Are first-person accounts legitimate “evidence” of paranormal activity? I would hazard that all ghost hunting groups and teams of paranormal investigators are drawn to the locations they investigate based on these reports, and yet they often discount such experiences–both their own and those of their clients. Yet, they will fully research each and every first-person account they can get their hands on and base tactics and historical research almost solely based on such reports.
But, at the end of the story, many will note that these first-person accounts are just that; experiences based on our own personal perceptions that are generated from our most sensitive, consistent–and yet unreliable paranormal detection mechanism–the brain. At the end of every report groups will often provide most clients with this caveat: We can’t prove either the clients or our own personal experiences, so we have to discount them.
I don’t agree anymore. In fact, I’ve always shied away from making such declarative statements. Sure, we regularly try and debunk the first-hand reports from our clients–and often are able to do so–but it’s the one’s you can’t easily write off that catch everyone’s attention. When the same thing happens to team members during an investigation–regardless of whether there is “evidence” captured on tape or not–that we get to the actual heart of things.
In fact, I will put forth that personal experiences are the most valuable “evidence” of paranormal activity. They are certainly just as valuable as any “anomaly” captured on tape and/or audio.
I have a background that includes conducting scientific research. That means I’ve conducted scientific experiments. Scientific experiment doesn’t mean the same thing as investigation. Many teams of paranormal investigators purport that they are conducting research. They aren’t. And anyone that makes such statements hasn’t ever been involved in conducting an actual research experiment.
Consider the following text as an example as how far people will go to emphasize the scientific. It doesn’t matter if you are an engineer, HVAC technician, or police officer. Sure, you may have a what you consider to be a technical background, but if you’ve never conducted an actual scientific experiment, you can not presume to know how to do it. Search “experimental method” on Wikipedia. Using words like “scientists,” “scientific research,” and “scientific community” only makes it more apparent that you don’t know much–if anything–about the experimental method.
“And last but not least, to contribute in any way we can to all the hard work that many scientists and other investigators have put over the years into this ongoing scientific research, with the hopes that one day this field is taken seriously enough and be given the importance it deserves within the rest of the scientific community.”*
I know what is involved whether one considers the aspects of experimental design, the use of statistical analysis, and preparation of such an experiment for possible publication in a reputable scientific journal. Your average skeptic knows more about this than 99.9% of ghost hunting teams. And that’s part of the “rub.” In fact, many paranormal investigators become defensive when questioned about their methods. They are NOT provable.
Personally, I try not to be defensive when confronted with the truth. Knowing the difference is important. Personal experiences and every piece of “evidence” ever gathered on a paranormal investigation can be discounted, disproven, and/or written off. That’s just the nature of the beast. To assume otherwise is a soap box I wouldn’t want to stand on.
Given that, I used to discount such first-person accounts as inaccuracies in perception–which most certainly are–but I don’t second guess these accounts for several reasons.
1. All purported evidence gathered during a paranormal investigation is not real evidence of anything. All photographic and video anomalies, EVPs, disembodied voices and sounds, objects moving, etc. are all debunkable. That’s just the way it it, so I purpose that personal experiences–unless they can be obviously debunked–are potentially just a valuable as “evidence” as anything any group could potentially capture during any investigation.
2. People experience strange things. It is these experiences which drive the entire process of investigation. In fact, you can discount all first-person reports, however, when you have a cold spot set on your shoulder, record EVPs, and a strange anomaly on tape, it implies that their is something going on that supports all the first-person accounts that have been reported from a specific location.
In fact, at this point, these reports are the most important part of any investigation. A good crew will always be excited if they can come in and discover things and/or have personal experiences that support the major reason–first-person accounts–that drew them to the reason in the first place.
Have I experienced strange feelings that I used to ascribe to just getting “the willys?” Absolutely. Over the years I’ve learned that these feelings mean something and sometimes correlate with other possible evidence, e.g. EVPs, EMFs, sightings of apparitions, and strange feelings that may occur simultaneously? Absolutely!
It is these “clusters of symptoms” that I feel more fully represent possible legitimate paranormal experiences and in the grand scheme of things, they are harder to disprove. Every single EVP anyone has ever recorded can be debunked–and we got some doozies! Video and photographic evidence always generate more questions than they answer.
My advice to ghost hunters and paranormal investigators includes “don’t discount personal experiences you have during an investigation.” In fact, that’s the time you need to shift into high gear and begin using you most sensitive piece of paranormal equipment you have: your brain.
Don’t discount your brain as a paranormal investigative instrument. In fact, from my experience and research, it’s more reliable than an infrared video camera, EMF detector, and/or any audio recorder you will ever use.
My background and training in neurobehavioral science and cognitive psychology lead me to believe that the brain is just as a reliable instrument on a paranormal investigation as any hardware. So what if ELF’s–I didn’t mistype that last acronym, research it if you are unsure–activate the temporal lobes and generate the perception of shadow people…some type of energy is there and that’s what we are all looking for.
I’m not saying that peripheral vision is not easily fooled or that you hear voices once in a while. I mean, it’s your brain. You know how it works. We are all fooled. Easily.
A combine–something like a tractor used to harvest corn–does look like a UFO when driving down a gravel road late at night, in Iowa. I’m not saying people don’t get the willys when we all talk about this stuff. I certainly do, but I also occasionally get a similar feeling when listening to Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.
All of the above are true, but it is first-hand accounts that drive us in the first place and provide a place from which we can begin to debunk. You don’t need a degree in neuroscience to have an appreciation of how your brain works.
You’re never going to be able to prove it anyway, so why deny the experience? Jumping at ghosts is one thing. Fully utilizing all your tools to research whether first-person accounts during an investigation match up with the “evidence” that drew you there in the first place appears to be the most valid way to support the fact that paranormal activity does occur and may match up with the history of a specific location. In fact, it is exactly this fact that gives us all “the willys” in the first place.