Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Me. My Opinions. My Methodology.

A little bit more rambling, since I'm being uber-lazy and don't feel like doing anything...

I spent a considerable amount of time in cemeteries when I was younger. My mom has always been an enthusiastic genealogist, and we'd spend many a sunny day in the "old" section of a cemetery, making rubbings of pre-colonial and colonial-era stones... nowadays, that's not allowed but that's something that I feel has "desensitized" me to being in graveyards. Of course, looking back, I realize that it also somewhat damaged my psyche as I viewed the fact mom paid more attention to people who have been dead for centuries than she did me, but that's between my therapist and I. :-)

My interest in the paranormal stems from way back. I remember listening to the ghostly yarns my grandmother would spin, all surrounding Portland and Falmouth. I remember listening to the urban legends my cousins would perpetuate about ghostly lighthouses and haunted caves along the coast.

I don't recall any specific paranormal events in my life while growing up... I know I experienced some, but to me they appeared as "oddities" more than anything else. To date, I have witnessed a number of full body apparitions, telekinetic/poltergeist-like events (objects appearing to move on their own), as well as a broad spectrum of sounds, from moans and groans to clear, distinct sounds, such as inappropriate music, footfalls and voices.

The house I used to live in was ripe with paranormal activity. Am I saying it was "haunted"? No. But I'm not discounting it, either. There was always some kind of activity in the house, mainly noises like footsteps and furniture being dragged. Nearly everyone who had visited there would experience the noises as well... there were also events of moving shadows, cupboard doors opening up (not quite to the extent of "The Sixth Sense", but close enough for me.. lol), as well as some interesting EVPs captured at night... the best one being what appears to be a little girl exclaiming "puppy!"

A large part of participating in paranormal investigation/research for me is to help reinforce the theory that I'm not crazy. Well, I *am* crazy, but I need to know that I'm not diagnosable as "crazy". A lot of people will tell me that I'm not a believer, or that I'm "overly skeptical" in my ideas and debunking... but that is simply how I am. I need to disprove the existence of ghosts and spookies, not *prove* them.

I subscribe to two very basic schools of thought while investigating, researching and analyzing "evidence"...

Sherlock Holmes: "If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Occam's razor: "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate." (often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.")

Investigations for me are to rule out the impossible. My reliance on scientific equipment and methodologies are so that I can bring a degree of reasonable scientific explanations for phenomenon being experienced by a client. For example, it's been my experience that excessive levels of EMF can truly have significant impact on people and pets. EMF exposure has been studied a great deal, and I would certainly recommend everyone read up on it as much as they can.

However... if I go into a residence and there is *zero* EMF fluctuations or readings, there has to be another explanation for the feeling of nausea, vertigo, "hallucinations", etc., be it normal or paranormal in nature.

This methodology of "eliminating the impossible" creates a very simple process that remains standard throughout each and every investigation, which will allow me to form more accurate, emperical evidence as time progresses.

Because this lecture isn't long enough, let me explain a little more what I mean...

No one can *prove* that an EMF meter can detect ghosts. However, I *can* prove that an EMF meter picks up EMF. Anyone can. If I can find a source of high EMF in a house, that can provide an explanation for *some* (sometimes all, but rarely) events. If there's low or no EMF, other known sources must be looked at, to include "airborne" contaminants such as radon, some sort of chemical or natural gas leak, etc.

Looking at family history also helps... All of these questions should get answered during a pre-investigation interview... That's not to say that an investigator should go into a house with a clipboard and a checklist, but just listening to the client talk will normally net more information than any sort of checklist. Sometimes a helpful "nudge" in the right direction is called for, but give them someone to tell their story to.

Is there a history of drug or alcohol abuse? What about now? What about current medications people may be on? Where do they work? Are they exposed to "contaminants" outside the home? The investigation we're doing this weekend is in a home, and the home owner is out on disability. Why? Are they on psychotropic drugs or pain killers? We are trying to establish if there is anything that could even slightly skew someone's "normal" perceptions.

Affirmative answers to any of these questions *could* be a partial explanation for what's going on. This is where Occam's razor comes into play. However, negative responses for these questions help "eliminate the impossible". Think of it in the terms of a trial by jury... "reasonable doubt". Once all the "simple" answers have been answered and all the "impossible" has been eliminated, we are now faced with the eventuality that there may be something paranormal or supernatural.

There are as many theories on ghosts and spirits and the paranormal as there are investigators, but very few seem keen on actually *proving* those theories using basic scientific methodology. So yeah, the groups with more disposable income have all the latest gadgets and fancy gear, but realistically there is not one ounce of evidence that *proves* (beyond a reasonable doubt) any of this fancy crap actually works in the detection of supernatural or paranormal entities.

I get really leery of most of the equipment available out there. If it says "ghost" anywhere on the gadget (or website), I'm not going to use it. That is my choice. I'll go into a house armed with IR cameras, voice recorders, EMF meters, "fart sniffers" (gas detectors) and a boatload of common sense and scientific knowledge. I rarely even take pictures on investigations any more.. seems silly to me to be in a pitch black house or cemetery and suddenly fill it with camera flash... that's begging for false positives and reflection orbs. If I do take pictures, I set my camera on the "macro" (or "portrait") setting, which severely reduces the intensity of the flash, but still allows for a fast shutter speed. Maybe one day I'll be able to afford a FLIR, but until then, I'm left to what I *can* afford.

At this point, I probably have people screaming at their computer monitor at me for my "naysaying"... but let me put this into perspective... you like "Ghost Hunters" on SciFi, right? Me too, to an extent. How much compelling evidence have they capture from their FLIR? IR cameras? EVPs? Lots. How many times have they debunked a haunting due to high levels of EMF or chemical exposure? Many. How many photos have had compelling evidence? None.

While this narrative is long-winded and a bit drawn out, I hope that it will give people a much better perspective of who I am, where I come from, and how I approach the community.

Psychic vs. Scientific

I stumbled across this line on a "school for psychics" website:

"Trying to use scientific methodology to describe what is inherently unscientific is unreliable at best."

While yes, to certain extent that line is true, it is also grossly misleading and false.

Many of the "ghost hunting" groups that use scientific methodologies are not necessarily using equipment and "scientific methodology" to prove a haunting; instead that equipment (such as an EMF detector) is used to find and explain the normal. Once all the "normal" has been discovered and explained...

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

There are as many theories about the paranormal as there are investigators, enthusiasts and skeptics. They could all be true, they could all be false… but that is really irrelevant. It is up to the individual to determine from their own experience.

....However, while there may be no "true" scientific methodology to ascertain the existence of the paranormal, it helps everyone more to be able to see and hear the physical evidence, as intangible as it may be.

If there is paranormal activity, does that mean the house is haunted? Not necessarily. Paranormal is defined as "beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation." Individual pieces of evidence cannot be taken as proof; one must look at the whole picture for a more thorough understanding as to what is going on… everything from personal experiences to "hard evidence" gathered during an investigation.

With time and experience, an investigator will learn what is uncommonly common and what is not… but that is a blog for another day.....

Anyone can walk into a house as a "psychic" or "medium" and go into a grand mal seizure and start speaking in tongues and "prove" to the home owner the house is haunted. To me (and many, many others), that is simply not proof. That's an acting job. If someone walks into a house and captures something on IR, thermal, or an EVP, and is something that can't be explained, that is evidence that there may be some sort of paranormal activity in that house.

Now don't get me wrong, absolutely I believe psychics and mediums are capable of conversing with the dead as well as sense the energies of spirits still roaming the earth. I believe there are those "gifted" with a second sight who can see glimpses of the future or share energies with another to get an impression of what another is thinking or feeling.

However, I believe those people are far and few in between. I've met a small handful of people I believe to be truly psychic or mediumistic in nature. They are always the silent minority. A vast number of the vocal majority, however, I have come to realize are nothing more than charlatans. Did Dionne Warwick see bankruptcy coming? Then there is the grey area between vocal and silent that some are, some aren't.

It's up to the individual to decide what they believe and what they don't believe. Anyone can say a place is haunted, but not everyone can look at an investigation from a logical and objective standpoint and disprove a place is not haunted.