Friday, 19 April 2013

The undervalued ghost witness

Shadow ghostWithout witnesses, there would be no ghosts (except in stories)! We KNOW people see ghosts. We don't KNOW instruments record them. To compellingly demonstrate that instruments can record ghosts you'd need a series of definitive studies with similar results. The objectives of these studies would be easy to state but incredibly difficult to do. Which is probably why, to my knowledge, they've never yet been done.

In scientific research we look for unknown factors or agencies, beyond current science. However, the only sensible way to do that is in terms of what we DO already know. So, we know people see ghosts, for instance, irrespective of what they may actually be. If we run an experiment where someone sees ghosts while an instrument is running continuously at the same location, we can see if there is any correlation. This correlation would need to happen many times for it to be statistically significant. This is great in theory except it requires someone to spot ghosts multiple times, over a reasonably short period of time, in a controlled environment with instruments present. That's why it's not exactly practical though, no doubt, a clever method could be thought of get round such problems.

Interestingly, the vast majority of 'instrumental ghost recordings' have NOT coincided with anyone actually seeing a ghost at the time. Typically, someone has found an 'odd' recording made at a haunted location, after it has happened, and decided that it might be a ghost! The best known examples of this are ghost photos. In the majority of such cases the 'ghost' only appears in the photo, nothing unusual having been witnessed at the time of exposure. In the vast majority of such cases, the 'ghost' turns out to be a photographic artefact. Interestingly, in those few cases where something weird WAS witnessed at the time of the exposure, what is shown on the photo is quite different (usually a photographic artefact) or there is simply nothing unusual there! This would tend to support the idea that ghosts cannot be photographed, though it is only the slimmest hint in that direction.

Most of the techniques popular on vigils involving instruments are, thus, unlikely to yield much useful new information about ghosts. Indeed, practically everything we actually know about ghosts right now comes from witness testimony. Which makes it ironic that witnesses are largely sidelined in modern ghost research. The emphasis is, instead, on ghost vigils, despite the obvious limitations of the assumption-led methods often used on them. Indeed, such methods are a good example of trying to investigate the unknown by using the unknown.

The fact that what we know about ghosts is so heavily derived from witnesses is not necessarily comforting. We are aware that there are serious limitations with witness testimony. Memory is clearly an issue, for instance. And even if people can recall what they experienced accurately, there is no guarantee that such perceptions actually corresponded with reality (misperception, near sleep experiences, etc).

Despite such reservations, witnesses remain, at present, our best source of information on ghosts. Which makes it unfortunate that so few are being interviewed rigorously, using cognitive interviewing techniques for instance. Much witness testimony now ends up on the web in the form of a short first person narratives, nearly always lacking useful details. Without being able to interview the witness properly, or even ask questions, this testimony is, sadly, of little value. And if it comes from someone far distant from the reader, there is little chance to even visit the site of the experience to look for possible xenonormal explanations.

It seems that a valuable resource is being wasted in the headlong rush for, often valueless, ghost vigils. I wonder how much useful information has already been lost in the last few years. Let's hope we haven't missed anything really important

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