First off, I have to make a stipulation.
My views of the Ghost Hunting segment of reality television are not exactly akin to my views on the paranormal itself. Though this is a subject that tends to mainstream on the fringes (most either absolutely believe, or know for a fact its all a load of crap), I am apt to be on neither side. If there were a word that I would use to describe my stance, it would be “agnostic” as coined by William L Rowe (Someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God. Or in this case, the paranormal).
I also have to acknowledge that the “paranormal” is an umbrella term for a great many phenomenons (even the “god” question, since it falls into the domain of the supernatural). And they are not all equal in terms of, how seriously they should be taken. For example, though mediumship is in the same category, I have written before about why I think that most psychics and mediums are completely full of crap.
Ghosts and other such phenomenons, occur (or can occur) outside of the context of the human mindset. One can write off with some certainty many (most?) paranormal phenomenons that are based around human influence due to misunderstanding, dishonesty and other factors. But phenomenons that are independent of the human mind (such as ghosts), should have more consideration.
However, one has to take biased mindsets into account to. Speaking of biased mindsets, time to move on to Why I Hate Ghost Hunting Shows.
I used to watch (even enjoy) watching some of these ghost shows. Though Ghost Hunters is the most recent example of a show I enjoyed (well, ONCE enjoyed), there have been many over the years. I have read many books on the subject, on both regional and far away stories. And I have heard my fair share of ghost stories over the years, to various degrees of believability. I even had a bit of a “spooky” incident of my own, described in a previous post about the Paranormal written a couple years ago (it may or may not reflect my current stances, being the amount of time that has passed since then).
The subject always has interested and to a degree, fascinated me. For the same reason that it does for so many other people (its an unknown, unexplored and misunderstood realm).
That said, though ghost hunting shows found their way into the mainstream by way of attempting to put an end to the ambiguity of the phenomenon of ghosts and the paranormal, most (all?) are TERRIBLE at the job for a various reasons.
The Biased Entry
This one can split into 2 parts.
First, you have the bias that comes from knowing exactly what to look for. Then you have the bias that is, your mind knowing what you are going to find.
These shows all seem to start in the same way. First you get an overview of the location that will be under investigation. You learn the history of the location and the surrounding areas (which includes notable past traumatic events or uses of the building, such as fires, suicides or if the place was an asylum or other such facility).
Then you will have the walk though with the buildings owner or other representative of the property. They take you on the “spooky” tour of the place, telling you where notable past events have occurred and where people have allegedly experienced mysterious phenomenon. The ghost hunting team then uses that data as a guide to where to set up, whatever equipment that they intend to utilize that evening (there is a HUGE number of different devices that I have seen deployed).
And we arrive at my first problem with such shows. The problem that is, bias of conclusion.
One of the big problems with paranormal investigation, is the human brain itself. The more information you absorb on what COULD happen (what you COULD see or experience), the higher the chance that you WILL experience such phenomenon.
A great example of this (for me personally) is from the show Mystery Quest, in an episode about hauntings similar to the Amityville NY haunting of Hollywood infamy. A famous photograph was shown on the screen at first with no explanation. And I was initially confused as to what I was looking at.
Until the narrator mentioned the presence of a little boy in the photo, which suddenly made ME see the little boy. The person I was watching the show with seen the boy even before it was mentioned, but I attribute this to a life long interest in the paranormal (having read many books on the topic, they likely seen the famous image previously).
It is this same phenomenon that makes me critical of the practice of educating a group of investigators as to the alleged activities in a location, then having the same team do the investigation.
Sure, I see shows where so called “personal experiences” that happen to one part of the group in one location are hidden from the others who later enter the same location (who often have similar experiences). But that is not good enough, since the whole team is already biased by KNOWING exactly what happens. All “personal experiences” are tainted by this bias.
I hate seeing shows do an investigation based ONLY around the history of a location.
For example, say there is an allegedly haunted house that had a past fire in 1908, and a suicide in 1946. 2 died in the fire, and 1 by suicide, leaving 3 seemingly obvious suspects in the “haunting”. So the team enters, does its investigation, but only attempts to make contact with the 3. Not taking into account that the “hauntings” could originate from the old couple that passed away peacefully in the home in 1985. Individuals of which, may not feel obligated to “make contact”, since your not even looking for them.
Or of which may be mildly annoyed, on account to a bunch of idiots in “their” house asking stupid questions and freaking out every time the refrigerator kicks in.
Investigating To An Agenda
By this, I mean shows with teams that go in with the goal of “proving” a location to be haunted. Or to otherwise prove the existence of, whatever phenomenon they happen to be covering that episode.
When it comes to this aspect, I have to admit that not all ghost hunting shows are equal. Despite the amusing meme that i opened this post with, I have to give Ghost Hunters (and Ghost Hunters International) credit for not operating to this end (or at least, I do not pick up that vibe). Its something that I watch for, particularly in the intro to the shows. If I hear “were here to prove the existence of the paranormal”, then it is an automatic red flag for me.
I may have this screwed up, but to me, the job of a true “investigator” should be first to debunk, and otherwise just gather. Do not go in LOOKING to prove something. Because chances are your brain will turn whatever you find into “evidence” of the paranormal.
A problem that is only amplified when this methodology is combined with the problem of using biased investigators to investigate a location.
Using Mediums In Investigations
This one ties into my “Investigating to an agenda” paragraph a bit , in that many of the shows that set off that said red flag often end up utilizing mediums in their investigations. If not within the investigations themselves, then in the preparation procedures (to see where the “energies” are strongest).
They are often funny to watch, because it is painfully obvious how often their “readings” are just generalized presumptions based on factors of the location and its surrounding area.
For example, in a warehouse in a heavily industrialized area with a past record of a refinery explosion that killed 3, the medium apparently “felt” at least 2 men present. Such a shock, given demographics of past (and present) industrial workers.
Then there was one doing a walk though in a slaughter house turned bar, with a history of murder. Of course the medium picked up on the presence of “rivers of blood”, along with the “presence” of the murdered spirit.
Then there was another doing a tour of an Indian reservation and burial ground somewhere in the US. She apparently said she felt a feeling of “injustice and great pain”, which invoked strong emotion in some present.
That one actually pissed me off.
But moving on, I know that the main reason why this trick works is because of the fringe nature of many paranormal believers. One who has already been convinced, does not need a high bar of evidence to be further convinced. None the less however, the next time you see a medium doing a “reading” on one of these shows, try and determine if the information is just conformation to the surroundings, or to the history of the facility (and/or its surroundings).
Misinterpretation Of (At Best) Circumstantial Evidence
Again, not all ghost hunting shows seem to be equal in this regard. I again acknowledge Ghost Hunters and GHI as being fairly careful in this regard.
However, I have seen some examples that are just, terrible. Lets take an episode of Mystery Quest I seen last night.
There was an investigation involving some manor in rural California. The place was seemingly abandoned and fairly isolated, no electrical power coming into the place or nearby. One method of investigation was utilizing some sort of military grade intrusion detection system to keep track of any vibrations on the ground outside.
It was noted that one of the detectors started to pick up vibrations in the ground outdoors. After seeing this for a few minutes, a team is sent out to “investigate” (check if there is a person outside). They find no one, and chalk it up to some sort of electro magnetic field “entering” the house.
Something that I was amused by, being that as they were outside looking around, the tail lights of passing vehicles on a fairly nearby roadway could be seen.
Inside the same house, a team investigating on an upper floor is said to have had an experience with a spirit though contact with a loud and obnoxious (I believe) EMF detector. The show seemed fairly confident in the reading, being that the home was away from most of civilization’s baseline EMF sources (electrical power).
However, I am not quite as confident to make that judgment call, being that EMF is not just generated by AC powered devices. Though the house is not electrified, the team has plenty of battery powered gadgetry. It would likely have to be close by, but one example I can think of as a possibility is a walkie talkie. Another is a mobile phone.
I have mentioned the mobile phone thing to paranormal hunters that I know personally, and they suspect the contribution of most modern handsets to be very low (compared to models of years past). One thing I wonder however, is if that is a finding based only on a mobile phone with excellent to good base station reception (in a city or other well served area).
This I acknowledge, because this home is in a rural area. Rural areas tend to have less base stations situated further apart. Meaning that phones communicating in not so good to fringe coverage areas, likely have to boost their power output (and thus, their EMF output).
Just a hunch.
Another incident (in this some house) was in an upstairs bedroom. A thermal camera picked up an allegedly “pulsating” cluster of heat in a wall very close to a window. Since it was the wee hours of the morning, it was assumed to be a “vortex” (a portal for spirits beyond to apparently, enter our world).
That in itself is hilarious.
Not even considering the possibility of non-spooky alternatives. One being residual heat from the sun in an object that is in (or on) the outside wall (a brick?). Or an animal that found a nice cozy place to sleep (pulsating = breathing?).
When it comes to the paranormal, I am still (and likely always will be) on the fence. I can not rule out what I can not prove. But I also can not be sure of what I can not confirm. An intellectual enigma.
One thing I do know for sure however, is that I can not watch ghost hunting shows. They just, hurt.