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EVP 101 - The Human Variable
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OpEd by Noah Voss
The proliferation of EVP on the ghost shows has brought on an overwhelming number of inquiries at GetGhostGear.com. We thought it was high time that we throw our opinion in the already very opinionated area of electronic voice phenomena.
EVP or electronic voice phenomenon is often touted as the audio recording of disembodied voices. Now my aim will be to take an objective stance with this piece, and just assume that you, like many of the visitors to this website are already either a) readily taking recordings searching for EVP or b) actively searching for information on how to obtain EVPs in the very near future.
With those thoughts in mind, let’s explore together some very distinct variables to be aware of while researching, experimenting, and investigating electronic voice phenomena. Let us approach this area of study with two main ideas. First, we will focus on known variables or natural ‘potential’ sources for EVPs to rule out. Second, by bringing light to these potential EVP sources, we will discuss recommended techniques to accomplish accounting for, controlling of, or completely removing these known EVP variables during your next ‘ghost hunt.’ This will not all be accomplished in one editorial or opinion piece. This EVP 101 begins a new series on GetGhostGear.com that will continue into the future, each new article exploring one of the many fascinating facets of electronic voice phenomena research.
Sounds easy enough?
Starting with a big known source for EVPs – yourself! Yes, know thyself, you the experimenter. No I’m not talking about some audio form of thoughtography, or even Tulpas – yet. Since I likely don’t know you, we’ll use myself for this example. For full disclosure, I took my first EVP in 1987. It was a private residence and was reported to be haunted. As I wondered the home, full sized tape recorder in hand, I dutifully entered each room, each closet – everywhere hoping to capture something. That was perhaps my first mistake, hoping. Now I can be forgiven for having hope, but perhaps losing sight of objectivity is the number one enemy of any ‘ghost hunter’ or paranormal investigator. The problem with this is even when fully aware of objectivity and keeping that your number one conscious aim in any investigation, it might still not be enough. This can be clearly explained in a visual phenomenon science has tackled as of late – the ability of humans to detect faces.
We can philosophically discuss this as potential evolutionary advantages adapted over multi-generational lineage. With this general theory as hypothesized by the likes of Carl Sagan and others, recognizing a face as simply a ‘face’ is nothing learned. Many postulated in the past that this was somehow inherent. Well perhaps Dr. Sagan and others were more correct than they knew. That is if you believe a 2009 study quantifiably backed by data from magnetoencephalography revealed basic and subconscious activity in the brain.
This happened when the subject was exposed to “objects incidentally perceived as faces.” Technically speaking the activity in the ventral fusiform cortex area of the brain was documented to happen within 165ms of introduction of visual stimuli. This would place it chronologically far sooner than the widely agreed upon “late cognitive reinterpretation.” The corresponding image shows a volunteer undergoing magnetoencephalography. The large device over his head contains multiple superconducting quantum interference devices that are able to map the brains activity. So what does all this have to do with EVP you may be asking?
Image Courtesy of The United States Department of Health and Human Services
Pareidolia is the common factor between the seeing of faces and EVP having an unconscious or at least pre-late cognitive response. Any event that is vague and random (assuming you believe those exist) can be perceived as more significant than it actually is. This is a psychological event called pareidolia. In our focus now of EVP investigation on ‘ghost hunts’ this is often referred to as audible pareidolia. Simply put, your mind tries to find meaning, often words in audible sounds. This thought process is likely heightened or at least focused when for example you are in a noisy restaurant trying to hear what your friend is saying across the table. A similar process is happening when you are listening to audio recordings taken on your ‘ghost hunt.’ You are trying to find the meaning in the noise, listening for words. This goes back to knowing thyself right?
You can want to be objective all you…well want, but even with your chief goal of any investigation being objectivity; you may be lying to yourself about your capability. Now this isn’t a deal breaker, this just complicates the variables to consider before and after experimentation with EVP.
One of the simplest ways to begin managing this variable and I do mean manage, not remove – is to simply NEVER inform someone else of the content of your EVP before they listen. If you think it says “Help me!” keep it to yourself, and see what everyone else hears. Before you read the past this sentence, take just a moment and look at the following image now.
Did you see a cloud? Anything more? Some might have seen a pirate ship with full sale, maybe a whale, how about a shark, perhaps a submarine? If you enjoyed that simple exercise click the following for more; image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4. You will have to scroll down further on each page that loads to see what the image is of and some other interpretations. Decide what you see!
Image Courtesy of Brian from Edmonton, Canada
This brings us to the next method to minimize this audible pareidolia variable, have the person listening to the EVP for the first time, do so alone. Don’t you be in the room sitting across from them with your body language all out for the world to read. Also don’t have a room full of people listen to it, allowing for the opportunity to have one person unintentionally or otherwise effect the rest with their impression. Do have a controlled way for people to independently observe your EVP findings, document them privately and then share with those who have already come to their own conclusion in writing. Again, this is in no way solving the audible pareidolia variable, just beginning to manage some small variables of it. To take this idea further, anyone you would likely have listening to your recording, would likely know the context of why they are listening. This in itself sets up a contaminated experiment, in your experimentation of EVPs. The listener is likely aware of EVPs and with that knowledge unable to help but be listening for some form of electronic voice phenomena. There is room historically speaking for researchers of EVP to set up something like a double blind study with controls in place of recordings with no presumed EVPs. How this would be best carried out is an additionally lengthy area for another article.
At one point in my years of EVP work (no big deal), I had personally moved away from actively asking questions aloud during investigations. Asking a question aloud is often done by investigators hoping to hear a response later in the audio recording playback. By asking a question you are setting your mind up for a narrowed down selection of words to listen for. This becomes especially clear when one asks yes or no questions. Now there are two sides to this approach to consider. Of course if you do not ask a question, then any words that you pick up on your recordings have no context. The problem with this approach is any ‘words’ thought to be present could be used as some proof to fit into your theory with no qualifications. The other approach to EVP investigation would be to ask a question, hoping to receive an answer that logically fits the question on the audio recording. In some circles this could be used to further substantiate intelligence behind the recorded voice. Personally I’m not there yet. I can clearly see problems with both approaches. Scientifically speaking the issue of believing there is more involved in otherwise two or more random events is called Apophenia. Seeking patterns or finding connections whether a conspiracy theorist or religious practitioner can be easy and not always accurate. Carl Jung coined this phenomenon synchronicity. He spoke of it as “simultaneous occurrences of two meaningful but not causally connected events” in other words the two events could relate to each other but not have happened because of the other one. Think chance, or coincidence. Regarding your EVP research, if you are going to be asking questions aloud, and later feel you have a voice recording, at the very least do not include the investigators question when allowing other people to review your EVP. This is a must!
Perhaps we should all start asking in our EVPs for the answer to math problems? Not, “If Sally is on a train heading west at 45 mph…” but perhaps “what is 2+2.” Maybe holding up props “what color is this” or “is it cold or hot where you are” may begin to illuminate additional avenues of research to pursue, assuming there are any. Potential EVP experiments and the reasons behind them hold enough fodder for future articles all by themselves.
I wouldn’t feel right without touching upon belief system regarding this area of research. Belief system seems to come up often in my lectures and appearances because near as I can tell there are still many researchers and investigators blatantly oblivious to their own biased. Whether it is your belief system, worldview, or life stance, we all have them, even if we are not fully aware of them or why we have them. This is all too clear when listening to people talk, even when on an official capacity, many times in their own ‘educational how-to’ videos. Using improper semantics aside, it is the oft repeated, rarely qualified comments such as “EVPs are disembodied voices” and “when asking questions be respectful because the ghosts might not know they are dead.” The people making these comments are making unsubstantiated assumptions. What’s worse is they are then putting forward their own technique for EVP investigations as factual and scientifically quantified. Did I miss the press release, has someone quantifiably proven that ghost’s exist and furthermore that ‘ghosts’ were indeed once living human beings? If you base your experimental procedures on falsehoods such as “ghosts” have been proven to exist, or EVPs discovered on recordings are “voices of disembodied souls, that once were people” then wow, what does that mean about absolutely anything you do with your research, investigation, and conclusions reached after that un-factual belief? It means your efforts count for nothing scientifically and do nothing for the greater understanding. It doesn’t hold any validity to complete research and acquire data, based upon widely believed falsehoods. Right?
It’s like saying it was raining out because you walked out on your porch and found a puddle of water. Without looking around and noticing the fact that the street is dry, the dirt in the flower bed is dry, the neighbor’s roof is dry and there are no clouds in the sky. Perhaps there is another explanation for the water? Maybe a family member spilled a glass of water, maybe someone was just watering the plants, maybe it’s not water perhaps a wild animal relieved itself, and even more wild what about a passing plane jettisoning fluids, freezing on the way down, then bouncing over the ground until landing on the porch and melting! Yeah right, crazy but the more you learn about the world around you the more variables you may be able to weigh, allowing your conclusion to be additionally accurate.
Since we began this journey of self-discovery along with EVP knowledge we could and should look at belief systems and capability of the researcher and investigator. Not just the capability, but the ability of the observer to actually consider all potentials. For example will the devout Christian investigator be able to fairly consider data pointing to the evidence of there being no god? Will the professed psychic be able to acknowledge new data that reveals they may not be somehow communicating with the once living? These beliefs are not the point of this article. When people with these beliefs enter the field as ‘ghost hunters’ investigating, it then becomes a huge variable that should at the very least be discussed. Even more so when said investigators holding these beliefs taught their approach as scientific.
Belief systems can influence not just what we discover, but also in how we discover. Turning a blind eye to this potential can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of what biased investigators of the paranormal can find. Remain vigilant! Stay aware of your own thoughts, and biases. Challenge your own belief system including the foundation, no matter how uncomfortable. After all, if you believe it now, what harm is there to revisit new data? Shouldn’t it bring you back to the same belief that you have now if it is such a strong belief?
By the end of this series of articles on EVP, my aim is to have enlightened my audience to as many possible variables surrounding the theory and practice of electronic voice phenomena. For those of you not offended by the mere mention of religion, or the possibility that there may be a ‘better’ way to investigate, congratulations! I’m most happy to hopefully have one or two readers left at this point. We’ll continue this exploration of electronic voice phenomena, learning together more about this area of edgy experimentation in the paranormal field.
Next up “EVP 102 Handling You Equipment”
EVP 101 – The Human Variable Authored by Noah Voss
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