I was watching the latest episode of Being Human last night – one of those nice Monday evening rituals my fiancée and I have – when I was struck by something during a commercial break. No, not how much better the original BBC version is over the Syfy remake, and no I don’t want to hear any arguments about it one way or the other (I’ve watched the British iteration of the show, and I still like the American one better); I saw a commercial for Ghost Hunters, which has been running since 2004 on Syfy, back when it was still just known as the Sci-Fi Channel.
I’ve been watching that show since the beginning. I just happened to catch the pilot during the first season eight years ago, and I was hooked to the point of setting up my parents’ DVR to record it so I’d have something to watch whenever I visited them. Nearly a decade later I’m still watching the show, but this year is different – one of the main forces behind the show and co-founder of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, Grant Wilson, is no longer going to be involved anymore, as he’s leaving for personal reasons.
To me, not being able to see Grant any more after the next few weeks of Ghost Hunters, especially after seeing him pretty much non-stop for the past eight years, is going to be like losing a friend. Sure, I’ve never met the guy and I never will, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss seeing him on the show.
Of course, openly admitting that I’ve been a loyal Ghost Hunters viewer opens me up to all kinds of criticisms, but I’m not really bothered by that. I was originally drawn to the show because of how TAPS purportedly uses investigative methods that are more scientific than a lot of paranormal investigators out there, though I was disappointed that none of them ran around with unlicensed particle accelerators strapped to their backs. I’m not afraid to admit that I believe in the possibility of paranormal phenomena, especially since I think that there’s a scientific explanation for everything and that we just have to discover it.
A belief in the paranormal isn’t incompatible with a rational world-view, as long as you’re willing to take evidence at face value that proves – or disproves – those beliefs. It’s part of secular humanism, which is what I would describe myself as believing in, if there was a gun to my head: while humanism does as a rule reject supernatural views of reality and instead seeks to establish an ethical way of living independent of religious thought, it also rejects dogmatic approaches, which leaves room for investigating our environment in order to gain a more perfect understanding of it (and before the hate mail starts, I respect your religious choice, so you respect the choice I’ve made over my own personal belief system. Just because it doesn’t have its roots in a set of books thousands of years old doesn’t make it any less of a valid choice).
Here’s an example of what I mean by approaching the supernatural in a rational light: a lot of the time you’ll see shows like Ghost Hunters using electromagnetic field detectors while they’re investigating a site, as very high EM fields can sometimes lead to people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity to developing physiological changes that can lead them to feeling anxious and paranoid and even to experience hallucinations, which can then be interpreted as having paranormal experiences, especially if these hypersensitive people are exposed for long periods of time to high EM fields.
Other researchers feel that high EMF readings may also indicate the “presence of a spirit” nearby, especially if an EM reading suddenly jumps for no apparent reason and then subsides, especially in places where there are no live power lines. Now I’m not a scientist, but I did always think that instead of a ghost being someone’s “spirit,” it could always be an imprint or an after-image left behind by someone who spent a lot of time or experienced strong emotions in a certain locale, kind of like an echo given off by the electromagnetic field of their own body. I can see something like this causing what people call “residual hauntings,” though I’m more than a little skeptical of these hauntings lasting decades or even centuries after a person’s demise – what the hell could possibly be keeping that residual EM field cohesive for such a long period of time? It seems incredibly unlikely, as the energy needed to accomplish something like that would be huge.
These are the kinds of things I would look into if I was running one of these paranormal investigation groups. If anything, TAPS needs to be more scientifically rigorous than they currently are, especially if they want to be taken more seriously by the scientific community. I remember watching older episodes when they would bring in people who were supposedly “sensitive” or who would use dowsing rods and I just kind of rolled my eyes; thankfully they put an end to that and concentrate more on audio and video evidence, but they still have a ways to go. It’s obvious that the show is more about entertainment than anything else at this point, and that’s fine. I mean, who didn’t enjoy the hell out of watching the one episode where Meat Loaf was running around in the dark at an abandoned steel mill with a film crew at his back? Bob might have bitch tits, but he’s got a set of brass balls to appear on that show.
Plus, I just love a good scare. That’s why I’ve been following the Republican Presidential Primary race so closely.