Parapsychology F.A.Q. Section|
Please click on the questions to view the FAQ answers.
What is parapsychology?
A lot of people think that the parapsychology investigates anything that is unusual, anomalous, or just plain weird. This is not the case. Parapsychologists do not research UFOs, crop circles, Bigfoot, the Lock Ness monster, vampires, werewolves, or astrology. In fact, the field of parapsychology, which began in the late 1800s, is limited to just three areas of study. These are: extrasensory perception (ESP); mind-matter interaction (MMI, sometimes called psychokinesis or PK), and the survival of bodily death. They use the word "psi" to refer to all forms of psychic abilities or functioning, and includes both the different types of extrasensory perception (ESP) and mind-matter interaction. They picked the Greek letter psi as a neutral shorthand term, and it is gradually gaining in popularity and recognition. Psi may be the best way to think of these things, since some parapsychologists believe that ESP and mind-matter interaction cannot truly be separated or thought of as "different." Let's look at each of the fields parapsychology studies.
ESP is the ability to acquire information through non-ordinary sensory channels. Sometimes it is referred to as "gut instinct," "intuition," a vague "knowing," the kind of ESP one is able to do is often a reflection of need (i.e. what's important to you). ESP appears to be a universal, if often weak, ability. Some factors seem to promote it, such as feelings of close emotional connection to another person, place or thing.
MMI, sometimes called psychokinesis (PK) and once known as telekinesis, is the ability of the mind to influence matter. Examples include metal-bending, poltergeist phenomena, teleportation, psychic photography, and anomalous healing. Rhine did the original studies on MMI with dice after a gambler claimed he had the ability to control which face landed up. RNGs (random number generators) and REGs (random event generators) improved the true randomness of events -- a crucial factor since the only way to determine whether anything had occurred was by comparing it to random chance. Any result away from random chance was considered normal -- whether something occurred far too often or not nearly often enough.
Mind-matter interaction is typically subdivided into one of two rather fuzzy categories: macro-MMI or micro-MMI. Micro-MMI targets that require statistics to know whether you have been successful or not. Typically things that occur on an atomic or sub-atomic scale, such as random number generators, but can also include things like dice. Macro-PK involves targets that are big enough to see with the naked eye and do not require statistics to know whether mind-matter interaction has happened. What makes these categories problematic, is that some targets, like dice or some instances of metal bending, can be considered both macro and micro-MMI. This can be rather confusing. Likewise, random number generator and random event generator research, which are very popular as they are easy to do with computers, could represent ESP or mind-matter interaction--and it may be impossible to tell which, if not both, is/are responsible for the results.
The Survival of Bodily Death
Since the late 1800s, parapsychologists have used a number of methods to try to determine whether or not human personality survives the death of the body. Much of this has involved research with mediums, reincarnation research, and instrumental transcommunication.
What is extrasensory perpection (ESP)?
Extrasensory perception (or ESP) is the ability to acquire information through non-ordinary sensory channels. Sometimes it is referred to as "gut instinct," "intuition," a vague "knowing," the kind of ESP one is able to do is often a reflection of need (i.e. what's important to you). Thus, soldiers, firefighters, and police officers may develop psychic abilities as adults to help them survive. Often considered (perhaps wrongly) the "receptive" side of psi, it includes such things as:
- TELEPATHY: the mind-to-mind transmission of information.
- CHANNELING: this is where a psychic medium directly acquires mind-to-mind information from a non-human (or non-living) source, whether a discarnate spirit, extraterrestrial being, or other form of intelligence such as a dolphin.
- CLAIRVOYANCE: literally "seeing" a distant place, which now days may involve remote viewing (a set of techniques for acquiring that information).
- CLAIRAUDIENCE: literally "hearing" ESP information, i.e. it comes as sound.
- CLAIRSENTIENCE: "feeling" ESP information in the body.
- OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCES (OBEs): often considered "astral" travel, it is the experience of your consciousness being at a different location than your physical body.
- PRECOGNITION: which can involve "seeing" or other wise "knowing" the future, often this may involve dreams.
- PSYCHOMETRY: being able to sense information that appears to be somehow stored on objects (or sometimes locations as "place memory").
- RETROCOGNITION: viewing past places and events, very handy for archeologists and historians.
ESP appears to be a universal, if often weak, ability. Some factors seem to promote it, such as feelings of close emotional connection to another person, place or thing. Altered states of consciousness, such as hypnosis, meditation and dreaming, also appear to enhance ESP.
There have been a number of studies on ESP over the years, starting with the classic ones of guessing which symbol is on a card (known as Zenar cards or ESP cards) as shown in the image above. Since many psychics state it is hard for them to "get" numbers or "read" things with ESP, such images and photographs have been more commonly used as targets. In recent years, static photographs have often been replaced with videotape images. Many feel that if such pictures carry an emotional impact (such as a war image) they many be easier to receive.
Altered states of consciousness have been used to enhance psychic abilities for millennia. In ancient times, people often went to special shrines or locations to have prophetic dreams. The dream state, and those on the edges of sleep, are still considered to be very psi-conducive (i.e. they make it easier to get psychic information). Meditation and hypnosis have also been noted to be good states for getting ESP. One form of altered state that has been used a lot in the laboratory in controlled situations is that of sensory deprivation in Ganzfeld experiments. Basically these studies involve placing a participant in a comfortable position (often lying down) with ping pong ball halves placed like goggles over their eyes (with colored light - often red - shining into them) and white noise piped in through headphones. The idea is to create very even, but unpatterned, sensory stimulation. This technique seems to facilitate successful ESP.
One of the more intriguing experiments on precognition has involved monitoring participant electrodermal activity (also known by the older term of Galvanic Skin Responses, or GSR), such as is used in polygraph (lie detector) testing. What Dean Radin, Dick Bierman, and other experimenters have found, is that when you show an audience a slideshow of photos, some pleasant and others upsetting, people will respond to the unpleasant ones a moment BEFORE the images appear on the screen. This suggests that on some level they knew what was coming - in essence, precognition.
What is mind-matter interaction or MMI (previously called psychokinesis)?
Mind-matter interaction (MMI), sometimes called psychokinesis (PK) and also once known as telekinesis, is the ability of the mind to influence matter. Examples of MMI include metal-bending, poltergeist phenomena, teleportation, psychic photography, and anomalous healing. Rhine did the original studies on MMI with dice after a gambler claimed he had the ability to control which face landed up. RNGs and REGs (random event generators) improved the true randomness of events -- a crucial factor since the only way to determine whether anything had occurred was by comparing it to random chance. Any result away from random chance was considered normal -- whether something occurred far too often or not nearly often enough.
Mind-matter interaction is typically subdivided into one of two rather fuzzy categories: macro-PK or micro-PK. Micro-PK targets that require statistics to know whether you have been successful or not. Typically things that occur on an atomic or sub-atomic scale, such as random number generators, but can also include things like dice. Macro-PK involves targets that are big enough to see with the naked eye and do not require statistics to know whether mind-matter interaction has happened. What makes these categories problematic, is that some targets, like dice or some instances of metal bending, can be considered both macro and micro-PK. This can be rather confusing. Likewise, random number generator and random event generator research, which are very popular as they are easy to do with computers, could represent ESP or mind-matter interaction--and it may be impossible to tell which, if not both, is/are responsible for the results.
MMI can include such things as:
- ANOMALOUS HEALING: apparent psychic healing which may involve psychic surgery.
- BILOCATION: the apparent ability of a body to be in two locations at the same time (multilocation involves being simultaneously in more than two locations).
- FIRE-IMMUNITY: the alleged ability to come into contact with fire or red-hot coals without being burned. Popular at motivational events.
- HEMOGRAPHY: the paranormal patterning of bloodstains on cloth to make meaningful words or symbols.
- INSTRUMENTAL TRANSCOMMUNICATION: the purported communication by discarnate or extraterrestrial beings through an assortment of electronic devices, which may depend at least partly on the mediumship of human operators. It includes electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) on audiotape and videotape.
- LEVITATION: the paranormal suspension of a being or object off the ground, which may sometimes involve flying.
- MATERIALIZATION: producing an object from what appears to be nowhere.
- METAL-BENDING: the paranormal ability to soften or bend metal, sometimes associated with the ability to teleport and stress. It was popularized by Uri Gellar with spoon-bending.
- POLTERGEIST PHENOMENA: human stress-related PK including raps, the production of lights, object movement, and a host of other activities.
- STIGMATA: the paranormal or miraculous production of marks on the body which in Christians mimic the wounds of Christ and in Muslims mimics those of Muhammad.
- TELEPORTATION: the paranormal ability of a person to move from one location to another or through objects.
- THOUGHTOGRAPHY (also called psychic photography): the projected of mental images onto film, photographic plates, or digital media.
- WEATHER CONTROL: the paranormal ability to affect the weather.
Many people who accept ESP have trouble accepting MMI. Some of their problem may relate to the fact that if our thoughts and feelings are able to directly impact the world around us, then we have to accept responsibility for that. This is a pretty scary notion for most folks. For more info, please see my FAQ on mind-matter interaction
What is survival research all about?
Since the late 1800s, parapsychologists have used a number of methods to try to determine whether or not human personality survives the death of the body. One of the more complex such methods involved the "cross correspondence" research. This was a scheme dreamed up by some of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research before their deaths -- F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and Henry Sidgwick. These men were all classical scholars, well aware of the relative lack of education of most of the psychics of the time. Their plan was purportedly put into action AFTER they died. It involved passing on a series of complex literary messages (often in Latin and Greek) as automatic writing and channeled information through different mediums between 1901 and 1930. These messages only made sense when the they were combined together. The idea was that it showed intentionality on the part of the spirits that were communicating, and contained information and languages that would not have been known or understood by the mediums and could therefore not have simply come from their unconscious minds.
Today, although some investigators like Gary Schwartz (see his book, The Afterlife Experiments) still try to prove survival through checking the accuracy of mediums purportedly passing on messages from the dead, most survival research involves instrumental transcommunication phenomena (ITC). ITC is the supposed communication (whether as writing, audio, or pictures) by discarnate spirits. It can occur through a variety of electronic and related equipment, including tape recorders, telephones, faxes, radios, televisions, and computers. Often these sounds and images are not heard or seen at the time of original recording, but only appear later. It was previously sometimes referred to as electronic voice phenomena (EVP) or Raudive phenomena. The process may involve the mediumistic abilities of the living human operators.
ITC is another small but growing area of mind-matter interaction (MMI) research. It was originated after voices purported to have come from the deceased, which were not audible at the time of recording, were later heard on the magnetic tape playback. Raymond Bayless and Attila von Szalay were the first to formally report these phenomena in 1956. A few years later Swedish film producer Friedrich Juergenson began working in the field, when, by chance, he heard what he thought was his deceased mother's voice in the background of a tape he was making of birds singing in the woods. He later published a book, Radio Contact with the Dead, which inspired Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive to enter the field.
The words made audible on tape are generally pronounced in an unmistakably uniform way, regardless of the language used. Identification of the voices is, nevertheless, often a remarkably difficult task. Raudive often obtained names and sentence fragments, which he documented at length in his book, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead.
The earliest documented recorded ITC may have occurred in 1902, when Waldemar Bogoras found spirit voices on a phonograph recording. Other early methods included by telegraph and radio. Rogo and Bayless even devoted an entire book to phone calls that people said they had received from the dead. However, the vast majority of early ITC work was done with ordinary tape recorders. Although some of the sounds that appeared were difficult to decipher, others were very clear-cut and recognizably belongs to deceased individuals.
Recent years have seen ITC involved all forms of format—including on telephones, faxes, computers, printers, VCRs, camcorders, and other equipment. Despite this diversity of methods for obtaining ITC, some investigators, such as Al Rauber and Chris Fleming in the United States, work to capture ghosts on audiotape—sometimes comparing what is found on the recording with what psychics and others were simultaneously picking up on as happening in the room, with some truly amazing results. This use of ITC as a simultaneous adjunct to other methods of investigation is growing in popularity and would seem to be an ideal application of the field.
A number of researchers have commented on the fact that they believe spirit beings are actively working to try to improve communication with the living. The purported beings on the 'other side' often refer to the importance of the operator's mediumistic ability for successful transcommunication. Thus, there appears to be an aspect of MMI involvement, either on the part of the sender or the receiver, which is directly affecting the instrument being used for communication, whether magnetic tape, television, computer, or other. Unfortunately, it is impossible to call ITC 'proof' of the survival of bodily death since we cannot differentiate human MMI from that of discarnate sources.
Finally, some of the strongest supporting evidence for survival comes from the reincarnation research performed by Ian Stevenson and others. They have done in-depth studies of children in unindustrialized countries, where there is a lack of television, mass media, or easy transportation (thus limiting other, more ordinary means of them finding out this information). They have found instances where these young children have known not only the names and stories of their previous families (later verified by the researchers), been able to correctly identify photos of those individuals (whom they had never met), had birthmarks related to their manner of death, and even sometimes been able to speak entire languages that they had never been taught (and which their family knew nothing of). For more information on this work, please check out Stevenson's book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.
Where is parapsychology taught?
There aren't a lot of places that people can find out where they can learn parapsychology from those who really know what they are talking about. Here's a brief list of some books and other resources
you might want to check into. I will continue to add to the list as I have time, but for now, here's a start.
Formal Training Opportunities
Formal parapsychology training is difficult to find, but not impossible.
If you want to get a post-graduate degree in parapsychology, your best options are either the Coventry University, which offers both Masters and Doctoral programs in Parapsychology either online or as part of their brick and mortar school or the highly respected Koestler Parapsychology
Unit at the University of Edinburgh
of Utrecht in the Netherlands at one time had a parapsychology program under
the auspices of parapsychologist
Dick Bierman. The
current status of their program is unclear, but if you're local, it might be
worth checking with Dr. Bierman.
Parapsychologist Adrian Parker (who for a time was the editor of the
European Journal of Parapsychology) offers
doctoral supervision in the areas of altered states and
parapsychology at the
University of Gothenburg in Sweden. In Europe, the doctoral program is mainly a dissertation - there is course work but this is in the general area of methodology, research design, and statistics. A few additional courses are chosen in areas reflecting the candidates area of interest.
Please note that it is dependent on the student having financial support in
order to gain entry to doctoral education.
The Rhine Research Center offers an
excellent 6 week summer course on parapsychology that allows you to meet with,
and learn from, real parapsychologists. It is a wonderful opportunity for
students. The location of the class may sometimes vary. Check their website for
Parapsychologist William Everist teaches a beginning parapsychology course at
Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona (and given its proximity to the very
haunted Tombstone, where Bill has done haunting investigations, might give
students the opportunity to go along on a real ghost investigation). The
course description itself can be read at
Online Parapsychology Courses
Recent years have seen the development of online parapsychology courses.
You have to be careful when signing up for these, that they are run by true
parapsychologists, and not just anyone throwing material together. The courses in the
list here are ONLY taught by legitimate parapsychologists.
Coventry University offers a full online program in parapschology.
Their main focus is on a Masters program, but those interested in a Doctorate can do this, as well. For more
information, you check out their flyer or visit their website
Unit at the University of Edinburgh
in Scotland has a 10 week online course. Course topics include: historical context, spontaneous paranormal experiences,
testing ESP and PK in the lab, latest lab research developments, theories in parapsychology, belief in the paranormal,
testing psychic claimants, conceptual issues and implications of parapsychology. The course teaches what methods parapsychologists use, what parapsychologists have found, about people's paranormal experiences, what critics say about parapsychology, how to think critically about paranormal claims and experiences. You can read more about the program
The Australian Institute of
Parapsychological Research, Inc. has two online courses (a certificate course and an advanced certificate
course in parapsychology), which are now
available to the public. They are administered by parapsychologist Lance Storm, who is the editor of the
Australian Journal of Parapsychology.
To go to the AIPR website click here...
Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach offers a certificate distance learning program in parapsychology
in association with the HCH Institute. It is a 60 hour course with telephone classes
and mp3 lectures. Some are also available on CD-ROM. Loyd also has individual
classes including: Introduction to Parapsychology; Parapsychology: The Cross Over Science;The Search
for Life after Death;, and Ghost Hunting. For more information go
Loyd also lists his current seminars on his main website at
mindreader.com/events/index.htm. Loyd is an acknowledged expert on hauntings and spontaneous case
field investigation work, with vast media experience.
The University of
Utrecht in the Netherlands used to have an 11 week online course under the
excellent supervision of parapsychologist Dick
Bierman that ran from May until June.
This looked to like a terrific class. Dr. Bierman has said the course is not
currently available, but that things may
change in the future. If so, I will be sure to post the information here.
Where can I read more about parapsychology?
If you want to learn parapsychology on your own, there are a number of sources that I highly recommend. I will divide them up by category:
- For general parapsychology, try to find an
out-of-print copy of Benjamin B. Wolman's
Handbook of Parapsychology.
Although published in 1976, it is still an excellent source of information.
Psychic Exploration, edited by Edgar D. Mitchell is another good, if dated,
basic textbook on parapsychology. To be honest, I prefer Wolman's book, but this
is a nice second source to have. Published in 1974, it is now out-of-print, but
copies are not hard to find.
The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin is an entertaining read that
includes an excellent summary of ESP research.
- Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in an Quantum Reality by Dean
Radin mentions a broader range of research, but goes into less detail than his
earlier book. Nonetheless, this book is one anyone interested in psi should
read, as it details a whole new theory of psi based on quantum entanglement. If
true, it has fascinating implications. Dean has sometimes been called the "Einstein of Parapsychology," and there is no doubt
that he is one of the leading lights in the field.
Survival of Bodily Death
- Mind-Matter Interaction:
Historical Reports, Research and Theory by Pamela Heath is the only book that
has all of the MMI research up to 2009 in one place. It also talks about people's experiences and a bit about learning how to do PK yourself.
- The Metal Benders by John Hasted
is a personal favorite of mine that talks about a series of experiments done
with a number of children metal-benders. This is a tough book to find, because
once someone gets it they are unlikely to let it go. It includes photographs
taken of wire sculptures created inside glass globes, through which there was
only an opening big enough to insert one straightened paper clip at a time.
- Miracles: A Scientific Exploration of Wonderous Phenomena by D. Scott Rogo is another personal favorite of mine. Rogo was a
devout Catholic in addition to being a parapsychologist. Because of this, he
looks at miracles from a different viewpoint than most who discuss the topic. An
older version of the same book is called Miracles, a Parascientific Inquiry into Wondrous Phenomena. It is quite a good read.
Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources by Jon Klimo is THE classic book on mental mediumship and channeling.
The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death by Gary E. Schwartz details some fascinating controlled experiments that were
performed with the assistance of a number of professional mediums, including
John Edward and Suzane Northrop.
- Twenty Cases
Suggestive of Reincarnation: Second Edition by Ian Stevenson is a classic work in the field. In it, he carefully analyzes
the cases of young children living in isolated parts of the world, who can not
only speak languages they were never exposed to this lifetime, but also have
knowledge of people, places, and events that appear to be associated with an
earlier lifetime. Everyone should read this book.
Phone Calls from the Dead by D. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless is another personal favorite of mine, which
discusses a number of reports of phone calls that appear to have been made by
the dead to the living. Although long out of print, a number of copies are still
available. Almost any book by D. Scott Rogo is a good read.
- A Paranormal Casebook by Loyd Auerbach includes a nice mix of cases and
how they can be investigated.
- ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist's Handbook by Loyd Auerbach
is still the classic work in the field, called by Time Magazine the "Bible of
ghostbusting." The original book is out of print, but
it is still available as an e-book from Loyd's website. This is the book that got me into the field of parapsychology. I highly recommend it.
- www.parapsych.org: This is the
website for the Parapsychological Association. As such, it
is simply one of the best resources on parapsychology on the internet. If you
want to know if someone really is a parapsychologist, and not just a wanna-be, this is the place to look. They list all their
members (including a few dead ones) and have links to many other
- www.lexscien.org/lexscien/index.jsp: This is the Chi Lit Base, an amazing online database of parapsychology journals. For a fee you can have full searchable access
to every journal ever published by the Journal of Parapsychology, the European Journal of Parapsychology, the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, and the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, from their earliest issue on. This is an incredible resource. I'd encourage everyone to take advantage
of it, as even non-subscribers can access some limited material.
- www.invisiblesignals.net/index.cfm: This is a website from Loyd that, for a
fee, offers podcasts and mp3 talks related to parapsychology.
- www.jackhouck.com: This is
parapsychologist and aerospace engineer Jack Houck's website, which has some
nice articles on spoon bending and other topics.
Are there any professional journals devoted to parapsychology I can read?
Those of us in the field keep up with the latest research by reading the
following journals (you can visit their websites by clicking on their names):
The Journal of Parapsychology
Although oriented heavily towards quantitative proof-oriented research, this is
one of the premier journals in the field.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
The oldest journal in existence, it is more open to a variety of research,
including spontaneous case investigations, qualitative studies, and EVP
The European Journal of Parapsychology
The main journal (besides that of the Society for Psychical Research) for Europe.
The Australian Journal of Parapsychology
Although a smaller journal, I'm quite fond of this one
and have enjoyed publishing theoretical pieces in it.
Journal of the American Society for
As with its British counterpart, it is open to a variety of research, including spontaneous case investigations and qualitative studies.
Journal of Scientific
This journal, which is put out by the Society for Scientific Exploration, covers a number of topics, including parapsychology.
NOTE: You can also read the all of the copies ever put out by
the The Journal of Parapsychology,
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,
and European Journal of Parapsychology if you join
(paid subscription) the online library database at
Lexscien. And it's text searchable, too!
How do I know if someone is a 'real' parapsychologist (and what makes them so)?
Okay, this happens to be a pet peeve of mine. I can't tell you HOW many times I have someone come up and proudly tell me they're a "parapsychologist" (or seen it on TV) when, in fact, they are NOTHING of the kind. The best you can call them is a paranormal enthusiast. Now, I'm not trying to diss paranormal enthusiasts. They're great. They may have written ghost stories and done investigations. In some cases they're simply psychic. But they know nothing of the research or theory of the field.
So, how do I define a parapsychologist? As someone with a solid grounding in the scientific research (there have been over 125 years worth) who writes, does research, and publishes
on the field. The vast majority of parapsychologists (there are about 400 of us in the world; more or less 50 in the USA) belong to the international organization known as the Parapsychological Association
. If you're uncertain whether someone really is a parapsychologist, it lists all of it's members on its website. You can check. However, this is such a small field that most of us know each other by name, if not in person.
For better or worse, the majority of parapsychologists are self-taught. I don't discriminate based on education or what someone got their original degrees in--whether physics, biochemistry, psychology, engineering, or something else. Very few of us have a formal post graduate education in parapsychology, because there are only a couple places in the world where you can study it. I added it up once, and there are probably around 25 or so of us in the world
who have a Doctorate degree in parapsychology from an accredited brick-and-mortar school, and several more who have a Masters degree in it. The only difference I've seen between those of us who were formally trained and the self-taught is that we tend to have a broader knowledge of the field. Those who teach themselves tend to stick to the topics that interest them most, leaving some blank spots.
So, what's the upshot of my rant? If someone tells you they're a parapsychologist, find out their credentials. Are they the real deal or just a wanna be? And that goes double for who you see on TV. The media is notorious about misusing titles to make their "experts" sound more impressive. Look them up. Are they on the Paraspychology Association member list
? What journals have they published in? How much do they really know? It's good to find all that out before you put any weight on what they tell you. There's a tremendous amount of misinformation floating around out there.
What are 'orbs'?
The word "orb" tends to make most parapsychologists cringe. The vast majority of these photos (like the one I humorously use to your right) are due to perfectly normal artifacts. Al Rauber put it best when he noted:
"You go on the internet and you see all these different ghost groups and everything and they're putting out all this 'proof' of ghosts, and the proof is nothing. It's nothing. There's a reason for that photograph to look like that, and it has nothing to do with ghosts.
I am constantly amazed at how often artifacts are touted off as ghost photos."
So, let's look at some photos that were screwed up in perfectly ordinary ways, where I know no ghosts were involved. Let's start with the classic: dust motes. You know those little pale white (or other color) circles that show up on pictures? They aren't ghosts. No camera is immune from problems, but digital cameras are particularly prone to them, and haven't been around long enough for the population to recognize when it's something truly interesting or just another boring artifact.
For film cameras you can have problems with:
- Old or heat-damaged film
- A dirty lens, or one with a tiny water droplet on it
- Wrong exposures
- Lens reflections (with any light source, including other cameras or their autofocus assist beams, but especially with the sun)
- Movement during the exposure (either of your camera or the recorded image/light source)
- Flash and lighting problems (a major cause of artifacts)
- Film development issues
- Printing problems
With digital cameras, you may eliminate the film development phase, but they tend to be far more sensitive to dust, fine hairs, etc. on the lens. Furthermore, there are problems with CCD malfunction (the electronic sensor in the camera that needs to translate the image into the final picture) and conversion issues from analog to digital and back again. It is the CCD malfunction that may most often cause the so-called "orbs" that appear in pictures by so many digital cameras. As one parapsychologist recently noted, the cheaper the equipment, the better your odds at getting "anomalies" -- whether "orbs" or what you think are "EVPs."
Common artifacts include getting a comet-like tail from a reflections (often made worse by a bit of movement). Add dust and water droplets (which digital cameras are more sensitive to because of their small apertures) and you can get quite a creative mix. However, the dust and droplets tend to be easier to recognize. They tend to be round and may look slightly unfocused.
What can you do? You can't always prevent other sources of light (especially with the sun, artificial lights, and other cameras), but using a tripod and avoiding a flash will help eliminate at least one source of problems.
You can get linear streaks or the round classic "orbs" with a bit of movement. And the light source may be an unseen infrared focusing beam from a camera!
Dave Manganelli has humorously noted
"Many AF illuminators will throw out a visible red/black pattern of some sort, so beware others on a ghost hunt who become convinced that that pattern is YET ANOTHER SPIRIT FORM!!!! (Who can take photos, anyway, with all that terror breaking out around them?)"
The picture of a smiling Halloween pumpkin (at the top of this page) was taken with a cheap digital camera. It shows the classic artifact you get when you have a point source of light and movement of the camera. There are also some odd reflections on the right which match the weave of the sweater I was wearing when taking the photo.
A point source of light can be particularly problematic if you are ghost hunting with a group of others. The flashes and autofocus assist beams pointed at your camera lens can create just such intriguing lines in white, pink, or red.
Of course, movement artifacts can be a lot more subtle. Let's look at a classic "orb" (seen on the right side of this page), which is nothing more than artifact caused by a streetlamp.
And we aren't done with the artifacts yet. It only takes a very slight camera movement in low-light conditions to get a double exposure effect - very cool and anomalous looking but NOT paranormal. In essence, the flash cycle is too short for the needed exposure time. This causes the area in the center, where the flash is brightest, to have the equivalent of a double exposure, while the outer edges, where the flash is more dim, will look normal. An example of this is below.
Alcatraz Island was the infamous home of many of the worst criminals ever convicted. The picture below was taken of the Alcatraz dining hall at the time that Chris Fleming, the sensitive co-host of the British TV show, "Dead Famous," was sensing a food riot from the past. The outer portions of the picture appear to be sharp, while there is an odd blurring in the center.
Photo experts say this image is the result of a flash artifact from camera movement in low-light conditions -- and trust me, the camera doesn't have to move very much. In essence, the flash cycle was too short for the needed exposure time. The area in the center, where the flash is brightest, had the equivalent of a double exposure while the outer edges were less sensitive to the slight camera movement after the flash had finished (but the aperture was still open). Now, let me add that Chris Fleming was picking up a lot of energy and place memory at the time, had seen a ghost in the dining room earlier, and felt like a spirit was in front of him. I believe him, which leads to an important point. Just because you take a photo that is completely normal, or has an artifact that can be explained as reflection, flash bounce, movement, etc., doesn't mean that nothing paranormal was present when you took the picture. The fact is that we don't have a camera yet that can truly photograph ghosts. So, a normal picture means only that you don't have paranormal "proof" to wave around and show off to strangers -- ghosts may, or may not, have been present. To be honest, people's experiences, rapid battery drainage, and equipment malfunctions are far more reliable indicators of paranormal activity.
Odd reflections can also occur with any kind of film camera, but they tend to be a bit less sensitive to dust artifacts than are digital cameras.
Flash artifacts are just one of a nearly infinite number of ways you can get "anomalous" photos. This is true even with an expensive film camera. You can get artifacts from the film itself, to the flash, to reflections, to development, and even the actual printing of the photo. And don't forget the possibilities of microscopic drops of water on the lens, or even a dirty lens. Of course, the last one tends to be easy to spot. You get the same artifact on every picture the camera takes. Loyd Auerbach sums the situation up best when he says:
"No matter what one does, not all factors can be accounted for or controlled when taking any kind of photo .... By "factors" I mean anything from problems with film (or the developing process) or the camera or the photographer or unseen influences in the environment. I've seen way too many photos with "mysterious" streaks of light that can be tracked back to point sources of light at the fringes of the camera frame (a little shaking of the photographer's hand is all it takes) .... Finally, photos are subject to manipulation .... What it all boils down to is this: photos are evidence, NOT proof of the existence of ghosts or hauntings."
Some ghost investigators have experimented with infrared photography. Unfortunately, this has it's own set of problems. And if you have infrared focusing beams from other cameras (or reflected back to you by your own) then you're really in trouble. It's artifact city. Another thing worth mentioning is that it is not heat sensitive. Thermal imaging devices are extremely useful in an investigation, but then you're talking a multi-thousand dollar system from someone like Flir. Infrared film will merely see a slightly broader spectrum of reflected light than the human eye can perceive. As with any scientific process the more control of the environment you can have, the less chance for human error adding anomalies to the data. If you want to shoot with infrared, it's important that you be the ONLY one with a camera, turn OFF the auto focus, and use an older manual focus lens. New lenses no longer have an infrared focusing index, slightly different from what we see as sharp. The down side is that this is all time consuming and working with the tripod today was really inconvenient. The only other thing I can suggest is to take something with good optics. The cameras that are suggested for "inexpensive ghost hunting," (and which result in the kind of pictures most people show off as anomalous) have some of the worst optics in the world... little point and shoots that are prone to flare and dust and hazing over in cold temps. And that doesn't even take into account the issue of flare from a flash reflecting off of something (TV, mirrors, and window glass can be particularly notorious for creating suggestion images that are absolutely meaningless). The average person can pick up a cheap used SLR with an excellent lens for about $200 and avoid lots of these problems. I'm told by camera experts that it is good to avoid zooms too... All photographically speaking of course. It is not heat sensitive in the way you'd need to have for it to pick up ghosts, so while you might get some interesting and artistic shots, they aren't likely to give you any better proof than other cameras.
Am I saying that ghosts never effect cameras? Of course not. But what I and other ghost investigators have found is that it usually shows up as batteries draining or equipment malfunction. Too many ghost hunters miss out on the real evidence because of being sidetracked by artifacts. As Dave Manganelli notes:
"The most common weirdness that has occurred in my own investigations is equipment failure/malfunction. Now that -- if properly vetted -- is the true puzzling anomaly in all this."
Finally, one last word about orbs on video. As with still photography, you can get reflection and other types of artifacts. However, video has one big advantage over it's SLR and digital brethren; you can study the behavior of the photographic anomaly. This can be interesting indeed. If it behaves like dust kicked up by movement you don't have to waste your time on it. On the other hand, if it seems to behave in an inexplicably intelligent fashion, then perhaps you have something interesting. Video, not still photography, may become the standard for serious ghost investigators in the future.
I want a second opinion on orbs. What do professional cameramen say?
MORE BY SENIOR BROADCAST PRODUCER DAVE MANGANELLI:
We've all heard the cliche "The camera never lies."
Well, actually – yes, it does, and sometimes it lies a lot.
By now, everyone has
seen dozens (if not hundreds) of photos of purportedly ghostly 'orbs' spread
(with gleeful, giddy abandon) all over the Internet. There are little
circles of light, swirling mists, blinding streaks, eerie sprays,
luminescent swarms, globular clusters, and they all come in a variety of
intensities and colors. The bulk of them are considered to be 'anomalous';
photographic images, things strangely out of the ordinary, manifestations of
ghosts or ghostly activity.
The thinking goes that
these orbs turn up in photos/videos that should otherwise be normal, clear,
and free of such curiosities. Even more to the point, these photos/video
have been taken in a haunted location; therefore the photographic anomalies
must be manifestations of the ghosts themselves. If not of the actual
ghosts, then, they are at least manifestations of the spirit energies in the
place. Furthermore, the
thinking goes that the advanced technology of today's cameras is sensitive
enough to finally be able to record this elusive paranormal activity, hence
the notable increase in the number and variety of things caught through the
eye of the camera.
My observation: I don't think so.
To reach the
conclusion that orb photos are pictures of paranormal energies/entities, go
ahead and drill right down to the core premise that these images are, in
fact, beyond the expectations of what a camera would record, and that the
images themselves (colors, shapes, textures, etc.) can only be attributed to
Here's the problem:
many of those images, colors, shapes, and textures are things that can and
will appear in photographs for reasons that have nothing to do with ghosts.
Why are so many people currently convinced that they are "ghost" pictures? Three reasons: 1) They've been told repeatedly by both ghost enthusiasts
and TV shows that the images are ghosts; 2) They're not accustomed to seeing
photographic artifacts, so the images are indeed unfamiliar and mysterious
to them; 3) Relatively few investigators try hard – if at all – to seek out
A common notion that
certain cameras, microphones, video recorders, audio recorders (whatever)
are more "sensitive" to paranormal phenomena is simply not supported by any
evidence of which I'm aware. If any equipment was more "sensitive," results
should be more concrete and consistent in haunted places – but they aren't.
There's not a single manufacturer of photo, video, or audio equipment that
would support the claim that their product records paranormal phenomena – to
do so would suggest that engineers have identified certain wavelengths and
frequencies as "paranormal." They have not.
In reading through many
results from other investigators (most poorly done, others much better), the
range of equipment and methodologies used is so all over the map so as to
render the whole business incoherent. It's almost better to
say that if ghosts want to show up on photo, video, audio, etc., then
they'll show up regardless of what equipment you're using. The reason I
bring this up is that many investigators prattle on and on about their
equipment, provide long laundry lists of what they're using … and by doing
so, they imply that the technology is central to capturing anomalous images
Here's my own laundry
list of stuff I've used over the years: 35mm negative film, 35mm slide
film, 16mm film, infrared film, infrared video, Polaroids, digital cameras,
reel-to-reel analog audio, audiocassette, microcassette, MiniDisc, DAT,
U-Matic video, 8mm video, VHS video, S-VHS Video, Hi8 video, Beta-SP video,
MiniDV, and DVCAM.
When I first began
investigating haunted houses 25 years ago, it was from behind the viewfinder
of an Arriflex BL 16mm film camera. My goal has always been to attempt to
capture some manifestation of paranormal activity on motion-picture film,
photographic film, videotape, or audio.
I am here to tell you that it's not easy.
In fact, I feel
comfortable saying that it is extremely difficult to obtain good evidence
this way. I have been smack in the middle of several investigations that
involve other phenomena breaking out in the room, yet the cameras and tape
recorders pick up nothing unusual. If the cameras and recorders were
particularly sensitive to ghostly phenomena, then I would expect to have a
more vast collection of images and sounds than I do … which is precisely why
I don't think ghosts are inclined to manifest that way.
Let me be even more
direct: for the last 4 years, I've been actively researching the former West
Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville. The place is haunted (a
combination of place memory and a few honest-to-gosh ghosts). The prison
was the scene of executions, murders, beatings, stabbings, burnings, and
other episodes of mayhem that, quite frankly, boggle the mind. In this 4
year period, I have taken hundreds of photographs, and hours of video and
audiotape – most of them taken while I was alone and standing right in the
haunted spots. I do not have any inexplicable photos or videos of orbs,
streaks, mists, hazes, starbursts, etc. Some people claim they do; I've
seen many of their photos. I'm not convinced.
Now, why is it that
others have orbs and I don't? I can only think of two explanations: 1)
darn it, the ghosts just don't like me and won't appear for me (though they
apparently have no trouble bothering me in a zillion other ways when they
feel like it) 2) I'm a bit more careful than the average bear when I take
Over the years, I've
also paid a lot of attention to photos/films/videos taken by other
investigators in other cases. To my dismay, I have found some of the most
famous ones are hoaxes and fakes, even though some of them have received
continuous publicity (in books, websites, and TV shows) as real evidence of
ghosts. Even when they're not hoaxes or fakes, then the investigators tend
to fall into the trap of thinking that the equipment is more sensitive,
etc., etc. In that case, they're putting the cart before the horse by
assuming that their 'sensitive' equipment will pick up ghosts. My question:
why are you claiming that the equipment is sensitive to ghosts? (This
usually prompts a nonsensical response akin to Nigel Tufnel of Spinal
Tap claiming that his guitar amplifier is more powerful than others, because his
goes to '11' while the others only go to '10').
Makes you wonder how anyone saw or heard ghosts before the advent of cameras and recorders!
The orb photos began
to appear on a wide scale in the mid-to-late 1990s. There is no doubt in my
mind that they came to prominence with the rise in the Internet itself,
since it became pretty easy to share these photos on a mass scale with all
sorts of interested parties. To paraphrase an old joke that a friend of
mine loves: "They wouldn't put it on the Internet if it wasn't true." And
so, apparently, a lot of people have taken orbs as the truth about ghosts.
But it's unfortunate
that most of the ghosts look exactly like lens flares, bright dust, and
rowdy reflections. Before the rise of the 'orb' era, most visual reports of
ghosts tended to be of generally human forms and shadowy figures – one would
have to assume that, somewhere along the way, ghosts suddenly changed their
visual manifestation to look a helluva lot like lens flare. Plus, they
decided that it was better to appear only on film/video as orbs. Call it
the "Tinkerbell Mandate," if you will.
Listen – all that's
required for orbs to appear on camera is a lens and a light source (room
light, street light, window, headlight, firefly, camera flash, moonlight,
etc.). Oddly enough, that';s also all you need to get any image to appear on
film or video – so it's hard to support the argument that some anomalous
photographic process is going on with orbs.
Static electricity can
cause bright spots of light to appear on both traditional film negative and
on the CCDs of modern digital cameras. I have been in regular film shooting
situations where static has caused bright points of light to appear on the
image, and where we've had to take special measures – grounding the chassis
of the camera with a physical wire, for example – to remedy the problem.
(By the way, this same static also interfered with the wireless microphone
units, causing pops and crackles in the audio.)
Infrared light – used
in the "night vision" mode of many camcorders – can appear as wildly bright
light in the night vision image and in images from digital still cameras. Since you can't see the infrared with your eye in the same way that the
camera sees it, then of course it might seem to be something that just
mysteriously appears in the final photo or video. But that doesn't mean
it's a ghost! It's more likely that your source of infrared illumination
has found its way back to the camera, probably via reflection.
Polaroid cameras? Pretty cool – but also prone to producing photo artifacts. It has been
standard practice in the TV/film world to use Polaroids for taking location
photos and snapshots of auditioning actors. Goofy artifacts turn up from
time to time – but I have yet to classify any of them as 'paranormal.' To
do so, you'd have to assume that these cameras always take photos that are
free of flaws; hence, an artifact must really indicate something. Nope.
It's also not a good
idea to take photographs in the middle of an entire group of people who are
taking pictures at the same time – there's too much wild light flying
around! These are not what you would call 'controlled' conditions.
Not to be gross, but
human skin (shed in very small flakes) is one of the chief components of
dust. It sticks to your clothes (this is one the reasons that all clothes
dryers have lint filters). If you're moving around, you can shake the dust
into the air, where it can float for longer than you think — and it only takes
a speck the size of a pinhead to produce an image on camera.
Worse, some people
carry their cameras around in their jacket or coat pockets, which only
increases the chances for dust to be in or on the camera itself. In
professional photographic situations, it is part of the gig to be attentive
to dust and all the ills it can wreak on the lens. My guess is that it's
not the main concern of most casual ghost snap shooters.
I have yet to work
with a professional cinematographer, photographer, or videographer who
genuinely thinks that the 'orbs' are paranormal. Why, then, do they get so
much attention in the media? Because they're an easy story, that's why.
They provide a quick visual hook for news or documentary segments on ghosts
– they look good, and if you write some narration that's appropriately
spooky, you can create a little ghostly mystery, which is always good for
ratings. People love ghost stories – many don't particularly care if
they're real or not.
In other words, a
ghost story does not mean that there is actually a ghost. I'm amazed at the
number of investigators who haven't gotten this through their heads.
While most of these
'orb'; photographs are hardly important in, say, the scheme of world events,
they are actually troublesome to serious investigators because they increase
the 'noise' level surrounding paranormal phenomena. By that, I mean that
otherwise well-meaning people are more prone to identify something as
ghostly (as a result of their photos), and are then more inclined to report
their experience as paranormal.
Now, don't get me
wrong – there is absolutely a need for good research on what constitutes
truly anomalous evidence from cameras and audio recorders. Frankly, it's
why I keep doing it, despite the disappointments. But let's be more careful
out there – we don't want to be caught spooking ourselves.
When I was a cameraman
in broadcast sports some years ago, the directors were occasionally heard to
yell over our headsets: "Hey – get your head out of the viewfinder!" It
meant that you needed to look beyond the limited point-of-view of your
camera to see a bigger picture of what was actually going on.
So, if you're serious
about puzzling out true anomalies while ghosthunting, make sure you get your
head out of the viewfinder.
What's all this about 'past lives'?
I didn't used to believe in reincarnation. I do now. Two things
changed my mind. The first, and rather hard to ignore, was the appearance of
spontaneous past-life memories. Sometimes it was just a movie image during
meditation, other times it was as vivid as I've heard described by LSD
flashbacks--where for just a moment, I was there, reliving the scene, in another
place and time. Very weird. The second reason I converted to believing in
reincarnation was some of the research done by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson of the
University of Virginia and others. They have accumulated more than a little
solid evidence for it. For those unfamiliar with this work, I'd recommend
starting with his book,
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation: Second Edition
How can you remember them?
There are several books on the topic of how to remember your past
lives, but basically there are three ways you can go about it. First, you may
find they appear during meditation or dreaming. Second, you can ask a psychic.
Or third, you can undergo regression therapy with a trained hypnotherapist.
Regardless of how you approach this, you MUST take what you "remember" or are
told about with a grain of salt. We tend to distort memories, even those of our
current life. So, what would make you think the problem wouldn't also occur,
even worse, with memories that go from before we were born?
So I remember a past life. Now what?
The best approach, is to think of your past lives as a metaphor.
Whether or not they were literally true (and how many Cleopatras or Alexander
the Greats do you think there really were?), there's a reason why you're seeing
that lifetime or those images now. The reason tends to fall into one of three
categories. It can:
Explain what's going on in your current life. This can be
extremely helpful, especially if it helps you to understand why you might be
reacting a certain way to another person or have a phobia, such as of
heights. Sometimes even just seeing what happened before can allow you to
let go of those unwelcome feelings or fears.
Illustrate a pattern of behavior that you've had in other
lives that you don't want to keep repeating. Again, this is helpful. It
tells you something useful about your life, the kinds of choices you've made
in the past, and whether those choices led to outcomes you wanted or not.
- Tell you that you've been there, done that, already and
there's no need to do it again. This, too, is helpful, as it allows you to
focus more on what you want to accomplish this lifetime.
All of these reasons, when approached in this manner, are
good ones, which allow your past life memories to help you.
Mistakes to avoid
Where I see people get into trouble with past life memories, is when
they get hung up on them. There's a reason why our past lives are hidden from
most of us. It's because we're supposed to live in the present
. Let me repeat that, because it's important. We are here
to live our lives as best we can--not to
simply repeat the past or become stuck in self-indulgent dreams of earlier
glories. If a given past life comes to mind, there's a reason for it. It's a
lesson. A hint. Advice. But it's not something to dwell on or be proud of. The
past is the past. Live in the present.
Let me add one more warning. I see people get hung up--to the
point that they completely destroy their lives and that of loved ones around
them--because they feel some other person who they aren't with is their soulmate
from another life. Let me tell you, that you have MANY soulmates, especially if
you're an old soul. Don't destroy this life to be with them just because you may
have enjoyed a previous life together. This is a different life. Treat it so. If
you're meant to be together, it will probably work out. If not, there may be a
good reason for it--other things that can be better accomplished with different
What is the word "psi" and why do parapsychologists use it?
Parapsychologists originally picked the Greek letter psi as a neutral term for all the non-normal ways in which consciousness can interact with the world around it, whether through anomalous information transfer or physical impact. Thus, the word psi includes all forms of extrasensory perception and mind-matter interaction.
In addition to being a simple, all-inclusive term, there may be a second advantage to using the word psi when talking about these phenomena. An increasing number of parapsychologists are coming to believe that MMI and ESP are not separate or distinct but rather the same thing by two different names. Recent studies suggest ESP and MMI occur simultaneously and are essentially indistinguishable. Thus, it may be better to call everything "psi" phenomena and drops potentially meaningless distinctions of whether something is "MMI" or "ESP".
What are some basic do's and don'ts of talking to a parapsychologist?
1. DO your homework. A great many people who call themselves parapsychologists are nothing of the kind. A true parapsychologist has a good knowledge of the experimental research that has been done in the field, has often published in parapsychology journals (not magazines), and is likely to belong to the Parapsychological Association (which lists all of its members on its website at parapsych.org/member_index.html. Please understand that just because a person has appeared on some TV show, is not proof that he or she is a "real" parapsychologist and knows what he or she is talking about. I can't tell you how many times I've shuddered over the blatant misinformation pseudo-parapsychologists have stated as "fact" on TV. Make sure the person you're dealing with really knows what they are talking about!
2. DO recognize that most haunting cases are complex. There is a human tendency to want to attribute everything that happens to a single cause, like a ghost. However, most of the time, parapsychologists find that cases have a variety of underlying causes that are being wrongly lumped together. Part of our job is to sort out what is paranormal and what is normal, if unusual. It may help to keep a dated journal of events.
3. DO understand the limits of parapsychology's field of study. Parapsychology involves only three fields of study: ESP, PK (also known as mind over matter), and survival research. That's it. We can answer questions as experts relating to those three topics. We don't as a general rule know much about UFOs, crop circles, witchcraft, cryptozoology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. unless it is a side interest of a particular individual.
4. DON'T expect parapsychologists to be interested in odd photos you might have taken. There are literally hundreds of non-paranormal ways to get artifacts, especially with the small lens apertures of today's digital and snapshot film cameras. Add to that the ease with which computer software can manipulate photos, and you need to understand that pictures, no matter how interesting, cannot be considered as proof of anything paranormal. They can support your experiences and, in fact, it is those experiences themselves that are most of interest to parapsychologists, because that is how we sort out what is going on.
5. DON'T expect your average parapsychologist to be psychic. There are only a few of us (myself included) who are both psychic and a parapsychologist. Most parapsychologists have some psychic sensitivity, but not a lot more than the general public. Parapsychologists can be very helpful explaining how psychic phenomena are thought to occur, and often can provide tips on how to understand these natural abilities when people begin to spontaneously develop them. However, don't expect them to give you a psychic reading or be able to find your lost beagle. They may study psychic abilities, but that doesn't mean they have them.
6. DON'T confront parapsychologists expecting them to try to convert you. This may sound silly, but a lot of people come up and ask me to "prove" spirits exist. We aren't going to waste our time on this. After all, we can't even "prove" consciousness IN a body exists, why do you expect us to "prove" consciousness can exist without a body? Ditto for "proving" psychic abilities are real. No amount of proof is ever enough for some skeptics. As for the others, they are welcome to read the research literature for themselves--there's over 100 years of controlled research that has been performed on it, much of it double or triple-blind. We'll happily point you in the right direction if you ask politely, but confronting us with demands to "prove" our field exists suggests only that you are too lazy to do your own homework, and too rude to be worth our time to educate.
What is the sheep-goat effect and why does it matter?
The sheep-goat effect was first described by psychologist Gertrude Schmeidler. The "sheep" are those who believe (even if weakly) in the possibility in psychic phenomena, whereas the "goats" are those who do not believe psi is possible. Likewise, there are also "super-sheep" (ardent believers) and "super-goats" (who categorically reject any possiblity psi could exist). What Schmeilder found was that psi success or failure correlates with a research participant's belief. "Sheep" tend score above chance while "goats" score at or below chance.
Where this gets really interesting is where super-goats score so far below chance that there is no possibility their result was due to randomness, inadvertently proving psi exists. In essence, they are using their psi ability to deliberately and consistently miss the target. Many believe skeptics may also unconsciously use their talent to block the natural psychic abilities of others, acting as a dampener of sorts. The sheep-goat effect may also show up in the experimenter effect.
Questions I'm often asked by students:
What made you decide to get a degree in parapsychology? And how did your family feel about it?
I was having psychic experiences as an Anesthesiologist—such as, knowing in advance what kind of emergency cases I was going to do and at what hour of the night. This went on for months. I finally went to a psychic—a real one—and he confirmed that it wasn't my imagination, I wasn't going crasy, I really was psychic. He then proceeded to give me an amazing read—things I whole heartedly didn't believe at the time, which didn't come true for over a decade. I tested my abilities, but they seemed to be consistent and repeatable. So, I wanted to understand myself and why I could do these things that science said were impossible. I started off by getting training under a Spiritualist Anomalous Healer. Then, I spent a few years meditating regularly…but I still knew there had to be more. When I read Loyd Auerbach's book "ESP, Hauntings, and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist's Handbook," I knew that was it. I tracked down the only school in the United States where you could (at that time) get a doctorate in Parapsychology and enrolled.
I was really surprised how my family felt about it. I worried about telling them and held back for awhile. But when I did, my mother simply shrugged and told me my grandfather had been a famous lay healer, whom doctors would come from miles around to see because they couldn't figure out how he could do what he did. So, she thought it was all perfectly normal. My father got into meditation in his 80s. He never told me exactly how he felt about parapsychology, but he didn't discourage it, asked questions, and read everything I wrote, even all 650 pages of my dry and boring dissertation.
What is your job like?
Mostly, I'm a writer, so 95% of my average day is spent at the computer. I do a lot of reading and research using online libraries as well as printed books. I not only deal with producing articles and books, but also copy-editing, interviews, blogs, talks, and other promotional activities. I am my own webmaster, so I put time into websites not only for myself as an author, but also for each of my books. In terms of unpaid work, I also answer emails from those experiencing hauntings or psychic openings, counsel the dead (it's a bit like being a therapist except your clients don't have bodies), and help spirits finish their transitions to the afterlife. It gets busiest when I have copy-edits to review because you work on a deadline. The other part of my time may be spent out in the field doing investigations, counseling people, and networking with colleagues.
What part of this job do you find most the satisfying? Most challenging?
It's rewarding to help people, whether living or dead. Probably the most challenging is dealing with the wealth of misinformation about parapsychology and trying to educate people. Parapsychologists tend to find themselves caught between psi-believers who feel we are too skeptical and psi-disbelievers (AKA "skeptics") who feel we're credulous fools. Neither side tends to give us respect. Working with the media falls into the mixed blessing category. It can be fun but you're never quite sure how it will turn out. Sometimes you get to put some real facts out to the public, though, which makes you feel good.
Do you find your job exciting or boring? Why?
I don't find it either one. My job involves a mindset than anything else, a way of looking at reality and moving through the world. I help others when I can and try to keep myself well-grounded and on an even keel. However, I don't get bored easily. My day job for nearly 30 years was as an Anesthesiologist (sometimes referred to as "hours of boredom interspersed by moments of sheer terror") but I didn't find that boring either.
How do you make use of technology?
There are two ways in which technology can be useful: for research and communication.
Technology for research has included everything from lasers and computers for formal ESP and mind-matter research, to radios, electronics and audio/video recorders for voice phenomena survival research, and environmental sensors, such as thermal imaging and devices measuring electromagnetic fields for haunting investigations. Computers, in particular, with their ability to run pseudorandom number generated events programs quickly and with entertaining feedback have been particularly useful. In addition, technology that can measure physiological reactions, such as galvanic skin response, heart rate, EEGs, fMRIs, CAT scans, and even video montitoring and measurement of pupil size are used for many current studies.
Secondly, technology is a critial tool for modern networking and communication, both between parapsychological colleagues (of whom there are only about 400 spread out around the world) and between parapsychologists and those looking for help, information, and assistance. I use the internet to field questions, provide general information and support, get business (for media appearances and speaking engagements) and to sell my books. I have a number of websites and constantly check my email to stay into communication. We're talking about streaming the next Parapsychological Association meeting live from Paris and doing tweets to let folks know about the latest research being presented. I think it's a great idea. Best of all, it allows us to have an online parapsychology that is available to ANYONE around the work, which contains nearly every major parapsychology journal in text searchable format from the late 1800s to today. This means we can see for ourselves what work has been done before us and build on that. Before the online library, with limited access to the research, there were many cases of "reinventing the wheel" because experimenters didn't realize those questions had been looked at and answers. And while a certain amount of replication is beneficial, you want it to be deliberate, not because you didn't know any better. So, in many ways, technology is revolutionizing parapsychology and it promises hope of great advancements.
What particular skills or talents are most essential for your job? Are there organizations you are expected to join or other things you are expected to do outside work hours?
There are a couple things that are important. First off, you have to be curious, to want to figure things out or explore this mysterious set of phenomena that scientists so often would rather ignore or sweep under the rug. Perhaps because of that, most, if not all, parapsychologists love science fiction. In addition to being open to possibilities and having a sense of wonder, you also need to have a certain amount of skepticism or grounding in reality. It's not necessary to be particularly "psychic" or to have had experiences of your own, but that a mindset of being open yet critically minded is an absolute must.
It's a good idea for multiple reasons to belong to the Parapsychological Association (PA). It is, beyond a doubt, THE organization for a parapsychologist to belong to. It's international, too, which gives you a way to get to know your colleagues and what lines of research are going on. Being a recognized member of the PA also means you have published in the field and are recognized as being a legitimate investigator with academic training and research experience.
What social obligations go along with a job in your occupation? Are there organizations you are expected to join or other things you are expected to do outside work hours?
From its inception, parapsychology has drawn together scientists from a wide range of fields-- biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and many others. Each brings different knowledge and a fresh perspective to parapsychology. So, by working together we have a better chance of figuring out how best to approach various topics and ways to interpret any results. Because of this, networking is critical. Much of it is done over the internet, but it helps keep experimenters aware of the research each others are doing, provides emotionally and intellectual support, not only in designing more rigorous and interesting studies, but also in their interpretation.
There are no required organizations, but most belong to the international Parapsychological Association.
There is no such thing as "inside" work hours. It can be a 24 hour job, in the sense that you deal with things at all hours of the night. Haunting investigations, in particular, are more apt to occur at night not because spirits are more active then but because it's easier to get access to locations when their regular clients or staff are gone.
What are the major frustrations of this job?
There's a tremendous amount of misinformation in the public arena, both from the media (with paranormal shows using experts who are nothing of the kind) and skeptics, who seldom have taken the time to read, let alone understand, the experimental research. This means parapsychologists have to spend a lot of time correcting people's mistaken beliefs before we can even get to new (and more exciting) ideas of what's going on in the field. Parapsychologists also tend to get attacked (when we aren't ignored) by both psi-believers who feel we are too skeptical and psi-disbelievers (AKA "skeptics") who feel we're credulous fools. You have to have the ego strength to handle being ridiculed, ignored, and dismissed as irrelevant. It is a shame, really, because we have some solid answers from well-designed, controlled experimental research.
What interests you least about the job or creates the most stress?
The most stress comes from the fact that there's very little funding or respect for this line of work, and it's not a job with a steady income. Nearly all of us work a "day" job and pay for our own research out of our own pockets. No one goes into it for the money.
What are the educational, requirements for this job? What other types of credentials or licenses are required? What types of training do companies offer persons entering this field? Is graduate school recommended?
I wish there were more requirements for the job! No credentials or licenses are required (other than the home business license I have for being a writer). At the very least, I think you need to have read at least some of the research and belong to the Parapsychological Association.
It's very difficult to get formal training in the field. All of the current postgraduate programs are in Europe--although there is an online master and doctorate program available now from Covington University in the U.K. However, that said, I think a formal education in parapsychology really worth pursuing if you can do so. A graduate program is wonderful because it gives you a far better understanding of how to interpret and perform research and a better rounded education. What I've noticed with those who only have degrees in other fields, is that they only read those parapsychological topics that interest them--NOT the entire field. So, they have gaps in their knowledge.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in this field? Are there any written materials you suggest?
I give everyone the same advice. First, get a day job. Something to bring in a steady income. Second, read the research. There's an online library full of it, which lets you read nearly every professional journal published in parapsychology from the 1800s on. Don't rely on someone else to give you the Cliff Notes versions. Sometimes you realize the person trying to summarize that material misinterpreted it--whether deliberately, in the case of some skeptics or by mistake.
A great first book, even if it's a monster to read, is Handbook of Parapsychology by Benjamin Wolman, published in 1976 and reprinted in the 1980s by McFarland. It will give you a terrific understanding of the older material. For newer research on ESP, I'd recommend Dean Radin's books The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds. I always feel a bit odd recommending my own books, but for learning the mind-matter interaction or MMI (the newer term for psychokinesis or telekinesis) research post 1976, there really is nothing better than Mind-Matter Interaction: Historical Reports, Research and Theory. I wrote it as a parapsychological textbook for MMI, so it's dry, but it covers a lot of the material, if in less detail than Wolman's Handbook of Parapsychology.
Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
The most important organization to belong to is the Parapsychological Association. It has some surprisingly stringent requirements for full membership, but any student can belong as a student affiliate and I recommend folks get in at that level. I also belong to the Society for Psychical Research (London) and the Society for Scientific Exploration because their journals have some interesting research. The other big journal in the field is the Journal of Parapsychology, which is put out by the Rhine Institute. All of these are published (eventually) in the parapsychology online library at http://www.lexscien.org/lexscien/index.jsp . It's subscription based, but what an option! And it's text searchable, too.
What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
The Rhine Institute summer training program in Durham, NC (http://www.rhine.org
) is a great way to meet real parapsychologists and get a grounding in the field. I think the Institute of Noetic Science in Petaluma, CA (http://www.noetic.org/
) also has workshops and may have some kind of internships. It would let you meet parapsychologists Dean Radin and Marilyn Schlitz. You might also want to go to one of the Parapsychological Association (http://www.parapsych.org/
) meetings. These would let you get a better sense of the field, learn what's "hot" and new in the field, and allow you to meet (and pick the brains of) real parapsychologists.
Do you have any special world of warning or encouragement as a result of your experience?
No one goes into this field for money, respect, or fame. It's not like the TV shows, either! There aren't a lot of thrills unless you get a psychological high from figuring out the answer to puzzles. You deal with a lot of ridicule. However, for those with a sense of wonder, who enjoy mysteries, there is the tremendous satisfaction of being on something of the ground level of a field, the excitement of new discoveries, the fun of investigating curious phenomena we truly don't yet understand, and the contentment of being able to really help people (some of whom may happen to be dead).
How does psychology training relate to parapsychology?
Psychology is an extremely useful background to have. Parapsychology appears to be a completely normal, if usually weak, human ability. It responds in the same manner, and to the same kinds of psychological variables, as every other kind of human talent. In poltergeist cases you may run into dysfunctional families who need a licensed therapist. Also, you spend a lot of time counseling folks, both living and dead.
Does counseling come into parapsychology for those who have had experiences that they cannot explain?
Very much so. The more one understands about parapsychology, the more you realize it is really psychology--and that's true whether you're dealing with the living, who may be having to deal with extraordinary experiences that they cannot explain or a complete change in world view, or the dead.
Are you ever frightened by dealing with the paranormal?
The paranormal doesn't frighten me. The living are far more scary than that dead. There are a number of reasons for this:
1) I have everything a ghost has and more. I have a soul AND a body. It probably doesn't hurt that I have an intense ability to focus, which translates to power when you are talking about psi.
2) The paranormal is already part of my world view. I see it as being perfectly natural and normal.
3) I find most paranormal events fun. It's hard to be scared when you're busy having a blast.
4) This stuff is familiar to me, old hat. I am comfortable talking to, and dealing with, most spirits. Perhaps the only exception to that is that I don't like dealing with the criminally insane, whether living or dead. In those cases, I am more guarded and careful. However, that's talking as a psychic, not as a parapsychologist. The few times I've had a spirit threaten me with physical harm, it just made me angry, which helped me to focus and added to my power.
5) I feel loved and appreciated by most of those I encounter in spirit. I know my guides and others are always there to help me if I need it ... and I'm not shy about delegating tasks to them.
6) I shield before I even come near a place that's haunted, whether just psychically tuning in or going in person. Advance protection can save you a lot of grief.
What do you think of of public interest in amateur ghost hunting?
It reminds me of what was going on in the late 1800s with Spiritualism. Everyone was doing séances. And although there was a lot of fraud, it was also fertile ground for the field of parapsychology to develop, if only for debunking. So, even as I applaud the enthusiasm and interest of amateur ghost hunters and desperately hope it transforms into a thirst to learn about the research and come into the field, I worry about the kind of backlash seen in the early 1900s as a result of people realizing that they'd been suckered. There are some paranormal shows out there that are faking things. In their minds, it's entertainment. It's not meant to be taken as real. However, that's not how most audiences feel--they believe it's all real, not just some of it. They could feel betrayed should they find out the truth, which has the potential to turn folks completely off the entire field. My hope is that folks turn their interest into learning about the real research that's been done, and bring their energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and talents into the field. We'd love to have them join the fray!
Articles | Book Excerpts | PDF - Misc. | F.A.Q. 2 | F.A.Q. 3 | F.A.Q. 4 | F.A.Q. 5