So what is real?
In analyzing evidence, we are guided by Occam's Razor, which is an old philosophical statement that one should favor the simplest model which explains the observations. Could that weird, vortex-like line across the picture be the swinging camera strap? Probably. Could those orbs be goldenrod pollen from the field you just walked through? It's possible. Could that odd, distorted voice on the digital recorder be your distant yell from the car? Yep. Is that bizarre shadow in the video actually that of a fellow investigator? I think so. We move on to a more complex explanation for a given phenomenon only if the simplest explanation can be proven to be untrue. For example, if the bizarre shadow in the video was seen at a point when we can prove that no one was in the area to cast the shadow, then we must consider a more complex explanation for what we're seeing. This is why more evidence is always better than less. We take as many pictures as is realistic. We try to run at least three digital recorders during an investigation. We gather as much evidence as possible. Each piece of evidence may be a simple explanation for an anomaly...or it could be the absence of any explanation, which could potentially move an anomaly up to consideration as something with a paranormal cause.
Anomalies in photographs can have many simple causes. The causes of most photographic anomalies can be grouped into two main categories: camera issues and environmental conditions. Camera issues that can cause photo anomalies include:
- Incorrect settings
- Dust/dirt on the lens
- Fingers/objects in front of the lens
- Fingers/objects in front of the flash
- Movement of the camera while taking a picture
- Unintentionally covering up the focus laser beam
- Using too much zoom
- Not using the flash in low light
- Not focusing the camera or not giving the auto-focus time to focus
- Flashing too close to a wall can give the picture "flash shine"
Environmental conditions that can cause photo anomalies include:
- Dust/pollen/particles/bugs/rain/snow in the air are almost always the cause of orbs.
- Oddly reflective surfaces can cause "light smears" to appear in pictures.
- Cigarette smoke, fog, blowing snow, and breath on a cold day can all cause mist.
- Light coming from an unusual direction can create odd shadows and distort backgrounds.
- Busy backgrounds such as blowing trees and old stone walls are prone to a phenomenon known as "matrixing", in which people's brains tend to take incomplete visual information and complete it, creating something familiar- often a face. This is also known as the "Jesus-on-a-pancake" phenomenon.
- Busy backgrounds like trees, woods, or cloudy skies being reflected into windows can produce this same matrixing phenomenon.
In order to state that something in a photograph could be paranormal, all of these simple causes for anomalies must be ruled out. If we cannot rule these simple causes out, then we do not call the picture possible evidence of the paranormal. We will also try to recreate pictures, either by taking more pictures if we notice something while investigating, or by trying to take pictures in a similar situation under comparable conditions. We might discover that the odd floating "lights" in the cemetery are actually large moths or the iridescent shells of flying beetles reflecting our flash. The bizarre hazy darkness obscuring part of a picture could very well be an investigator's hood string obscuring the flash.
We run at least three digital recorders during an investigation. It is helpful to start the recorders all at the same time so that it is easier to correlate sounds during analysis. During an investigation we also take note both mentally and verbally of all the background noises at a location so that when we hear the sound of the squeaky furnace, the people walking by outside, or the squealing of tires on the road upon review, we will instantly be able to recognize that sound for what it is. Distance distorts sound. A random comment can sound paranormal from four rooms away. If we hear something on a recorder during analysis that sounds strange to us, we note it, and then listen to what was going on at the same time on the other recorders. Most of the time, we discover that the hideously creepy sounding "EVP" is actually an investigator's voice, speaking far away from that particular recorder. Once in a while, we hear nothing on the other recorders to explain what we're hearing, and in this case, as with photographs, we must look for a more complex explanation for the phenomenon. The context of the phenomenon in the entire recording must also be considered. If the inexplicable voice on the recording is an answer to a question posed by an investigator, it is more likely to be paranormal in nature than a random voice in the middle of two hours of silence.
We use a digital handycam with an infrared light attachment that can shoot footage in total darkness. Often, but not always, we also use a DVR system with four static (stationary) cameras that are placed in areas where paranormal activity has been reported. Teams carry the handycam while investigating. We allow the DVR system to run uninterrupted during the entire investigation. A team member usually stays with the DVR monitor during the investigation and observes the footage coming in from all four static cameras. If this team member sees or hears something unusual, he/she contacts the team with a walkie-talkie to determine whether or not the investigators are the source of the event observed on the monitor. if the investigators are not the cause of the event, then the observing team member informs the investigating team of the location and nature of the event so that they can investigate it further. The same rules of analysis that apply to photographs and recordings apply to video footage as well. Most anomalies seen and heard on video can be proven upon analysis to have completely natural causes. Only when all normal causes can be ruled out does a paranormal cause come into consideration. Video footage can also be very helpful in reconstructing the location of investigators when attempting to determine whether a photo or recorded anomaly is of normal or paranormal origin.
Tactile and Olfactory Evidence.
While tactile (touch) and olfactory (scent) events are not the type of evidence that can be preserved and presented to a client, these types of events can nonetheless play a role in bolstering or debunking a case for paranormal activity at a given location. As with all other evidence, we look at these types of happenings through the lens of Occam's Razor. When events occur such as being touched or smelling a smell that does not belong, we make every attempt to determine the cause immediately. Feelings of being touched can be caused by hanging wires, spider webs, insects, bats, birds, and even things inside investigators' pockets. Out-of-place smells can have many natural causes also, including rugs, carpets, draperies, upholstered furniture, candles, and hidden air fresheners. If we cannot determine the cause of one of these events, it goes in the "things we cannot explain" category, and is taken into consideration in the light of other evidence obtained at the location.
EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) Evidence.
We carry both EMF and K2 meters with us during an investigation. EMF and K2 meters measure fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Many items in a location emit electromagnetic fields naturally. These include electrical appliances, adaptors, outlets, switches, wires inside walls, and water pipes. These electromagnetic fields can range in intensity from 0.1 milliGauss (mG) to over 200 mG. These fields usually remain fairly constant in a given location when measured by a stationary EMF or K2 meter. The normal range in a location usually runs from 0.0 mG to 0.8 mG. It is a proven fact that elevated EMF levels can cause all types of negative effects on the human body, running the gamut from minor feelings of unease and nausea right up to cancer. Often, clients will report feelings of unease, paranoia, and oppression, as if someone is watching them in a given location in their home. Many times, the cause of these feelings is simply an electrical item that is emitting unacceptably high levels of EMF. Throw away the old fan, and you've thrown away the ghost! On the other hand, sometimes we observe inexplicable fluctuations in EMF intensity that cannot be attributed to any electrical device or system in the location. Generally, these inexplicable fluctuations occur in the range of 0-10 mG. I have personally had experiences in which the EMF measurement increased in intensity after I asked any entity present to approach my meter. Fluctuations in EMF have even appeared to be capable of answering yes or no questions on other occasions. At times, these EMF anomalies seem to be related to other paranormal activity at a location, while at other times there seems to be no connection whatsoever between EMF spikes and other activity. The jury is still out on the exact nature of the relationship between electromagnetic fields and paranormal activity. More research is needed in this area. Nonetheless, measurement of electromagnetic fields provides us with valuable evidence that can serve to either support or discount claims of paranormal activity.
Investigator impressions of a location cannot be discounted when evidence is considered. The atmosphere in a place can change drastically from one room to another. Sometimes the air will "feel heavier" in a certain room or location. Rarely, an area will feel "extra creepy" for no discernible reason. Some investigators have had the experience of the hair on their arms or on the backs of their necks standing on end. Notable investigator impressions are noted as data and discussed during the final evaluation of a case. However, investigator impressions alone are NEVER the basis for declaring paranormal activity at a given location.
We use digital thermometers to measure air temperature in a given location. We are looking for anomalous cold spots. Most cold spots can be easily explained as the result of substandard or open windows, poor insulation, or other draft sources. Usually cold spots of this type are stationary and remain stable relative to the air around them. Sometimes, though, we find cold spots that have no discernible source and move from place to place. These types of cold spots often accompany other, more verifiable types of paranormal activity, such as photographs and EVPs. The theory behind cold spots is that the spirits are drawing energy from the air around them to use to make their presence known in one way or another. Thermometers are valuable tools that assist us greatly in the evidence-gathering process.