As you know, I love everything about the paranormal, even though I can be a bit of a skeptic sometimes. So of course, it’s frustrating when ‘outsiders’ believe an interest in the paranormal should be equated with a lack of intelligence. Unfortunately, there are a lot of investigators out there who perpetuate this stereotype by ignoring basic science and using poor investigative techniques. Now, before everyone gets all mad, I’m NOT saying the investigators themselves are unintelligent—only that there are some simple changes they could make to help us all to be taken a bit more seriously.
So, I want to talk about a few things everyone should be familiar with before investigating anything paranormal, and especially before speaking with skeptics about their findings, or posting results online.
1 – It’s Probably Not a Face
Before you start showing everyone the spooky faces and shadow figures you caught on camera, it’s imperative that you read up on pareidolia. The short and simple explanation of this phenomena is that the human brain (all of them…even mine, and even yours), when presented with random shapes, shadows, light configurations, etc. will see patterns (especially faces, body shapes, and other familiar visuals) that aren’t actually there.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch things like shadow figures or disembodied faces on camera, but you’ll need more than a couple blurry snapshots or a two second video clip for rational people to consider it evidence. In order to have evidence that it’s not pareidolia, you’ll need proof that whatever is showing up in the picture wasn’t there before. A simple way to do this is to take multiple pictures or videos of the same area at the same time, preferably with some shots being from the same vantage point, and other shots from different perspectives. You’ll also need to take into consideration what types of natural occurrences could cause the patterns and/or changes that you see. If you have other concurrent evidence, like emf readings, cold spots (that you actually measured with a thermometer or temp gun), voice recordings, etc.; that would be a definite plus.
Oh yeah. And maybe the most important thing: Pareidolia doesn’t just affect vision. There’s auditory pareidolia as well. So, all those things I just said about pictures and videos? They apply to EVPs and spirit box results too.
2 – You’re Biased, Just Like Everyone Else
It’s impossible to be completely unbiased, even when we have the best intentions. There are a slew of articles online describing the different types of biases and how they can affect our opinions even when we don’t want them to. Please read them. As many of them as you can. And maybe read one or two of the many books on the subject. Most importantly, once you’ve studied up, always do your best to apply the things you learned to your own investigations…not just other people’s theories
It’s not magic. It won’t fully get rid of all your biases…but just understanding how bias affects us can help immensely.
Another thing that helps combat bias is to include people who disagree with you in your investigations. Also, listen to them. You need skeptics on an investigation, or at least people who look at paranormal things skeptically. Sure, they have their biases too. But it’s still better than just assuming everything is a ghost. And of course, when you find things that even the skeptic can’t explain—you know you’ve found some great evidence.
3 – You Need Experts…But Not Those Experts
The paranormal community is filled with self-proclaimed experts. Always be wary about that. But even if you do find a true expert in some aspect of the paranormal, that’s not what I’m referring to right now.
Do you know all the animals native to the area you’re investigating? Can you recognize every sound they make even when you can’t see them? Do you know what the wind sounds like at every mph and direction in the building or area you’re exploring? What about the way light reflects and refracts, either in the area, or in relation to your camera? How much do you know about lens flare? What could your emf detector be picking up other than ghosts?
You need to know these things in order to determine whether or not your finding s are paranormal. And if you’re not educated in these things, you need to find someone who is.
If you can’t get people with all this knowledge to come with you on your investigations, at least make some connections so they can help you review your evidence later on. You don’t want to be that person who posts ‘proof’ of a ghostly encounter, only to find out later it was a barn owl. Seriously. Barn owls are responsible for countless ‘ghost’ encounters.
4 – The Scientific Method is Your Friend
If you’re not applying the scientific method, you’re not actually investigating. You’re just hanging out with your friends. For those of you who’ve been out of school for a while (or who weren’t paying attention to begin with), here’s a review.
The first 3 steps are pretty easy, and most inquisitive people do them naturally. It’s the rest that tend to get a bit wishy washy. A huge amount of that is due to bias, which I mentioned earlier. It’s imperative that we all try as hard as possible to keep our biases out of the experiments, data collection/recording, analysis, and especially our conclusions. This means we have to count all the times nothing happens when we ask the spirits a question, just like we count the times we get results. We have to consider pareidolia as a possibility when we look at pictures or listen to our audio recordings. We can’t just assume something paranormal is happening when we analyze our data, and instead, do our best to debunk our own hypotheses. We need control groups and baseline measurements. We need to recognize and limit variables. And of course, if we can’t repeat the experiment with the same results, we can’t claim to have found proof.
5 – Grammar and Communication Skills Are Your Friends
This one may be the most important, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual investigations. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how great your evidence is if no one is willing to look at it, or if they don’t understand what you’re saying. And that’s exactly what often happens if you write or speak incoherently. This is especially true if you’re dealing with people who are skeptical to begin with.
Now, I’m not saying your spelling or grammar have to be perfect. You don’t need a professional proofreader every time you want to post your findings on social media. However, if you express yourself in writing, whether it’s on social media, through email, in a blog, or anywhere else—you need to come across as a reasonably intelligent, rational person.
This means you should probably have someone take a look at what you’re planning to post, or at the very least stop and re-read what you typed out before you click the button that shares your thoughts with the world. Make sure you used things like punctuation and capital letters in the correct places. If you weren’t sure how to spell something and your computer didn’t tell you…take 30 seconds to look it up.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen people on social media having their experiences discounted, or completely ignored, because the way they explained it made them seem drunk (in some cases, drunk is best case scenario of what people thought). If this is how people see you, do you really think they’re going to take you seriously when you say you saw a ghost?
Disclaimer: I realize some people may not be sharing in their first language, especially online. That’s ok…fantastic even. It’s awesome when people learn multiple languages. We should all do it. But if you’re communicating in a language that you’re still learning, you probably want to tell people that’s the situation. Or if you’re using an online translator, make that clear too. Those things are amazing…but not amazing enough to use without a disclaimer.
The same is true if you’re speaking about the paranormal, though not to the same extent. You obviously don’t need to worry about spelling and punctuation…but you still need to be coherent and knowledgeable enough that people know what you’re trying to say. You don’t want to trip over your words and say “umm” fifteen times while trying to explain how an emf detector works. Trust me. I’ve done that. I felt really stupid. Thankfully, I was talking with a good friend, and not someone who was going to judge my intelligence entirely on that conversation.
But we aren’t always talking to our close friends. We don’t only share our stories and our evidence with people who are going to love us even if we hear an owl and think it was a banshee. We have to remember that the way we write, the way we speak, and our knowledge of (and willingness to acknowledge) basic scientific principles reflects not only on ourselves, but on the paranormal community as a whole.
So, please learn everything you can, then go out and find some great evidence. Just remember to present it intelligently when you do.
Do you have some cool evidence already? Feel free to share in the comments!