Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation IV: Science and technology

"…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". –Sherlock Holmes “The Sign of Four” (and variations in several other books)

Sir Arthur Conan DoyleSir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes was definitely ahead of his time when it came to science. His methods predated those used in real forensic science and his way of solving crimes was based on simple logic and observation. Ironically, this quote is typically used to qualify a paranormal group as "scientific" as well as to “verify” a photo, video, or personal event as “paranormal” since no definitive explanation was immediately found, however this search may not include all possibilities since it is limited to those present and may even be the intended result without searching for the reality. If this “evidence” is provided to the public and when an avenue is mentioned by a third party there is typically a defensive posture – so no logical explanation is usually accepted once the person has stamped “paranormal” on the purported evidence. Many paranormal teams use this quote as a basis for their scientific approach toward the paranormal despite not being able to realize all of the possibilities at hand (a logical fallacy) before coming to a conclusion (can we ever anyway?). Typing the term “scientific based paranormal team” into any search engine will create millions of results, but what constitutes a scientific based team?

For some teams the answer is simply the technology. These groups claim that since the technology they are using are scientific tools they are using science or are at least scientific-based. Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach once said you can teach a monkey how to use an EMF detector, but that doesn't make it a scientist. To other teams it is simply avoiding Ouija Boards, séances, and psychics during investigations, avoiding “feelings” and instead using “observations” and “readings” (all of which can be subjective or objective depending upon how you approach it and many of these teams simply use the same subjective ghost-hunt-in-the-dark approach. I say tomato, you say to-mah-to), and using methods of debunking rather than trying to “prove” a ghost exists. This last explanation is always the most interesting. How hard can it be to prove a ghost doesn’t exist? Then again, how does a ghost group prove a ghost exists in the first place since science still does not accept that ghosts actually exist?

Trying to find data that goes against one’s theory is a basic tenet of science, but is it enough to be able to call oneself a science-based team?

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." – Sherlock Holmes “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia”

The act of “hunting” ghosts itself is the first big red flag. A true scientist would never put oneself in the middle of an experiment as this creates a subjective environment and this would be frowned upon by fellow scientists. While there are many teams that do go about things skeptically most teams are already armed with the belief and hope that they will encounter something paranormal and this alone creates an unscientific foundation.Sherlock Holmes An observation by a friend of mine was that if a group claims to be skeptical and looking to “disprove” first, why are they a ghost investigation group? Shouldn’t they be a skeptical organization? I have already written a blog entry on “The Skeptical Reality of Ghost Hunting” based on Benjamin Radford’s skeptical, yet accurate, view on how ghost hunting is full of flaws and science is barely used. So how do we fix these problems?

"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear." – Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia”

The honest answer is to throw out what doesn’t work, keep what does, and fill in the rest with a scientific based approach to doing things. So, what has to go? The biggest issue is the use of tools and technology. These tools are used to gather evidence of ghosts, but what about the people who experienced them and the environment in which they encountered it in? How can we validate with tools that are meant for other uses and gather data about something we have no scientific proof even exists? The technology use is further clouded by the use of tools that are simply created for entertainment use that are used as the foundation for communication and evidene (Ovilus, radio sweepers, ghost box, Frank's Box, etc.). The approach of looking for ghosts was for the most part abandoned by Psychical Research back in the early 1900s. People like Joseph Banks Rhine realized that the pursuit of ghosts only created more questions and the collection of case studies would only carry the field so far. They decided to look for the cause to the effect and began studying the living person’s connection to the environment and attempted to measure their ability to receive information or express control over the environment (ESP and PK).Handcuffs Granted, this move was also made to satisfy the scientific world which has since handcuffed Parapsychology since it is obvious that paranormal events exist outside known laws of science and needs to be approached a bit differently than standard scientific models (not by investigating like Scooby Doo). Many people view Parapsychologists as professionals who study ghosts and while this may be true it should be understood that a majority of Parapsychologists don’t study ghosts at all. Parapsychologists have realized it is next to impossible to validate what ghosts are through observational and case study methods alone. Should ghost hunters just quit?

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To get the answer and a whole lot more visit the home of my ParaNexus blog to read the rest of the article.


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