In lieu of the current, cookie- cutter methods of modern paranormal investigation routine, I have devised a new approach. One that will, in my opinion, garner more results that the current procedures. My hope is that a number of investigators will employ my method and return their results to the Bent Spoon, to be compiled into a future feature. You may choose to give my template to one member of your team while the rest carry on as normal.
Say I am in my bedroom and I want to go to the kitchen. The most efficient path, being a straight line, is obstructed by a wall. Let’s also say that I am… inexperienced in traversing my home. I plot my kitchen- bound course and, of course, I am impeded by the wall. What is my next plan of action? Continuing on my path, I can by no means make any progress to the kitchen.
As absurd as this analogy is, there is a parallel to modern ghost hunting. The assortment of tools and techniques used by the majority of paranormal investigators is fully known to be found lacking, to say the least. So why not abandon the K2 meters and digital thermometers? Why continue talking to dictaphones and “going dark”? It’s time we give up the ghost, so to speak, and make a course adjustment in the field of paranormal investigation.
While many make the claim, I have yet to see a ghost hunting team employ the scientific method. But why, you might ask, would we use the scientific method when investigating phenomena outside the realm of science? Well, to those who would ask this, know that the term paranormal does not mean outside the realm of science, but maybe more precisely, seemingly outside the realm. You see, by claiming that it is, indeed, outside of science’s reach, you are making leap of judgement about a phenomenon that has no true characteristics that have been documented or established by the field at large.
The reader should also be aware that the term science does not represent a body of knowledge, but a method of pursuing truth. An endeavour that I would assume appeals to all ghost hunters.
So, where does it all begin then? How do we tackle these extraordinary claims using science? Simple, We employ a Null Hypothesis! A null hypothesis is a prediction made by the investigator that they try to disprove or nullify. So, for example, instead of beginning an investigation by deliberately seeking the paranormal explanation, instead propose that all the claims are the effect of natural causes. Then you simply create tests to either confirm or reject your proposal. k2 meters and digital voice recorders don’t come into play. And why should they? There is no empirical evidence to support their use and so, should be discarded.
The next step is creating and performing tests to disprove your prediction. This would entail creating events and circumstances that would produce the effect of the paranormal claim. If they are successful, you will have supported your hypothesis that the phenomena was indeed natural. Of course, we should keep in mind that unexplained does not mean unexplainable. In other words, if your tests fail, it is still unwise to jump to the paranormal conclusion, since you may not have all of the factors at your disposal. Whatever caused the phenomena in question took place in an uncontrolled environment, so there are bound to be lurking variables that you cannot possibly account for. The most important thing to know is that it’s OK to say “I don’t know”.
Finally, we come to the results and what to do with them. Instead of pouring over hours of audio and video, searching for anomalies, publish your collected data (consisting of the claims, your hypothesis, and your tests) to a blog or your team’s facebook page so that your peers and colleagues can review and repeat the tests you created and add valuable input to your investigation.
Hopefully I’ve made a case for progression in paranormal research. While I understand that it may be hard to reject the familiar form of “tradition” in ghost hunting, we should all make sure not to trade what is rational for ritual.
For the most part, ghost hunters have their hearts in the right place. Many truly care about local history, and want to help the people who are experiencing what they perceive to be paranormal phenomena. But there are several fallacies that most amateur investigation teams regularly employ that damages not only their own credibility, but also blurs the line between truth and fiction, harming their clients in the process.
One major fallacy that ghost hunters use is working backwards from a conclusion. While claiming to follow the scientific method, what these individuals and groups are actually doing is starting with a conclusion; in this case that ghosts are real, that they inhabit a particular location, etc. and then working backward to find evidence. This is improper and harmful because the amateur ghost hunter will try to find the data to match their conclusion instead of allowing the data to lead them to an answer. Misinterpretations, false positives, and illogical conclusions will often follow this style of investigative protocol. For instance, when a team attempts to debunk the sound of footsteps in an empty part of a house and fail, they assume it must be the sound of an invisible dead person wandering around, and further stroke their client’s fears by telling them so.
Another fallacy that ghost hunters tend to use, one quite similar to the last, is the logical fallacy of Arguing from Ignorance. This fallacy asserts that a position is true simply because it has not been proven false. For instance, a paranormal team may come home with a sound on their recorder, but that doesn’t mean it is a ghost. It just means it is an anomalous sound they don’t know the source of. The typical amateur ghost hunter will say that no one whispered during the time of the recording, nor were any noises at all made, therefore the sound they are hearing must be the voice of a dead person. But that is logically invalid. Just because you can’t explain something doesn’t mean that the explanation is therefore the least likely reason of all.
The third common fallacy ghost hunters employ is “going lights out.” Turning out the lights is just about the worst thing you can possibly do when trying to spot a ghost. It immediately puts you at a disadvantage. I actually once asked Kris Williams, former cast member of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, and now employed on Ghost Hunters International, why the team turned out the lights during investigations. She told me it was because they are looking for things that are “darker than dark.” But she also told someone else that sometimes ghosts have a fluorescent glow. So which is it? Whatever the truth is about ghosts, you would have a much better chance at collecting evidence looking for them with the lights on. If it is a dark figure you’re trying to find, you’ll see it under well it conditions, not the other way around. And if it glows, you may see it in the dark, but you’ll see more details in the light.
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