ghost-hunter

A Guide to Ghost Hunting Guidebooks: NO MORE! Please!

This might come as a shock to the millions of ghost enthusiasts out there: The scientific consensus is that ghosts are NOT spirits, remnants of the dead, recordings of energy, or supernatural entities. Our existing knowledge about nature does not point to a conclusion that ghosts are a single definable thing, paranormal or normal, that you can find, observe, measure, or study. Yet, there are about 200 guides to “ghost hunting” in print or e-book form that lay out ways to obtain evidence of or make contact with ghosts. Therefore, we have a conundrum at step one of any attempt at ghost hunting – we can’t define what a ghost is, and we do not know its properties because we’ve never determined that they exist and measured them. No ghost handbook has ever led anyone to catch and identify ghosts, they can only lead you to interpret something as a ghost.

In that sense, all ghost hunting books are worthless. So why bother with them?

First, it’s an interesting cultural phenomena. Actively investigating reports of ghosts and paranormal activity is mainstream and a popular hobby and tourism draw. In 2010, there were over 1000 paranormal investigation groups in the US, the majority of which researched hauntings. (Hill, 2010) It’s not worthless to examine why people spend their time and money on this hobby and how they go about doing it.

Second, the idea of paranormal investigation contains important aspects of society’s attitudes towards finding out about the world, decided what is meaningful and true, using science to examine questions, cooperation and trust in a community, and taking part in a larger effort beyond one’s own small role in life.

I’m deeply interested in the second point. I’ve found that examining amateur paranormal group behaviors and output highlights concepts about science education and public discourse about belief and reality. This piece mentions 11 books on ghost hunting that I have examined. They have broad similarities and distinct differences.  In the main portion, I review 4 books on the basis of the following:

1. Readability (language, errors, quality of writing)

2. Credibility (sources, supported arguments vs speculation, factual correctness)

3. Overall value as a cultural product (Buy it or not?)

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Book Review: Dawkins’ Brief Candle

Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in ScienceBrief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel this book helped me understand Dawkins considerably more than I did previously. It also deepened my appreciation for him and his life’s work – in zoology, evolutionary biology, religion, philosophy, and science in society.

There is no sign of him being mean-spirited, and I have not seen that from him in his daily life either. I may not always agree with him but he presses me with his arguments to examine why I do not. In that way, he is a great teacher.

His emotions are simple, direct, and natural, while his intellect is deep and thought is complex. I do not think he will be remembered by history as a bully or strident or insulting (none of which do I think he is); he will be memorialized and regarded for pushing us to think and for challenging society on some topics (and certain people and bad ideas) that REALLY needed to be challenged.

Other than some long quotes from other sources, and poems that I could do without, this was a good read for those who know Richard Dawkins’ work.

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The stupidiocy of Ancient Aliens for kids

There are few good skeptical books for kids. But there are a shit-ton of terrible books promoting mystery and pseudoscientific nonsense aimed at kids or those getting started exploring a paranormal topic.

I often peruse the 001 section of Juvenile Literature in the library. Mostly, I’m sickened. Occasionally, I’m surprised. There is a need for better quality, more critical books on the paranormal and “mystery” topics aimed at non-specialist at middle-reader levels.

Here is an example of such a book at my local library, which is where I obtained it and had a look.

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The Young Investigator’s Guide to Ancient Aliens was published July 21, 2015 by History Channel/A&E Network. It lists NO actual authors because no one would want their name connected to this tripe.

There is NO WAY I would purchase such a book, so thank you, libraries, for providing access. It’s important to view media that is out there and consider if this is what we want to be published. However, its presence in the library lends an air of credibility to it. I suspect that the publishers made an effort to get it into libraries by using the HISTORY Channel brand as leverage. Because it’s there, it will get read. This is unfortunate because this book is a piece of garbage.

You might have guessed as much being that it’s based on the TV show Ancient Aliens which is also garbage. I don’t watch the show but know enough about it to justify why I refuse to watch. So, I am coming at this book knowing enough of the names and fantastical speculation behind pseudo-archaeology and pseudo-history topics, but I honestly have not delved deeply into this genre. I was a bit shocked at how awful it is.

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Media as ‘medium’: Review of Paranormal Media and the good and bad of ghost hunting

It’s not news that the paranormal is mainstream, which is ironic since we commonly understand the paranormal to be events that are NOT normal yet the discussion about it is an everyday occurrence. If you follow TV ghost hunters or paranormal researchers, “evidence” is all around us. So much for it being all that “extraordinary”.

51m9mZYRf4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Annette Hill (no relation) is a professor of media and communication in the U.K. Her book, Paranormal Media, provides support for the conclusion that the paranormal as a field of inquiry is variable, pliable, irreducibly complex, and dependent on context to the point that we have trouble even defining it for study.

The volume contains interesting ideas, particularly with regards to reality paranormal television and the role of skepticism. Her findings derive from a study she conducted of 70 interviewees (in the U.K.) regarding paranormal depiction in the media. Also included was a section on “magic” with some mixed feelings on Derren Brown, but my interest was in the revelation of a more nuanced meaning behind ghost hunting shows and the activities of amateur paranormal researchers.

In my previous work examining amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs), it was indisputable that their personal experiences were the impetus for their interest in the paranormal and prompted them to find out more. Also clear was the influence of paranormal television shows, whether they were expository or “reality” types. The importance placed on experiences was a strong theme throughout this book.

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Miscellaneous book review quickies Fall 2015

The ParanormalThe Paranormal by Kenneth Partridge
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Mostly poor choice of selections for this collection. It’s a book marketed to university libraries as a “resource” but not worth it. Teachers would do far better finding their own readings online.

Paranormal MediaParanormal Media by Annette Hill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some interesting ideas about participation in paranormal investigation groups and about watching ghost hunting shows on TV. But the lack of awareness about the pretend “scienceyness” of paranormal investigators hampers the use of these ideas.

The Essential Monster Movie GuideThe Essential Monster Movie Guide by Stephen Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is loaded with very strange selections. But it’s missing KEY monster movies. Missing The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Ghostbusters but listing the other exorcism movies and the Ghost Busters cartoon series and TV shows like Happy Days, The Love Boat, and Hill Street Blues. Some of my favorite monster movies like Reptilicus, Night of the Demon, Jaws, Van Helsing, and Invisible Man (and Invisible Woman) are inexplicably left out. Refers to sequels while leaving out originals — Halloween 2 but not Halloween? Gremlins 2 but not Gremlins? That’s ridiculous. Or mentions remakes but not originals (Hands of Orlac). I used it to get ideas for movies to watch that I didn’t know about. Lots of garbage in it, though, like porn horror movies and any reference to a vampire character or monster movie clip in normal TV shows. That’s pretty awful considering the obvious movies left out.

Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to ScreenHollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen by David J. Skal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dracula through the ages – fascinating reading.

Begins with the Bram Stoker novel, proceeds to the stage version, the trouble with Florence Stoker, copyright, lawsuits and studio troubles. Includes an entire chapter explaining why the Spanish version is better than the Lugosi version. There is good info about how Bela Lugosi sabotaged himself in the role that subsumed. Then, how the studio fought with his heirs.

Also includes bits about how Hammer films put life back into the Dracula character and snubbed the censors. This version ends with the 2004 film Van Helsing.

Recommended. But required prerequisites are the movies Dracula (Lugosi), Nosferatu (Murnau’s), Dracula (Spanish version), and, of course, the original Stoker novel.

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Slow down and chew a book: About “Notes on the Death of Culture”

My book collection is about 95% nonfiction. There are many of what my husband calls “long-haired books” (a derogatory term taken from, I think, Foghorn Leghorn). He is amazed that I stay committed to reading volumes he considers school “textbooks”. I’m a fan of reality; I attempt to understand the world. So what? Thought and introspection is considered tedious in these days of our colossal array of cultural activities, rapid fire news and opinions, and a fast-paced, fit-it-all-in lifestyle including commitments to work, family and leisure. But engaging with a book is time I have to ponder and to learn, to sloooooooow doooooowwwwnnnnn.

I tried modern fiction. I don’t much like it. Every month Amazon Prime gives me a choice of a free download. I’ve gotten three, made it through two, and was unimpressed. They just didn’t grab me. My preference is for well-written nonfiction narratives and essays.

This one might be impressive, I thought, as I spied Mario Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture on my local library’s list of new arrivals. “Essays on Spectacle and Society” – only 240 pages. The Nobel laureate discusses the decline of intellectual life and his problem with global culture.

Notes turned out to be a moderately difficult book to digest. It took me over a week to read as I made my own notes (which I almost always do in order to remember what I read) and grappled with these ideas. This was one of those books that you don’t (or probably shouldn’t) sit back, absorb, and nod, but one where you pause, look away from the page, and think about whether you agree with his premise and why. Read More »

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Houdini. Skeptic. (Book Review)

magician spiritsHarry Houdini needs no introduction, but there are several facts that people do not know about this consummate skeptic. That makes this book a must for everyone interested in psychics and paranormal claims. Just the Introduction to this great book floored me. How much we needed Houdini at the time. How much we STILL need a Houdini today.

Houdini was open-minded. He admitted he wanted to believe. He strove to learn if the possibility that one could communicate with the dead was real. In an attempt to convince himself, he had compacts with 14 people for post-death communication. He was sorely disappointed that none ever reached beyond the grave to give him evidence he needed. Meanwhile the “mystifier of mystifiers” (a term disgustingly co-opted by Uri Geller, the unimpressive psychic performer) met all the most famous mediums of his time to test this elusive idea.

“Gladly I would embrace Spiritualism if it could prove its claims, but I am not willing to be deluded by fraudulent impostors of so called psychics…”

In this book, he outlines his adventures with them, how he learned their secrets, and how he applied his knowledge of the tricks the mind can play. He was part of the initial era of psychical research.Read More »