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The Shady Science of Ghost Hunting

  1. Oct 30, 2006 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    http://www.livescience.com/othernews/061027_ghost_hunters.html

    While I agree that even the best of these shows are a sham from a scientific point of view, at least one group - the "Ghost Hunters" - has come away with a number of seemingly amazing videos; that is, if the videos are credible.

    What sort of proof can they provide; ectoplasm?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 30, 2006 #2
    What proof could they prove that ghost don't exist? Theirs no way to prove ghost existence without have proof of them not existing. If they can't find ectoplasm(or any other evidence) then they could just say "it's very hard to detect".
     
  4. Oct 30, 2006 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, one can never prove a negative, but they might provide evidence to explain or debunk claims of ghostly encounters; which, actually, they do on Ghost Hunters. They often provide prosaic explainations for what people claim to have experienced.
     
  5. Oct 30, 2006 #4

    Curious3141

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    I have to agree with Ivan on the whole. There have been truly incredible things featured on Ghost Hunters on rare occasions. I was most impressed with two : the first being the thermal image of a man in a metal cupboard, and the second being the chair moving (apparently) of its own volition in a deserted lighthouse.

    On the other hand, the show does leave a fair bit to be desired. For "scientifically minded", "sceptical" investigators, some of their talk and methods do leave a lot to be desired. I wish they would stop talking about "entities" and "energies" and "human/inhuman spirits". Those appellations for these phenomena already show an occult bias. Then there are the EM sweeps, those are just plain ridiculous, since there is no good evidence that ghost activity is in any way linked to EM fields and spurious (nonparanormal) EM fields exist all around us. Ditto with the "orbs". I could also do without all the heated soap opera moments and infighting/firings.

    Those criticisms aside, I do enjoy the show. Most episodes show nothing convincing, but the very few that do are highly intriguing.
     
  6. Oct 31, 2006 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Or they could read this news report, just in time for Halloween.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061026/ap_on_sc/vampire_science

    Zz.
     
  7. Nov 2, 2006 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    Thanks Zapper

    Well, here's my take.

    I'm not really into this subject but can relate popular opinions. Any good modern day ghost hunter and true believer will tell you that some ghosts can materialize and that it takes energy to do so. [At least they are trying. :uhh:] They feel that this is what causes cold spots in a room. They believe that some ghosts can somehow steal energy from a room in order to manifest, and that this is what allows physical interactions on a limited basis. So, in part this is how they explain the material/non-material bit. Traditionally, there are many kinds of ghosts reported. Some are claimed to affect physical objects, and others are described as being more like a movie playing that has no affect on the surroundings. Typically, there are considered to be traditional apparitions, residual hauntings, anniversary ghosts, potergeists, messengers, and light orbs and smokey wisps.
    http://www.theunexplained.net/types_of_ghosts.htm

    Well, vampires and ESP are not pseudosciences. They may be myths or fiction, but this habbit of labeling claims of personal experience, or subjects of study as a "science", is erroneous. This would be like saying that Hydrogen is a science. Also, this "pseudoscience" label is often just another way to say that it is not science to study this subject. This notion not only violates the spirit of science and discovery, it is the scientific method that is the standard here; not the claim or subject studied. The scientific method is not undone by what is examined. On the other hand, from what I know about it, Astrology is a methodology and is properly classified as a pseudoscience.

    As for subjects like vampires, we often find that legends like this have a basis in fact. It is fairly common knowledge now that Prince Vlad III Dracula - Vlad the Impaler
    http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/Balkan/Dracula.html
    http://www.vladtheimpaler.com/
    is partially the source of the vampire legend; along perhaps with certain diseases such as Xeroderma Pigmentosum.
    http://vampires.monstrous.com/vampire_origins.htm#_Toc522786640

    As for ESP, well, if it happens, apparently it can't be produced on demand. Can all potentially coincidental personal accounts be explained by statistics or as statistical flukes? Perhaps, but it is generally assumed without proof to be case, so this defense is subject to scrutiny.

    But going back to our ghosts, of course the biggest problem [which the author completely ignores] is the number of people who claim direct encounters with what they believe to be a ghost. This has a lot to do what people believe - personal experience. This also gets a little hard to explain away with Newtonian Mechanics.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2006
  8. Nov 3, 2006 #7

    ZapperZ

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    The problem with many parts of your explanation here is that you are saying "let's throw out all the science that we know and let's make up the rules of the universe as we see fit". Let's allow violation of conservation of energy so that ghosts and materialize and disappear at will.

    Whether we like it or not, ESP is STILL an unsubstantiated phenomenon. At the very least, it still cannot be called a science within any stretch of the imagination. And I think you know my stand on anecdotal evidence being used to validify something.

    The issue here isn't science trying to falsify or disprove something. The issue here is the claim that these things are REAL! People actually believe in these things. Forget about the fact that these "things" are poorly defined in the first place (i.e. find me a set of properties associated with such entities), a common trait of a pseudoscience. Even if you take to task what is thought to be a common characteristics of these things, you'll find that there are many things that simply do not make any sense if you just think a little bit about it. That is what that paper tried to do, that you carry through with assuming that these things do exist, then the consequences of such an assumption leads to absurd or contradictory conclusions.

    Many people often do not think things through. This paper tried to show why if you do, you can easily question a number of things. However, you can't do that if you simply throw out all we know about the laws of our world and simply allow anything and everything to happen. If that's the case, there's nothing to prevent ME from making things up as I go along to to "falsify" all these things in my own way. I don't think you'd want me to do that, because I am sure everyone can already tell that I have a vivid enough imagination to make up a very weird and outlandish scenario AND make it sound plausible enough.

    Zz.
     
  9. Nov 3, 2006 #8

    russ_watters

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    I've expressed my opinion before, but what the heck....
    IMO, it is perfectly reasonable to classify entire areas of investigation as "science" or "pseudoscience", for a couple of reasons. The first reason is simply that some things simply don't lend themselves to scientific study, or, when a scientific approach is applied, the observed effects disappear. Things like recording static and hearing voices in it - if you use a better microphone, it doesn't improve the results. Ghost hunting, esp, and UFOs all fall into that category. As I've said before, there is a reason the vast majority of UFO videos are blurry, grainy, etc.: UFOs are strictly a signal to noise ratio issue, not a real phenomena. It is precisely the same phenomena (the videos themselves are the phenomena) as "ghost" videos: Take enough poor signal to noise ratio audio recordings in an empty room and you'll hear ghosts. Take enough poor quality video and you'll see ghosts. Take enough poor quality video of the sky and you'll see flying saucers. Take enough poor quality video of a lake in Scotland and you'll see a dinosaur.

    The second reason is a matter of statistics. Very few people study hydrogen in an unscientific way. And those who do are quickly identified and isolated as crackpots and pseudoscientists (Pons & Fleischman). Maybe you consider it pidgeonholing, but I just consider it a matter of probability: if someone tells me they study hydrogen, I assume they are a scientist and if someone tells me they are a ghost hunter or UFOologist, I assume they are a pseudscientist. And I'm comfortable with accepting the 100 to 1 odds of being wrong in either case. Like Occam's Razor, it's simply a matter of efficiency to pre-judge in that way. And it doesn't mean that I won't accept being wrong - but people have a pretty steep burden of proof to climb if they want to convince me they are hunting ghosts in a scientific way because of the inherrent unscientific nature of the pursuit.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  10. Nov 3, 2006 #9
    I agree with Zapper that if you throw away all the known laws of the universe it opens up for some pretty interesting claims.

    I believe that people who strongly believe in the paranormal carry the trait of the sociological term "groupthink".
     
  11. Nov 3, 2006 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    First of all, let's be clear that this was not my explanation – it is what the true believers claim – and they are trying to include conservation of energy in their idea. Since many scientist choose to ridicule and even misrepresent the claims or subject, amateurs are left to fend for themselves, so this is what you get. Beyond that, the author showed a complete lack of knowledge of the subject. There are many kinds of ghosts reported and not all are reported to exhibit the same properties, but he lumps them all together. And as you pointed out later, it is pseudoscience to address a phenomenon without a defined set of properties. So if the author wishes to address the subject, he should at least learn the basics and clarify which type of ghost claims he is addressing.

    As I said, it is a subject not a science, and to study a claim is not to make legitimate or validate that claim. Are you saying that we need proof of a phenomenon before we can study the claims? How are we to obtain the desired proof of what is real, without study? Also, and most importantly, psuedoscience if a flawed method of study, not a subject. Science or pseudoscience can be applied to any subject. It is a matter of the method, not the subject.

    No one is claiming that anecdotal evidence is proof of anything; at least not to anyone beyond he who had the experience. But a lack of explanations does not invalidate the claim. In fact, for a lack of explanations, science has a long history of denying what turned out to be truth; such as in the case of rogue waves, ball lightning, earth lights, earthquake lights, sprites/jets/starters/ELVES/TIGERs, and the legend of the milky sea.

    That is fine as long as we don't ignore the basis for many claims - personal experience. This is what makes many people think that something like ghosts are real. Personal experience will trump theories every time.

    Try to explain effects possible though GR or QM by using Newtonian Mechanics. Sometimes the problem is that we simply don't have the answers to account for what people claim to have experienced. This may speak more to the limitation of scientific knowledge than the truth of a claim. We can assume that people who offer seemingly inexplicable stories are all lying, but this doesn't make it fact.

    I think the scientific method is robust enough to survive a few ghosts. The world of science will not be undone by looking at claims of ESP. There is no need for pseudoscience.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  12. Nov 3, 2006 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    We can all make arbitrary definitions to suit our preferences, but this is like saying that all refrigerants are Freon. It may be popular usage, but it is still incorrect.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  13. Nov 3, 2006 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    Also, consider the logic previously applied to sprites: Since we have no idea what people [mainly pilots] are claiming to see, these are just another type of UFO. Since aliens don't exist, either the pilot didn't see anything, or it was an illusion.

    Surely it would be psuedoscience to study such things.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  14. Nov 3, 2006 #13

    russ_watters

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    Like I said, if I'm only correct 999 times out of 1000, that's good enough for me. :tongue:
    That's not even close to how the logic works. You've 'accused' me before of equating UFOs and aliens and now that's what you are doing here. The whole reason for saying UFOology isn't science is because the two are improperly equated by UFOologists. It is perfectly reasonable to investigate things like sprites and look for natural explanations, but that isn't what UFOology is all about. UFOology is about looking for aliens in white noise. And yeah, I just made a generalization - if I'm incorrect once in a thousand uses of that generalization, I can live with that.
     
  15. Nov 4, 2006 #14

    Kerrie

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    wouldn't our ability of providing proof of ghosts be limited to our human scope of observation? o:)
     
  16. Nov 4, 2006 #15
    I read the link and it is not clear who, exactly, is calling vampires and ESP pseudosciences. It might be the paper cited. it might be the person being interviewed, or it might be the reporter. I suspect the latter most of all because it's common for reporters to garble terminology when writing about subjects they are not conversant with.

    At ant rate, you're right that "pseudoscience" is not the correct term for belief in vampires and ESP. Someone might study these subjects pseudoscientifically, but they are not pseudoscience in and of themselves. Belief in ghosts is not a pseudoscience, but the way the ghosthunters study them is.

    I'm not aware of this as a habit. This is the first time I've seen anyone mislabel these things so badly. I'm afraid it has nothing to do with these subjects or anyone's attitude toward them, pro or con, but is a result of the breakdown of language. People are getting lazier and lazier and less articulate, and the incidents of people throwing out words that seem to be roughly what they want instead of exactly what they want are increasing to the point where we're seeing people select words that are only tangentially related.
     
  17. Nov 4, 2006 #16

    russ_watters

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    Btw, there's already a science dedicated to studying atmospheric phenomena that would include sprites, ball lightning, etc. It's called meteorology and no one doing legitimate atmospheric research would call themself a "UFOologist". I know you love to use that example, but it simply does not apply, Ivan.
     
  18. Jan 31, 2007 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    Heh, I forgot all about this.

    Russ, your point is completely off topic. I was using this as an example that eyewitness testimony is often credible.
     
  19. Jan 31, 2007 #18

    ZapperZ

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    Well, since you have decided to dig up a dead horse, then I'll tackle this too.

    No, it doesn't, because one's personal "experience" can easily be manipulated into something that one thinks is real! Where can I back up such a thing? Why, from the Disney thread or all places!

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1221325&postcount=2770

    It is why personal, anecdotal experience should not be used to "trump" theories "every time". Accounts like this clearly show that you may not have experience what you think you did, even if you believed in it. This evidence alone is enough to trump your insistence that personal experience should always win every time.

    Zz.
     
  20. Jan 31, 2007 #19

    russ_watters

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    After 3 months, I can't be entirely certain of my point, but I think it was that if there are real phenomena being observed, they will eventually find their way to the approprate science. But UFOology and ghost hunting (not to mention cold fusion and perpetual motion) will always be the trash-bin for whatever is left. Cold fusion is a good inverse because it started out looking like real science, but quickly and spectacularly found itself thown out on the street to get picked up by the free energy crowd. So it can work both ways.

    It is a catch-22, of course: if a phenomena is studied by a ghost hunter or UFOologist, real scientists won't take it seriously, but if the evidence becomes good enough that real scientists take up the research, then it is no longer in the domain of UFOology or ghost hunting. Either way, ghost hunting and UFOology are still pseudoscience. And while cold fusion tricked some scientists into thinking it was real science (ehh, for about a week), it quickly assumed its rightful place among the crackpots.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2007
  21. Feb 1, 2007 #20

    I've seen proper scientific research into ghosts by an English research society, they were founded on the Fortean philosophy and use entirely scientificly rigorous experiments to test all sorts of phenomina, so far no luck though :frown: most in fact nearly all have a more mundane explanation, although they once got some strange noises on a tape before it mysteriously stopped playing. But this is of course not scientifc evidence, their EMF equipment picked up nothing.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2007
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