This episode we talk about systems theory, what it is, and how we can use it to create a new understanding on theory in the paranormal field.
<intro>(He runs towards things that go bump in the night; this is The Paranormal Theory with Topher the Paranormal Hobo. Where he strips down current paranormal thought and tries to apply actual scientific theory to the field. Here is Topher)</intro>
That’s right I am Topher, and this is the Paranormal Theory podcast, where I use my education to possibly map a new way to look at my interests in the paranormal. Last show we kind of laid down an argument about the need to change our understanding of what it means to be scientific by adding anthropological concepts to our toolkit.
The current concept of what paranormal theory is doesn’t seem to have any real form. It started from folklore and the progressed into various ideas that seem to explain what people are seeing and often conflict with itself in different instances.
I watched it go from spirits can’t cross running water, which was lifted directly from the folklore and stories like Sleepy Hallow, to running water powers paranormal activity, to running water running over quartz only really powers spiritual activity.
Yes, I know that science often presents different theories and hypotheses will often change when new information is presented. But why did it change? What evidence came about that prompted the change? Who agreed that it was important to change it? Nobody I have asked knows, it just showed up one day on a tv show and that is what was taken as gospel.
Was it because someone found that there was reported activity on both sides of running water, so they needed to change it? But not all water, just some places. So, there must be a high quartz content in the places that have activity since quartz can store energy. See, I can understand the process, but how or why does it work and how disseminate does one disseminate such proposals.
How do we know that this is even a viable theory? What does it predict? And what can we explain with it? Does it help understand what is going on? No, it doesn’t. I mean it kind of provides an explanation of where the energy could be coming from, but are we sure? We don’t even know where the theory really fits in with any of the other theories that we construct to explain phenomena.
If we were serious about doing more than scaring ourselves and collecting data points that we have no idea how to use, then we would start by looking at actually constructing a concept of ranking current theories and seeing what provides illumination and a cohesive understanding and what doesn’t fit.
I mean, I don’t know the full extent of paranormal theory at this moment. Apparently, most people don’t because there is nothing online to lead us but the Parapsychological Association’s publications. But right now, most of what I can find on there is more worried about gender studies and feminism in the field than actual research. Not that thinking about that stuff is bad, but if it gets in the way of actual work then it takes away from the pursuit.
There are concepts and ideas that can be put into use from other disciplines that would help us understand a more complete picture of our data sets. In my opinion, one of those concepts comes from when I studied Louis and Sally R. Binford and their use of systems theory in archaeology.
But before we get to far, let’s hear from today’s sponsor.
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What I am talking about is, thinking about the bigger picture for right now. A Macro look at what paranormal theory is and how it is structured. Because right now it just appears from the outside as a jumbled mess of supposition, superstition, and wishful thinking. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, and that detracts, in the term of doing science, from the field as a whole.
Don’t think that I am downing the paranormal research being done, but most isn’t really research. Most of what is going on is just showing the people experiencing the stuff going on that they aren’t crazy. It is providing them with a way to at least they are not making this up and are not alone. It is only data collection with no real way to interpret the data. Like I said, I’m not trying to be critical and move anyone away from the study, but if we are to be taken as more than delusional and more accepted by mainstream science and people we need to start constructing something of a science out of this. That includes how we collect data as much as how we construct our methodologies and hypothesizes. More rigor is never a really bad thing. If I collect, and interpret data in a specific manner that others understand and can replicate, then that is doing things scientifically.
Here is the catch 22. If we look at singular disciplines, not all scientific studies can be replicated 100% of the time. Last I read, in psychology, only 39 percent of 100 studies were able to be replicated. And these were considered successfully replicated. 61% of economic studies, and 62% of natural science studies, were successfully replicated at any given time.
So here is why I am pushing for replication even if some scientific fields aren’t doing well at it… because if we can get a higher percentage of successful replication, document it, and put it out so others can see it, then we gain legitimacy. If we can replicate our research 41% of the time, we can look at psychology and point and say, we are more scientifically relevant now than you are.
Scientists aim for their studies to be replicable, that means another researcher could perform a similar investigation and obtain the same basic results. When a study cannot be replicated, it suggests that our current understanding of the study system or our methods of testing are insufficient. Right now, I can only go do my own study in a given location, and because there is no interpretation or presentation of the data, I don’t know if I am replicating anything. Our testing methods, or interpretation methods are insufficient right now.
Let’s change that. Let’s come together and build a theoretical background to what we see in the data, interpret the data across as much of a diverse scope of theories as possible and see how items interact. That is what systems theory is used for.
Systems theory is an interdisciplinary study of systems as they relate to one another within a larger, more complex system. The key concept of systems theory, regardless of which discipline it’s being applied to, is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What this means is that when holistically examining how smaller systems come together to affect the greater complex system, certain characteristics of the whole—the complex system—cannot be easily explained or rationalized when looking singularly at any one of its systems—its parts.
We should, in theory, be able to look at small, less complex situations and data sets, and see how they might interact with other small data sets within a system. The system here being bounded by a single location, i.e., the location that is being investigated for activity.
Each smaller set, then would be able to be analyzed on its own, or in relation to others, or as the system as a whole. And remember that this is built to work as an interdisciplinary theory, which means that it doesn’t matter the field in which you are applying the concept, it should still organize the data sets that you are applying it to for better understanding of the whole. Same with paranormal research.
I collect data on a location. There are cold spots recorded in various locations. I also, while at the location, I gathered data on emf fluctuations, audio artifacts that may or may not be interpreted as voices, and a whole gambit of other things. We can analyze this as individual sets, as a group set, or as a series of groups. EMF with cold spots, or audio artifacts and photographic anomalies, etc..
Are we already doing this? For the most part, yes. I am not saying that this already isn’t being done, just that we need to start looking at what we do in scientific terms. For example, one could say that the house or whatever location you are in, is the system. There are several components to the system. Each made of different things that build the whole.
Or better. Let’s look at a chair. If I laid down the individual components on the floor, wood, springs, foam, glue, nails, cloth, you would have a hard time seeing that this is a chair, especially if you are not familiar with woodworking. But each of these components can be interrogated and studied and a small bit of understanding can be gained from it, just not a complete picture.
Now I set down on the floor a chair, already put together and constructed, unless you are familiar with woodworking any sense, you might have a hard time seeing how the wood, springs, foam, glue, nails, cloth, and my time and experience make up this object. You might start making assumptions about how the pieces interact with each other but unless you pull it apart to see it all, you may miss out on some of the more complex relationships between the parts.
Moreover, we take a step even further out, look at the chair in relation to the room that the chair resides. Living room? Study? Could even be the front or back porch. What relationships are there on a larger scale? Are there people in the room? The system gets bigger and bigger or depending how you look at it, smaller and smaller. If you’re looking at a party, in a house, in a living room with people interacting, down to the components of the furniture. Each is a system of things interacting with each other to create an even larger system and so on.
So, we have a system, something made up of smaller individual parts. A complex system which is made of smaller systems, and several other terms that go into the balancing act that occurs to keep a system working. If I remove enough screws or nails, the chair falls apart. If I move enough, or cause problems, at the party, it falls apart and the depending on the outcome of that, it could affect the smaller pieces, like a broken chair from a fight.
How are we supposed to start thinking about paranormal research in the view of systems theory? Let’s look at how it is applied in other sciences.
In psychology, systems psychology examines human behavior and experiences within complex systems. Individuals, communities, populations and other groups are considered to be systems in homeostasis. When something happens to that community or population that affects the homeostasis of that group it begins to break down.
In the interdisciplinary field of ecology, systems ecology takes the holistic approach of systems theory to their studies of ecological systems, focusing on ecosystems and interactions between biological and ecological systems.
Systems engineering is another interdisciplinary approach that employs the principles of systems theory. Systems engineering, when applied in the real world, often looks like a group effort that considers all stages of a product or service in the developmental stages from its creation to its use and disposal.
A great example of the universality of certain scientific assumptions and principles, systems chemistry takes systems theory all the way down to the molecular level. These scientists examine the networks of interacting molecules to create functions from sets of molecules with different emergent properties.
These examples show us that systems theory can offer insight from the molecular level all the way up to examining how one’s environment affects behavior and vice versa.
There are some weaknesses to the use of systems theory, and the application of it in the paranormal field. One of them is that there may not be enough understanding of some components to draw adequate understanding of the whole. Another is that there may not be a way to do more than find where something is breaking down, or in other words, a difficulty in creating actionable conclusions. But finding where there is disfunction or in our case, irregular or paranormal occurrences, looking through a systems theory lens should make identifying problems areas easier.
Am I pushing for there to be a paranormal systems theory developed, or rather adapted to fit our research? Well kind of. What I am doing is using this as an example of how we can start to build upon what we have, structure it, give it more weight to the outside observers, and even peers to review.
We should be looking at what disrupts the homeostasis of a location. What is causing the emergence of a new smaller system, and how it is impacting the larger, more complex system. For example, a house is running in homeostasis, something happens, we don’t know what, but elements start coming together and there emerges another system in the house. This one, when interacting with the others, causes conflict and removes the house from homeostasis and moves it into instability and moves towards chaos.
I hope you have a better grasp of systems theory and can come up with ways in which it can apply to the field. Can I, right now, probably, but it should take full groups of people who want to see the application and understanding develop. I am just trying to point directions for us to travel and explore.
Next time we will be talking range theory, and how application of such may help us structure the theories into useful groups to better understand their relation to our research. As of now,
You’ve been listening to the Paranormal Theory Podcast with Topher the Paranormal Hobo! If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. To catch all the latest from The Paranormal Theory Podcast, you can follow him on Instagram @pf_paranormalfiles and on Twitter @FilesParanormal – Thanks again, and we’ll see you next time!