By Amy Bennett, Tri-City NYPS Lead Investigator
That is a phrase that to me, holds very little water, and doesn't seem to be able to stay afloat in too many arguments of an intelligent nature. There isn't a lot of paranormal evidence that can hold its own in a court of law either; it's not something you'd present at a murder trial, we'll just say that. Yet somehow, there are thousands of people who are very well convinced that, yes, paranormal evidence is just that: solid evidence or proof of the paranormal. What people claim to be evidence runs the entire gamut from the very minute and trivial occurrences to the exceptionally undeniable experiences. What's more, is that so much of this 'evidence' is in no way able to be proven by scientific means without incurring a slew of debunking questions. So what makes any of it evidence? What makes a picture of an orb, the feeling of a cold breeze, seeing an apparition, or anything else, actual proof of the paranormal?
I've been wracking my brain for many years on this. It started with the earlier days of paranormal TV, somewhere in the mid to late 90's and heading into the millennium when I was in my teens. There were a few brave shows out there giving people's accounts of paranormal experiences and their personal hauntings. These shows held little if any science, and focused intently on the actual experiences of the people telling their stories, complete with feathered bangs, bad flannel and equally bad reinactments. (Can't blame 15-year-old special effects though, can we)? I remember watching these shows, and now and again seeing and hearing the clips of "spirit voices", EVPs, played for everyone to hear. But I wasn't startled, I wasn't freaked out, I wasn't spooked by hearing these words supposedly speaking from another dimension; the voices of people who had passed on, crossed over. I just wasn't sold. I remember yelling at the TV, much like my father does when watching an intense golf game (because golf gets the adrenaline up)?, and exclaiming "How do you know!?" in reference to these "spirit voices". There was never, and still isn't, a solid amount of physics, audiology, or hard science of any kind in these shows. To this day, this supposed 'convincing evidence' of the paranormal is displayed and expressed mostly by means of EVPs, as though no one has ever challenged the validity of any of them! This, to me, is unacceptable, and just plain ridiculous.
As far as what makes for convincing evidence, let's start by dividing what we present as proof of the paranormal into two categories. There are the paranormal occurrences which are captured via the means of some form of media; a digital recorder, a video camera, a laser thermometer, K2 meter, Mel Meter, etc. Then there are the paranormal occurrences which are perceived only by the human being; a feeling, a sensation, a sound, a sight, etc. In both situations, there can be a singular or plural aspect; one piece of equipment and one human being, or many devices recording data and many people experiencing the same thing. With that said, which scenario, the electronic or the human, is actually paranormal evidence, let alone believable evidence?
Scenario 1: A digital recorder is left in a room as a static recording device, tagged with time, date, location and anything else pertinent to the situation, and left for 5 hours in the same location. Let's say every person on the investigation tags when they walk in and out of the room, along with any noises they make that may be later mistaken for an EVP. After reviewing the entire recording, there is the sound with the pitch of a female voice, two separate syllables, and the sounds are just garbled and covered in static enough that no one can accurately make out the words. It is an EVP. It's something that was recorded on the device, and a person involved in the investigation didn't do it. Is that evidence of paranormal activity?
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you answered 'yes' to that question, like so many people do. So I ask you then, why? What about an anomalous noise that to the human ears, can be equated to a voice and called evidence of paranormal activity? What about that can be considered proof of a spirit, or an entity, or a dead person, as the theory so readily abounds? My answer: nothing.
Scenario 2: An investigator is walking through a location to set up some pieces of equipment in hopes of capturing some evidence of the paranormal. They reach the area they intend to 'bug' with equipment and as they step into the room, a dark shadow passes in front of their face. No other human is present and no outside lights are shining in and there is no movement from anywhere inside or outside the location that could cause a dark shadow. As the shadow passes in front of the person, the hair on their arms stands on end and they feel the temperature drop around them for a few moments. At the same time this occurs, the individual hears two syllables, sounding somewhat high-pitched and containing the tone of that of a human voice. There is no equipment set up to 'catch' this paranormal act, but the individual witnessed many aspects of something anomalous: sight, sound, temperature and sensation. Here it is again: Is that evidence of paranormal activity?
Most likely, your answer was no. My answer is yes. Yes, because it was witnessed by an individual on many levels, and is undeniably an anomalous occurrence with no rational explanation that can disprove that it's paranormal. The EVP on the other hand, can be disproved for being so many different things, I can't even list them here for fear of taking up the space of the entire internet. Yes, the list is that extensive. I'll name three for posterity: cell phone signals of teenagers sending pictures of Justin Bieber back and forth, the computer in a sports car starting up and connecting its BlueTooth device with someone's iPhone, a satellite beaming your mom's favorite episode of Glee to her widescreen HDTV.
We live in a world of abundant technology, and with it comes wireless capabilities that buzz in, out, through, on, over and under everything and everywhere. An EVP, with or without intelligible words on it, with or without the intonation of a human voice, is no more proof or evidence of the paranormal than the refrigerator kicking on after Uncle Roger went in for his15th beer. Really, think about it. What is more provable as far as evidence goes: an anomalous EVP, that has a laundry list of possible explanations, or a completely un-debunkable situation with many physical aspects witnessed by a human being? To me, the logical answer is the latter one. An EVP being evidence of the paranormal is just illogical. While I do think there are a lot of EVPs that are exceptionally compelling, as far as what they say, how clear they are, and how intelligent they may be as far a response to a human's question or statement, those are still not evidence, they are just EVPs, end of story. It's anomalous, it's strange, but it's more than likely explainable and logical if there were a scientific (and affordable) way to figure that out. Just like I say with everything else, NASA probably has the ways and means, but us ghost hunters are left to out-of-pocket fund our science, so for now, that's that.
So why are so many people in the paranormal community adamant that an EVP is evidence of the paranormal? Why are so many people interested in people's paranormal experiences, yet so quick to dismiss them or "normalize" them into something explainable? I've always ascertained that the power of belief is one of the most powerful attributes of the human condition. How a belief is formed concerns the logicality of whatever it is, and as long as the human brain can rationalize something, it becomes believable. Perhaps because it is so easy to believe that a voice on a digital recorder that came from seemingly nothing, no human, no animal, no object, then it must be explainable as a voice from the 'other side'. It does make sense logically, but it does not make sense scientifically. Perhaps, we believe so hard that an EVP is the voice of a person passed on, that we pass that capture along as evidence. And from there, our human minds find it so easy to thus forth believe that every and any EVP will "count" as valid proof of the existence of paranormal activity. We as people are built to matrix not just what we see, (like in supposed paranormal photographs), but everything we experience. We make logic out of everything, and if we didn't, we'd be diagnosed with a severe mental disability. Logic, or reality, is how we perceive it. We were once told years ago that EVPs are the voices of the dead, it's logical due to the voice on the recording not being a living person, so it must be true. It's so easy to believe something, as long as there's logic to back it up. This does not make it true!
I refuse to wrap my mind, as logical as it might seem, around that belief. It's a belief, not a scientific fact. Therefore, I question EVPs as though they were no more than a breeze on the microphone that caused a noise that sounds like a human voice. It is the paranormal experiences that to me, hold water in an argument. An experience witnessed by a human being, sound of mind, is more believable as far as proof of the paranormal. Especially more so if it was witnessed by more than one individual. It can't be recorded by equipment, but the truly extraordinary experiences do happen, and they are rare. It's that kind of rarity that lends credence to the existence of the paranormal. EVPs are a dime a dozen; leave a digital recorder on in any area for any length of time, and odds are you'll find yourself with some anomalous human-sounding voice. But the skin-crawling experiences that raise the hair on your neck and cause your brain turmoil just to "normalize" it? Those, to me, will always be more proof, more evidence or something paranormal, than an EVP.