Science vs. Séance: Can
proof be found for the existence of ghosts?
Linda is the author of several books on Ghosts in the Hudson Valley area
as well as Local and Civil War History. Originally a research
chemist, she now writes (and hunts ghosts) full time.
Be sure to visit Linda's website: www.ghostinvestigator.com
A psychic enters an allegedly haunted house and experiences a sudden chill. He “sees” the spirit of a woman in Victorian clothing, and senses that her discontented spirit is still searching for a long lost (and long dead) love. Perhaps he even “hears” part of a name or date, feels her suffering, and announces that this unhappy ghost is the cause of all the bizarre activity in the house. To believers in the paranormal, this might be considered startling proof of the existence of ghosts. To skeptics, it’s nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and a vivid imagination. Where’s the hard scientific evidence, they would argue, to back up all this psychic mumbo jumbo?
Taking a scientific approach to ghost hunting is nothing new. In 1920, famed inventor Thomas Edison turned his genius toward trying to produce a device with which he believed he would be able to communicate with the dead. His efforts continued until his death in 1931 (at which moment, it was reported, the clocks in his house and workshops suddenly stopped). While an Edison spirit communicator would have been a handy tool, modern ghost hunters still have some effective instruments at their disposal.
The human body functions as the result of chemical and electromagnetic energy. While chemical reactions cease at death, it has been theorized that electromagnetic energy can exist in some form outside of the body. Religions may refer to this energy as the soul or spirit, but regardless of what it is called, if it exists, it should be able to be measured.
One of the most popular instruments in the ghost hunter’s tool kit is an electromagnetic field meter, or EMF meter, for short. EMF meters are legitimate instruments used to detect such things as faulty wiring or leaks in microwave ovens. However, paranormal researchers have found that inexplicable EM fields often accompany ghostly activity, and these fields may account for the numerous reports of flickering lights, malfunctioning appliances and other strange electrical phenomena.
Such sites often also contain “cold spots,” where the temperature can suddenly feel twenty or thirty degrees colder than the surrounding air. Since conventional thermometers are slow to respond, and hard to read in the dark, infrared non-contact thermometers are the tool of choice for the ghost hunter. The pistol-grip instruments are able to give instant and continuous digital readings at a distance, which allows the researcher to quickly scan an entire room for abnormal temperatures.
While such measurements and readings can provide compelling evidence, the Holy Grail for researchers is a spirit captured on film or tape, and technology is now providing instant gratification for ghost hunters seeking visual proof. At first criticized for their poor image quality, new higher resolution digital cameras are rapidly replacing 35mm cameras in the field. Images can be reviewed onsite, so investigators know where to concentrate their efforts.
Yet, even high quality still images have severe limitations in the often fast-moving world of ghostly phenomena, especially if you have a nasty poltergeist who likes to throw things. This is why camcorders are the best tool for the job—especially camcorders equipped to see in the dark. On the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared is a slightly lower energy region just beyond the capabilities of human vision. Several years ago, Sony introduced camcorders with “Nightvision,” which essentially lets us see into the world of infrared—a world that appears to be very active in the ghostly realm. Streaks of light, fuzzy orbs in motion, and shadowy figures have all been caught on tape.
Even more sophisticated equipment is available, but for frightening prices. For example, a FLIR heat-sensitive camera could easily set you back twenty or thirty thousand dollars. However, the budding ghost hunter should not be discouraged. Low-tech items such as a regular camera, tape recorder, and a simple RadioShack motion detector would be sufficient to start an investigation. Then there’s the no-tech approach, as was used in a case where baby powder was sprinkled across the floor to reveal the imprints of phantom footsteps. Such creative solutions, combined with technology, and a good dose of common sense, may someday produce the incontrovertible evidence that will convince even the most hardened skeptic.
From a personal standpoint, after having spent years investigating haunted sites, it is both thrilling and unnerving to obtain objective evidence from a meter or camera. But in the final analysis, as I am standing in the darkness of an abandoned prison as something unseen is banging on the wall, or I’m hearing footsteps and watching a door open by itself at the scene of an ax murder, I don’t need any instruments to tell me what I already know.
Perhaps we are all potential ghosts, capable of understanding things that can never be recorded, measured, or quantified.