Subjective Validation

When I was teaching English in Hawaii, one of my students told me she saw ghosts almost every day. I asked if there were any ghosts in the room at the time. She examined the classroom for a moment and said there weren’t.

This incited a debate among the class about the existence of ghosts and why some people see them and others don’t. Personally, I’ve never seen a ghost. According to my students, only true believes of apparitions can see them. At the time, I didn’t buy into that theory. Now I think there may be a lot of truth to it.

In psychology, they refer to this as Subjective Validation. We see what we expect to see. In other words, we interpret the world according to our personal belief system.

We all have a bias toward our own beliefs. Once we accept something as a fact, we start filtering information, looking for things that validate our belief and ignoring everything that disproves it. As adults, we’re not looking for new ways to interpret the world. We merely interpret our experiences in ways that validate what we already know, or at least what we think we know. We become selective in what we see and hear to a point that we’re blind to anything of the contrary. Hence, selective validation.

Often, as I sit at my computer, working on a story, I catch glimpses of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turn, I find nothing there. My personal explanation is that my eyes are fatigued and I’m merely seeing spots. However, I know people who contribute such images to spirits, claiming they are easier to see with our peripheral vision and when we’re not actually looking for them. Thus, our belief, or lack of belief, in ghosts influences how we interpret the experience.

Sleep Paralysissleep-paralysis sleep-paralysis2 sleep-paralysis3 sleep-paralysis4

A prime example of this occurs with sleep paralysis. In this state, your body is asleep while your mind is partially awake. Thus, you’re mentally aware for the most part, but are unable to move. It’s often accompanied by vivid hallucinations and an ominous feeling that there’s a presence or entity in the room with you. This is something I’ve experience many times and it can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what’s happening to you. When I was a kid, it used to terrify me. Now that I know what is happening to me, it’s much less frightening but still very unpleasant.

The psychological significance of sleep paralysis isn’t the experience itself, but rather how people interpret the experience. In ancient times, people believed they were being attacked by witches. Others claimed they were being possessed by demons. This used to be my interpretation, especially after seeing the Exorcist. I believed the devil was trying to take possession of my body.

Many experts believe that sleep paralysis accounts for most stories of alien abductions. In today’s space age society, people no longer see witches or demons while in this state between sleep and wakefulness. Instead, the presence in room has become a terrestrial being performing experiments on them.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? What was your interpretation of it? Can you think of other examples of selective validation? And, here’s an interesting thought, are people seeing ghosts because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe in them or am I not seeing ghosts because I’ve been indoctrinated to believe they don’t exist?

Halloween: A Time for Exchanging Curses

Halloween: a holiday filled with ghosts, monsters and demented friends. Last year I went all out, adorned my place with ghoulish décor and had a big party with lots of friends and enough noise to drive my neighbors batty. This year I decided to give the neighbors and myself a rest.IMG_0465

Since I wasn’t using all of the decorations I purchased, NC wanted to know if she could borrow them to create her own haunted party. We had a pumpkin-carving contest. Tali and Jeff won with their werewolf, but basically they cheated since Jeff does makeup for horror movies.

When NC returned my plastic crate of Halloween decorations, she said I might as well stuff it in my living room closet, since I recently cleaned it out and now had extra space. Normally, I keep the decorations in a storage cabinet in the garage. Being a suspicious soul, I had to wonder why NC would suggest that I keep the crate in the living room closet. Why would she care where I put it? So, as I was putting the crate away (in the garage), I opened it up, dug through it, and guess what I found. That’s right, the evil nutcracker. Now NC, the devious little brat, thinks she’s pawned her bad luck off onto me. Since she’s too lazy to even read this blog, she’ll never know that I found it. What do you think, should I tell her?IMG_0512

Harbingers of Death and Doom

crowNC called, totally freaked out. A crow had landed on her windowsill and cawed at her.

She said, “You know what that means, don’t you?”

I said, “Yes. It means there was a crow on your windowsill.”

“No. It means I’m going to die or something really bad is going to happen.”

Laughter on my end of the phone.

“I’m glad you find this funny,” she said.

Now the crow has been hanging around her place, not a good omen for someone who believes in omens.

Crows are smart birds. If you threaten them, they will remember your face and tell all of their crow buddies about you. They memorize the route of garbage trucks so they know when and where to find food. This ability earned them a bad reputation during medieval battles as a murder of crows followed the foot soldiers across the battle field. Perhaps this is why they’re called a “murder of crows,” not a group, not a flock, but a murder.

Crows soon figured out that the marching soldiers would ultimately bring bloodshed. And to a crow that means dinner. So of course they followed the soldiers, who then began to see the presence of crows as a bad omen. They were harbingers, foreshadowing the evil that would soon fall upon them. Once the battle was over, the crows would swoop in and feast upon the dead, adding to their sinister image.

I called NC and got her voicemail. I cawed a couple of times and hung up. She didn’t think it was funny. But don’t worry, she’s going to be fine. She bought some sage and burned it in her living room to ward of the evil. That should do the trick.

Nutcase and the Nutcracker

October. The season to celebrate ghouls, demons, and all things dark and beastly. A perfect time to start a blog devoted to such grim topics.

I’m a skeptic by nature. After all, this is the age of enlightenment. Superstitions are a thing of the past. Spirits don’t actually roam the earth. An object can’t be cursed and bring on a string of bad luck. Right?

Yet sometimes, despite our better judgment, we can’t help but wonder if that noise in the other room was merely the house settling or perhaps something more sinister. Or if the presence you sense behind you is strictly your mind getting the best of you.

Most of my friends are like me. Skeptics. But not NC. She believes it all. Ghosts, voodoo, bad juju, evil curses. It’s all real in her world. And sometimes those beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, can be contagious.

NC bought a nutcracker modeled after Satan. You’d think her beliefs in the paranormal would scare her away from the darker side of life. Instead it draws her to it. Basically, she’s nuts. NC isn’t her real name, by the way. Not even her initials. She’s a bit of a nutcase. Adorable, yes. But still a nutcase. Hence, NC.Nutcase & Nutcracker

Her new nutcracker was a creepy thing, but she adored it. That is until she developed strep throat, got in an argument with her boyfriend, and ran her car into the side of a bus. Dumb luck? Most people would think so, but not NC. That string of events could only mean one thing: her devil nutcracker was cursed!

“You’re prone to strep throat,” I told her, trying to convince her the nutcracker had nothing to do with her bad luck. “You and your boyfriend argue all the time. As for the bus, what can I say? You’re an idiot.”

No amount of logic could dissuade her. She had a cursed nutcracker. The tag on the bottom said it’d been made in China. NC was convinced that a factory worker, underpaid and bitter toward Americans, passed his bad juju onto the nutcracker before it was boxed up and shipped off to the States.

The only reasonable thing to do now was to pawn her little devil off onto one of her closest friends. Throwing it away wouldn’t work, you see. She needed somebody else to take the nutcracker so she could see if this dear friend also became plagued with misfortune. NC does employ logic from time to time. Too bad it has to be at someone else’s expense.

Unfortunately for NC, her rantings about her evil nutcracker had made all of us weary, despite our skepticism. For some reason, no one wanted to be her guinea pig. She could have brought the ugly thing over, presented it as a gift, and I would have stuffed it away in my cupboard without thinking a thing of it. But now she’d awoken the irrational part of my brain that claims there are still many things in this universe we don’t understand and maybe that ridiculous, satanic nutcracker might be one of them. So no, I didn’t want it. Nor did anyone else.

NC came up with all sort of crazy schemes to rid herself of the curse. My personal favorite involved stuffing the nutcracker in a paper bag and leaving it in the car of a friend who had already stated he wanted nothing to do with the cursed object.

Did I mention that NC is slightly demented?

Ultimately, her boyfriend, a fellow nonbeliever, locked the nutcrackedevilr outside on the balcony. I can’t declare that no other misfortunes have befallen NC since its banishment, but at least now she no longer attributes it to the devil. Now it’s all God’s doing. Apparently He doesn’t like her very much. At least that’s her take on it.

What do you think? Can a person infect an object with bad energy, either intentionally or otherwise?

Welcome to Quaintlore

a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

Welcome to my personal blog where you will learn nothing personal about me. Well, almost nothing, other than this small blurb and the one in the About Me section.

In my youth, as a fan of strange and morbid tales, I spend far too much time probing the dark and macabre. It’s an unhealthy obsession–or so my therapist claims. It started innocently when I was a child, with deviant drawings, and then moved into melancholy melodies as I learned the guitar and tried my hand at songwriting. As an adult, I worked as a technical writer and English professor. These careers led me down the grim path of story telling, starting first with poetry and short stories, and ultimately, leading to the dreaded novel.

Along the way, I left my home state of Wyoming, traveled the world, lived in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Berkeley, before settling in Los Angeles, where I drifted into hermitage as I became consumed by the dark arts of writing. Periodically, I allow myself to wonder out into the light and mingle with other members of my species. But the world at large is not my natural habitat; thus, you can always visit me here or at joebrightbooks.com.