This article is complex, because I decided to write about the issues that divide us, and that is science and the paranormal. Both topics are highly complex. What I am attempting to do is give a clearer view into what the field of paranormal investigating looks like now, how it began, and, maybe where it is going or where it should go. If my path is a bit twisted and full of turns, I apologize. There are few blog articles in my body of work here that will help: “Science vs Pseudoscience is one. Good luck, and please, please leave comments and questions. I will look forward to hearing from you.
I’ve been interested in Parapsychology since I was 13-years-old, when I had my first experience with a haunting at my grandparent’s farm in Maine. I have gone through various phases of study and practice over the years, from doing parapsychology studies, writing research papers for my college Psychology class, about a person with testable psychic abilities, to practicing Transcendental Meditation, which I no longer do, to becoming a practicing Christian, to becoming a paranormal investigator, to my now ambivalent position on the paranormal, while still a committed seeker of truth. It’s complicated.
Part I: Science and Pseudoscience.
When I began my voyage into paranormal investigating I was schooled on Hans Holzer books, family haunted housed, and TV’s new reality show, “Ghost Hunters”. In 2006 I joined my first investigative group. In the next seven years I would be in and out of three more groups before giving up on the group thing for good. But my interests had intensified and widened, so I read more, went to more conferences, met and spoke to more people working in the field, and began to write these series of articles.
Because I came to ghost hunting at the peak of it’s popularity as a hobby and interest of many, I was able to follow the different twists and turns the field has taken in the past ten years. Quite some time ago the whole concept of paranormal investigating took on a whole new persona, and split right in half; one side going one way and one, the other, opposite way; just about as opposite as you can get. It’s this rift I want to talk about. Many of you may disagree with me, mildly or strongly, or you may turn off my blog and never return. That’s ok, really.
When I began ghost hunting, I already had a lot of background, experience and study of Parapsychology under my belt. I considered majoying in the field in college, but stayed with art. I was a serious student of spiritual things and the psychology of people, on my own spiritual journey. Since I had my own personal experience with a haunted house and a ghost in my grandparent’s farmhouse in Maine when I was 13, no one had to convince me of the existence of ghosts. I also understood, being a budding academic, that research and the understanding of history and science were important things to pursue.
In 1971 I sat in on a presentation by Ed and Lorraine Warren at Southern Connecticut State University. I still remember their slides of ghosts caught on camera, and EVPs. It provided the avid curiosity for me to pursue more knowledge and experience in the paranormal.
I joined my first group in 2005. The guys in the group had a few years of experience and had a very well organized and well-equipped group, with a lot of technology and the terminology to go with it. We set ourselves up as professionally as possible, a lot like TAPS, never charged a fee, did most investigations in one or two nights, and provided the clients all of the evidence. We debunked as best as we could, without insulting or offending the clients, and did the best we could to find alternative explanations for unexplained events. It was a fun and exciting time for me. I experienced many things which I still cannot explain. But it felt very amateur to me, very quick, fast, superficial, not enough questions being asked, one-dimensional, almost “T.V.” media-like. We sometimes had two different investigations in one weekend. We did so many it almost became boring. There seemed to be no purpose, no goal, no meaning or direction, other than to get noticed. Why are we doing this? I once offered to record or write down the exact times we caught EVPs on every investigation. Then, a year later, do some study to see if there could be some correlation between what time of day it was and the occurance of EVPs. The answer I got was, “Ah…No, no thanks…why?”
That was my first and last attempt in that group with data collecting.
Then, there were the suble changes that started to come into the field, and found their way into the group, as in an increased reluctance to debunk. Now every noise was a real EVP. Every orb that showed up on a photograph was paranormal. I once had a group lead investigator insist that every single house is haunted. Guaranteed. We began to introduce not only more traditional occult objects into our bag of tools, like Dousing Rods and Ouija Boards, buy psychics and mediums, untested and unvetted. From both inside and outside of the group, these things were beginning to show up and make themselves known to us, whether we wanted them or not. Suddenly everyone had psychic abilities. And, one of my least favorite and most upsetting of religious rites were added: smudging.
From my point of view at the time, sitting in the dark attemption to call out or get in touch with the spirit side was being done correctly, perhaps misguided, but correct. Suddenly, all the addition of all this “stuff”; pendulums, dousing rods, psychics, orbs, smoke, holy water, witches, fairies, elementals, made for a strange bowl of superstitious soup and I wanted no part of it. I felt that it trivialized what we were doing. Since we all discussed how we wanted to use “science” as the bafor our investigations, believing a light orb was a floating, deceased spirit was, well, extremely pseudoscientific and weird.
Over time, as most of you know, more TV shows were added to the roster of paranormal investigators. However, they all started to get farther and farther away from science and closer and closer to a media-rama psychic-circus. I reviewed many of these new shows, which came and went with the speed and frequency of Tinkerbell, and I didn’t like or approve of most of them.
So, in 2010 I found myself without a group to work with, and without a single person in the paranormal realm to talk to about all this. Then I met my partner. He had studied the field and owned a roomful of books on the subject. And because he is a reporter, we got to go to a lot of conventions and I was invited to do some wonderful interviews with the respectable likes of Alexandra Holzer, Chris Fleming and Mark Nesbitt.
I also got to attend my first real conference on Parapsychogy at Gettysburg College in March of 2014. This was a paranormal conference like no other. The people were from Yorkshire, England, and, for the first time, they decided to hold their annual conference in the U.S. What better place than Gettysburg?
This was an academic conference, dealing with paranormal issues from a decidedly academic viewpoint. Topics presented were on haunting and ghosts, paranormal research and investigating, spiritual healing, physical medium-ship, EVPs and spirit communication, synesthesia, issues in parapsychology, science, etc. This conference was for people with an academic bent and was not for the weak of mind. For a long time I have been interested in getting really serious about paranormal research, so I felt ready for an intellectual challenge, and I was not disappointed. The latest in research, theory, and method were presented.
One example, the Extraordinary Project is an online story collection of the odd and improbable incidents that happen to us and affect our lives. These types of incidences are common across cultures, but no public forum exists for their discussion. Suzanne Clores has started a website to collect these incidents from people of all walks of life, everywhere.
Suzanne Clores hopes to gather 100,000 anecdotes to better understand the role of the extraordinary, or paranormal, in our lives. The conference was a gathering of academics, professors, authors, experts, scientists and amateur enthusiasts of all things paranormal. I have been to a few paranormal conferences in the past few years, but this was entirely different. These people weren’t kidding around. There was no talk of orb photos, ghost tours, or paranormal TV stars. Instead, they offered up experts from many fields to discuss, in very concise and deeply complex ways, how the extraordinary can be dealth with, discussed, studied, explained, experienced, shared, understood.
One presenter explained that our personal narratives of the unexplained fall into these following categories: logical, skeptical, mystical, narcissistic, and artistic. We all experience serendipity and synchronicity in our lives. We all need a venue to talk, share, explain. The Extraordinary Project gives people that venue.
Do we all have to fall into one of only two categories; the skeptic or the believer? Or is there a third option? I will call this third person the “critical thinker”…a person for whom truth is something to be sought, a goal yet to be reached but a worthy goal, nonetheless. This person seeks truth, evidence, but without bias, without a preconceived belief, but is open to whatever may happen, whatever may be proven or disproven…what I have always believed a true scientist is. I was amazed to hear her speak of the scientific community as “skeptic-bunkers”…those who do not have open minds, but, instead, close their minds to the truth and to open experimentation, unbiased study, very similar to the die-hard, closed-minded believer enthusiast, only their mirror-opposite, who is delighted to believe everything, no matter how crazy, with a stubborn naivete bordering on a belief in the Easter Bunny.
What we are all encouraged to do is be critical thinkers in the exploration of the anomalous experience.
Types of legitimate evidence to study and consider are: 1. Anecdotal, 2. Testimonial, 3, Intuition, 4.Personal Experience, 5. Hallucinations, 6. Symbolic Representations in Dreams, 7. Or some combination of some or all.
Most people are not delusional. They know reality from fantasy. So why do these paranormal experiences feel and look and smell and taste so very real? As real as my everyday, mundane, ordinary life? Maybe, just maybe because they are. Maybe. Let’s keep a critical mind, an open mind, think critically, try to explain, study, gather stories, information, data, data, evidence, and see what we find out.
The only think I heard at the conference that I disagreed with, was a remark by Dr. Lyke, that she felt that all of this study of the paranormal was not really important to our daily lives. We can live our lives without understanding or experiencing anything extraordinary. It really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. It’s just one fun thing to think about and study, then go home and wash the dishes, eat Sushi, and go to bed.
It doesn’t matter?! The mysteries of life, the spiritual paradoxes of existence, the ultimate questions of why we are here, don’t matter? My dear fellow critical thinkers…it is all that matters.
(I recommend reading the article on Science and Pseudoscience in this blog. It will clarify and explain the two differences in the strands of investigations. I credit some of my data to Professor Chris French from Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmith University, UK, Dr. James Ladyman, U.K, and Rupert Sheldrake, Biologist.)
Here is my breakdown of the definition of science vs pseudoscience. There has been a great deal of batting about of the term “science” regarding the paranormal over the years. When the TV show , “Ghost Hunters” first aired, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson claimed that they were using scientific techniques to investigate claims of the paranormal. As a paranormal investigator myself, I have been a member of a few groups who prided themselves in their claim of using a scientific approach to paranormal investigating; trying to debunk claims, gather and use collected data and evidence from video, camera film, voice recorders, temperature readings, EMF gauges, Rem-pods, motion detectors, Mel-meters, Flir thermal cameras, full spectrum cameras, Ghost Box, Ovilus, Frank’s Box, Gansfeld Effect, etc.
Is this really science? Are the number of electronic gadgets in your arsenal signs that you are a scientist? You would think so by the ever elongating list of gadgets used to investigate. On the paranormal TV shows, the claim of using “science” to investigate claims of the paranormal is the norm. It’s hard to know what they mean. My sense is that they mean that they are using electronic gadgets devices, and gathering data, trying to be objective and debunk, and drawing conclusions from their data. Is this science or is it something else?
The first and most difficult thing to do in resolving this debate, if it is ever to be resolved, is to define the terms. What is science, exactly, and how can you tell if something is a pseudoscience or a real science?
According to scientists, there is no strict definition of science. However, there are benchmarks of good science, even though there is no easy, hard and fast definition.
Science can be best described as having most, if not all of the following:
Replicate-ability, the ability to replicate data
Use of controlled conditions
Connections with other branches of science
The building of an Hypothesis is usually involved.
Sir Frances Bacon defined science as the ability to make observations from an hypothesis and to be able to prove or disprove the hypothesis. However, the very nature of science seems to be that there are no certainties. Science is, in it’s very nature, not an “it” but a method, a way of studying, thinking, proving, and hypothesizing about things.
In the scientific community, scientists are encouraged to come together to debate, experiment, and prove. Science encourages challenge, and is unified in it’s common methods. Science provides the venues for such coming together to debate. We, the general public, put our trust in the scientific community and it’s methods.
A simple definition of pseudoscience is claims and methods that are falsely presented as science. It’s a difference of degree rather than kind. Science and pseudoscience can be thought of as open concepts which possess intrinsically fuzzy boundaries and an indefinitely extendable list of indicators.
Like pornography, you know it when you see it. And as in night vs day, we know for sure when it is night and when it is day, but there is a fuzzy boundary between the two. That does not mean we cannot recognize the facts about night vs day.
Here is a laundry list of things to look for when attempting to determine if something (parapsychology or paranormal study) is pseudoscience. It or they do not have to own all of these attributes, but will have many of these marks. Even one of these calls into question the science as actual science.
The Marks of Pseudoscience
1. Anachronistic Thinking. The Tendency to return to outmoded theories that have already been shown to be unworkable.
2. Looking for mysteries. The assumption that if conventional theorists cannot supply completely watertight explanations for every single case, then they should admit that the pseudoscience claim is valid.
3. Reluctance to allow critical investigation. They don’t want their theories tested.
4. Appeal to myths. The tendency to assume that ancient myths are literally true.
5. The grab-bag approach to evidence. The attitude that sheer quantity of evidence makes up for any deficiency in the quality of individual pieces of evidence.
6. Irrefutable Hypothesis. Such as astrology, Marxism, or Psychoanalysis as examples. You can’t or, better put, you are not allowed to , argue with actual evidence. Therefore, their hypothesis is not allowed to be challenged with any argument.
7. Refusal to revise in light of criticism. The tendency to argue that pseudoscientific beliefs are better than conventional scientific beliefs, because conventional science is constantly rejecting or refining its theories.
8. Use of impressive sounding jargon whose primary purpose is to lend claims a façade of scientific respectability. One of the scientists who’s lecture I watched, James Ladyman, a Philosopher of Science and author, called this “Bullshit” with a capital B. According to Dr. Ladyman, this behaviour is common in the scientific community , as well as every other walk of life, especially politics. It is the ability some people have to talk and talk and talk and say nothing, but sound very impressive while saying it. The use of jargon makes it all sound so scientific and legitimate. Nonetheless, it’s all Bullshit, Lots and lots of it.
What do paranormal investigators and parapsychologists do right?
Replicate-ability, the ability to replicate data. The paranormal community allows for this, especially when referring to parapsychology, where telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, remote viewing, etc, can be tested in a lab under controlled conditions, as many times as needed, to as many subjects as needed.
In paranormal investigations of hauntings, it’s not quite as easy to replicate conditions, but certainly not impossible, and is often done. If the team goes to the same location many times over a span of time, then conditions may be set up for replication of data. I was once a member of a team that had a two week time span of access to a haunted location. We were able to set up video and let it run, non-stop, for two weeks. It was extremely valuable, and got us some very interesting and unexplainable results. It also resulted in the team being able to really study the data and thoroughly debunk.
I am always disturbed and irritated by teams who go into locations for eight hours or less, set up, tare down, leave, all in the space of one short evening, then declare a site to be haunted or not haunted. You cannot learn anything in one evening. It’s absurd. This behaviour is not replicate-able. It’s not science. So, if paranormal investigating wants to move into the realm of replicate-able science, it needs to act more like real, professional investigators, like crime scene investigators, meticulous in collecting data, unbiased, professional, thorough, looking for any and all clues, collecting any and all data.
Parapsychology has a body of core knowledge. Much of it is connected to Psychology. But there has been study and experiments going on for decades in this field. Paranormal Investigating also has a core knowledge body, but it is not centralized, and not shared with other investigators and certainly not shared with the scientific community as a whole. I think it comes from a fear that the scientific community will disregard them, or even mock them. In order to gain respect, you have to be willing to take risks and share your data with others. If it is challenged, or discredited, the more the better for the field itself. Scientists do this with each other all the time. It is how a science grows and truth comes out. It’s worth the risk.
Parapsychology uses core procedures that have been developed in psychology and science for a long time. This is why there is a doctorate in Parapsychology that can be earned at universities in the UK.
There is recognition in the field and outside of it that this is a worthy and legitimate science. It also has a connection to other fields of science.
Paranormal investigating has no core procedures. It’s everyone for himself. The range of procedures runs the gamut, from the very scientific, data collecting, replicate-able, over time, to using occult ideas and objects, using ritual and procedure that has been disproved eons ago by science, that taps into belief systems that are of religious origins, or based upon superstition or the occult. I have heard the excuses over and over again.
“No one knows for sure, so why not try it? No one can tell me what to do or how to do it. I can try anything and it has to be accepted. It’s my own private set of rules. I don’t have to answer to anyone, especially the materialistic, atheistic, scientific community. They won’t listen anyway.” And on it goes. It’s really a list of excuses for not being consistent or scientific.
This is why so many groups refuse any sort of certification in the field. They refuse to acknowledge expertise, or a body of people who can claim to know anything, or be an expert in this field at all. Read my article on certification. It’s absurd to conclude that this field cannot certify expertise, or has a body of core knowledge, core procedures, replicate-ability, or a community which can work together, sharing data and evidence, ideas and knowledge. It’s quite sad. Until the community begins to allow at least the idea of expertise and certification, it will never grow, evolve, or be taken seriously.
Use of controlled conditions
Parapsychology has controlled conditions, the same that are used in psychology and science. They are not as orthodox as other sciences but they are in place. Paranormal investigating, for the most part, sees itself as having very little control over conditions of an investigation. There are some basics that are usually observed, sure as controlling access to the location, sweeping for high EMF, documenting the client’s testimony of experiences, and sometimes doing an extensive psychological profile on the witnesses, as well as extensive research into the history of the location and the people.
Connections with other branches of science.
This is self-inflicted. The paranormal community flatly refuses to share data, evidence, locations, or results. It keeps it’s data close and secret, lest any other group steal it’s evidence and claim it for themselves. It’s a field filled with jealousy. Everyone whats their own TV show, fame, fortune. There is back stabbing galore, just read facebook and websites. What is sad is that, if we come together, share data, work together, put aside petty jealousy, faking evidence, forging data, and petty ambitions, we might get somewhere with the scientists. They do it. They have their own problems, but, for the most part, they get around it, and find ways to come together. They have academic conferences, lectures, hold classes, meet, pubish journals, talk to each other and find ways to work together.
Science and the paranormal are in now way mutually exclusive. A lot of what parapsychologists do is very scientific. A lot of what good paranormal investigators do is also good science. Science itself has opened up onto a vast intellectual undertaking in quantum mechanics realm, which are beginning to make the paranormal not longer so very weird or beyond the possible as we once thought. We have to decide which we want to be, a science or a pseudoscience. Remember, science is not an it, it’s a method of seeking truth. I think it is worth it to seek out the scientific method and use it to study data, collect evidence, theorize and hypothesize, discuss, share, and experiment.
Ghost Hunting vs Paranormal Investigation / Research / Science / Parapsychology
The Rift has widened between the Hobbyist Ghost Hunter or Paranormal Investigator on weekends and the Paranormal Investigator who used science and parapsychological theory. Many years ago a dear friend of mine who is a very spiritual woman, gifted and sensitive, had a dream in which two young men of faith who supported each other in their faith began to drift apart. Her dream showed a widening rift in a mountain, miles wide, and with no way to cross the rift and connect with each other again, or cross from one side to the other. They were forever lost to each other. Over the decades, these two men only grew farther apart. Now it is impossible. One is gone.
That is what the rift is like between ghost hunting and paranormal investigating as a science. I will briefly describe both because I have been both places.
Ghost hunting is fun and about fun. You may use technology, or not, you may use a psychic, or not. Other occult devices may be used, such as a Ouija Board, dousing rods, pendulums, smudging, or other devices such as K-2 meters, Mel-meters, ghost boxes, are popular. Most electrical devices such as K-2 meters were originally used for electrical purposes by people who measure with such devices, like the K-2, which detects electrical magnetic fields. There are a few devices that have been invented strictly just for ghost hunting (the ghost box by Chris Fleming). Cameras record images. Voice recorders may capture EVPs. I’ve been on enough investigations to certify that every person who uses these devices uses them in a different way , or the wrong way. Also, false conclusions can be drawn by a spike in a K-2 meter or the white noise of a ghost box. These devices have their own legitimake uses, if used, recorded, replicated, handled and repeated correctly. But most are not, or rarely.
I have seen a group of five people see five different things in a photograph. I have heard five people hear five different thing said in a recording.
Psychics are used in investigations but are not used in any way that is useful or verifiable. First, they must be vetted, have recommendations, tests done, etc. Then, their “reading” must be done without any foreknowledge, none! No cheating. Most psychics cheat, I’ve witnessed it so often it’s disgusting.
There is usually no training or pre-knowledge required of an investigator before he or she is thrown out into the field. None. How good can they be? No good at all. They are there for their own enjoyment, that’s it.
What do they do now? About two years ago I noticed a drastic decrease in the number of ghost hunting groups. And the ones who were still around had changed their focus from doing private investigations to doing ghost tours or hosting paranormal events, group trips, experiences at a famous location, and all for a price. There is a lot of money to be made in tours and events. And it’s easy. No evidence to review, no locations to deal with, no clients to serve. I have seen everything from very traditional historic walking tours, to ghost walks with K-2 meters, showing people how to be “real ghost hunters” by taking pictures of orbs and making their K-2 light up. All the way to high-priced weekend events at fancy haunted mansions or restaurants with dinner with a paranormal celebrity, a tour, a lecture, more food, even a reading by a famous medium. Then there are still the conferences, but they have thinned out considerably, gotten more expensive, and just aren’t the big deal they used to be. This is the ghost hunting industry. An industry that now offers house cleansing for a fee, pub crawls ghost tours, and more. Also, the occult has flourished during this time of ghost tours. Mediums, witches, and psychics have hung out their shingles up and down main streets.
Are there any legitimate groups still investigating? Some. But you will notice that they are very serious about what they do. Most now insist that they are given access to the location for an extended period of time, to collect scientific data over time. They are acting and sounding like yes, scientists, not pseudoscientists.
So, to make sure I am very, very clear about what I am saying, I will sum it up here. There is a widening RIFT in the field of paranormal investigating. On one side of the rift, we have the ghost tours, guest events, celebrity tv shows, and a kind of shortened ghost hunt with a few instruments and a few hours in a supposed haunted location, lead by a team or head investigator, and usually for a price. There are a few legitimate groups doing private investigations with the use of valid science and professional method, but they are now very rare. Very few groups do private investigations at all anymore. They are a money making business.
On the other side of the RIFT, is the scientific community of parapsychologists, doctors, and authorities with masters or doctorates who are true academics, with specialties in their chosen fields, doing fascinating work, writing books, running conventions and conferences all over the globe. The field is still one that is very important and interesting to science. There are also individuals and groups who follow proper procedure, scientific method, and proper investigative method in which to study the paranormal. They are still around, just hard to find. Often valid groups are lead by former police investigators or those with military backgrounds, who have a deep and experiential knowledge of procedure, gathering evidence, human nature, scene of crime procedures, etc. Science is finding itself more and more dragged into the paranormal by their own discoveries. A lot has happened lately with quantum mechanics and particle science that would make even Albert Einstein’s head spin. Recently, they discovered that the soul probably has been proven to exist as a real thing.
I know that.
Ok, what now?
I’m guessing, but here is my hope. My hope is that people who are truly interested in the paranormal, will stop watching TV reality shows, start reading all you can find on paranormal science. Read case studies. Learn and study. Get with other people who are also determined to follow a scientific approach to investigating. Have training sessions run by highly experienced people in the field. I’ll teach a class. Just ask. (I’m also a trained educator, 25 years.)
I still advocate certification for paranormal investigators. I still believe that is important. Know your terms, know your equipment, know your procedures, know how to debunk. Record, write down, keep a journal, share, share, share with a team, Develop a questionnaire for clients. We can restore respectability to paranormal investigating again, if we really try. And if we are willing to start over…I’m afraid…all over again.