Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'm Baa-ack...

After taking a prolonged break from Creepy Corners, I've had a few friends convince me to come back.  I was hesitant because frankly, it's disheartening when I, and others like me, share information which is easily accessible and verifiable, yet it hasn't made much of a dent in the so-called paranormal field.  New ghost hunting groups and TV shows continue to crop up and mislead people with bogus "evidence" and whats worse, the general public seems more willing to eat it up rather than to use critical thinking skills and accept rational explanations.  Moreover, if you offer rational explanations to supposed paranormal events, it is often met with scorn and sometimes outright hostility. (I've have friends who have been threatened with harassment charges and/or being sued just for questioning some self-proclaimed paranormal experts' claims!)

As I mentioned in my post Ghosts and Pop Culture, many misconceptions about ghosts and the paranormal are ingrained in the public's subconscious.  During my Halloween spooky movie binge, I watched many movies, some dating back to the 1930's, with the same familiar recurring formula: a violent or sudden death = an angry ghost seeking vengeance on the living.  A scientist with fancy gadgets talking about "vibrations" and "energy" comes in to help, usually accompanied by a "respected" (AKA "the real deal") medium.  They discover the spirit's problem is and solve it so it "moves on"and everyone's happy. This theme is so deeply embedded in our pop culture, that many people blindly accept it as fact and get upset when presented with facts that challenge or disprove these unfounded notions.  I've been questioned why do I care if people believe in such things.  Honestly, if people are keeping their beliefs to themselves, I don't.  But if people are presenting certain things as FACT, in a public forum, or presenting themselves as "experts" and "educating" others on such topics, then I feel a need to speak up against blatant misinformation.

Several months ago, I was in the hair salon when the discussion turned to how a body of a missing woman had finally been found after twenty years.  Her car, with her remains inside, was found in a deep part of a large river, one used for commercial shipping.  One woman remarked that she remembered a local psychic saying the missing woman would be found in water, and felt this was "confirmation" of the psychic's abilities.  I disagreed, explaining that the psychic never mentioned any specific body of water, let alone that particular river, which might have been useful before 20 years had passed.  Furthermore, if her body was found in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I'd might be impressed, but it was found in a region where there is a large river emptying out into one of the Great Lakes, surrounded by multiple lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, etc.  It's a wet region, so it is not at all unlikely that a missing car and body would be found in water.  My rational answer wasn't met with any counter arguments or facts, just angry rolls of the eyes and shakes of the head.  The subject was abruptly changed.

A while back, an ghost hunter acquaintance proclaimed that while he's a skeptic, he can't deny the "unexplainable" things that he's seen with his own eyes.  (Newsflash: then you're not really a skeptic, buddy.)  I provided links to articles about visual misperceptions caused by physiological or environmental factors.  He completely dismissed these out of hand, arguing that other people have had experiences at the same location.  I explained that if it was an environmental factor, such as infrasound, it could affect more than one person.  But he held fast to his belief that he experienced something paranormal.  Here's where I'd like to address a pet peeve of mine:  many accuse skeptics of being "closed minded", often by people who don't really understand what the term skeptic means.  In the conversation above, this person, even when presented with objective information, would not accept the possibility that his experience could have been caused by something non-paranormal.  So who's the closed-minded one again?  Also, any true skeptic would know that jumping to the conclusion that something "unexplainable" must be paranormal is not scientific nor rational.  Remember, this is a ghost hunter who goes into people's homes to "help".

Before Halloween, I was visiting a nostalgic Facebook page for my hometown.  Someone posted pictures of the interior of an abandoned theater.  Having been in disrepair for some time, there is a lot of dust around, and therefore, "orbs" were in the picture. Inevitably, someone I will describe as a paranormal enthusiast mentioned the orbs and so another woman asked what they are.  The enthusiast answered that they are spirits of dead people and other psychic phenomena.  Yeppers.  So being the spoil sport that I am, I posted several links to articles with scientific explanations that orbs are really airborne particles.  My response got a few likes.  The enthusiast answered back how there are several stories of what orbs are and she chooses to believe that there are things around us of a spiritual nature, blah blah blah, but offered no objective information to challenge the fact that they are just airborne particles.  (Just an aside: I never once asserted there are no such things as ghosts, just that orbs have a natural explanation.)  No surprisingly, her response got more likes than mine, including a "Cool, thank you!" from the woman who asked her what orbs are.  The scariest part of this exchange?  The woman accepting the cool ghostie answer - which has repeatedly been debunked by photography experts and camera manufactures for years now - was running for school board! Yikes!

*SPOILER ALERT:  There are Season 5 "Walking Dead" spoilers contained in this paragraph.* Recently, there was an episode on "The Walking Dead" where Eugene, a scientist who was being protected by a former soldier for his knowledge that could save the world, admitted he lied.  He was not a scientist, nor did he have the answer to cure the infected.  Members of the group of survivors seemed shocked because he "sounded smart" and "knew things."   Even without reading the comics, I had him pegged as a fake right away.  Eugene reminded me of many ghost hunters I've met over the years.  They sound smart, using science-y terminology, using science-y gadgets when in actuality, they have no formal scientific training or education.  They know enough to "pass" as knowledgeable to those who have little to no understanding of topics like electromagnetic fields, acoustics, photography, etc.  And before anyone else accuses me of  "just out to bash ghost hunters",  let me be clear:  I once blindly believed so-called paranormal "experts" because I hadn't taken the time to learn more about these subjects myself, and I wanted to believe them.  Unfortunately, it is much more appealing for people to believe false "evidence" of ghosts rather than natural explanations. So sadly, as we've seen from the few of my encounters above, too many people will choose to believe the Eugenes of the paranormal community.  It continues to be an uphill battle for those of us trying to promote science and critical thinking in paranormal research.