What Is Paranormal?Good question!
Ask anyone what the paranormal means to them, and you'll likely get a thousand different answers ranging from Atlantis and UFO's, to Ouija boards and vampires. The word paranormal literally means "beyond normal." That could include just about anything unexplainable, or (to put it another way) anything that we don't have an explanation for yet.
Many of the things that folks often think are paranormal, are actually part of specific fields of study. For example, reports of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and other strange creatures are studied by anthropologists and cryptozoologists. UFO's and extraterrestrials have their own field of study by ufologists. Archeologists and historians unearth the evidence behind ancient sites like Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and the fabled cities of Troy. Many things that used to be labeled "occult" or "metaphysical" (such as angels, miracles, Tarot cards, etc) can also be explained or examined through the lens of myth, folklore, theology or religion. Even weird natural phenomena like ball lightning, earthquake lights, and showers of frogs can be accounted for by traditional sciences like biology, geology, and meterology.
So then, what's left? Plenty! A whole range of bizarre phenomena exist which relate specifically to human experience, such as ESP, psychokinesis, and life after death. And while these phenomena can certainly be thought of as paranormal, scientists have learned enough about them to give them their own classification: psi phenomena. (Psi is a letter of the Greek alphabet, which you probably recognize from the words "psyche," "psychology," and "psychiatry.") Psi means "soul" or "mind," and psi phenomena all involve varieties of human consciousness, including telepathy, spoon-bending, ghosts, out-of-body experiences, and many other fascinating subjects.
The study of psi phenomena is known formally as parapsychology. Parapsychology is multidisciplinary, which means that it draws upon knowledge from many other sciences. Physics, psychology, medicine, sociology, and many other fields are all needed to adequately understand and explain psi phenomena. Researchers in parapsychology are experts in any number of other disciplines, who apply their considerable knowledge and talent to help solve paranormal puzzles.
Real paranormal investigation and research is quite different than what is shown in movies and on television, in the same way that surgery on TV is very different than what a doctor actually does in the operating room. Actual research into the paranormal is all about gathering quantitative data as well as qualitative experience. It involves rigorously controlled experiments, theoretical physics and statistical analysis, and dedicated observations in the field -- not to mention persistance in the face of determined pseudo-skeptics, inadequate funding, and ridicule from "mainstream" science. But the overwhelming amount of empirical evidence in support of psi phenomena, which has been carefully documented over the past 150 years, carries implications and consequences which can change our understanding of life, death, matter, and reality.
Who knows? Someday we may learn that "paranormal" and "normal" are different views of the same reality.