A few months ago, The Bent Spoon, released a Ghost Hunting Issue which included an interview with parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach. Loyd requested that he review his interview to make sure everything he said was sufficient. We printed the transcribed version without revisions. This is the interview that should have been in the magazine. – Bobby Nelson
Parapsychology is the study of psychic phenomena, of phenomena and experiences of the human mind, of consciousness, and how it relates to the world around it — which includes apparitions and hauntings and such. We deal with consciousness-related phenomena that seem to transcend or go beyond what we consider the normal senses and perceptions; whether it be bringing information in through non-normal channels, affecting matter and energy without direct intervention of the body, or survival of consciousness beyond the death of the body, keeping in mind that what’s considered “normal” changes as knowledge expands and society and Science accept new information.
Parapsychology differs from ghost hunting in many different ways. First of all, people in the field do controlled scientific research in a laboratory. The field research that so often seems that it has been taken over, or seemingly supplanted, by ghost hunting is done in a very measured way with controlled conditions as much as possible but also with including the processes and methods of science as much as possible. The biggest difference between parapsychology and ghost hunting is that ghost hunting seems to be focused specifically on certain phenomena and happenings, often leaving out the human experience which is at the root of all of this phenomena. Ghost hunters often ignore the history of research and how it relates to what they’re doing and to the phenomena.
So, I think the biggest divide is that ghost hunters tend not to even know that there is a field of parapsychology, or think that there is anything that parapsychology has to say about these phenomena, when we’ve been studying them for 130 years and clearly what’s studied in the lab has much to do with what’s investigated outside the lab.
Terms like paranormal and supernatural, by definition, exist outside the realms of science. Do you feel that science will ever come to validate what people call ghosts, ESP, or psychic phenomena?
Paranormal is a term that was coined and probably used more often in early psychical research and with psychic phenomena and experiences than anywhere else until relatively recently. It means, “on the side of normal.” That’s different than supernatural, which means, “above natural.” Supernatural is typically related to magic, the things that could not be understood by science; whereas paranormal would be considered, like parapsychology, to relate to things that at some point should be brought easily into science, once we actually understand what the processes are and as scientific knowledge generally expands.
I can say that personally I believe in ghosts and hauntings, but from a scientific perspective and from a parapsychological perspective, there’s great evidence but no absolute proof. What we can say is that we’re looking at a variety of different ways that people might experience ghosts. We’re trying to understand what that thing called a ghost actually is, whether it is survival of consciousness or something completely different, which may or may not be explainable by current scientifically understood processes.
There are a lot of different techniques that ghost hunters use and you have spoken and written about going “lights out” during ghost hunts. Can you talk about why you feel that that inhibits investigations?
From the get go, the are two major problems with the lights out process. Number one, there are numerous psychological and other studies that show that human beings are awful observers in the dark. We can’t tell where sound often comes from, how close or far away and we certainly have little frame of reference when we feel like something has touched us. There are a lot of things we just can’t perceive properly. If you want to bring a bunch of blind people in and turn out the lights, that would probably make more sense because they, at least, are more used to working without sight. But we, as sighted people for the most part, are really not used to that and the studies all show that.
As a performing psychic entertainer, I’ve done séances in the dark too. It’s really easy to give suggestions to people that something is going on that not really happening. Number two, the in-the-dark thing doesn’t usually fit the pattern of most cases. Most people report apparitions, hauntings, those sorts of things during the daytime or with the lights on at night, before they’ve gone to sleep. It’s a very, very rare case where the ghost or some phenomena wakes someone up at 3:00 in the morning. You have to go with the patterns, otherwise you just simply just not investigating what’s reported.
It’s like going into a field and looking for deer at a time when the deer – plentiful at a different particular time of day — are absolutely not going to be there or where nobody has ever seen a deer. Then of course, you can conclude that there are no deer there because nothing is happening. Either that, or because someone sees a cat at that specific time, the conclusion is reached that the witnesses saw cats, not deer.
One thing that ghost hunters like to talk about as a possible cause for people who are experiencing a haunting is something called EMF hypersensitivity. However, there is no scientific evidence that supports this hypothesis. I was wondering what your opinion is on this topic?
[Note to Bobby: I guess I glossed over the actual question/statement here. What do you mean by “EMF Hypersensitivity”? The fact is that some people do indeed react to EM fields, and there IS scientific evidence that shows different kinds of effects, from the work of Persinger and others on inducing hallucinations and emotional reactions, to the few people reportedly “allergic” to electricity – though I’m not sure one would call some of this “hypersensitivity.” However, I assume the ghost hunter use of the term is different and that’s what you were referring to?] Bobby – No there is no evidence to support human effects to EMF’s. Persingers work hasnt been replicated.
Sadly, many ghost hunters don’t know why they are using EMF detectors to begin with. The reason why EMF was even brought in, and of course there were various environmental sensors of lower tech used for decades, was a conceptual result of Michael Persinger’s initial work in Canada at Laurentian University which indicated there was a relationship between the earth’s magnetic field, and possibly other magnetic fields, and certain types of psychic experiences. Certain lows and highs of the geomagnetic field on the local level seemed to be correlated to more telepathy or more clairvoyance or more ghostly experiences and reports. The reason several of us started using the EMF detectors was to see if there were other non-geomagnetic electromagnetic connections. Correlations, not cause and effect. And I think it’s really important to know that while these are not necessarily causal and may simply be happening at the same time, there may or may not be some relationship to them.
In the haunting cases, with this whole EMF sensitivity thing, people are sensitive to EMF. Hypersensitive? Perhaps not. There are people around the world who even are allergic to electromagnetic fields but they typically break out in hives, they don’t typically see ghosts. We do know, again, that certain fields hitting the brain in certain ways will cause people to see things or otherwise to experience things. That’s the work of Persinger and a few others.
However, what is more likely for someone to pursue is whether hauntings typically do have correlations to high magnetic fields with no other apparent cause for those fields. I think that last statement is really important because I have found more bad wiring in a home with an EMF detector than anything anomalous. It’s the anomalous we have to look for if we’re considering any sort of correlation – unless it can be established that any high EM field can cause enough of an effect for people to perceive a haunting or ghost (or something else), as well as what makes those folks different from so many others living in high EMF environments without the phenomena.
Secondly, does the content of the perceived haunting relate to history? That’s a really important factor because in the laboratory when they use electromagnetic fields, geomagnetic fields, to cause hallucinations, the hallucinations are not veridical ones. In other words, they don’t carry with them any historical (even recent) information. So there’s something else going on here, which, frankly, may have nothing to do with psychic phenomena at all. It may be about the brain and the environment. That’s something we’re trying to pursue as well.
For the ghost hunters, I just think that they use EMF because it’s easy, because the devices are cheap, because people see them on TV, or because the EMF meter producers often say that there is this connection or causal thing. People will give a lot more weight to those than actually looking at other correlations that could actually happen.
These next two questions go together so I will read both. First, as a parapsychologist and an avid promoter of education in parapsychology, you clearly believe that psychic phenomena does exist, however, skeptics and the majority of scientists seem to disagree. What are they missing? Second, I know that you are a big supporter of Dean Radin’s work and I know that Dean Radin feels that we are beyond the point of proving psychic phenomena. Do you believe this to be true, and if so, why?
Well, I can tell you that if you can just look at the supposed scientific reaction to Darryl Bem’s publication in the psychology journal earlier this year, and if you read the comments in the New York Times and other places, of so many supposed scientists and academics, it’s clear that what’s missing, and the reason why skeptics and scientists simply will not acknowledge the possibility of psi is because they won’t even look at the evidence. I say “supposed scientists and academics” because they are acting from an incredibly unscientific perspective. Frankly, it’s been very clear that the majority of the skeptical population does not read our journals or anybody else’s journals that have anything to do with this subject. Most academic journals refuse to even entertain, generally, any sort of studies that might consider psi, especially if they have a positive outcome. In fact, if the Bem precognition study had a negative outcome, most likely there would have been no hue and cry against it.
But, the fact that it had a significantly positive result caused people to start yelling at the journal, “how dare they even publish this research?” That kind of emotional reaction is akin to faith based arguments on creationism and evolution. It’s really the same kind of emotional knee-jerk situation and is far from a scientific reaction. We have enough evidence to indicate that there is definitely something you might call a communications anomaly. Whether you want to call it ESP or not, we do have a process of communication that is beyond the normal sensory processes. Even the label of what’s considered “sensory” (our senses) has been expanded and will likely continue to expand as researchers are finding more and more that we have more than just the five senses — and that’s from a biological perspective, too.
So there is this anomaly, this communications anomaly, and it really does happen. The evidence is there and available. People can look at it but they don’t want to. Instead, they tear it apart without reading it. That’s what typically has been happening in science with relation to psi, even while on the surface most academics will say that this doesn’t happen.
I can tell you from personal experience and from just about every one of my colleagues, Dean Radin included, about meeting really impressive scientists who were very interested in this but stated that if they were to even admit their interest, it would be academic suicide. So there’s a problem in academia, the idea that people are having these experiences and that no one is interested in studying them. How are you going to conclude that it is psychic or not when there is the idea that you can’t even study these things without causing yourself to have a problem with your career in academia? That’s about the most unscientific thing as possible – that millions of people have these experiences, yet one cannot study them for fear of losing reputation, funding, or the respect of one’s colleagues. The exception of course is a study set up to explain away the experiences. Seems to be funding for those kinds of studies.
When it comes to ghost hunting, in my opinion, it seems that there is a stalemate. What I mean, is that it seems that ghost hunters haven’t made any advancements and are still using recycled techniques that have never produced positive results. In your opinion, how can this be changed or do you even agree with that statement?
I think that we’re at an impasse. One of my colleagues actually has said that parapsychology may be at an impasse where the technology is not advanced enough to even do anything. We’re not even talking about just our research technology, we’re talking about all technology and our current scientific processes and models. He pointed out that recently there were archaeologists that uncovered some artifacts that had been re-buried for decades because at the time they were originally found, they didn’t have enough knowledge to even decide what they were. He concludes that it may be the same thing for us.
I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think there are several things that need to happen. The technology itself is kind of a dead end unless you can really bring in an enormous array of environmental sensors. Just using one or two things to try to determine what’s going on makes it very, very difficult. We really need funding for good, controlled studies of the environment in relation to people’s experiences. I think that that’s the key that needs to happen next.
That and data sharing. There is almost no data sharing going on with the ghost hunters, and with rare exception none of their data is shared with parapsychologists. They give a lot of lip service to wanting to share their data, and it seems some of them do talk to each other, but I see from the outside people arguing about cases and arguing from their positions more than they are actually interested in sharing their data.
And of course, they need to look at the history and literature of Parapsychology and Psychical Research to know what’s been done before, what models there are (and why the models do or don’t make sense given people’s experiences), how the research in the lab relates to field research and vice versa, and actually start understanding the methods of Science.
What I’ve seen is lots of people who “learn” from watching TV shows, or go to workshops by the para-celebrities from TV or workshops taught by people who themselves learned from TV or the para-celebs. And people who seem to think that using any electronic technology is “being scientific” – even some who group “demononlogy” under the “scientific” label. If they’re so serious about moving the field forward, then how about taking some time to understand what’s been done before, what’s been learned (and why so much is still up in the air) and so on. Hard to take people seriously who’d rather spend their money on going to a conference with reality TV stars rather than spending it on any real sources of information and education.
Quantum mechanics often comes up when discussing psi phenomena. Do you feel that there is sufficient evidence to believe that quantum mechanics explains aspects of psi? Is there any link supported by a consensus of physicists?
Unfortunately, a lot of people misuse quantum mechanics and quantum physics labels and concepts. There’s a lot in quantum physics that’s not proven; it’s theoretical or even hypothetical. You could say there is a lot of push within quantum physics and certainly a conceptual angle that relates to consciousness, and that there’s a place for consciousness in quantum physics and quantum mechanics. The biggest question is how the information can go from the quantum level, which is really, really tiny, to the macro level, to our level. There are researchers certainly looking at that. They’re looking at that for everything from how the sense of smell might relate to quantum mechanics, because there is a piece of the sense of smell that we don’t quite understand, to energy production. For example, how does photosynthesis actually work in plants – something some researchers believe may involve quantum entanglement — and how do we get energy out of it, create the same kind of process artificially.
So there’s a lot going on there.
I don’t think that you can prove it at this point in time because many processes of quantum mechanics itself are not completely proven, but I think quantum mechanics is leading the way in looking at the place of consciousness in physics, in the way we relate to the world. Also in looking at the whole observer effect issue, which is at the quantum level and not necessarily at the macro level. But it is a really important angle and thankfully the group of scientists who are most open to psi research are quantum physicists because they’re already looking into the consciousness question too.
Psychic detectives claim to aid police in solving murder and missing children cases but the FBI and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children claim that no psychic has ever given them information which has led to a case being solved. What do you feel is going on here?
There’s at least one psychic who has actually lectured at Quantico, and that’s verifiable you know. I have talked to police about working with psychics — maybe with the FBI that may be the case, maybe they don’t get involved with those kinds of cases. But I’ve talked to police and I have actually seen a letter from a judge for my late colleague, Annette Martin, who worked on a number of police cases and worked with homicide detectives, that she provided verifiable and useful information. When I worked my first job in Parapsychology at the American Society for Psychical Research, there were numerous occasions when personnel from NYPD, Boston PD and FBI agents came to consult with the late Alex Tanous, the research psychic at our lab.
But let me back up here. With solving a case, people think of a psychic going in and saying, “here’s who the culprit is,” and they solve the case. The problem with that is that the police and the FBI have already done research, they’ve got a lot of information – though it may not have yielded what they need to know — and the psychic may provide a piece of the puzzle that may in fact lead to the arrest of that individual or to the finding of that missing person. But does that mean that the case has been solved by the psychic?
You know, this is a team effort and Annette and other psychics I know who have done police-related work have always talked about that. The idea that they have solved the case like a TV detective — it just doesn’t work that way. Nor can they build the case to make sure that person stays in jail. They’re not always finding the evidence even when they’re finding the culprit or the missing person, but they’re pointing in the right direction. On occasion, they are finding the body, but that doesn’t necessarily solve the case.
Unfortunately, unlike these TV detectives, if you have outside consultants who are solving the cases, people start talking about, “why do we need the cops?” This is pretty much an issue of perception by the public of the police, the FBI, and so on. They need to solve the case, regardless of whether a psychic is involved or not. It needs to be a team effort at that point. I think that you can pretty much say that psychics typically don’t solve cases but they are involved in the solving of some cases.
Finally, can you please tell us about your parapsychology course that you offer online and how interested parties can sign up?
Sure, I actually offer two different things. Through Atlantic University, which is on the east coast in Virginia Beach, we offer a course called “Principles of Parapsychology.” It’s basically a parapsychology overview with some experiential content. It’s offered for graduate credit or for continuing education, or people can just take it for the hell of it if they want to, and that’s offered every semester. We offer it three times a year through Atlantic, and that is an online course. You can find information about the course and the university at www.atlanticuniv.edu. Also, we’re in the process of developing a consciousness studies program which will have other related courses down the road.
The courses I have been offering personally for the last five years are through HCH Institute which is a hypnotherapy institute in northern California. The courses are not online. There are distance courses as well as local courses but they’re a little more personal than online in that they are mp3 based with some direct contact with me. They are courses that give you a deep overview of different areas of parapsychology, they can be taken one at a time, you can just take a single course or you can take all seven of them. They’re fairly short courses. Besides the mp3 based lectures for distance learners, there are also get a lot of text materials and students get time on the phone with me, one on one. I actually make sure that the students talk to me about their learning process. I want to know whether they’ve actually gotten down the information or not. I do give them individual attention, which is a lot harder to do online. It is a lot easier to do on the phone. In addition, distance students can also attend the live classes taught at HCH in Lafayette, CA, via telephone (speakerphone in the room).
The easiest way to find out about the courses is by going through HCH Institute’s website. The link for the Parapsychological Studies Program is at www.hypnotherapytraining.com/parapsych.cfm — or they just Google “HCH Institute and parapsychology.”