Whether it is liked or not, “status,” is unfortunately something that exists in our world. It can play a part in what may actually get done over what may more imperatively need to be done. This week, and in the few days preceding it, I was reminded again of my standing when it comes to investigation of the, “paranormal.” The purpose of penning this blog entry is not to be taken as a complaint from me for not having access to some haunted sites where maybe some answers could potentially be found. Instead, the purpose is to remind access givers and the media to be vigilant in the oversight of the access and how any investigations may be handled.
I have no one but myself to blame for lagging behind in my own personal status. The biggest restrictor over the years has been funding. Financials have been the biggest impedance to my furthering my academic studies and improving my investigative skillsets. There are no excuses. Graduate students find ways on a daily basis through hard work and sacrifice to make sure they complete their advanced degrees. And, when I was in my twenties, I did toy with the idea of following the Musk style model by starting my own enterprise so I could later self-fund those endeavors that I was actually most interested in. So, no, you will hear no complaints from me for not having progressed to where I should be in this stage of the game when discussing investigational protocol. Any blame due is that of my own, entirely.
But, for those who do gain access to notoriously haunted locations, there needs to be a clear understanding of how they go about obtaining their data, what equipment they use and why, observing conditions, controls, and even how much time they spend at a location. There are valuable lessons to be learned from in the historical past of paranormal investigation. I am simply sounding the bell again, a bell that has already been so loudly and wisely rung by magicians and investigators before. I will never get to spend the amount of time that I would like at some haunted locations so as to have enough time to arrive at some more explanatory conclusions. And, there are places that ghost hunters or ghost hunting themed television productions may get to go that I will not have the opportunity to visit. All the same, it is important to be aware of how evidence is gathered and how it is presented back to the public. Ghost hunters are often assumed to be reliable subject experts, but their investigational methods should be explained and understood by all involved. A property owner should have the chance to see if the investigative methods sound to be coherent. And, even a parapsychologist from a university may not always get things right when we are talking about such highly subjective subject matter where environmental stimuli can be interpreted in different ways.
Although it doesn’t come from ghost hunting, an example I choose to site comes from the parapsychological community. Some may assume that because of my strongly skeptical comments about ghosts over the years that I am unable to communicate cordially with, or even admire, truth seekers of a different frame of mind on the topic. But, such assumptions are not so.
Dr. John Beloff was a renowned parapsychologist over in the United Kingdom. I always admired him because I felt like he was a man of integrity trying his best to get at answers. Even though he didn’t fall in the camp of skeptics, I admired him all the same. We had some of the same values, and we have simply come at the topic of the paranormal from differing perspectives.
Dr. Beloff held an appointment with the Koestler Foundation and he was the president of the Parapsychological Association during two separate stints. He is well published in parapsychological literature, and it was his example back in 1982 that helps me make my sought after point here. His decision making after the announcement of the Alpha Project was made also illuminates why I admired Dr. Beloff.
The Alpha Project, spearheaded by James Randi, showed how someone skilled in the conjuring arts could fool intelligent researchers. Two young gentlemen with such skills, unbeknownst to the researchers, submitted themselves for testing at the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research in St. Louis. It was after the revelation that the young test subjects were recruits used to make a point by fooling those conducting the experiments that Dr. Beloff came to see the wisdom in having trained magicians present for certain tests.
Of course, these tests were geared toward the evaluation of psychokinesis and not ghosts. But, the point I am making is that Dr. Beloff saw a weakness in the protocols of his intelligent and well-meaning compatriots who were conducting tests at an institution separate from his own. He conceded that even academic researchers can be fooled in lab settings. The same principles apply for ghost hunters and parapsychologists who may venture out into the field to take a look at a haunted property.
It goes without saying that networks will continue to sponsor ghost hunting aligned shows. The publicity/revenue generation cycle will continue to ensure this fact, thereby continuing access for networks to, at least, many reportedly haunted sites. For any parapsychologists who may go and evaluate haunted locations, perhaps their academic credentials will help them get through many of the doors they may seek to enter. There are always exceptions to the rule.
The understanding I live with is that I will always be an outsider. I am not a ghost hunter, so I cannot produce a business card showing that I am part of a group that investigates haunted locations. I am not, nor will I ever be, a celebrity for a cable network television series. Magicians will consider me to be far too limited in my conjuring abilities and investigational skill sets to be able to add much to the discussion. And, last of all, I am certainly not a parapsychologist.
I am, however, a thinking hypothesist, and I have been following the ghost game for some time. Depending on what specific scenarios are described with a property will determine how I go about putting together a protocol for that individual haunted locale. But, there is also a core protocol that is always at play, and getting the fundamentals right is every bit as important as testing for more descript phenomena that are described with a property. Whatever the case, I always encourage property owners, property caretakers, and the media to communicate with whomever is investigating their locality so they can stay apprised of what is actually going on. If it cannot be me who is there, then I encourage investigators and property farers alike to make the most out of that situation which can be rife with subjectivity if it is not kept under control.
The personal reminders I have had in recent weeks have been multi-dimensional in nature. They have reminded me that having to say goodbye to someone I never wanted to say goodbye to in the first place, much less for a second time, is not easy. They have prodded me to accept the fact that skills must continually be developed, and sometimes the comfort zone must be done away with, yet again. And, they have, as mentioned above, brought to self-remembrance my own status in life. But, I have poured my soul into understanding why there is a, “paranormal,” discussion at all when considered against the backdrop of sound science. I’m not ready to relegate myself to complete irrelevance in the discourse over ghosts and science, just yet. This fight, is not one I prefer to relinquish. Perhaps I will in due time, but not now.
There is much more work to be done.