“Polterguise” (Ghost hunting)

polterguisepicAlthough most people who believe in ghosts fear them, the poltergeists and less malevolent spirits may paradoxically be offering comfort. That’s because belief in ghosts can stem from an aversion to mortality and can serve as a coping mechanism when a loved one dies.

But while believers may get reassurance from the overarching concept, the primary emotion in individual manifestations is fear. That is also the impetus driving the modern ghost hunting movement. Although poorly-defined technical terms have appeared over the last couple of decades and the field is awash in anecdotes, there is no scientific evidence for ghosts. As such, trying to track down and capture them would seem extremely arduous at best. Thirty years ago, the idea of ghostbusting was so silly that a blockbuster comedy centered on the idea. While it is no more feasible now, persons are making their living off the idea and a host of television shows are dedicated to the concept.

Even the most fervent believers offer no idea for what would constitute proof, how a capture would take place, or how to dialogue effectively with a deceased spirit. There have been hundreds of documented hunts with nary a capture. Any draft, squeak, knock, or feeling of dread constitutes evidence since no other solution is considered.

Subjective validation and communal reinforcement sustain this field. The first step in the pattern is the person becoming convinced their place is haunted. Then a ghost hunter with an authoritative-sounding title shows up sporting electronic equipment. Any electric current or funny noise that gets picked up counts as proof. The sounds are highly subject to interpretation, so only the most sinister or spooky translations of ghost speak are heard. There was even a case where ghosts in a German castle were said to be speaking English. Garbled noise or words that don’t fit the narrative are tossed asunder.

The ghost hunter invariably confirms there is a spirit present, galvanizing the homeowner’s belief and heightening the fear. This despite there being no training or standards required for ghost hunting, and even though the electronic equipment is not being used for its intended purpose.

It all has a deleterious effect on the homeowner. Skeptic Kenneth Biddle relates the story of man who thought his place was haunted. He had strange experiences that he couldn’t explain and failed to realize that unexplained does not mean inexplicable. If fact, Biddle deduced that allegedly mysterious movements were the last remnants of a car shadow. Faint voices with occasional chilling laughter proved to be coming from a room upstairs next door.

However, the homeowner’s girlfriend insisted the place was haunted, and pointed out she could detect a ghostly presence. In the ghost hunting field, if you think you sense a ghost, it’s evidence you’ve got the power.

The homeowner and two ghost hunters were sure it was the previous homeowner, which is almost always the case. The ghosts are never in an apartment, a field, or the 7-11. Despite being freed from their bodies (though somehow still wearing clothes) and having the ability to travel anywhere in the world for free, they spend an eternity in the same place. This consistency is a sign of the communal reinforcement and group think endemic in the ghost hunting community.

In the Biddle case, the ghost hunters offered that bricks wrapped in tinfoil throughout the house would have been used by the previous owner to ward off demons. The poor man bought it, as he was so subject to suggestion that he had lost all ability to reason and think independently.

This creates a cycle where you are forever looking for and expecting anomalies. When you think another strange incident has happened, you become stressed, causing muscles to tighten, your heartbeat and blood pressure to increase, and your senses to shoot to a heightened state of alert. This psychosomatic panic is itself further evidence for a ghost. In the case of the man Biddle knew, he sold his house for a loss.

While a ghost hunter is going to have an incentive to declare a house haunted, I have not detected much fraud in the business. Instead, ghost hunters are mostly a self-deceived lot. And owing to the lack of standards and definitions, they never seem to question each others’ methods or findings or seek further proof. Stories are passed from one credulous hunter to another, none of them terribly well-grounded in physics or acoustics.

Purported video and photography evidence are due to distorted shadows, faulty equipment, out of focus objects, and reflections of fixtures. Another factor is apophenia, in which persons see meaningful patterns in random objects and occurrences.

Other than sleep paralysis, most ghostly experiences are self-fulfilling prophecies by people freaking out because they believe so strongly and have been told by someone they trust that their fears are justified.

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