Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I See Dead Skin

Last year, I was given the news that a reputable Bigfoot research organization here in Texas was headed to a school to give lessons to local school children. To teach them about Bigfoot? Not entirely, but they did use their search for Bigfoot as an example to teach something that paranormal researchers deem just as important: Critical thinking and rational skepticism when investigating scientific enigmas. This, I feel, is especially true in my favorite paranormal subject, ghosts and hauntings.

One of the most important aspects of researching and investigating the paranormal is critical thinking and rational skepticism. Some people who are into the paranormal see the word "skeptic" and they see a bad word. They despise it and the people who label themselves as such. But for those who are more than just "into the paranormal" and actually spend long hours of pouring over information and research on it, skepticism can be our best friend. In investigating, in true scientific fashion, we must not only try to prove, but try to disprove as well. In fact, that's one of the first things that should be done. It doesn't make our job easier. It actually makes it more tasking and hard. But it makes it more honest. It makes it honest with ourselves, with others in the field, and with those who are acquiring an interest in the subject.

"In true scientific fashion". That phrase is scary to some fans of the paranormal because we all know what those in the realm of orthodox science think about much of the subject. But, let's face it... There is no hard scientific evidence of ghosts. Even the most reputable researchers can't even agree on what exactly a ghost is and why the phenomena occurs. If they claim that they do, it's out of belief. Maybe someday undeniable proof and hard evidence will be found. Until then, all we can prove is that something anomalous is occurring and that there are things happening that have no explanation. We have to prove that there is something paranormal going on. To do this, we have to be skeptical and critical because science, I firmly think, has the answers. The science is already there. It's been there because science does not change. The only thing about science that changes is the minds and biases of the scientists. It's the job of the researchers and investigators to change those minds. And they will never change unless we put on our lab coats, put a little investigative forensics into the field, and start getting down to business and prove that not all that happens has a conventional explanation.

We have to look at things with a discerning eye and try and not let preconceived beliefs get the better of us. When a strange sound is heard, we have to search around and rule out normal causes. They can range from a cougar's scream (possibly the cause of many of the "screaming woman" sounds) to large black walnuts hitting a tin roof in Autumn and making us believe that Old Man Jones doesn't want us in his barn. When a sighting of an apparition is seen, we have to use our equipment to try and rule out non-paranormal causes. How many ghost enthusiasts out there know that electromagnetic energy can cause hallucinations, dizziness, and other symptoms in perfectly healthy people? We have to ask questions. We have to hit the libraries and courthouses to study the history of the places that we investigate. We have to hit the science books and learn all we can about the world we live in so that we can rule out worldly causes.

Why do we want to disprove something that we're trying to prove? We're not. We're trying to weed out what we're not hunting for. It will take longer to find Bigfoot if we automatically treat every sighting and photo as authentic. Psychic ability will never be believed by those who write the science books if we don't rule out the possibility of subconscious influence or stage magic. UFOs will never be confirmed as extra-terrestrial in origin if we treat every weather balloon sighting as a ship piloted by a little green man. The existence of ghosts will never go past being a hypothesis if we keep concentrating on 'possum dander in digital photographs.

Some people will think that if you keep being so skeptical, you're never going to find anything. Not true. You'll find something eventually, just have patience. Sure, you can walk away from a place after hearing a strange sound or seeing a strange sight and inaccurately say "Yep, it's haunted" without really properly examining. It is fun for some and it does get people interested. But if we really want to call ourselves "investigators" or "researchers", then we have to put on the researcher hat, get down to business, and do ourselves and the paranormal community justice. If you really investigate, you'll rule out a lot of what's seen and heard as being normal. That's part of the fun of investigating. But if you investigate enough places while asking the right questions, you'll eventually find a place where you can walk away while honestly saying, "there is definitely something paranormal going on here". That is the first step in finding answers to what, as of now, has no answers.

Yeah, I said it. "Possum dander".

Reverend Chaos (aka Shawna Lowman)

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