Thursday, July 16, 2009

TAPS, and EVP, and EMF (oh my!)

Hey Mom, this one’s for you! My Mom and my niece share a fascination with paranormal phenomenon and paranormal investigation. Both of these manifest as a fascination with the Sci-Fi show Ghost Hunters. For those of you who may not be familiar with the show the basic plot is that these two guys, Jason and Grant, head an organization called TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) that is dedicated to investigating paranormal phenomenon. Part of their appeal is that they’re just regular guys (who happen to have their own TV show) - they aren’t scientists or psychics. In fact, they’re so ordinary that they moonlight as plumbers (TAPS seems to be the central focus of their lives). By day mild mannered plumbers, by night the Ghost Hunters! Like Batman, these two ordinary guys go into allegedly haunted locations with all the coolest gadgets; EMF meters, digital voice recorders, thermal cameras, video cameras, walkie talkies, and cell phones.
In short they have the most scientific ghost hunting gear, which sounds like an oxymoron, I know. They make a big deal out of how scientific their endeavors are. If you have the DVD series, watch it for yourself. They say it again and again and again. The TAPS mantra seems to be that, since they use scientific equipment and all, that if they can’t recreate or explain any phenomenon that they record then they have confirmed the presence of an entity. Well, that seems perfectly reasonable at first glance, but when you really begin to evaluate the premise of their organization it quickly begins to unravel. The idea of hunting ghosts scientifically assumes to ideas which are unproven.
The first being that ghosts exist at all. There is no undeniable evidence that ghosts do exist, hence before you can hunt them you first have to demonstrate their existence. The second assumption is that the equipment they possess has the ability to detect ghosts at all. If no one has proven ghosts exist then how can any one have the slightest idea what kind of equipment would detect them?
First, is the EMF (electromagnetic field) meter. An electromagnetic field, for those of you who don’t know, is created by a moving electrical charge. The field is composed of electric and magnetic fields that are generated at right angles. The Earth has an electromagnetic field. So do people, cell phones, microwaves, video cameras, and much more. (What isEMF?)An EMF meter is designed to measure these electromagnetic fields, and occasionally they pick up anomalies. The TAPS (as well as others) believe that these anomalies are entities that are manifesting themselves.
In order to prove, however, that the anomalies are caused by ghosts they would first have to prove that they weren’t caused by anything else. The sheer number of uncontrolled variables (the cell phones they use in scene after scene, the camera man following the team, the power cables we watch them unroll at each location) ensure that any EMF reading they get will never be considered scientific. They seem entirely satisfied with their EMF technique however.
The basis of their argument seems to be the Law of Conservation of Energy which states that energy can never be created or destroyed. (Law) Since human beings are bioelectric machines, whose energy creates an electromagnetic field then (according to their theory) that energy is not destroyed. Instead it somehow maintains its viability. This energy is allegedly what they detect with their gadgets. But the notion of a ghost creating an EMF doesn’t make any sense when you think about it.
Imagine if you will the entire deceased human populous from now all the way back until time began. Think of how many people that would be. If all those people were roaming around in energy form we would all have three eyes from the constant exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. In particularly established population centers like Egypt, Greece, and Rome you couldn’t swing a ghost buster without hitting an EMF spike.
Paranormal experts address this by saying only some entities produce an EMF when they are manifesting. Well what about when they’re not? The energy disperses into the atmosphere. But hold on a second! If the theory is that since humans produce an electromagnetic field which requires an electric charge, and an electric charge is energy, and energy can never be destroyed but instead goes on to become a ghost then what happens to the ghost when the electromagnetic field ceases to exist?
Do the ghosts die?
It happens all the time. One of the TAPS investigators detects an EMF spike then- POOF- it’s gone with the wind. Did the ghost stop being electromagnetic? Living things give off a consistent EMF reading- they aren’t inclined to start and stop giving off an electromagnetic field for no reason. Why would a ghost be any different?
Another unproven claim that’s advanced by TAPS and other paranormal organizations is that ghosts draw energy from other sources. Draining camera batteries. Leeching heat from the air. The standard spook bit. But if ghosts are energy, then why would they need to draw more? To make themselves manifest, of course!
But if that’s the case then ghosts are the most utterly ineffectual people I’ve ever heard of, because each episode someone’s batteries are drained or Donna feels an anomalous cold spot, but the ghosts can’t seem to muster enough energy to impact their surrounding in the least. So my question is: they’re gathering energy so they can manifest to do what precisely? Nothing? Kind of anticlimactic isn’t it?
Another quick question- what about animals? If anything that is bioelectric can become a ghost, then animals can as well. If you add the total of all the animals which have ever died to the total of all the humans that have ever died a picture begins to form of just how unlikely it is that the electromagnetic field of a dead entity would persist. For those of you who argue that animals don’t produce an electromagnetic field consider this- some animals, like sharks, have sensory equipment capable of detecting the electromagnetic fields created by a variety of animals. The shark’s sixth sense is made possible by the Ampullae of Lorenzini, which are jelly-filled pits lining the sharks’ snout. (The Six Senses)
Then there is EVP (electronic voice phenomenon). Essentially EVP is the recording of sounds which resemble human speech, and typically take the form of a single word or phrase. It’s very compelling because, unlike EMF, you can hear the ’otherworldly’ voices for yourself. In some cases I’ve heard what sounds like a voice very clearly, and other times it was a real stretch to call it a voice.
Typically, they play the alleged “message from beyond” in a sound byte where it’s separate from the other noise, amplified, and with a subtitle accompanying it just to make sure you understand what the ’voice’ is saying. The whole situation is designed like one of those optical illusions, only in this case, someone generously points out the hidden image. As anyone who has seen one of those optical illusions can tell you, it’s very difficult to unsee it. Each and every time you look at the picture, you can’t help but see the hidden image.
In fact, the phenomenon has a name. It’s called auditory pariedolia, which is defined as “interpreting random sounds as voices in their own language”. Some experts have dubbed the phenomenon “Rorschach audio”. (Electronic Voice Phenomenon)
It is odd that all the EVPs I’ve heard in real life have been in English. Given the rather bloody history that surrounds the founding of this nation, don’t you think it’s likely at least one EVP would capture the voice of a deceased American Indian speaking in his or her native dialect? If I were recording the voice of a real person, I may not understand the American Indian dialect, but I wouldn’t be inclined to think it was the wind either. What about the Creole language in the South? French? If I’m correct, there have been EVP’s captured in these languages in Louisiana, but unsurprisingly they were recorded by people who spoke these languages.
Other explanations of EVP exist outside of the Rorschach audio theory. One such explanation is called “RF injection”. RF injection occurs when a sufficient RF (radio frequency energy) is a recorded by a high-gain audio device resulting in a distorted version of baseband audio. (Possible Explanations)
What reason would a ghost have to manipulate white noise to create an EVP? Wouldn’t it simply make more sense to use that energy to manifest as a full-bodied apparition? So what does happen when the electromagnetic field created by an entity disperses and it loses its energy? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Some say the ghost flies to outer space, or it goes into another dimension, or it isn’t made of energy at all. Remember that the entire argument for using an EMF meter is that ghosts carry an electrical charge, and I thought the reason why ghosts were ghosts was because they couldn’t or wouldn’t go to another dimension? If ghosts are already in another dimension then just where do these investigators think they’re sending the ghosts when they help them “cross-over” or expel a malevolent spirit? It wouldn’t do much good to banish a malevolent spirit to a dimension that it’s already in when it has clearly demonstrated it can still interact with this dimension. Some proponents of this theory say there is yet another third dimension that ghosts go to when they cross-over. So what properties make this third dimension so special? If a spirit can go there, couldn’t it theoretically come back?
That is the heart of the issue. When you strip away the pretense of any scientific credibility, you’re left with dark ages explanations for things. Dimensions? Outer space? C’mon! These are the same answers spiritualists in the 19th and early 20th century had. These are the same answers given by mediums which are decried by organizations like TAPS. Having gadgets doesn’t make you a scientist, and there is something decidedly unethical about borrowing credibility that you haven’t earned.
If you enjoy watching shows like Ghost Hunters for the entertainment factor, more power to you, but don’t be fooled into thinking that what you’re seeing is anything more than a technologically advanced Ouija session. It seems like organizations patterned after TAPS are popping up like weeds, and typically they pander to the most vulnerable elements of society; people who have lost loved ones, the mentally ill, the rejected, or people seeking a genuine spiritual experience. Like a religion they comfort these individuals by offering acceptance and the promise of an afterlife- for a nominal fee.
I will admit that not all organizations charge for membership, but a lot do. This isn’t including all the entrepreneurs who earn a pretty penny hawking ghost hunting gear to the desperate.
Some people have cited physical evidence recorded by the TAPS crew. A door opening (even though there was a door on the other side), a lamp and tablecloth being pulled ever so slowly from some force out of frame, a chair moving. Well that’s all very nice… and terribly convenient. While I have no evidence to suggest that they faked it, it would be unreasonable to pretend that they couldn’t or that it’s impossible that they would. After all, I’d say human corruption is fairly well-documented… and you don’t need an EMF meter to detect it either.

Works Cited

WHO- What is EMF?-

The Law of Conservation of Energy-

The Six Senses-

Electronic Voice Phenomenon-

Possible Explanations For EVP-


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