PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Created: Tuesday, 12 January 2010 21:41
Written by Martin J. Clemens

Electronic Voice Phenomenon is not evidence of ghosts.

That’s a bold statement, one over which I’ve been taken to task for several times in the last few weeks, and  one I’m prepared to back up with long winded and highly semantic argument.  Though with a little verbal persuasion most would eventually agree that this is a true statement – at least in so far as there is no information known currently to prove that the above is false.

Electronic Voice Phenomenon is not evidence.

Another bold statement and one I’ve made on more than one occasion, almost always inciting some form of group argument over the fundamental purpose behind EVP research.  Though this one is much more difficult to gain acceptance for, but I am willing to try.

If you were to poll the entire Paranormal Community, meaning every person and group invested in the study of paranormal phenomenon (providing you could even find an accurate enumeration of the community), you would find that the vast majority of investigators, most of whom would call themselves Ghost Hunters, view EVP as a basic tool for investigating haunted locations. There’s a contradiction there though, one that’s obvious to me but not to most others it seems.  If EVP is not evidence of ghosts, then why is it thought to be both synonymous with ghostly phenomenon and a tool for measuring such phenomenon?

EVP is not evidence.  Say it with me…EVP is not evidence.  For those who would argue against me, I ask, if it is evidence, then what does it prove?  I agree, this is a little simplistic, even if entirely correct, and the issue is not as easily summed up as that question would suggest.

The very nature of what EVP is, tells us that it is not evidence; it is at its best an undefined and  unexplained phenomenon in-and-of-itself.  Among the proponent arguments for using EVP as an investigative tool, there are those that claim the historically popular link between EVP and ghosts is sufficient to continue viewing its use (meaning the collection of EVP results) as a tool for the overall investigation of ghosts.  

Others suggest that it is as good a tool as any in the face of such unknowns  - what a ghost is, why and where do they exist, and how do they communicate - touting that there is no real reason to not think of EVP as connected to ghosts.  My purpose here is to layout an argument for clarifying and adapting our thinking when it comes to Electronic Voice Phenomenon.

EVP is not evidence, but it is worthy of continued study.

Within the study of such ideas and phenomenon, which is ostensibly the underlying purpose of any such group or person involved in the paranormal community, there have been very few advances in thinking or in methodology. Those notions and assumptions that were held 100 years ago, are largely still held today, though there have been a few casualties along the way.  Séances, spirit trumpets, ectoplasmic research and many other ideas have fallen by the way side; all the while other ideas have flooded in and taken their place.  The modern ghostly enthusiast is just as convinced in the efficacy of EMF meters and tape recorders as evidentiary tools for proving ghosts exist, as spiritualist Séance sitters were of the tipping table and entranced Medium’s spirit voice a hundred years ago.

What’s the difference?  Well, for one, with table tipping and non-direct voice mediumship there turned out to be much too wide a margin for deliberate hoax, and ultimately the hoaxers ruined any value these early investigatory tools might have had.  In contrast, while there still remains a strong possibility in some cases for trickery and hoax, the vast majority of EVP samples are considered to be genuine, but ‘genuine what?’ is the question I ask.

As I alluded to earlier, this argument is largely semantic, meaning that I would be satisfied with a change in wording rather than a complete change in thinking, but I admit that I seek the latter with much more enthusiasm.  And here I get to the nuts and bolts of the argument…

EVP cannot be considered evidence, since it is not known what causes it.

If I were confident in the idea that most investigators are actually conducting two separate feats of experimental research when they embark on an investigation; the first being an attempt to document, and  possibly explain the so-called ghostly phenomenon that originally drew them to that particular location, and the second being an independent collection of EVP data in an effort to explain what EVP is and how it works; I would be content to leave the issue be, but as it stands this is not what is happening in most cases.

As is proven by the surprising number of self-proclaimed paranormal investigators who publish their “findings” online, touting each audio clip as evidence that the location they attended was indeed haunted, the above separation of methodologies is certainly not the norm.

Quite simply, if I cannot prove without doubt that a particular EVP recording was caused by a specific ghost or spirit (by whatever means one might do so), and in turn was not caused by the host of other possibilities, then it is not evidence of ghosts…this is easy enough to understand.  What I propose here is that since we have no current hope of making that declaration, why don’t we reign in our ghostly enthusiasm a tad and start looking at EVP as an independent and exciting phenomenon that can and should be studied all on its own?

It strikes me that the current popular notion that EVP is somehow caused or created by ghosts should require that we test this hypothesis against the possibility of capturing EVP results in locations that are not reported to be haunted.  And herein lays the real problem…

We do not know what ghosts are, we cannot define why a particular location may be haunted while another is not; we know so little that we cannot even be sure that there are non-haunted locations.  So in the face of all this uncertainty, is it helping the cause any to subscribe to using an unknown and unexplainable idea such as EVP to measure, describe or prove the existence of another unknown and unexplainable idea?

It’s been said by some that my argument is all well and good, that it is one thing to suggest that we all need to change our thinking, but unless that suggestion comes with an idea of what we should change it to, the argument is moot.  And in answer to that statement, I offer the following.

For too long the paranormal community has looked at their study in macro fashion, classifying and defining whole entities rather than individual phenomenon.  We have presented volumes of data and “evidence” intended to support big ideas and big assumptions.  I think it’s time to compartmentalise, to separate issues and begin looking at various ideas and phenomenon independently, and where better to start than with the cheapest and most accessible field of study?  EVP!

Yes, I called EVP a field of study, as it rightfully should be viewed.  There are enough mysteries hidden inside the idea of Electronic Voice Phenomenon to warrant several lifetimes of independent experimentation and scrutiny.  EVP is a phenomenon unto itself, and though it may ultimately be connected to ghostly communication, the current thinking and use of the idea is unlikely to get us to that understanding.

In the spirit of this revolution of thinking that I propose, I offer the following experimental opportunities in the independent and direct study of Electronic Voice Phenomenon.

Faraday Shielding Experiment –

1.    Construct a Faraday box to house your recording device

2.    Place your recorder inside the box ensuring that the recorder is insulated from vibration through the box from its operation (to eliminate clicking etc. from the mechanical parts inside the recorder), resting the recorder on a piece of carpet inside the box would suffice.

3.   Use an EM shielded remote microphone, rather than the built in recorder microphone, to further reduce those same ambient mechanical sounds.

4.    Conduct your EVP session as you normally would and compare to results achieved without the use of the Faraday box.

Vary the experiment by switching from a d/c power source to an a/c power source, and even introduce various sources of EM interference (in this instance be sure to document EM field measurements from both a baseline and throughout the experiment). As a control element for the experiment, use a second identical recording device set up in the same manner but left outside the box.

The purpose of this experiment is to determine if there is a direct relationship between electromagnetic interference and EVP (which we know there is), vary the experiment further, according to your own findings, to explore the extent of that relationship and other factors.

Multiple Recorder Experiment –

Utilise multiple recording units (5 or more) over a series of EVP sessions, begin by placing the units in close proximity to each other.  The units should be identical (brand, model etc.) or as close to identical as is possible. Again, take all steps to ensure the reduction and/or elimination of ambient mechanical noise from the device and from the environment if possible.  Vary the experiment by increasing the distance between the units and even by creating physical barriers between units. As a control, place one unit in a predetermined location, central to all other units and do not move it as you vary the position of the other units. The purpose of this experiment is to determine if it is possible to achieve the same EVP result on multiple recording devices.  From this point, there are numerous variations that could be undertaken depending on the results found over several sessions.

Microphone Variance Experiment –

Conduct a series of EVP sessions using multiple identical recording devices, and use different types of microphones, i.e. Electret, Condenser, Carbon, Dynamic, Fibre Optic etc. and compare to results achieved with a control (standard Electret microphone). Alternately, use each various type of microphone independently over time (rather than as a series of experiments with multiple recorders at one time) and compare those results. The purpose is to determine if there is any difference in the quality, quantity or type of result achieved with any other the various microphones.

These may be elementary experiments and each is indeed intended to require a great deal of patience as they are carried out over time, but they outline my earlier point.  Neither experiment is necessarily tied to a particular location and thus is not dependent on the notion that the location is “haunted”.  It would be prudent for the study to undertake the same or similar experiments in locations that are reportedly haunted, but as a function of independent EVP experimentation and not as a function of an investigation of the location. You may or may not agree with my point of view, you may or may not have subscribed hopelessly to the idea that EVP results are the voices of the dead, or you may think the entire thing is a little too woo-woo for you.  In any event, there is much to be learned from the study of not only EVP, but also of the many varied elements of the typical haunting.  I suggest we stop chasing ghosts and start seeking to answer some of the smaller questions involved.  For those answers may lead to some big discoveries.

For more thought provocative articles, and editorials on the paranormal by Martin J. Clemens please have a look at his website Paranormal People Online.