The Leprechauns Are Coming

Ahoy hoy.  Been a while, hasn’t it?  I’ve been busy.  Ordered a pizza.  Got married.  Wrestled a bear.  Traveled back in time and gave a cell phone to a silent movie extra.  Just for laughs.  But I’m back to share that trademark A. Lee Martinez wit and wisdom you’ve come to cherish so.

I was thinking about blogging about something about the married life, but how different is it?  I was already living with my wife-to-be for a year, and we’d been dating two years before that, and we’d been friends two years before that.  So it’s not as if this came out of the blue.  And it’s only been a week since I tied the knot.  So nothing too exciting there.  Nothing worth posting about.

Instead, I’d like to talk about reality ghost hunting shows.  I haven’t done that in a while.  

Why do I watch these shows?

It’s a legitimate question.  What can these shows offer the skeptic?  If I don’t believe in the paranormal, if I’m pretty well convinced that ghosts and evil spirits belong in the same dustbin as faeries and medieval medicine, then why do I watch?

It’s not an easy question to answer.  Because I have a lot of reasons.

I suppose the easiest is that, of course, I’d like to believe in the supernatural.  A big part of the reason I write about vampires, monsters, and magic is that I like those things, and I think it’d be cool if they actually existed.  I like the idea of the fantastic, although I also know that, by definition, the only line between the fantastic and mundane is how often we encounter it.  If my next door neighbor was a minotaur, I’d no doubt get used to it pretty damn quick and stop finding it interesting soon enough.

Ghosts as a phenomenon can be interesting.  But current ghost research (and notice how I was nice enough not to sarcastically italicize research because I’m polite like that) has fallen victim to dubious facts and accepted practices that have made hunting for the supernatural less of a scientific process and more of a game played by its own peculiar rules.

That’s a big reason I watch these shows.  It’s amazing to me how certain practices have just become standard in the world of ghost hunting.  Even though none of these have proven reliable or particularly compelling.  Yet for those who pick up the ghost hunting banner, there never seems to be any doubt that what they’re doing is scientific.  They think that because they are using scientific instruments that they are doing science.  But all they’re doing is running around, chasing shadows of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electromagnetic fields, for example, are hypothesized to be created by ghosts.  Notice how I did italicize hypothosize because, contrary to common perception, a hypothesis is more than just a random guess.  You can say high EMF = ghostly activity all you want, but I could just as easily say high EMF = invisible leprechauns.  Neither one of us can prove the other wrong, but it doesn’t mean either of us are right.

Detecting a high EMF doesn’t prove anything other than a high EMF.  Just as hearing a horn blare outside your window doesn’t mean a car accident.  Although at least we do know cars exist, and why people generally honk their horns.  Even this sort of comparison shows how weak most ghost hunting logic is.

Scientifically, ghost hunting shows demonstrate just how badly mangled the term “scientific” is.  This is bad science in its truest form.  An obsession over anomalies without any control groups.

Here’s a great experiment I would like to do.  I would love to pick five random locations, perhaps with only one or two “genuinely” haunted.  I wouldn’t give the ghost hunting team any clue as to which was which.  I would simply give them the addresses, allow them to do their thing, and see what happens.  If ghost hunters could actually pick the “haunted” location, it wouldn’t necessarily prove anything, but at least it would be something of a test.

Of course, I’m already sure of what would happen.  If the “haunted” location was not discovered as haunted, then it would be considered just a quiet night.  And if any of the non-”haunted” locations were discovered to have ghosts, then this would only mean that no one had noticed them before.

But pseudo-science isn’t why I watch ghost hunting shows.  Nor is it the startling lack of evidence for the supernatural that these shows have produced.  And please don’t give me that absence of evidence argument.  It has some merit, but if literally hundreds of thousands of footage have yet to produce a single worthwhile apparition, then I think it’s all right to call it a day.  At least until some different detection technology comes along.

I think the biggest reason I watch these shows is because of how they reflect human behavior.  How we react and overreact.  How we view our own unreliable senses.  And how we are able to believe what we want to believe with the slightest justification.

 To a ghost hunter, a garbled audio recording is inexplicable, possibly supernatural.   Every sound can be the undead roaming the halls, and every creaky door just might be proof of the supernatural.  To a ghost hunter (indeed, to most people) the improbable is proof of the impossible although it’s almost always a form of the impossible that they’ve prepared for in advance.

I can’t help but marvel at how readily we accept some absurd realities and reject others.  Most of us believe in ghosts.  Very few believe in invisible leprechauns.  Yet both dwell in an unproven realm of pure possibility.  There’s no reason to not believe that leprechauns are playing jokes on us, pretending to be ghosts, shaking doors, creaking stairs, and otherwise pranking us, laughing at us the whole time while we think we’re talking with the dead.

But if I tried to sell a show to Syfy called Leprechaun Squad, I doubt I’d get very far.

This is assuming that the “proof” caught on these reality shows needs explaination in the first place.  Other than human imagination, that is.  And that’s an awfully big assumption.

But the most obvious intersection between the paranormal and human psychology is that people seem to find the ghosts they are looking for.  Different ghost hunters tend to find different ghosts.  Take it from a guy who has watched way too many of these shows.

The Ghost Adventures dudes are wannabe daredevils and sure enough, they run across spooky spirits that freak them out.  The Ghost Hunters are wannabe scientists.  They’re far more likely to run across anomalies and scientific proof.  The Most Haunted crew are such big babies that it’s hard to imagine it’s necessary for ghosts to scare them at all.  And let’s not forget the intrepid do gooders of Paranormal State, who believe it is their duty to protect people from the supernatural and hence, are constantly running across demonic entities and terrifying powers.

Movies like Paranormal Activity demonstrate, in a fictional way, just why these shows fail so badly in their quest for the supernatural.  I don’t expect anything quite as dramatic as levitating babies or footprints appearing in powder, but that nothing even remotely as interesting has ever been captured on film should tell us something.  It’s true that reality is not fiction, but it’s worth asking.  With nearly every person in the civilized world walking around with digital cameras in their pockets, why hasn’t anyone caught anything definitive?

Not that it matters.  Believers will believe.  All it takes is one weird noise, one strange feeling, one goosebump, one jump of a needle to persuade them.  And maybe I’m of the opposite problem.  Maybe nothing would convince me.  Although I’d like to think that if someone caught some bleeding walls or a wailing banshee on tape that I’d be more inclined to accept their proof.  But who knows?

But do you really want to know how I feel?  I’m not wrong on this.  Just as you’re not wrong for rejecting invisible leprechauns or mole people. 

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 1, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Hey! Congratulations on tying the knot.

    Ref: ghost hunting shows
    I never watch those things because I can’t get into the high drama. But I believe in ghosts, having been witness to them up close and personal. It was nothing like the shows. :-)

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