The Ghost of Belief

Sometimes one of the hardest things for ghost hunters or for that matter paranormal investigators to do is remain neutral to a situation in order to properly investigate the phenomena. Now this may spark a resounding; ‘no its not – I do it on all my investigations,’ but realistically our own confirmation bias can play a massive part in what we do. I am happy to place my own hand in the air and admit there may have been a few occasions where this was the case.

The problem is that often many approach their investigations already compromised by their own belief looking for ‘evidence’ based on that without realising it is already influencing them. 

However, this is actually causing greater issues than many of us would care to admit or probably realise, in my opinion. If you’re reading this and already feel you’re slightly lost and feel that I am way off, then it’s more than likely that this could be directly related to you – you just don’t realise it.

Let’s start by addressing one area that currently holds great influence in regards to the ghost hunting community – television shows. I know it seems unlikely that those, ‘for entertainment only’ shows could provide a belief based influence on our current methodology of paranormal investigation, but from my observations there is without doubt a link. In recent times I have observed many groups approaching their hunts in a way that almost mirrors that of the TV shows. Perhaps in these days of multimedia and social media – these approaches are to be considered a natural progression in how we communicate, but to me it often feels that there is a lack of investigation and more like a concept of ‘going through the motions’ that replicate the TV shows.

Granted that some of what the TV shows do has come from the field of paranormal investigation, so one could argue one would not be present without the other. A philosophical chicken and egg scenario perhaps. However, many ghost hunts of this nature (not all mind you) appear to place the greatest importance on spending time filming the event in order to capture probable experiences rather than actually investigate the supposed claims of phenomena associated with our supposed haunted location of choice. This equally extends to the all important Facebook Live session, which I can only assume has become a part of many groups ghost hunts in order to increase their popularity on social media.

The point I am attempting to make here is that if our focus is on filming content for our YouTube Channel or ensuring that we deliver an engaging Facebook Live during our investigation – how then can we be focused on delivering a structured well balanced investigation? I will return to this shortly.

As I mentioned recent observation of a few paranormal investigations had highlighted this modern approach. Most I have observed from the privacy of my own home through the internet, but a few I have also attended too. Whilst attending those investigations, I have asked some simple questions, which have had some unexpected responses. In some cases I have simply asked – ‘what are you investigating?’ As vague as it sounds and perhaps as simple as it sounds, ten years previous this question would receive a slightly different answer. Recently the answer has been a more common – the/this haunted location. Whilst around ten years ago I would often be presented with a detailed background of the potentially reported phenomena at a location. Now this is in no way a detailed census and as such may not represent the nine hundred plus active paranormal groups in UK alone, but does worry me slightly. I hope I have just asked the wrong people.

So, why do I think it matters how people are responding to my very simple question. In my opinion this answer determines the difference between looking for an experience and investigating paranormal claims. Equally it could be argued if its an experience that you’re looking for then belief could play a huge part in that. Which could mean, but is by no means proven, that TV show formats are driving the belief of some (not all) that if they follow a similar format in their own ghost hunts, then there is a greater chance of an experience.

Also, in order to investigate claims of phenomena, personally I believe we should be looking at the experiences and witness statements in order to shape each investigation rather than applying TV show format which doesn’t help in all cases. The oddity is that as these approaches are becoming normal for many, it equally becomes the belief that it is how we should proceed. This isn’t something that just applies to those following TV format though, as we have seen and still do the application of other factors too. These could be consider the polar opposite view points of believer versus sceptic, which equally formulate labels within the field that can have dramatic impact.

Let us tackle the believers first. Once again we can that those who have certain spiritual or indeed paranormal beliefs can also maintain a certain amount of confirmation bias when they approach the paranormal. The most common being that of phenomena source. This is where the source of phenomena, be it some strange activity, action or presence of information is determined to be that of a spirit in close proximity. For example, the grey lady ghost said to haunt the halls of a particular location – any experienced activity or information received by the groups resident medium is quickly concluded as being from that particular entity. This can often create a line of communication based on assumption that in my opinion could begin to influence the proceedings of the investigation incorrectly. The odd thing is that we may never know if the momentary experience is exactly what we feel it might be by these measures as we would have confused the reality of that moment in time. For the record, I have obviously been in such a position when during an investigation we received information from a medium and then that began a sequence of communication that we determined ‘interesting.’  Do I fully discount these, of course not, but we must all proceed with a level of caution when concluding the greater picture I feel.

Now for the sceptics. This is probably a little more simpler to approach, but in doing so may present a contrasting contradictory frame to the last paragraph. The problem I am addressing here is where our sceptic friends reach a level of scepticism that they will not under any circumstances entertain any possibility of phenomena. However, what I have witnessed is those that are at that level of belief of their own sceptic position often fail to review scenarios at all, writing them off as having a logical explanation. This is not all sceptics, but a few here and there.

The point being that whether your belief is in the phenomena you seek or in the fact that you believe it to have a logical normal explanation, those beliefs can without down influence your approach to investigating them.

Oddly these beliefs can appear in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be either. For example, often the use of technology within paranormal investigation is aligned with taking a structured approach, gathering good evidence to support probable phenomena. However, I have equally seen the use of technology drop into the influence of belief and indeed confirmation bias. This is often when ghost hunters use technology such as voice recorders to capture Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) or use Spirit Boxes, which scan through AM and FM radio bands delivering snippets of audio as supposed responses to the hunters questions. The problem here often comes in the form of interpretation, but interpretation in various forms. The first, being that of a response to a question determines intelligent communication. In my opinion it does not as often these responses are probable wishful thinking. Questions are asked and in the case of EVP, some audible response can be heard to be an answer. Granted some may be interesting, but in a lot of ghost hunt cases these are not received and analysed in controlled conditions, one person will interpret the probable EVP and others will/may agree they hear the same. At no point does this extend to determine intelligent communication though as its usually one or few words that the ghost hunter believes relate to their line of questioning. I have personally witnessed situations where fitting the EVP into the questions has been like squeezing one the ugly sisters into Cinderellas glass slipper. The second, being that the audio is a response at all and not anything else. Belief in these devices and methods has become so accepted that questioning the source or even what’s received any has began to leave the process entirely. If in doubt throw it out, is fast becoming don’t doubt there’s a spirit about.

Whilst our belief is exactly that – our belief and I am not suggesting that as ghost hunters we should become void of belief. I am suggesting that we need to be more aware of it and the huge part it may be playing in our investigation of the paranormal. As investigators we seek answers, but we must let the true phenomena lead us to those answers through proper methods. If we continue to blur the lines between proper research and investigation, and entertainment we only continue to push ourselves further away from that truth we seek.

The investigation of the paranormal can often present us with a great deal of disappointment as phenomena rarely occurs on demand. Perhaps our on-demand life style and world that is fast becoming the norm for us all is beginning to influence a field that still beats to the tune of an older drum. Either way, in my opinion our greatest tools are a notepad and pen to document our observations of possible phenomena. Documenting events can help us along the way to determining what is truly occurring. And in that respect perhaps that’s where our media driven approach that is fast becoming popular could actually pay off. Alternatively we must still be vigilant in our approach as the camera does lie and so do EVPs. That which we often determine ‘evidence’ is usually subjective as its our own interpretation of those videos, photos or audio that makes it ‘evidence.’ As I often state the true answers are in the data and good data is far from exciting to collate, but worth it too. However, that could equally be though the collection of witness testimony too, which could provide an interesting insight into a probable haunted location or particular phenomena. The more data we have the more we can gain an understanding.

For example, I recently started to read a book by John Fraser on Poltergeist’s, which will be out in early 2020. Fraser had already challenged me to re-evaluate my perception of poltergeist cases previously and his book (three chapters in) is already doing that. Fraser, equally highlights concepts of how belief can change our perception – drawing similarities between cases and even entity types that actually show a possible link to poltergeist cases. Which in turn would make the poltergeist type or ‘poltergeist syndrome’ (according to Fraser) more common than we first thought. My particular favourite was Fraser’s evaluation of Gef the talking mongoose to being a probable poltergeist case. Once again showing that by assessing the data from multiple cases we begin to see patterns that can determine a greater understanding. It is often only our own beliefs that can restrict us from stepping back and seeing the bigger picture.

So, whether you’re a believer, sceptic or like to sit on the fence somewhat, always ensure that you ask as many questions as possible and obtain as much information as possible to make a true assessment of the phenomena. Sometimes the truth can be stranger than fiction. Don’t allow your belief to form the ghost you seek.

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