Every Halloween, there are people who decide to spend the night in haunted houses (and probably get drunk in said haunted houses).
How do they know the house is haunted? So-and-so was murdered there or what’s-his-name took his life there. There are unexplainable sounds, doors opening and closing, things falling off the table — instances of generalized spookiness.
Our culture has an obsession with ghosts the same way it has an obsession with ice road truckers and house flipping. There’s no shortage of reality TV shows about ghosts, and they are all ridiculous.
My favorite was “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” which proved that ghosts prefer to spook washed-up celebrities rather than busy ones.
The most famous of these shows, however, is “Ghost Hunters,” where a bunch of grown men get paid by the SyFy Channel to run around in the dark asking each other “what was that?” and “did you just hear that?” I consider the team of “Ghost Hunters” to be the authority on ghosts. After all, it’s not like you can take a ghost hunting class at university.
The team’s go-to instrument is the EMF, or electro-magnetic field, meter. GhostStop.com, a place for purchasing ghost hunting equipment, says that “an EMF meters (sic) is a staple piece of equipment used to detect sources of (EMFs)” and that ghosts “manipulate” EMFs.
However, the criteria for what a ghost is and how you might go about finding one has never been established by science. Many things can cause a spike in EMF readings (for example, home appliances and wiring all create EMFs), and nobody has ever proved the ghost-EMF link.
There are other ways the team on “Ghost Hunters” detects ghosts, but they are equally unconvincing. Sometimes, the investigators have the ghost activate a blinking light on a device. Seeing as this is reality television, I have some serious doubts about this. There is not any quality control or peer review, so it’s just a bunch of reality TV stars asking us to take their word.
But perhaps the silliest of all is when the investigators leave an audio recorder going all night in a haunted house. Later, they will listen on headphones to the hours and hours of audio. After several boring hours, the diligent ghost hunters begin to hear things like “help me” or “leave me alone.”
This is a phenomenon known as “pareidolia,” where the human brain sees a meaning or a pattern where there isn’t one. Our brains are excellent at detecting patterns, whether they exist or not. If you spend hours listening to static and hoping to hear a ghost, you very well might.
According to the skeptic Benjamin Radford in a piece he wrote for Live Science, believers often can’t even agree on what a ghost is. Are they poltergeists? Are they intelligent? Mindless? The answers to these questions will likely never be answered because so much of ghost hunting is based on assumptions.
Radford goes on to say that if ghosts can go through walls, why would they be able to do physical acts like moving objects? The very idea of ghosts violates our understanding of physics.
“Ghost Hunters” has been on since 2004. This is a team that has many tens-of-thousands of dollars at its disposal. I think they are no closer to proving the existence of ghosts than they were 12 years ago.
Think about it: this is the most well-equipped team of ghost hunters there is, and they don’t yet have an undeniable piece of evidence. While personal stories of paranormal encounters may be fun to listen to, they’re just stories.