This article is certainly going to upset a few who read it. It represents my opinion regarding the current state of affairs with regard to the field of paranormal research today. It considers both witnesses and investigators positions. If the reader has any comments he is encouraged to respond. The responses will be added along with any additional comments and made a part of this article
As a long term investigator I am often asked what I have deduced from almost 40 years of studying what is considered to be paranormal. Though the full explanation remains elusive some general conclusions can be drawn based on numerous cases and reports investigated. This essay will take a look at some of these general observations. I should also point that for the sake of this discussion mundane explanations are not factored in. Misaligned doors, air currents, lighting factors, shadows, etc. are the actual explanations for most sightings. This is a very generalized summary, it does not represent any particular individual or group, rather only my impressions of what is currently considered the paranormal field and what is influencing it.
In order to make any conclusive observation one must first consider who is making the report. Most can divide people into two groups, those who have experienced something and those who have not. That is fine as far as it goes but several more factors must also be taken into consideration. Each of the two groups can be subdivided into other classes. We have those who are complete cynics, those who are total believers, and those who simply want answers. There are those like Fox Mulder of X-Files fame whose mantra is "I want to believe". And those who believe because they experienced something they can't explain and want no parts of anything more. Some are followers of TV Ghost Hunter shows and some laugh at the stupidity of those same shows. And with all witnesses we must consider background culture that may contribute to how a particular individual might deal with something that exhibits paranormal characteristics. Clearly all of these and more will affect how a witness perceives anything they don't immediately understand. And likewise it will influence the direction an investigator takes in resolving the case.
For the purpose of this essay I utilized both objective and subjective data. The reason was to obtain a cross section of sources. Objective data related to cases I have investigated were used to cover the witness side but I also wanted to include investigators and researchers as well since they too are a part of the paranormal field. For that the input is somewhat more subjective since I had make assumptions based on what these people have made available and did not have the opportunity in most cases to actually obtain it directly. I used numerous groups' websites as well as posts on internet forums and social media to make these assumptions. From the information I read there I was able to determine somewhat the direction each of these people took in their research. As an example, if a person made reference to psychic abilities or connections I assumed they believe in this power. Those who made no such claim were considered to not be so influenced. However admittedly this leaves considerable room for error. The mention of, or lack of mention of course does not conclusively state the level of belief. However it was assumed that the factors would likely deviate both ways to an equal degree and thereby result in a generally close estimate.
With that said we can begin looking at Who Reports The Paranormal?
About 30% of received reports are direct hoaxes. I include in this figure those cases which may have a basis in fact, but where substantial facts have been altered to make it appear more than it is, and done so intentionally. Hoaxes do not include cases which are based on bad or misidentified evidence, they are limited to those where intentional deception was practiced. These cases are excluded from any other category which follows. That leaves 70% of cases which are made up of individuals who are not out to simply deceive. We will deal with only those individuals from here on out. These cases represent the 100% paranormal case group considered below.
1. Wishful Thinking, or "I Want To Believe." About 30% fit this category. These are the witnesses who are convinced that spirits or ghosts are present and have chosen to disregard evidence to the contrary. Most who fit this category also would be considered Believers when we break down the groups of experiencers. I would add that in this group over 80% also give high credibility to mediums or psychics. They also report repeated activity, and in most cases have little regard for skeptics. Many in this group also claim contact with the spirit world or others who have passed.
2. Open minded, Simply wanting Answers. This category encompasses about 60% of the clients. They are open to a natural explanation provided the evidence of such is presented to them. They don't discount everything, but to varying degrees require proof of the explanation. Most cases here involve physical activity reports such as slamming doors, electrical disturbances, or other measurable events.
3. Cynics. The remaining 10% of witnesses discount all paranormal explanations. They will not accept any evidence they can't rationally explain. Many in this group have only read about reports but have never personally encountered anything they can't account for. Or at least admit they did!
There are many different types of incidents which cannot be immediately explained, and of course many which can. Some may be visual, others audible, still others simply based on an impression. And in some cases several indicators may be present at the same time. Just as with the witnesses, culture may play a part in an event as well. Most all of us, if observing a run down Victorian era house just "know" it must be haunted! Not to mention many of these have a history of someone's death in that very house. And of course, related to UFOs' there are stories of saucers and lights which have taken people. Those moving lights in the sky certainly aren't stars!
One additional factor is the direction most investigators take regarding the source of the phenomena. Most of those involved in Bigfoot approach their cases looking for a physical creature. Some, but far fewer, attribute what would be considered spiritual or multidimensional aspects to the field. With regards to UFOs most follow the alien / ET direction with a few believing the source is right here on earth. Some of those attribute them to time travel or government programs. And with ghosts / hauntings almost all believe in the traditional ghost theory of spirits of the dead. Demons also are mentioned in some cases. More seldom considered are alternative explanations such as energy, interdimensional visitors, or psychic influences on the observer. Finally, we can't completely dismiss the cynic who believes there is nothing to any of it. These predispositions to certain causes are going to influence what direction most investigators take when they research their cases as well as what the witness sees when he reports one.
A Look At The Evidence and What It Means
Most investigators deal with evidence submitted to them for analysis. Most even acquire their own from cases as they investigate. But the question arises, What does the evidence prove? Enough data has been processed that one would hope that a few conclusions might be made. In fact they have. The following table provides a few facts that have been derived from repeated analysis of evidence from many sources.
1. EM Fields. There is no evidence that anything related to spirits or ghosts in any way affects or alters an EM Field. If such entities are present they do not communicate using EM Fields or meters. There are studies however which indicate that EM Fields may cause hallucinations. Thus while it can be said that ghosts do not cause EM Fields, EM Fields may in fact cause "Ghosts."
2. Still Pictures. This is an area where much evidence is claimed. If one encounters such a picture, before jumping to calling it paranormal, consider the following:
- Orbs in pictures are particulate matter. That fits 99.99% of pictures.
- "Rods" are also matter, usually larger particles which are elongated by exposure time of the image.
- Mists and vapors are responsible for ghost-like images in photos. They are not spirits.
And the presence of a "Face" in such a mist is simply a case of pareidolia.
- "Shadowmen" are the result of something physically blocking light from the flash. This explanation also applies to the "Camera Strap" phenomena.
- The ghost in the window effect is a reflection of something in the glass. It may also be caused by impurities in the glass itself interacting and polarizing the light which is reflected from the glass.
- Camera anomalies from the operation of the camera itself account for dark spots or sometimes bright streaks across a picture. This includes, but is not limited to, effects of the rolling shutter, CCD latency, Auto-Focus issues, etc.
The above 6 items will account for over 95% of picture issues. If your picture fits into any of the above, it is Not Paranormal. If it is in the remaining 5% it still may not be paranormal, but it may warrant spending some time analyzing it further.
3. Audio Recording, EVP or AVP. When it comes to audio recordings, pareidolia is the major culprit here. EVP or AVP is extremely rare.
- 95% of alleged EVP are the result of pareidolia, or simply hearing something in the background noise. White noise or other sounds simply makes this worse.
- Recorder anomalies caused by the use of low quality electronically noisy recorders contribute to the paredolia effect.
- Digital cleaning of a recording will contribute to pareidolia since that act adds false background artifacts to the recording.
- Another contributor is poor shielding or external interference from outside sources. This accounts for almost 5% of EVP. Stray RF can get into the recorder and you wind up recording a radio program, not a spirit! The presence of a cell phone onsite can contribute to this problem.
Now, if you have been tallying up percentages for EVP you have deduced that I have almost 100% explained. And you would be right, almost every EVP is explainable as natural causes rather than EVP. As I stated earlier, true EVP or AVP is extremely rare!
4. Spirit /Ghost Boxes, Echovox, Shack Hacks, Frank's Box, Similar devices. These all work using a related principle; generate a series of pulses that match the cadence of human speech, add in a bit of noise either from a radio scan or an echo of your own recorded voice, then let pareidolia take over. Your mind will supply the "communication" as iit tries to make sense of the random unintelligible sounds you hear.
The term for these devices in general is "Pareidolia Boxes" because that is exactly how they work. Completely useless as an investigative tool, but can be fun at parties.
I have not mentioned several other areas of evidence such as UV / IR photography, thermal imaging, gravity disturbances, etc. That is because I have kept this essay to areas where sufficient research has been done using good quality methods and equipment to form a conclusion. In the case of much other areas of research one can find conflicting data which may be due to methods employed. As a result we currently lack the background to draw a definitive conclusion. It does not mean evidence obtained using those methods is valid, only that more study needs done. Once concluded additional findings may be added.
So What of the Paranormal?
Begin by taking a look back a couple hundred years. There have always been ghost stories and legends throughout history. Many may be simply tales told to frighten children, and some may have a basis in fact. But nearly all have no way to validate their origin. Even the most haunted places as we know them have little background to verify the ghosts that inhabit them. A good example is the Gettysburg Battlefield. To hear many today, ghosts abound in Gettysburg. But if one goes back 50 years and searches for evidence of a haunting you find very few reports. There are some that predate the battle just as can be found many places. And just a few which relate to the battle. But the number of reports of ghosts for Gettysburg is not much different than any similar town of that time period. However since the rise in the popularity of TV ghost hunters and the paranormal suddenly the entire battlefield is haunted, not to mention most of the buildings around town. Why would this be? Where were the ghosts from the late 1860s through the recent years? Where were they hiding?
If one looks online at the literally thousands of websites related to the paranormal one may get the impression the paranormal is quite common. And that would be wrong. In fact most events can be rationally explained if one simply takes the time and does a bit of observation. Often just considering the witness and what they say can lead to a rational conclusion. Once this is done very few events remain, and this follows the historical level of reports.
Finally, in no particular order, a look at some more subjective evidence.
About 50% of cases involve some emotional reaction on the part of the witness. In the majority of those preconceptions and conditioning play a major role in how the witness looks at his case. This is especially true when dealing with believers, less so with skeptics.
About 85% of believers also claim some religious affiliation. 60% of skeptics do as well. Only 50% of cynics claim any religious ties.
90% of witnesses also watch one or more para-TV shows. Thus the influence of TV on their case cannot be discounted.
So what might account for this phenomena? I would contend that we first must take a look at the witness. I am certainly not going to discount everything allegedly paranormal. But I do believe that the disposition of many witnesses has an influence on what they perceive to be paranormal. If one's culture has been influenced by family members who claim to have paranormal connections that will affect how they observe something out of the ordinary. If we need further evidence of this desire to be associated with the paranormal, just look at the amount of "evidence" posted online by many groups and investigators. Note the number of pictures of explainable things claimed to be paranormal. Materializing spirits that are simply water vapor or someone's breath. Other spirits and energy supposedly appearing as orbs on photos even though that phenomena can be recreated by anyone with a camera and a bit of dust. Audio recordings that are simply noise; no two listeners hear the same thing when the recording is played unless they are told first. And to validate how ingrained these paranormal claims are just try to convince one of these believers their evidence is not paranormal!
Then consider the popularity of para-TV. They promote the misuse of equipment which is a questionable practice at best. And when someone who has a predisposition toward the paranormal sees it on TV it has to be right. Or so they believe. They apply the same erroneous methods and get the same false results which simply reinforces their belief. And another unsupported case enters the files.
Often there are multiple witnesses. This is sometimes called proof of the paranormal. But each witness must be considered separately. Usually they have a similar outlook toward the event. So the question becomes did both have a similar expectation? This would indicate predisposition in both instances and therefore the expected outcome would be similar. Seldom do we get a skeptic and a believer giving the same recollection of the same event even when both experienced it.
One common explanation skeptics use is pareidolia, the action within the brain to bring order out of chaos. This action has been proven under laboratory conditions and it applies to the paranormal as well. You take a piece of evidence, unclear at best, and put it before a witness who is preconditioned to expect the paranormal. Often this evidence was obtained while misusing equipment so its quality is muddied as well. Is it any wonder the believer has no trouble spotting the ghosts?
---Most of what some call paranormal is not. It is simply a result of their imagination based on a desire to experience or a predisposition based on their beliefs. And most paranormal evidence available online is the result of a failure on the part of the investigator to consider all possibilities.---
I will admit I am painting with a broad brush here. I am not aiming this at any individual, the reader will have to examine himself to see how he fits into this general evaluation of the paranormal field.
While I will be the first to say there are things which take place that rise to a level they could be paranormal there are even more that are nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of a witness. The witness is the most crucial factor in determining which is which. I don't believe there is any more paranormal activity today than what took place years ago, and that was very minimal. As I stated at the outset, most of what is considered paranormal today is the result normal easily explained commonplace events. The believer, through his unwillingness to consider alternatives or his preconditioning, misidentifies many of these as paranormal. This same preconditioning allows imagination to take over and lead to paranormal conclusions whether warranted or not.
Also many today claim to have abilities to connect with the spirit world and they derive a source of income from that. As such they have a vested interest in keeping this belief alive and discounting any who call into question all who may disagree. To be clear there are a few who make these claims who do work with investigators and have a true desire to understand their abilities. But there are many more who simply refuse to put themselves up to any serious scrutiny.
While this may seem to be a negative evaluation of the paranormal field there are a few things that can turn this into a positive area for research. We can begin by getting some of the subjective belief out of the mix and become more objective in our research. We can demand of ourselves and the witnesses certain requirements when observing and investigating.
If the these suggestions are followed we may be able to sort the true paranormal from everything else. Then progress might be made toward finding the truth behind what has been considered paranormal over the centuries.