The paranormal – sometimes explaining it is the least important thing.

There’s a story that’s been doing the viral rounds the last few days. (See here.)

It involves a photo taken of a child. The child had leukemia that was in remission but had returned. In the photo, so the parents interpret, was an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The parents state taking some comfort from the photo in the context of dealing with their child’s illness.

The photo itself certainly has hallmarks of long exposure photography. That’s not to say it’s proven not to be otherworldly, only there are more likely explanations. It also highlights the role of people’s a priori beliefs in any interpretation of an experience.

…and at this point that, as far as I know, is pretty much the story.

What I’ve personally found most interesting about this story are the comments people have made regarding it. They’ve generally fallen into two camps.

There are comments by those who will unquestioningly and uncritically accept anything by anyone as long as it fits into their own worldview. Most of these comments have been along the lines of agreeing it shows Mary or some guardian angel or spirit watching over the child.

There are also comments by those who probably think of themselves as being sceptical but are actually being no such thing. I’m not talking about comments suggesting photographic artifacts or similar. I’m talking about those with a pathological need to be seen as the smartest geek in the class. You know the sort, the one’s kept awake ’til 3 o’clock in the morning because someone on the internet is wrong. These comments have ranged from calling the parents dumb or stupid to stating the parents are shamefully using their child’s illness to promote themselves or some agenda. I’ve no idea if they are or not. I do know if they got this from the original article, they must obviously be psychic – which presents an interesting irony in itself.

What have been sadly conspicuous by their general absence are the comments pointing out that actually, in the context of the child’s illness, the real cause or explanation of the photograph is pretty irrelevant. If it gives the parents something to hang on to or helps them get through, THAT is the salient aspect of the story, not whether the photo is paranormal or prosaic. The same can be said of stories where people have been “helped” by visiting a psychic.

Sometimes shit happens. Sometimes weird shit happens. Sometimes it gives people what they need at a time when they need it. That’s a fact. That doesn’t verify the paranormal as real. Neither does it make people stupid. It just makes them very human.