Paranormal investigation, namely ghost hunting, is enjoying phenomenal and unprecedented growth. This is due to the global broadcast of paranormal reality TV, and this avocation is now popular around the world.
For many, ghost hunting is a catalyst for deeply transformative journeys. Likewise, this hobby helps enthusiasts obtain practical technological and organizational development skills. I discuss these topics (and more) in Paranormal Obsession: America's Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks and Spirits.
I also explore in Paranormal Obsession one criticism of the contemporary ghost hunting scene: an overwhelming majority of new investigators have tunnel vision regarding various hypotheses concerning apparitions and hauntings. Today's amateur ghost hunting culture is dominated by a debunking, technologically-driven philosophy in the name of "scientific" research. There are meaningful developments in this approach. However, most have little knowledge regarding the one hundred and fifty years of actual academic research predating paranormal reality TV.
Many investigators are literally ghost hunting, although there is no consensus on what "ghosts" are, much less awareness regarding different forms of phenomena potentially occurring on cases.
Too few are familiar with the role of psi (pronounced "sigh") and how it relates to fieldwork and personal paranormal experiences. Many investigators are aware of psychokinesis (PK) and poltergeist cases. Ghost hunters normally rehash the standard idea that such activity surrounds adolescent girls. Contemporary research suggests that PK cases are more complex and diverse than these traditional, gendered assumptions. Additionally, amateur paranormal investigators normally have no knowledge that PK is a form of psi, and even less awareness of how psi may manifest on investigations.
Psi is arguably one way in which ESP, telepathy, mediumship, Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Out of Body Experiences (OBEs), and ghostly occurrences materialize. Psi is considered to be "an anomalous processes of information or energy transfer," according to academic researchers Daryl Bem and Charles Honorton. No one is sure how psi works in the mechanical sense. Yet, serious paranormal investigators are obtaining data that something remarkable and unexplainable is occurring. Therefore, the potential links between psi and the paranormal are intriguing for ghost hunting teams.
Traditional survival research involved the living as much as it did the departed: the investigation's focus was mediumship abilities of the living, and psychic impressions were standard protocol. The larger object of study, however, was that of consciousness in the form of survival research.
Of course, problems arose regarding the use of psychics and mediums. Many mediums were frauds, or at best, highly inconsistent. However, a correlation emerged between what is called psi and what we call ghostly activity. The concept of consciousness from the living and the departed remains a viable variable in after life studies.
For the first time in investigative history, psi and human consciousness is minimized in favor of detached, technologically-based investigation. The role of the observer is now displaced by the role of equipment. The device itself is the Medium. There are benefits to this, of course. This type of data is considered to be more objective and scientifically valid. The use of psychics remains highly problematic, considering so many personally claim to have abilities in the absence of demonstrable proof. The global rise of ghost hunting and the number of teams going into private homes demands a new type of discussion: is it ethical to use psychics who have no proven track record, considering the type of emotional harm that may ensue by unfounded claims?
Yet, the use of psychics is a small corner of the psi market. Some psi models promote that ghostly phenomena are not external events but connected to the physical observer in some way. It is a concept that paranormal investigators should consider. After all, there is more scientific evidence for the existence of psi than there is for ghosts.
The role of the human observer (the client, the investigator) may be the most significant aspect of research. If there is an intelligent, disembodied energy present, does it make a sound if no one is present to hear? Some psi theories suggest the observer is a type "energy conductor" and that everyone experiences phenomena differently. Some see dead people or shadow figures, others feel a presence, while some hear voices. Psi is the conceptual model in which these things occur.
Equipment used today primarily measures changes in the physical environment, captures Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), and documents investigators. There is little evidence that equipment can measure anything beyond that. I personally enjoy experimenting with technological gadgets. Many investigators, myself included, now count equipment anomalies as "personal experience." If a piece of equipment repeatedly responds directly to my questions, for example, that becomes my evidence. I enjoy paranormal events as much as anyone else, but I also understand that this does little to help me understand the mechanisms behind the phenomenon. Data collected on equipment means nothing if there are no hypotheses and philosophical frameworks in place in which to interpret the data.
Instrumental TransCommunication (ITCs) possibly provides one example of how psi may impact our equipment. ITC devices allegedly allow spirits to manipulate radio or electromagnetic waves in order to speak in real time. These devices are highly controversial among paranormal enthusiasts and present unique ethical considerations. One complaint is that the equipment seems to only work with certain "handlers," leading critics to suggest fraud. Many ITC researchers do report that one almost has to bond with a device in order for it to be successful. Again, the role of intent and psi may explain why some obtain better results than others during ITC sessions.
Psi may also be why some investigators consistently obtain more evidence, in general, or find they get more evidence with a particular camera or digital audio recorder. The Experimenter Effect is one example of psi, where investigators subconsciously project thoughts on to the equipment. Investigators may not find this explanation as glamorous as a ghost, but it shores up intriguing proof regarding the mind's potential. This also provides data that psi can influence the environment.
The psi role also looks at esoteric investigative methods, like Magick and occult aspects. Rather than paint it black, as many people do, this is another manifestation of psi. In this equation, someone who enters investigation with intent to contact a certain type of energy will probably be able to do just that.
Psi components are in place by way of investigator intent and manifestation in the physical environment as equipment interaction (EVP included), rapping, or personal experience. These phenomena can emerge from disembodied intelligence or be subconscious projections of those present in body. (I distinguish between intelligent disembodied energy and residual hauntings, the latter being a type of place memory.)
No real consensus exists regarding how psi works—or even what creates a ghost or haunting. Yet, the idea of psi is viable among academic-based researchers. Consciousness models do not exclude the possibility that Aunt Norah's soul is just checking in on loved ones. It actually offers a conceptual and philosophical framework for that to occur.
Paranormal investigators are potentially conducting very important work regarding consciousness studies. There are four components needed to make research more academically useful—and psi-friendly. The first is to be familiar with contemporary theories and past literature. Second, know how to properly document investigations, and third, be reasonable regarding evidence interpretation. These three elements can turn a casual hobby into a meaningful form of citizen science.
The fourth component is to experiment with psychical ability during investigations in a controlled manner. Use your own team members even if they feel they do not have intuitive ability. Find a blind location by not providing specific details in advance to team members. Provide a layout of a location (hand-drawn is fine) and ask all team members to walk through and mark any spot they "sense" may be paranormally active. Make sure everyone keeps impressions private. Immediately seal these in an envelope. After the investigation is complete and all evidence is reviewed, bring out those layouts and compare how many areas were identified as potential hotspots against any evidence collected. Do this repeatedly at various locations, if possible. One may begin to find surprising correlations between collected evidence and individual impressions.
The state of scientific knowledge changes along with our understanding of the human condition. Consciousness studies and ghost hunting presents challenges to traditional science but they also provide new opportunities to explore the nature of reality. Wayne Harris-Wyrick is an astronomer and the Director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium at Oklahoma City's Science Museum. He is also an investigator. Wayne reminds paranormal researchers that,
"[t]wo thousand years ago, we knew there were only four elements in the world. Six hundred years ago, we knew that Earth was the center of the universe. Seventy years ago, we had no concept of computers. Virtually every time a scientist says 'That's not possible' he or she has eventually been proven wrong. What do we know today that will prove to be wrong tomorrow?"
I personally believe that investigators are potentially obtaining data of something outside the current scope of science while offering profound clues to our metaphysical existence. These links may extend beyond ghosts to a larger concept of consciousness that transcends time and space.
Psi provides the most viable scientific and metaphysical model to understand these events, and it is one serious investigators need to consider.
Deonna Kelli Sayed (Greensboro, NC) is a Muslim-American paranormal investigator with Haunted North Carolina (HNC). She lectures on many issues, from women in Islam to the paranormal, and has lived and conducted studies ...