Penn State’s Harrisburg campus hosted a presentation by Paranormal State’s Ryan Buell (with Sergey along) on October 2. The event attracted over 60 people of all ages. Primarily, the crowd was students, some with their parents. There were obviously several fans of the show.
I have never seen the show. I can’t be bothered with watching another ghost hunter show when there are already so many that have a similar formula – set up techie stuff, go into scary places, look all green and creepy on night vision camera and freak yourself out. I can’t see the value in shows about hauntings. It becomes formulaic, same old stuff.
I had several objectives in attending Ryan’s talk: to find out what makes his show different (if it is different at all), to see how the show and investigator group related to my alma mater PSU (if at all), and to see a presentation of evidence.
I got a lot of stories, some sound and video clips, pictures and more stories. To his credit, Ryan made clear that his idea of legitimate evidence is something that convinces them. That does not mean that it convinces you. “Nothing [he has] proves ghosts exists.” It comes down to a matter of trust – do you trust the person showing you the evidence has been truthful and interpreted it correctly – and belief in what you think caused it.
He began with some background on the paranormal. I suspect it bored the giggly girls sitting in front of me who wanted (foremost, to hookup with Ryan after the session and) to be scared. I was not impressed by his knowledge, actually. He flubbed up the famous photo of the “back seat passenger” by telling us the man in the front seat had been dead for a while without mentioning the dead lady appearing in the back seat at the time the photo was taken. See the photo and story here.
In describing why parapsychological research fizzled out after the boom times in the 60s and 70s, he related a quote from a researcher that concluded “We just didn’t know what our purpose was”. That’s lame. It’s more than that they were at a loss for purpose, they were at a loss for making progress. They did little to add credibility to their field or knowledge to our worldview and it died as a science. I felt he didn’t look into the history enough to really understand but, perhaps he just didn’t get to express that since we were off to more interesting topics.
Talking about the signs of a haunting (pets acting strange, knocking noises, seeing things out of the corners of your eyes, objects moved, etc.), I noticed that all the signs could more easily be explained by normal reasoning. Ryan clarified that some, but not all, so-called paranormal phenomenon have scientific explanations. As yet, there were no explanation for events like levitation. Here he clearly jumped several steps in the process. Paranormal advocates tend to do this all the time. We do not have clear evidence that levitation actually occurs (sans trickery) so why seek an explanation at all. Establish some facts first. Much of what was presented throughout failed to qualify in the strict definition of ‘fact’. Even if it is a fact, one should not jump to an interesting interpretation just for kicks (or attention). You should exclude common ones first. Ghost hunters fail to do this.
There were a few instances where Ryan revealed his motivation. First, he said “We’re not debunkers, cause what fun is that?” Also, he suggested we watch The Exorcist. [I'm not going to comment on that except to say you can see where he gets his inspiration.] Forget theory and foundation, he was eager to get to the fun/cool stuff that they recorded. Very well.
The demonic haunting tales got the giggly girls all nervous and exchanging big-eyed glances and “Oh, shit” comments. Ryan tells a story about his own childhood haunting and of a client that was possessed. The imagery he creates is downright chilling but also perfect fodder for horror movie scenes – evil grins that paralyze one with fear. Yikes. If I even think about that stuff, I get chills.
If demonic possession is real, it COMPLETELY destroys my current world view that there is no god vs devil battle going on and demons and angels are fictional tales that serve to enhance people’s perception about morality in life. Stories are just stories, however, and I couldn’t help but think these might be embellished or remembered with exaggerated effect – the way people typically tell stories.
Ryan makes an stunning but unsubstantiated religious assertion that, even in non-Christian cultures, a possessed individual will react to holy water and the name “Jesus Christ”. I do not believe this is true in comparison to use of some other important sounding name and the sprinkling of regular water.
The audience found his stories riveting. I enjoyed them too. They encouraged me to think about things; they got others to believe or enforced their already established beliefs.
Because the event went on for longer than I expected, I did not stay to ask questions. The information presented did not leave a wide opening for skeptical questioning. Also, I think I’d seen enough. I knew what made their show sort of unique. I saw the tenuous link to PSU but, for legal reasons, I would suggest they cut all ties. I was not certain I could phrase a question that Ryan would be able to answer in a clear way. There were no scientific minded folks here. What they presented was in no way scientific evidence. So, for me, it was not legitimate evidence. I did not trust them.
As I left, one lady remarked how the TAPS folks never seem to get the kind of stuff that these kids do. [Hmm, I wonder if there is some competition going on there.] If these things really happen so frequently, why can’t they be documented better, by objective researchers, rather than ones with a vested interest in finding “cool” stuff? If the haunting reoccurs every event anniversary or ever day at the same time, why aren’t they drawing crowds who all experience it? What is the mechanism of hauntings?
What is the hypothesis they are trying to test? They aren’t. It’s not objective or structured as they lead you to believe.
What are the ghost hunting groups actually achieving besides entertainment? Nothing.
Color me still skeptical of ghost hunting.
For more on Sham Inquiry and ghost hunting, see here.