Friday, December 30, 2011

Ghosts in the Machine

The other night I was watching a rerun of a certain paranormal TV show and they claimed to capture an EVP that supposedly was the moan of a murdered woman . Well, what I heard was a cat yowl. As a cat person, I know sounds cats make and I am certain it was a cat, not a ghost. This took place in an abandoned building with broken windows and all sorts of other possible access points for cats (and other noisy critters). This is not the first time I heard something entirely different than what the show presented. One "EVP" (which was also audible to them at the time) was of an old woman screaming. I heard a fox. Being the location is near a vast wilderness area teeming with foxes, and I've actually seen foxes near the location, I'm confident that I'm right. On yet another episode, they heard and recorded, "children's" voices. But I instead heard the yipping of coyotes, a sound I have become quite familiar with from living in a rural area. That episode of their show was also filmed in a rural area and known coyote habitat.

There was a time when kids went camping - real camping - in the great outdoors. They would learn to identify sounds from the native wildlife. People still camp, but increasingly, it's luxury camping: inside an RV or common camp ground and "plugged in" to TV, radios, iPods, handheld electronic games, smart phones, etc. The natural sounds of the night are drowned out.
The same can be said in our own habitats. We are so used to having the TV or radio on, or having iTunes running on our computer as we surf the web. We are surrounded by mechanical noise: the hum of the refrigerator, the hot water heater, the furnace, etc. Outside is the drone of traffic or nearby industry. How do we know what the true sounds of our dwelling may be if we can't hear them? Wind can sound like whispers. Rain hitting the roof can sound like footsteps. A loose rain gutter can sound like knocking. Acoustics can be tricky as vents and pipes carry sounds to other rooms.

One time, several years ago, I was staying at my parents' house. They had bought a new refrigerator since my last visit. That night, while in bed, was awakened by a frightening sound: someone (thing) was breathing above me. It scared me half to death! Turned out it was the new fridge's icemaker. The refrigerator is located in the kitchen - under a register. My bed was also located under a register and the sound carried to right above me.

The very first day I moved into our current home, I heard someone say "Hello" right behind me, in the hall. I figured my husband came home early and looked out the front door. Nope. I looked around for someone in the front or back yard. No one there. Because I was so busy, I really didn't have time to stress over it. But a few weeks later, we had a repairman working on the furnace. I was working in the hallway removing old wallpaper. He came to me, looking a bit shaken, and asked if my husband came home. He hadn't, so I asked why. He said he heard someone talking right behind him. Because he looked genuinely scared, (and I needed the new furnace to be installed) I said it must have been the radio. A month or so later, we had an alarm system installed and once again, one of the workers asked if anyone else was home because he heard someone talking right behind him. So I was beginning to wonder if we had a spectoral housemate. Late one night I was awakened to a dog yipping. It sounded like it was in the house, but didn't sound like my dog. I went downstairs to find my dog sleeping soundly. I went back to bed and again, heard a dog's high pitched bark. So I went back downstairs, where my dog was still asleep. Then I clearly heard my neighbor's voice telling the dog to shush. It turns out we have a culvert in front of the house, and pipes leading to to water main. It acts just like a speaking tube, and if my neighbors are in the right place, their voices carry right into our basement. Because the basement is a big cement rectangle, it acts like a resonance box. Had I not persisted in finding the cause, I could have easily believed my house is haunted.

Today, many people aren't aware of how household appliances function. At one time, more schools offered basic shop classes and people didn't have to rely on calling in plumbers and electricians for minor repairs because they could do it themselves. As for me, I have no clue how to fix most of the technology I use on a daily basis. If this computer goes kaput, I will have to call a tech. If my clothes dryer dies, I will have to call in a repair man. My auto mechanic skills are limited to adding windshield wiper fluid and checking the oil level. (Or more accurately, asking my husband do it, ha ha). My point is, when odd things happen in our tech-saturated environment, it's ridiculous to conclude it they paranormal without taking time to analyze and better understand our surroundings.

Technology is all around us, firmly entrenched in our daily lives. We tend to forget that it is prone to glitches. Lights flickering most likely are due to a wiring issue. It's a good idea to call an electrician, instead of an exorcist. TVs and radios have alarms or preprogrammed settings that sometime inadvertently get set and cause the device to seem like it has mind of it's own when it turns on or off by itself. Older TV remotes (like those still found in some hotels) operate on radio frequencies, so if a TV turns on or off in your hotel room, it doesn't necessarily mean it's haunted. People don't take the time to understand how their cameras work and what causes common artifacts like lens flares, orbs, and light streaks. Pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days. They also come with quirks. Sometimes they call or text programmed contacts "by themselves". While this is a common glitch (it happened with one of my first cell phones) which can occur for different reasons, there are people who still jump to the conclusion a ghost is involved.

Then there is a byproduct of some of our technology: electromagnetic fields. As I've discussed before, there are studies suggesting that EMFs can cause Experience Inducing Fields, can produce auditory, visual and tactile hallucinations, and even the feeling of a "presence".

Increasingly, it seems like a lot of people, including the cast of that paranormal show, are becoming unfamiliar with natural sounds from wildlife and buildings as well as those created by our surrounding technology. So when lights flicker or a noise that seems out of place is heard, they jump to the conclusion that something paranormal is going on. Before we look for answers about the supernatural realm, we should strive to have a better understanding of the natural one first.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Closed Minds Need Not Apply

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, we can get so distracted on a journey that we don't even notice we've strayed off our original path, and find ourselves wandering down a different road. While this often can be a good thing, it is still important to check our compass and map once in a while so we know where we are.

I, as well as many others, are committed to raising the standards in paranormal research. We focus a lot of our energy educating others about things that are commonly mistaken for paranormal activity. We campaign for stricter protocols and procedures to prevent false positives. We support those who expose fraud. For me, this will not change anytime soon. However, once in a while something happens that reenergizes my passion I had for investigating in the first place.

I admit there was a time I took claims at face value. I wanted to believe in ghosts so badly to validate some of my personal experiences and beliefs. If someone said they sensed a presence of a little girl, I ate it up as fact. I didn't question orbs. "Experts" said they were spirt energy, so I happily accepted this. But there came a point where I wanted to do more than read books and watch investigators on TV. I wanted to DO it. However - I wanted to do it right. So I got to work researching all that I could about paranormal investigating. I went to TAPS Paralab events and various public ghost hunts. Might not have been perfect, but it certainly was a better starting point than just watching shows, ordering the same gear and then calling myself an investigator.

Eventually I searched for and found legitimate resources to learn from, started to get some field experience, joined a great group and my outlook began to change. Gradually I moved away from accepting most claims as valid paranormal experiences to where now I am questioning - even doubting - most claims being paranormal at all. I embrace science, all but disowning my former attraction to the metaphysical aspect of paranormal investigating. I happen to like finding solutions to puzzles.

Recently, I have found my enthusiasm for field investigating waning a little. For most of the things we experience, we soon find rational answers and most of the rest is subjective, so we can't present it for peer review. Somewhere along the way my focus shifted to pure debunking instead of looking for ALL possible explanations, including the paranormal. Consequently, some of the excitement has been taken out of it, like that first Christmas I knew Santa wasn't real.

Our last investigation started the same way. We were told the basic claims and looked into the history and geography of the location. When we arrived, we interviewed witnesses and did our EMF sweeps and control shots. We heard the usual stories: objects moving, shadows, doors opening and closing and footsteps. I was almost bored as I listened to a woman tell me how terrified she had been the night before when she saw, right in front of her, a man push a woman into a cooler and then they both vanished. I mechanically asked her to describe them, what she had been doing prior to the experience, blah, blah, blah. When the other investigators arrived, those of us on the walkthrough withheld details of the claims, something we commonly do to avoid influencing their impressions of the place.

So later, when we were doing an EVP session in the area where the witness had her experience, and one of the uninformed investigators said he heard a man and a woman talking in the same location the witness had been standing, it piqued my interest. But it wasn't until he suddenly turned to me and asked if a man had pushed a woman into the cooler that I got goosebumps. He claimed he had a "flash" where he just "saw" it. I asked if the man had pushed the woman against the door, or actually inside the cooler. Just like the witness, he answered that the woman didn't go inside the cooler. Since none of us heard this claim until that day, and he wasn't around the witness, how did he come by this information? Lucky guess? Maybe. But I can't help think, maybe not.

At one point, three of us were in one room and the other two were in another room, watching the monitor. Suddenly we heard the other two talking - so I thought. I called out to them (annoyed, since we were trying to do an EVP session) and asked if they were talking. They said they were not. I know what the cynics out there are thinking: How do you KNOW they weren't talking? Did you have a camera trained on them? I would honestly wonder the same thing. Only, when I listened to my Zoom H2 recorder, I clearly heard my teammates and me react, and me asking the team if they were talking. But I never heard the voices that prompted that reaction. I rewound and reviewed several times, but no voices. I used two recorders in that room at that time. The second was a Sony PCM recorder. When I reviewed the same section on the Sony I clearly heard the anomalous voices. Sooooooo, if it was the other two teammates talking (or another source) why didn't their voices get picked up on the first recorder? And if I only thought I heard them, then why did the voices end up on the second recorder?

We have been on several locations where noises in the building can sound like footsteps. Usually, I don't really get too excited about them because we can't pinpoint the exact location of the noise or find other explanations. I am familiar with formant noise, audio matrixing, how changes in temperature and humidity can cause wood or metal to "pop", how air in ducts or pipes can create "bangs", water in pipes can create odd sounds, how outside noises can carry, how traffic can shift foundations, and animal activity can create weird sounds. Usually I can chalk up anomalous sounds to one or more of the above. This night was an exception. Three of us heard, right on the other side of the door behind us, distinct footsteps. Footsteps with definite weight. With direction, moving past us. With the floorboards creaking under the sound of the footfalls. As soon as I opened the door, it stopped. This happened a few times throughout the night. Since there were only five of us and we could see where the other team was, I don't know what caused those sounds. I do know when teammates walked down that hallway, it replicated the sound.

Again, I understand cynics will be second guessing me. I get it, because I do the very same thing. It is quite easy to sit behind a keyboard, with references at our fingertips, to be an armchair investigator. A lot of us bristle at the defense, "Well, you weren't there." And for good reason. We have offered plausible explanations that were brushed aside. For example, I know of cases where people took pictures of "phantom mists" and they claimed no one was smoking. Yet, in other shots, you clearly see people sucking on cigarettes or that candles were lit. There are cases of people swearing the light streaks they caught can't be from slow shutter speeds because they were taken in well-lit conditions, but the EXIF data on their photos tell a different story. And the list goes on. But sometimes that phrase has some merit. As one friend often says: just because something can be faked doesn't mean it was faked. When reporting to clients, I transpose this idea to: just because something might have another explanation, doesn't mean that is the explanation.

Although we all think we are smarter than other investigators (be honest, you know you do!) we do have to accept there are indeed competent investigators out there. People who are analytical thinkers, who take environmental and physiological factors into consideration, who look for rational explanations first and foremost. And we need to keep an open mind that once in while, things do happen that we can't readily explain away. Does it mean ghosts are roaming about? Not necessarily. But it is a reminder that science has yet to find all the answers to the our world that we share with each other and perhaps, with something else.

While accepting claims at face value is a disservice to paranormal research, I believe automatically dismissing claims is just as detrimental. We can't honestly claim we are looking for the truth if we refuse to at least consider the possibility of the paranormal. And this year I'm going to set out a plate of milk and cookies December 24th - just in case. ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Toxic Avenger

The following article was written by a friend of mine, Scarygirl67. This was posted on Debunk Paranormal's website: I think this is excellent information and am grateful "Scary" gave me permission to repost here. --- Carolyn

The Toxic Avenger

I apologize if this topic has been covered. I would like to focus on physical symptoms of toxins that can occur which may feel paranormal to someone. It is part of why it is so important to pull an EPA report on the area of a client investigation.

I read people talking about skin rashes or welts that seem to appear out of nowhere and with no definitive cause. What is bothering me is how often I see someone pop up claiming to be a "demon doctor" or a "banishing expert" or God help us all..a "certified demonologist", and will say that these welts are the result of a demonic attack. Now granted, anyone who is going to buy that load of crap may need a serious reality check, but the beef I have is with those who take advantage of people that are afraid of what is happening to them. As investigators, we have to educate ourselves on all possible causes for symptoms. We are not doctors, nor should we try to diagnose. After all, there are many other things besides toxins that can cause a skin rash, such as stress and allergies. These are simply things to keep in mind and to check for if this comes up in a client's questionnaire.

Unfortunately, toxins cannot be completely avoided, which is why it is important to learn what is in our air, water, land, and in our homes. In a client case, it is important to find out what they do for a living and what toxins they may be exposed to in their work environment. If it does indeed turn out to be a physical reaction to an environmental toxin, steps can be taken to avoid the problem. Doctors (not the demon kind..I mean the ones who actually went to medical school) can be seen for treatment. And best of don't have to stink up the house with sage or fling one drop of holy water!

Some of the toxins that should be looked for if a client includes bizarre skin irritations as part of their paranormal claims are:

1) Formaldehyde; Found in a variety of products such as glues, wood resins and preservatives, insulation, particleboard, nail polish, paints, enamels, and many other things in the home. It is also found in maple syrup made in the U.S. and toothpaste. Check for any changes in use of these items or if there has been recent remodeling or any reason that insulation or wood exterior is being disturbed. Also check to see if anyone has recently gotten a job exposing them to this chemical.

2) Chromium: Chromium III naturally occurs in many foods such as fruits, vegetables, yeasts, and grains. Our bodies need a certain amount of it, but as with anything else, too much can be toxic and cause skin rashes. Storing grains in bins for long periods of time can concentrate the levels of chromium III. Chromium is also used in alloy metals such as steel to resist damage and give a mirrored finish. Chromium IV is used in the manufacture of magentic tape and is much more toxic.

3)Pesticides: The effects from dermal exposure to DEET can cause skin irritation, although it is a small number in relation to the many people who use it. Pesticides used in farming end up in the drinking water and food that we eat, and depending on the person's sensitivity and amount of exposure, can cause skin irritations even in short term use.

4)Food and cosmetic colors: D & C Red 30 Lake, D & C Violet 2, Direct Black 38, Ext. D & C Violet 2, FD & C Blue 1, FD & C Green 3, FD & C Yellow 5, FD & D Yellow 5 Aluminium Lake, FD & C Yellow 6, are all skin irritants.found in many cosmetics, bath and beauty products, and foods.

As in all things, look at each explainable possibility for an answer to a client's concerns. Keep in mind that by the time a client calls in a paranormal team, they often believe that they have tried everything else and are at their wits end. As investigators we need to be objective and help them rule out all explainable causes to see if they have missed anything. A good idea would be for a client to take documented inventory of recent changes in cosmetics or foods as well as a check of household cleaning products. If anyone in the home has recently gotten a job that exposes them to a toxic chemical, it should be noted. The investigators can pull a toxicology report from the Environmental Protection Agency to see what might be in the air, water, or ground of the area.

But what if only one person in a family or living arrangement is suffering mysterious rashes or welts? Quite simply, everyone has different sensitivities to chemicals and not everyone who is exposed is going to have a physical reaction.

In my opinion, the last thing a client needs to hear is a testimonial of how great someone is at removing a demon when a claim such as skin rashes or welts is made. The FIRST thing on our minds should be the client and their health..not a half-assed theory of how "demons always make themselves known by scratching or biting their victims". Really now? THAT'S moving this field forward? No! The truth will. And the truth is that a skin rash or welts that appear suddenly are most likely caused by something environmental and it needs to be found and addressed.

Information for this blog was obtained from the following links.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Brief Rant

Sometimes I am told I am kinda harsh on some para TV shows and enthusiasts. People argue with me that they are harmless fun and I "take the whole ghost hunting thing too seriously". Maybe. But today I encountered another example why it matters.

A young high school girl joined a networking site for paranormal investigators, She posted ONE picture from her ONE investigation, which was nothing more than a case of paradoelia from reflections in the windows. I politely gave her my opinion on and suggested in the future she take comparison shots, etc.

Then she posts that she has launched her website. This website lists her phone number to book investigations. When other site members tried to tell her she needs to do a little more research into scientific causes of claims, she deleted her account. In other words, she has no interest in learning to be a paranormal investigator, she just wants to call herself a paranormal investigator!

She's just one girl, but the scary thing is there are plenty of people just like her out there claiming to be "experts" in the paranormal and are going into people's houses to "help" them! They may have a sincere interest, but when all their "training" consists of watching para TV shows and reading New Age books, they have NO business making such claims.

If you truly love the paranormal as much as I do, and sincerely want to help people, you will take the time and effort to thoroughly research common scientific explanations for claims BEFORE you throw up a website and call yourself an investigator. Otherwise you are doing your clients a disservice and are a detriment to the field.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Paranormal Profiteering

The popularity of ghost hunting TV shows has brought opportunities for some people to "cash in" on the paranormal. Unfortunately, much of the general public (and even some "investigators") do not recognize that such TV shows favor ratings over reality and editing over evidence. These shows feature poor protocols for investigating, poor analysis of "evidence" and their audiences are being fooled into thinking they are watching valid research. Add investigators with interesting personalties, and you create fans who will rabidly defend these shows, even if techniques or conclusions defy common sense. I've met several of such TV paracelebs, and yes, a few seem really nice and fun to talk with. But it doesn't mean they are good - or even honest - investigators. It certainly doesn't excuse misleading the audiences with questionable or perhaps even manufactured evidence.

As investigators, we need to recognize entertainment vs. valid investigating and research and strive to educate others about the distinction. There was a show that initially, I felt was an asset to paranormal research. They ditched the psychics and metaphysics, debunked orbs as dust bunnies and approached investigations from a skeptical standpoint. However, that changed over seasons and now they present "evidence" that they would have tossed out in the first season. They sold out. Many shows that followed did the same.

I have talked to several team founders, including my own group's, who have been approached by TV shows. But the producers they talked to made it clear that they wanted more sensational cases, and did not give the investigators control over content or ownership of their own evidence. So they passed on their "big break". From their experiences, it is clear to me that show producers exaggerate, edit, and flat out manufacture claims and evidence in order to create a packaged product that sells.

The popularity of TV paracelebs have spawned conferences and events where you can pay to meet or even "investigate" with your favorite paranormal personality. At least some of these events are actually beneficial: some have been set up where part of the profits go to restoring historical locations. As someone who has volunteered in different historical societies, I'm all for that. Some also provide basic "ghost hunting" seminars. While I can't agree on all the techniques or equipment they discussed, I can say the seminars I have attended at least covered safety, respecting property, and that orbs are not ghosts. But again, just because someone is on TV or the radio, or wrote a book, does not make them an expert, nor does it mean they are presenting valid information. (Please refer to my post "Paranormal Experts"). They are there to make some money.

As various supposed haunted locations attract interest after being featured on TV, many of them are now charging a hefty fee for groups to investigate. Riding on those coattails are lesser-known locations that will also let local groups investigate - for a price. Again, there is good and bad. I can support historical locations who use the profits towards maintenance and restoration. However, there are cases where someone says their restaurant is haunted and charge gullible groups, not for valid research, but for building their business. Unfortunately, whether on purpose or not, some of these places are perpetuating false evidence as well as unsubstantiated stories. They encourage orbs, bad recordings and information "validated" by psychics. Again, this appeals to paranormal enthusiasts, but is a detriment to legitimate researchers. It also spreads misinformation, and even fear, to the general pubic.

The group I belong to went to such a location recently. This location was featured in a couple of popular TV shows and has been mentioned by many paranormal groups as an active location. After our investigation, I think the most active thing there is imagination. We were able to debunk several of the claims (including experiences featured on the shows) using simple common sense. The owner set up the place for maximum creepiness. There were strategically placed dolls, scarecrows, cut outs and coat racks, so as people navigate in the dark and come upon these unexpectedly, they get startled. There were other props, like wheelchairs and chairs placed in random spots, and fake cockroaches spread throughout the floors. My favorite "prop" was a harmless vase of fake flowers placed in the hallway. Thru IR, the vase is nearly invisible, and the flowers look like a white blob floating above the floor. In addition, many of the stories, were just that: stories with no documentation. So some of the most famous "ghosts" of that location are likely only products of fantasy.

This is not to say the place doesn't have paranormal activity. It very well might. But my point is that the owner of the location is using misinformation and false evidence to promote it as legitimately haunted to lure not just enthusiasts, but serious investigators, and then charging a hefty fee for them to investigate. Some may think I am just bitter from a case of "buyer's remorse". Not really. I had already found alternative explanations for a couple major claims before I set foot there (which were confirmed). But this isn't the first such location I have been to, and what set this one apart was use of props, and the amount of undocumented stories and specious claims supported by para celebs, but not research.

A lot of major cities have "ghost tours" where you walk around historic neighborhoods and are told ghost stories and claims to back them up. I personally love these tours, because of the history and folklore. However, they also are in it for money, which means they encourage false evidence. On every such tour I've been on, some person will snap a picture, and "catch" an orb. Which isn't surprising when you have groups of 10-20 walking and kicking up dust. They also catch "light anomalies" which again, is not surprising , since they usually take place after dark, and the shutter speed in automatic cameras will slow down and will create long exposure pictures. But the tour guides actually encourage the false notion that these pictures captured something paranormal, therefore spreading misinformation.

Some of these "haunted" locations and ghost tours actually guarantee a paranormal experience. There is absolutely no way anyone can guarantee a genuine experience. Period. Unfortunately, the way some unscrupulous location or tour owners are achieving these impossible results is by promoting false evidence or, in some case, even rigging the place.

Once such location is Moss Beach Distillery in California. For many decades, the story of a blue lady haunting the location was associated with the place. There were claims from many people, including respected parapsychologists, over the years that seemed to support a valid haunting. Unfortunately, several years ago the owners decided to rig the building to replicate the claims. Chandeliers are rigged to swing, there are fans to blow ghostly breezes on patrons, and they even have a mirror rigged for a ghostly face to appear. Unfortunately, such manipulation discredits any true experience anyone may have at that location now.

Sometimes locations don't have to use mechanical means to rig a place. All it takes is a good, believable story that has been told and retold so many times it becomes engrained as fact. The Myrtle's Plantation in Louisiana is such a place. The story of Chloe is well-known among paranormal enthusiasts and has been featured on TV shows and in books luring investigators: Chloe was a house slave with whom the owner was having an affair. One day he caught her eavesdropping and cut off her ear as punishment. She did not want to go back to the fields, so she came up with a desperate plan. She baked a birthday cake for one of the owner's children and laced it with oleander leaves to make the family sick, so that she could nurse them back to health and keep her place in the house. But the plan backfired because she used too much of the leaves and the wife and children died from the poisoned cake. Fearing punishment for her actions, fellow slaves captured Chloe and hung her from a tree in front of the house. A tragic story and certainly a recipe for ghosts. One problem: it didn't happen. There is no record of either a house or field slave named Chole in the property and slave holding records. Oh, and the inconvenient fact that the wife and children died from yellow fever, not a poisoned cake.

Even when presented with facts, some stories and hoaxes refuse to die. An example is the Amityville Horror. Several careers were built from that hoax, so it's understandable why those who profit from it would want to perpetuate it as fact. The media was there to fuel the sensational story, but they were conveniently absent when facts and even admissions began to surface, proving the story was fabricated by George Lutz and Butch DeFeo's (the murderer who slaughtered his entire family in that house) lawyer. But today many in the general public still believe the book and subsequent movie was based on real events.

Another problem is that some paranormal investigators or groups are charging clients for their services. As I pointed out in my post "Paranormal Experts" there is no accredited training or certification to do so. This field is all theory and speculation at this point. All we are doing is collecting data and forming an opinion. No one has proven ghosts exist, or even what they are. Some groups not only charge for investigating, but they also charge for "cleansings". Again, there is no evidence for these unsubstantiated claims. One group even goes so far as to investigate (at a higher fee) if you are in process of purchasing a house so you know if you're future home is haunted or not. Here's the problem: as mentioned before, no proof of ghosts exist. Photos containing light artifacts are not proof of ghosts. EVPs are not proof of ghosts because there are alternative explanations. The problem is the seller and realtor can lose a sale over false evidence while this group makes money off of it.

There have been ghost hunting "certification" classes cropping up. For hefty fee, you can take courses from people who have no more qualifications than you and get a worthless piece of paper to hang on your wall. If you want a certification, print one up on your computer. It has the same validity.

Paranormal profiteering has also gone to ridiculous new lows. On Ebay, there have been "certified haunted" dolls and other items for sale, as well as ghosts in a bottle, and succubi available for purchase. There are people who charge for Frank's Box sessions. Again, there is no proof at all that ghosts communicate through such devices. In fact, there are plausible explanations for the "messages": paradoelia, phoneme restoration effect, formant noise, yet some people make money off of it.

Some may argue that if people want to waste their money that's their problem. But it goes deeper than that. Paranormal profiteering is creating misperceptions as well as fear in the general public. It creates a disruption of valid research of the paranormal. The reality is, there are people living in fear because of false information. We still deal with clients who think they have a ghost just because of an orb showed up in their home picture! As investigators we sometimes face an uphill battle when we present logical explanations for claims, but clients argue, "But I saw this on TV....". As we strive to educate, we are constantly battling the piles of lies put out by people who only care about their their egos and wallets, and not the damage they are doing.

I have no problem with people making money off of the current paranormal craze, I just have a problem with those who do it by perpetuating misinformation and the outright manufacturing of "experiences".


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Flashlight Experiment

My group investigated a well-know location last week. In one area, a few of our investigators decided to do a flashlight session. As some may already know, I am skeptical about flashlight communication, but I am open to be proven wrong.

If you are unfamiliar with flashlight sessions, what happens is investigators take a flashlight (the preferred seems to be the MagLite) and unscrew it to the point the light can come on at the slightest touch. Supposedly, spirits can communicate by turning it on and off.

The flashlight was set on a chair away from investigators. The question was asked, "Is there anyone in here with us?" and the flashlight turned on. Pretty impressive. Then there was a request to shut the flashlight off. It flickered, and after several seconds it did, indeed, turn off. Again, impressive. But the process repeated itself in rather regular intervals - about a minute in between, according to my watch. I pointed this out and the leader invited me to inspect the flashlight. It was not unscrewed far enough that I considered it loose, but I was able to screw it slightly tighter. The light did not come back on after that. So either a) I pissed off the ghost and they didn't want to "talk" anymore or b) the flashlight was loose enough before I tightened it.

Recently, I had seen theories that the flashlights in this modified state are coming on and off due to how the unit heats up and cools down. As it cools it contracts, and the contacts touch, turning on the light. The heat from the light warms it enough to expand and therefore the contacts lose touch and the light goes off. I think the fairly regular intervals support this theory.

So, I went out and bought a Mini MagLite, exactly like the one used during our investigation. I screwed it as tight as possible and set it down. I waited for 30 minutes, but the light didn't come on, even when I asked it nicely. Not really surprising. So I loosened it up to the point it would come on at the slightest touch. I quickly learned if you place it in this state on a hard surface, vibrations will make it turn on. So I took a towel and placed the flashlight on it and the vibrations no longer affected it. I sat back and waited with my watch and notebook in hand. I didn't interact at all with the flashlight. In fact, I was watching TV and purposely not focusing on it. Within a couple of minutes, the flashlight turned on. Within a minute it turned off. This was repeated 10 times during the duration of my little experiment. Here is my findings: the intervals between times it turned on by itself and off again lasted between 32 and 58 seconds, averaging 45.6 seconds. The length of time it stayed illuminated lasted between 27 and 92 seconds, averaging 54.9 seconds. This timing was similar to our flashlight session at our investigation.

I recognize one informal experiment and comparing it to one session doesn't prove anything. But I do think it yielded enough similarities that warrant some consideration during future sessions. I hope to conduct future experiments in various conditions to see if results vary with temperature and humidity.

A few nights later I went to repeat the experiment. I unscrewed it to the same point. But this time, it didn't light up. For a moment there, I wondered if my living room was actually haunted! But then I remembered I had been holding the flashlight for some time before I started the experiment the previous time. Therefore, it had been warmer than the surrounding air. So, I held the flashlight to warm it up a bit. Then I set it down again. Within a couple of minutes, it turned on "by itself". The pattern was very similar to the first experiment. Relating this back to the flashlight session during the investigation, the investigator had carried the flashlight in question in his pocket before the session. So again, this correlates to my observations I made in my informal experiments. It also answered the question one of our investigators had: "What made it turn on in the first place?" The warm flashlight expanded, so the contacts were separated. Once it cooled down, it contracted, and therefore the contacts touched, turning on the light.

ANOTHER UPDATE: While shopping at a retail store, I saw a purple Mini Maglite. Since I love the color purple, I decided to buy this one and donate my boring black one to our group to have on hand for forgetful members. Anyway, I set up the same experiment, in the same various locations in the house (including the cellar, which is much cooler and is more humid) and had the same results with my pretty purple one. In other words, I can rule out my black Maglite is faulty or that I only get these results with that particular flashlight. I should also add since my initial informal experiments mentioned above, I have had similar results at other locations: a bookstore (with no reports, but I wanted to show a group how flashlights can reliably turn on "by themselves"), a public historical building with reports that we investigated, a large office building, which we have investigated a few times and believe there may be activity, and most recently, a reportedly haunted B&B in Gettysburg.

Thank you to my friend Angela for directing me to this video.  It shows several experiments, including detailed explanations, how a Maglite can turn on and off due to a heating & cooling cycle.  It is not as simple as I previously thought, as it also involves contact physics and oxidization:

And to be clear:  I am not saying it explains all flashlight experiences, but it certainly supports the theory (and my little informal experiments) that heating/cooling can cause the light to go on and off.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Find a Legit ParanormalTeam

So you think you might be experiencing paranormal activity. You want some validation that you're not going nuts and an explanation for some odd things that are happening. You might even be frightened to the point you're uncomfortable in your own home or business. How do you find a reputable group?

I'll be honest: it's a crap shoot. Unfortunately, there are a lot teams in the field who claim they are in it to help people when in reality they are in it for the "thrill" and to get attention for themselves in a "fringe" field. It takes some research on your part to find someone reliable who will help you find answers to give you some piece of mind.

Charge for services. This field is based on theory and speculation only. At this point, investigators are just gathering data. There is no accredited training nor certification for ghost hunting, so it is unethical to charge for an unsubstantiated opinion.

Claim they are "certified": See above. If they claim they are certified, they were either scammed or are trying to scam you. All it means is they took a seminar from someone who doesn't have any more formal credentials than you or I.

Claim they can certify a place as "haunted". No one has proven ghosts exist, let alone what they are or how they behave. There are diverse theories out there - none proven - as to what makes a haunting: spirits of the dead, residual energy, time slips, psi activity, etc. If you want a certified haunted location, go to an office supply store and make yourself a certificate. It carries the same validity.

Use psychics in investigations: In today's search engine world, there is just no way to trust any "hits" are genuine. Also, a false hit, generated from a psychic's overactive imagination, can create unfounded fear. It makes for good theatrics on TV, but if you truly want answers, skip this side show.

Post photos of orbs, streaks of light, or mists as "evidence": Any sincere investigator will have done their homework on how cameras work and what causes these common photo/video artifacts. So groups who post such are either ignorant or are trying to fool people with false evidence.

Claim they get a lot of evidence: Most seasoned investigators will tell you valid evidence, captured using strict protocols in a controlled environment, is rare. So either these groups are misidentifying false positives or they are being untruthful.

Claim they can "cleanse" a location: No one can back such claims with any proof. In fact, there are many anecdotal claims where such attempts made things worse for the client. There are only two types of people qualified to handle such cases: medical professionals or trained clergy.

Who "name drop": Just because someone met or got pictures taken with TV paranormal investigators does not make them a better investigator. (I have a few such pictures and it doesn't make me special, trust me). And with bad protocols and misidentifying obvious false positives being shown on many of the shows, it's not something I'd advertise. Also, just because a group is part of a team "family" that is profiled on TV does not guarantee anything. Such team families are huge and therefore hard to monitor and manage individual groups or members.

Who pad their "stats": Experience is important, no doubt. But it doesn't necessarily guarantee a better investigator. For example, if someone has been investigating for over a decade and they still present light streaks due from long exposure as evidence, that experience is pretty much null and void.

Other things to consider: Don't be afraid to do a background check on members or ask for a criminal screen. You want to be sure who you are inviting into your space and around your family and possessions, is trustworthy.

Look for logical and natural explanations for claims first. We cannot identify and analyze valid paranormal experiences if we don't rule out all other explanations first. Sometimes, it's a safety issue. High EMFs and carbon monoxide levels in a home can not only cause people to have seemly paranormal experiences, but are dangerous.

Use use objective means of collecting data: Anyone can walk in and say they feel a presence or an energy. Doesn't mean it's there. But when there is other measurable data, through pictures, or audio or EMF readings to back it up, then you have something to properly analyze.

Are very selective about what they will consider and post as evidence: Quality over quantity. Who do you think could better figure out your claims? A group who has 100 dubious pictures that can be easily explained or a group with one picture that no one has been able to debunk?

Do not make unsubstantiated claims or promises: As mentioned before, this field is based solely on speculation and theory. There are no absolute facts or answers at this point, so no one can guarantee any conclusive outcome. Valid investigators collect data, offer their opinion on their findings and and advise clients with possible solutions.

Who respect your privacy and will keep your case confidential: Investigators should be more concerned about assisting their clients than their own egos.

Who tell you what to expect from them during and after the investigation: It's your space, and you are entitled to know what the process of an investigation will entail.

Who invite you to participate in the investigation: Some teams ask clients to leave the location altogether and it may be for honest reasons: to prevent noise contamination, etc. However, it is your space and you have every right to be there. A good team will teach you protocols to follow so you won't impede the investigation.

Who are happy to answer your questions: Valid teams value educating the general public about the paranormal, as well as the equipment and techniques they use for investigating.

Who are easily accessible by phone or email: This is self explanatory. If they are hard to contact, they might not be the most reliable people for your investigation.

Remember, you are the client and it's your space. If investigators show up who act unprofessional or if you feel uncomfortable with them, ask them to leave. You have more to fear from the living than the dead.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Picture Gallery!

Life is a learning experience and in the field of paranormal investigating, we all have to start somewhere. When starting out, it is easy to get excited and misidentify things as paranormal. I'm no exception.

A) We stopped in front of a notorious haunted house. Obviously,
we were not alone, as this ghostly mist shows.

No, we weren't alone. Someone in our group was smoking.

B) I took this picture in an area where allegedly a Native American burial ground was located. Clearly, I disturbed their rest.
Maybe, but if so, this picture isn't any indication of it. Actually, it started raining.

C) You can see two orbs. They cannot be dismissed as dust or moisture since they emit their own light source.
They emit their own light source because they ARE lights. The graves are at a crest of a hill, the lights are down below, so they look close to the ground.

D) I took this picture of a cat asleep on a table in an antique shop. The residual ghostly energy is very apparent.
This is one of my favorites. I took this picture up against the window from the outside of the shop on a misty evening.

These pictures are similar to pictures posted on some paranormal teams' websites as "evidence". As you can see, it is very important to recognize common causes of photo anomalies!!!