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I know the innate contradiction present here: one cannot "prove" the supernatural exists, for a variety of reasons. But for the sake of argument I want you to consider this:

A person is convinced that they have been haunted and oppressed by an entity (a ghost, a demon, an inter-dimensional horror as of yet undetermined, etc.) for the majority of their life. This thing has made their life a living hell: scaring them, inconveniencing them, making them a social pariah, basically making it impossible for the person in question to live a normal life. It finally comes to the point that this individual sets out to prove that this entity exists, if only in the vain hope of demonstrating to people that they aren't simply crazy. Let's say they ignore or are unaware of the futility inherent in a task like this and they pursue it with all of their being.

So...how does one go about doing this?

Let's get some obvious things out of the way:

-Naturally, I figure they might go to religious figures to see what they would have to say on the matter. Christianity is not necessarily the only religion they would look into.

-Similarly, they might approach someone claiming to be a medium or a psychic to see what they had to say.

-To get a scholarly opinion, they may call a collegiate or university professor, or a similar "expert" in the field of the paranormal. Maybe popular demonology?

-Maybe for a more personal, down-to-earth approach, they might speak to people they've found who have had similar experiences?

-They might go so far as to seek out a ghost-hunting team of paranormal investigators, for better or worse.

-They may invest in camera equipment to film their everyday lives in the hopes of capturing paranormal activity. Maybe audio equipment as well.

-They may, regardless of their belief to the contrary, get a psychiatric evaluation, to at least see what a psychological explanation might be.

...and now maybe the not-so-obvious things:

-I'm very interested how someone might apply the scientific method to this situation. How would someone logically try to apply this to a haunting to prove if it was true, at least in their mind? Like: could an experiment actually be done to prove or disprove a hypothesis that this thing is real? How would that work?

-I'm also curious about applying philosophical argument to this (abductive, inductive, etc.) and how it could be "proved" - or disproved - the reasoning behind this event is that it's supernatural.

-If, say, the person being haunted wasn't willing to admit this thing was a demon or a ghost, BUT ALSO WASN'T WILLING TO SAY THAT THEY WERE CRAZY...then what would their explanation for this thing might be? How far might they go into saying the thing is, say, inter-dimensional? From a higher plane of existence? Would they dabble heavily into fringe science and pseudo-science? What would that person try to look for outside of these more traditional ideas as an explanation?

-I know there are minutiae and intricacies to the above sections I have overlooked and missed. Any fleshing out of those, or inclusions of things I haven't even thought of, would be greatly appreciated.

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

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    $\begingroup$ How supernatural is your supernatural entity? Modern "Ghost Hunter" will try and back up their claims with odd scientific phenomenon of questionable veracity $\endgroup$ – knowads Jul 1 '16 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ How does the entity haunts a person, exactly? Does it mess directly with victim's brain, or with sensory receptors, or with the environment? And what does it do? $\endgroup$ – user8808 Jul 1 '16 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Are you talking specifically about psychological and/or non-physical entities? Something like the giant squid was considered supernatural until it was recently scientifically proven to exist $\endgroup$ – Kys Jul 1 '16 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ I have heard it speculated that the "super natural" is nothing more than a being, existing in a higher dimension, manifesting in a lower dimension. Imagine life as a 2D stick figure, you go left, right, up, down and your world consists of everything on a sheet of paper. One day a 3D being puts their finger through the sheet of paper. What would it look like? How would you prove your experience? What would it look like in our world if a being from 5D or 6D manifested in our world? $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Jul 1 '16 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve Even a 4D being would be very powerful. Time would be a malleable material for this being. $\endgroup$ – Aarthew III Jul 3 '16 at 4:44
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You're talking about a supernatural entity that regularly interacts with the real world. This actually makes it a natural entity, merely one that is not yet understood and perhaps actively discounted. For our purposes, it suffices to notice that it is now subject to science; in interacting with the real world, it now becomes subject to empirical analysis.


Science operates fundamentally by collecting evidence, and then analyzing it, with care taken in both steps to minimize sources of bias. At a minimum, I'd start with the following approach for a character:

  1. Get a psych exam/etc. This is the mandatory precursor step. Scientifically, you need to acquire counterevidence to the alternative theories. Explanations of existing evidence using the established theories should not be possible. (Could bug-eyed aliens from Pluto be causing my headache? Sure, but maybe I'm just dehydrated and tired.)

  2. Provide Evidence of Supernatural Activity. To support the hypothesis that you're being haunted, you need to provide evidence of the fact. The gold standard in science is a repeatable controlled experiment. It's probably tricky to set up a good controlled experiment for this case, but ample data from an observational study is often a sufficient substitute.

    You would start by documenting everything about your life. Cameras, recorders, brain scans, witnesses. By definition of interacting-with-the-real-world, it is impossible for the poltergeist to interfere without causing a measurable effect. Your goal should be to design a setup so as to measure that effect while ruling out alternative explanations.

  3. Done/Repeat. High-quality data, especially if reliably generated, is sufficient to validate a theory. Scientists, though human, usually are quick to accept new hypotheses, as long as they are validated by evidence into theories.


Note: "Proof", in the sloppy colloquial sense, is never (or at least, shouldn't ever be) claimed in science. This is where philosophy comes in. It's complicated, but the basic end result is that (probably) the only way we know anything is from underlying assumptions.

In mathematics, the assumption is the-consistency-of-logic. A "proof" of "Q" in mathematics means "I assume that logic is a useful epistemological system. Now, using logic as my mode of thinking, I conclude Q".

In science, the assumption is our senses give us reasonably accurate models of the world (i.e., we're not brains in jars). "Proof" in science is categorically avoided, since it is misleading, but for practical purposes you can think of a theory as being "nearly proved; either correct, or so close to being correct that it still produces useful results".

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    $\begingroup$ Examples of tests that could be done... say the entity is described as moving things. Set up cameras recording externally to ensure noone enters or exits, covering whole perimeter. Then set up 360 degree cameras in the center of each room that continue recording (they can all be plugged in and upload to a DB). Later you can filter through (but don't delete!) for scenes with the most changed pixels. If anything moved, you'd then have a movie clip of it in process. Since you have the lead-up too, that means you can drastically narrow down what you can test for. $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jul 1 '16 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Additional example tests: For "Feeling a cold chill" kind of events. Exact same as previous, but use thermal imaging cameras (more pricey). $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jul 1 '16 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Additional example tests: For "Feeling a hostile presence" kind of thing, bring in a group of people to two houses, one the "haunted" house and one similar make/model/wear-tear that's not haunted. Tell both groups of people the house is haunted. Compare how the two groups respond. (Note: to control for pheromones and scent responses, both houses must be scrubbed top-to-bottom first with powerful cleaning agents, and to adjust for any auditory effects, have both playing similar loud music while they explore.) $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jul 1 '16 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ It's not even clear that "supernatural" has any meaning… $\endgroup$ – Jerry B Jun 9 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with the repeatability thing. If the supernatural event is repeatable, and can be predicted, then it's probably just a natural phenomenon we don't understand yet. To prove it's supernatural, you need to demonstrate that something in fact happened that does not and can not normally happen. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Oct 4 at 19:00
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First, he must certainly do the psychiatric evaluation. He must know which of his symptoms relate to mental disorders, and which could be used for proving supernatural nature of the haunting (I mean, besides "things moving on their own").

Coming to the religious figures, mediums, ghost hunters, etc would only worsen his chances. Even if some kind of exorcism works, it won't prove anything. What is more likely, supernatural being from another plane, or a drug/meditation that happened to fix some specific psychiatric issue?

Demonology seem promising, but it'd be way better for him NOT to study it. Otherwise, it'd be too easy to think that his symptoms match some specific demonic possession because he have already read about it, and his brain chose to go wild this way. Instead, he should just document his hallucinations. After he proves he's not just crazy, it'll be curious if his notes match some demon he have never heard about.

Certainly do not contact other people with the similar symptoms. You need a clear test subject, not someone with a shared psychosis.

Next, to the symptoms:

  • Scary noises when nothing is there, voices, random appearances of scary figures or terrifying images.
    Common auditory and visual hallucinations, symptoms of a wide range of disorders. Nothing supernatural can be proved.

  • Attempts at possession, malevolent intent.
    A symptom of a wide range of disorders. Nothing supernatural can be proved.

  • Things moving on their own.
    That's a clear proof that he's not hallucinating. Not only hallucinating, I mean.

So, yes, he should buy some cameras, preferably analogue, set them up in his room, and wait until one of them captures things moving on their own. Then, send it to the experts.
If the ghost is cliche enough to move things when it scares the host, it'll be really easy to reproduce - just lock oneself in an empty room with one object that can be moved, turn off the lights and play some scary music. Otherwise, keep trying to figure out the condition when it moves something.

Once the conditions are more or less clear, proving supernatural nature of the haunting should be easy enough. For the most spectacular reveal, I'd advice him to participate in the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

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A mistake you may be making here is that it's not a scientific hypothesis the main character is trying to prove. Rather, you're trying to prove a historical fact about something(s) that happened or didn't happen. The whole idea of the supernatural, or miraculous, is that it isn't natural.

Let's say that the main character has observed objects levitating at random around his house, and he blames ghosts. If you prove, scientifically, that objects can spontaneously levitate, you have not proven the existence of ghosts but rather have found strong evidence that ghosts weren't involved. If you want to prove that ghosts caused it, you need to show two things:

  • It isn't possible (in nature) that objects spontaneously levitate. (a scientific claim)
  • Your objects in fact did spontaneously levitate. (a claim of historical fact)

The scientific claim may be taken for granted in this case, so we can generalize the problem like so:

In order to prove that the supernatural is involved, you must prove the fact that something has occurred which is known not to occur naturally.

That said, contrary to your assumption, it is possible to prove that the supernatural exists. People who have experienced real miracles, visits from angels, etc., have had it proven to them beyond reasonable doubt. The problem is, the supernatural has to want to be found out.

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I'm not sure that a psych exam will help your cause. Perhaps some direct evaluation of your brain's chemical or electrical activity could offer evidence which decreases the likelihood that you are delusional, but a standard psychiatric evaluation would use your perceptions of the supernatural as proof of your illness.
.

"He sees ghosts!" Dr. Smith snickers to Dr. Jones.

"Well that certainly makes our job easier!", Dr. Jones laughs as he checks off the Delusional Psychosis box on the patient evaluation form.

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Instead, retain a body guard company and require that they keep a sober, trusted guard in your presence at all times. This will have one of two possible outcomes.

Either the ghost will go away, in which case you have solved the problem for the small price of maintaining 24/7 security. The $5000/week that this will cost is significantly cheaper than the psychiatrists and resulting care facility fees would be.

...or, the ghost will not go away, in which case your guard can collaborate your perceptions, saving you the trouble of having a psych exam.

There is a third option... that despite guard, you continue to see the specter while the guard does not. In that case, here is a referral to some collegues of mine,... Dr. Jones & Dr. Smith.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but this isn't how any remotely modern psychiatrist is going to handle things. If I told a psychiatrist about all the things I've seen, heard, and smelled that weren't real, they might try to put me on something to reduce the hallucinations if they were severe enough (in one case, the solution was easy: stop taking the prescribed narcotics). Beyond that, they might try to help me differentiate real from not real if I had issues. What they wouldn't do is lock me away or just write me off as delusional. $\endgroup$ – MichaelS Sep 28 '16 at 7:39
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You can't "prove" anything about anything. All you can have are events separated in time and a narrative to link them.

Let's say you flipped a switch and a lightbulb started illuminating a room. The only things certain are that you flipped the switch and that the lighbulb started illuminating. All the electromagnetic, quantum, theory that tells us about electrons, potentials, heating and blackbody radiation are stories told to make sense of what happened. Of course some stories are more useful to us then others. Like the very useful tale of electromagnetism.

So, the only thing certain about the situation your character is that events that make him suffer are happening. He can tell a story about these events being caused by a demon, but he can't prove that his story is true, because no story is true, they are more useful or less useful.

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