For as far back as I can remember, I have always classed myself as a paranormal investigator, or researcher; not really a ghost hunter as I guess these days I associated them more with the likes of those running around darkened buildings more in search of a personal experience. However, I have to admit that potentially some of the investigations I have attended that were ran by others and possibly even myself at times, probably fell into that very same categorisation. It certainly was not investigation at times, but often that is the way it goes you kind of just fall in line with the others you are with and their approach.
In all honesty I do enjoy a night of ghost hunting, as it can be both fun and the ideal time to catch up with those friends with a similar interest in the paranormal as me. However, over the years I have begun to recognise the importance of a proper investigation in relation to our understanding of the paranormal, but equally our true contribution to the field of research.
The problem is where we are seeing many ghost hunters position themselves as paranormal investigators; and then present their ‘investigations’ or ghost hunts as ‘evidence’ or fact. Now I am not really precious about the naming here because there is no hard or fast rules around this, but when huge amounts of subjective information is presented as factual evidence supporting the survival hypothesis, it certain annoys me a little.
The very meaning of the word ‘investigation’ is defined as the action of investigating something or someone; formal or systematic examination or research. It is to examine, study or inquire into something, to search or examine into the particulars of, and examine in detail. I know many ghost hunters may take offence to my comments here, but many ghosts hunters (not all) actually do very little investigation. This would mean gathering witness testimony of various paranormal experiences and then analysing them to ascertain the best approach to comprehend the possible anomalous activity that may be occurring at any given location.
Instead many ghost hunters read a few accounts of paranormal activity and then visit to perform an overnight investigation, in which they do little investigating and focus on methods more aligned to spirituality. Their methods are usually more about recreating an experience or communicating with potential spirits than investigating the claims of activity. As such they align more with spirituality than proper research or investigation.
For example; I have watched on numerous occasions television shows that tell you what kind of paranormal activity occurred at a location. They then proceed to investigate it using a few standard items; a) digital voice recorder for EVPs; b) a REM Pod for subtle environmental changes; c) some kind of EMF meter. Whilst two of these devices focus on environmental changes they are often utilised like communication devices, either to provide simple answers to questions or to confirm a presence. An approach I would say is similar to various spiritual approaches. These are generally used in accordance with the group members calling out to spirit asking them to communicate with the group.
These approaches generally lead to the ghost hunters often reacting to various noises or lights, which in any other circumstances would probably be discounted, but as the group is within the drama of the ghost hunt; misinterpretation of information occurs often.
Realistically the investigation of a spontaneous anomalous event would require capturing witness statements, then analysis of those statements for commonalities. It would also require categorisation, so that we could determine which were first hand and which were second hand experiences. This could then provide us with a better understanding of the frequency of anomalous events at a particular location, but also at which time those events may occur. This way we would begin to build a structured plan of how to investigate based on the information we have at hand.
Over the years I have had many individuals approach me, either directly or through my email account asking for me to investigate their home or sometimes their work. Often my response has been simple, but also one that I know many groups do not follow. I simply ask; ‘please could you provide me with an account of what activity has occurred, where it happened at the location, who was present at the time, and at which time it occurred.’ I usually add to this a request for a two week diary of events to be logged and sent to me. At the end of the two weeks I then have quite a lot of information to begin the case; I have the various types of activity occurring, what times of day that activity occurs, where on the property the activity is occurring, and equally important who is present when it occurs. The last one is always more important than people realise, as it not only provides witnesses to interview, but a potential individual that is a common-denominator in the activity. This could mean that either that person is committing fraud or potentially is the directly related to the phenomena occurrence like a poltergeist case.
However, in my opinion and also experience; often the reality of providing real information that can be used to conduct a proper investigation is not taken seriously. Very few have ever provided information in this way to me. Perhaps it is due to the sensationalism that has been provided by the television shows that make people believe that what they need is someone to jump in a car and come over that evening to conduct a full blown investigation. Oddly this is often an opinion shared by many ghost hunting teams, and as such they offer to do just that. Whilst I don’t dispute their willingness to try and help people with something strange in their neighbourhood, they may be on many occasions simply jumping in too quickly. More importantly, surely without good detailed information they are hindering a proper investigation?
This leads nicely into the other issue that many ghost hunters suffer from; confirmation bias. Those that jump into an investigation often do so quickly with the hope of capturing the next Enfield Haunting or having an amazing experience themselves. The problem being that as they rush into their investigation with this mindset, they quickly lose the ability to remain level headed and as such less biased to ghost story they are about to become a part of. The larger problem here is that confirmation bias is not always recognised by the ghost hunter, and whilst its existence is understood it becomes an element that is considered to be one of those things that ‘is not impacting my investigation.’ In previous posts I have mentioned this and provided some examples, but again in my opinion the more commonly experienced is that of the EVP. This is equally a combination of pareidolia too as many ghost hunters misinterpret what they hear on their digital recorders, mistaking muffled white noise for intelligent communication. What is worse it that many TV ghost hunters know that by verbalising what is on the recording and by flashing it up on the screen, the suggestion is planted firmly in the viewers mind and many then hear exactly what is described. The bias pareidolia loop completes.
After many years of using various gadgets to attempt to investigate paranormal activity, I have now dropped them in favour of a simple digital voice recorder, a notepad and a pen. The voice recorder is not for capturing EVPs either, its to record interviews with witnesses with the hope that I can begin to understand more about the experiences of others. This is nothing new or special, the SPR has been doing this for years and has a great deal of research that is related to exactly that.
The reason for my change in approach is to return to one of the main elements of investigation; observation. Then from this I can gather more and more information which in turn can be analysed for potentially a greater understanding of the paranormal. Granted it is not as exciting as the reactive realtime approach of TVs ghost hunters, but then perhaps much of what they do should be questioned more. After all, just because someone is on TV or even prominent on YouTube or other Social Media; it does not mean that they are an expert or what they present is fact. In fact one could argue that those seeking likes or views have an alternative motive to be fraudulent in their investigations. Simply because it is hard to determine their honesty over their need for social media fame.
Again this means that the subjective ‘evidence’ presented by many ghost hunters leaves them in a position where proving their point or even that a location is haunted is unlikely to ever occur. However, it does leave many with a belief that somewhere is haunted and that they are an expert; but still belief is not fact.
Next time you attend a ghost hunt, try asking yourself; is this location haunted or are the individuals investigating it haunted? Search for more than subjective evidence too; a blurred photo, grainy video or muffled white noise, really is not going to cut it if you want to make a real case for survival.
5 thoughts on “What Ever Happened to Observation ?”
Good article and it makes several excellent points but…… I’m proud to be titled a Ghost Hunter 🙂
Fair enough Steve and I am not against any claiming any title just as long as their honest about their approaches. Something I know you are and I guess it could be said you’ve written the book on – a blue and red book at that lol
Yes, this is a sensible article. I, too, have been on ‘investigations’ that have degenerated into seances, based on the questionable assumption that if genuinely paranormal phenomena are occurring, they probably involve discarnate spirits. I don’t like the expression ‘ghost hunter’, which I tend to associate with ‘Most Haunted’-type TV programmes rather than scientific inquiry. And the word ‘hunter’ has a very predatory ring, doesn’t it?
Thank you for your comment some interesting points