Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part III: Physics 101

My original intent for part III for this series on science in the ghost field was to focus on the scientific process and how the tools we use play their part. In part I, I discussed the basics of the scientific process and how that affects the field we work in. Part II centered on the advancement of tools and technology in our field and how this is a double-edged sword.

I decided to derail the subject once again due to a friendly debate I have been having with a colleague over the usage of the First Law of Thermodynamics. You’ve seen this quote a hundred times if you’ve visited paranormal websites or message boards:

“Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only shifted from one type to another.”

To many this is the proof they need to show others that ghosts indeed exist. Science states that since energy cannot be destroyed when we die the energy has to go somewhere and that somewhere is more than likely as a ghost!!! Yikes. I’ve grown tired of seeing this thought process and the mantra that is passed from group to group without any critical thought as to its real implications. If we follow this thought process a car should continue to run forever without ever needing fuel. Sound silly?

Let’s take a closer look at this First Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the “conservation of energy”. The “types” of energy that are referred to within the description of the conservation of energy are more or less potential and kinetic energy. Potential energy could be described as gravitational potential as a car climbs a hill. As it climbs the hill it is actually storing energy (gasoline and engine aside), as it reaches the top and begins to descend the stored up energy is now used. It cannot use more energy than what was stored and will use up all of the potential energy even if it begins to climb another hill (of course, it begins to store more potential). The kinetic energy comes into play as the energy that was stored is now converted into useful energy that propels the car down the other side of the hill without the need of the engine to help.

(Pictured at left is William Thomson, A.K.A. Lord Kelvin, who was responsible for most of the intricate work of the laws of thermodynamics)

There are obviously other types of energy (heat, friction, sound, vibration, light, etc.) that this energy is transferred to, but this energy is lost to the environment. Lost? How can it be lost, it can’t be created nor destroyed, right? Exactly, the energy is transferred to something that cannot flow back into kinetic or potential energy, the energy is used but not created or destroyed. Again, with the example of the car, some of the energy is lost due to the friction of the wind and the tires. This energy is being used, but not to push the car forward, instead it is taking away the kinetic energy provided by the engine. So, what the heck does all of this have to do with ghosts? Let’s move on to part two for the answer (and we won’t even get into how this governs heat, which is why it is called thermodynamics). Yes, there are two parts to the Law of Thermodynamics.

The first law states that energy is conserved; the second law would then state that energy always goes from more useful to less useful forms. A car uses gasoline to power the engine. The power created by the engine is not entirely used to push or pull the car forward. There is wind resistance, tire wear and resistance, gravity, dirty oil, and dozens of other things that take away from the engine from being completely efficient. The fuel that is used cannot be used completely, some of the fuel turns to carbon dioxide(and other gasses) and is released into the environment, the burning of the fuel causes heat which is lost energy or energy that is converted into a less useful form.


Within the second law there are also three statements, the first being; “Heat energy always flows spontaneously from hot to cold”. Let’s start talking about ghosts now. If we follow the laws of thermodynamics we should get a spike in heat prior to having a measureable cold spot. It goes against physics to have a spontaneous cold spot appear without there first being heat present (or a measurable form of energy, and no, the EMF detector is not picking up a ghost in transition much to the dismay of many of you reading this). For many ghost groups the third statement of the second law applies, “The amount of disorder in any isolated system cannot decrease with time”. Yeah, I’ve got jokes.

Let’s go back to the second law. Energy goes from useful forms to less useful forms. When the body dies our heart stops. The heart supplies blood and oxygen to our vital areas of our body and also takes away the toxic carbon dioxide out of the blood stream. The heart also gives us our electronic signature as blood creates friction through our body which is composed mostly of water and salt. When our body dies it begins to decompose almost immediately. There are millions of bacteria that live on our skin, in our hair and other places that are part of a symbiotic process that begins to go in their favor when the body dies. To spare you the gross details our bodies are basically reduced to dead tissue and cells. Any electrical signal we have goes out immediately when the heart no longer functions. The brain creates electrical impulses as well, but is completely dependent upon blood for its survival. There is nothing measureable that escapes the body when it becomes nonfunctioning. Yes, for some of you who have done your homework there were experiments done on dying patients where there was an observed decrease in weight as the person died. These experiments were done in less than ideal conditions and the results were not as conclusive as they are stated.

These laws are basic and are deceptively simple in their statements. No laws of science describe ghosts and this is why ghosts are considered paranormal. In order for ghosts to be explained many different laws will need to be amended or rewritten (from thermodynamics to Maxwell’s equations). Even if or when we are able to unlock some of these answers we’ll still have to deal with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (google it for some more mind-opening adventure).

So what’s being done about all of this? There is the occasional shift in thought in our field to various theories within physics (enlightened armchair theorem) that help to explain what might be with ghosts, but does not offer any practical method or explanation about any aspect. When I first came into the field the Chaos Theory was in full bloom, many people know this as the “butterfly effect”, a butterfly flaps it wings in Central Park and this action eventually makes it rain in China. This theory gave birth to the idea that it was just a matter of time until the mysteries of ghosts were unraveled, yet, here we stand at the same point we were then. New theories have presented themselves over the years; a popular one now is the string theory (or really called super symmetric string theory – although there is more than one version). Many are jumping on board with this since there is the inclusion of interdimensional properties (which is also included in other theories). The string theory is nothing more than a mathematical formula designed to answer large scale problems with the four forces of nature on an atomic scale, there is no evidence whatsoever that any of it is accurate which is why it is just a theory. Granted, a couple of other guys named Newton and Einstein had their own theories years ago as well and those turned into laws of nature.

Paranormal investigators should keep a close eye on the advancement of particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider on the border of France and Switzerland has made the headlines in the last few months and will more than likely see more headlines in the near future. It’s been said that the power of this underground collider is so great that it might cause microscopic black holes that could “swallow” the Earth or even create antimatter that would devastate the entire universe (theoretically possible, but highly unlikely). This tool will be used to uncover more secrets about our atomic world, but will also help us understand the possibility of other dimensions and other potential aspects that can bring us closer to real answers about what we see as paranormal. The other half of our concentration should be on the medical world. The brain, or better yet, the mind, is part of the equation when dealing with ghosts. Ghosts are about interaction and it’s more than likely a symbiotic relationship between us that allows for them to be a part of our perception.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Are We Ruining Ghost Hunting Sites?

I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who is part of a fairly well known location that is a hub for paranormal investigators and ghost hunters during a speaking engagement at a library in Grafton, Ohio this October. We were discussing plans on my group possibly coming out to the location to investigate particular aspects of the environment (humidity and other factors) during the colder months of the year when the conversation shifted toward something that I had often thought of; are ghost hunting and paranormal investigation groups ruining the famous places they like to investigate? No, not by running around in the dark screaming or by vandalizing, but by just being there.

We can all agree (hopefully) that hauntings are basically an "imprint" of emotion on a location caused by a sudden death or extreme circumstances during life in that particular location. With the high adrenalin flowing during an investigation, as well as the act of trying desparately to communicate, are ghost hunters imprinting over top of the tragic events? Is the activity going on at these locations potentially adding to the evidence gathered later on by other investigators?

I've been fortunate to listen to actor/archaeologist/cultural anthropologist John Sabol speak earlier this year at the Ohio Paranormal Convention in Dayton, Ohio. John refers to himself as a "ghost excavator" as he says he attempts to "peel back the layers" of a haunting. He feels passionately that ghost hunters are indeed scarring these locations by their attempts at discovery by leaving their impressions on the environment and potentially covering up what is really there. John uses a system that allows himself to become part of the haunting environment itself so that he can connect to a ghost or a haunting experience. This is an interesting system that he states is way more effective than the way that ghost hunters and paranormal investigators investigate a location. Although a good paranormal investigation group should be recreating the scene which is part of what John does. To get a little more detail on his process, please see my review of the 2009 Ohio Paranormal Convention.

Personally, at first I thought John was a bit too intense and was pushing his way of doing things on other people. In all honesty it really hit me a few days after listening to him speak that I realized he was right and that I should adapt a little more of what he does to what we do.

When ghost hunters or paranormal investigators attempt to interact with a ghost or record haunting phenomena they tend to do it on their terms. In other words, they are using todays technology to attempt to interact with ghosts or hauntings that have been around a long time. While the technology we have at our disposal is the best yet, is it the right thing to use to connect to a 148 year old confederate soldier?

While the tech is useful for documentaion I think we need to rethink the overall approach by really trying to interact on the level of the haunting, or the ghost, on their terms more than ours. If we can get them to relate to us or have them think we are someone they know or reenact something familiar we would probably get a better reaction than by asking it to "talk to the red light on the recorder" or other methods of 21st Century communications.

Granted, this should not be left to investigating Civil War sites, but could also be applied to abandoned hospitals or prisons as well as the house down the street that has a ghost or is haunted. Is it possible that the constant influx of thrill seekers at historical sites will ruin it for future investigators? Who knows for sure, but it seems logical that continous emotional imprints can not be conducive for obtaining good evidence of haunting phenomena at historical locations.

So, what methods are getting the best results? Have particular locations noticed a change in the type of evidence gathered? I have not been able to find an answer as of yet, but hopefully as the amateur paranormal investigation movement evolves people will move away from behind the safety and security of their tools and realize the potential of communication on the interaction level beyond what is normally used.

As far as ruining sites for future investigators I feel it is a legitimate concern. The high intensity of emotions that accompany an investigation that are repeated over and over are bad enough. If you then realize that there is potential for some investigators to affect the environment by their beliefs and possibly leaving psychokinetic "residue" attached to the environment for future investigators to read with their instruments. As many stumble around in the dark in search of their proof there are many of us also who are in search of answers surrounding the effect of our culture on the paranormal itself.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ouija Board: Conduit of the Devil or Belief?

"Is there anyone here who would like to speak to us? Please tell us your name."

A common first line to many who take the adventure of playing with a Ouija board. First of all, Ouija is a registered trademark of Parker Brothers, a subsidiary of Hasbro, and it's a board game made of plastic and wood. So, what's the fuss?

Many people claim to have had strange and evil things happen while or after using a Ouija board, many groups and individuals (paranormal groups and ghost investigators alike) are against anyone using these devices (much to the dismay of Parker Brothers) since they are "dangerous" and "unpredictable" in how they operate.

(Above left: Sign similar to that which many paranormal groups put on their website despite possibly never dealing directly with a Ouija board or even anyone else who has.)

There is a huge debate in the paranormal investigation field about the use of this board. Many groups will not help a client in need if they find out that a Ouija board has been used. Many groups will not use a Ouija board or any other "old" divining technique for various reasons despite possibly never using any.

Christian-based organizations teach that Ouija boards are inherently evil and are the conduit for demons and the Devil, any Earth-bound "ghost" could just be a guise for the Devil himself (party poopers). Many "regular" people claim to have had bad experiences derived from using a Ouija board; including ghosts following them everywhere, poltergeist-like activity, possession and other unpleasant activity. So, why does Parker Brothers continue to sell this game if it is so bad?

I'll skip the history lesson behind the board, if you want to know more about it you can go here, here, here, here or here.

There exists a logical explanation behind what makes a Ouija board work, or rather, how the planchette (plastic piece you place your fingers on) moves. It's called the ideomotor effect and basically your fingers move the planchette without you really realizing it. You may ask or hear a question and then your fingers move to an answer that seems appropriate all without you thinking about moving to that location. Yep, it's been proven scientifically. So, does this explain all of the accounts of people using Ouija boards? What about all of those people experiencing ghosts and poltergeists and stuff?

This is where the belief part comes in. Who's to say there wasn't a ghost there all along? Maybe the subject's sudden open-mindedness caused them to finally interact, OK, maybe that's a stretch, but it's possible for some cases. Maybe they just believed so hard or were scared witless that every little creak caused them to think a ghost was responsible (jumping to conclusions is a recognizable part of being a ghost investigator- we see it a lot!).

A famous research project from the Toronto Society for Psychical Research proves that they actually "created" poltergeist-like activity in 1972 which ended up tipping a table numerous times, the activity was caused by those involved because of their belief in what was going to happen (See Phillip). Regardless of the events that occur, and if they are really paranormal, is it really the fault of the board? Very doubtful and most people realize it's the people and the way they practice that are responsible.

A major explanation many paranormal investigators give against the use of this board is that they can "open" doorways to uncontrolled spirits, ghosts or other malevolent beings. Asking random ghosts can invite terror that can not be controlled without a psychic.

Let's take another approach into consideration. A ghost group is in a home investigating after thorough interviewing (not just "where did ya see it?, Cool, lights out boys!") and they begin to set up their equipment. They go into the master bedroom and pull out a Ouija board and ask, "Is there anyone here who would like to speak to us? Please tell us your name." Heck no, that's bad! I can hear and feel everyone cringing at the thought. If they continue this approach the family (and even the investigators themselves) can be inundated with evil spirits that can make things much worse, right? OK, so, the board isn't the right tool. Let's have them use an EMF detector and a digital recorder, that's better...

"Is there anyone here who would like to speak to us? Please tell us your name."

Hmm, notice anything familiar? The approach used by a Ouija Board and the "scientific" tools are really the same, does it really matter if you call out "Bob" or just for anyone? Why would an electronic tool be any different than a piece of cardboard? The tools measure the environment and can tell us when ghosts are present you say. I say the tools do measure the environment, which is in constant flux and can be unpredictable and not every unexplained blip is paranormal. A fancy light on your EMF detector does not mean a ghost is present, granted, a EVP at the same time would make a great argument.

The point is, why is it OK to use these tools and not a Ouija Board when you are essentially doing the same thing?

Measurement? OK, nice comeback, but how good are your controls? Did you thoroughly measure the environment with mulitple EMF detectors in the same environment you are investigating in? Fine, the Ouija Board doesn't look cool and yes, it does carry with it the negative connotation and sense of careless pursuit versus fancy lights and expensive gadgetry. Who's fault is that? Why are ghost investigators continuously perpetuating this perception to the public when our methods are the modern day verion of this old game and tool?

(At left: An electronic Ouija Board invented in 2008)

Many paranormal investigators claim to have open minds, but they seem to only be open to their own beliefs (actually something that happens in every field in science, so don't take it personally!). We feel safe with out tools since they come with an on/off switch and a manual, but why do we fear tools that have been used for centuries without any real examples of terror? This is only one example of many that we deal with in the field of paranormal investigation (similar to believing in the full/new moon effect and solar activity despite no documentation, so why do almost all groups display this information? Yes, myself included; I document these and lots of other information for all of my cases, not just when I investigate but when the client experiences events as well and eventually this work will be published, not here, but in a scientific journal).

In a forthcoming blog I will explore the effects of belief in the ghost field in closer detail with some suprsing scientific evidence.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009 Mothman Festival

The 8th Annual Mothman Festival was a pleasant (no pun intended) escape from the typical paranormal conventions, conferences and "P-Cons" that are all the rage. Maybe because it was primarily outdoors or maybe that it had a carnival atmosphere, who knows. All I know is that it was a great time for all who gathered on this tiny town along the Ohio river known as Point Pleasant, West Virginia, on September 19th and 20th.

Our journey to this tiny spot of great and tragic history brought us (my wife, father-in-law and myself) from northeast Ohio via Interstate 77, we then traveled down route 2 for about 29 miles which desposited us in Point Pleasant at 6th street (pictured above). It was at this point where the Silver Bridge was formerly located that collapsed on December 15, 1967, killing 46 (not 36 as in the movie The Mothman Prophecies). I knew there was a tiny memorial there as well as bricks with the names of the victims, but I always wondered if there were any remains of the bridge. If you look at the photos of the Silver Bridge Memorial you will see a big wall behind it, I always wondered what the wall was. It's actually a flood wall built to protect the city from floods from the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. The flood walls are actually no longer needed due to dams and other projects along the river, but are currently being painted with beautiful murals on the side facing the river. On the river side of flood wall is another plaque which stands in the foreground of where the bridge crossed the river (see photo at left, the bridge in the background is a railroad trussel bridge that stood next to the Silver Bridge). There are no remains of the bridge on either side of the river, but the scene itself is eerie enough to feel the history of what happened there. The Point Pleasant River Museum (pictured above right) does have artifacts from the Silver Bridge along with historical pieces of ships and other items from the river's past.

While some of the Mothman stories say the creature and other events associated with it predicted the tragedy of the bridge collapse, it seems that the evidence of science says that it was more than likely age and weight that caused the collapse (not to mention the broken eye-bar due to lack of maintenance and attention). There is also the fact that no mention of Mothman sightings were made for 13 months prior to the bridge collapse.

The festival itself is a celebration of the creature along with the sightings. In the heart of the vendor area was the famed Mothman Statue, created by local artist Bob Roach, who also created Chief Cornstalk and Colonel Andrew Lewis Statues that were outside the flood wall (funny fact, each statue is about five feet tall despite Mothman being rumored to be at least 6 feet tall, apparently Mr. Roach is also about five feet tall and refused to use ladders to help create his sculptures). There were also many "characters" walking around, a few various Men in Black as well as the Mothman himself paid a visit (see pic above left).

As I said it was a carnival atmosphere. There were Mothman pancakes (and an eating contest with them as well), lemonade, elephant ears and a variety of other food available. Saturday brought the Miss Mothman Festival Pageant (photo at left). There were also many other street vendors selling everything from t-shirts to handmade crafts (lots of stuffed Mothman dolls) along with some ghost groups (Prodigy Paranormal and Ghosts of Ohio, both of which had guest speakers) present to share their info.

Yes, guest speakers were on hand to talk about various paranormal and supernatural subjects on Saturday and Sunday. I was only in attendance on Saturday and was able to see James A. Willis (discussed the "Spooky Side of Abraham Lincoln") and Rosemary Ellen Guiley (Vampires) speak at the State theater (pictured at right in center of photo) on Main Street between sightseeing. There were other guests in attendance, be sure to check out the Official Mothman Festival website for more details.

Curiously missing from the event was any homange to the late John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies book that ultimately launched the movie that, well, helped fuel the festival. Keel passed away on July 3 of 2009. Funny thing, a few of the locals I talked to said the movie had nothing to do with the festival. The fact is the first year of the festival (2002) was the same year when the movie was released. The movie was actually shot in Kittanning, Pennsylvania (almost 4 hours away) and really put this city back on the map. The site of the Mothman Museum (pictured at left) has some great coverage surrounding the movie and does have a tribute to John Keel on their home page.

There is also a lot of history outside of the Mothman sightings and the Silver Bridge collapse. A long time ago a guy named George Washington visited the area and is rumored to have said (while looking at the point where the Ohio and Kanawha river meet) "What a pleasant point", which lead to the town being called Point Pleasant (well, that's the story the tour guide told). At the corner where the rivers meet there is a huge park, Tu-Endie-Wei (Wynadotte Indian phrase meaning, "the point between two waters") Point Pleasant Battle Monument, with a lot of historical artifacts onsite. The park celebrates the October 10, 1774 battle between Viriginia militiamen, lead by Colonel Andrew Lewis, versus native Indians lead by the Shawnee Chieftan Cornstalk. Cornstalk is sometimes blamed for many of the bad things that happened in the last 200 years in and around Point Pleasant which is known as the Cornstalk Curse.

(at left is the resting place of 3 teeth and 15 pieces of bone from Chief Cornstalk).

From this beautiful park you can see the "new" bridge that took the place of the Silver Bridge, which is appropriately named the Silver Memorial Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1969 approximately one mile down river of the Silver Bridge.

I have to mention one more thing at the festival that was brought to my attention by James Willis, co-author of Weird Ohio along with Loren Coleman and Andrew Henderson. At the end of booths and t-shirt stands, beyond the Mothman statue was a lone tent nearly closed to peering eyes. Inside the tent was a kiddie pool and a bunch of large snapping turtles and a man from kentucky named Ernie Brown, Jr., the man known as "Turtle Man". He's the Kentucky version of the Crocodile Hunter who crawls into ponds to rid them of large snapping turtles (humanely) for farmers to keep them or their horses from getting bit. Really, I can't make this stuff up.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part II: Advancement of Technology

"Technology has advanced so quickly that it's just a matter of time until the truth of ghosts are unveiled."

Not my words folks and that's why they're in quotes. I agree that technology has advanced in the field of paranormal investigation even since I have been a part of it, but does that mean we are really closer to finding answers? Some seem to think so, but personally I think it actually has set us back a bit.

In my last blog in this series, "The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part I: The Basics of the Scientfic Approach", I discussed the scientific process and how it ties in to our field. While technology plays a part it's not the headliner that many make it out to be, it's merely the supporting cast to a symphony of processes, procedures, and documentation. The technology can certainly add to the data collected as well as make up for our interpretation of events, but it can still get in the way or make our data give us the results we are looking for. I don't want to beat a dead horse in this blog, rather I am going to discuss the advancements in technology that could potentially lead us to the opening quote.

You might be surprised to learn that pagers are still in use by many emergency personnel as well as Information Technology (IT) professionals. Don't remember pagers? Well, my first "Emergency Contact" number used for my paranormal group was for my pager. I was the last in my family to get a cell phone and I am now on my fifth phone in I don't know how many years. Even when cell phones were becoming mainstream we never dreamed they would be taking several minutes of video, connecting to the internet with ease, providing GPS data, PowerPoint presentations or all of the other things that come standard on many phones today.

The biggest advancement over the years with cell phones has been the camera phone. This of course, follows on the heels of the advancement of digital cameras which are taken for granted in this day and age. When I first began in this field I had to buy film for my 35MM camera as well as pay to have it developed. A typical roll of film held 27 exposures (I use to take as many as 30). If you knew how to handle the photo business you only had to pay for what you wanted, and you were sure to tell the technician to develop all of the pictures regardless of their appearance. Of course there was also the Polaroid camera that took instant photos that was the rage for quite a while in the paranormal field and it saved you a trip to the photomat.

What a hassle, that's all I have to say about film cameras. It wasn't so much the cost, it was all of the hassle about buying the film, keeping it out of the sun, away from static, loading it in darkness, taking it to get processed and sometimes having to go back to pick it up. While it did cost a lot to buy and process film, digital cameras balance out that cost, but have less of the hassle. Although, when digital cameras made their splash with the paranormal field so did a little problem now known as "orbs". This phenomenon is not new nor was it coined by some "Dr." who cruises around on subscriber's money in a Winnebago. Orbs have been around since the film camera days as mentioned in many magazines and books about photography printed in the 1960s and 70s that I have read (I was a big camera fan as a kid).

The field I call "Orbology" came into study when digital cameras made their way into our field. The big problem in the early days was pixelization. Basically, the camera was adding pixels to the picture due to the limitations of the technology at the time. So what's the cause now? One word: Flash. The camera technology has gotten better and with better comes compact. When the cameras got better they started getting smaller and when they got smaller the flash moved to over top of the lens. The flash can reflect off of close proximity dust or airborne debris right into the lens thus creating orbs. We see the orb as being in the picture, hey; the cat is looking at it! In reality its 0-4 inches from the lens of the camera and thus won't be seen by the naked eye.

Another double-edged sword that came with digital cameras was the technology to alter the images taken by them. When a picture was taken with 35MM there were only so many ways the photo could be faked and if the negative was provided as evidence it would narrow down the possibilities to chemicals and static electricity. Digital manipulation has rendered photography and video nearly useless for paranormal investigation as well as use in other anomalous fields (UFO and Cryptozoology) since even children can create photos and videos that can take even a little work to uncover manipulation. How can you prove a photo has not been tampered with? Well, EXIF information in photographs is a start, but how can you do the same with video?

Along with cameras, the other recording media that has advanced from magnetic recording to digital is audio recorders. My first recorder I used in paranormal investigation used a regular sized tape cassette and was "portable", meaning you could clip it to your belt or carry it around as it certainly would not fit in your pocket. The big "rule" about using cassette tapes was to use fresh ones and only record on one side to prevent bleed-through. Well, I used both sides and would use the same tapes over, but only on recording the interview. I used to buy TDK D90 tapes in a ten pack about once a week back then (can't remember how much they cost, more than likely about $15). Even with an external microphone you would still get a lot of hiss and the occasional squeaky wheel (I learned how to lubricate the parts and even pad certain parts to keep the "machine" noise to a minimum). I eventually bought a micro-cassette recorder which I still use to this day, still expensive to buy tapes and a real blast to review.

Now we can walk into a department store and buy a digital recorder with a USB plug and can upload our files with ease to the computer. Prices on the digital recorders have fallen sharply and the expensive models carry a huge amount of space. Again, the big problem with technology is the ability to create fake results or to over analyze files to come up with results you desire. Technology works against us
once again.

Now that the camera and recorder bubbles have been burst, we look at the other technology that we use in investigations. What about EMF detectors? My first detector was a Trifield Meter that I paid $250 for. It was worth every penny when I met someone in the field that would "oooh" and "ahhhh" over it, but it met its demise with an unhealthy trip down a flight of stairs at an abandoned TB hospital. I didn't drop it, but I can't swear it was helped by paranormal forces. Anyway, a quick search on the internet and I can find a new one for $130. We know that EMF detectors are not ghost detectors (despite some of the names given to some of them) and are not designed for our field. That is until Pro Measure introduced the MEL-8704, designed for paranormal investigators by paranormal investigators, hit the market. It has not taken long for this meter to begin to morph from suggestions given by its users; this is good advancement for our field as long as it is used correctly!

(The new Mel 8704 Hybrid with KII built right in)

Better technology and dropping prices have put many new meters in the hands of those who have little idea what the measurements mean or how the meter is affected, but it's not the technology's fault. The once $20,000 thermal imaging cameras are now only a couple grand each and getting cheaper every few months. Handheld weather devices are now inexpensive to carry. I use my cell phone to gather local data periodically to update our investigation forms, but having the data that is occurring in the room is essential to tie this data to the investigation. New technology is being developed for other purposes and beginning to become affordable.

The thing to keep in mind, again, is to remember the limitations of these instruments and use them as references, not answers. The key to using these scientific tools is to use them scientifically. Meaning, documentation of everything you do is essential if you are going to post your data and posting this data is the last big step in your work.

In order for these tools to assist us in moving forward we have to move forward as gatherers of information. Groups need to learn how to gather the data to support the use of these tools correctly. Random videos of orbs and shadows will never provide any proof beyond personal proof. In order for documentation to have weight it needs data and data needs documentation. No one likes filling out paperwork, but if we are to move forward as a field of science, we need to act like a science first.

Coming soon: Part III in this series of the Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation will offer a closer look into where I left off in part I with the scientific method and how the tools play their part.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Ohio Paranormal Convention


How do you get Bigfoot, Grassman, Mars, a list of authors and paranormal investigators (and an archeologist) into one room? You book a room at the Hara Arena in Dayton.

August 14th kicked off the Ohio Paranormal Convention with a pair of bands (The Goody Two Shoes and Lonesome Tumblers) that rocked the house (and made things a bit hard to hear in the vendor area), lesson learned. It would have been hard to realize, unless they told you, that this was Southern Ohio Paranormal Research's first attempt at a convention. The show was balanced with cryptozoology, UFO discussion and not to mention a whole lot of ghost stuff as well. It had prize drawings, psychic readings, psychic healing, famous faces, and a great audience.

Where was I on this night? Um, driving toward it. I got into town on Friday night to find out that the Hotel I booked back in September of last year had changed ownership (pays to confirm reservations folks). It would have paid if I had booked at the official hotel as well (although Keith Age and some of the other rowdy folks would certainly have kept us awake) but I saved a tiny amount of dough and picked one a bit closer to the venue. Why am I telling you all of this? On to the show...

I had seen Hara Arena in pictures and amazingly, it looked the same in person. I was aware there was a gun and knife show going on at the same time and this proved to be good research. It looked as though there was a report that a Bigfoot was seen in the woods nearby with as many *place-your-southern-person-nickname-here* toting guns filing in to the main area of the arena. It was actually a bit unsettling, but as long as you don't make eye contact or attempt to read their belt buckles you are sure to be fine. One side note to this; When we walked into the conference area there was a sticker on the window "No Firearms Permitted Inside".

My wife and I made our way around the various vendors who were still setting up their goods and began to meet some of the other speakers at the event. I made my way to Joedy Cook's table (Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, out of Cincinnati), who was a late addition to the convention and would be speaking on his personal experiences and investigations of Bigfoot. I had thought I was the only Cryptozoology speaker on the bill until late July, but I saw his name pop up on the convention website and began to sweat. I E-mailed him and introduced myself. I was a bit apprehensive when he mailed me back and said to give him a call, I mean, this guy was on Monsterquest for crying out loud. He was laid back and was glad I was going to be there. It turned out to be a good thing there was two of us covering the cryptid angle and it was definitely great to have Joedy there, especially to meet and talk with him and I can definitely say he's a class act who knows his stuff. (Joedy, his decoy and that's me on the right)



I also made my way across the way to say hello to John Kachuba, author of "Ghosthunting Ohio" and many other various books dealing with his personal ghost investigations. I had met him a year ago during one of his library tours and wanted to thank him personally for including my group's name (Ohio Paranormal Investigation Network) in his book, "Ghosthunting Ohio". I was amazed to find that he has uncovered some startling evidence about ghosts, he's actually captured some real ghost poo. You have to see it to believe it. He's another class act and he brings a great blend of healthy skepticism and journalism to his unique approach to covering this field. Never read his books? Shame on you, I recommend his books since he provides a ghost story with some back history while telling the tale through his eyes as he investigates.


We had a late start on Saturday morning as guests were a bit slow to arrive (hey, it's 9 in the morning on Saturday!), but John Kachuba starting things off before 11 with his breakdown of various Ohio haunts that he has investigated over the years. If you like his books you'll love hearing him talk about his experiences, a true professional public speaker.

Next up was Bill Scott who shared some of his knowledge as well as some clips from his upcoming documentary, "Haunted Kentucky: Spirits of the Bluegrass". Keith Age followed with some very interesting pictures of various investigations including many from Waverly Hills. I've seen hundreds of pictures this year sent to me, on the web or ones of my own that were odd, but some of his were downright mingboggling. He announced that there was a sequel coming to "Children of the Grave" coming soon. He's another great personality and down to earth guy who loves to dish out crap to everyone while taking his own beating in return (he fell asleep during Bob Hunnicutt's presentation and was awaken by laughter as his expense).

Sean Feeney , of the Anomaly Response Network, discussed the code of ethics (or lack of) in the paranormal investigation field. He's a well-rounded investigator having knowledge with UFOs, cryptids and ghosts and worked with the legendary Kenny Young. He talked a lot about the missing approach of true science in our field, I looked forward to his speech since I saw it on the convention website and I was not disappointed.

Rie Sadler came all the way from Maryland to share with us some of the haunts of the tiny state known for little other than being the home of the Baltimore Orioles, Ravens and some guy named Edgar (Allan Poe, that is). Some interesting stories were shared about various places formerly owned by famous people (including the home of Poe as well as the bar he is said to haunt).

Bob Hunnicutt reviewed plenty of impressive photographs from his investigations of various locations (Gaither Plantation and Waverly Hills). He also demonstrated ways to evaluate supposed paranormal photos. Again, another great guy who definitely knows his craft. (Below: Bob talks to the crowd during our panel session while I look on)

Then came James A. Willis. Nothing can really prepare you for James. He's weird, and proud of it. He is typically full of energy, but today he came armed with a can of liquid dynamite (one of those ginormous cans of energy drink). During his presentation he was running around so much he had to stop himself and stated if he continued he'd be out in the hallway talking to himself. Probably the best speaker of the weekend with his high energy, comedic presentation and mixed content with paranormal and zany all rolled into one (like the giant marble ball on a headstone that moves by itself or like the world's largest ball of paint, great stories, ask him). James is the co-author of "Weird Ohio" and the founder of the Ghosts of Ohio (click his name, visit his group!). (There was an incident -see photo at right- that happened in the back of booth city near where Willis was set up, he claims no responsibility but the rumors were flying)

Sunday morning came and we got to sleep in an extra hour! 10 A.M. was the start time and it wasn't long until the crowd rolled in. Joedy Cook opened the day with his in-depth look at the Bigfoot phenomena with many photos of purported nests, a look at the Gigantopithecus theory (which he disagrees with and I agree with him), possible pictures of Bigfoot himself, as well as some personal encounters including his first one in Michigan where he was only a few feet away from this legendary creature (and he could have let others shoot it, but chose to protect it, great story and one I'm sure he doesn't regret). He ended by reinforcing that despite reports that the eastern Bigfoot is more aggressive than the western one, they still seem to show compassion toward children and the elderly.

Beth Brown, a battlefield ghost hunter, shared with us a great story as well as a video of a ghost investigation into a battlefield at night as well as shared some EVPs she has collected. Next up was actor/archaeologist/cultural anthropologist John Sabol. John's an intense guy and came across like a professor (well, that's because he was one). He provided his interesting way of "unearthing" ghosts instead of the typical way of waiting (and hoping) one decides to visit. He states that he "participates" in general activity that potential ghosts of that time period and location would have while others observe and record. When progress is made he "performs" for the ghost using specific information and cultural specifics that would make the ghost associate with him (he might act like he's someone the ghost might have known). He claims his encounter rate is much higher than with typical ghost hunting approach (which makes sense since it's part of how Parapsychologists approach spontaneous case investigations). Interesting theory that deserves a closer look by groups. (Above: John Sabol speaks to a guest from his table)

Earl Benezet, former Kentucky Director for MUFON (now the Director for Kentucky UFO Reporting Center) shared some very interesting photographs of the moon as well as Mars. He also shared some interesting theories about what is up there and what some of us know about it.

The last speaker on the list was Brian D. Parsons. A ghost guy for 13 years he came to the show to talk about basic cryptozoology. OK, I can't talk about myself in the 3rd person. Originally I received an invite to come to the event, but I replied asking if I could speak. They were looking for a cryptid guy and I instantly said yes. I discussed the basic definition of cryptozoology and why it is considered "paranormal" when it really isn't. I went over basic history of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and former cryptids. I also briefly touched upon some of the recent stories in the cryptid world as well as investigation basics.

The last part of the event (other than giving out the grand prize of the 4 channel DVR to none other than....Keith age! Who only put in 1 ticket!) was a panel discussion focusing on the crowd's prior experiences with ghosts or to answer questions. The panel consisted of myself, John kachuba, James Willis, Bob Hunnicutt, and Brian Klein (the host and another guy who definitely knows his stuff). We each shared one of our personal stories from our investigations and then fielded a couple of questions from the crowd.
(Above: Brian Klein leads the panel discussion, missing from the photo is Bob Hunnicutt who is at the far left out of frame)
All in all, I would say that everyone had a good time there from the speakers to those in the audience. I am definitely looking forward to next year...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Part I: The Basics of the Scientific Approach

The word “science” or “scientific” has been thrown around in the field of ghost hunting and paranormal investigation for many years. What does science offer a field that is almost completely philosophic in nature, from the lack of insurmountable evidence to the loose theories that fuel our pursuits?


In my last blog I discussed the beginnings of the Spiritualist movement which was the catalyst behind Parapsychology and the scientific pursuit into ghosts and related phenomena. Psychical Research, now Parapsychology, helped separate the fakes and frauds of mediums, table tipping sessions and man-made spirit photography. Through all of this there have always been amateurs who have worked in the background of the professional organizations and individuals, at no other point since the beginning of the Spiritualism era has the amateur ranks played such an important part of ghost and paranormal research. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR, 1882) and the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR, 1885) still exist as well as other professional arms of paranormal research (Parapsychological Association, Rhine Research Center, Institute of Noetic Science, etc.) though the amateur ranks outnumber the professional ranks as well as the overall exposure and interaction with spontaneous cases.


What separates professionals and amateurs, besides a degree from a University and and/or a professional organization is the interpretation and use of science. The raw form of scientific approach in the historical context of parapsychological study was mere case reports (data collection). This would merely be a collection of firsthand accounts of paranormal activity as well as possible witnesses. This was not enough to make this into a science until they were able to systematically study or replicate experiments with these reports.


This now draws us to the 21st Century and the amateur pursuit of this field using scientific tools. The use of tools in this field (EMF detector, compass, dowsing rods, ion detector, infra-red thermal imager, camera, camcorder, cassette and digital audio recorder, motion sensors, etc.) has seemingly clouded the minds of those who are attempting to verify anomalous phenomena through them. Many people think that the mere use of these tools is science and having anomalous readings with them serves as evidence of the paranormal.


There is no such thing as a ghost detector. No tool in use in the field of ghost research has the ability to determine a ghost is present. The mere use of these tools alone does not constitute a scientific endeavor. These preceding statements are not my opinions, these are fact. These statements have been made by parapsychologists and others in various scientific disciplines.


It seems that the objectivity of the use of these tools has been overlooked since many groups have stated they have collected data that they have detected the presence of ghosts. But the question is, how do they know it has detected a ghost and not another anomalous object or field of energy? If the detection with the instrument was accomplished in addition to an anomalous event happening at the same time then we have a possible legitimate reading on our hands (see Auerbach, (2004, p. 112). Then we have to ask if there were baseline readings done of this area in question prior to and after the anomalous reading (without altering the environment, i.e., turning off lights or power)? Were there witnesses to this event or any other devices that could back up the other? We could wonder whether those who set out to gather this evidence may have unintentionally created the anomalous event. Is this a repeatable event? To many ghost hunters this sounds like an impossible task, but it should to most since this is how real science works. Believe me, I am being generous in my examples here compared to those that would be required for other scientists to have a sliver of belief in what we are trying to accomplish.


The major piece of the puzzle that would come next would be for the group that encountered these readings to go through a formal scientific process and ultimately publishing their findings and have another group attempt to gather the same data (or finding discrepancies with the prior data collection methods) using similar or related instruments. I can already hear some people out there laughing at the premise of a group inviting another one out to confirm or deny their findings, though in fairness I know quite a few that would be happy to do this. The bottom line is that this is true science. Merely wielding tools of science is not scientific, even if you know how to use them, which is my whole point here.

Let me share with you an excerpt from the handbook I designed for the Ohio Paranormal Investigation Network in dealing with the scientific approach as well as steps in a scientific investigation.

The Scientific Approach to Behavior

There are three sets of interrelated goals to turning a hypothesis into scientifically accepted data; measurement and description, understanding and prediction, and application and control.

Measurement and Description- Before a scientist can explain why the world works in a certain way; they need to describe how it works. Science’s commitment to observation usually requires that an investigator figure out a way to measure the phenomenon under study. The goal here is to develop measurement techniques that make it possible to describe behavior clearly and precisely. The attempt is made by using gadgets such as EMF detectors, thermal imaging cameras, etc. The problem lies in the fact that ghost hunters are only concerned with the “what” instead of the “how”. The “how” is how the devices are detecting what they are detecting as well as how they know it is an apparition they are recording. This is also difficult, if not impossible, since most of what they record with these devices is spontaneous in nature as with all Psi phenomena.

Understanding and Prediction- Scientists believe that they understand events when they can explain the reasons for their occurrence. To evaluate their understanding, scientists make and test predictions about relationships between variables. This seems like an easy one, but we have little understanding of what is going on with ghosts. We have been able to predict certain behaviors, but we have yet to learn the causes that lead to these behaviors. Psi phenomena is the same, we do not yet know how (or where in the brain) it exists nor can we predict when it will occur.

Application and Control- Ultimately, Most scientists hope that the information they gather will be of some practical value in helping solve everyday problems. Once people understand a phenomenon, they often can exert more control over it. . Once we begin to understand how ghosts come into existence, or devise a practical means to communicate with them, the World as we know it will become a different place. The same holds true if we are able to utilize ESP or Psychokinesis on a daily basis at any degree.

Steps in a Scientific Investigation

The following example is based upon the “top-down method”. In a further blog I will describe this, as well as other examples of various methods described as “bottom-up” and “Integrated Approach” (Watt, 1994, p. 77), in further detail.

1. Formulate a Testable Hypothesis.

The first step is to translate a general idea into a testable hypothesis. A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. Hypotheses are generally expressed as predictions. They spell out how changes in one variable will be related to changes in another variable. To be testable, scientific hypotheses must be formulated precisely, and the variables under study must be clearly defined. Researchers achieve these clear formulations by providing operational definitions of the relevant variables. An operational definition describes the actions or operations that will be made to measure or control a variable. Operational definitions establish precisely what is meant by each variable in the context of a study. Most ghost groups come up with theories, which are based upon unproven ideas or speculation of how events may hold an answer. A theory can be thought of as merely a guess or assumption and has no application toward science, but can help lead to a more specific hypothesis.

2. Select the Research Method and Design the Study.

The second step in a scientific investigation is to figure out how to put the hypothesis to an empirical test. The research method chosen depends to a large degree on the nature of the question under study. The various methods- experiments, case studies, surveys, naturalistic observation - each have advantages and disadvantages. The researcher has to ponder the pros and cons and then select the strategy that appears to be the most appropriate and practical. Once researchers have chosen a general method, they must make detailed plans for executing their study.

3. Collect the Data.

According to their plans, researchers obtain their samples of subjects and conduct their study. Psychologists use a variety of data collection techniques, which are procedures for making empirical observations and measurements. Commonly used techniques include direct observation, questionnaires, interviews, psychological tests, physiological recordings, and examination of archival records. These methods are broken down below. Collecting research data often takes an enormous amount of time and work.

Direct observation - Observers are trained to watch and record behavior as objectively and precisely as possible. This is where the amateur movement is focused using their instrumentation as a guide (should be using their tools to back up events not merely be the only record or indication).
Questionnaire - Subjects are administered a series of written questions designed to obtain information about attitudes, opinions, and specific aspects of their behavior.
Interview - A face-to-face dialogue is conducted to obtain information about specific aspects of a subject’s behavior.
Psychological test - Subjects are administered a standardized measure to obtain a sample of their behavior. Tests are usually used to assess mental abilities or personality traits. This phase of study includes the use of Zener cards (5 symbols used in guessing experiments) in Parapsychology (which are no longer used) as well as random number generators (used in psychokinetic experiments).
Physiological recording - An instrument is used to monitor and record a specific physiological process in a subject. Examples include measures of blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and brain activity.
Examination of archival records - The researcher analyzes existing institutional records (the archives), such as census, economic, medical, legal, educational, and business records. This is where Psychical research began by studying stories of those who had spontaneous events occur to them.

4. Analyze the Data and Draw Conclusions.

The observations made in a study are usually converted into numbers, which constitute the raw data of the study. Researchers use statistics to analyze their data and to decide whether their hypotheses have been supported. Thus, statistics play an essential role in the scientific enterprise. This is where many groups get lost. It’s not really one case that will bring you answers, it is the specific information gathered by the sum of many.

5. Report the Findings.

Scientific progress can be achieved only if researchers share their findings with one another and with the general public. Therefore, the final step in a scientific investigation is to write up a concise summary of the study and its findings. Typically, researchers prepare a report that is delivered to a journal for publication.

The process of publishing scientific studies allows other experts to evaluate and critique new research findings. Sometimes this process of critical evaluation discloses flaws in a study. If the flaws are serious enough, the results may be discounted or discarded. This evaluation process is a major strength of the scientific approach because it gradually weeds out erroneous findings. For this reason, the scientific enterprise is sometimes characterized as “self-correcting”.

This is why it is critical for ghost hunting and paranormal investigation groups to share and compare data. We are stuck making the same guesses over and over from one group to the next until the data is put out there for everyone to evaluate. Each group feels that they alone will produce a piece of ground-breaking evidence that will set the World on its ear, this is a belief founded in misunderstanding of how the scientific process operates. Groups must work together building upon work to come up with answers. It is possible that one group may eventually hold the key, but this group will be one that uses the scientific approach from work that eventually will be confirmed or denied by others.

Advantages/Disadvantages of the Scientific Approach

The Scientific approach offers clarity and precision. Common-sense notions tend to be vague and ambiguous. The major advantage of the scientific approach is its relative intolerance of error. While possibly not proving anything beyond argument, the scientific approach does tend to yield more accurate and dependable information than casual analyses and armchair speculation do. Knowledge of scientific data can thus provide a useful benchmark against which to judge claims and information from other kinds of sources.

The major disadvantage of the scientific approach (especially in the case of ghost research) is that experiments are often artificial. Experiments require great control over proceedings and researchers must construct simple contrived situations to these their hypothesis experimentally. It is practically impossible to simulate the environment of a haunted location in a laboratory setting, this is why there is no experimentation within the study of the paranormal- not only can we not duplicate this environment we could never possibly control it.

We must rely solely on descriptive research methods. These methods are used when the variables cannot be manipulated. In other words, these methods cannot be used to describe cause-and-effect relationships between variables. This understanding could come with time and understanding and after the use of the descriptive research. Descriptive methods permit investigators only to describe patterns of behavior and discover links or associations between variables. This is where Parapsychology has been stuck for over 130 years. Once variables are introduced the results usually seem to become inconclusive.

Descriptive research cannot demonstrate conclusively that two variables are causally related.

Descriptive research methods include:

Naturalistic Observation
A researcher engages in careful, usually prolonged, observation of behavior without intervening directly with the subjects. The problems with this approach are twofold. First, it is nearly impossible to observe ghost activity for a prolonged period of time, especially when dealing with a specific case. This lack of observation time usually proves the information gathered inconclusive. Secondly, it is nearly impossible to observe the ghost behavior without becoming directly involved with the subjects. We try hard to gather as much as possible and to go in to a location at the last possible second, but with this you risk not being able to observe any activity yourself. Once you are part of the environment you have changed the variables and altered the environment in which the events occur.

Case studies
These are an in-depth investigation of an individual subject. Data is collected for individual cases and compared to that of other cases to arrive at a common explanation. The major problem with this approach is that they are highly subjective. The information from several sources must be knit together in an impressionistic way. During this process one may focus on information that fits with their expectations, which usually reflect their theoretical slant. Thus, it is relatively easy for investigators to see what they expect to see in case study research.

Surveys
Researchers use questionnaires or interviews to gather information about specific aspects of subjects’ behavior. Surveys are often used to obtain information on aspects of behavior that are difficult to observe directly. Surveys also make it relatively easy to collect data on attitudes and opinions from large samples of subjects. The major problem with surveys is that they depend of self-report data. Intentional deception and wishful thinking can distort subjects’ verbal reports about their behavior.

Scientific research is a more reliable source of information than casual observation or popular belief. However, it would be wrong to conclude that all published research is free of errors. Scientists are fallible human beings, and flawed studies do make their way into the body of scientific literature. This is why replication of a study (or observation) is important. Replication of a study may lead to contradicting results. Some inconsistency in results is to be expected, given science’s commitment to replication. Fortunately, one of the strengths of the empirical approach is that scientists work to reconcile or explain conflicting results. In fact, scientific advances often emerge out of efforts to explain contradictory findings. This is very important to keep in mind as we collect data and continually observe findings in the field. We must not always be too quick in search of the answer, or the truth may elude us. Looking at conflicting evidence is very healthy and may lead us to the answers.

Flaws in evaluation of research

A sample is the collection of subjects selected for observation in an empirical study. In contrast, the population is the much larger collection of animals or people (from which the sample is drawn) that researchers want to generalize about. Sampling bias exists when a sample is not representative of the population from which it was drawn. We must be careful to not drawn conclusions until we are able to deal with a diverse array of the public, which will give us a fair sample of the overall population which is encountering these occurrences.

Placebo effects occur when subjects’ expectations lead them to experience some change even though they receive empty, fake, or ineffectual treatment. Placebo, for our concern, may happen if we give them information on the subject, they may conform their observations on the new information given to them or alter what has happened in the past or jump to quick conclusions about natural experiences. The overall effect of the thought of a ghost is interacting with them causes some to distort previous experiences. We must be careful with what information we give them and at what time we give it.

Social desirability bias is a tendency to give socially approved answers to questions about oneself. This could also include conforming your observations by what is popularly known to be ghost activity. Example; someone feels a draft in their house and assumes it is a ghost, they may lump other unrelated experiences with it to draw the conclusion or convince others based on the current social trends of paranormal activity.

Experimenter bias occurs when a researcher’s expectations or preferences about the outcome of a study influence the results obtained. This is a common problem with ghost research on many different levels. The first that comes to mind is that we (like some who experience ghosts) jump to conclusions based on bits of information obtained during the case. We must learn to look at each piece of evidence as separate and not lump everything together immediately and assume every clue adds another piece of the puzzle and help confirms a ghost. Another lies with the popular orb photographs. In this we have a tendency to draw our conclusions from what we see or believe not what we can prove or study. We must not try to “see what we want to see” and look for viable evidence to deny any rational or natural explanations first and foremost.



We must take what the history of science has given us and use it to our advantage, it can only help us confirm or deny what we set out to find.


References


Auerbach, Loyd. (2004). Ghost Hunting: How to Investigate the Paranormal. Oakland: Ronin Publishing.

Irwin, H.J. (1994). An Introduction to Parapsychology, 2nd. Ed. Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company.

Watt, Caroline A. (1994). Advances in Parapsychological Research, Volume 7. (Making the Most of Spontaneous Cases, p. 77-103). Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company.

Weiten, Wayne. (1992). Psychology: Themes and Variations, 2nd Ed. Pacific Grove, California. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ghost Hunters Do it in the Dark. Are They Seeing the Light?




"Did you hear that?" The flashlight beam flares behind the men searching for the source of the sound. "What the hell was it?" The men stand still and quiet, their heartbeats the only audible source filling their ears. They quickly lose patience and turn toward the dark empty hallway...

Sound familiar? It should. This image is replayed in houses, abandoned buildings and prisons all across the country. Why do ghost hunters and paranormal investigators turn off the lights to do their investigations? I heard an interesting theory as to how this might have begun. Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach stated on the Grand Dark Conspiracy podcast that this practice has its roots during the Spiritualist movement of the mid-1800s.

The Spiritualist movement began in 1848 with the claims of communication with the afterlife by the Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York. This movement of belief quickly spread across the country and eventually in the UK. Along with this spread of belief also came the spread of skepticism. Among the skeptics were people like Harry Houdini who used his knowledge of visual deception to help uncover fakes and frauds that began popping up in reaction to the widespread interest in ghosts. This deception was performed with the lights off in an attempt to thwart those who were looking to expose them during their table tipping, channeling, production of "ectoplasm" (which isn't real folks, it's also born of fraud) or other illusions or ways of tricking the surviving family members.

We are possibly seeing this approach being used today for the same reason. It is possible that some of these television shows are using the dark to mask what they are really up to. Granted, it also adds a touch of drama and added entertainment value which is what television is all about. The culture of amateur ghost hunting has picked up what they have observed and are stumbling around in the dark merely because they think that this is what you are supposed to do. So what's the explanation behind why they do it?

The reality why teams do this is simple; it eliminates false positive readings on EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors. Television shows have glorified this move, But is this necessary, sensible, logical or even scientific????

Turning off the lights for one really does no good. It will eliminate some EMF, but if there is still power coming to electrical equipment you are shutting off the lights for little or no reason. Unless you shut off the breakers (all electricity) to the house there is no sense in going "lights out". A majority of household electronics will still continue to draw electricity and can still provide "spikes" of electricity on occasion depending upon the item. Generally a plug in the wall means power is being used even if the item is off. So, if you are really going to go dark you would have to turn off all of the power from the breakers. Heck, you should turn off the water at the street as well since this can affect your readings...we'll save that for another day.

Yes, my team uses Infra red cameras that "see in the dark" and we use them in the dark only when the case dictates so. Which leads directly to the next point; does the client experience things only when the lights are off and is stumbling through the hallways with a flashlight?

Odds are; no. If you want to be "scientific" you should attempt to recreate the settings that the events happened in. Parapsychologists have been using this approach for over 125 years (yes, ghost hunting is not a new thing despite what you read on the internet) and it works. The best data you will ever get will be found by recreating the conditions in which the client observed them. Ghosts are about interaction and you're not going to be able to sneak up on them in the dark.

I've seen videos (and worked with teams) that utilize baseline readings prior to an investigation. The problem is I've seen many of them doing these readings in normal conditions and then conducting their investigations sans light or power. What good are baseline readings if all you are going to do is change the conditions in which you are investigating?

This approach is scientifically flawed.

There is the popular thought that ghosts are somehow electrical in their makeup. I feel this is a pretty good basic theory. Part of the theory is that ghosts somehow get their "energy" from the living as well as man-made electronics. I'm not so sure about the latter part of the theory, but until we can test various theories who's to say. Some teams use electrostatic (ion) generators to help give a "spark" to the air (also cleans it up as well...less dust orbs...that's another blog) so why would we eliminate a potential power source for a ghost?

Another aspect of investigating the scene under the conditions in which the client observed the original events is to help find logical solutions to the potentially paranormal problems. Good observers who simulate the original conditions will more likely be able to find logical solutions to various events than those who are merely out to verify the events through their own experiences. Faulty power or high EMF may be causing some or all of the experiences. Eliminating these sources for the client should be the first step in helping them. Yes, clients may want validation that what they are experiencing is real, but you owe it to them to eliminate the possible before considering the paranormal.

Going "lights out" also changes the perceptions of the investigator. Sight is the most important sense we use on a day to day basis (though far from perfect). When you eliminate this sense we are forced to rely on other ones that are not as fine-tuned as our sight, which can lead to misperceptions about our surroundings. This setting also sets up for experimental bias by eliminating the objective experience and creating a completely subjective experience by the person involved in the investigation.

Although Parapsychology has investigated claims of ghosts, hauntings and poltergeists for over 125 years, the amateur paranormal investigator field is still in its infancy. Many groups are finding discoveries that make sense, but many of these answers come through ignorance of alternative resources (they would have found these answers had they read about Parapsychology first). A self-correcting approach is what creates the flow of true science and groups experimenting, teaching and learning how to approach investigating these claims we can slowly eliminate the "popular" way of doing things for approaches that are more objective and focused on the client and not on the subjective personal experience.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on the subject. Sorry, couldn't help that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Meteorology in the Paranormal



I have always been fascinated by the weather and was highly jealous of my best friend when he received a degree in Meteorology from Texas A&M University. My interest in the weather was a small part of my mental tool bag that I used for investigations as I am constantly aware of weather conditions as well as how it can factor in logical explanations of various events.

We all know that a standard tool for investigations is a temperature gauge. Many groups use a contact thermometer, which is not a good idea since it only measures the surface temperature. Though most groups know you get what you pay for and have gone out and purchased non-contact thermometers (which have come down significantly in price) which still have limitations, but are also a necessary tool for finding logical explanations to some potential paranormal problems.

One tool that gets very little recognition, but it discussed by many out there, is the use of a hydrometer. A hydrometer basically measures the humidity of a location based upon temperature and is stated as the relative humidly. Relative humidity is the percentage of water vapor required to saturate the air at the current temperature. The thing to know about relative humidity is that when the temperature increases so does the capacity for the air to hold more moisture. In other words, the relative humidity would appear to drop if the temperature increases (the air can now hold more moisture) and would appear to increase if the temperature decreases (it can hold less water).

What does this mean for ghost investigation?

Bringing various tools to measure the environment is scientific, as long as you know what the results mean and what the cause was to create the effect without jumping to conclusions. In other words, if you have this tool in your bag and have no idea why it does what it does there is no science behind it.

A hydrometer should be used in conjunction with temperature gauges to verify reasons why it would flux. Without this backup the readings mean nothing to paranormal research. Relative humidity may play a part in the appearance of paranormal events and attaching results with a hydrometer is a baby step in this direction. Documentation and experimentation is critical as is creating baseline readings throughout the investigation. Controlling the area of research is also critical. You should be aware of open doors, windows, drafts, sun coming through a window or heating one side of a house or parts of a structure. All of these things can have an effect on the information being gathered.

There is no reason to limit the areas of research as long as there is a benefit from using the tool or methods to a specific aspect of what you are researching. Do the ends justify the means? If you have a situation where the homeowner is scared out of their mind it might not be a good time to experiment with a hydrometer!

I would like to thank Tammy from OKC Paranormal in Oklahoma for looking for information about this subject from others through their Myspace page as well as sharing knowledge and information about this subject. This is how we will all learn and how this field will grow not in numbers, but in direction and valid research and information.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eastern Cougars: The Myth Continues

Cougars, mountain lions, pumas, panthers, catamounts, whatever you wish to call them, do not exist east of the Mississippi river. Well, except for south Florida and there's only 50 or so of those. Yes there may have been some sightings in West Virginia, Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and yeah there's Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and even Maine and Delaware (yes, even in all three counties of Delaware). But, rest assured, all of these accounts are false. They are either bobcats, house cats or maybe just dogs. Well, there could be a couple of loose cats out there. Most likely these are escaped or dumped exotic animals. We don't keep records of these types of things, but we're sure it's completely explainable this way. Either way, mountain lions do not exist in any state east of the Mississippi (again, except Florida). That's our statement and we're sticking to it.

The above is the typical response you will get from any eastern state on the status of mountain lions from their respective wildlife or Department of Natural Resource officials. They all categorically deny the possibility of any number of cougars populating any state in the east. Despite growing numbers of sightings as well as evidence of sign (tracks, scat, hair, mauled prey) officials still have a list of excuses as long as a mountain lion's tail. Typically the response is a loose exotic pet. OK, so where did it come from? Don't they keep records on who owns these "pets"? No, no, what you saw was a bobcat, common mistake. Why do they always assume that the hunter who has seen bobcats before always mistakes a bobcat for a cougar (or even the person who has never seen either who perfectly describes a cougar from the color down to the long tail...umm, bobcats don't have much of a tail to brag about).

On the flip side of this argument one can agree that despite the numerous sightings in various parts of different states there does not seem to be any large population of these animals in the east. There has yet to be a carcass of a cougar from a vehicle strike anywhere on the eastern U.S. and this argument does provide the example that there is not a strong population established. DNR officials frequently track various animals to keep track of population as well as disease and other factors. These DNR officials are not coming across much in the way of evidence concerning cougars (or are they?).

There are many out there that feel that this denial is part of a larger conspiracy. Conspiracy? About cougars? Apparently many people feel DNR agencies do not want to pay to have to manage cougars and that denying their existence (or getting rid of them without our knowledge) keeps them from stretching their budget. Speaking of budgets, let's take that one a step farther. The state makes a killing, no pun intended, on licenses and related items spent on hunting seasons. If a predatory species were introduced (or found its way) into the ecosystem it would cut into the deer population. There is currently 600,000 estimated deer in Ohio (2006) and no natural predators other than humans (and vehicles). A cougar (or even wolf) population in the state of Ohio would provide many headaches and lost money for DNR folks so their denial is understandable, but is it possible for cougar to exist east of the Mississippi?

Let's consider the possibility: Did cougars once call this area home? Yes. Why are they no longer around? Hunting was the biggest culprit over the last 200 years. Other factors were changing land into farming area and depletion of food sources (mainly deer) in the mid to late 1800's and into the early 1900s.
But, aren't there plenty of deer running around now? In 1904 in the state of Ohio there were no deer. It took a few decades of natural re-growth as well as restocking programs to bring the deer back to Ohio. The same followed suit in a number of neighboring states. Now that the food source has been re-established, doesn't it make sense that a top predator is making progress toward reclaiming its former territory? Another possibility may be because of another predator; the wolf.

Wolves were driven from the U.S. the in many of the same methods as the cougar, but were even more feared as they traveled in packs and consumed more kill than cougar. Wolf populations exist in Canada and extend into Michigan and Minnesota. They were also reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Could these expanding wolf populations be driving cougars to areas of less competition?

There are, of course, other theories about how cougars could be in the eastern states. One theory is that they never really left the states east of the Mississippi. Somehow small collections of these animals avoided detection for decades and are slowly branching in every direction. As people sprawl out these animals are in constant search for places to hunt and live in a human-free environment. A second theory is that they have traveled here from the closest known area of thriving population, western North Dakota. Cougars travel amazing distances in short periods of time, mainly in search of food. The roaming theory has a major flaw in that it would be extremely difficult for males and females to mate if they were living hundreds of miles apart and would make it nearly impossible to have thriving populations. Then again, male cougars have been known to have territories as large as almost 300 square miles, but females typically have smaller ranges. Lastly, we could guess that numerous animals escaped or were dumped into the wild and have now somehow bred and created tiny populations. Highly unlikely, but a possibility.


So, what does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, cougars are not necessarily paranormal, but they are actually considered cryptids in the state of Ohio (since they supposedly do not exist here) and any sighting interests those who pursue cryptids. Hopefully this cryptid will eventually be confirmed in some eastern states. It's also interesting that a 9 foot long 160 lb+ creature can go undetected. Confirmation of this animal in Ohio and neighboring states may be a victory for Bigfoot researchers everywhere.


Here is a little more insight:

Eastern Cougar.Org reports that cougars have been sighted in numerous areas of Louisiana in areas which are just to the west of the mighty Mississippi river. I guess the river just mysteriously holds them back from populating the east coast.

Here is a video concerning the recent Chicago, Illinois sighting and eventual shooting of a cougar and the cover-up behind the ongoing saga of these animal sightings in Illinois:

video



*Deer-vehicle collisions cost an average of $2,600 in medical and mechanical costs. In 2003 there were more than 31,000 deer-vehicle collisions reported.

A sustained group of cougars will help naturally cull deer populations year round and hinder deer-vehicle collisions.


*Source: OurOhio.Org