former NASA employee James Oberg, have the fortitude to track down and find conventional explanations for decades of UFO sightings. Most astronomers find the hypothesis of alien visits implausible, so they concentrate their energy on the exciting scientific search for life beyond the Earth.

Are we alone?

While UFOs continue to swirl in the popular culture, scientists are trying to answer the big question that is raised by UFOs: Are we alone?

Astronomers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, a number that doubles every two years. Some of these exoplanets are considered habitable, since they are close to the Earth’s mass and at the right distance from their stars to have water on their surfaces.

 

The nearest of these habitable planets are less than 20 light years away, in our cosmic “back yard.” Extrapolating from these results leads to a projection of 300 million habitable worlds in our galaxy.

Each of these Earth-like planets is a potential biological experiment, and there have been billions of years since they formed for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge.

Astronomers are very confident there is life beyond the Earth. As astronomer and ace exoplanet-hunter Geoff Marcy, puts it, “The universe is apparently bulging at the seams with the ingredients of biology.” There are many steps in the progression from Earths with suitable conditions for life to intelligent aliens hopping from star to star.

Astronomers use the Drake Equation to estimate the number of technological alien civilizations in our galaxy. There are many uncertainties in the Drake Equation, but interpreting it in the light of recent exoplanet discoveries makes it very unlikely that we are the only, or the first, advanced civilization.

This confidence has fueled an active search for intelligent life, which has been unsuccessful so far. So researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?” to “Where are they?”

 

The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi Paradox. Even if intelligent aliens do exist, there are a number of reasons why we might not have found them and they might not have found us.

Scientists do not discount the idea of aliens. But they aren’t convinced by the evidence to date because it is unreliable, or because there are so many other more mundane explanations.

Modern myth and religion

UFOs are part of the landscape of conspiracy theories, including accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles created by aliens. I remain skeptical that intelligent beings with vastly superior technology would travel trillion of miles just to press down our wheat.

It’s useful to consider UFOs as a cultural phenomenon. Diana Pasulka, a professor at the University of North Carolina, notes that myths and religions are both means for dealing with unimaginable experiences. To my mind, UFOs have become a kind of new American religion.

So no, I don’t think belief in UFOs is crazy, because some flying objects are unidentified, and the existence of intelligent aliens is scientifically plausible.

But a study of young adults did find that UFO belief is associated with schizotypal personality, a tendency toward social anxiety, paranoid ideas and transient psychosis. If you believe in UFOs, you might look at what other unconventional beliefs you have.

I’m not signing on to the UFO “religion,” so call me an agnostic. I recall the aphorism popularized by Carl Sagan, “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” The Conversation

Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 



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Huge Numbers of Anti-Vaxxers Are Suddenly ‘Finding Religion’. Mainly in Vermont

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Something strange is happening in America. Research shows fewer Americans are identifying with organised religion, but in pockets of the country, a seeming explosion in new-found faith borders on the miraculous.

 

Take Vermont, for example. After 2016, the number of families professing deep religious convictions spiked suddenly by over seven times, a new study shows. These families also had kindergarten-age children, and by all likelihood, this was not divine revelation.

So what was it? According to paediatrician Joshua Williams from the University of Colorado, it’s most probably an unexpected side effect of tightened laws regulating the mandatory vaccination of school students in the state.

While vaccination is compulsory across the US for students attending school, the requirement is waived in cases of exemption.

For example, medical exemptions are available in every US state (and in Washington, DC), in instances where a medical condition means vaccination could be harmful to the student.

In 45 states, exemptions on religious grounds are permissible as well (despite the seeming contradiction that all major religions now encourage immunisation, and scriptural analysis suggests this has long been the case).

Just 15 states now offer personal belief or ‘philosophical’ exemptions, and the numbers of states offering religious and personal belief exemptions have dwindled in recent years, as lawmakers seek to curb the spread of dangerous infections.

 

A trailblazer in this regard was Vermont, in 2015 voting to become the first state to repeal its personal belief exemption, which became law in 2016.

In their new study, Williams and fellow researchers analysed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on exemptions for children entering kindergarten from 2011 to 2018, to see how the removal of such personal belief exemptions might impact religious exemption rates.

In Vermont, this single policy change coincided with a huge increase in the proportion of kindergartener enrolments claiming a religious exemption – jumping from 0.5 percent of students to 3.7 percent.

“We interpret that as evidence of a replacement effect,” says Williams.

In other words, the researchers contend that parents in Vermont who did not wish to vaccinate their children started to claim an objection on religious grounds, only because the former alternative – personal belief – became unavailable.

Of course, there’s no way to prove that, but in their paper, the researchers cite a couple of small studies that suggest it could be happening at the level of individual parents.

“Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Vermont ranked 48th out of 50 in state religiosity in the year before its policy change,” they write.

 

The hypothesis is strengthened by the researchers’ finding that states offering both religious and personal belief exemptions were one-fourth as likely to have kindergarteners with religious exemptions, compared to states with religious exemptions only.

“Our hypothesis going in is that in states that offer both exemptions types, the rate of religious exemptions would be quite low, but that we would be able to see a significant difference then looking at religious exemptions in states that only offered religious exemptions,” Williams told Stat.

“We were hoping that the state of Vermont would provide a nice case study of that… And that’s exactly what we found.”

While the result is somewhat jarring – and the suggested ‘tactics switch’ by anti-vaxxer parents runs the risk of obfuscating the already muddled reasons people use to justify a vaccine hesitant stance – the team does point out one piece of good news.

In Vermont, at least, the overall proportion of Vermont kindergarteners with non-medical exemptions decreased after the 2016 policy change (even while faux religiosity boomed).

“This finding aligns with aforementioned studies that showed lower overall non-medical exemption rates in states with religious exemptions only, and vaccine advocates will likely interpret this as a public health victory,” the authors write.

“In the last year, 10 other states have enacted or proposed legislation to eliminate non-medical exemptions, and policy makers in other states could consider Vermont’s experience as an instructive example when considering policy changes to decrease exemption rates.”

The findings are reported in Pediatrics.

 



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Our Belief in The ‘Devil’ Evolved as a Way to Avoid Sickness, Says Study

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When Black Death ripped the heart out of Europe in the 14th century, it was the devil who often copped the blame. It would be centuries before the true culprit would be identified at the end of a microscope.

 

For much of history disease has attracted supernatural explanations. In spite of this, anthropologists have had a hard time supporting hypotheses that link the evolution of spiritual beliefs with public health practices. This new research might change that.

A large international team of researchers uncovered strong statistical evidence matching the prevalence of various pathogens with high levels of moral vitalism – better known as a belief in spiritual forces of good and evil.

The results suggest that in a world where invisible agents of infection spread unchecked, moral vitalism might reinforce actions that keep contamination to a minimum in what’s referred to as a function of our ‘behavioural immune system‘, in turn reinforcing those beliefs.

“By providing a framework for predicting the spread of infectious disease, moral vitalism would also have facilitated (or at least cognitively justified) behavioural strategies designed to limit infection,” the researchers write in their report.

From ancient times to the modern age, there’s no shortage of examples illustrating how we imagine a relationship between evil and illness. Whether in the form of individual exorcisms or pogroms aimed at wiping out entire populations, morality and disease have long gone hand-in-hand.

 

That link raises some interesting questions. Could the spread of disease have affected the evolution of those moral beliefs? Could those beliefs, in turn, have influenced the spread of pathogens?

To find out, the research team ran several studies analysing data in search of trends that showed whether moral vitalism might reduce the risk of catching a communicable disease, and therefore have an adaptive advantage.

The first two studies explicitly looked at witchcraft and a belief in the evil eye, as well as a belief in what we’d commonly identify as the devil.

Using models that compared these beliefs across different cultures with the prevalence of pathogens, including malaria, typhus, and dengue, the researchers found there was, in fact, a strong relationship. The more prevalent a disease, the more likely a belief in witchcraft, the evil eye, or the devil itself existed in that part of the world.

Finding that a belief in ol’ Splitfoot is more common in places where disease spreads easily is a nice start, but does little to show whether one affects the other in any way.

 

Past research already hints strongly at relationships between socioeconomics and religiosity, for example, suggesting other cultural forces could be at work, promoting both the risk of disease and tendency to subscribe to a supernatural belief.

So the team hit the question more directly in a third study, conducting a large, multinational survey intended to measure moral vitalism and the healthcare behaviours of individuals.

Not only did this allow the researchers to better examine the question on a personal level, it helped control for other variables that have been linked with both moral vitalism and the historical prevalence of pathogens.

Just over 3,100 students from universities across 28 countries around the world contributed survey results to the final analysis, which showed a fairly robust association between a supernatural belief in good and evil and behaviours that help avoid coming into contact with pathogens.

Taken together, the results provide solid evidence that by believing in dark forces that harm the body, people were more likely to avoid coming into contact with deadly pathogens, meaning moral vitalism wasn’t just primitive superstition, it was a functional behaviour.

“In this way, moral vitalistic beliefs may represent a psychological mechanism that conferred an adaptive advantage within environments characterised by a high pathogen load,” the researchers write.

Considering that tendencies to see the world in shades of good and evil is favoured by more conservative people and further reinforced by in-group thinking, it’s not hard to see how the devil quickly found himself right at home in plague-ravaged communities.

For medical anthropologists interested in our so-called behavioural immune system, the study confirms suspicions that moral forces don’t just affect how we deal with health and disease, but that they’re shaped by it in return.

None of this is to say there can’t be a variety of influences shaping beliefs in supernatural forces, and it certainly doesn’t mean a belief in witches comes close to what modern medicine has achieved when it comes to conquering the germ.

But studies like these do help us to better understand the kinds of historical pressures that put the details into the devil.

In a world where science and religion can often butt heads over how to manage health and wellbeing, it’s vital we learn all we can about the interplay between culture and the spread of disease.

This research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

 



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