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.