Is it possible to quantify a “ghost”?
It’s a fundamental question facing those of us in the Paranormal Field, as it pertains to the scientific investigation of “ghosts”, “hauntings”, and life beyond death. It’s not an easy question, but it is one that needs to be taken seriously. What do I mean by “quantify”? Am I talking about giving a “ghost” a physical exam, so to speak? What about taking photographs of a “ghost”? Perhaps not, since in order to do either of these, we need to assume that “ghosts” actually exist and are able to be examined physically. Instead, if we could stand in the vantage point of a truly unbiased scientist (not an easy thing to do, by the way) we’d see the need to quantify the physical phenomena associated with “ghost” encounters – phenomena witness by millions of people globally. Only then, could we attempt to understand the fundamental causes behind those phenomena. What’s the difference, you ask? It has to do with the difference between Inductive and Deductive reasoning. Let me explain.
Today, the Paranormal Field is inundated with “ghost hunters” – enthusiastic amateurs and professionals alike, all zealously trudging through dark cellars and abandoned hospitals in search of the truth. Let me be clear, I agree, in principle, with the ideas behind “ghost hunting” – the truth IS out there, and the more people interested in paranormal investigation the quicker we can find it. However, there are some fundamental problems I see with that approach to paranormal research, specifically the fact that “ghost hunting” already assumes that “ghosts” exist.
As someone with a background in biology, I am trained to analyze problems using the scientific method. I’m sure most of you remember high school science class, where we learn about questions, hypotheses, predictions, experiments, analysis, conclusions, etc. We are also taught that there are two ways to examine problems: deductively or inductively. First, deductive reasoning is often described as a “Top Down” approach to problem solving. You start with a general theory, create a hypothesis based on the theory, make observations, and attempt to confirm your original premise.
In the case of “ghost hunting”, I would look at this approach as deductive in nature. “Ghost hunters” subscribe to the theory that “ghosts” exist, they hypothesize that certain phenomena are associated with “ghosts”, they make observations of those phenomena at locations that are reportedly “haunted”, and they then conclude that their theory is confirmed as a result of their observations. The main drawback to deductive reasoning is that it depends entirely on the validity of a premise from which one makes conclusions. If your premise is later shown to be inaccurate, it makes it impossible to ascribe to the conclusions drawn from that theory. At this point, I don’t think we’re able to say with 100% certainty that “ghosts” exist, so perhaps “top down” deductive reasoning is not the best way to go about paranormal research.
Alternatively, inductive reasoning is viewed as a “Bottom Up” approach to problem solving. You make specific observations, attempt to recognize patterns and regularities, formulate hypotheses to explore, and end up creating a general theory or conclusion. To illustrate how inductive reasoning differs from deductive, let’s explore an example question from the Paranormal Field: What do EMF fluctuations have to do with “ghosts”?
Using a deductive approach, one investigator might say:
- “Ghosts” Exist. (A general theory)
- “Ghosts” use energy from electromagnetic fields to manifest. (A hypothesis)
- EMF fluctuations are observed at “haunted” locations. (Observations)
- EMF fluctuations are evidence of “ghosts” manifesting at “haunted” locations. (Conclusion)
Now, obviously this is an oversimplified example, but the fact remains that many theories in “ghost hunting” originate from the premise that “ghosts” exist. However, what if #1 above isn’t true? Then what? We’re stuck, and it’s hard to assess the validity of the above conclusions.
In contrast, someone using an inductive approach might say:
- EMF exposure induces neurochemical changes in mammals, see this study. (A specific observation)
- There are significantly higher number of EMF fluctuations at “haunted” locations than “non-haunted” ones. (A pattern)
- Neurochemical changes due to EMF exposure may cause SOME of the paranormal experiences associated with “haunted” locations. (A General Theory)
Now, I’m NOT saying that this inductive theory behind EMF and “ghosts” (the “Fear Cage” theory, as you might know it) is 100% correct, but at this point it is supported by scientifically sound physical evidence, whereas the deductive “ghost” theory of EMF is not.
What does this mean for the future of paranormal research? I think paranormal researchers from all walks of life, “ghost hunters” included, should think more and more about using inductive methods of scientific investigation. The key is making specific, quantifiable observations of phenomena from which we can formulate testable hypotheses and come to meaningful conclusions about the root causes behind those experiences. And until we dispatch some of the bias associated with a deductive approach to hunting “ghosts”, it will be quite difficult to establish our field as a mainstream area of scientific inquiry.
Nate Goldstein, MA
Public Information Officer
Paranormal Research Association of Boston