The Skeptic Eye

If there's one thing I've learned through my years of studying the topic of "the paranormal", it's this; you have your believers, and you have your non-believers.  Your typical non-believer, or "skeptic", carries with him/her the uncanny ability to rationalize, normalize, or otherwise "realize" events which may not have an initial, or obvious, explanation.  The typical "believer" is more likely to "reason" that "anything is possible" and if they can't find an explanation for what's happening, then it could quite possibly be "paranormal" in origin.  There are extreme varieties of both categories and your fanatics come in all flavors.  We see people who will never be convinced of anything paranormal, and we see people who believe a grand majority of "the unexplained" can be reasoned as "paranormal" with little more than a 2nd look into an occurrence which lacks an immediate logical basis.  I've had personal experiences with both types of personalities, as I'm sure is the case with many of you.  As paranormal researchers we find ourselves in a position to represent our chosen field(s) of study.  Are we doing this to convert the skeptic?  Are we doing this to hush the believer?  Are we doing this for ourselves and our own curiosities?  Do we find ourselves in a position of being held to a higher standard than thrill seekers and overnight ghost hunting groups?  It's a challenge to our sense of why we do what we do, to ask this question of ourselves, honestly.   "Why?"

Here's a picture that was taken of 2 Maine Ghost Hunters during an investigation in early 2008.  At first glance, it's a fascinating sight to see.  A "light rod" either originating, or ending, into the mid-section of current Maine Ghost Hunter TonyL.  Amazing, isn't it?   The home we were investigating at the time was a hotbed of activity.  We'd heard many stories of strange and unexplainable incidents from the residents, and during our investigation each of us had personal paranormal experiences that, while not harmful, were difficult to pass off as bad wiring, or drafty windows.  Surely, those reasons alone were enough to give this fantastic picture a more solid base for us to view as our best piece of evidence yet!  I believe, in a moment of excitement, we might actually have been able to use the word "jackpot" when considering what we'd come across with this magnificent light-rod specimen.  Hoo-Rah!  Am I right?  

Let's take a second look at this picture, shall we?  I found the photo, personally, stunning.  It was shocking to me on a

few levels, the most impressive being that the home itself felt very thick with some sort of energy; "be it" true electrical energy due to poor, or old, wiring, or due to some other paranormal source.  I'll be honest and say that it wasn't exactly an "inviting" environment to investigate.  The people were great, but I perceived the environment to be dismal and oppressive, and I'd been to this home (ironically, having nothing to do with this particular ghost investigation, and having not known this home was haunted when I had previously visited) on a few different occasions.  For me, the word "foreboding" could best describe the outside appearance of this home.  Given that unshakeable "feeling" of how this house presented itself to me, I was less than thrilled to see this "light rod" entering, or exiting, investigator TonyL.  Another, more concrete, reason I was less-than-thrilled was the fact that I had been physically touched (lightly grabbed) by an unseen force during my time inside the home.  The incident was chalked up as "par for the course", and isn't something I'm necessarily afraid of, per se.  But a force strong enough to physically wrap it's "hand" around a person's arm or leg, and squeeze, is a force not to be taken lightly.  The "light rod", under these circumstances, while still fascinating, could also be understood as a type of threat, given its direction appears to be either entering, or exiting, the investigator.   I've seen light rods in pictures from other investigators on the internet and a grand majority of them appear orange, and as squiggle marks smearing across the photo, not entering, exiting, or otherwise appearing to be targeting the people in the pictures.

So what did I do with this picture?  Well, at first, I admired it for all it's paranormal awe and wonder.  That lasted a few days, until I came across an EVP that raised my eyebrows (let's just say it sounded… less than pleasant).  After editing, reviewing, and reviewing the EVP some more, I developed an understanding that the voice(s) I was hearing – no matter how I tried to rationalize it – weren't sounding "friendly".  So I took the picture and I started asking around for advice and expert opinions.  To my chagrin, what I was looking for was quite difficult to find.  I'll follow that up with a statement that "opinions", on the internet, are not at all hard to find.   Lots of people think they're experts, and yet, the only as-close-to-experts I actually had the pleasure of dealing with were the first people to admit to me that they weren't, "experts", at all.  The information these people gave me about their knowledge of cameras, shutter speeds, lighting conditions, EXIF, stability issues, etc… was downright amazing.  The skeptics, on the other hand, presented themselves so brashly and rudely that I could hardly believe what I was experiencing.  Thank goodn
ess I received private e-mails from people who had also been targeted by these same skeptics, letting me know the heavy dose of skepticism I was seeing was not the general consensus of the forum(s) itself.  The problem with the skepticism we were witnessing, and trying to discuss through, was that the skeptics were extremists.  It seemed I couldn't explain myself thoroughly enough for their understanding.   I wasn't looking to prove the photograph authentically paranormal, I was looking for information on how to decipher what was written within the photograph itself.  No matter how I presented that question, I was bombarded with accusations of (1) creating a hoax (2) doctoring the photograph with Adobe Photoshop (3) removing the EXIF information manually so the authenticity could not be proven, and the list continued on from there.  I even had 1 person send the photo to a "friend" who specializes in scrutinizing doctored photographs, who told me he could "prove" I was presenting a hoax because of pixelation issues within the photograph itself.  He went on to explain that the lighting patterns and the pixelation do not occur, naturally, as I had presented in this photograph.  My reply was that I didn't doctor the picture, so that left only 2 options.  The first was that photograph is, indeed, of a paranormal light source.  The 2nd was that his "friend" didn't know what he was talking about.  And I voluntarily opened myself up to accepting one of those 2 choices from this not-so-nice skeptic.

One of the other, most impressive, responses I received was from a paranormal researcher who had experience with different camera types and lighting conditions.   He reviewed all of my EXIF data, thoroughly and with an open mind.  He asked me pertinent questions, such as; time of day, lighting conditions, weather conditions, moisture levels, time of year, etc… He made astute observations of the shutter speeds and stability issues related to the camera itself, which allowed me to come to the conclusion that this was most likely nothing more than an extended light streak from an LED light source.  Incidentally, all investigators on-scene were certain there was no light source present during the investigation, however, we were wrapping it up and heading home when this picture was taken.  It is very possible, and quite probable, that investigator TonyL had turned on his cell phone, which caused the resulting light streak.  

The point of this blog is multi-fold.  First, it's aimed at addressing the concept of having an "open mind".  When investigators are in a particular environment "investigating", it can be very easy to perceive, even the slightest of odd incidents, to be paranormal.  An open mind is something that helps the client as much as the investigative team because in the end, hopefully, both parties are seeking the same end – knowledge through truth.  The 2nd point is aimed at the belief structure of the individual, be they an investigator or not, and how that belief system is presented to someone with opposite or opposing viewpoints.  An exchange of knowledge is how we become enlightened on subjects of shared interest. Reciprocal respect is not something we should take lightly, and will hopefully be that one thing we have in common when we can't agree on anything else.

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