SFU professor investigates paranormal investigators

What draws people to the study of the paranormal? Simon Fraser University professor Paul Kingsbury is in the process of finding out.

The cultural and social geographer set out on a four year long research project into why ghost hunters, UFO watchers and Cryptozoologists (those who study mythical creatures) pursue the paranormal.

He and his team are two years into the project and he shared his preliminary findings with guest host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition. Kingsbury says we like to think we live in a modern age — but we're actually surrounded by mythical themes.

"If you look at society, it's permeated with supernatural and paranormal themes, such as religion, sacred places and divine places. Even quantum science is coming up with theories about the strange fabric of the universe," he said.

Kingsbury believes by studying those who want to believe in the unbelievable, he can learn about the power of desire and how belief in a shared idea can bring humans together.

A community of skeptics

After attending two of the largest UFO conventions in the world and going along on ghost hunts, Kingsbury said a key takeaway was that the paranormal community is full of rational, ordinary people.

He concluded there are more skeptics chasing the supernatural than one would expect.

"Ghost investigation groups in the Lower Mainland are often seeking to debunk the claims of their clients about hauntings ... Skeptics go around the circuit of UFO conferences. They'll be at the front of the audience asking trenchant questions to the keynote speakers," said Kingsbury.

The professor says UFO conferences are very similar to academic conferences. There is a check-in and attendees get a tote bag.

Kingsbury said the attendees vary from people looking for objective approaches to UFO phenomena to people who claim to have encountered aliens, usually through abduction.

Kingsbury said many believers are drawn to the subject because they've experienced what they call a paranormal experience themselves — but for others, it's about the pursuit of something that is unobtainable.

"It's the perfect object of desire ... in terms of a blurry image, a strange sound, a cast of a footprint in a forest," he said.

"It always insights desire — and it's forever out of reach."

He is presenting his findings to the Simon Fraser University Surrey campus March 15.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: SFU professor investigates paranormal investigators