Nostalgia and the Fear of Death

green collage with a Saul Bellow quote

I've been writing a lot about nostalgia and the paranormal lately, looking at how some common paranormal investigation tools are nostalgic and asking what that means. Do our feelings of nostalgia heighten the usefulness of a tool? Do we just trust certain tools more because we feel nostalgic (or perhaps anemoic) about them? I think you could argue any and all of the above--and I have.

That being said, my claims have been mostly anecdotal, personal, and/or vibes-based. That isn't totally out of line for paranormal-related exploration, but it made me want to dig in a bit more and see what scientific studies about can tell us about the paranormal and nostalgia.

So, with the caveat that I'm not particularly gifted with scientific or statistical prowess, I'll be sharing takeaways from some scientific papers that I've found on the topic.

One such study is "Fighting the future with the past: Nostalgia buffers existential threat", published in the Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 44, Issue 3, in 2010.

The article examines the idea that nostalgia helps to insulate or buffer us from existential terror.

I probably won't get deep into the actual study and methodology, because I found it less interesting that the research context that the piece gives.

However, the article closes with a general discussion that argues that "Nostalgia is part of the arsenal of psychological mechanisms that enables people to use the past to fight the future." And, as far as I can tell, by future, they're alluding to a fear of death.

Applying that to the paranormal, it suggests that if we're feeling nostalgic while, say, ghost hunting, that nostalgia can help us stay grounded.

After all, it's hard to think of a hobby more focused on looking death in the face. While I doubt that all "ghosts" are the spirits of the dead, that's probably the most popular "explanation" for paranormal phenomena.

The act of looking for the supposed ghosts of the deceased forces people to think deeply about the reality of death. (And also things that elude easy understanding: the survival of the soul after death, the afterlife in general, and mysterious phenomena that challenge worldviews and, at times, seem to defy science.)

So, naturally, nostalgia would be a helpful, soothing tool when investigating the paranormal.

So this week, I'll be sharing some of my takeaways from this paper, because it introduced me to a lot of terms and concepts that I've been chewing over.

For today, I'll leave you with this quote that the article begins with:

Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door. Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970, p. 190).