Ghost Help

History of Investigation and Research

Scientific investigation of ghosts began back in 1882 with the Society for Psychical Research. This search for answers came after many years of the Spiritualism Era and questionable sessions by many psychics and mediums. While there was certainly a lot of trickery going on there was a genuine interest into whether psychic phenomenon could exist. The SPR was formed in London, England by scientists, including many psychologists, that wanted to know if communication with the other side was possible. In 1885 the American Society for Psychical Research was formed in Boston and eventually moved to New York City where it currently resides. These organizations primarily focused on collecting stories, investigating claims made by psychics and mediums, and attempting to draw conclusions from case studies.

In the 1920s and 30s there was a push to have this type of research conducted in controlled laboratory settings. Parapsychology was born and most of what we know about ghosts came from around this time period. Parapsychologists were able to determine distinct types of phenomena related to the paranormal and how these types of phenomena dealt with ghosts. Granted, these observations have never been substantiated as fact.

For the sake of brevity, these segments are kept to concise points only. Learn more about the history of the Society for Psychical Research, or history of the American Society for Psychical Research.

Parapsychology: The "Big 3"

1. ESP - Extra-sensory Perception (receptive psychic)

  • Receptive psychic since information is being "provided" to a person beyond the normal senses.
  • Also known as telepathy and is mind-to-mind interaction. It's not "reading" someone's mind, but a willing transference of information.
  • Clairvoyance - (French for "clear vision") Receiving information from objects or events without the use of normal senses or without putting clues together. This subgroup also contains:
    • Claircognizance - knowing information without a logical explanation for why you know it.
    • Clairaudience - Sound information gathered from unknown sources.
    • Clairsentience - Physical sensations that provide information.
    • Clairalience or clairescence which is accessing information through smell.
    • Clairgustance - The ability of gathering information from taste without food or other objects in the mouth.
  • Psychometry - The ability to "read" the history of an object or location. This could potentially be one possible explanation for hauntings.
  • Precognition - Receiving information about objects or events that occur in the future.
  • Retrocognition - Receiving information about objects or events that occurred in the past (without logical means). This an alternate explanation to psychometry (and hauntings). In other words, the viewer is not using the history of an object or location from its "electromagnetic field", rather the information may be using the object or location as a "focal point" to the past.

2. PK - Psychokinesis (expressive psychic)

  • Expressive since there is an "exertion" of an unseen force onto objects without noticeable or measurable physical means.
  • Telekinesis - The ability to move objects from a distance without normal means. This term has now been eliminated by many and psychokinesis is merely used in its place.
  • Teleportation - Movement of an object (placement) without it visually having traveled at all. The object goes from one place to another without physically traveling the distance.
  • Psychic healing / psychic surgery - The means of healing oneself (or another) with the mind.
  • Poltergeist - This is linked to a living person or persons and to a stress related situation. Included are movement of objects and sounds among other things. Occur when particular person, known as an "agent", is around.

3. Survival of Bodily Death

  • Apparition - What is seen, heard, felt or smelled and related to some part of the human personality / mind that can somehow exist in our physical universe after the death of the body. This does not mean that ghosts are tangible beings and are physically standing in front of us if we see one. This is merely the existence of the personality after the death of the body that is able to contact the living through some unknown means. An apparition is not merely a physical body, but may also include noises, physical sensations, or even emotions that are detected by the living. An apparition has two key components:
    • Intelligence - A true apparition displays some sort of intelligence behind it. There seems to be some sort of rational meaning behind their behavior. It may be the focus of events on a particular person, or the obvious ability to gain attention through methods that are beyond coincidence.
    • Communication - The apparition is displaying an obvious attempt at gaining the attention of the living and there is an understanding of information passed between them and the living.
  • Haunting - Residual activity referring to location or even object. No communication or direct relationship with living. Sometimes referred to as a residual haunting. Many also use the word "haunting" to describe intelligent / communicative apparitions by calling them intelligent hauntings.
  • Shared Death Experience - A living person experiences another's death or dying experience or is able to sense the death process of the person. The living person's experience is similar to that of a near death experience (seeing white light, tunnel, loved ones, etc.) or can be an out of body experience where they participate in a "life review" of the dying person, or they can even witness a person's "spirit" leaving their body to anything else in-between.
  • Near death experiences (NDE), where a person experiences things that make them assume they are dying, out of body experiences (OBE), where a person feels they have left their physical body whether asleep or awake, as well as deathbed visions, where a dying person receives a "visit" from a deceased family member, are not considered part of survival since they do not occur with death. However, many do consider them part of the survival hypothesis. For the sake of educating a client on ghosts these concepts typically do not have meaning.

What does this mean for you?

Parapsychology has mainly been focused on laboratory experimentation in order to validate various hypotheses as well as for the field to be accepted by science. This field has diminished over time and by the end of the 1980s many universities no longer supported parapsychology. The field is more or less viewed as pseudoscience by the scientific world; meaning there are many things about the field that are flawed in the eyes of science. Despite over a century of investigation there is no proof of ghosts nor abilities of ESP or PK. The field has lacked repeatable experimentation of supposed demonstrated abilities and those that have seen positive results are felt to be out shadowed by negative or null results (a bias known as selective reporting). Regardless of these obvious shortcomings, parapsychology has created an outline of understanding of the types of events that have been reported for centuries. Understanding hauntings, apparitions, and poltergeists is key to understanding how to approach your unique events.

When we think of ghosts we tend to focus on the survival of bodily death section. However, the survival hypothesis (ability for consciousness to survive death of the body) relies on the abilities of ESP and PK in order for the "consciousness" to manifest for our interpretation. In order for us to "sense" a ghost we are either receiving information from this consciousness (ESP) or projecting it through ourselves (PK). No one truly knows how or why certain people experience ghosts, but here we will stick to the most logical and straightforward theories.

One of the most common perceptions of ghosts is that they are physical beings and can be photographed, recorded on audio, and exist in our "dimension" or reality. Ghosts are actually more than likely a mental manifestation brought on by an unknown connection to the consciousness associated with the formerly living person. There is no validation that ghosts can be photographed as an overwhelming majority of examples known as spirit photography were deemed as fake or altered in the 1800s and into the early 1900s and there are still many more examples of deliberate hoaxes or misinterpretations of photographs (pareidolia) many times caused by normal camera functions (orbs, light streaks, lens flares, etc.) that appear today. If it were possible to photograph ghosts or record them by any means they would be discovered fairly easily and would have been a long time ago.

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) has become the latest fad in "proving" the existence of ghosts. This is recording "ghost voices" on digital or analog recoding. While there seemingly has been a sound demonstration of this in some cases the overwhelming majority of examples are misinterpretation of normal sounds or other noises that cause sounds that are misinterpreted as voices (see apophenia and pareidolia definitions below). This misinterpretation of evidence also applies to the technology that most ghost teams use and has become popular due to its prior use by other teams as well as their appearance on television. Despite the claims of a majority of groups, there is no validation that ghosts are "electronic" or "magnetic" in their makeup and can be "detected" by tools. If this were in fact true then, just as them being physical beings, ghosts would have been discovered well over a hundred years ago by professional scientists and not by amateur enthusiasts.

  • Apophenia - Psychological phenomenon creating a significant image/event from a random one.
  • Pareidolia - A type of apophenia where the mind creates patterns in images and sounds that are merely random (animals in clouds, faces in random objects, hearing the phone ring while in the shower - when it actually doesn't- due to the pattern of water falling, etc.). The term matrixing is a synonym.
  • Simulacrum - In the context of apophenia, this is the image or representation or the apophenia / pareidolia; in other words it is the item that is causing the misinterpretation.

The Power of Belief

Belief plays an important role in everything we do and dealing with ghosts is no different. Understanding what is happening may ease your fear, but believing that ghosts may harm you will put you back at square one. Believing you are in control will almost certainly give you the ability to end the events and go on to live a normal life.

How does belief play a role in the paranormal?

In 1972 a group of people in Toronto were able to "conjure" a ghost that was able to move a table by their commands. In reality, the ghost was made up and it was ultimately the participants that were actually unconsciously moving the table by means of psychokinesis. Typically, in these situations (table tipping, table turning, and even the infamous Ouija Board) the movement is caused by unconscious muscular action (UMA) or popularly known as the ideomotor effect where the subconscious moves the object without us being consciously aware that we did move it (we fool our selves). The mere belief that a ghost was responsible was enough to make the table tip to impossible angles despite the ideomotor effect and even defied weight being placed on it to a certain extent that provided unexplainable physics.

(The image above right is of the fictional Philip used in the table tipping experiments in 1972. An entire fictional biography was created in order for the experimenters to focus on a specific "cause" for the events.)

Belief also played a part in parapsychology experimentation. Joseph Banks Rhine noted the sheep-goat effect in participants of ESP experiments. Within these experiments are statistics that determine a range of chance where normal guesses should fall (similar to a bell curve). Those who believed in psi (sheep) tended to score above chance and those who did not believe (goats) typically scored below chance. This psi missing effect is of note since if the participant had no psychic ability they should still score within the chance range.

The bottom line here is that your belief in the phenomena may actually fuel the events. The easiest way to stop paranormal type events is to understand you are in control of the situation and that the situation is not beyond control. A majority of ghostly events begin as random events, or a real ghost event, and the client's imagination begins to link together other random things that creates a "ghost" situation. Empowerment has solved nearly every single ghost case I have ever been involved in and when the client begins to understand the reality of things (beyond the false and misleading information on television, books, and the Internet) there becomes a balance in their events and they ultimately go away over time.

So how do we evaluate the situation?

Click on Step 2 to find out.

Ghost Help