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A B.C. university professor is sharing his findings after spending two years studying those who’ve hunted or say they’ve encountered ghosts, UFOs and sasquatches.
Paul Kingsbury, an associate professor of geography at Simon Fraser University, is studying paranormal believers to find out what drives them to search for the unknown. He’s also researching their methods of tracking paranormal beings.
He’s noted a rise in paranormal culture and study in an age of science, something he links to social media, but also to a rise in skepticism.
The internet allows people to share photos, experiences and theories, which Kingsbury said has allowed communities to form around the paranormal, regardless of geographic distance.
But he also thinks the trend toward stories about the paranormal – whether through fictional TV shows and movies, reality shows, documentaries or elsewhere – is partially due to an increasing skepticism of government institutions.
“There’s been shifts in the political sphere,” he told CTV Vancouver on Wednesday.
“This is I think part of a wider trend of people questioning established truths and established institutions… One could connect it with the rise of ‘alternative facts’ and alternative cultures and so on.”
While many show interest in paranormal content, Kingsbury is looking at what differentiates those watching at the sidelines from those who are actively hunting down beings like sasquatches and aliens.
“These are people influenced by this wider culture, but they are also people themselves who have had profound paranormal experiences and they’re trying to make sense of what happened to them,” he said.
“The paranormal objects are what drives them. This is an entity that is always out of reach, it’s a blurry image on camera, it’s a funny noise. It’s a perfect object of desire… It’s a desire that can’t be quenched.”
Kingsbury and his group of researchers are in the middle of a four-year study. So far, he’s hunted ghosts, attended sasquatch conferences and spoken to people who say they’ve been abducted by aliens.
“We like to think that we are modern, we are rational, we have good scientific facts,” he said.
“But if you look at Canadian society and many places around the world, religion is still very important, people have very strong attachments to sacred places, New Age alternative spiritualty is very big. So we’re not quite as modern or rational as we think in many ways, particularly in the realm of culture.”
Kingsbury said he was struck by how similar a UFO conference he attended was to academic conferences he’s been to in the past. Participants register, get tote bags, attend award ceremonies and spend late nights in hotel bars discussing theories. The conferences were sites of learning and teaching, he said.
While searching for ghosts he was surprised by how compassionate the hunters were, noting their primary aim was to bring solace and closure to clients, not to prove the existence of ghosts.
He said he thinks academics should study the paranormal more closely, not necessarily to look for beings but in terms of the effects the stories shared have on everyday people.
“I also believe that the world is a magical, strange and fascinating place,” he said.
His research was inspired by an editorial he read in 2013 criticizing the amount of time being devoted to alien-related content on the National Geographic channel.
“I’m a geographer, and I felt, OK it’s a controversial topic, but geography is also about people’s cultural experiences, the meanings that they make in society,” he said.
“I think the paranormal is a big topic for many people around the world, and I wanted to study the people themselves.”
The goal of his research is not to prove or disprove the existence of paranormal beings, but to figure out what motivates investigators who do believe.
In a post on SFU’s website, he said one of the highlights of his journey was speaking to a man who recalled being abducted by aliens in his flat in London. The man said he’d been tipped off by his cat, who bolted suddenly, then started feeling an emotion “beyond love, pain, anger and fear.
“His memory then dissolved and he recalled seeing a being with a strawberry face,” Kingsbury said.
When asked whether he believes, he told CTV he thinks he may have experienced something during a ghost hunt.
The incident occurred at the Vancouver Police Museum in the middle of the night, in the “blood room,” where morgue staff used to drain bodies of blood before autopsies.
The group he was with was using a device called a “spirit box,” used to scan radio frequencies, when he suddenly felt very anxious.
“I felt there could have been an intelligent entity on the other side,” he said.
Kingsbury added that he thinks it’s almost irrational to rule out the possibility of sasquatches, aliens, ghosts and other beings.
“The world and the universe is a big place, and I think it’s an enchanting place,” he said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Nafeesa Karim