The Possibility of the Dunning-Kruger Effect within Ghost Hunting

I often find it a little curious how my interest is spiked regarding various topics, and how I may find myself slowly falling into a rabbit hole, discovering new tangents to follow at every turn. This can often be a blessing as you stumble upon new pieces of information you were previously unaware of, but equally can be a little of a hindrance too at times.

As many of us have done during these COVID times, I recently scanned through Netflix looking for something to watch. Often I settle on a random documentary and find myself learning something new; the one regarding Black Holes was rather good for example and reminded me that sometimes just because we can’t see something with the naked eye, that doesn’t mean that it may not actually exist. Many years of good solid research and theorising have now proven their existence; and we are even beginning to understand more about them.

First Image of Black Hole

However, on this occasion I decided to settle on a documentary about Flat Earther’s! Over the years within the paranormal field I have heard a great deal about this growing group of individuals and how they are quickly becoming a part of mainstream news. The documentary itself followed a number of those who believe the Earth to be flat, as they head towards meeting up and holding a conference on the subject. Something similar to a few of the paranormal conventions that have become extremely popular in the United States and to a lesser degree in the UK.

Mark Sargent – Flat Earther

Now it is important to highlight that I personally don’t have anything against the Flat Earther’s or their personal belief regarding the Earth place in the universe. I equally would not deter them from such a belief, but this provides essential comprehension of a situation where we must disagree. As I do not hold the same belief and subscribe to the fact that the Earth is spherical in accordance to the movement of the universe and life itself. However, just because we disagree, doesn’t mean we cannot discuss our positions and challenge each other based on our own points of view.

This is something that is often lacking in the paranormal field and sometimes even in science. As individuals chasing the unknown, us paranormal investigators should not be shy to challenge reality as we understand it or question the position of others that dominate the conversation. We learn through questioning and sometimes that means we don’t have to take what another more outspoken person states as being gospel. All too often within the paranormal I have witnessed more experienced investigators or larger personalities dominate conversations, almost forcing their point of view on other members of the group. One prime example I used to hear knocked around like it was scientific fact was the stone tape theory. A theory that is actually less of a theory and more of a 1970’s TV show. I always found it quite interesting how the stone tape theory would be presented as an explanation with the simple detail that various stone may be able to retain certain emotional information that under the right circumstances be played back like a video recording. This would be fantastically amazing should it really be probable, but the question was how would it work. Initially the explanations remained based on rocks or crystals having ‘properties’ which quickly drew the theory into the realms of belief rather than fact or science. So, me being me, went off in search of other possibilities. Now there could be a possibility that the water within the rocks or stone retained the information, as there have some experiments regarding that area. However, other research presented the possibility that in order imprint such information, ridiculous amounts of energy would be required. The more you look into the reality of the stone tape theory, the more it unravels at speed.

The Stone Tape (TV Movie 1972)

This was similar for the Flat Earther’s story too within the documentary, as there are some experiments that can be done to a) prove the Earth’s tilt, and b) prove the curvature of the Earth’s surface. Whether the Flat Earther’s were willing to accept the results of these experiments is another matter though, as it would seriously compromise their belief system. This was also where the Dunning-Kruger Effect came into the story, but also a point where I realised some distinctive similarities to many Ghost Hunters. As I often find that many Ghost Hunters lack the ability to objectively evaluate their own true ability. This leads to a cognitive bias, where the Ghost Hunters belief overrides the facts available. This is generally down to the aspect that the Ghost Hunters desire for a paranormal result or experience; and as such may reject good reasoning and logical explanation.

Quite an amusing example case for the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the McArthur Wheeler case of April 19, 1995. The middle aged man robbed two banks in Pittsburgh in 1995. What was particular odd about this case was that Wheeler covered his face in lemon juice, believing that as lemon juice was a prime ingredient in invisible ink; it was his belief that this would render him invisible to the banks CCTV. This belief based on facts, but then utilised in completely the wrong context is a commonality within both the Flat Earther’s and Ghost Hunters communities. Generally it is based on poor research or simply accepting what someone else has said, allowing belief to dominate the facts.

Granted the McArthur Wheeler case appears to be an extreme one and many would ascertain that applying lemon juice would not make you invisible, but the context is similar. Many Ghost Hunters still accept the stone tape theory as a relevant explanation for a paranormal experience. They equally accept that the simplest of audio captured during an EVP session should be regarded as intelligent communication with a spirit. However, in reality there is no proof to confirm this either. For all we know, the audio has a natural explanation within the environment the Ghost Hunter finds themselves, but have not considered. If that is not the case then perhaps the supernatural explanation points to the Ghost Hunters themselves subconsciously imprinting the information on the device using telepathy or perhaps psychokinesis. The point being is that the explanation itself requires further understanding before settling on a paranormal one.

In a field that is swamped with belief, saving ourselves from our own bias is not an easy task. However, if we are to fully investigate the paranormal and find true meaning in the oddities of the world then we need to be more objective in our approach. We need to have safeguards that prevent us from jumping to conclusions and ideas that have us think outside of the natural routes or known routes, to obtain a new comprehension of the supernormal world around us.

“In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the every-day affairs of life it is more useful to reason forwards, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically…Let me see if I can make it clearer. Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backwards, or analytically.”

– Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Many of us are aware of Sherlock Holmes and his many adventures with Dr Watson, detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, many are unaware of Doyle’s interest in Spirituality and his links to the paranormal. So, I think it’s fitting that it should be he, that reminds us to be more analytical in our review of that which we investigate and seek understanding of in the future. Whilst it may not be easy to restrain your own bias at times, perhaps you’re even unaware of its existence, but if we keep it firmly in mind then maybe we can find our way to discover more about the great invisible unknown.

One thought on “The Possibility of the Dunning-Kruger Effect within Ghost Hunting

  1. Good article! A good conversation should always be had by first doing diligent cause/effect research. A prime example is the Stone Tape Theory. My contention in discussion of this hypothetical effect is aside from the physics involved to accomplish the storing of past experiences in minerals, the claim is purported without supporting geological soil survey information to show the actual mineral content of the surroundings. In the past, I’ve used the Stanley Hotel in the U.S. as an example of a popular ghost TV show claiming residual hauntings there based on the Stone Tape Theory, going so far as to claim the type of minerals that were the source. Upon my obtaining the U.S.D.A. soil survey of the grounds the hotel sat upon, no such mineral content was found! Another popular claim is that “cold spots” are indicative of paranormal manifestation. The known laws of thermodynamics contradict this claim but it would be an interesting discussion nonetheless to submit to the possibility of the validity of cold spots if one were to enter discussion concerning quantum physics and its most recent experiment that indicates an adiabatic-type boundary where heat is introduced yet the temperature within does not rise, in seeming direct violation of the laws of thermodynamics. Even so, we are attributing abilities to alleged spirits, who have somehow gained the unimaginable powers upon corporeal death that they didn’t possess prior.

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