Over the past 10 or so years, ghost hunting has gone from fringe counterculture to mainstream hobby. Somehow, paranormal turned “cool” and all the stylish people started doing it; some even managed to turn it into successful television careers. But through all the hype and popularity, the new high-tech gadgets like the Ovilus and full-spectrum camcorders, there haven’t been any major steps forward in understanding most unexplained phenomena from the viewpoint of self-proclaimed paranormal investigators. If anything, most superstitions and assumptions have only been reinforced and passed along as truths.
As author Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” So what’s missing? What’s wrong with paranormal investigation, research, and exploration? What needs to be changed? No two people seem to agree. It seems there are two camps – “staunch skeptics” and “firm believers” – caught in a constant battle over who is right and who is wrong. I believe it is important to find some middle ground if people truly want to get to the bottom of phenomena associated with ghosts/spirits, poltergeists, and haunted places. Valid points do exists sometimes on either side. At the same time, die-hard personal beliefs often hinder progress.
So what is your average paranormal investigator to do? How can Joe Tech Specialist or Jane Sensitive take ghost hunting out of the ectoplasmic cloud of mystic pseudo-religion and into the realm of noble pursuit? Here are a few key rules of thumb to become a better investigator and restore some much-needed sanity to the search for weirdness in our wondrous world.
Embrace Skepticism. There is a severe lack of critical thinking and honest skepticism in the mainstream paranormal community. I’m not talking about trashing the paranormal; plenty of skeptics out there are just hecklers. But when you get a fuzzy photo or scratchy recording, don’t jump to ghost conclusions. Was that Native American tribal drumming or just a guy hammering a dent out in his Chevy? Was it a scream you heard or just an owl? Knowing your surroundings (and common nature sounds) is very important. Being able to form simple deductive conclusions and rule out experiences as natural, misidentified things doesn’t make you a party pooper; it makes you a rational person. This all involves following the next point:
Keep an open mind. And I mean that. Stop with the “but my orb is REAL ‘cause it’s not like those dust ones” garbage. Be willing to throw away your opinions if evidence proves otherwise. If you expect skeptics to be “open-minded” yet you refuse to be open to the possibility something might not be paranormal, you’re a hypocrite.
Educate yourself. If there’s something you don’t know much about, from physics to human behavior, there’s no excuse for not looking into it further before using it as an argument in your favor. Consult with experts. Read college textbooks or books written by people with a deep understanding of the world around us. You can even audit a class in psychology, sociology, or some other applicable discipline to gain free knowledge on any subject. This all leads into the next rule:
Read more; watch less. As the number of paranormal television shows increased, so did the number of viewers who – after a few episodes – suddenly became ghost hunters themselves. Watching Project Runway doesn’t make you an instant fashion designer. If you’re a devoted fan of (insert paranormal program here), that’s what you are: a fan, not an overnight expert. Pick up a book written by someone far more knowledgeable than a celebrity. This isn’t some brand-new field of study; a ton of work has been done over the past two centuries worth checking out. Television rots the brain. Stop learning everything from it.
Set religion aside. It might be hard with Demonology and angels being popular among ghost hunters, but in order to be scientific you can’t act like a fundamentalist at the same time. This might offend 99% of ghost hunters out there, but religions are belief without question; investigating paranormal claims calls for fact-based inquiry. It can be downright dangerous to fill minds with unsubstantiated claims without thorough psychological examinations and background checks. Telling a Catholic client that they need an exorcism isn’t helping someone, even if you believe there’s a demon in their house. You’re feeding them information they want to hear based on their (and, often, your own) personal beliefs. Believe whatever you want, but keep your beliefs out of actual investigating. It doesn’t belong there.
Fraud-check all psychic claims. It’s hard to find a ghost hunting group without at least one “sensitive” or “intuitive psychic” person on board. I don’t care what you call yourself, but if you’re involved in paranormal investigation, you must be willing to have your own claims called into question (since they too are paranormal or supernatural, after all). There is no such thing as a 100%-accurate psychic, but psychic claims have been studied for more than a century by scientists and parapsychologists. Have his or her claims tested or verified in lab conditions by an accredited parapsychologist or someone involved in scientific psi-related research. If that isn’t possible (or is met with too much protest), keep detailed notes on his/ her “hits” (correct assertions) and “misses” (incorrect statements) to determine his/her rate of accuracy above chance. Anything that cannot be verified by historical record or hard evidence is pure hearsay. If he or she wants to tell people when they’ll win the lottery or get hit by a bus, let him or her do so on his or her own separate time.
“When in doubt, throw it out.” It can be tough letting go of that creepy garbled voice you recorded or that spooky-looking fog in a photograph of an abandoned building. This and other so-called “evidence” can be used to scare your friends on a Saturday night, but don’t call it scientific proof of life after death. If every single person who listens to your electronic voice phenomenon cannot agree without being told what it sounds like, it’s too inconclusive to draw an opinion. Unless every single alternative possibility can be ruled out for explaining your photographic anomaly, it’s just a nifty souvenir. Other people will scrutinize your evidence carefully; you must be willing to do the same. You don’t have to literally throw everything out, though. Turn the photos into a cool scrapbook or online photo album. Save video and audio for YouTube projects and strolls down memory lane. Just don’t classify these things as concrete evidence.
Am I advocating the eradication of paranormal investigation, ghost hunting tourism, and television programs? Certainly not. I honestly believe that there are incidents which happen that have not fully been explained. To search for “things that go bump in the night” isn’t absurd, but if you wish to use terms like “serious investigator” and “scientific approach”, then you better well act like it. For far too long now, misidentification and misunderstood experiences have been pawned off as paranormal activity.Of course, if you just want to have fun with strange history, abandoned places, and haunted field trips, there is nothing wrong with that either, just do so responsibly.