Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why be paranormal?

One of my favorite TV shows currently on the air is Ghosthunters on SciFi. But something about it bothers me. As a reality TV show following a group of amateur pseudo-scientists searching houses and hotels for ghosts and spirits, it's relatively honest.

They are careful to admit that most of what they observe has a perfectly normal, everyday explanation. They don't give any stock to 'orbs,' for example, and make sure that doors that swing open on their own can't have been influenced by an open window or a faulty hinge.

And yet something bothers me. It isn't that I don't believe the phenomena that they occasionally discover; I actually do believe that they find things that are consistent with our definition of haunting and spirits. I believe the things they find because they are very careful. Unless the show is a complete lie, they have video of inexplicable shadows, apparitions, self-moving objects, and disembodied voices that seem to be intelligent and often respond to questions.

What bothers me is that they don't try to discover the actual cause of these things, which I would find much more interesting. There can't be much debate about the actual occurrence of these events, but are they really the spirits of deceased people who have been disembodied and trapped in space? Where does the energy come from? How are these things happening? There has to be a real explanation.

The language of the show does not make any pretense of understanding these things (to their credit), they just find and catalog them and then apply easy labels to them. I suppose that is all we should reasonably expect. It is on SciFi, after all.

The possibility of 'ghosts' does not challenge my ideas of an afterlife, by the way. Mainly because the popular idea of ghosts is based on old-fashioned assumptions of an afterlife. It is like observing fire and thinking that it is a fluid stored in wood. Also even if there is an afterlife, which I see no reason to expect, the chances of it being the one represented in the Bible seems to be laughably small.

Nevertheless, the idea is extremely interesting and it is surprising that there is not a more concerted, more legitimate scientific enterprise to study these things. If anyone knows of any scientific studies on these things (not Ouija Boards or levitation or spoon bending) I would love to read about it.

Until then I will continue to watch and enjoy Ghosthunters with the understanding that it is simply entertainment with a mildly provocative premise.

No comments: