The Extraordinary Project

     I attended The Extraordinary Project conference at Gettysburg College on Saturday,  March 22, with my journalist boyfriend,  and we both wished we had attended the entire weekend, because what we heard and experienced in a few short hours was truly extraordinary. This was a paranormal conference like no other. The people are from Yorkshire, England and, for the first time, they decided to hold their annual conference in the US.  What better place than Gettysburg?

     This was an academic conference, dealing with paranormal issues from a decidedly academic viewpoint. Topics presented were on haunting and ghosts, paranormal research and investigating, spiritual healing, physical medium-ship, EVPs and spirit communication, synaesthesia, issues in parapsychology, science, etc. This conference was for people with an academic bent and was not for the weak of mind. For a long time I have been interested in getting really serious about paranormal research, so I felt ready for an intellectual challenge, and I was not disappointed. The latest in research, theory, and method were presented.

     Since we only attended three presentations, there isn't much here about all of the topics presented. However, I assure you, this blog post would be way too long to cover even the tip of the proverbial iceberg, so here is what I got out of it, and understood clearly enough to share with my readers.

     The Extraordinary Project is an online story collection of the odd and improbable incidents that happen to us and affect our lives. These type of incidents are common across cultures, but no public forum exists for their discussion. Suzanne Clores has started a website to collect these incidents from people of all walks of life, everywhere. Check in at to see what it is all about, and you may have something to contribute. The theory is that most, if not all of us do.

     Suzanne Clores hopes to gather 100,000 anecdotes to better understand the role of the extraordinary, or paranormal, in our lives. The conference was a gathering of academics, professors, authors, experts, scientists and amateur enthusiasts of all things paranormal. I have been to a few paranormal conferences in the past few years, but this was entirely different.These people aren't kidding around. There was no talk of orb photos, ghost tours, or paranormal television stars. Instead, they offered up experts from many fields to discuss, in very concise and deeply complex ways, how the extraordinary can be dealt with, discussed, studied, explained, experienced, shared, understood.

     One presenter explained that our personal narratives of the unexplained fall into these categories:
logical, skeptical, mystical, narcissistic, and artistic. We all experience serendipity and synchronicity in our lives. We all need a venue to talk, share, explain. The Extraordinary Project gives people that venue.

     The speaker ran a video of four or five people sharing their experiences. What I felt afterward was surprising to me. I realized that my partner and  I have been experiencing the serendipitous,  the synchronistic,  in ways more dramatic and sensational than the people in this video. I was astounded. When we got a chance to exchange thoughts, I found my friend felt the same. And, believe me, he has, and continues to have, very strange and synchronistic experiences that defy logic and explanation, and, without a doubt, exist in the realm of the weird.

     Often, in order to notice the extraordinary in our lives, we experience "mirror stories", things that mirror or repeat other experiences in close proximity in time or location, and that is why we take notice of them.  Dr. Jennifer Lyke, a professor of undergraduate studies in psychology, was my favorite of the afternoon. She discussed what, I believe, most of us feel about paranormal issues today and how they are handled.

     Do we all have to fall into one of only two categories; the skeptic or the believer? Or is there a third option? I will call this third person the "critical thinker"...a person for whom truth is something to be sought, a goal yet to be reached but a worthy goal, nonetheless. This person seeks truth, evidence, but without bias, without a preconceived belief, but is open to whatever may happen, whatever may be proven or dis-proven...what I have always believed a true scientist is.  I was amazed to hear her speak of the scientific community as "skeptic-bunkers"...those who do not have open minds, but, instead, close their minds to the truth and to open experimentation, unbiased study, very similar to the die-hard, closed-minded believer enthusiast, only their mirror opposite, who is delighted to believe everything, no matter how crazy, with a stubborn naivete bordering on belief in the Easter Bunny.

     What we are all encouraged to do is be critical thinkers in the exploration of the anomalous experience.

     Types of legitimate evidence to study and consider are:
1. Anecdotal 2. testimonial 3. intuition 4. personal experience 5. scientific.

     All are to be equally considered as evidence, unlike the scientific community of today, who only considers the "scientific" as evidence, and tends to discount all personal narratives and experiences as too subjective. What is proposed is that subjective experience is all that humans have. Therefore, it is equally valid, important, and quantifiable. Let's add it into the mix of our study of the paranormal, with equal seriousness and respect and see what we can deduce.

     The typical scientific explanations of personal paranormal experiences are:
 1. cultural myth 2. sleep paralysis 3. false memories 4. hypnosis 5. hallucinations 6. symbolic representation in dreams 7. or some combination of some or all.

     I learned something astounding. Science has no idea what sleep paralysis is. They don't understand it at all. Yes, occasionally it can be the explanation of an apparent out of body experience, visions, feelings of paranoia, halucinations of apparitions, etc. But, guess what? Most of the time, no. What is experienced is not explained by sleep paralysis, because sleep paralysis is not understood in and of itself. We still don't understand why these experiences feel so REAL. Maybe because they are real? It is a possibility that cannot be discounted.

     Most people are not delusional. They know reality from fantasy. So why do these paranormal experiences feel and look and smell and taste so very real? as real as my everyday, mundane, ordinary life? Maybe, just  maybe, because they are. Maybe. Let's keep a critical mind, an open mind, think critically, try to explain, study, gather stories, information, data, data, data, evidence, etc., and see what we find out.

     The only thing I heard at the conference that I disagreed with, was a remark by Dr. Lyke, that she felt that all of this study of the extraordinary was not really important to our daily lives. We can live our lives without understanding or experiencing anything extraordinary. It really doesn't matter in the scheme of things. It's just one fun thing to think about and study, then go home and wash the dishes, eat Sushi and go to bed.

It doesn't matter? The mysteries of life, the spiritual paradoxes of existence, the ultimate questions of why we are here, don't matter? My dear fellow critical is all that matters.


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