Friday, July 26, 2013

Ain't afraid of no ghosts

My wife sometimes likes to watch those ghost hunter shows on TV... and I enjoy mocking them. I'm sorry, but I hate the way these shows claim to approach these 'haunted' sites scientifically... or so they claim. The problem is, that these shows often approach their investigations with the initial assumption that there are ghosts and that they are haunted. A scientific approach would as the question of IF these houses are haunted. Not simply assume they are haunted, and seek to find evidence that they are. But that isn't the part that I openly mock. Rather, it's the so-called 'proofs' that they tend to offer.

One common claim is that cold spots are a proven sign of a haunting. Wait a minute... How can one claim that something is a well known proof of a ghost when ghosts have never even been proven to exist? If they are looking in a thermal camera and find an area that is colder, you haven't proven there is a ghost. All you've proved is that that area is reading colder than the surrounding areas. Something that's not hard to understand when you consider that most of these 'investigations' take place to old or run down buildings.

To confuse things further, these shows will turn around and claim that a warm spot is also proof of ghost activity. Wait, wait, wait... So cold and hot are proof of ghosts? What is this, the ghost of IcyHot? Sorry, but an anomaly is nothing more than an anomaly, but proof of a ghost. But are they really even anomalies? In most cases, the hot patches they cite are actually heat shadows/reflections from the very person filming. Furthermore, if you actually look at the temperature scale on the camera, the image that looks to have dramatic temperature differences are actually no more than a few degrees. No proof of ghosts there!

Another favorite is the EMF (electromagnetic field) detector. Again, the claim is that EMF readings are known proof of ghosts. Again, how can they claim that something is known proof of ghosts when ghosts themselves remain unproven? Furthermore, why should getting an EMF reading be surprising? Power lines, cell phones, electronics, animals, people and just about everything produces EMF's to varying degrees. This includes the cameras they are filming with.

Probably the staple to the ghost hunter crowd would be the EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon. What the ghost hunters will often do is ask questions to an empty room while running a tape recorder. In theory, they will hear a reply to their questions on playback. But this proposal forces me to wonder if they know how an audio recorder works. In short, sound waves are picked up by the recorder and then are either digitally recorded or recorded on a cassette tape. By the nature of these devices what is recorded is sounds that should have been audible to those in the room. No sounds magically appearing on the recording, just what is 'heard' by the recorders 'ear' being preserved.

So it should be no surprise that when they play back what they've recorded, all that is present is meaningless static. But then a curious thing happens. They play the static that sounds nothing like human speech and claim that it clearly say 'help me', 'get out' or any number of different things. I
listen again, and it still sounds like meaningless static to me. So why is it that these people swear that they can clearly hear these voices? It's a version of the pareidolia effect. This is a phenomenon where the mind processes random patterns and thinks it sees something familiar. This is what happens when someone thinks they see Jesus is a slice of toast, or a ghostly face in a low quality, highly pixilated image.

This ability and the human mind to take random input and translate it into something recognizable had evolutionary value. When our ancestors were living in the wild and had to worry about predators, it was of value to have that ability. Better to think you see a face and flee, than not and become lunch. The same thing happens with the EVP recordings. But it is also aided by the fact that these people expect to hear something. Couple the expectation of hearing something with the ability to make something out of nothing, and people claiming to have meaningful EVP's is easy to understand.

Orbs of light are also sometimes said to be ghosts caught on camera. But they are often either flying insects or simple dust. Laughably, there was a show where they only say these orbs on only one of the several cameras in this office building. They showed the various cameras, and claimed that there was no explanation since all the cameras and offices were the same and cleaned the same. But there was one very important detail that was left out... The camera in question was the only one mounted next to an air vent. Dust strikes again!

Sometimes the 'investigators' will claim to feel like they were touched by a spirit. But wait a minute... Ghosts are supposed to be non-physical entities. How exactly does a non-physical being engage in physical interaction? If you ask me, when one of these 'investigators' claims to have been tripped and stumbled because of a ghost, I'm more apt to believe that they're being haunted by the ghost of Captain Morgan.

Finally, what's with ghost shows always being filmed at night and in the dark? Could it be because it just looks spooky? Maybe it's because the low light conditions make it much more likely that you'll 'see' things that aren't really there. What's better for ratings than letting people eyes and imaginations play tricks on them? These shows always feel scripted and assume that the viewer will mistake fancy words for something of actual scientific worth. As you can see, these shows are void of any real substance and just hope to reinforce the beliefs of those that tune in every week. And that's something that's rather sad actually.

-Brain Hulk

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