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.  


  1. I agree it should not be taken as evidence by itself, and only if backed by EVP or it is thrown at you or something :)

  2. I have heard the debunk many times, regarding the expansion/contraction of the contacts and here is my problem with this debunk.

    1) In every case after a flashlight session, the flashlight case is cold, not warm, not even room temp. Any gradual expansion by the contacts would produce arching and in fact, heat up the flashlight's metal casing.

    2) The regular interval between on/off has not been the case in many of our sessions. If the expansion/contraction theory were to be the case, it would be the case continuously throughout the evening. In many of our cases, the flashlight went on/off for a period of time and then remained off for hours even though it was not removed from the environment which produced it in the first place. If an environment is conducive to expansion/contraction, that does not change and the flashlight would continue the on/off throughout the night. Such is not the case. We have also had the exact opposite, i.e. the flashlight sat for hours without so much as a flicker and then suddenly, upon command, turn itself on/off for a period of time and then remain off the rest of the night.

    3) During question and answer periods using the flashlight session, there were no "intervals". On the contrary, with a stop watch present, the on/off phenomena was completely random in direct response to questions by the investigator AND when asked the same questions at different intervals, received the very same answer to the questions several times.

    The expansion/contraction theory does not address these issues and our session have proved just the opposite. While I appreciate the experiment in a controlled setting, this hardly proves anything IF the setting has had no past/present activity. This to me is akin to laying fruit down in the presence of a chimp and declaring chimps love fruit when he grabs it and eats it and then declaring this debunked by placing fruit in a area with no chimps. The very fact that the flashlight behaves differently in a completely controlled setting where no activity has been reported, lends credibility to the experiment in an area with activity.

    Therein is the catch 22. If the flashlight behaves normally in an active area, is it because of the expansion/contraction theory, or because the "spirits" have no intention of answering your questions with this device? This experiment, like most, raises more questions then it does answers and therefore is nothing more than an interesting occurrence and is NOT evidence. More experimentation is needed over several years. For this reason, my team presents it as an "interesting" event, but not evidence of the paranormal.

  3. I am not claiming to debunk/prove anything. All I am doing is noting my observances with two separate Maglites in various locations (including three of which have reports of activity). My experiments did not have anything to do with "communication" - as I made no such attempts. My purpose was to show there is some credibility to the contraction/expansion theory. Does it explain ALL flashlight experiences? I don't think so, nor did I say that it does. But I certainly believe it IS something for investigators to be aware of and to experiment with for themselves.

  4. And yes, I was remiss in updates with the other locations. I will fix it.

  5. I'm necroing a bit here, but the "flashlight session" seems to be a new thing, as in it wasn't around 5 or 6 years ago. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like these past months are the first time I've ever heard of it.

    Can someone tell me the history of this technique? If I'm honest with you, I'm a little suspicious of the fact that someone, at some point, went "I can communicate with ghosts using this flashlight, but I have to tamper with it first."

  6. I am not sure of the origin of the technique, but I am certain it gained popularity among investigators right after it was profiled on Ghost Hunters. Yes, I might be more impressed with the technique if there was no manipulation of the flashlight.

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