For centuries, the study of the paranormal has been a field of passion and dedication. Today’s modern ghost hunters are the children of a long ancestral line of people focused on proving the validity of all things supernatural. Once upon a time, your investigator spent the night in graveyards, abandoned buildings, or caves searching for evidence of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, fairies and other sundry beings — equipped with the necessary goods to conduct a successful hunt: the Bible, a torch, a Ouija board, holy water, dowsing rods and his/her wits. But as the technology age came to fruition, and supernatural verification faded from a well-accepted part of life to the pursuits of a supposedly foolish few, the hunters’ equipment became more “scientific.”
Some of the technology age’s most revered thinkers were also enraptured with the paranormal, even creating devices to assist in supernatural investigation. Take, for example, Thomas Edison. Edison believed in something he called “life units” — a subatomic particle of our existence similar to a modern hard drive — your memories, thoughts, feelings, personality, etc. were all stored in these “life units” and could not be erased (a characteristic I wish my last three hard drives shared). Near the end of his life, the elder Edison edited and conceived of a machine that could read these “life units” once post-mortem — but this project never came to completion.
Today’s modern ghost hunter equips themselves with the latest gadgets and gizmos that aim to capture the value of Edison’s unfinished machine. EMF detectors — devices that reads static electromagnetic fields in an environment — are the lightsaber to the Jedi investigator. You are simply not a master unless you possess one. Though the archaic Ouija boards and dowsing rods make an occasional appearance on investigations, the majority of people choose technology over patchwork spirituality as a means to gather evidence of the paranormal.
This is all well and good. It is important that paranormal investigators use the most modern equipment to gather evidence — after all, the goal of all investigation, paranormal or otherwise, is to expose something new to the world; to be able to bring new information and insight into our existence and open up our universe to its inner workings.
But we have to questions the purpose of the equipment in use. To label an investigation as “scientific” requires much more thought and expertise than merely owning a K-II or EMF detector. Scientific experimentation requires validity. “Validity” is a term used in multiple professional fields — even as an educator, it is common jargon at my job and always questioned. In science, it is integral.
Validity, in layman’s terms, asks the question “Does the device, concept, or procedure used measure what it is that we want it to measure?” When I choose to assess my students on one of the Georgia Standards of American Literature, I have to be sure of the validity of my assessment: does it actually gauge their understanding of that material or core concept that I want it to — if the answer is no, than I have an invalid assessment (giving a vocabulary test to see if they read a chapter from The Scarlet Letter would be invalid).
The validity of the EMF detector must be called into question (Note: minding shared blog etiquette and aware of my column inches, I will not go into too much detail on how EMF works — I recommend a physics book or Wikipedia). One of the first things paranormal investigators do is take a “baseline reading” of a site. This is the site’s natural level of electromagnetic field. Whenever this baseline reading jumps, it is considered to be evidence of a ghost. Granted, I have been in situations where a .01 reading will suddenly jump to 7.1, a strange anomaly that will put shivers down your spine. Unfortunately, the idea of “sudden, unexplained spikes of EMF” is a fallacy.
The electromagnetic field is compromised of many sources of energies: static electric fields, static magnetic fields, radio frequencies, light, gamma rays and x rays, mobile phone radiation, and ultraviolet light — a fluctuation in any of these can break the baseline. EMF exists in natural environments and spikes occur for innumerable reasons — copper, iron and other ores, humidity, water flow, limestone, chalk, sunspots, and even the human body are all carriers and conductors of electro-magnetic fields. With the never-ending list of sources, the idea of an EMF base reading is next to impossible to read with a simple walk through, but rather takes hours, if not days, to gauge an accurate baseline.
Unfortunately, the usage of an EMF reader as proper “ghost hunting” gear is invalid — we have no idea as to whether or not the device actually calculates paranormal activity no more than a thermometer can be used to gauge the time of the day. It is next to impossible to conclude that EMF equates to ghost activity. The probability of a typical EMF reading stemming from a paranormal source is unrealistic due to the myriad of other natural sources. More likely, a typical spike in EMF stems from radio frequency fluctuations, a cell phone, or even a solar flare, rather than Auntie Mary Beth trying to tell you she buried her life savings behind the barn and she wants you to start digging.
Until a device is designed that detects the source of EMF rather than the EMF itself, EMF detection can only be used as a flag of possible paranormal activity and cannot be used as the desired evidence so sought over. But with each rising needle or rising LED display, we need to remember that the probability of the source being solely paranormal is next to nothing. The paranormal community has taken a natural phenomenon and molested it to its own need of validation. The search for proof of ghosts is next to impossible until the proper equipment is designed and validated.
Or fall prey to my good friend Dave, with his Ph.D physics from Emory University who stated after listening to a member of my old paranormal group explain EMF detection: “That guy has no idea what the hell he is talking about, but sure thinks he does.”