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The Truth About _____ :




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The Truth About Ghost Boxes:

Many of you have been hearing about a relatively new device being used in EVP research called "The Ghost Box".
These so-called Ghost Boxes utilize a radio receiver that's been modified so that the tuning stage is automatically and continually scanning throughout all the frequencies in a given band, usually either the standard AM or FM broadcast band. Thus, what is heard from the audio output stage of the receiver is a random mix of bits and pieces of speech, music, background noise, and whatever else happens to be coming in on a particular frequency at the moment the tuner runs by it. The resulting hodge-podge of sounds is usually recorded for later analysis and the researcher will listen for anything that appears to sound like a sequence of meaningful communication.

In my opinion, the only purpose this type of device serves is to provide further evidence to the Skeptical Inquirer & CSICOP types that EVP researchers will believe anything.

Will such a device sometimes produce what appears to be a sequence of meaningful communication?

Sure, of course it will. The same way that looking through a table of random numbers will sometimes reveal strings of repeated digits or seemingly meaningful patterns of numbers, and the same way that words can sometimes be picked out from a page full of randomly generated letters.

Our tendency to find patterns within a field of random data demonstrates one important fact with undeniable clarity:
Humans are inherently prone to perceiving meaningful relationships where none actually exist.

The English language involves about 40 different phonemes. (A phoneme is the most basic and distinct unit of speech sound, they can be thought of as the "atoms" from which the "compound molecules" of words are formed.) Some phonemes are used more frequently than others and some phonemes are similar enough to be easily mistaken for one another -- especially when we are listening to a less than ideal quality recording and straining our cognitive abilities to the max in a desire to hear something we want to hear in the first place. Therefore, we could argue that the "practical number" of available phonemes is even less than 40, perhaps less than half that number. With such a small set of data to work with, it would actually be an even more surprising result if the Ghost Box did not produce what appear to be sequences of meaningful words now and then. These Ghost Boxes are, after all, nothing more than random phoneme and random word generators.

Somewhat similar in principle are the software programs that produce random bits of computer generated speech sounds and these have also been promoted for use in EVP experiments. Such programs, along with the Ghost Boxes, are certainly interesting to study and play around with, but we need to recognize that they are nothing more than a type of random data generator. In fact, as far as I've been able to tell, there doesn't seem to be anything in the way of a working theory as to how these devices are supposed to be anything but random generators. They don't employ any sort of "spirit control interface" by which a cooperative ghost could manipulate the output of the device, even if there was one around who wanted to do so.

Come on people, think about it!

A big part of our mission as EVP researchers is to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the communications we think we are receiving CANNOT BE PRODUCED BY ANY RANDOM MEANS OR BY ANY READILY EXPLAINABLE PROCESS. With this in mind, the Ghost Box ranks right up there with Ouija Boards and Magic 8 Balls as the kind of thing anyone with a serious scientific interest in this field should be avoiding.


NOTE: To see the expanded version of this article, which includes additional information plus suggestions on how these Ghost Box type devices could be improved to make a genuinely worthwhile tool for EVP research, please click here.


The Truth About EVP:

Maybe I'm just coming out of a long coma, or maybe somebody sent a memo and I didn't get it. Last thing I remember, EVP was still being thought of as a hypothetical, experimental, and extremely controversial subject. Sometime recently, paranormal investigators appear to have declared victory over all those annoying hypothetical, experimental, and controversial issues. They have almost universally accepted EVP as an indisputable fact.

Drop in on just about any amateur ghost hunting website, click to their EVP page, and you will probably find an attempted explanation for EVP that starts out like this:

"EVP is . . .

Well, I've got a problem with the definition already, no matter how they complete that sentence! Even if the next part includes words like: alleged, theoretical, reported, believed to be, etc., (which it usually doesn't!) I have to take issue because honestly, we do not know with any real degree of certainty that EVP "is" anything. We do not know that a so-called Electronic Voice Phenomenon even exists, there might be nothing to it whatsoever. I'm not just saying that EVP might be a bogus phenomenon, I'm saying there might not even be a phenomenon there at all -- not one that exists outside our subjective and very deceptive world of cognitive pattern synthesis anyway.

In 1964, two psychologists conducted a test involving 78 secretarial students. The students were asked to close their eyes and listen while the psychologists played a recording (vinyl record) of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Nearly half the students reported that they heard the song "playing in their head" and 5% reported that they had actually heard the song "playing in the room". The interesting thing here is that the two psychologists never even placed the needle on the record.  They weren't playing anything!

In that test, a group of usually non-hallucinatory people were turned into hallucinators by the power of a very simple suggestion. The "White Christmas Test" has been replicated in many different variations since 1964 and the results always deliver the same unmistakable conclusion: We humans have a remarkable tendency to think that we're hearing voices even when we aren't.

In the original version of The White Christmas Test, there was no actual audio stimulus being presented, just the relative silence of a roomful of students, yet many of them thought they heard "something" playing. How much more likely are we to think that we're hearing "something" when there actually is a definite auditory stimulus being presented -- even if that stimulus is nothing more than white noise, or some other randomly generated noise source? Well, tests have been conducted along those lines too, and the results are always very sobering -- or at least they should be very sobering for EVP researchers.

How can we ever be sure that what we're hearing is really what we'd like to think it is?

In the early days of EVP, many researchers took extreme, sometimes very elaborate measures to try and conclusively demonstrate that the sounds which were appearing on their tapes could not have resulted from mundane causes like ambient noise, ventriloquism, radio frequency interference, etc. A few of these tests were reasonably compelling some might say, but none of the tests were ever 100% conclusive. The problem is that it's virtually impossible to rule out every conceivable way that an extraneous noise source might impose itself upon electronic recording media. Remember, it doesn't take much -- in fact, as The White Christmas Test proved, sometimes it literally doesn't  take anything at all to make us think we're hearing voices. Merely the suggestion that we will hear one is often enough.

In my opinion, many of today's EVP researchers need a stern reminder that EVP has never been proven to be a genuine phenomenon, and it has certainly not been proven to be connected with anything "paranormal". Therefore, proving the validity of the EVP hypothesis, even after 50+ years of practice, should still be the primary goal shouldn't it?  It seems to me that the contemporary band of researchers should be doing everything they possibly can to conduct their EVP recording sessions with the utmost attention and care towards ensuring that the results are as close to being scientifically credible as possible.

This means either eliminating all the "normal" causes of spurious sounds from being picked up by one's equipment, or, at the very least, to try and account for all the normal causes in a thorough and meticulous fashion. Beyond that, researchers should also be working toward developing techniques and standards for judging whether something we think is a voice on our recorder is really a voice at all, and not just a random electronic crackle or someone in the next room clearing their throat.

Instead though, researchers seem to be leaping headfirst in exactly the opposite direction. Their methods are getting sloppier all the time and their results are getting more and more dubious. It's beginning to look like anything goes in EVP-ville, and the only standards being applied are the arbitrary ones of each individual researcher.

By now, you're probably thinking that all this sounds like I'm trying to "debunk" EVP, but I actually do believe there's "something" to it. That's just an opinion though, and I am willing to admit that my opinion doesn't have much solid support. To put it in courtroom terms, the evidence is all circumstantial. Likewise, you and every other EVP researcher out there should be willing to admit that your opinion about EVP is exactly that, an opinion and not a proven fact. Science is not a democratic process and no matter how many people share an opinion that EVP is this, or that, or even anything at all, the majority's vote doesn't automatically make it true.

Until somebody comes up with a means to demonstrate conclusively that the voices they've recorded could not possibly have been obtained by any "normal" means, and that there really is a bona fide voice message on the recorder, not just a perceptual illusion as in The White Christmas Test, then EVP remains a hypothetical, experimental, and extremely controversial subject.


To Be Continued . . .

Also, be sure to see The EVP Project page here .

















The material on this website (except where otherwise indicated) has been prepared by J. Hale.
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