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Written by Tony Hart-Wilden   
Monday, 28 November 2005
Article Index
Case Closed, paranormal research
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Paranormal Bulls*it 

Testing the paranormal

"To the true believer, no proof is necessary, to the sceptic, no proof is sufficient", is one of the most overused and misinformed quotes used in regard to the paranormal and is derogatory to both believers and non believers alike. It implies if you're a believer you have arrived at your conclusions without any evidence, and if you're a non believer it implies that whatever evidence is presented to you, you will ignore it.

Much of the claims regarding the paranormal are simply as a result of people listening to unsubstantiated information, and then passing on this information as fact. You need to expose the myths, and by a process of elimination uncover the truth. If your only argument in support of an aspect of the paranormal is " You can't prove it isn't paranormal", you have no basis for an argument, you are asking someone to prove a negative which is not a scientific process.

Credible evidence 

Many claim that when you investigate you should keep a open mind about everything. Why ? If you remain open minded about everything that means that you can never eliminate the false or irrelevant. That isn't the way a scientific investigation is conducted. A conclusion can only be reached as a result of discarding evidence that is considered weak or incorrect.  If you are open minded about everything, you have to include the unscientific, the illogical, and just the plain ridiculous. Being "open minded about everything" is just a catch phrase used by people that haven't actually thought out the actual consequences of such a statement. 

If paranormal research is to move forward it can only do so by closing off the avenues of investigation that are dead ends, and pursing those that aren't. Those dead ends include Orbs, mist, streaks of light and other non paranormal photographic anomalies, the idea that E.M.F meters are ghost detectors, that digital tape hiss is a voice from the dead, and that psychics can be used to provide evidence of the paranormal when they have provided no evidence of their own abilities. Just because a paranormal research group puts on their website that they follow scientific protocol, this doesn't mean they either follow it, or understand what it is. And calling yourself an investigator doesn't mean that you are one.

The term paranormal by definition does not apply specifically to ghosts and apparitions, but many individuals and groups imply that it does simply by their failure to offer or acknowledge other alternatives. They choose to associate any evidence considered paranormal only with ghost hunting when it could just as easily be related to an as yet unexplained aspect of a conventional science. Scientists don’t choose to associate irrelevant and unproven evidence with their objectives just to provide content. Everytime a group refers to itself as ghost hunters and then presents evidence that is in reality completely removed from the subject, the public still associates that evidence with the field just as they do. As a result if that includes evidence, that is false or inconsequential that’s how the general public will also judge the community it originated from. That is one of the many reasons why mainstream science has more credibility then paranormal research because their methodology is not one of association but one of establishing a definitive link. 

The burden of proof is on us. Scientific research of the paranormal is not about proving that it exists, it's about proving if it exists or doesn't, there are two options, not just one. But because proof will always be subjective, there is no such thing as absolute proof, even from the scientific community. You can follow scientific protocol, but in reference to the paranormal, part of that protocol will always include human intervention in the form of peer review. And peer review by it's very nature will include personal opinion. Proof of the paranormal will never be distilled down to a mathematical formula. You may not be able to find absolute proof but you may  find evidence to support a testable theory, and that evidence is only as good as the credibility of the people that present it.

There is a saying which normally applies to stand up comedians which goes, “a good comedian, can be judged by the jokes, he doesn’t tell”, perhaps a "good paranormal investigator, can be judged by the evidence he doesn’t present". I don't expect people to automatically respect my opinions, as I believe respect has to be earned. I welcome criticism  from those with an opposing point of view, bring it on.


Ectoplasm, spirit lights, and vortexes

Ghosts hiding in trees, in mirrors, and as faces on gravestones

E.M.F Meters, digital thermometers and other devices


Ouija boards


Protection rituals

Paranormal individuality, not unity

You must only investigate in a group

Ghosts only come out at night


The site will never publish Orb photographs, they are not spirits of the dead.

Until the late 90s pictures claiming to be those of ghosts, were extremely rare, occasionally actual apparitions sometimes strange mists, or in most cases just haunted locations with no actual ghosts at all. These Psychic Fraudpictures were 35mm prints or slides, right up until the advent of digital cameras. You also didn't get people claiming that they physically saw anything resembling Orbs, either through a camera lens or with their own eyes. Contrary to popular belief the resolution of 35mm film negatives was, and except in the case of high end digital cameras still is, far greater then digital cameras. They could actually pick up more detail and yet, they didn't pick Orbs. Also in the late 90's came the internet, and with the internet paranormal research groups set up websites. With websites you need to provide people something to look at. As the sites are about ghosts, you need pictures of ghosts, but actual pictures of ghosts are exceedingly rare. What are not rare are pictures of Orbs. The constantly repeated "99% of Orbs can be explained but there are 1% that can't be" theory is no defense. 100% of Orbs have nothing to do with ghosts. There isn't even 1% proof that Orbs are paranormal. Even if they are balls of energy as some claim, they are only relevant if people can provide proof of a link between them and spirits of the dead, they haven't.

" Orbs are the 21st century equivalent of taking photographs of people running around dressed in bed sheets."

Since the advent of digital cameras literally thousands of photographs have been taken of small circles of light taken at supposedly haunted places that are referred to as Orbs. Orbs have a variety of causes, but none of them have been proven to be paranormal. Their both caused by internal conditions such as dirt on the C.C.D (charge coupled device) and external conditions such as light, moisture, and dust.

There is always dust present, there is always moisture present and there is always an external light source. Every time you move you stir up dust, standing still when you take the picture isn't suddenly going to stop all the dust that's already moving in and around the lens. When you take a picture, your nose and mouth, is normally a few inches from the camera lens. Every time you breath in and out you stir up dust, and expel moisture.

If it is that difficult to distinguish between so called genuine and fake Orbs, why are they consistently being sited as being evidence of the paranormal, despite such a high level of doubt as to their validity ? This just provides ammunition to an already skeptical public.

It has been claimed that there is a structural difference between a Orb created by dust or moisture and one that is paranormal in origin. This implies that a dust or moisture orb only has one shape or form and if you can dismiss this then by default the Orb is paranormal. This is not the case, no specs of dust are identical and neither are all drops of moisture so you can have literally thousands of variants that you need to be able to dismiss before you can make a claim that they are paranormal. People haven't. Ultimately you can not debunk an Orb, because there has never been any proof that they have anything other then a non paranormal origin to begin with.

In paranormal reseach Orbs are only of relevance if it has been proved that they are the spirits of the dead as is claimed. The only evidence is the claims of psychics that say orbs appear at the same time as they sense a presence, or their association with a haunted place, this is not evidence. Even if they don't have a natural explanation unless they can be definitively linked to ghosts, or spirits they are irrelevant. Even you are not directly stating that a Orb is a ghost, the fact that you are a posting a picture of one on a website which is devoted purely to "ghost hunting", is by the process of association implying that it is.  

Look at the vast majority of pictures in ghost books, on the web and on TV shows and how many of them are actual apparitions and how many are orbs. As currently this seems to be the most prominent "evidence" presented of proof of the paranormal, people should be extremely sure of what they are, and if their not they shouldn't be relied on. O.R.B.S, (Objects Rarely Being Supernatural)

The following are some of the key reasons for Orbs; none of them can be attributed to being the first manifestation of a spirit.

Wish fulfilment

Orbs have been referred to as the first manifestation of the dead/spirits/ghosts etc, and if that is the case, why do the never go beyond this first manifestation. Much like the mythology that has grown around the Ouija board rather then question them people have allowed the myth to grow. One of the reasons for this is while pictures of actual apparitions are exceedingly rare, going to a haunted location and capturing a picture of an Orb is not.

You go to a haunted location with the hope that you will see and phorb photosotograph a ghost or that something paranormal will occur. Orbs are a easy way of fulfilling that wish, but not a way the stands up to any scrutiny. It's disappointing to admit you travelled several hours to spend a cold unpleasant night in a damp graveyard and got nothing. But an orb picture provides an accompanying ghost story, but one which has as much substance as the story a fisherman that doesn't catch anything but tells everyone, about "the one that got away".

There is a phenomenon called pareidolia, a psychological term for the mind's obsession with finding patterns in essentially random objects, from clouds to wood grain. This is the same process that can cause people to believe they see non existent pictures of the Virgin Mary, and also faces in Orbs.

None of the major camera manufactures state that Orbs are paranormal, Nikon point to what amounts to a defect in their own cameras. Why would a camera manufacturer openly admit to a defect in their equipment unless it was a genuine defect that they couldn't ignore. Fuji one of the major film manufactures also has a detailed explaination on their website as to how orbs are created, and again the reason is not paranormal.

People take pictures of locations that aren't haunted all the time, and they still get orbs, but because the places aren't associated with a haunting they don't end up being referred to as ghosts. It's just an association with ghosts that makes them paranormal, if they appeared in a picture taken at the beach, or one you took of a local sporting event you wouldn't automatically say they are paranormal, and in the majority of cases you would simply put it down to the photographic error that it is.

Low end cameras

Due to prohibitive costs 95% of digital cameras used on investigations are the compact, low to mid range type with the flash built into the camera and lower amount of mega pixels. It is very rare that a high end S.L.R (single lens reflex) camera with a removable lens and an external flash are used. But because an internal flash is so close to the camera lens, when the flash is used it can bounce back light on the nearest particles, and because these are so close they will be out of focus which will also give them a three dimensional effect which will register as orbs in the camera. You will also find that low to mid range cameras are far more susceptible to lens flare. It is only the high end more expensive cameras that have less impurity's in the glass and are coated with anti glare elements that can eliminate these many of these non paranormal light refractions.

If you switch from a low end to a top of the range professional level camera, with a separate flash gun and detachable lens you will find the amount of Orbs you get are vastly diminished. This in itself indicates that Orbs are related to camera limitations not the paranormal. The higher range cameras are actually more sensitive to picking up genuine phenomena, but less sensitive to picture defects.  

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