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Tools ≠ science

One of the most often talked about segments of the paranormal are the tools of the trade. From the dozens of EMF detectors, to the various digital and analog recorders, to the DVR systems, infrared cameras systems, Shack hacks, Ovilus, laser grids, flashlights, and the Pelican cases to tote them around in. The field is full of hundreds of gadgets that are all used to find evidence of ghosts. Prior to the "tool revolution" of the 1990s when digital cameras began to snap pictures of "orbs", ghost investigation was beginning to become "cool" and TAPS had yet to make their debut on the Sci-Fi Channel, there were other "tools" that were mainstream. Groups utilized 35MM cameras that used film cartridges that could only hold between 24 and 27 pictures and had to be taken to a photomat to be developed. Tape recorders were large and noisy and hardly anyone could afford an EMF detector.

These were times of using baby powder to see if items moved or if anyone had walked through a surface area. Camcorders were a rare sight in the field and certainly no one had a multi-channel recording system or any of the latest gadgets that ghost investigators have become used to. With all of the advancement we should certainly see a higher chance of recording true ghostly events, right? Not really. While there is more evidence collected now than in the 1980s or early 1990s it isn't because the technology is better. The fact is groups have become fooled by the equipment in thinking that it is providing more information that they really are. I stated on another page that since groups spend a lot on equipment that investment translates into an investment that they will provide them with the evidence. I also feel that reliance on these tools has lowered the ability or willingness of groups to problem solve like groups did prior to the technology surge. Where are the measuring tapes, levels, baby powder, cheap fingerprint dusting kits, and all of the simple things that groups did to find logical solutions?

Some groups have become nearly completely reliant on the technology and have invested thousands of dollars in their equipment. Does this mean they are a better investigation team than one merely armed with pencils and notebooks? Nope. As a matter of fact the group with the pencil and notebook are less likely to be distracted by the equipment and will certainly not jump to conclusions or have an illusion of knowledge when a gadget beeps in thinking a ghost is responsible. It is understandable that groups really want to use the tools to find evidence or even proof of ghosts, but the tools should only be implemented when a true understanding of what a ghost is and how it can be measured first.

Are the tools worth it?

Since groups come into the field and see others using these tools there is the automatic assumption that groups must run out and buy the tech in order to become a "real" ghost investigator. Investigators may feel embarrassed or lacking if they are not loaded down with tools. The reality is there is no tool designed that can detect a ghost or other anomalous event. Since we have no idea what ghosts are exactly we have no way of knowing what type of measurement would be necessary to detect one (have I repeated this enough yet?). Many feel ghosts are made of "energy" and therefore an EMF detector will do. If this were that simple ghosts would have been discovered a long time ago or would easily be validated by the number of investigators armed with these devices.

There is nothing wrong with using the tools as long as you use them for what their intended purpose is as well as understand their limitations in regards to paranormal phenomena. Some teams buy the equipment to experiment with, testing a hypothesis, or trying to use them in tandem with other methods. While there is nothing wrong with experimenting it is important to understand that none of these tools have been proven to actually work and any results should be taken with a grain of salt unless backed up by multiple sources.

Proper use of the popular pieces of tech

The technology that groups have does suit a purpose, albeit it's not for finding ghosts. An EMF detector is important in finding bad grounding or broken wires. EFM exposure, or the condition known as electrohypersensitivity (EHS) is thought to be the root cause of many ghostly events. The reality of EHS is debated by various tests and studies, while some have verified this as a real problem others have found no connection with EMF exposure and the hypersensitivity found in many people. In my experience we have altered bad wiring or grounding in situations where people displayed similar symptoms (unusual headaches, unusual aches and pains, trouble sleeping, problems with concentration, feeling of being watched, etc.). When the situation was resolved the client noticed the symptoms went away and typically their ghost situation did as well. Whether this is a real issue or fixing the issue was merely a placebo, it is worth the try to test for bad wiring or high EMF in areas of rest or where people are present a lot. Simple things such as having them sit farther from the TV or computer monitor, keeping alarm clocks, fish tanks, cell phone chargers, and other electronic equipment away from their bedside may also help. Read more about EMF hypersensitivity and how it ties in to the paranormal at Haunted Theories.

Proper use of digital recorders is one subject I see lacking in the field. Many investigators parade around with an EMF detector in one hand and a digital recorder in another. Merely holding the recorder exposes it to many sounds that will not be heard by the person holding it (the hand "creaking", the sound of the recorder moving in the hand) and may lead to pareidolia. Even a recorder sitting on a counter can be susceptible to noises that create false-positive results. The best way to utilize digital recorders is to have them resting on a cushioned surface, use them in pairs in a room, as well as use multiple ones if people are in various locations at once.

Using the example layout you can see where various recorders should be used when multiple investigators are in a location. You will notice three investigators in the floor plan (Y), one in the doorway to the bedroom, one in the living room, and one in another area close to the bedroom. In this scenario an individual is conducting a vigil in the bedroom. The other investigators are merely serving as observers, not observing the vigil but making sure no other noises are occurring. These investigators can also be replaced with recorders in these locations (X). The bedroom has four recorders, one in each corner, as well as a Zoom H2 (Z) in the middle of the room (as the Zoom H2 can record using front and rear speakers simultaneously each with left/right channels).

The reason for so many recorders in the room is because the concern should not be getting an EVP, but finding out where the noise comes from. The recorders can be analyzed to find out the source of the EVP if it is a false positive noise. Also note that recorders are not only used in other unoccupied rooms but also outside the location to record any contamination coming from outside. Obviously, a periodic audible time stamp should used to mark the time for post review. Utilizing a real time EVP (RT-EVP) device also makes sense as this allows the investigator to follow up with what is happening in real time instead of hearing something days later away from the investigation. I have also plugged in headphones so that I can hear what the recorder hears, this does not give you a playback but will acquaint the user with the microphone sensitivity and will get you used to hearing and explaining natural sounds.

Using motion sensors and laser grids. Many motion detectors (and EMF detectors) are susceptible to radio frequencies (especially walkie talkies) and may trigger randomly (I discovered this first hand during an investigation despite shielding the sensors prior). This is part of field testing your equipment prior to using it in an actual investigation. When I first started out we would shake down new methods or equipment in abandoned locations or even cemeteries. While the cost of conducting an investigation at a prison or other abandoned building has skyrocketed with the popularity of being involved in the field do not use this as an excuse to shake down new equipment during a client-based investigation.

Infrared equipment is "sexy" since it gives an eerie look and there is "science" behind looking into a different wavelength. Don't be fooled by the theories. There is no evidence that IR equipment works better to find ghosts they merely work better in dark conditions. IR equipment leads to many more photographic orbs since the IR illuminators get very warm, thus circulating air around the lenses, and are prone to reflecting dust and other debris back into the lens just like a digital camera.

Be sure to clean all of your lenses, refresh the batteries, and know how to properly use all of your equipment before using them in the field.

In the past I used to use various forms for all of our activities and equipment, now I have created a pre-investigation checklist that ensures that the initial data is collected and the equipment is sound. With this checklist I evaluate the environmental data prior to the investigation. Have you seen the Moon phase information on paranormal group websites? Or maybe the "space weather" data? Why do groups use these on their sites? Do they actually keep track of this information when they receive a case or when they do a case? The belief that the sun and moon control ghost "energy" is a myth in our field. There has been no valuable research done on either of these claims, but, we do collect this information so that we can see if there is a potential for this to have some effect. If we do see a trend we will have the data to support the claim and will publish this information for all to see (this is true science).

My pre-investigation checklist also includes other weather data that occurs when the form is being filled out as well as tracks changes throughout the period of the investigation. We keep track of indoor temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity levels separately to help aid in potential future information that may help in the mystery of ghosts. The pre-Investigation Checklist keeps track of what tools are used by whom and some other handy information. Also on the form you will note we keep an eye on what type of battery is used. A rechargeable battery will not last as long as a traditional battery and can run down unexpectedly.

The form also insures that the person using the equipment is well aware of how to use the basic settings and that the equipment is ready to operate. The final part of the form takes the physical environment into consideration. What noises are being heard inside? (does the heater kick on at intervals? AC? Sump pump?) What noises are heard outside? (cars, airplanes, people, dogs, etc.) Lastly, what is the mental state of the client? Investigators? Are they ready for an investigation (focused, healthy).

This form is used in conjunction with other documentation forms used during the investigation (floor plan, equipment layout, photo/video logs, and more).

Pre-Investigation Checklist

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