Book Club – Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There

One thing that I would like to do this year is read more books. My parents very kindly bought me a Kindle for Christmas which I’m hoping will help with this. Bookshops, never fear – I will never be able to stop buying coffee-table books, pretty editions or shiny new paperbacks, the allure of a real book is too strong for me. With that in mind, I’m starting a new feature for ‘See & Do’ called Book Club. OK, so Book Club is really just me, but if you have opinions on a book I feature, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

First up: Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There by Professor Richard Wiseman (MacMillan 2011). FYI the US title is Paranormality: Why We Believe the Impossible.Wiseman US cover

I heart Richard Wiseman. It’s true, I do. He does lots of events at Edinburgh International Science Festival (one of my favourite times of the year) and is always entertaining, amusing and enlightening. This book can be described in much the same way. In it, Wiseman investigates everything from fortune-telling to ghost-hunting. Wiseman is a through and through sceptic (as you can probably gather from the Richard Dawkins cover quote), but never in a mean way. He does not criticise people who believe in the paranormal, nor those who merely claim to have a ‘gift’. Instead, he leaves that to Derren Brown and looks at the psychology of why we believe. Through engaging examples he explains how the brain can be fooled into believing the impossible and why some people are more susceptible than others. For example, the phenomenon of a Ouija board is little more than people subconsciously pushing the glass. This is the strength of the book, that Wiseman does not assume malice or deliberate trickery in most cases (of course there are some) and so does not patronise or judge people who do believe in the paranormal.

Paranormality also offers the reader lots of interactive elements. There are QRT codes galore linking you to Wiseman’s website where you can watch video interviews. There are also little tasks for you to do as you are reading, a particular favourite of mine was a fun little mind-reading ‘think of a finger’ trick where I managed to fool my usually know-it-all boyfriend.

I highly recommend this book. It uses the paranormal to introduce the reader to the basics of psychology and in turn demonstrates that the human mind is far more fascinating than myths of ghosts and physics. Witty, well researched and wry, Paranormality is must read for those interested in understanding the human condition that little bit more.

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