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.


  1. Hey! You've been a tad inactive lately. Hope to see you posting again soon.

  2. I've got more in the cannon ready to fire, don't worry!!