The Science of Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation IV: Science and Technology
"…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". –Sherlock Holmes “The Sign of Four” (and variations in several other books)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes was definitely ahead of his time when it came to science. His methods predated those used in real forensic science and his way of solving crimes was based on simple logic and observation. Ironically, this quote is typically used to qualify a paranormal group as "scientific" as well as to “verify” a photo, video, or personal event as “paranormal” since no definitive explanation was immediately found, however this search may not include all possibilities since it is limited to those present and may even be the intended result without searching for the reality. If this “evidence” is provided to the public and when an avenue is mentioned by a third party there is typically a defensive posture – so no logical explanation is usually accepted once the person has stamped “paranormal” on the purported evidence. Many paranormal teams use this quote as a basis for their scientific approach toward the paranormal despite not being able to realize all of the possibilities at hand (a logical fallacy) before coming to a conclusion (can we ever anyway?). Typing the term “scientific based paranormal team” into any search engine will create millions of results, but what constitutes a scientific based team?
For some teams the answer is simply the technology. These groups claim that since the technology they are using are scientific tools they are using science or are at least scientific-based. Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach once said you can teach a monkey how to use an EMF detector, but that doesn't make it a scientist. To other teams it is simply avoiding Ouija Boards, séances, and psychics during investigations, avoiding “feelings” and instead using “observations” and “readings” (all of which can be subjective or objective depending upon how you approach it and many of these teams simply use the same subjective ghost-hunt-in-the-dark approach. I say tomato, you say to-mah-to), and using methods of debunking rather than trying to “prove” a ghost exists. This last explanation is always the most interesting. How hard can it be to prove a ghost doesn’t exist? Then again, how does a ghost group prove a ghost exists in the first place since science still does not accept that ghosts actually exist?
Trying to find data that goes against one’s theory is a basic tenet of science, but is it enough to be able to call oneself a science-based team?
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." – Sherlock Holmes “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia”
The act of “hunting” ghosts itself is the first big red flag. A true scientist would never put oneself in the middle of an experiment as this creates a subjective environment and this would be frowned upon by fellow scientists. While there are many teams that do go about things skeptically most teams are already armed with the belief and hope that they will encounter something paranormal and this alone creates an unscientific foundation. An observation by a friend of mine was that if a group claims to be skeptical and looking to “disprove” first, why are they a ghost investigation group? Shouldn’t they be a skeptical organization? I have already written a blog entry on “The Skeptical Reality of Ghost Hunting” based on Benjamin Radford’s skeptical, yet accurate, view on how ghost hunting is full of flaws and science is barely used. So how do we fix these problems?
"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear." – Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia”
The honest answer is to throw out what doesn’t work, keep what does, and fill in the rest with a scientific based approach to doing things. So, what has to go? The biggest issue is the use of tools and technology. These tools are used to gather evidence of ghosts, but what about the people who experienced them and the environment in which they encountered it in? How can we validate with tools that are meant for other uses and gather data about something we have no scientific proof even exists? The technology use is further clouded by the use of tools that are simply created for entertainment use that are used as the foundation for communication and evidene (Ovilus, radio sweepers, ghost box, Frank's Box, etc.). The approach of looking for ghosts was for the most part abandoned by Psychical Research back in the early 1900s. People like Joseph Banks Rhine realized that the pursuit of ghosts only created more questions and the collection of case studies would only carry the field so far. They decided to look for the cause to the effect and began studying the living person’s connection to the environment and attempted to measure their ability to receive information or express control over the environment (ESP and PK). Granted, this move was also made to satisfy the scientific world which has since handcuffed Parapsychology since it is obvious that paranormal events exist outside known laws of science and needs to be approached a bit differently than standard scientific models (not by investigating like Scooby Doo). Many people view Parapsychologists as professionals who study ghosts and while this may be true it should be understood that a majority of Parapsychologists don’t study ghosts at all. Parapsychologists have realized it is next to impossible to validate what ghosts are through observational and case study methods alone. Should ghost hunters just quit?
The obvious answer is no, but we cannot continue to use the methods put into place by the television shows (along with their glorification through the internet) which have been molding the culture of ghost investigation since 2004. The television shows alone cannot be blamed for the direction of the field since it’s up to those who participate to actually put the culture into place and dictate the direction through practice. Pre-2004 this field was not very scientific to begin with as folklore held a high majority of belief systems in place, but now pseudoscience prevails and it seems that common sense and logic are lacking in the ranks. Do you honestly think Sherlock Holmes would stumble around in the dark by candle light to find evidence of what is going on behind paranormal claims? Actually, if Holmes existed in this day and age in books he would more than likely be a hardcore skeptic and not accept paranormal claims at all (Patrick Jane on "The Mentalist" television show would be a great example).
"…while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician." – Sherlock Holmes, “The Sign of Four”
The technology has always been the trusted sidekick, but now it seems to be the source of concentration for investigations. Science is not several Pelican cases full of tools, it’s not wearing matching black shirts with a fancy logo containing a catchy acronymic group name, it’s not about creating an environment that produces little in the way of control, a “Scooby-Doo” mentality to “catching ghosts in the act”, or using folkloric methods such as turning the lights off and cutting power or “hunting” during a full/new moon or during solar events. Despite many claims and the firm belief in many of these approaches nothing ghost investigators do has ever been proven to be more effective than simple observation of the client in their natural environment. This is the major root of the problem. Investigators want to be in the middle of the action and have their own experience especially since the client wants “validation” of their experiences. They rely on the pieces of technology to verify what they want to believe and become immersed in false positive data in an attempt to create their own fantasy world around the fears of those who need help. Basically, many groups just want to do what they see on television and misrepresent technology to suit their beliefs in the paranormal. Some groups grasp at any new piece of technology not for its scientific use, but its claim to be able to generate more “evidence” despite major flaws against it working as advertised. This might not be their intention and I’m sure many investigators have already navigated away from this blog before the end of this sentence. We have all seen this before, something new comes out and before any real testing or shakedown has occurred there is “evidence” to support the tool. As more “evidence” piles up the piece of technology is “validated” and everyone jumps on the blind bandwagon. Again, tools do not equal science! Science is a process, it’s how we use the tools and how we control the environment (a lockdown does not equal control), and how we observe the environment.
"It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated." – Sherlock Holmes “The Reigate Puzzle”
Pre-2004 ghost hunting and paranormal investigation were two separate approaches in the field of ghost research. Now they are blended together and the approach of ghost hunting has been adopted into the client-centered arena. Is it the problem of the television shows? No, again, it is the culture created by those in the field that has caused this. I honestly feel that groups do this since they just don’t have a clue how to do it any other way. I found my way early on as I came into this field through reading about Parapsychology. I was more or less a skeptic coming into this field and slowly morphed into a true believer before coming back to reality with an even-keeled approach. Many people see me as a skeptic, but this is only because this field lacks discipline and skepticism. Skepticism is a necessary tenet in a scientific discipline and if you cannot problem solve your own evidence you should not be problem solving for total strangers and suggest how they live in their home.
"Data! Data! Data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay." – Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”
I had my own way of doing things for years as far as investigation methods. I based my methods on what I knew about Parapsychology and basic science. I had opportunities at my various jobs to learn how to interview people and I applied this knowledge to my approach as well as learned as much as I could from other resources about other approaches. Over the years my group unconsciously drifted into the typical approach and I slowly realized I had lost control of the direction of the group. Last year I woke up and realized I had to make some changes, get back to how I used to do things, and make a better effort to create improved methods of investigating. There has been a lot of talk about how things are not done right, but very few people stand up and say how to do it. So, earlier this year I stood up and announced my revised “Client-centered paranormal research” method which I call the “E4 Method”.
"What one man can invent another can discover." – Sherlock Holmes “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”
I announced this approach at the First Forensic Ghost Excavation Congress Convention on June 24, 2012, in Brunswick, Maryland to a crowd of diverse backgrounds and experience. The method was well received by those who have been in the field for a long time as well as by many who were fairly new and hungry for a new direction. I felt this approach was even more justified when George P. Hansen, who worked at Parapsychology labs for almost a decade, pulled me aside after my presentation and told me it felt like old times and that I was truly on the right path. Is this the best method ever created? Probably not, but I have spent a lot of time reviewing past cases and attempting to create a method that was easy to reproduce by other groups, but had a better direction that subjective investigation methods. The “E4 Method” is based on Parapsychological methods, the Ghost Excavation method created by John Sabol, psychological aspects, interviewing skills, and a lot more. I am just putting the bricks created by others together to create this method. I still have many details to finish, but the foundation has been built.
The basis of the “E4 Method” is eliminate, establish, enlist, and engage. Eliminate the subjective paranormal investigation. This means put down the tools; stop putting yourself in the middle of the investigation and step back to observe the case instead of being the center of attention. Establish, this means focusing on specific reactions caused by specific events. Instead of asking for knocks, responses, looking for shadows or any of the other multitude of paranormal events one should replicate the events that happened with the client and set up the investigation around a specific type of paranormal event. Enlist the client; they are the reason you were called and the events are typically tied to them. Use their past experience to your advantage and help them cope by involving them in the process instead of being a bystander. Engage the environment, not ghosts. The goal with ghost investigations should not be to investigate the ghost, but to investigate the client and their connection to the environment. The ghost is just the byproduct of the connection, so why does it go ignored?
This has been a lot of work, but there is still far more work to be conducted.
To review my new method: "E4 Method" Site