Monday, February 2, 2015

Labor of Love

As Valentine's Day approaches and love is in the air (or at least on the airwaves in the form of commercials), I've been thinking of one of my favorite sayings:  "Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate."  So, with that in mind, I'd like to share what I love regarding paranormal research:

Those who question everything:
Accepting claims or "evidence" at face value doesn't count as either investigating or research.  As I've mentioned ad nauseam, there are countless environmental, psychological and physiological explanations for seemingly paranormal experiences.  Since I've started this blog, I've always maintained that unless we actively seek, identify and rule out every possible natural explanation to a claim, we cannot honestly declare it paranormal.  And "unexplained" doesn't necessarily mean paranormal.  It just means we can't explain it at the time, which change with more information and expertise.   I appreciate those who aren't afraid to ask questions and challenge claims.  When a paranormal team posts a picture on social media claiming they caught a ghost, we should ask for control shots, comparison shots, environmental conditions, EXIF data before we blindly say "good catch".  Same goes for EVPs.   We should ask what else could that "voice" be?  Something mechanical?  Environmental? Organic?  Is there video available to cross reference a cause of the sound?  When we go on a ghost hunt or ghost tour, we should do our own independent research into the history of the location and its ghost stories.  Contact local historians or librarians who have access to, or can point you to, documents containing the truth.  Many locations either manipulate facts or fabricate stories to lure paying customers.

Those who sincerely seek other opinions:
Many times we see excited ghost hunters throw up a picture on a paranormal page, saying they want honest opinions, but in reality, they really just want a pat on the back for their "proof".  Then they get defensive when people more knowledgable about photography inform them they really took a picture of a moth. But occasionally, my faith in humanity is briefly restored when people accept informed opinions and even express gratitude for the information.  These are the people who have an authentic thirst for knowledge and are not in this just to boost their egos.  This is where networking, as long as people can be civil, is be a good thing for the paranormal community.  I personally learned a great deal in such constructive forums, gaining not only new information, but resources for continued reference as well.

Those who keep an open mind:
Many people still misunderstand the term "skeptic", confusing it with "cynic",  one who outright dismisses claims.  But a true skeptic dismisses or accepts a claim based on objective, verifiable data.  They may change their mind if new information is presented.  Most skeptics I know are open to the possibility that the paranormal exists, but demand valid evidence. On the other hand, I respect the believers who recognize and manage their own cognitive bias and are open to natural, rational explanations to seemingly paranormal evidence or experiences.  If we are honestly searching for the truth in paranormal claims, we must accept it might not be what we expect.

Those who walk the walk:
I love those who actively practice and experiment with their cameras, recorders, and other equipment outside of investigations.  Those who take the time not only to learn how their gear works, but what factors and conditions may affect them, and what quirks they have that can create false positives. Those who are willing to eliminate equipment and techniques they once favored, as they apply more objective methodology. Those who are constantly reading all they can about valid investigative techniques and searching for new resources.  I appreciate investigators who physically go to locations and research the claims themselves.  I applaud those who go beyond a cursory fact check, and actively search old archives and documents and even interview people who have a connection to the history of the location.  Unfortunately, this sometimes results in exposing a well-known story as a fabrication and these investigators receive some backlash from some ghost hunters for destroying their fragile little fantasies.  But that is REAL investigating,  and what those all of us who call ourselves "investigators" and "researchers" should strive for.

Those who possess a little humility:
I have a lot of respect for those who can say, "I don't know".  Too often, we see paranormal investigators who present themselves as "experts" and instead of doing the morally right thing and admit something might be beyond their knowledge, they make up something that sounds science-ish to save face.  This is a disservice to any client they have as well as paranormal research.  It's okay to say "I don't know" and then refer to someone who does have the expertise to get to the bottom of a claim.  I also respect those who can admit they were wrong.  Most of the skeptics I know started out as believers.  But as they learned about the many factors that can cause misidentification or misperception, they were willing to reevaluate their beliefs and change their approach to paranormal research.  They threw out useless fancy gadgets and distanced themselves from their former favorite TV para-celebs.  (I cringe when I think of the money I wasted over the years on some popular "ghost hunting" gadgets.)

Those who engage in civil debates:
The reason I dislike the term "paranormal unity" is because those who wave that banner claim all paranormal investigators are searching for the same thing. That is false.  There are those who want to prove ghosts exists, no matter what.  There are others who want to prove ghosts do not exist, no matter what. There are those who are like me, who believe in the possibility they exist, but all natural causes must be identified and ruled out first before we can even consider anything might be paranormal.   So even though there are clearly different agendas, I encourage civil discourse and debate because it is an excellent way to expand our viewpoints and gain knowledge.  I admire those who are passionate in their opinions, but can express them without name-calling, personal attacks and insults.  If we are truly trying to get valid information out there, the fastest way to shut people off to it is to engage in such tactics.  The people I learned the most from, and who most inspired me to practice and promote critical thinking in paranormal research, where those who backed their arguments with objective information and sources instead of bashing.

Sharing is caring:
I applaud those with professional expertise who are happy to impart information to others.   Those who are willing to put themselves out there and promote their opinions on websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, books, lectures, etc.  They list sources for others to check on and learn from on their own.  They are happy to promote and support others who have expertise in specific areas.  They take the time to answer questions and give their educated opinions on submitted "evidence".  Most of them who I know personally do not receive any monetary compensation for it, and instead receive a lot of headaches in the form of criticism, threats, and cyber stalkers. But they do it for the love of sharing knowledge and combating the overwhelming amount of misinformation regarding paranormal investigating.  I also admire those who support preserving the history of locations they investigate.  I know several teams who help their local historical societies preserve historical sites by fundraising or even physically participating in restoration and upkeep.

Those with a healthy perspective: 
I am wary of those who seem obsessed with the paranormal.  Passionate interest is one thing, but making ghost hunting one's identity is another. I see teams that are way more invested in creating team logos for their shirts and cars, getting as many likes for their team pages than doing basic research into the "evidence" they are posting or learning any scientific methodology to go with the science-y terms the like to use.  I've met too many such people who are so emotionally invested in their "evidence", or ghost hunter identity that they are shut off from reality. They resist any facts that may challenge their illusions.   On the other hand, I've seen skeptics who don't know when to walk away from a lost cause.  You just can't reason with the unreasonable, so move on to something productive and constructive.  I respect those in the paranormal community who are equally active in other interests, like history, sci-fi, music, and volunteering for charitable causes.  And I love those who have a healthy sense of humor and have FUN when researching or discussing the paranormal.  

Those who nurture their curiosity:
Most of us got into paranormal investigating because we were curious.  Were there really ghosts?  Could we capture them on film or tape?  Why would they haunt a specific location?  I have skeptic friends, who may not believe there is any scientific evidence of ghosts at this point, who still love investigating.  Why?  Because they never lost their curiosity, they just redirected it.  What could cause that sound?  What factors could contribute to people seeing a shadow person in that hallway?  Why do batteries drain in that basement?  What is the real history behind the stories?  And the list of questions to ask goes on - including, "What if?"