10-30-89 INDIANAPOLIS Reports of ghosts and haunted houses are the stuff of Holloween legend and paranormal experiments, but to a group of 51 Hoosiers they're, well, sheer poppycock. In fact, spirits and superstitions don't stand a ghost of a chance against the Indiana Skeptics, a group of teachers and scientists who endeavor to find rational explanations for paranormal reports. "If someone believes he's seen a ghost or UFO visitor, it's simply a mistake, a hallucination...or a hoax. They exist only in the mind," said Robert Craig, the founder and chairman of the group.
Craig says the Skeptics are willing to go to the scene of UFO sightings, haunted houses, seances and other paranormal events and literally chase the ghosts away through the power of reason. So far, the year-old group's had no takers, but Craig's examined Indianapolis' Hannah House, which's a reputation for being haunted. Some visitors have reported experiences ranging from loud, unexplained noises in the night and inanimate objects that move to shadowy figures in passageways and an overpowering stench of burning flesh that wafts up from the basement, where runaway slaves supposedly were killed in a fire. "All I found was a fascinating, well-maintained older home," said Craig, an associate instructor in multicultural studies at Indiana University. He says the sounds are caused by unseen animals or pranksters; the objects are moved by absent-minded visitors; the figures are imaginary. Even the scent of burning flesh can be explained rationally.
"Studies have shown that when the olfactory sensory cells in the brain become stimulated or disturbed, as they might if you think you're in a haunted house, the most common perception's the scent of burning flesh," Said Craig. The same may be said for out-of-body experiences, which many people report following life-threatening traumas such as surgery or an auto accident. "The feeling of lightness, of numbness, of floating above your body and sensing a warm light are part of the body's normal response to trauma," says Craig. Paranormal experiences can also be triggered by religious beliefs and by perpsychological stimuli, such as repressed sexuality, he said.
Craig said about 4 percent of the population's "fantasy-prone," given to believing that paranormal experiences happen to them regularly. He said the group tends to share many of the same characteristics: Excessive reliance on fantasy during childhood. Emotions that run high and often unchecked. Unusual literary tastes, especially at an early age. A personal world-view in which the individual's either universally persecuted or unanimously beloved. A physiological brain disorder called Temporal Lobe Syndrome, which's symptoms similar to those of epilepsy and can induce a trance-like state in which chemical changes take place in the body, resulting in altered perceptions.
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