The Skeptical Gamers

Bringing critical thinking to Gen Con Indy

2011 Talk: “Culture and the Paranormal”

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on March 23, 2011

Back for 2011 after great success and acclaim in 2010 is my one-man talk “Culture and the Paranormal.” It will remain largely unchanged from last year.

“Culture and the Paranormal” will be a cross-cultural survey of paranormal beliefs and occurrences in order to examine the hypothesis “If paranormal events and beings exist in reality and not just in the mind, then they should be relatively homogeneous and not differentiated along cultural lines.”

My main thesis, to answer that hypothesis, is “Paranormal explanations for experiences generally draw almost exclusively from prevailing cultural narratives and fill in perceived holes to help explain the anomalous or extraordinary.” I’ll look at different cultures across time and space, and what they view as anomalous or extraordinary circumstances, and the different ways in which they recourse to paranormal or supernatural explanations for those circumstances.

I’ll also look at how different cultures conceive of analogous supernatural beings, from ghosts to werecreatures to nocturnal visitors. Finally, I’ll bring things forward to the present and look at how modern popular culture affects paranormal beliefs and experiences. Modern pop culture has inundated us with flying saucers, alien abductions, ghost orbs, and crop circles, and there’s scientific evidence that our perceptions of such things are heavily influenced by their portrayal and popularity in the mass media.

This talk will be perhaps the most academic of all of our talks. I’ll be drawing on disparate fields, from cultural anthropology to folklore to media studies, and, with some work and some luck, I’ll pull together the different threads into a wide-ranging and thought-provoking presentation.

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