IT’S FRUSTRATING BEING a ghost researcher. At least it is for me at times. With all the ghost research societies, ghost hunter groups, and ghost investigative teams that have materialized in the last several years, there are more people examining the realm of the haunted than in any other time in history. We also have an array of technologies to help in the hunt, from digital recorders and EMF meters to infrared cameras and ghost boxes. There are even scientists and universities trying to find rational explanations for ghost phenomena.
For all that, however, we are no closer to really understanding what ghosts are than we were 100 years ago. We’ve gathered more evidence, developed new tools, and offered revised theories, but we still don’t know with any certainty what the ghost phenomenon is, what causes it, or how and why it manifests. We have evidence, perhaps, but we have no proof.
So why isn’t the evidence we have good enough?
Photos – There are some compelling photographs, to be sure, and we have some of them posted in our “Best Ghost Photographs Ever Taken” gallery. (Also see “What Makes a Great Ghost Photo?”) The skeptics dismiss them as tricks of light and shadow, double exposures, reflections, natural phenomena, photographic errors, or outright fraud. Ghost researchers are more open-minded about them, of course, but without highly detailed information about the circumstances under which the photos were taken, we cannot in all honesty determine what they show either. And in today’s age of digital image editing capabilities, we can’t trust photos at all. Yes, they could show genuine ghosts, but we cannot prove it.
Anecdotes – Reports of ghost sightings are plentiful. In fact, they have been reported since the beginning of recorded history. This website alone receives hundred of such reports every month. Many of those are compelling as well. We can only assume that there are thousands of alleged sightings every day around the world. The phenomenon is part of the human experience. The skeptics say that people are notoriously bad witnesses, and that the senses are easily fooled by illusions of light and shadow or electrical fields. For those who have seen ghosts with their own eyes, however, no amount of “reasoning” can dissuade them from their conviction about the reality of their experience. While the sheer volume of sightings strongly suggests ghosts are out there in the dark, these experiences, unfortunately, don’t give us anything to look at, listen to, or touch. The stories are as ephemeral as the spirits themselves.
Film and video – A moving image can often be more revealing and convincing than a still image. But film and video suffer from the same drawbacks and doubts that photos do. Seeing is no longer believing. Additionally, really good videos of ghosts are exceedingly rare.
Physical effects – Objects disappearing and later reappearing without rational explanation. Lights and appliances turning on and off by themselves. A vase flying off a shelf and crashing 12 feet across the room. They are puzzling and sometimes scary occurrences. Skeptics wave them off as the products of overactive imaginations. For researchers, such activity is not only relatively rare, it’s nearly impossible to document since, like almost all ghost phenomena, it cannot be produced on demand; it happens spontaneously, seemingly on its own whim. So most of this type of activity falls into the category of “anecdotes.”
Even on the extremely rare occasions such activity is caught on video, can we conclude it was caused by a ghost? This kind of physical phenomena is often called poltergeist activity. Although “poltergeist” literally means “noisy ghost,” a large number of paranormal researchers think that it is not attributable to ghosts at all. Because the activity almost always centers around an individual, it is theorized that poltergeist craziness is psychokinetic; that is, caused by the minds of the person or people involved. So as dramatic as it may be, it may have nothing to offer in the way of ghost evidence.
EVP – Electronic voice phenomena might be the strongest stuff we have in the way of evidence for ghosts. All of the skeptics’ explanations of EVP being nothing more than stray radio programs, cell phone calls, ham radio conversations, et cetera have been disproved. But what these disembodied voices are remains quite a mystery. Are they the voices of ghosts? Could they be from other dimensions? Or, like poltergeist activity, do they arise out of the minds of the participants? Yes, the variety and textures of EVP (I’m talking about the Class A EVP here) are of astonishing variety, from those that sound like old men to those that sound like children. But if the human mind can cause heavy objects to levitate and sail across a room, could it not also imagine into reality such voices? Again, EVP could be very strong ghost evidence… but we’re not quite sure.