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.