Monday, 15 December 2014

Record everything!

 Crows in a treeIt is a flashbulb memory of mine. I am walking along a back street, coming home from an ASSAP meeting. I particularly remember the buildings nearby, though I'm not sure how accurately. It was in the early days of ASSAP and I'd just heard details of a couple of on-going cases. Although there was still much work to be done on them, both sounded, at first sight, to be unassailably paranormal. It felt as though we were on the verge of a breakthrough - definitive evidence of the paranormal!

I expect other paranormal researchers have had similar moments. As you will no doubt have guessed, things did not pan out quite as I expected. There is a big problem with relying on case evidence to demonstrate the paranormal and it is this. Over time, once the case is finished, people will look at the case report and ask questions about it. There are two main types of questions that cause problems. Firstly, there are questions about natural explanations that the original investigators could have checked for but never considered at the time. Secondly, there are new possible natural explanations that the original investigators would not even have known to check for. An example of the second type is misperception. Until recently, misperception would only have been considered a realistic likely natural cause for particular cases, like a shop dummy or washing on a line being mistaken for a human figure. Now we know that misperception can occur with poorly-seen trees, which can appear to some people like human figures, complete with clothes, hair and particular facial expressions! So the range of objects to be considered for misperception has expanded hugely. It's unlikely anyone would have considered a tree as the likely cause of someone seeing a ghost in the early days of ASSAP.

Once a case has been investigated, it can be difficult, or impossible, to go back and check for natural causes that weren't considered, or even known about, at the time of the original report. The witnesses may no longer be around, or if they are, their memory may have changed over time. The scene of the original incidents may have been altered. Entire buildings may not even be there any more. All of this means that unanswerable questions concerning a case gradually accumulate over time, until it can no longer be considered a plausible demonstration of the paranormal. I've learned that is not a good idea to expect cases, however strong they may appear at first sight, to support the existence of the paranormal.

Is there anything that can be done about this problem? Obviously, we can use xenonormal studies to greatly improve knowledge of possible natural causes and ways to test for them. This diminishes the problem but it does not entirely eliminate it.

One possible solution is to adopt a 'record everything' approach to investigations, to try and capture every detail, whether apparently relevant or not. In other words, we would record more information than just the obvious minimum that might appear necessary to eliminate natural causes. Then this information could be stored digitally and reanalyzed later as questions about the case arose. I can think of some classic cases that I'd love to reanalyze if only such additional information was available. I'm sure some of my questions about these cases could be answered easily if only this information was available.

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to agree that recording as much as humanly possible is very important. It has been very valuable to us in the past to reanalyze something that we thought irrelevant at the time.