Have you ever seen a ghost? Or been abducted by aliens? Or communicated with the dead? Perhaps you have attributed the experience to something mundane and not realised the significance of the event.
That glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the room, gone when you turn to look. That scratching noise from the attic. The strange sensation of being visited in the night, even when you are alone in the house. For many years, I have devoted myself to the investigation of such cases, and why? Not, as many have postulated, because I am driven to disprove or debunk such stories; quite the contrary. I yearn to be perplexed, appalled, mystified and befuddled by that which I encounter. I strive to probe and prod at those nether regions of life from which others flee in fear. Through his blog and his transcriptions of some of my more bizarre and notorious cases, my friend and colleague, Dr Harker endeavours to bring some of these nether regions to bear down upon you. To this end, he has asked me to elaborate on that most fascinating of sciences, misinterpretology.
What is Misinterpretology?During my three years of study at London Fictional University (LFU), I barely scratched the surface of the subject, but I shall endeavour to give a broad overview in the hope that it may pique the interest. Misinterpretology is the study of the misinterpretation of information, its causes, its consequences and its application. Marriages have failed, careers been destroyed, companies toppled and wars waged over what appear in retrospect to be trivial, even laughable misunderstandings, wrong impressions and misjudgments. There are many branches of misinterpretology; here are but a few.
Perceptual Misinterpretology.Our perception of the world about us is based on our own personal interpretation of stimuli; the reflection of light, the vibration of air, chemical particles in the air, the stimulation of various receptors in the skin and so forth. We tend to operate on the assumption that each of us experiences these things in broadly the same fashion, and experience would suggest that this is most often the case, yet there are many factors which can alter, enhance or impair our perceptions. These include, but are not limited to: Environmental factors – lighting, weather conditions, wind direction Chemical factors – drugs, alcohol, medication, poisons Social factors – peer pressure, family or cultural expectations Health related – toxic confusional states, visual or hearing impairment, neuropathy, mental illness Personal factors – past experience, religious belief, social beliefs, indoctrination Of course to a forensic pathologist such as Rupert, it is the consequences that are of interest; the mistaking of a spouse for a burglar, the oncoming headlights mistaken for a UFO, the loaded gun mistaken for a toothbrush, etc.
Interpersonal Misinterpretology.Nobody needs to be told that people do not always say what they mean, or mean what they say. Speech is about more than simply words; tone, inflection and emphasis all play their part, as do the accompanying facial expressions and body language that invariably accompany the spoken word. Add to this the confounding elements of different languages, dialects, gender differences and cultural etiquette, it’s perhaps surprising that any two people can communicate effectively at all; yet we do. But what of the consequences when we don’t?
Religious Misinterpretology.There are several examples of ambiguous translation of biblical texts, both old and new testament. One of the most quoted examples is that of the Jewish food laws, namely the law which is translated as, “you shall not bring unto the table that which crawls upon the earth.” Like many words, the Hebrew word, ‘chavmuffle,’ has several possible interpretations and can be translated as, ‘earth,’ ‘cloud,’ or ‘moon.’ Taking this into consideration, the phrase “you shall not bring unto the table that which crawls upon the earth,” could feasibly be translated as, “you shall not bring unto the table that which crawls upon the earth, lives in the clouds or flies to the moon.” All of the above branches of misinterpretology have their relevance, not least in the study and investigation of crime and abnormal behaviour, yet my personal field of interest remains;
Paranormal Misinterpretology.One well-known and oft-debated area of paranormal misinterpretology is that of alien abduction. You know the kind of thing; bright lights waking you at night, paralysis, a sensation of rising up to the sky, then awakening the next morning with a dull ache behind the temples and the vague feeling that someone has tried to park a bus inside your perineum. Sceptics have identified several possible explanations for this phenomenon, but the two which have gained the most favour are sleep paralysis and false memory syndrome. Sleep paralysis has been described for many centuries in many different cultures; the sleeper awakes in the small hours, completely conscious, but utterly unable to move or open the eyes. This can sometimes be associated with a sensation of a heavy pressure upon the chest or an ominous feeling of an uninvited presence in the room. Different cultures interpret sleep paralysis in different ways; some texts contain illustrations of demons squatting upon the chest of their unwitting victims, other authorities describe the phenomenon as an “old hag experience” (The latter is not to be confused with one of Rupert’s old hag experiences which involves climbing drunk into bed with an attractive young woman and waking sober the next morning with one of the witches from Macbeth). The medical explanation relates to a delay in the termination of the normal physiological process which occurs at night to prevent dreamers from acting out their dreams. During sleep, our movements are inhibited to prevent us chasing imaginary rabbits etc, but this inhibition usually ceases as soon as we regain consciousness. Sometimes however this mechanism may become dissociated from the waking process, and sleep paralysis results. The converse is true in the case of sleep walkers and those who do indeed act out their dreams, sometimes with unfortunate consequences. What is of note is that the same phenomenon can be interpreted, or misinterpreted depending on the person’s beliefs and culture. Interestingly, manifestations of mental illness or psychological distress are culturally determined. Catatonia used to be an extremely common presentation of mental illness, yet Rupert only personally knows of one patient who has manifested it. Rupert also advises me that multiple-personality disorder (MPD), while popular in the United States does not occur in the UK (or at least this was the case when he was a senior house officer in a psychiatric hospital in the 1990’s). False memory syndrome is said to occur when a susceptible individual, who has previously been subjected to a traumatic event, is in a suggestible state (such as hypnosis, religious fervour, political rally etc). “Perhaps you were abducted by aliens.” “Perhaps you were abused by your parents.” The seed is sown and the idea grows until the memory takes form and appears to that person as real as any other memory. Again, the memory is socially dependent, but often has sexual connotations or overtones. Of course, the neomisinterpretologist also considers the possibility that alien abduction experiences may be due to having been abducted by aliens.
ParanorensicologyWhat fascinates me about paranormal misinterpretology is the dichotomy that exists within it. Paranormal misinterpretologists have traditionally separated themselves into one of two camps; those who seek to prove an earthly explanation for supernatural phenomena, and those who seek to prove the opposite. I am part of a growing movement of paranormal neomisinterpretologists who seek to embrace both aspects of the subject, assessing each case on its own merits and not approaching with preconceived ideas of outcome before the evidence has been collected and analysed. It is through the application of neomisinterpretology to the investigation of crime that I have carved a niche for myself as the World’s first and only private consulting paranorensicologist. And finally…..
PropagandaThere will always be those who seek to exploit and control others through the misrepresentation of information, but that is a topic for another occasion. As my mother always says, “knowledge is power, but to control perception is supremacy. Now shut up and eat your greens.” References. The Old Hag phenomenon as sleep paralysis: A biocultural interpretation. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry Ness, R. 1978 Memory distortion in people reporting abduction by aliens. Journal of Abnormal Psychology Clancy, S et al. 2002 Neuropsychological profiles of adults who report sudden remembering of early childhood memories; implications for claims of sex abuse and alien visitation/abduction experiences. Perceptual and Motor Skills. Persinger, M. 1992