Many people in the paranormal field may be shocked when I state that ghosts do not exist. They do not exist merely because science has yet to accept them as part of the scientific realm. While they are acknowledged as part of the human experience we have been unable to verify them as a “real” phenomenon. So what will it take to prove once and for all that they are real?
When one ponders the question of “what will the best evidence of ghosts be?” a few things quickly come to mind. We tend to think immediately of our experiences and everyday attempts to find the answer to “are ghosts real?” Would that evidence be an end-all be-all photograph of a familiar former living person? Might it be an EVP that sends a specific message from the other side? Or would it be something else?
To truly answer this question we would have to first weigh the potential for each type of possible pieces of evidence that scientists would be able to validate ghosts with. One obvious problem would be repeating some of these pieces of evidence enough to be able to convince scientists that this was not just something random or coincidental. Ghost investigators seem to feel strongly about photographs, video, and audio to be the sturdiest pieces of evidence despite the inability to repeat any of them under similar circumstances or under more controlled conditions.
There are many photographs of purported ghosts floating around the internet. Ghost photographs have been popular as long as the photograph medium has been around. The biggest problem with ghost or spirit photographs is manipulation. Ghost photographs were manipulated back in the 1800’s during the Spiritualism Era and the height of belief in the afterlife. There are many photographs from as far back as the late 1800’s that are still the subject of debate as to their authenticity (see the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall from 1936). As technology has changed from 35MM film to digital one would think it would become easier to reveal a fake photograph, unfortunately it has become much easier to create fakes than it is to determine one as being fake. There are many ways to determine a photo as being manipulated such as the appearance of blurry or tampered pixels, but really no way to determine if a photograph is “genuinely a ghost” as many claim. A photograph can only be determined as more than likely not manipulated, but this does not take into consideration pareidolia, reflections, or other visual or mechanical affects that can create curious visual phenomena.
Another major problem with visual medium is the high probability that ghosts are not tangible beings and would not be able to be photographed. Popular definition of ghosts by parapsychologists suggests that ghosts are manifestations of mental phenomena and are perceived as real by the living, but are not actually physically present. These “hallucinations” appear due to either extra sensory perception or through psychokinesis or a combination of senses that have not been validated by science to even exist. The other half of this also stems from psychokinesis in that it is possible that photographs can be mentally manipulated by psychokinesis and create various images from fogging to words and anything in-between.
So, what about audio? Electronic voice phenomena is one of the most popular aspects of paranormal investigation as well with clients who desire to “validate” their own personal experiences. To many these recordings of whispers is proof positive that ghosts truly exist and are capable of communicating after the death of the body. The big problem with EVP is that these voices are typically noises that are audible forms of pareidolia. Even with audible words there is some concern as to where or how these sounds are being recorded. If groups were to worry more about isolating the sounds as they were with what they are supposedly saying there might be a little more credibility toward EVP as being something legitimate. With any sound the goal should be determing where it is coming from; this act will help eliminate most of the false positive information. A single recorder would be severely limited in determining the source location of a sound and is highly suspect to noises created by handling, movement, distortion due to amplification, and other effects that relate the sound as different from what was heard through the ears. I have used an H2 Zoom for many years and as it helps determine a direction yet even it is unable to determine a source location. Multiple recorders would be needed to determine source beyond mere direction. If groups utilized multiple recorders in a single area they might realize that EVPs are not as common as many think and are not as reliable as many claim them to be.
So what else is there? What about the flashlight thing? The flashlight trick is when a flashlight is unscrewed to a certain point where the bulb shuts off. The flashlight is then used as a medium of sorts for a “ghost” to manipulate through questioning. I have seen this in action and admit it looks pretty convincing, but it boils down to real science. The big problem is that this flashlight trick is just that; a trick. When the flashlight is unscrewed and contact points severed the cooling and heating effects will rejoin and then sever the contact points at fairly predictable moments.
OK, so ghost boxes, Ovilus and other radio sweepers and random word generators must be real, right? Many groups swear that these devices give so much information about cases that they feel these pieces of equipment have already validated the existence of ghosts. Yet again, these are merely tricks. These devices usually come with the warning that they are for entertainment use only (or they should at least). Radio sweepers merely provide random words and random word generators are pre-programmed to provide words and phrases that relate to ghost hunting. Take one to a child’s birthday party if you don’t believe me. Regardless what one thinks about these devices there is no way to validate that ghosts are able to manipulate these devices to provide us with information about them.
So what’s left?
To properly answer this question we should probably start from the other side. What could be the worst way to validate a ghost? Other than the technological devices we have discussed I would say that a subjective experience would be the worst way to “validate” that ghosts exist. While a personal experience is usually very real there is no way to replicate or validate the personal experience despite the desperate hope of clients and investigators worldwide. Humans make very bad witnesses to events and our memories work against us remembering details that happen during events we are not prepared for. Despite this, groups all over the world go to homes and other locations where ghosts have been sighted and attempt to have their own personal experiences.
The best way to validate a ghost would be a combination of personal experience and some type of device that would measure the experience as well as the environmental factors in which it was created. A way for a device to capture exactly what we see (not just a recording like a camera, but through the eye and the brain interpretation) would benefit ghost researchers, but also brain researchers who study diseases such as epilepsy that cause hallucinations similar to ghosts (which would take away from validation). If said device could find the location in the brain where these experiences happen and we could determine how such a connection to the environment is made we could then possibly manipulate the environment and/or brain to create such an experience. Ghost researchers are always pointed toward the ghost and assume that validation will come from their side. Since we lack the understanding of how specific information comes from the environment from the death of a once living person we should focus on the living side of how they are able to obtain this information.
Until then, the best type of ghost validation would be through a personal experience. Wait, isn’t that the same as a subjective experience? Yes, but until we can solve some riddles of the brain (like where consciousness truly comes from and how ESP and PK work for starters) we are stuck in limbo with our personal experiences alone. While these experiences are typically one time deals many people do have recurring events happening to them. While many times there are logical explanations for the recurring part there are some that do have the ability to repeat these events.
If a method of repeatability were created where conditions were formed for favorable paranormal experiences we might have a chance for many different people to experience the same thing. This repeatability would be subject to heavy scrutiny and will have to be formed on a fine line of science and using open-minded techniques since it has been demonstrated that the more focus of scrutiny lowers the probability of paranormal phenomena. As I have stated on this blog before I have created the “E4” Method of client-based paranormal investigations. This method uses the focus of repeatable paranormal phenomena under controlled conditions for specific types of phenomena. This method uses a blend of spiritualism, psychology, parapsychology, scientific methodology, the Ghost Excavation method pioneered by John Sabol, as well as advanced interview techniques placed on a foundation of skeptical concerns.
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall examination
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall exposed
Electronic Voice Phenomena: Voices of the Dead?
Flashlight trick explained
The Ovilus - 21st Century Snake Oil
The "Ghost Box" Fraud (with comments by creator Frank Sumption)
The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony
The "E4" Method