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A Response to Dr. Taff's Backward Rant

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Here is my response to Dr. Barry Taff's misguided and somewhat mean-spirited blog

In a recent news roundup, I included a link to an article called "Psi and Psychosis: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" by Dr. Barry Taff, a doctor of psychophysiology, in which he ties the ravings of obviously mentally impaired people with beliefs in the paranormal. And if you read his descriptions of his encounters with these people and the things they have said to him, it seems quite clear that their problems and delusions have everything to do with mental illness and nothing to do with the paranormal.

What I found most disturbing about his blog post is his frequent poking fun at these people and their outrageous claims, as if they had any control over them. Wow -- how kind and sympathetic of you... doctor. These people are apparently borderline or full-on schizophrenic who reveal the common symptoms of their illness: delusions of grandeur, of persecution, and contact with beings such as ghosts and aliens.

To Dr. Taff, because they have delusions and fantasies about ghosts and aliens, that somehow the current media interest in paranormal reality shows is partly to blame. Yet these people also have the same kinds delusions about God, the Devil, the government, the CIA, and the FBI, yet Taff says nothing about the influence of religion or government services on these poor souls.

Because what he suggests is nonsense. Is he actually suggesting that because there are many paranormal-themed reality shows on TV that that is the reason these people cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy? I think he has it backward. They cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy because of their illness, and the delusions they have include things like aliens, Bigfoot, demons, and yes even government agents.

These people would be delusional whether or not the paranormal was a popular topic. Mentally ill people have wrestled against demons, saints, and other unseen forces for thousands of years, so Taff's laying the blame at the doorstep of paranormal pop culture is wildly misplaced.

Are there quirky people connected to the paranormal? You bet. Are there some -- maybe even many -- who have far-out beliefs? For sure. But you could say that about virtually any belief system. Look at almost any religious group and you'll find a wide array of outrageous beliefs. You'll even see preachers on TV saying that hurricanes and the tragedies of 9-11 are to be blamed on the gay community or liberals in general. Talk about delusion and the inability to distinguish reality from fantasy -- and these people aren't even diagnosably mentally ill.

The point is, aside from these who are mentally ill, there are fanatics in virtually every field of endeavor and interest. There are sports fanatics who go berserk when their favorite teams lose, and religious fanatics who blame everything on demons (or liberals or anyone who doesn't agree with their particular faith). There are fanatical political leaders and party supporters who will tell the most blatant and outrageous lies about the opposition, sometimes destroying lives in the process. They will even tell huge lies that lead us into war that takes the lives of thousands of young men and women. There are corporate leaders who maintain policies that destroy the environment, the food supply, and public health, all in the fanatical pursuit of profit, consequences be damned.

And they do it all without the excuse of mental illness, but with mindless, or worse, purposeful intention. Who are the real crazies? It is of those people -- especially the ones with power -- that we should be afraid, very afraid.

As I said, Dr. Taff has it backward. Belief in the paranormal doesn't cause mental illness. Rather, those who are mentally ill often have delusions that include aspects of the paranormal. Watching My Ghost Story or UFO Hunters isn't going to convince a mentally healthy person that ghosts or aliens are after them.

Having said that, I have always been an advocate of open-minded skepticism when it comes to the paranormal. We should not automatically believe or assume that an event or experience is paranormal in nature simply because we do not readily understand it. All such experiences should be evaluated with logic and a level head, without leaping to the conclusion that the orb seen in your photograph is a spirit or that the weird light in the sky is a flying saucer from another planet.

There are genuine mysteries in this life for which neither science not religion have adequate explanations. Our interest in the paranormal is in the careful exploration of the possibilities of explanations for these mysteries that might lie outside our current understanding. And that's nothing to be afraid of.

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