Different aspects of paranormal activity like ghosts, demons, supernatural forces, life after death, etc. have always intrigued the public and made people curious. Consequently, during the last century, numerous scholars tended to explain the phenomena from the scientific point of view in their works. There are many books, in which editors or scholars have gathered such articles together. For instance, one of the most recent books is The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, which is edited by Gordon Stein. The book embraces almost all aspects and perspectives of paranormal activity. Having considered numerous articles from the book, and the evidences from the real life, one can assume that although some unexplainable occurrences exist, the most part of them is no more than the brain games or phantoms of imagination of other people that cannot be supported scientifically. At the same time, there always exist things, which stay mysterious as the human brain and the Universe need too much effort to be entirely examined.
The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal was published by Prometheus Books in 1996 and consists of 859 pages. The articles of 56 authors are included and placed in two columns per page. Among the contributors of the book the reader can find those, who investigated parapsychology: Bem, Blackmore, French, Gauld, Krippner, MacKenzie, Morris, Truzzi, Utts, and Wiseman; and those, who is more likely to belong to CSICOP: Alcock, Baker, Beyerstein, Flew, Frazier, Gardner, Hines, Hyman, Kurtz, Nickell, Sheaffer, and Steiner himself. The Index and alphabetical listing facilitate the search within the book. Interestingly, according to its structure, The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal resembles big scientific journal.
The entries of the book mostly regard parapsychological researches and some other areas skeptically, and claim that its results and findings are unreliable, not credible, and lack evidences. The articles focus on various aspects, such as astrology, palmistry, cryptozoology, levitation, states of consciousness and influence on it, statistics and evidences, attitudes to paranormal and so on. Furthermore, there are entries on such mediums as Eusapia Palladina, Leonora Piper, and such well-known individuals as Nostradamus, Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda, and Sai Baba. One should also pay attention to the wide range of articles, some of which will be regarded further.
Andrew MacKenzie’s Ghosts and Hauntings is probably one of the most pro-paranormal articles in the book. The author investigates ghosts, telepathy and some other phenomena supporting the paranormal occurrences in terms of parapsychology rather than using non-Psy explanations (Stein 308). Moreover, he reviews details of some haunting ghost cases, which were reported by SPR as the evidences. However, those, who believe into existence of ghosts, can accept the evidences as a fact, and those, who are skeptical about it, does not consider such reports as an authentic proof. Marcello Truzzi’s Pseudoscience is also worth attention as it contributes to the knowledge about differences between science and pseudoscience, which helps to distinguish between them. Interestingly, being a scholar, he does not support CSICOP and makes some critical comments about it. In such way, proving that numerous of its members are unsophisticated and unaware of what can constitute science, Truzzi lets readers reflect that all beliefs of people are closely interconnected with philosophy and sociology and relates it to the paranormal (Stein 172). Susan Blackmore’s research in Near-Death Experiences is based on the specific studies of the issue and addresses the psychological factor (Stein 430). The author considers cross-cultural and historical background of the issue in her work and overall makes it quite comprehensive and credible as it contains numerous citations. Hence the cultural peculiarities including the religious beliefs contribute much to the person’s vision of the world and perception of the paranormal events. The more sophisticated the person is, the more skeptically he or she usually thinks of the events, which are not supported with credible evidences. Another interesting article is Martin Gardner’s Eyeless Vision, which comprises numerous reviews of the papers on that topic. The topic is magic, which was not appreciated by most parapsychologists for many years. However, Gardner’s article is quite interesting and informative about how magicians might deceive experimental controls (Stein 264). In addition, Gardner has exposed much about eyeless sight, namely aka or blindfolds sight. Such skeptical review of magic with discussion of eyeless sight becomes another evidence of the ambiguity towards paranormal and lack of evidences, which would be for its existence. It is also essential to mark out the section by Stain, called Daniel Dunglas Home, where he discusses not only Home’s personal relationships but describes numerous psychic phenomena (Stein 328). To sum it up, the reader can find numerous evidences for and against believing in many paranormal things. Although the entries tend to prove that the facts about the existence of monsters, ghosts and supernatural powers are not credible, they cannot deny numerous facts like telepathy, specific energy an foresight possessed by some mediums. The skepticism about the facts is the main mean to find out the truth.
Generally, almost all the works presented in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal clearly state skeptical position about paranormal and acknowledge it by numerous evidences, reviewing many examples and using credible sources. The authors of the articles summarized in the book mostly have not neglected historical and cross-cultural issues in their surveys, which is very important fact for its evaluation. However, there are also some facts for parapsychology and other fields. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the views presented in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal balance the perspectives of paranormal and support the common sense offering the idea that numerous claims can be accepted. Therefore, the book can be very useful for students. Moreover, it can enlarge the readers’ scope on the issue of paranormal activity in its different displays. However, the structure of the book and some articles are a bit puzzling and confusing. Some topics, which are not covered in the book, would be very important for better orientation in the field. For instance, the article Unidentified Flying Objects is not sufficient enough about the UFO studies; Bauer’s article on cryptozoology lacks information about specific creatures and discussion of Kirlian Photography is quite short. Another thing is that some entries are repetitive, and some are too long, which sometimes is difficult for comprehension. One more defect of The Encyclopedia is that not all names and topics are listed in the Index. This can reasonably complicate the search within the book even of those topics and names, which are discussed on more than one page in the book.
To sum it up, the book must be very interesting for readers, who study paranormal activities from different perspectives and different points of view. Although not all the information provided in the book is full and many topics would need some further research, it is credible and focused on paranormal, philosophic, historical topics like psychokinesis, levitation, palmistry, astrology, phrenology, miracles, reincarnation, and survival of death, psychic research, alchemy, UFOs and many others. Moreover, it is impossible to place everything in one book. Therefore, the general impression of The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal is positive and pushes to the idea that it includes much useful information. It is essential that organization of the information tends to convince the readers to regard the facts reported about paranormal activity skeptically and always consider the credibility of evidences as, obviously, the psychological fact is very influential when concluding in what to believe and what to see.