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Edison and the Ghost Machine



Edison revealed very few details about the device he intended to build. We can only speculate that he was either being a cautious businessman who didn't want to say too much about his invention to potential rivals or he didn't really have many concrete ideas. "This apparatus," he told Scientific American, "is in the nature of a valve, so to speak. That is to say, the slightest conceivable effort is made to exert many times its initial power for indicative purposes." He then likened it to the mere turning of a valve that starts a huge steam turbine. In the same way, the barest whisper of effort from a spirit could influence the highly sensitive valve, and that action would be greatly magnified "to give us whatever form of record we desire for the purposes of investigation."

He refused to divulge any more than that, but clearly Edison had in mind a ghost hunting tool. He went on to say that one of his employees who was working on the device recently died and that if the invention worked, "he ought to be the first to use it if he is able to do so."

Again, we have no evidence for the device having been built, yet it is possible that it was constructed and then destroyed along with all the paperwork - perhaps because it didn't work and Edison wanted to avoid embarrassment after his proclamations in the interviews.


The machine that Edison describes sounds nothing like today's "ghost boxes," and it is a mistake to assume that devices such as Frank's Box were derived from Edison's work. In fact, Frank Sumption, the inventor of Frank's box, has made no such claim. In 2007, he told Rosemary Ellen Guiley in an interview for TAPS Paramagazine that he was inspired by an article about EVP in Popular Electronics magazine. According to Sumption, his device is a simple of method of "supplying 'raw' audio that spirits and other entities can use to form voices." It does so with a specially modified radio that sweeps its tuning across AM, FM, or shortwave bands. "The sweep can be random, linear or even done by hand," Sumption says. The theory is that the spirits piece together words and phrases from these broadcasts to relay messages.

Ghost hunting groups from all over are creating and using their own ghost boxes, called Shack Hacks (because they employ modified Radio Shack portable radios), that work in the same way. (I have one, but have had very little success with it.)

Although some respected researchers, including Guiley, seem convinced of the reality of this phenomenon, the jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, regarding the authenticity of the communication. Although I have heard interesting bits and pieces from ghost boxes, I've yet to experience or hear recordings of ghost box sessions that are unambiguous and thoroughly convincing. Virtually everything that is heard (like many low-grade EVP) is open to interpretation.


As revealed in these interviews, Edison did not subscribe to conventional notions of life after death. He surmised that life was indestructible and that "our bodies are composed of myriads and myriads of infinitesimal entities, each in itself a unit of life." Moreover, he saw the interconnectedness of all living things: "There are many indications that we human beings act as a community or ensemble rather than as units. That is why I believe that each of us comprises millions upon millions of entities, and that our body and our mind represent the vote or voice, whichever you wish to call it, of our entities.... The entities live forever.... Death is simply the departure of the entities from our body."

"I do hope that our personality survives," Edison said. "If it does, then my apparatus ought to be of some use. That is why I am now at work on the most sensitive apparatus I have ever undertaken to build, and I await the results with the keenest interest."

Considering the remarkable track record of this incredible mind, we can only wonder how the world would be different had Edison succeeded.

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