Photo of me taken with photo of one of my influences, Harry Houdini.
After becoming exposed to the whole paranormal versus science debate, one of my greatest academic influences became Martin Gardner. He wrote a column for Scientific American for years that encouraged the public to engage in recreational math. In his voluminous writings of commentary Gardner covered many topics whereby he applied logic and his own acumen for lucid thinking. One particular portion of his written opinions involved that of him sharing his insights into pseudoscience and paranormal claims. In his book, “The Whys and Wherefores of a Philosophical Scrivener,” Gardner included several chapters on many of his opinion-themed stances. I have emulated him by choosing the title that I have for this blog entry.
My chosen title necessarily comes with a double meaning. Firstly, I mean the title to declare why I do not bear association with the term, “ghost hunter,” as it has come to be known in the global lexicon. I mean that I have no affiliation with any group or practice that engages in stakeout observations of purportedly haunted locations, and I do not arrive at any such locations with an abundance of electronic equipment and cameras. Secondly, I mean for the title to assert that just because I, personally, HAVE gone to haunted locations and completed observation runs myself, I am not to be considered a, “ghost hunter,” by really any definition. I will attempt to explain the differentiation quickly, while then moving on to give examples as to why I reject the term in any form of usage.
I am not a ghost hunter in the television sense, nor in the sense of those groups that have sprung up in homage to their TV inspired predecessors. Their investigation methods are flawed and they are most certainly not scientific. In contrast, just because I have tried to go to haunted locations myself and evaluate the environments, this practice should in no way imply that I am a ghost hunter. When I first came to the conviction that I needed to understand paranormal claims in light of valid science, I knew immediately that I needed to learn from magicians and scientists who have spoken about the subject matter, and that is exactly what I did. Instead of sitting back and being a scoffer, which is not objective practice in the slightest, I instead asked what I could do as an individual to go out into the field where the claims exist so I could look at them firsthand. Consequently, I am not necessarily, and by default, looking for ghosts. Instead, I am trying to find objective answers, whatever those answers might be. If those answers happen to fall at the feet of ghosts, then so be it, but if I go looking for ghosts in the first place then I have prejudiced my act of experiment already.
To be clear, I have always sought to keep a discussion over science and ghosts civil and friendly. More than once, I have written that I consider my rivalry with ghost hunters to be a friendly one, as long as the hunters involved are simply earnest-hearted truth seekers who are genuinely decent people. Where the rivalry quickly becomes unfriendly for me is either when ghost hunters take to television or media and expose their exploits as science or valid investigation while making a dollar, or when your local ghost hunting club espouses evidence gathering that is not objective and not honest (which is also misleading to a general public.)
When I first made the conscious decision to try and borrow basic investigation methods from skeptically minded magicians, I fully admit that the issue was all about evidence for me. I was only approaching the material from the vantage point of finding bonafide scientific answers to the enigma of ghosts. But, over time, I have matured, and I have come to realize that there is a human side to ghosts that I need to reverently respect. Therefore, even though I am highly skeptical that ghosts exist based on evidentiary measurement, I still make it my prerogative to maintain reverence for the discussion. I am sympathetic to those who believe in ghosts, and not only am I willing to hear their stories, I sincerely want to hear them. By hearing them I always gain new insight into the many dynamics at play in the framework of ghostly belief. There are times in the ghost trade when compassion may be the most needed application versus that of a cold and logical explaining away of a haunting. But, in case my words above seem to be a little more firm than they typically are, I have due reason. Again, my argument is not with good, decent, well-intentioned people who seek out evidence for ghostly phenomena. My argument is with anyone who would unethically fabricate or manipulate evidence, or do anything that could mislead an individual in their own belief system.
There are countless examples of where ghost hunting on television has revealed its true nature and folly. I have listed some of these examples in my very first blog entry on this forum and in my blog entry about ghosts and flying bricks. If you do not consider these ghost hunting shows that make it to a network airing as entertainment productions then you will never understand them in the most unbiased manner that is possible. These shows are expected to generate enough revenue to cover financial backing, they are edited to fit a very finite time frame, and they are obviously edited for effect. Part of my concern is that back when the show, “Ghost Hunters,” was in its heyday, I would occasionally read the forums devoted to discussion of the episodes. There were posters on these blogs who were actually expressing opinion that the show was scientific in nature. That is a problem when it comes to the welfare of the public, but unfortunately, a production company or a network is not going to issue a public disclaimer in order to discourage this kind of labeling (at least that I am aware of).
As one who does try and go out into the field when I can so as to watch ghost hunters implement their methods and use their equipment, I had another wake up call this past weekend. What I encountered was a scenario that could only reinforce my choosing the title for this written piece. I am, indeed, NOT a ghost hunter, as the ghost hunter’s practices are so vastly inconsistent with my own.
Last Saturday, when I first entered a haunted historical structure with a tour group to see evidence provided by ghost hunters, we were first introduced to footage on a television screen. The footage came from a, “3-D mapping device,” which on its heads up display showed a figure that was apparently turning in its grave. If you looked at the whole television screen, what was happening was the heads up display registered the moving figure, but the grave itself could be seen in the background. This piece of mapping equipment was pointed at the grave, but the grave in the normal camera’s view had nothing occurring or anyone present, while the display showed the agitated figure. The point being made was that the digital mapper registered a restless entity, whereas if someone was looking at the grave with the naked eye, nothing could be seen. Do you have this picture in mind? Can you create a mental image? And, oh, by the way, the figure on the screen moving looks like the stick figure you see used for computer generated forms. Ok, have the mental picture, yet?
Hopefully, you have the mental vision of what I call an electronic anecdote. A story is painted for you involving a pitiful apparition locked to his grave, and it is further made elaborate because you are given an electronic visual for added reference. But, let me give you a clearer picture of what is really happening here. Let’s think about this, and let’s ask the right questions.
*** I did ask a question about the equipment. I asked about its manufacturing. For those familiar with your ghost hunting gadgetry, there is a certain type of, “3-D digital mapper,” that has made it into the inventory of the ghost hunter’s duffel bag. This piece of equipment is not a special make by an electronics company. Instead, it is a Windows tablet mated to an X-Box Kinect system, with an intermediary program allowing the two to talk. Furthermore, allow me to quote from the following website: https://www.jameco.com/jameco/workshop/howitworks/xboxkinect.html
“The Kinect’s “brain” is really the secret. Stored in the system is enough intelligence to analyze what it sees and align that with stored collection of skeletal structures to interpret your movements. Once the brain has enough data on your body parts, it outputs this reference data into a simplified 3D avatar shape. Beyond gauging player movements, the Kinect must also judge the distances of different points on your body throughout the entire game. To do this it uses a host of sensors and analyzes all this data 30 times a second. ”
Some ghost hunters will emphatically tell you that this device registers objective and real-time movement of ghosts. But, the much more likely explanation is that the Kinect had already had a recording made of a human form, and this recording was being replayed from the software. At the same time, a normal video camera was pointed at the grave in order to corroborate that no one from the land of the living was lying on top of the grave. Simultaneously, the Windows tablet was showing the poor soul who was literally turning over in his grave. Objective evidence? I think not.
And, there is another very key thought experiment to conduct here. The Kinect is only going to be able to register a physical body! And, it is not going to operate outside the wavelength range above that of visible light, so how is it going to see through the dirt of a grave? I’m assuming maybe that the ghost that was supposed to be registered by the Kinect device was supposed to be lying on top of the grave. Even if the Kinect could register a form beneath a thick layer of dirt, then what it would be seeing would no longer be an apparition (ghost), but it would be a zombie, or maybe someone who was the victim of a sinister burial who needs help? In making a long story short, any form seen on the tablet connected to the Kinect has to be flesh and bone just like you and me, but not spectral! ***
Additionally, K-II meters were used that evening that I did not get to inspect, and I really didn’t need to. They were so highly sensitive that it was hard to buy into any believability that an actual interaction was taking place with a ghost through electronic communication. Target objects were also used in the form of glow sticks and an electronic toy. The glow sticks have a screw top like a flashlight, which if loose, could allow the lights to go out on their own instead of a ghost helping them. Or, some other mundane event could break the circuit in the flashlight, causing it to extinguish. And, the toy was supposed to be able to allow the ghost to count the number of glow sticks through its circuitry. But, understanding the electronics and programming of the toy bear does not make this feat impressive enough to fall under the category of ghostly facilitation.
And, even in stepping back from rigorous investigation standards, from a philosophical perspective I cannot readily assign ghosts to being a part of our reality, either. Coherence and correspondence theories are challenged greatly on the grounds of incorporating ghosts into reality if a scientific epistemology is woven into the philosophical formulation. To argue for ghosts from either of these perspectives is highly subjective and encounters a total breakdown soon thereafter.
I invite all individuals to make up their own minds concerning ghosts. As for me, and as I have stated before, it is my personal preference to hold the concept of ghosts to a strictly scientific standard. Since I write this blog from my own point of view, I do have to say that there are certain methodologies used by ghost hunters that leave me asking what the point is? Once again, I have asked myself why I have taken on the task of trying to speak to ghosts intelligently. Even though I go into every case of a haunting ready to energetically analyze and scrutinize, I am more often than not left to feel as if I am simply existing inside a great pageant that we call, “life,” in which I am supposed to play a bit part.
It should be duly noted that my part to play is NOT that of a ghost hunter.