Voices of the Dead: Electronic Voice Phenomenon

Posted on 08/29/2010
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I have been very critical of the ghost hunting techniques used by those on popular paranormal reality television. I do not understand how electromagnetic fields help you find ghosts and I am often annoyed by how often they overreact, but some of the evidence that they have collected does intrigue me, mainly EVP evidence. EVP stands for electronic voice phenomenon, it is an event that occurs when one is using an audio recorder and the recorder picks up a sound that was not heard with the ear but for some reason, usually assumed to be paranormal reasons, showed up in the audio recording. The question is if this is not true evidence of the paranormal then what is it?

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The Ghost Hunters Crew (TAPS), the bros over on Ghost Adventures, and pretty much every paranormal show on television have captured phenomenal, hard to explain EVPS. Here is a video that highlights one of these amazing EVPS captured by TAPS:

Most would assume that this is reputable evidence and the likely hood of this being faked is slim, seeing as TAPS is a well known organization and they are on television surrounded by producers, cameramen, etc. and if they were to fake evidence someone would spill the beans. Well there all ready is controversy surrounding TAPS faking evidence, and on top of that this evidence would actually be less credible than that found by a smaller organization. You see TAPS has a financial motive to fake EVP evidence as if ghosts do not exist then they have no jobs.

The EVPs that I am impressed by are those captured by smaller organizations and nonprofit ghost hunters, as they have no financial motives to fake evidence. For example, I am more impressed by the EVPs captured by this nonprofit organization based in a small town in Tennessee (you can hear it here) than I am with those captured by groups with their own television show. While I admit that those EVPs are less impressive than some of the ones making the rounds on Youtube and the paranormal reality shows I still believe that they could exhibit an unknown phenomenon.

Skeptics of coarse have tried to explain this so-called “phenomenon”. The simplest explanation is that these noises are background noise. Obviously some EVPS so clearly sound like a human voice that background noises can be eliminated in some cases. Another explanation and one that is hard to refute is that the voices on the audio equipment are the result of interference from radio frequencies. This would easily explain some of the more clear EVPs, but some of these EVPs seem to be saying things that normally would not be said over radio airwaves. Also, radio frequency interference does not last as long as some of these EVPs.

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker once wrote on the subject of ghosts, and he explains that the mind is an amazing device but not without its flaws. He says that when we hear a noise our minds will try to construct it into something familiar. So say you are lying in bed and hear water dripping or pipes squeaking, your mind may try to construct the unknown noise into something that the it can make sense of. So water dripping becomes knocking on the walls and pipes squeaking can become voices.

I had a similar experience to the one described by Pinker just the other night. I heard what I thought was something banging on wood. I rose from bed to investigate. I first thought my cats were stuck in a closet, but I located both my cats and began to get scared. I attempted to trace the sound and it seemed to be coming from my master bedroom. I began to truly think I was experiencing something supernatural. Shortly thereafter I discovered that someone did not completely turn off the bathtub faucet and water was dripping creating a sound that I thought was someone banging on wood.

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Skeptics have applied this same logic to EVPs in what they call “Rorschach audio”. A Rorschach test is the famous psychological exam in which a patient is asked what image they see in inkblots. There is actually no images in the inkblots it is just the patient’s mind creating the images. Skeptics say we are doing the same thing with this audio. They claim that the audio is just background noise, feedback, and static that our minds are creating into voices. This can explain some of the EVPs that are not very clear, but other EVPs have been captured that are simply too clear to be considered Rorschach audio.

There is also the possibility that the most compelling of these EVPs are fake. This is a hard claim for those who believe in EVPs to refute, as those who fake these EVPs are doubtful to come clean. Though, the same can be said if the situation is reversed and supporters of EVPs can say that the so-called logical explanations for EVPs are fake or are pseudoscience. Do you the conundrum that exists when evidence is accused of being faked without an admission of guilt or some other hard evidence to prove something to be hoaxed?

There maybe scientific evidence that EVPs do indeed exist. Dr. Barrie Colvin recently published a paper detailing his research into the paranormal. Colvin looked at so-called ghostly footsteps and knockings and compared it with the footsteps and knockings made by people and discovered that the paranormal noises had a completely different sound signature than those known to be made in normal circumstances.

Sound signature of a knocking noise made by a human

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Sound signature of so-called paranormal knocking captured during an investigation.

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Colvin says there are also other differences in the two noises other than just the visual sound wave appearance. Colvin says that a normal knock made by a human starts loudly and then decays over a period of time. The paranormal knock start quiet and then gets louder before beginning to decay. Colvin looked at ten different paranormal recording and the same was true for all ten cases. Colvin says of his research: "Ever since my personal involvement in the investigation of a rapping poltergeist at Andover, Hampshire, in which it was absolutely clear that no normal explanation could account for the observed phenomena, I wondered whether the recorded raps were in any way different to those produced by normal methods. It is now clear that they are indeed different".

Is Colvin simply making a mountain out of a molehill? Is he practicing pseudoscience? I unfortunately do not know enough about the science behind audio to make this call and have yet to see a research piece that attempts to refute Colvin’s findings, so this is a call that I cannot really make.

I guess what I want to leave reader with is a few questions. Does electronic voice phenomenon actually exist or do the skeptical arguments for this phenomenon make more sense? Is what we have hear a true phenomenon or more pseudoscience?

Author: Jonathan Kaulay Copyrighted © paranormalhaze.com
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