Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Does reproducing a paranormal report really prove anything?

Ghost tapeDoes reproducing a paranormal report, using natural causes, actually prove anything? Firstly, we need to lose that word 'proof'! The concept of 'proof' is not one used generally in science. While proof is possible in some branches of mathematics and philosophy, it is not a meaningful concept in most of science. Instead there is the idea of the 'balance of available evidence'. All scientific theories are provisional, always subject to new evidence. The idea of proof implies a fixed and final answer which does not occur in science.

So a better question would be, just because we can reproduce a paranormal report faithfully, does that imply it must have happened that way? Well, obviously no! There are often several different ways to produce any particular phenomenon. Orbs, for instance, though mostly produced by out of focus bits of dust, something almost indistinguishable can be produced through lens flare. In most cases, the differences between 'ordinary' orbs and those produced by lens flare is not obvious.

So what is the point of reproducing paranormal phenomena using 'natural causes'? Well, suppose you could reproduce a witness's experience faithfully, using only those environmental factors known to be present at the time of the report? Or using other factors that might reasonably have been expected to be there at the time? In that case, it definitely becomes a plausible explanation for the report. In fact, it becomes the 'explanation to beat'. So unless there was some good reason for thinking otherwise, it would be reasonable to accept the reproduced cause as the most likely explanation.

And what if it proves impossible to reproduce a paranormal report? Does it then follow that the report must indeed have had paranormal origins? Unfortunately, not! It is possible that those trying to reproduce the report simply didn't think of a possibility, at the time, that would, indeed, have worked. The best we can say, in such circumstances, is the report remains unexplained to date.

If this all sounds very theoretical, unfortunately it has only too practical results. Unfortunately, real life paranormal cases do not routinely feature very obviously inexplicable phenomena, like the stuff seen in horror movies. Instead, the vast majority of cases feature phenomena that is ambiguous, at best, and often quite easily reproducible. All of this makes developing ways to reproduce phenomena an important part of paranormal research. See here for more on that!

PS: The photo shows a double image produced in a single long exposure with a digital camera, reproducing similar phenomena found in many anomalous photos.
PPS: I heard some weird noises indoors the other day and wondered if they could be paranormal! It turned out to be a normal sound from the street outside. I had a window open for the first time in months and had forgotten what street noises sounded like!

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