Sunday, October 30, 2011

For Halloween: Is It Paranormal, Supernatural or Preternatural by Elijana Kindel

Is it Paranormal, Supernatural, or Preternatural?

Did you know that there's a difference between being paranormal, supernatural, and preternatural?  When I sat down to write this blog, I had no idea there was a difference.  But after doing some research on (one of my favorite sites) Wikipedia, I made up my mind that this was the topic I wanted to share with you.  Before I get into discussing my thoughts on each, let's look at Wikipedia's definitions for the paranormal, supernatural, and preternatural.

PARANORMAL...that which lies outside the range of normal experience or scientific experience.

SUPERNATURAL anything above or beyond what one holds to be natural or exists outside natural law and the observable universe.

PRETERNATURAL…that which is outside or beyond the natural and is believed to have a rational explanation for its occurrence.

Is it just me or do each of those definitions look similar?  Yeah, I thought so, too.  Which is why after I read (and re-read) them, I had to sit down and figure out just what the heck they meant. To me. As a writer of paranormal romance.

Here's what Imanaged to figure out.

First up, let's get on the same page about what exactly is meant by scientific explanation.  The word science is derived from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge.  To my mind (which has been trained as a research scientist with concentrations in cellular biology and chemistry), scientists study the natural world in order to decipher what is its normal behavior.

Which leads me to the idea that if you don't have enough scientific data to rationalize the behavior of a given entity, event, or phenomenon in the natural world according to laws of that samenatural world, then guess what… it ain't normal.  And if it's not normal, then it's outside the hallowed grounds of scientific explanation which makes it… paranormal.

To hammer that point home, let's look at an example--Ghosts.

I believe ghosts exist.  I believe this, because I've watched enough episodes of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters Internationalon the SyFy channel (along with having my own personal experiences) to know that ghosts happen.  In my mind,ghosts are natural--they happen in the natural world.  Butare they normal?  Do I have enough empirical/scientific data that prove or make the ghost phenomenon reproducible and predictable?  Nope, I sure don't. So if I don't have enough data to normalize the behavior of the natural ghost phenomenon, then it is a natural occurring event that lies outside the realm of scientificexplanation. 

Ergo, ghosts are a paranormal event, entity, phenomenon.

But what about supernatural and preternatural?  If you go back and look at the definitions for these two categories, you'll notice that neither one of them mention anything at all about scientific explanations.  The reason for this is that you can't observe, record, and report scientific data on something that isn't tangible to the point where you can collect it from the natural world and hold it in your hand.  Knowing that, we now enter the realm of imagination… and faith. 

In Latin, the word super means above.  Therefore, to be supernatural means to be above the natural.  What types of entities are often considered to reside above our natural world?  God, gods, and goddesses.  What types of powers are typically associated with these supernatural beings? Infinite.  Is it rational to believe that supernatural entities have infinite powers?  Not according to myscientific mind, but that doesn't mean they don't have them or exist. How can I say that? Well, according to myopen-minded approach to life, liberty, and the universe… everything is possible until it is proven otherwise by scientific means. So supes and their supernatural presence… may not be rational, have no grounded scientific explanation, but they exist as long as you have faith in them.

To hammer that point home, think about some of the books you've read that may have had gods and goddesses in them.  Did you ever notice that the power of the god or goddess was directly proportional to the amount of followers who believed in them?Or even better… think about the evil god in that story you read or wrote.  Did that evil god grow in size and power as they collected more villains to propagate their cause?  And what impact did the growth of the evil god have on the power base of the good guys and their good god/goddess?  If you noticed an impact on the power base, then the author of that book did their homework (IMHO) and made the power of the god directly proportional to the amount of faith and followers funneled into their godhood.

Now, I want to go back to thegood guys mentioned up above and, yes, I'm talking about the tricked out warrior boys who fight the good fight for the gods they follow.  These tricked out warriors fall into the preternatural camp.  And here's how. 

Preter in Latin means beyond.  Ergo, preternatural describes that which is beyond the natural.  Again we're faced with the fact that we can't prove the existence of preternatural beings because they are not tangible which means we cannot collect empirical data to support their existence.  But we know they exist, because we have imagination and faith. 

So what the heck is the differencebetween preternatural and supernatural beings?  It has everything to do with the wording in the definition from Wikipedia and the phrasing that preternatural…is believed to have a rational explanation for its occurrence.Aha! There must be a rational explanation for the preternatural.  If there is a rational explanation, then there must be a rule by which it operates.  And where there are rules… there is a finite range of actions. Which means the preternatural can be normalized in its behavior beyond the natural world.

If you're scratching your head at this point and wondering what the heck I just said, don't worry. You're not alone. I had to read it several times myself and consider an example before it sunk in and made sense.  The easiest example of the preternatural is… Angels.  You have faith they exist.  They work for the supernatural God.  They have a finite range of powers and abilities.  By finite, I mean… angels are not God and do not have infinite power over life, liberty, and the universe.  Angels have a butt load of powers, yes, but they cannot… oh let's say, do the create the world thing.  Same thing with demons--but opposite.  They have mad powers, but do not possess the infinite ability to destroy the world. Only their evil god has that power.  Doesn't mean a group of demons can't descend upon the world and use their finite powers to muck up things to the point that it looks destroyed… but they cannot totally eradicate the Earth and make it disappear from existence. Only supernatural beings can do that.

And there you have it.  The difference between paranormal, supernatural, and preternatural.

I hope you enjoyed today's post and perhaps found some inspiration or clarity to help you craft your own paranormal world or understand the world you've already built.  Thanks for joining me today and I'd love to hear your thoughts on what today's post--or even better… do you have a favorite paranormal, supernatural, or preternatural character you've ever read, wrote about, or imagined? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

Until next time… take care and happy reading, writing, and musing!

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Happy Halloween to All!!!  And to all, a spooky night....


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hmmm. Very interesting. I have a little bit of the supernatural going on in my first novel, The Healer's Apprentice, but now that I read this, I think I also had some preternatural. But I'm still a little confused! LOL

Linda Andrews said...

You made some exceptional points. Most people blend the terms, but a few authors actually make it a point to stress the differences--Amanda Quick goes to great lengths to explain the preternatural gifts of her heroes and heroines.

Donna said...

Happy Halloween Patricia!!

Veronica Scott said...

Great post, thanks for the angel example or I was going to be lost in the "naturals"! I do learn by example LOL. Personally I love Raphael the Archangel in Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series. My heroes & heroines in Ancient Egypt are mostly normal people but the gods definitely become involved so not sure where they fall! Happy Halloween!

Katherine Bone said...

Very thought provoking blog post! Must reread to better understand the differences in the three distinct categories of 'paranormal' existence.

I love to watch Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, and Ghost Adventurers. There are some strange things happening on those shows. ;)

Patricia Preston said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Elijana Kindel said...

Hey, everyone! Thanks for stopping by yesterday! I apologize for my late response, but I was travelling until late in the night--truth be told I was in the car for so long that I'd be perfectly happy not to sit in a car for at least a week! LOL

Oh and before I forget--Happy belated Halloween! Or should I say, 'Happy NaNoWriMo Day 1!'?

Patricia--Huge HUGS for hosting me on your blog yesterday! You're the best! ;o)

Melanie--No worries on being confused. It is confusing. The terms are so close together. I swear it took me almost 2 weeks to wrap my brain around the different types to be able to convey them in any reasonably logical form. LOL. And The Healer's Apprentice sounds interesting! I love the title for it!

Linda--Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hadn't considered that AQ breaks it down in her books, but now that I'm thinking about it... you're right. She does go to lengths to explain the details. Which so appeals to my inner geek. ;o)

Donna--ooooh, I want hugs too! hehehe, just kidding--what? you're hugging me? Oh, um, I... okay, see me giving you a hug back. LOL Nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Veronica--Hooray! My example made sense! Okay and when I came up with it, I just about wet my pants because I was so excited to share it. LOL Ooooh, Ancient Egypt. I love ancient religions and history. I like Carthaginian history, because I can take what little we know of it and twist it whichever way to get what I need or want. And if I had to take a guess, I'd say you're Egyptian gods are supernatural... because they are supreme deities over their chosen career field. But then again, polytheistic religious are difficult to pin down--which probably explains why they are so much fun to write. LOL! Good luck with your stories!

Katherine--GHI and TAPS fans unite! High five! I'm bummed that I missed yesterdays live ghost hunt, but I'm hoping it got DVR'ed. I love looking at the science they use to track how to lure, find, see, hear, etc. ghosts and paranormal activity. It's just sooo cool and makes my inner geek squee with delight. LOL

Researching the difference between the 'normals' (lol--Veronica love the way you summed them up like that ;o) was really interesting and made me think about the world building I've put into my paranormal series. Which made it that much easier to say 'such and such character who has mad godlike powers' is or isn't a god with omnipotent mojo-jo-jo.

Granted each time I sit down and work on a character, I do have to have a cheat sheet with me to keep the 'normal' categories straight in my head... but I like understanding the difference between each--especially since it's helped me figure out which god/goddess is intimidated by the powers of another. Which means, LOL, that in my worlds, Fate trumps all the other gods... whether they know it or not. Mooohahahahahaha---cough, choke, sputter--um, uh, yeah, sorry bout that. ;o)~

And on that note, I've got to get back to writing and meeting my NaNoWriMo challenge for this month. Good luck with your writing, everyone, and have a great day!