Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Evocative EVP

By now, many of us in the paranormal field have been exposed to natural explanations of orbs caught in photos and videos.   Some of us have even repeated various experiments to replicate all kinds of orbs in order to validate these explanations.   So naturally, informed investigators set out to educate others to dispel the unsubstantiated claim that orbs are evidence of the paranormal.    This is a good thing.

However, while more investigators are being hyper vigilant over orbs and other photo/video artifacts, other common forms of "evidence" are not receiving the same level of scrutiny.  Perhaps this due to the level of subjectivity.   It is relatively easy to recreate orb photos and therefore offer objective data for people to study.   But other "evidence" is much more subjective, and harder to convince blind believers otherwise.  An example, and my focus here today, is EVP.

EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) is often touted by paranormal groups to be evidence of the afterlife.   While that may be, the problem is that like photo and video, the potential for misidentification due to poor protocols, poor controls, poor equipment, misuse of equipment as well as pareidolia, is quite high - perhaps even higher.

It is disappointing to see investigators who passionately criticize orb photos become overly defensive over their own evidence, including EVPs.    They preach to others how to properly use cameras, but then they fail to take a good look at their own audio equipment and recording procedures.

Part of the problem is people don't want to learn about anything that might challenge the validity of their beloved EVP collection.  Not long ago, I had a conversation with an investigator who was a cast member of popular paranormal TV show for a while.  We discussed EVPs and how he claimed to capture more using cheaper recorders.  He even anticipated my arguments against cheaper recorders because he'd heard them before.  Yet, he stuck fast to his belief, despite substantiated facts to the contrary.  While he's a nice guy, what he is doing does not fall under my definition of investigating or research.  It is simple wish fulfillment.

There are two primary flaws using cheaper digital recorders to capture "authentic" EVPs.  First, they do not provide sufficient shielding from radio frequencies.  I've talked with professional audio engineers and radio techs who confirmed that recorders can and do pick up radio frequencies.  I also recently read about an interesting experiment conducted by Modern Age Paranormal which supports their hypothesis that EVPs are ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) radio waves.  The second issue is that cheaper digital recorders compress and distort what you record, resulting in missing data.  Therefore, upon playback, you do not get a complete or true representation of the sound.    Keeping this in mind, here's a visual example to consider:

On the left is the infamous "Face On Mars" taken in the Cydonia Region on Mars in 1976 by Voyager.  On the right is an image from 2001 of the same formation, at a much higher resolution.   As we can see, with lower resolution, crucial information is missing, causing a misinterpretation of the what the formation actually looks like.  Add a little matrixing to the the mix and you get this guy:

Even if one can rule out the issues I've mentioned, there is the problem of how the brain misinterprets sounds.  There have been reliable scientific studies showing that people hear things that are not there.   One study, discussed in Mary Roach's book Spook,  illustrates this and is relevant to EVP review.   Subjects were asked to transcribed a poorly recorded lecture.  Many were able to hear words and even complete phrases.  However, in reality, the recording was nothing but white noise.  As I've discussed before, ambient sounds can easily be misinterpreted as voice, especially when they are within certain frequencies and rhythms causing the brain to automatically switch to speech mode.  Personally, I've participated in many audio reviews where people swore they heard a meaningful response when all I heard was something akin to "Glarmpht".  So even if something sounds like a voice or a phrase, it doesn't mean that it is.  And even if it is, you still have are left with the task of proving that it belongs to a ghost.

Then there is another controversial possibility:  psi activity.  Some parapsychologists hypothesize that living, breathing humans can somehow imprint our thoughts on electronics via psychic means.  Before some readers roll their eyes and dismiss this outright, if you think about it, it's just as plausible (if not more so) than the idea that we are recording ghosts.  There are even more assumptions to consider with the latter:  if ghosts even exist,  if ghosts can hear us, if ghosts can understand us, if ghosts are willing to communicate, and if ghosts' "voices" can be recorded.  

Since the burden is on us to provide extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, ALL evidence must be met with the same high level of scrutiny, even when it is harder to explain than orbs.  Going back to my title, "The Evocative EVP", evocation is defined as the act of calling or summoning a spirit, demon, god or other supernatural agent.   In a way, some investigators are indeed summoning false spirits by misidentifying EVP.


Monday, June 4, 2012