Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Normal Activity

It's Halloween time, so as one would expect, many ghostly happenings have been ... happening.

A few nights ago I had a lovely date night with myself. I got some snacks and some wine, turned off all the lights except for a single candle, and sat down to watch a scary movie. I'd never seen The Changeling before, but it had a few rare moments of freaking the hell out of me with its simple but effective scares. It's all the ghost story clichés done right.

Then today, at the Central Library, I went to see a talk by ghost researcher Cameron Bagg, who presented these same ghost clichés as fact. It was an interesting presentation; he told the story of how he first encountered ghosts (mysterious sounds, feeling a presence, teleporting objects, etc.), the tools he uses to hunt ghosts, some spooky anecdotes, all that. He showed some pictures of ghosts and spirit orbs. Ambiguous shadows and spheres of light.

At strange gatherings like this, I find the audience makeup and reactions as fascinating as the talk itself. This was a diverse group of people - old, young, crazy, not-crazy. Good old Roy McDonald was in attendance (he seems to be everywhere at once ... like a ghost). And their reactions; well, I think this was the defining moment:

Bagg took out a television remote control. A regular remote, with an infrared transmitter on the end. He pointed it at the audience, clicked a button a few times, and said "does everyone see the flashing light?"

Many in the audience nodded. Murmurs of "ah, yes!" and "I see it!"

But there was no flashing light. His point was that cameras can see frequencies of light that are invisible to the naked eye (e.g., infrared; indeed, a flashing light could be seen when he pointed it through a camera). But there is a deeper point that inadvertently came out: when people are presented with a suggestion, they are likely to see things as consistent with that suggestion. When shown a static bulb and told it was flashing, many people in the audience, they literally thought they saw it flashing.

Similarly, when someone believes she is about to see ghost photographs, then you show her a shapeless shadow, she will see a human figure in it. Suggest that a dead woman lived in a house, and a picture of an empty room contains her face in a blob of reflected light. The noises at night aren't the people in the next apartment bumping around, but ghostly rapping. An object appearing where it shouldn't isn't a lapse in memory, but a mischievous poltergeist.

I'm not saying ghosts aren't real. Ghosts are an intense phenomenon genuinely experienced by a significant proportion of the population. These experiences can't be explained by the speculations of armchair debunkers, and even though I wish he was more objective about it, I am glad that people like Cameron Bagg are out there actually trying to figure it out. But aside from any paranormal explanations, there is a lot of equally fascinating normal human psychology going on in the minds of those looking for ghosts.


Brian Frank said...

Agreed. Simply dismissing those experiences seems to me less scientific than studying them.

Phronk said...

Definitely. Even the crappiest investigation is more scientific than making a guess then assuming it's right. Many so-called skeptics do the latter, but somehow fail to see that they're falling for the same irrational bias they're trying to fight.

Tatiana said...

I've ALWAYS wanted to see a ghost. I've tried many times by wandering around haunted places, and staring at the blank spaces that fascinate my cats. I've even seen my cats hackles rise as he crept toward the door. I was spooked, but no dice. Do I believe in the phenomena? Absolutely. From anecdotal evidence of friends and family to frequent sightings that agree on details from people who didn't have a previous suggestion... there's something there to be sure, but WHY CAN'T I SEE ONE? Life's not fair...

Rick Bman said...

I personally do not believe in Ghosts but I do believe that there are plenty of things out there that happen that we don't understand and we shouldn't just completely dismiss them. I also am smart enough to know that just because I don't believe in something doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Which is why you will never see me screwing around with a Ouija board. I may not believe that it can contact spirits... but I'm not taking any chances with things I don't understand.

Phronk said...

Tatiana: Hehe, I'm the same way! Just hearing friends' stories about ghosts can terrify me, but at the same time, I wish I was there to experience it.

I believe ghosts exist, in that many people experience similar phenomena that they label as "ghosts." And these phenomena have never been fully explained. My guess is that they're not actually the disembodied souls of dead people, but they're something.

Rick: I'm fascinated by how many people stay away from Ouija boards, even if they are otherwise skeptical. Ghosts or not, they seem to have a real power about them.

Personally I love the things. If nothing else, their direct line to the (living) human subconscious is as scary as any explanation involving dead people.

DeLARA said...

interesting... paranormal activity scared me. Thought me or my bf were going to turn into demons sleepwalking at 3am. I woke up every night at 3 am for about 4 days after I saw it saying "Baby, hold me I'm scared."... stupid.
Anyways not sure what I believe ghost wise but I did use to play the ouiji board ALOT.
Thanks for reading my blog dude.

EVILFLU said...

Very interesting stuff! Ghosts scare the crap outta me! The strange thing is, I'm more afraid of ghosts of people I know than I am of "stranger" ghosts. Like when I'm in the shower, I'm afraid my grandma's ghost is watching me.

After Mason's dad died, we lived in the house that he died in for a couple months and during that time I had some ghostly encounters. I am not sure if they were real or coincidence though. Mason had a baby toy that was a telephone and after his dad died the phone went crazy saying "I love you, goodbye" over and over and at random times. It could have been weak batteries, who knows! Another time the stereo came on full blast by itself to one of his favourite songs, I really can't explain that one other than it was really creepy!

I wish I could have gone to that conference. Sounds really interesting! I would be convinced there are ghosts in my house after something like that and probably have to move or never sleep again!

carissajaded said...

Very Intriguing!

I definitely can see how people are pushed into believing something by using power of suggestion. When I was a kid, a friend and I created a club called "Ghost club" where we would hunt ghosts around the neighborhood. I don't know about her,. but at the time I really thought it was real. Even looking back, its hard for me to convince myself( though I have) that we were just playing a very realistic game of pretend, bc we wanted to see them so bad.

Hey Lady! said...

I absolutely believe in the power of suggestion, it can make people see and believe some strange stuff. NOT to say I don't believe in ghosts, I just don't think they are as common as society makes them out to be.

If you haven't seen "Paranormal Activity" I recommend it, if you like that type of stuff and like to be scared.

Rick Bman said...

I think the reason I stay away from Ouija boards and other paranormal things even thought I don't believe in them can be summed up in a line from the movie The Usual Suspects. "I don't believe in God, but I am afraid of him." I may not believe in ghosts but that doesn't mean that they don't scare me. I can watch all different kinds of horror movies and not be bothered one bit... until it is a horror movie involving ghosts. Then I am sleeping with the lights on.