Dissecting a ghost hunt

31 October 2017

Interview with

Professor Chris French, Goldsmiths University London

What equipment do ghost hunters use to detect the paranormal, and what is this equipment measuring? Izzie Clarke and Georgia Mills unpicked their ghost hunting experience with Professor Chris French from Goldsmiths University in London.

Chris - The Earth’s own electromagnetic field is constantly fluctuating. That could easily have had an effect. Any bits of electronic equipment that were around will also affect the electromagnetic field. The idea with a thermal camera is that you will pick up any heat sources. It’s interesting that what happens here, any kind of anomaly whatsoever is taken as evidence of paranormal activity.

The thermal camera or a digital thermometer seems to indicate either an increase or a decrease in temperature, or people report that the feel an increase or decrease in temperature, then that’s taken as evidence of the paranormal. And if the technical equipment actually supports the subjective impressions, that’s taken as paranormal, and if it doesn’t that’s taken as paranormal. Anything that’s slightly odd, even if a lightbulb goes, or some piece of equipment doesn’t work, that’s evidence of paranormal activity. Whereas, in any other context you wouldn't take it as such.

The electronic voice phenomenon is one of my absolute favourites. The basic idea here is that if you take a piece of kit to record, either just place it in reputedly haunted location or record from a radio sent between channels, it’s claimed that you can actually record spirit voices.

There are lots of examples on the internet that people can have a listen to. What you’ll typically find with a lot of these clips is that you can’t actually really make out what they’re saying until someone tells you. They're very short typically, they’re very poor quality. Sometimes, of course, people have unintentionally recorded real living people rather these kind of random background noises that sound a bit speech like.

I did a daytime TV show a few years back where the paranormal investigator was proudly playing his EVP and there’s not doubt at all it really was definitely someone singing Celine Dion songs, and it was definitely pretty terrifying. I just don’t think it was a ghost that’s all. It’s just the power of what psychologists call ‘top down processing.’ When you have a particular expectation, then those ambiguous sounds seem to sound very much more like what you have been told to expect.

Georgia - So many people claim to have seen things like glasses flying round, things like that. Has anything at all like this been captured in a scientific controlled experiment?

Chris - Not in a scientific controlled experiment. There are loads and loads of YouTube videos that apparently show objects moving, pieces of furniture, and so on and so forth. But that stuff is so easy to fake that unless it was done under properly controlled conditions, I really wouldn’t find it very convincing.

Izzie - Now we put this to FaceBook…

Some years ago I was having a very restless night’s sleep and I suddenly felt compelled to look at my bedside clock - it was eight minutes past midnight. The next day I had a call to say my father had died. I asked when? And it was just after midnight. Is that a coincidence?

Chris - It could well be a coincidence. Sadly, people pass away all the time and their loved ones will have looked at clocks. So sometimes, it’s going to happen that the time they happened to look at the clock corresponds to the time. Again, do we know how many times she looked at the clock? Coincidence seems the most likely explanation to me.

I was about 15, staying over at a friends. We were on the sofas in a caravan sleeping. We both didn’t like the dark so we had a light on. I awoke after a few hours to see a man standing in the kitchen area just a few feet away. I saw him in such detail: he wore dirty old ripped clothes, had potato sack type material for shoes tied with string, and I could even see the dirt under his fingernails. I didn’t blink for what seemed like a very long time but once I did, he was gone. So could this have been a ghost? Is there anything scientific regarding apparitions in such detail?

Chris - Could well have been an episode of sleep paralysis by the sound of it.



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