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Children and Anomalous Perception

Spiritual and even anomalous experiences may be common features of childhood.

Key points

  • A primary form of consciousness, led by feelings, may dominate childhood.
  • This may predispose children toward deeply felt spiritual and anomalous experiences that are rare for adults.
  • Some instances of imaginary companions point to a semblance of reality that accompanies the "imagined" childhood friend.

“If you wish to be successful in parapsychological tests, conduct them with children.” This is a quote by the late Remy Chauvin, an eminent French biologist whose interests were wide-ranging. He believed that anomalous perceptions are most likely to manifest naturally — when one isn’t hunting for them. Just as with an animal that demonstrates unique behaviors in the wild, children are ideal candidates for observing how anomalous perception might work, Chauvin believed.

I have advanced a similar argument. Other mammals, I’ve written, are quite likely “more aware of feelings than human beings are, because they possess a ‘primary’ form of consciousness: they are aware of themselves and their environment but less burdened by complexities such as reflection and rumination that typify human consciousness. They live closer to the bone, one might say, than we do.” Similarly, I suspect that deeply felt, spiritual, and even anomalous experiences may be commonplace features of childhood.

The possibility that imaginary companions — and occasional other oddities reported by children — could have a semblance of reality is epitomized in the following anecdote. It comes from a research paper where the investigators interviewed “Alicia,” the pseudonym of a now-grown woman looking back on her childhood. She remembered being 4-years-old and being "…raised by young parents. Her father had just returned to the United States after military service in the Vietnam War, [and] her mother was striving to cope during this stressful period of reconnection and adjustment…A series of anomalous events began…which was approximately 18 months after the untimely death of Alicia’s [4-year-old] female cousin.

"Playing outdoors one day, Alicia met a little girl — a presumed neighbor — whom she vividly [remembers] having…a mixture of normal and unusual qualities. The girl was Caucasian and looked slightly younger in age. She had a round face, light brown, shoulder-length hair, and wore an orange and yellow floral dress…This girl appeared walking from around the corner of the house. Alicia approached her to ask if she wanted to play and said, 'Wait here, I have to ask my mom.' The little girl turned and walked towards the back of the house. Alicia and her mother subsequently searched for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Interestingly, Alicia’s parents also claimed to see this mysterious girl several times in periphery, along with occasional instances of sensed presences and erratically functioning appliances in their home. Alicia saw the little girl at least once more, where she was [seen] sitting at a play table inside the house, and wearing the same clothes as before."

Was this girl completely imaginary? Based on the description, she seems partly real and partly specter. What is most bizarre is that her appearance seems to have coincided with odd household happenings. Of course, the “sensed presences” and “erratically functioning appliances” could have been artifacts of a household already on edge, given the stressful return of Alicia’s father and the likelihood that she herself, at age 4, was stunned by the death of a same-age cousin — perhaps her first-ever awareness of death. Many psychologists would no doubt consider the appearance of this little girl to be some sort of compensation for that death or as representing the prospect for some consolation in Alicia’s distress.

In any case, I’d like to consider a commonality between this report and the one I opened this series with. There, 3-year-old Kadyn allegedly saw a dead woman who matched the description of a hiker in that part of California who had been missing for several weeks. Could the emotionality of a death reverberate in ways we don’t fully understand? Could emotional tumult itself be implicated in anomalies, with certain particularly sensitive individuals uniquely sensitive to the impressions?

People with high-functioning autism, child prodigies, people with Sensory Processing Disorder (a condition where sensory input — including the sense of bodily orientation — is jumbled), and synesthetes (whose senses overlap, as in seeing a sound or feeling a color) are, along with young children generally, the most ‘open’ to anomalous influences in my estimation. The typical sensory and emotional processing that the rest of us take for granted operates differently for these individuals. Their bodies and minds are literally open to more. The situation is perhaps captured best in this quote attributed to Friedrich Nietzche: “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

References

Chauvin, Remy. Parapsychology: When the Irrational Rejoins Science. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 18.

Little, Cindy, Laythe, Brian, and Houran, James. “Quali-Quantitative Comparison of Childhood Imaginary Companions and Ghostly Episodes.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 85(1): 1-30 (January 2021).

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