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Who You Gonna Call? A Smiling Skeptic’s Halloween


Who You Gonna Call?

 

Do you remember being a child–if you’re my age anyway–and seeing that one movie that you thought was going to define your life – define you as a person?  That one movie that you could watch over and over again as a child, and to this day, you can watch over and over again as an adult?  For me, that movie was the original Ghostbusters, with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson.  What a fantastically written, directed and executed move.  It was perfect for kids, as the sophisticated humor was way above the heads of most children, and as an adult, it’s even that much funnier because I get the humor I didn’t get then.  I love all of the science references.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m a nut for physics, and this movie is laden with it.  It was also the first movie to bring a lot of industry terms for paranormal activity into the mainstream, with terms like PKE, specter, and wraith.  Terms that we hear a lot these days, now that millions of tweens, teens, and sadly, adults are flocking to haunted houses to play Ghostbusters with one another.  However, they’re not armed with proton packs; they’re armed with EMF detectors, mini-DVRs, infrared camcorder lights, static night vision cameras, and KII Meters, not to be confused with the Ghostbusters’ PKE meters.  What was the point of the dial on the PKE meter toy, anyway?  It didn’t do anything but click!  I digress.

This phenomenon is called ghost hunting.  First inspired by the show of same name Ghost Hunters, which of course, was followed up with more spin-off shows than CSI (Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Hunters Academy), along with other shows like Paranormal State, and sadly, Ghost Adventures.  The latter of which is far too pathetic to pick on in this piece, but if you ever need a laugh, good old Zach Baggins, not to be confused with his cousin Bilbo, is always great for a high energy Klingon belly-laugh.  The phenomenon is everywhere.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of websites on the internet that sell ghost hunting gear, such as the ones I just mentioned, as well as specialized equipment like full spectrum cameras, and so-called spirit boxes.  I have to wonder to myself, however, how is it that so many people – probably decent people, just a little slow – are sucked into this entire field of hokum.  I mean, since the inception of organized religion, we’ve not seen anything truly like it.  Well, I take that back; the Atkins Diet was up there, but it didn’t last as long as this fad.

The problems with the “science” of ghost hunting are abundant, but first and foremost, it isn’t a science at all.  You see, there are two types of hard sciences in the world: Theoretical science, and experimental science.  Experimental science is pretty self-explanatory, as this is the realm of science where hypotheses can be tested within the bounds of our current technology, and through the self-correcting process of the scientific method, conclusions are reached.  Then these conclusions are written about, and the papers are passed on for peer-review and independent replication, to make sure the results weren’t a mere fluke, and to also weed out the bias or variables that may have led to false interpretations.  Theoretical science is a little harder to define, however.  Theoretical science is a science, much like today’s particle physics theories such as String Theory, Supersymmetry or Supersymmetric String Theory, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and so on.  These matters are entirely hypothetical, but what brings them to the forefront as legitimate sciences is the fact that they make predictions, and testable predictions at that.  For instance, if Supersymmetry were to be factual, we would have to find the extra particles it predicts, such as the neutralino, in its expanded version of the Standard Model of particle physics, which is in itself a tested and true model.  This was also the case for the first and second, and even third designs of the Periodic Table of Elements.  The second model, designed by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, made many testable predictions for future elements that would be found if the table was designed correctly.  Many of its predictions came true, however, many did not, and that is why the table is how it is today, and not the way it was in Mendeleev’s time, though, that does anything but discredit him as a scientist, as he was quite brilliant to do even what he did.  The same could even be said for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as laid out in his book, On the Origin of Species.  At his time, this was a very speculative and theoretical hypothesis, and he said himself that in order for his hypothesis to be proven correct, this and this and this and this would need to be found, and a fossil record would have to be established.  Today, we’ve established not only the geological timeline, but our fossil record is quite stunning, and reinforces Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is now a bona fide and accepted theory, with mountains upon mountains of evidence to support it, i.e., no longer a theoretical science, but an experimental science and an applied separate field of biology in and of itself.

The problem with ghost hunting is that it doesn’t fall into either of these categories.  It can’t be considered an experimental science because we have nothing to go on.  Nothing is known about ghosts at all, namely, whether or not they even exist.  Thus far, no real evidence has been brought to the table that couldn’t be explained by natural phenomena.  It also doesn’t work as a theoretical science because it doesn’t make predictions.  Merely saying that ghost emit electromagnetic energy doesn’t make it a prediction.  You have to explain why, and then the prediction must be tested.  And something as vague as electromagnetic fields, which are everywhere in nature, and around us all the time with incredibly random spikes, cannot be considered a test subject for experimental research.

In fact, in our known universe, there are four kinds of forces: Electromagnetic energy, strong force, weak force, and gravity.  These phenomena are easily defined and we encounter them everyday whether we know it or not.  Even extremely high levels of any of these don’t make much of a difference in the world around us, and are pretty much inconceivable.  Well, aside from gravity, but even gravity has its spike areas, and we don’t really notice them.  We don’t even notice the shift in time that they cause because it’s completely miniscule – on the level of fractions of fractions of nanoseconds.  Electromagnetic energy is just another energy that is working around us all the time, every single moment of our lives, and that’s become especially true with discoveries like electricity, wireless internet, mobile phones, wireless cable, GPS, satellite dishes, and other such modern inventions.  However, in the past fifteen years, the electromagnetic fields around us, because of these inventions, have gotten much stronger, and far more sporadic.

There are also other criteria for a true science.  I really liked the way that it was defined by Judge Overton in the 1985 “Equal Time” Trials between religious creationism and natural scientific evolution: “(1) It is guided by natural law. (2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law. (3) It is testable against the empirical world. (4) Its conclusions are tentative. (5) It is falsifiable.”  These criteria did not conform to the deranged hypothesis of so-called “creation science” in 1985, and they don’t apply to ghost hunting today.  None of these criteria apply.  The hypothesis of the existence of ghosts is not guided by natural law under any circumstances, and therefore, cannot be explained by references to natural law.  Ghosts are in no way testable, at least not at this point, against the empirical world.  The conclusions themselves aren’t tentative; in fact, there are no conclusions period that aren’t laden with bias and subjective interpretations.  And the only thing tentative about ghosts is my patience in accepted so-called evidence, and I’m sure I don’t stand alone in that one.  And lastly, they’re not falsifiable under any stretch of science.  Something that cannot be proven to be true, and doesn’t even make verifiable and falsifiable predictions, cannot either be proven false.  This describes most paranormal phenomenon, from theology all the way down to telekinesis.  In these cases, one must respond in two ways: (1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (2) Absence of this evidence is most likely evidence of its absence in the natural world.

It is because of the lack of verifiable and falsifiable predictions that my largest issue with ghost hunting is the machinery and equipment that is used to detect paranormal entities.  None of this equipment was originally designed to detect ghosts, nor could anything since possibly be, because of the lack of the field’s lack of predictions, and lack of even circumstantial evidence that ghosts have anything to do with any of the phenomena that these gadgets are designed to detect.  For instance, take the Geiger counter.

Geiger-Muller-Tango

A Geiger counter is designed to detect ionizing radiation.  When the counter detects such radiation, it gives off a level for the person utilizing the tool to detect.  There is no room for error or interpretation.  The Geiger counter says 0042, then that’s what it means.  However, when a person uses a Geiger counter on a ghost hunt, it’s not that easy.  The biggest problem is, as I’ve mentioned a hundred times already, there is no evidence at all for even the existence of ghosts, let alone evidence that they have anything to do with ionizing radiation or radioactive isotopes.  First, a real scientist would have to find evidence that the two are related, before using a device in this manner.  Now, with a Geiger counter, if they detect radioactivity, they’re assuming that has something to do with the presence of a ghost.  However, I’ll make this wager: If ghosts emit high levels of radioactivity, and considering that billions of people have died on the planet earth, as well as trillions if not hundreds of trillions of animals, wouldn’t we be in a constant state of radiation?  And wouldn’t that radiation be increasing measurably with every person that dies?  Oops, that’s what we call a prediction, and it had to come from me, who is a complete skeptic.  Well, that’s how science works, but there’s no need to get to that.  So, ghost hunters, you need to start testing radioactive levels in up to seven different spots on a yearly basis to see if there is an increase of radioactivity that cannot be explained by natural phenomena.  And don’t forget the controls either.

Thunderstruck

What I just explained as the issue for the Geiger counter, is the exact same issue that I have with the utilization of the EMF detectors.  As I previously explained: (1) there is no evidence to suggest that ghosts and electromagnetic fields are related.  (2) Just like with the Geiger counter, when it’s used to detect what it was designed to detect, there is no room for interpretation.  It is what it is.  When it’s being used to detect ghosts, the entirety of what is going on is merely subjective inter-pretation.  And even worse, it’s interpretation without any system of measurement or prior exploration (control) to make sure there aren’t loose wires in the house or a most costly broadband plan, or lots of cell phones, or for that matter, if the area is a stormy area, or what time of the year it is.  Yeah, most electromagnetic fields – natural ones – are caused by lightening discharges in the ionosphere cavity, and ambient fields are at their lowest in the winter months.  EMF’s can fluctuate quite madly, depending on any one of these things, and with so many unnatural EMF’s around us all the time, the fluctuation capabilities are quite as-tounding, ranging far above the natural general area of .05 and .15 nV.  Therefore, fluctuations on electromagnetic waves don’t really mean anything except that there are fluctuations in electromagnetic waves – perfectly natural phenomena.  In fact, let me explain the circular reasoning to EMF’s and ghosts: We noticed that when ghosts were around, there are unusually high EMF readings, so when there are unusually high EMF readings, that means there are ghosts around.  That is circular reasoning.  First thing, a couple of instances don’t even allude to correlation, let along causation.  Secondly, if you didn’t know that ghosts had anything to do with EMF’s, then why did you have an EMF reader around in the first place?  It’s not common for someone to just have on in their home unless they’re a particle physicist or an electrician, and even then I would have my suspicions.  This is circular reasoning at its most basic.

Ghosts in the Machine

What of the more unusual elements of ghost hunting?  Devices such as DVRs are used to detect something called EMF (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).  This tool is far more prominent on some shows than others, as well as some groups more than others.  You can watch an episode of Ghost Hunters, and you’ll rarely hear any kind of clear EVP, but if you watch an episode of Ghost Adventures, you’ll hear probably ten to fifteen per episode.  Sometimes they’re unclear, and sometimes they’re very clear (and many of them sound like the show’s host Zach Baggins – not to be confused with Frodo).  Let me touch on this one first.  This is what is called contamination.  When you present “evidence” to people of a disembodied voice talking to you from beyond the grave, somehow without a voice box or a mouth to form sounds with, you need to present the evidence for them to interpret.  If you have text on the screen telling your audience what the voice is saying, then that’s what they’re going to hear.  That is not how science is done.  People need to hear it for themselves, interpret it, and then rely on the consensus.  What one person hears is not always what was said – this happens to people all the time and it’s because our brains are far from perfect in interpreting information from any of our five senses.  Now that I’ve covered contamination, I would like to mention something that also bothers me about EVPs: Did you ever think to yourself that maybe you’re just picking up satellite communications of some kind?  Possibly a Walky-Talky or possibly some interference from your cables producing enough of a magnet to draw in radio signals or internet signals?  Even when you’re out in the boonies – unless by boonies, you mean a black hole – information is traveling around you all the time at very high speeds in the digital information age, and it would just be chance that you would be picking these things up quite frequently. Especially as such low volumes, which is why more often than not, audio needs to be vastly enhanced in order to hear the so-called EVP.  And you’ll notice every time they enhance audio, all of the static going on around it.  Do you know what that is?  Exactly what I just said: Information, and often air, traveling around you, and obviously some of it can turn up somewhat clear.  This has no proven connection with ghosts, so please move on!

Along with this device, there is another “ghost hunting” device commonly used by “ghost hunters” called a Ghost Box.  This device is designed to do exactly what the EMF readers accidentally do: Flip through radio stations at an incredibly fast rate to look for random words (ghost communications).  The problem with this tool is the same problem there is with visions: Matrixing.  Matrixing is a function of the brain that is used when the brain cannot properly process information, and uses your memories to piece together what you’re hearing or seeing.  This happens a lot in the dark, where certain shapes or abstract patterns (furniture, reflections, shadows, etc) almost seem to form images, the brain cannot perfectly optical cortex cannot properly interpret the information it’s receiving, so it will translate it into things that are familiar to you (human forms, faces, animals, etc).  The same thing happens where you hear.  Much like with vision, you hear because of information being transferred and interpreted at great speeds (the time offset between real time and the time that you perceive in both cases is microscopic, so we don’t notice it).  Amazingly, most ghost hunters know about this and are honest about it, but they don’t seem to transfer this knowledge into their practice, and this machine is a great example of this.  You’re hearing a device flipping through stations at incredibly fast speeds – stations where there are probably words being spoken.  On occasion, probably quite often, the sounds you’re hearing can form into words.  It is purely random.  More often than this, you’re going to think you hear words.  If you’ll notice, when you watch ghost hunting TV shows, if they play back certain sounds without telling you what they think they’ve heard, you probably won’t know what you’re hearing, if you hear any discernible words at all.  When you’re told what to hear, the “evidence” is contaminated, because when you’re told what to hear, your brain will better translate it to conform to what you’re being told to hear.  This is merely a simplified form of matrixing.

I’ve put this to the test in a personal experiment of my own.  I decided to turn the dial on my old transistor radio at an even speed (about a half-inch per second) and record any sort of hidden messages I hear.  My results were pretty astounding.  Over the course of five minutes of documenting “hidden messages” I recorded 17 full words, and two occasions where these words seemed to work together in cohesion.  The problem is that the two occasions where the words meshed together, the messages read “Fun bell” and “Medical taco.”  Were these messages coming from the nether regions of space, or from the dimension of the dead?  Or were these pure coincidences.  Upon recording the latter, I had been thinking about what to make for dinner, so I guess it could be that the spectral life from beyond the grave was suggesting I fill a tortilla with Welbutrin, but I doubt that to be the case.  And if the latter was a message, what does the first mean?  Wouldn’t one think that if one message has a meaning, then all of them do?  The other 13 words I heard were spoken as follows: Bane, comfort, bent, burnt, sage, can, dis, pure, bun, pose, set, deck, zygote.  The last was a bit unclear, but I’d been thinking about prophase earlier that day, so I think my brain was matrixing at that point.

What this miniature experiment shows is exactly what I’ve been saying: You cannot take anything seriously that you hear or see in what is otherwise a mesh of random patterns, or lack thereof.

Fine Iodine(ing) – Awful, I know

In this section, I was going to refer to the famous raw meat experiment performed by Louis Pasteur.  I even had a clever section title, Pasteurizing Nonsense.  However, I thought the better of it.  While it certainly deserves a notable mention, what it disproved was the hypothesis of both spontaneous generation and so-called Vital Force.  Since Vital Force is only one of many theses that relate to spirit energy, I found that it would be a waste of time to write about it, and that I should stick to more general experiments that either disprove or discredit the entire field, instead of one ancient relic of the field itself.  Then I thought to myself, why don’t I jump a couple hundred years into the future?

When looking for evidence against the existence of spirits, ghosts, souls, or any other sort of afterlife hypothesis, you really need look no further than the periodic table of elements.  Namely, chemicals like iodine.  Our bodies and everything that they do are the result of our chemical structure.  Our chemical structure is the result of the periodic table.  Whenever you move or think, or perform any basic faculty, you’re doing so because of the complex chemical structure of your body.  Your brain sends signals through particles and chemicals, and receives signals in the same way.  Your brain is able to do this because of hormones which keep the brain working at full capacity.  These chemicals are produced in the body because of nutrition – not nutrition the way you think about it, but chemical nutrition.

One of famed British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous quotes was in regards to a chemical called Iodine.  He said, “The energy used in thinking seems to have a chemical origin.  For instance, a deficiency of iodine will turn a clever man into an idiot.  Mental phenomena seem to be bound up with material structure.”  He was absolutely right; as everything in the body works because something else works, because something else works, because you put something in your body that allows the first bit to properly function.  Iodine is a great example of this.  Iodine must be ingested by humans.  People with iodine deficiencies are prone to many grim consequences such as birth defects, but more pertinent to my point is a disorder called goiter.  Goiter, simply put, is a swelling of the thyroid gland, and is caused, in over 90% of cases, by iodine deficiency.  Goiter can not only cause swelling of the larynx, but over time, goiter will cause the thyroid gland to completely shrivel up.  If your thyroid gland is shriveled, then your mental faculties with go into complete disarray, simply because the thyroid gland regulates the production and release of hormones, including brain hormones.  As author Sam Keen put it in his New York Times bestselling book The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements, “People can quickly lose mental faculties and even regress into mental retardation.”

Now, the question I put forth is this: If something as simple as not eating enough iodized salt can cause a person to regress into mental retardation, and if the body is this fragile that it absolutely needs a specific chemical balance in order for all functions to properly work, how is it that ghosts seem to be able to think clearly enough to answer questions and go about their regular day-to-day lives after being disembodied?  It’s a simple question, really, and I think it’s an important one that the non-skeptics need to answer.  It’s not something a lot of people think about.  We take many things for granted, such as basic movement, speech, our senses, and we never think to ourselves how and why we have these abilities.  We have them because of a complex and fragile chemical structure – without this, we would be capable of nothing.  How do ghosts ingest iodine?  Where to they store it?  Where is their thyroid gland?  Where are the veins that allow the thyroid gland to send brain hormones?  Where is the brain of a ghost?  Without matter, you have none of this, and without any of this, you have no function at all.  It’s very simple, really, yet I’m continually amazed at the lack of skepticism in people regarding a topic that’s so clearly impotent.  A topic with absolutely no base in reality.  A topic so clearly rooted in superstition that it almost makes astrology seem scientific.

Beyond these basic proofs, it is very hard to disprove the existence of ghosts, much like it is the existence of God.  All you can do is assess the lack of evidence, and the violation of natural law within these claims.  These claims are what are known as general negatives.  When working with general negatives, we must look at negative evidence or negative proof.  Simple modus tollens easily applies to this situation.  An example of modus tollens is If A, then B.  If no B, then no A.  If you have linens in your closet, then when you check your closet, you will most certainly find linens.  If you find no linens, then you have no linens in the closet.  Simple reasoning, right?  Yet this seems to elude so many people, even in this age of science and technology.  If there were ghosts, then there would be evidence (experimental evidence, or conclusive predictions).  Since there is no evidence, then there are no ghosts.  We’ve already checked the closet several times here, people, and there are still no linens.  You see, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  If no evidence is provided, then absence of evidence is evidence of absence.  Let us also remember that it’s up to the person making a claim to prove his or her claim, it’s not up to others to disprove it.  If life worked in this way, then people could make any wild claim they wanted, and so long as it fell under the false negative umbrella, we would be forced to accept such claims as reality.  If A, then B.  If no B, then it’s up to someone else to prove no B. Until then: A.  See how that may cause some problems?

Other questions that come to mind are the more obvious ones that make the entire matter of ghosts make absolutely no sense at all.  Sort of going back to Russell’s argument, how can a disembodied spirit speak?  In order to speak, a person must push physical air up from physical lungs, through the physical windpipe and the physical voice box, using physical vibrations, and then annunciation sounds from our physical teeth, tongue, and mouth.  Has anyone come up with a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon?  One would think this to be the obvious first step before starting to record the voices of disembodies spirits.  How do ghosts move things?  It requires matter to move matter, does it not?  If ghosts are disembodied, what sort of matter are they made up of to allow them to move other matter?  To they attract matter (electrons) to them as the ghost hunters seem to think?  Well, does it not take oppositely charged matter to attract other matter?  And if they just go about stealing electrons from all of the matter around it, how do we not collapse and die when we’re around ghosts?  It would essentially be the same as breathing pure oxygen, wouldn’t it?  And if this is the case, is fire a larger threat around spirits?  How would any matter be stable?  Why would one atom couple with another atom to share electrons if there are free-flowing electrons flying about all the time?  And without atoms forming bonds, none of us would be around to talk about atoms.  Okay, we’re getting a little too technical here, but I’m sure you see my point.

Final Summation

The so-called evidence for the existence of ghosts or spirits is entirely subjective, as it is not objective evidence.  All of it requires interpretation, which is prone to error, and is based on nothing more than pseudoscience that throws the entire scientific method completely out the window.  Proper inference of evidence would dictate that if all men are mortal, and Plato was a man, then Plato was mortal.  But the evidence for ghosts is analogous to this: All men are animals; Plato was a man; all fish are animals; all groupers are fish; therefore, Plato had fins.   It’s all confused, cherry-picked, misinterpreted and anecdotal, and therefore, cannot stand alone as evidence.  It is not a science, it is a philosophy, and if it’s a philosophy, it has no empirical leg to stand on.  If it has no empirical leg to stand on, it has no leg to stand on at all.  Therefore, ghosts do not exist.

Thanks for reading.  This was my special Halloween edition.  I’ve been absent for a while because of specific political causes, but I’m back full-force for the moment.  Hope I didn’t kill the spirit of the season, as I’m a huge Halloween nut myself, if you can’t tell by the new layout.  Have a fun and safe Halloween, and remember that ghouls and goblins aren’t real, but they are kind of fun.

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2 comments on “Who You Gonna Call? A Smiling Skeptic’s Halloween

  1. While I can’t seem to help myself overly much, I still watch these ghost hunting shows. I’m fascinated by the idea of ghosts; however, much like you I tend to discount ghosts because of the problems inherent in — as you say — “science” of ghost hunting. Fantastic article! Thanks for the great read.

    • Thank you for reading. I’m also one who watches these shows all the time. They’re just so bad that I can’t help it. Ghost Adventures is a favorite of mine, as I find Zach to be so hilarious he makes me cry on occasion. My fiancee is a huge fan of Ghost Hunters as well, so I end up watching that just about every week. I’m also in the midst of setting up a ghost hunt with a local group sometime in the next few months. They’re a legitimate group and I just asked if I could tag along. I’ll probably have a blog up about my night(s) early next year. I can’t wait.

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