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Paranormal Investigating Equipment 101

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Opinion Editorial

by Noah Voss

Not ghost detectors.  We'll save the fact that:

#1. Ghosts have not been universally agreed upon in definition—ever.

#2.  No one has ever discovered a scientific piece of equipment that can quantifiably detect ghosts (see #1).

We'll be saving the above two painfully obvious facts and the myriad of implications all for numerous other editorials.  Today we are looking at paranormal investigating equipment as a whole.  This will undoubtedly cause us to touch on many other aspects such asFull moon on a ghost hunt investigation procedure, the scientific method, and specialized terminology to name a few.  Perhaps the best place to start from with this paranormal investigating equipment topic, is your approach to the general paranormal field of study. 

Full moon over investigation site.  Photography by Noah Voss.

Anyone who is considering picking up a piece of equipment (and in my un-humble opinion nearly everyone who already has) should first ask themselves, "why?"  Not that I think equipment is a bad idea.  I feel for two reasons this questioning should take place.  First and fairly off topic, everyone should self reflect as often as possible.  Second, everything you do after you pick up that piece of equipment will be based upon your answer.  You will be putting your time, money, and energies into investigating reports of paranormal phenomena.  There are countless decisions that you will be making before, during, and after each investigation.  As a result we should probably spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of your efforts. 

If your answer to "why?" is "to find ghosts" put the equipment back down.  I'm not going to lie to you.  Not even if it means making a sale.  I got into this business many years ago to help advance the understanding of our environment.  I do no-one but my pocket book any good by letting you believe you are going to find ghosts by picking up a piece of equipment.  It just isn't that simple.  That is to say for clarification sake, using equipment is not that simple, not the "finding ghosts" part (again well save berating the terminology and theory for other editorials, this is the last interruption I promise).  So if you are not going to "find a ghost" with equipment then what is the goal?

What you may eventually accomplish with equipment is to compile enough verifiable data, taken under strict scientific protocol, that future investigators could use to help fill in the collective understanding of our environment.  This understanding may lead to the discovery of some "thing" that fits closely to our current definition of ghosts or more accurately simply fits closely to our societal beliefs of what affects people perceive as the result of ghosts.  Still with me?  Let me say it another way, I believe in the possibility of anything however I live in the reality of what we know as truths right now.  That reality, whether you subscribe to it or not, is one where ghosts are not a proven fact. 

Indeed what is the goal, why are you doing this?  Go ahead and ask yourself, right now, out-loud even...if no one is around.  Well come back to this self reflection later. 

So how exactly can we get answers by applying equipment during investigations?  I mean, if we are not looking for a specific reading on our equipment that tells us there is a ghost, then what are we looking for?  By using equipment we hope to monitor and document as many known variables in the environment as is possible with the available resources.  Should we be left with any data not explained away by known causes, it remains as an anomaly.  This anomaly in my opinion is deserving of further research and investigation.  What the anomaly is will be very specific to each instance you find one.  An anomaly that is, not ghost, not alien, not angel, not demon, not poltergeist, not...well hopefully you are getting the idea.  Each specific anomaly should be researched and investigated.  Only if new data can be found about the anomaly should their be a theory formed that would speculate the most plausible source of said anomaly.  Not just data but quantifiable data, and not just a theory, but a testable theory based upon empirical facts. 

That's about it folks.  I think that generally sums up the use of scientific equipment during investigations of reported paranormal phenomena.  Just in case you don't have your head completely around my approach, let me expand on the idea with examples.

For instance, what would we be using the equipment for if not to detect ghosts?  Well for starters establishing a base line of environmental readings.  This means allot of work and procedurally one I mean to go into greater detail on in a separate editorial.  For now, we are talking about taking sample readings in marked and mapped portions of each room, say in a reported haunted house.  Readings from every tool in your bag, from electromagnetic field to temperature.  Not just taking the readings once and mapping them once.  Just as with taking a survey or opinion poll, the more people you question the more telling your final answers may be.  If you are able to take readings once every 30 minutes for 10 days, great.  Even better would be leaving your equipment onsite, attached to a computer for real time data logging 24/7 for a few weeks before your investigation.  Not just leave it onsite in a closet, but an electromagnetic field meter for each room.  Not just some single axis light-up kid toy, but electromagnetic field meters capable of monitoring wide range, on all axis's, DC and AC, something like an array of high-speed digital fluxgate magnetometers.  The magnetometers I'm thinking of have a sample rate of 250 times per second, but more on those later.  What else?  To monitor as many variables as possible such as temperature, humidity, visible light, ultraviolet light, air ions, the list goes on and on.  But I'm a realist and I'm really sure that's not going to happen, at least not every time. 

If you can actually get into a location, have the people cooperate with your plans and methods, you are more likely to be able to take readings once an hour from the time you show up until a few hours later when you leave.  Still this is perhaps better than nothing, or at least better than the current popular alternative of walking around taking random readings, hoping to stumble into something only to have nothing to compare it back to.  You can see with the procedurally heavy approach I prefer, why I feel that investigating reports of paranormal phenomena properly is a huge undertaking. 

EMF meter used on ghost huntsThe paranormal industry has drastically changed in the last half decade.  More than two decades ago my view was the more people in, the more likely something new would be discovered.  I have slowly moved away from this stance as I have not experienced a marked increase in quality research and investigation.  Though in the last two decades the number of people coming into the industry has been huge.  In my opinion it seems that the influx of people has more than anything else muddied the waters.  More poorly obtained and unqualified data has caused those researchers stringently looking through the growing cache of information to simply have to devote more resources to an otherwise straightforward task.  Researching paranormal reports has become an increasingly unnecessarily complex task.    

EMF Meter for sale, pictured inside hallow tree.  Photography by Noah Voss.

It has been my long term goal to work from an institute.  I feel this would help clear the waters back up and allow those doing unbiased scientific work to shine through.  An institute like ASPR, but without the apparent corruption and lack of passion.  But hey that's just how I see ASPR from the outside looking in.  A properly functioning institute could become a much needed resource to the current fragmented community of investigators that now populates the field. 

A resource that could guide and instruct investigators that lack the fundamental training.  A funded institute would also be able to address another central shortcoming in the field—required resources.  The required resources to properly investigate reports of paranormal phenomena seem to be chiefly time, money, and specific skill sets.  An institute setting could help to address major issues currently plaguing an industry in dire need of guidance.  My dream career would not be in front of a TV camera pretending to do investigations.  I've been there and it is not for me.  I would much rather remain behind the scenes, intrinsically involved in an institute acquiring and dispersing knowledge.  But hey, that's just my pipe dream. 

As far as scientific equipment used to investigate reports of the paranormal, steady and slow seems to be the best approach for now.  There are so many directions we could go with our theories.  As a result of the aforementioned shortcomings in the paranormal field of study, we are missing the quality data necessary to formulate specific and accurate hypotheses.  It is then, with these testable hypotheses in hand we could move forward with additionally focused experimental research and investigation.  To perform that research and focused investigation we would then need more specific equipment and tools.  With the new equipment would come the need for a certain level of specialized training.  This training, for instance could come from just such an institute.  The purpose of these new focused experiments should then be to learn.  Do not fall into the all to often pit-fall of substantiating belief systems.  Logical theories based upon quantifiable data are excellent, just always be open or prepared to find them in need of complete re-working.    

Perhaps there are two main points to learn from.  One point could be to substantiate our hypotheses with quantifiably empirical data attained through re-creatable experiments following strict scientific methods.  The second, to disprove them through the same process.  It is in either of these outcomes that lay advancement of understanding.  For even when we disprove something, anything, we still hold the opportunity in it to learn.  


Next Recommended Op Ed - EMF Meters 101

Anyone out there reading this?  We eagerly await any feedback!  Share your thoughts, long or short, agreeing or disagreeing:  Simply put the page title in the Emails subject line!


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