Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Can ghost vigils be made scientifically useful?

Shadow ghostI have commented before that modern ghost vigils offer little in the way of useful scientific information. I suggested then that they be dropped in favour of on-site scientific studies, particularly into haunting hot spots. But not everyone is interested in this sort of work. So can the basic ghost vigil itself be made scientifically useful for those who are strongly attached to the format?

In deciding how to fix vigils, you first need to ask what they are for. Originally, a ghost vigil was an optional add-on at the end of a haunting investigation. The idea was to try to record and experience what had been reported by witnesses, and maybe, as a result, explain it. There was also the idea of trying to find out what made haunted places different to non-haunted ones. These objectives appear as useful today as they always were and could certainly be the basis for useful scientific research, if done with care.

However, the modern ghost vigil is dominated by assumption-led methods. Such methods cannot, by definition, question their own assumptions and so they have little scientific usefulness. Further, they could be done anywhere, so why waste a short trip to a haunted location with them? If you want to hold a seance or record EVP, you can do it anywhere, anytime. And since such methods are controversial, it would be worth putting in scientific controls to test their validity. This is hardly practical during a one-off trip to a haunted building.

So why not leave all these assumption-led methods out? The central assumption behind most of them is the idea that ghosts are spirits. However, there is no compelling evidence from ghost investigation studies that this is the case, making their use at haunted locations even less useful.

Instead, it would be better if ghost vigils concentrated on recording anything that actually happens at a haunted location. This is what happened in the days before the ghost hunting boom. It should be said that it is likely that very little will be recorded, which was the experience of those earlier vigils. However, at least what IS recorded is likely to be related to the actual haunting being investigated. There would be no need for lots of equipment, only things that were relevant to the reported haunting. So, for instance, if a cold spot was reported at a particular place, it could be tested with electronic thermometers. EMF meters might still be used but only if electrical interference was one of phenomena reported by witnesses.

By far the most important items of equipment would be HD video cameras. There should be as many of these as possible, deployed to cover each hot spot from several angles, if possible. Very importantly, normal illumination should be used - leave the room lights ON! This is important because dark conditions not only encourage witnesses to misperceive but also causes problems for video cameras. Many 'ghost videos' I have come across are shot in infrared or low light. This not only removes colour, an important means of distinguishing objects, but also tends to introduce electronic noise. Such electronic noise can show up as apparent movement in what is really a completely static scene. This can give the impression of shadowy moving objects being present! By using good illumination and HD video, we get high resolution images without noise. If something weird happens with this set up, it would be difficult to dismiss as a photographic artefact!

For instance, suppose a door was found to have opened by itself after a session. If there was a HD video camera trained on the door, using good illumination, it would on the recording and no one could deny that it had physically happened. And it could hardly be blamed on photographic artefacts!

By removing all the existing distractions of modern vigils, like seances, calling out, mediums and so on, participants can concentrate on trying to actually witness things themselves. And, if anything weird DOES happen, it ought to appear on the video recordings. Obviously, there is a lot more to it but the basic idea of stripping down vigils to their essentials would certainly move them towards scientific usefulness.

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