I remember a time in my life when I was a little less sceptical and slightly more inclined to believe that I could use reiki to heal sickness or injuries. It was a magical time in my life, and it didn’t last very long. Perhaps I was seduced by Fox Mulder’s pouty faced insistence that there was more to reality than what I could see, or perhaps I was just young, naive and uncritical of my own beliefs.
I was about 19 years old when I was told a story about a tribe of natives who had lived for hundreds of years on a certain patch of veld in Johannesburg until one day the nasty Afrikaners came along and built a highway right over the top of their native burial ground. Apparently the spirits of the tribe’s ancestors were so angered by this that they would rise at night and bite the tires of cars driving along that patch of highway, causing many terrifying accidents.
At the time I believed this story at face value, I didn’t even give it a second thought. But that was then, this is now. I now know that one would be intellectually irresponsible to accept this story without doing some kind of investigation… I could call in The South African Society For Paranormal Research, maybe they could point out for me whether or not there was anything funny going on. I’m sure the chaps over at SASPR would do a lovely job of walking around on the highway and startling each other, or taking pictures with unbelievably poor resolution and then insisting that they see ghosts in the pixelated noise they produce.
I don’t want to be completely uncharitable here and take a swipe at these nice folks without presenting some examples of how anemic their “paranormal research” is. In the interests of fairness I will present the least awful examples of their work and try to illustrate why I am so very unconvinced.
Although reasonably laid out and not too ugly to look at, most of the SASPR’s online forum is made up of long “Case Files” which describe various members of the society standing around in rooms with palpable atmospheres and taking photos of dust. I combed through the “photos of activity” and “case files” and selected some of the items which encapsulate the groups mindset and approach towards investigating claims of the paranormal.
May I present for your delectation some of the more (or less) convincing items of evidence for paranormal activity provided by SASPR?
From “REPORT ON INVESTIGATION 4, FLORENTIA, ALBERTON, 24.10.2009 BY SHARON” posted by Marius;
“one room (nicknamed the blue room by the team), had a very intense atmosphere and both Marius and myself sensed that there may be a portal in this room”
I can understand that sensation of a room having a palpable atmosphere, however, from reading the “open minded” articles on the SASPR forum I think that most of the intensity of the atmosphere in the “blue room” was imported by the investigators. Sharon appears to be a highly suggestible person and does not seem to have a single sceptical braincell. And what exactly does she mean when she says that there “may be a portal” in the room? I get the impression that they are referring to some kind of spirit door for the ghosts to enter our world. All sounds very impressive, but it also sounds wholly implausible to me. May I suggest proving the existence of ghosts before catapulting to dimension doors?
Lets look at another one;
“At one stage in the lounge area, Marius and I were standing close together and Marius said he felt something walk past him, at the same moment, I said that I felt incredibly dizzy. Shawn took a photo and there is a huge orb between Marius and myself.”
Can we see that photo please? It does not appear to be linked to this case file and I think it would be important to actually provide the images you claim you have. Once again Sharon’s suggestibility comes rampaging into the action like a wild rhinoceros; Marius claims to feel something and immediately she does as well, just to a much greater degree… Yeah…
Ok, ok, one more try;
“I was standing next to a bedside chest of drawers and Marius told me that a child was crouched between myself and the drawers, clutching hold of my legs. At the same time, I had the very distinct feeling of being pushed slightly into the cupboard (something I personally have never experienced before). At this time, although there were absolutely NO children in the house, a child’s voice is clearly heard saying “He did it, Mommy” on the recorder.”
Do I need to point out Sharon’s suggestibility again? She doesn’t seem to feel any strange sensations unless Marius is there to plant the ideas in the fertile soil of her open mind.
The recorder Sharon refers to is one they were allegedly using to pick up EVP. Unfortunately the links to the alleged recordings are broken and I cannot listen to them myself so I have to fall back on the collected wisdom of the sceptical community. Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) are mentioned repeatedly throughout the SASPR forum as “voices” heard on tape recordings. I would like to make one thing clear; there is absolutely no evidence for the claim that EVP are the voices of ghosts. They are far more likely to be caused by your own brain. Apophenia is the process by which your gray matter cleverly finds a pattern in random noise (visual or audible) and convinces itself (you) that it has seen a giant face on mars or heard the voice of a person who is not in the room. For an excellent, detailed investigation of EVP please read this article by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
I think you get the gist of the level of “investigation” these people are doing. What’s that you say? A picture paints a thousand words? Here is one from investigation 4, of an alleged haunting in Springs.
If that isn’t evidence of the paranormal I don’t know what is! Wait, what I meant to say is; NONE OF THIS IS EVIDENCE OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY! You can walk around creepy houses all night, or sit behind your computer making up scary stories, and the result would be as compelling as the drivel offered up by the SASPR. Stories about being creeped out or feeling worked up in a particular room of an allegedly haunted house count for nothing! I have looked at the above picture many times and am unable to see anything more spooky than the wildly pixelated forehead on that guy in the picture.
Cramming a bunch of unsceptical people into a dark house and then having them walk around for hours convincing each other that there is something spooky going on, and then going home and poring over blurry photos and tape recordings is NOT researching paranormal activity. The SASPR form their own opinions about an allegedly haunted building (which is almost always that the building is haunted) and then force fit their opinions into the horrifyingly poor evidence. Of course they believe they have proof of ghosts, they have shoe-horned their gullibility into a stack of poor quality evidence and come out the other side having confirmed their initial beliefs.
To the SASPR; bring better evidence or be more careful in the claims you make.