Explaining the unexplained

The paranormal has been a subject of controversy. The evidence is often problematic. Take, for instance, psychics. Scientists have investigated their abilities. In experiments, psychics fail to do better than guessing. In a controlled setting, a psychic is isolated so that others cannot supply the psychic with information. Sometimes psychics make stunning guesses, but not in controlled experiments. That may often be due to fraud or manipulation, but perhaps not in every case. The same is true for the paranormal in general. Many paranormal incidents could be natural phenomena or the result of fraud or delusion, but a large number remains without explanation.

Thinking that science will give all the answers is a belief too. It can become like a religion once you begin to discard evidence to the contrary. Evidence for the paranormal does not meet scientific criteria. Science requires, for instance, that we can use a theory like the existence of psychic abilities to make predictions that we can subsequently check. If a psychic does not do better than guessing during an experiment, there is no such thing as psychic abilities, at least from a scientific perspective.

And yet, there are countless testimonies of people who have witnessed unexplained phenomena. The total number of these incidents is impossible to guess, but it could be billions. In the early twentieth century, Charles Fort collected at least 40,000 notes on paranormal experiences. These notes were about strange events reported in magazines and newspapers such as The Times and scientific journals such as Scientific American, Nature and Science. Millions more might exist in other journals and diaries.

Strange things also happened to me. In December 2010, my wife Ingrid and I were sitting at the kitchen table. She was discussing her late mother and father. Her mother had outlived her father for more than three decades. She then recalled that her mother had once asked her father to contact her as a spirit if he was to die first. She then remembered her mother later saying that he had never made himself noticed, ‘not even by stopping a clock.’

Just after my wife had finished speaking, a gust of wind blew a flower pot over the balcony. It made a loud noise. Even though it was windy, the blow suddenly came out of nowhere. It was a bit eerie. The next day she noticed that a clock and an alarm clock were both back one hour. One was connected to the power grid while the other ran on a battery.

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So, did my wife’s father make himself noticed from the other side? Or were the wind gust and the clocks being back just bizarre coincidences caused by natural phenomena? Or did my wife made it up to have a good story to tell at birthday parties? I do not think that she did. Given the number of strange incidents in my life, I do not doubt it either. It is unlikely that she was mistaken, as she could only have noticed that these clocks were back by looking at other timepieces. And if she was wrong and did not find out about it, it still is a remarkable coincidence.

In virtual reality, the laws of nature do not have to apply. So clocks can stop for an hour, and elephants can fly. So far, we have not seen elephants fly, but it is possible in virtual reality. Psychic abilities may exist while the scientific method cannot certify them. And Jesus could have walked over water and revived dead people even though these stories may have been made up. Alternatively, the laws of nature could apply in an arrangement suggesting that someone is pulling the strings. The wind gust was already peculiar. The incident with the clocks made it even more mysterious.

Church tower in pond

Psychics, mediums, and premonition

Our intuition processes more information than we realise. Sometimes this seems like magic. For example, when you drive your car, you may suddenly discover that you travelled a long distance without being aware of it. This is more likely to happen when you are a frequent driver. Research has demonstrated that many abilities can be trained to the point that they become a subconscious process. An important domain of our intuition is social information. Most humans intuitively read body language and facial expressions and adapt their actions to the clues other people give while not being aware of it. It may be that mediums are so good at asking the right questions to influence people’s minds and reading people’s body language and facial expressions that they appear psychic.

A medium named Char appeared regularly on Dutch television between 2002 and 2010. She did readings and claimed to contact the dead. Sometimes she appeared to retrieve specific information that only the person receiving the reading and the deceased person could have known. In 2008 journalists from the Dutch television programme Zembla investigated her performances. People wanted to hear that their deceased loved ones were doing fine, and guess what, they were always doing fine up there somewhere.

Zembla claimed that only the best parts of the readings were shown so her performance on television appeared better than it was in reality. Char was often wrong but many of these situations weren’t aired. Also James Randi weighed in. Randi is sceptical of all paranormal claims. He argued that much of the information she retrieved was extracted from the people receiving the reading.

Now it happens to be that the name Char equals the first four characters of the word charlatan. Notice the word characters in the previous sentence because this word starts with the same four characters. Interestingly, I am discussing Char’s character, so this is indeed a funny coincidence. Yet I still remember quite a few guesses she made that defy conventional explanation and left the people receiving the reading dumbfounded. It seemed impossible to extract this information from the persons receiving the reading. Zembla didn’t address these cases. If these had been incidents of fraud, for example if there had been actors involved in the programme, Zembla probably would have mentioned it.

So what to think of these unexplained cases? Can mediums sometimes make better guesses than chance allows for? If we assume this universe to be a simulation running a script then it must be possible. A so-called gift can just be a sequence of coincidences that aren’t really coincidences because of the script. And this can make a medium believe that he or she has a gift. An incident in my life showed how a premonition can come true. It can’t be explained in a conventional way. On 9 February 2009 Western Europe was hit by a heavy storm of the kind that happens only once in a decade or so. I predicted such a storm on this exact date two months earlier. Only I feared that it would strike the Netherlands while it ended up in Northern France, a miss of 400 kilometres (250 miles). But that is still remarkable and beyond mere chance.

I made the prediction on 19 December 2008 on an internet message board.1 On 9 February 2009 the Charles De Gaulle Airport of Paris had to be closed because of the storm.2 How the prediction came to be is a peculiar story. Somehow I did get a hunch that a super storm might strike the Netherlands on 9 February 2009 and that large parts of the Netherlands would be flooded.

It all began with an article on an alternative news website about a programme called the web bot that allegedly had made accurate predictions in the past. In the autumn of 2008 the webbot predicted that in the first half of 2009 large areas of land would be permanently flooded. The article did not mention any specifics about the location but the word ‘permanently’ suggests that the area is below sea level. That narrowed it down to the Netherlands.

The date of 9 February also came up as I believed it to be the birthday of the lady from the dormitory. There had been peculiar incidents in my life suggesting that my business with her wasn’t finished yet. There was a list of names, telephone numbers of parents, and birthdates of the students in the dormitory. I still remember the birthdays of some of my schoolmates from secondary school because there had been a similar list. I once stupefied them decades later by telling them their birthdates so my memory on these issues is quite exact. Only a genealogy site mentioned her birthday as being 7 February. The site might be wrong.

More so-called clues came in confirming the suggestion. For instance, a blogger on the website Sargasso.nl had written on 2 September 2008 (2/9) about a storm that would strike the Netherlands on 9 February 2009 (9/2) and that large parts of the Netherlands would be flooded. The numerical coincidence of the dates was also a bit peculiar. It refers to 11:11 as 9 + 2 = 11. That scared me. A flooding of the Netherlands would put millions of lives in danger.3

The article features some cool graphics showing parts of the Netherlands being flooded on 9 February 2009. It was intended as a what if scenario, not as a prediction, but as I already suspected that an epic storm would hit the Netherlands on this specific date, I saw this as an eerie warning sign. And I didn’t come across the website or the information before I had the premonition. I found it as a result of looking for clues confirming my suspicion.

netherlands
The Netherlands

On 13 December 2008 my son Rob and I went to Enschede and we visited the campus of the University of Twente were I lived as a student and where I had met the lady. Rob didn’t know of my premonition because I hadn’t discussed it with anyone yet. On the campus was a work of art, a church tower in a pond that refers to flooded land (see featured image). It was evening and it was dark. The moon was shining. There was a thin layer of ice on the pond. Suddenly Rob told me that he saw the coastline of the Netherlands reflected in the moonlight on the ice surface. I couldn’t see this at first but Rob kept on pointing at the ice until I saw the coastline too. The Dutch coastline has a shape that is unlikely to be mimicked by some random accident (as you can see on the image above).

Lage Landen album cover
Album cover of Lage Landen of Boudewijn de Groot

This freaked me out as the church tower in the pond refers to flooded land while the storm could threaten the coastline of the Netherlands. There would be a lunar eclipse on 9 February 2009. That was an eerie coincidence too. There were a few more coincidences that pushed me into making the prediction. For instance, there is an album from Boudewijn de Groot named Lage Landen (Low Countries). The 11th track named Lage Landen is about a super storm hitting the Netherlands. The song suggests that the storm will hit on a Monday while 9 February 2009 was a Monday. Monday is the day dedicated to the Moon (Moon-day). This is another peculiar coincidence because of the lunar eclipse and the coastline of the Netherlands being reflected in the moonlight.

There is some interesting numerology in it. The song being the 11th track lasting 5:55 minutes is a peculiar coincidence (see picture). The date 9 February 2009 refers to 11:11. The date 9 February 2009 can be rewritten as 9-2-2009 while 9 + 2 = 11 and 2 + 0 + 0 + 9 = 11. Many people see 11:11 on clocks and I did too. When I first came to the campus during the introduction weeks, I stayed at Calslaan 9-2. This was the most notorious residence hall on the campus by far. The combination of this address being a reference to 9 February, it being the most notorious residence hall, the campus being the place where I met the lady from the dormitory, and her birthday possibly being 9 February too, makes it remarkable.

I issued the warning a few days later on 18 December 2008 even though it would probably be ignored. Normally I don’t have predictive powers but this prediction turned out to be far more accurate than chance allows for. As a prediction it was pretty useless however. Luckily it wasn’t taken seriously. Imagine that people had been evacuated because of this. That is why I don’t venture into making predictions, even more so because most don’t come true anyway. Still, the incident sheds some light as to why mediums can be more accurate than chance allows for while making many misses at the same time.

Featured image: Church tower in pond on the campus of the University of Twente. Source Unknown. [copyright]

1. De duistere zijde van de Maan. Maroc.nl (2008). [link]
2. Storm shuts Paris airports. The Guardian (2009). [link]
3. Wat als het toch fout gaat? Sargasso.nl (2008). [link]