Saturday, November 1, 2008

World's Scariest? Or World's Least Convincing?

Originally posted Tuesday, October 23, 2007.

This article is about illusions - specifically some illusions caught on tape and marketed as reality. But first of all, we should ask ourselves; what is an illusion?
` They are natural to human perception - so natural, in fact, that having normal vision relies on them: Our brains employ mental shortcuts that normally give us the right picture - but if certain elements are taken away, our brain still fills in the gaps, even in error.
` In the realm of vision, these mistaken perceptions are more commonly called 'optical illusions'.
` However, with any of our perceptions, we can be deceived by having to fill in particularly large gaps; the less one knows, the more one's brain must compensate by 'filling in' the missing parts.

I admit, I've been fooled many times due to lack of information: For example, just last weekend, my boyfriend Lucas and I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as 'Officer Hampton' from the local police, asking about a murder in our friendly little ghetto [which I thankfully moved out of a year later].
` We didn't exactly buy that, so we wound up exchanging a few words with him and the police.
` Long story short, the same man called later, while Lucas was out, claiming that he was actually a friend of the neighbors and that they were now going to kill Lucas for telling actual police officers about the homicide.
` I immediately locked the door and began breathing into a paper bag. I'd thought those neighbors had moved to this state in order to start a new, crime-free life. It didn't make sense to me, but what did I know?
` After hours of trembling on the floor, locked in my apartment, I was more than glad when Lucas came home in one piece! Coincidentally, it was also at this time when the police had finally called me back about my claim.
` Lucas was on the phone with the police sergeant just as he was approaching to arrest the neighbors, when another call came in. It was a guy we knew who wanted to talk business, but Lucas had no time for this. Just as he was about to hang up, the guy said; "Oh, by the way, I'm Officer Hampton! Wasn't that funny?"

We let him know just how much it wasn't.

This is just one of many times in my life that I have been mortally terrified due to a lack of information: By the mere fact that I could not see who was calling, I had believed that this unusual acquaintance of ours was a seedy thug, and it almost got our normalcy-seeking neighbors arrested!

This is exactly the type of reason that I prefer to look before I leap to conclusions. But I admit, I was fooled. I very much wanted to knock on my neighbors' door and ask them if they knew what was going on. I almost did. But, 'almost' doesn't count as any kind of investigation.

In the world of television, commercial TV producers and even news journalists deliberately exploit their viewers' lack of information so that they can promote a sensational idea. As I've previously explained - in great detail - the purpose of this is to keep people watching.

In this article, I'm dealing with programs - specifically one in particular - that present people's claims of ghostly encounters just as they are told, no questions asked.
` To me, these shows seem pretty simple to throw together: First, pick a sensational topic, interview a bunch of people who claim to have real experience with said topic, then use editing effects and scary music to make it look like a TV drama!
` To give the impression of having a balanced perspective, you can even display a scientist or skeptical expert on the matter as long as you leave his arguments on the cutting-room floor; be sure to select only a few out-of-context sound bites that make him look like a complete know-nothing.
` This is very important because if the claims are portrayed as being dubious or ridiculous, the viewers may realize that the program is not actually being serious and would begin asking what joker would even present this stuff in the first place.
` Even more gravely, the viewer might actually... change the channel!

Frightening indeed!

Please keep in mind, however, that I don't outright reject evidence for ghosts: Besides, this is a television show (hello?) where entertainment value comes before everything else.
` In fact, you might be surprised to know that there was a time in my life when I would have thought this program to be proof positive of real supernatural goings-on: Secure in my knowledge that 'real' paranormal events were being showcased, I tried, just for fun, to see if I could interpret the videos as having more 'earthly' explanations.

When I began to open my mind to this perspective, I noticed just how easy it was.

For this program, called World's Scariest Ghosts, and which you can watch online along with my walk-through, I offer the viewer a whole slew of ordinariness to think about when when considering any so-called 'ghost video' they may see.
` You will find the link for viewing this program, in its entirety, shortly below.

The opening narrative of World's Scariest, concerning the ghostly cases presented in the show, states, "...But none can be authenticated. Are they real? You decide."
` I'll get around to those questions after my analysis, but first let us ask; "Why, pray tell, are the viewers supposed to be the ones to decide?"
` As you will see, it is because the so-called 'paranormal investigators' and 'experts' are not shown making any attempts to verify the paranormal claims. Instead, they profess to believe the claimants and encourage whatever drama is already present.

And see you can, right on the computer screen: World's Scariest Ghosts. That's the link. Go there.
` But, before you really get into it, I suggest reading my careful examination of the first few segments or so and then "decide for yourself" what is most looks like.


Mysterious Liquid, Noises, and People Generally Freaking Out


The first segment deals with a woman, 'Jackie' who says she kept feeling like there was evil activity in her home, and that it has to do with a reddish-orange liquid pooled on a shelf in her cabinet, apparently dripping down from above.

I may as well tell you that there is also a sticky, reddish-orange liquid that falls on me as I step out of the shower each day. [One of many reasons I am glad to have since moved out!] After considerable scrutiny, I've determined this much:
` That a), the hideousness of my [former] bathroom ceiling is actually caused by the many tears and cracks in what must have been, at one time, wallpaper;
` and b) that wallpaper, having been painted over decades ago, evidently contains pockets of filthy wallpaper paste which liquefies and drips down when exposed to steam, which c), makes me want to get back into the shower!

Critically, we see no one asking what this liquid even is, nor do we see anyone try to find out where it comes from - as we would in a legitimate investigation!
` To these types of ghost 'experts', 'something strange in the neighborhood' is all the evidence they need to get a positive ID.

For all we know, the fluid could even have been put there on purpose, as we don't actually see it emerging from nowhere.
` However, as with my [former] bathroom ceiling, it appears to be something like gluey water leaching out from between two pieces of wood in the cabinet. Did you notice that's where the drips are forming?

The stomping noises heard in Jackie's attic might conceivably be water dripping on metal or the roof changing shape due to temperature - I generally ignore similar sounds, as they are ever-present at my own [previous] dwelling.
` Of course, that is partly because the attic above my [former] apartment is alternately occupied by tweekers doing meth, homeless people taking shelter, or a combination of the two.

Next up, we see the first of the two the ghost 'investigators' lifting himself into the attic, (starting with a shot of his feet rising as if floating), while the narrator says: "At that moment, they were attacked." It may be important to clarify that they were both fully inside the attic when we hear the screams, in case you misremember what happens:
` 'Investigator' Jeff Wheatcraft returns with a very startled look, claiming that he was almost strangled by a cord hanging from a nail. The culprit? A ghost.
` In truth, similar creepifying things have happened to me. I don't know how, but my head has been known to go through loops of various materials when I'm probing around attics/basements with a flashlight; I don't see them until I back away and find that something is wrapped around my neck!
` Presumably, he could also have been staging this 'assault' - or exaggerating something that happened accidentally. He has good reason to here because it's required on these shows - one reason I sometimes call them 'paranormal reality TV'.
` Interestingly, this incident happens out of view of the TV camera: All we see of this is a photograph of a fearful-looking Jeff standing with his head at an odd angle.

Towards the end of this all-night investigation, a probably sleep-deprived Jackie goes ballistic because she believes the ghost has attacked her four-month-old daughter.
` Evidence? Jackie says she suddenly noticed a faint red mark on the baby's forehead. It could be a bruise that took a while to appear, or - who knows? - it could be some of that dripping red stuff!
` Whatever it was could have even been there for a while before she was consciously aware of it. Perhaps, in the middle of a period of time when she saw nothing happening, she may have looked down, finally spotted it, and thought it must have just appeared seconds ago.
` Because of this 'ghost attack', we are told, she moved away after that episode and the house has been quiet ever since.

To me, that statement seems to say more about Jackie than the house.

In any case, there is nothing that can be seen or heard that is really unusual - just the way the people are reacting - we see no attempts to narrow down possibilities of what may be going on and Jackie's account is taken at face value.


Objects Moving With No Visible Cause

The second segment is a bit better than the first because it supposedly shows actual poltergeist activity before our eyes! The first of these videos shows a glass being dragged across a table, towards one edge of the frame. Then, the typewriter's roller also lazily moves in the same direction - just as one would expect something to move if someone was standing off to the side pulling on some fishing line.
` Then, a chair is mysteriously pushed out from under the table, which leads me to think that someone could be concealed behind the tablecloth and another flat surface in the foreground. After that, the reclining chair rocks just a little bit (more fishing line) and we hear the sound of the door being slammed again and again (though the door is not in frame).

The next video, shot by someone else, apparently shows some 'invisible force' grabbing the leg of a chair and dragging it offscreen; then, a piece of sheet rock appears momentarily at the edge of the frame as it is pulled from the wall by one corner.
` Invisible force? Sure; fishing line is even more invisible on videotape than it is on film. The simplicity of the movements (i.e. objects moving in a straight line from certain discrete attachment points) would suggest its heavy use here.

Who, exactly, is responsible for these incidents? It's hard to say; however, anyone can do them with some fishing wire and a little ingenuity. Odd? Perhaps. Unexplainable? Definitely not.


A Family Secret?

"Meet professional demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren." Yes, let's do meet them:

I ought to mention first that their best evidence for paranormal activity includes a video in which a young man was taped standing in a room when an indistinct shape comes into view close to the side of the camera.
` Much like a hand reaching for the 'record/stop' button.
` Then, the whole room - flickering candles and all - suddenly changes; most notably, the young man is missing.
` Much like a moment from the classic sitcom, Bewitched!
` "He just disappeared!" Ed had claimed.
` Curiously, the guy in the video didn't seem to notice anything unusual had happened at that time, reporting that he had stood in the room briefly and then went upstairs.

Oh, and we can't forget the cursed antiques in their basement - the Warrens warned of certain doom if you touch them! This is, of course, a good reason why critical investigators enjoy touching them so much. You know, to check for certain doom. Nothing yet, as far as I know.

Anyway, Ed Warren, who died last year (presumably leaving the antiques of doom to Lorraine), is probably best-known for his involvement in the Amityville 'Horror' - which later was uncovered to have more to do with the troubles of a dysfunctional family than any poltergeist.
` In the next video, we have Ed and Lorraine gathered around a table with another family, under the pretense of communicating with another poltergeist (or, what Ed calls a 'demon').

As with a spiritualist séance, we hear what sound like intentional tapping noises supposed to be responses from the demon: This could easily be faked by any one of the people sitting around the table, or even Ed.
` In fact, I ought to mention:
` The entire Spiritualism movement (mediums, séances, etc.) was started in 1848 by the young Fox sisters, who found clever ways to trick people into thinking that their questions were being answered by ghostly rapping sounds.
` Later on, they came up with new tricks, such as producing lights, ghostly hands and 'spirit-writing'.
` By the time Margaret Fox began a tour of public demonstrations of how she could seem to produce rapping sounds from any part of a theater (in reality they came from her toe), spiritualism in general had become far too popular for her to stop.
` In fact, the very spiritualists she had created accused her of being paid to make people think it was a fraud, and she later recanted her demonstrations.
` So, who knows? Someone could be using their techniques of tapping the table with their foot or cracking their toe joint against it. The camera does not even peer under the table!

Afterwards, we see footage of the table itself, with Ed apparently alone and to the left of the video camera. One of the chairs moves toward the spot where Ed apparently is, pulled by one leg.
` (Say, I wonder if fishing line is one of the basic tools of a demonologist?)
` Then, the chair moves again, while at precisely the same time the camera is also bumped - my guess is that this was Ed knocking into the camera while pulling the chair himself.
` Then, "in the name of Jesus Christ", the entire table along with the chairs slides towards Ed, apparently dragged by fishing wire threaded between the chair and table legs.

Again at the table, we next find the little girl doing homework, and her elbows are firmly braced against the tabletop while her feet are wrapped around the front legs of her chair. Can you do that right now where you're sitting?
` Try it!
` Importantly, make sure your feet are touching the chair legs, but not the floor, and that your upper torso is supported by your elbows (not your hands). Then, do a little 'abdominal crunch' to lift your knees up. The chair goes right back on two legs, doesn't it?

I don't think it works with swivel chairs, though....

This move is apparently what this girl is doing, and yet, what is it said to be? 'Oh, her feet aren't touching the floor, which means she can't be doing this herself; therefore, it's unexplainable, and that means a ghost must be responsible.'
` Not only is that a huge leap of logic, the truth is really the opposite; you can't tip a chair like that without your ankles or feet 'grabbing' it like hers are. To prove this point, all you have to do is try tipping the chair again, this time with your feet on the floor.
` Doesn't work, does it? Your feet may leave the floor, but since they are not braced against the chair, it does not move with them.

After this, when the table is 'pulled out' from under her, she simply appears to be pushing it away - which similarly can only be done if one's feet are hanging onto the chair for leverage.
` If someone puts their feet on the floor and pushes, they are simply pushed away from the table.
` Try it yourself!

(Still doesn't work with swivel chairs, though!)


Waking Up, Unable To Move

Here are some eyewitnesses describing some perfectly plausible scenarios where in which they wake up in the middle of the night to see figures, feel presences, even communicate with beings.
` I have had many of these experiences myself since the age of two.

The most recent, as of this writing, was opening my eyes one morning to see that I was on my side, with a view of the floor beside my mattress. I couldn't move.
` My first thought was; 'Oh, this again.'
` Then, I heard someone walking across the floor and step onto the mattress, which I could feel sinking down behind me.
` Judging from the voice which followed, it was a man, who told me he was going to do some bad things.
` "No." I said.
` "Yes," he replied from high above my ear.
` Suddenly, my imagination ran away with me and I started to think, for a moment, that he actually existed outside of my head. I finally managed to move enough to roll over, finding nothing there but the walls and ceiling.
` Even that didn't stop me from having to take a minute to calm myself down.

I've had many similar experiences, though with a variety of characters, from a roommate wrestling with a cat, to completely floating off through the wall and into an alien spaceship.

It's called 'sleep paralysis' - it can be a usual occurrence for some people, and can happen to seemingly anyone under certain conditions, especially if they are under a lot of stress.
` It's a period of time - either when falling asleep or waking up - when some of your brain is awake - so you might think you're wide awake - while other parts are not.
` As a result, it can really appear to you as if something is watching you, as if your chest is being crushed, as if you are being restrained, as if you are being raped, as if you are being lifted off your bed, as if you are being rotated, as if small creatures are kidnapping you, or anything else that could possibly happen in your wildest dreams if you should suddenly find yourself mysteriously bound and helpless.

According to records going back many centuries, these experiences tend to be very emotional; even sleep researchers who know what's going on are not immune to having a terrifying experience.

The key feature to an episode is that you can't move: When you are dreaming, the part of your brain that allows voluntary movement is shut down. (Otherwise, you would act out your dreams. Conversely; sleepwalking is different because it takes place between dreams when you aren't paralyzed anyway.)
` During sleep paralysis, part of you is aware of the room around you while part of you is 'dreaming'. So, while you're still unable to move, you may have strange and unusual sensations around you that are often influenced by the paralysis itself, including vivid hallucinations that you may or not be able to distinguish from reality.
` That doesn't mean you're crazy, of course, just that you're not fully awake, so you're not experiencing reality like you normally would.

What these people are describing are textbook cases of sleep paralysis - being paralyzed, feeling as if they're being held down, being unable to speak, seeing people and white lights, sensing telepathic communication, etc.
` Classic examples.
` So, I would say that in this segment, we have typical examples of a phenomenon that's well-known and fairly common - up to 40% of people report at least one episode.
` The very fact that they are, I think, convinced, that something has happened in the 'real world' outside their heads is still in agreement with known cases.

In other words, it's fairly certain that something truly ordinary has happened to these people. How can that be evidence for something extraordinary?


Wildland Music Video 'Figure'

It boggles my mind how "everyone" filming a music video in the ruins of a mining town could miss the most obvious explanation behind a figure that they claimed not to see while they were actually there!

You only have to ask; why did they not see it until they watched the video?

I'd say that the most important things about this shape's appearance is the fact that 1) it doesn't move, and 2), that there is an empty space where the head should be.
` It doesn't help that the image is black and white and not in focus, so all we have is a twisted, dark lump that vaguely resembles clothing worn by a (headless) human with its arms and legs crossed and leaning against a column from what is left of a wall.
` Because it does not overlap with the top and side of the column, it would actually appear to be some sort of debris that has fallen behind the structure.

Above this tall 'lump' is a much smaller dark shape that appears to be of the same stuff, projecting out from behind the wall just above the 'lump'; it looks to be part of the same object, curled around behind the column.
` It is positioned just so that it looks like it could be a hat, reminiscent of the Invisible Man, complete with background objects creating a contiguous image both above and below the 'hat'.

The whitish part of the background moves at a different rate as the figure, and so it can be seen to pass behind the column. If you don't realize, however, that it is the background, it can look like a featureless object between the 'hat' and 'coat' that moves off to one side.
` That is basically what the cinematographer says, or to put it in his words; "There was no face on the figure, and the face is slightly disjointed from the body." (At least I think that's what it's supposed to mean - right?)
` He apparently has failed to realize that the 'face' (or 'no face'?) is obviously connected to the rest of the background several meters beyond the dark object.

I suppose I can't blame him; the optical illusion of pareidolia - the ability to see six-legged pigs in clouds, or hear a message in Stairway to Heaven played backwards, etc. - is extremely common and yet probably not much known among rock groups and camera crews.

Why bother to bring a historian on to tell about the nearby deaths of poor miners or priests if all one simply needs is a closer look to find the real explanation? Oh yeah, I almost forgot; pareidolia is far more ordinary than ghosts.
` While such illusions are easy for most people to 'get' - especially when they know what they are supposed to be seeing - it is not so easy for some of these people to realize that what they're looking at is, in fact, an illusion.
` As the producer of the video said; "There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that that was a ghost."

Personally, I'd rather believe my own eyes.


A Projected Light

This video seems to show a projected light that is moving across the surface of one side of the hallway wall, flittering over door frames and other objects to the far end of the hall, and then sliding nearer, over the surface of the other long wall and off the edge of the screen.
` The shape is flat, narrow, and near the floor, apparently unvarying except for the fact that it is distorted by the objects it's hitting - it looks like it could be a reflection, or from a car headlight coming in from a crack beneath a curtain.
` But, the man who lives in the house, Edgar, apparently thinks it's actually the ghostly arm of his mother, walking across the hall and into a doorway. (I don't see anything like an arm, nor do I see it stop at any doorway.)

That's because he's set up the camera to film whatever's making all these footsteps he hears at night. That sounds like what I used to hear in the house my grandpa had once lived in... when he was alive!
` I could hear them from the upper floor and the basement alike. I'd thought it was just temperature changes in the wood, but silly me, it could have been his ghost! Even more strangely, I also heard them when he was still alive and sitting in a chair....
` Curiouser and curiouser!


The Greencastle Mansion

Onto some photos of the abandoned mansion during a spooky lightning storm! First of all, the photographer says that there's a strong smell like sulphur and roses. I'm not sure what smells like sulphur and roses, though there's no reason an unfamiliar smell would be supernatural.
` Perhaps something's been rotting in there for a while? Or maybe it has to do with ozone from the lightning storm?
` He also says that he feels a presence and hears a heartbeat in his head that isn't his. Since he is surrounded by cameras, what evidence of the supernatural can he show us?

In some photos he took, there seems to be light reflecting off the 'melted'-looking old glass. Know how I can tell they're not inside the window? Look closely: The edges of these 'apparitions' are actually in front of the inner part of the window frame, coinciding exactly with where the glass is!
` That would also explain why the 'Pink Lady' doesn't seem to move, so much as shift a bit over the surface of the glass. So, unless ghosts typically manifest themselves on glass, I don't think there's much evidence of anything beyond the grave, much less the window.

Still, some beg to differ. Observe the 'photographic expert', who is astonished to find that the photos taken really are on the film. Of course they're on the film! Where else would photographs of window reflections come from?
` Then, Sean Dempsey, a 'computer graphics expert' is shown distorting the images with a special effects filter called 'bas relief' which I'm familiar with after spending my teenage years editing photos to create utter 'monsterpieces'.
` In my experience, this filter tends to exaggerate images in such a way that photos of real people become images of horrifyingly-distorted zombies and the like. Which was one of the ways I could make them more grotesque.
` And yet, our 'expert', Dempsey, is baffled to see that the filter has made the 'face' look like a skull. Why he's so surprised, I can't say. Even more puzzling is the question of why he did not at least examine the edges of the 'ghost', which were quite visible in the enlargement on his screen.
` Not noticing that the 'ghost' is apparently confined to the glass, his conclusion is, well, a bit colored. (Pink?) "It's either a real photo of a ghost," he says, "or it was done with a photographic technique that I don't know about."

Or he could just be missing some vital information. All the same, it now becomes necessary to find out who once lived in the house.
` The photographer, Guy, believes the 'Pink Lady' is the ghost of a woman, one Irene O'Hair; he also found this very same name scratched on a bedroom wall. Possibly by Irene, when she was alive, I would think.
` There's also the matter of the 'Gold Ghost', on yet another window. Much like the 'Pink Lady', it is a blob-like shape that can be seen in front of the inside of the window frame. Which leads me to ask; why does Guy insist on using a flash? That's probably what's causing it!

As for the 'ghostly' clouds; their breath-like rhythm suggests the cameraman's exhallations drifting through the flashlight beam:
` I have inadvertently videotaped my own breath sneakily doing the same thing, so I have learned not to turn my head and breathe across the camera frame, especially when it is cool or humid.
` And, like the 'mist', it even moves from left to right like that because I (like most people) hold the camera in my right hand.

On a related note, someone I know sent me a picture he took while working as 'the chainsaw guy' in a haunted corn maze last year. He did not expect to see this:


I hope it's friendly....


Strange Shapes in Photos

After more bits of descriptions of random ghostly encounters, we move onto photos of a little girl named Carrissa. Photos containing what appear to be a typical camera strap, except it's enormous-looking, overly-bright and so out-of-focus that it could not possibly be anywhere near Carissa in the room.
` But, wait a minute; that would mean the only way it could be a camera strap is if it was somehow... attached to the camera itself!!

How can we possibly explain this?

Hey, maybe that's the camera's own strap hanging down and into the picture! That would explain why the 'entities' would be photographed around a child and not an adult; the person taking the picture would be looking downwards rather than straight across the room.
` It would also explain why the shapes are mostly white (from the light of the flash bouncing off) with only a little black, and have a distinctive, camera-strap-like ribbing.
` Note also that these shapes all curve in the same orientation, as if part of a loop were hanging down from somewhere along the right side of the camera. On top of that, some of the photos show two distinct and parallel straps, as if this loop were... meant to be adjusted in size by the human hand!

But no, that's too easy; while the mother says she would believe a good enough argument against her belief that these are ghosts, no 'experts' are consulted this time. Perhaps they would (or did) say exactly what the producers didn't want to air, thus ensuring that the 'mystery' would be safe on TV!
` Instead, we get our expert opinion from the grandmother, who says; "What we're seeing in the photos is just saying 'We're here, we're part of your world, you have to trust and believe in us, too, and just because you can't see us with your eyes doesn't mean that we don't exist.'"
` Right. Because film, which captures light only from three narrow wavelengths - much like the cones in the human retina - also has the secret property of picking up 'spirit photons'!

Orrrr, maybe it's just the camera strap.

Then, the narrator tells us that her story is "strangely similar to the fictional film The Sixth Sense." According to the information presented, Carissa has not said that she sees 'dead people' or other strange things - only that something is "scaring" her - so what is the parallel again?


A Little Boy's Story

In this segment, we at least find one parallel with the movie in that six-year old Justin does claim to see ghosts. But, what do the photos reveal? That the strap on his parents' camera is wider, or at least shorter than the one shown in the Carissa photos; take note of how much more it tends to hug the lower right-hand portion of the frame.
` Could little Justin be lying, or exaggerating something that he thought he saw? Let's see; his wide eyes and nervous smile suggest to me that he is intimidated by being taken seriously. Maybe he isn't being serious? Especially in the melodramatic way that he says "closer, and closer, and closer, and closer...."
` Honestly, kids have told me tales of Bloody Mary and other ghostly sights and sounds with a much straighter face than that.

The many-times-over-exposed fake, James Van Praagh, is precisely the wrong person to introduce into this situation, because his job is exploiting people for money - even if it's giving them his (completely wrong) guesses as to what's happened to their missing child, or other vital information.
` The look on Justin's face while Van Praagh is 'investigating' on this scene seems to betray thoughts something along the lines of; 'Wow, I can't believe he's agreeing with me!'
` If Justin is just making stuff up (and since it's been well-established that Van Praagh does the same thing) he is of course going to agree that the police sketches are what he sees.

Regardless of Justin's thoughts, the only 'evidence' of ghosts here are camera straps and lots of talk. Nothing I haven't seen before.


Dots and Spots

Here we see Linda Davis walking around a basement, claiming to use her psychic powers to see luminous 'orbs'. If that is so, then why is the cameraman the one telling her where they are and how they're moving? Can he see them, too, despite not having psychic powers?
` The first 'orbs' seem to be very faint unless they are flying directly across the infrared spotlight mounted on the camera. Judging by the way they're fluttering, I'd say that these are moths, though others look like bits of cobwebs and similar things drifting on the air currents.

I knew we'd have a 'ghost-hunting' squad sooner or later. They're all about anomalies (read = fluctuations of things they think they're measuring). They forget to ask, though; what readings are 'normal'? What would they expect to find in a non-haunted house?

Houses are full of all kinds of fluctuations in temperature and in electromagnetic fields - especially in basements where all the utilities are crowded for access. For another thing, ghost-hunters in general (like the ones on the series Ghost Hunters) don't seem to know what their equipment is actually supposed to measure.
` The thermometer gun he's using, for example, picks up only the surface temperature of the object it is pointed at, yet they are all-too-often interpreted as displaying a readout of the temperature of the air just in front of the gun.
` That's a very important difference: If you point it towards people and cold walls alternately, I would imagine the temperature readout would go up and down wildly.
` As for electromagnetic readings; these detectors pick up plenty of signals from both camera equipment and electrical wires in the house (although this particular house is said to be abandoned). Some of them also need to be pointed along different axes before any readings can be made.

Before one can really go into that, we must ask what to expect in a house without paranormal activity. After all, you can't have 'anomalies' if you don't actually know what's normal and what's not.
` Unfortunately, I can't tell what is going on from what I see here, so who knows what he is really reading and whether or not it's unusual?

In any case, I'm not sure of what a true 'anomalous' reading would really demonstrate. After all; do we actually know what kinds of readings ghosts are supposed to give off in the first place? Or, will perceived strangeness suffice?

In the next part of this segment, we have a family who says they came home to find that their furniture had been moved, with strange lights and voices all around. Maybe there were burglars, or squatters. If not, it doesn't mean that anything is paranormal.
` This reminds me of story related by Jay Leno, from before he was famous, when he came home to find his clothes and other belongings strewn everywhere and drawers pulled out. He was just about to call the police when he finally remembered; that was how he'd left the apartment!
` He's learned to clean house better since then, I hear.
` But honestly, any of a number of things could be going on here, though it's hard to say without tape which shows the 'force' which is responsible.

Quite conveniently, the father, Steve, does indeed claim to have such a tape. So, what are these things? Well, the first ones appear to be out-of-focus specks of dust and similar things, flitting in and out of light beams.
` The 'backyard orbs', however, do seem to be glowing like lights, though I don't think they're anywhere past the sliding glass doors.
` To begin with, I first noticed that they do not go any farther away or closer to the camera - they move on a 2D plane. This is especially evident when one examines the 'trails' they seem to leave: Because of the long exposure of each frame (necessary in low light levels), the lights are 'blurred' and take a second to fade from the camera's innards.
` The narrator says that the lights "go around the trees" - I'm presuming that is supposed to suggest that they move behind the trees - but perhaps not, since I don't see that happening.
` Do you?
` Now; watch the light that disappears off to the left; it goes in front of the edge of the doorway; not behind it.
` Instead, the light continues into the door frame and vanishes at the edge of the glass, which is, by the way, a great 2-D surface on which to reflect small lights from inside your house!

Just saying.

The narrator mentions that Steve - who is doing the filming himself - does not think that these 'orbs' can be due to "any known camera tricks". But wait - what about the one where you wave lights around a darkened living room?

Maybe he knows that one?

Relying on glass, however, could not account for the giant glob-in-an-oval shape, which instead appears to be a serving tray (or the like), shining brilliantly in the camera's infrared spotlight.
` Additionally, it also appears to be carried by a person, as if to shield them from view of the camera: Just before moving into a light-enough area where we would be able to see whether or not anyone is there, the shining oval suddenly moves downwards and offscreen.

So, who is perpetrating the 'lights' and the 'oval' illusions, anyway? Is it Steve himself? Do his sons love pranks as much as the Fox sisters did? Is it ghosts using LEDs to create reflections on the glass doors in the living room?
` Also, I thought Steve was trying to videotape whatever was moving his furniture. Not a single chair seems to have been displaced.
` In any case, I can't see any reason to suspect that the images are otherworldly. Dust, along with someone wielding household objects, can account for the images.

Doesn't mean they are, but they certainly don't look abnormal.


McPike Mansion Mist

Deep down, in the basement, we observe images of what appears to be large droplets of mist, or particles of something, claimed to be dry and electrically-charged as they swirl around the room.
` Electrically charged? I wonder if that would explain why the particles were rushing around so fast? Or maybe even the balls of light that have been reported: Naturally- and artificially-occurring electricity can cause some very odd spectacles, including ball lightning and St. Elmo's fire.

Conspicuously, there is no talk of asking someone who studies things like air currents, humidity, electrically-charged dust, etc. to attempt to understand the basement conditions.
` I'm no expert myself, but when I see look at the roundness of the walls and hear a mention that the mist only appeared after walking through the door, I begin to suspect air currents. Is there some kind of opening in the wall through which dusty air flows when the currents in the room are disturbed?
` For all I know, there could be a number of things going on involving some kind of mist. In any case, fast-moving clouds of dust are not unfamiliar to humans; if this cloud was emanating patterns of glowing ectoplasm, I might be a little compelled to say that it looks rather paranormal.


And...

My most pertinent question about World's Scariest - after analyzing all of the video footage - would be; "Is this the best footage they could come up with?"
` The parts not captured on video, by the way, simply cannot be judged on the basis of the sincerity of ghost encounter witnesses:
` After all, I'm sure that some of the people who described having episodes identical to sleep paralysis were genuine in what they reported; but, as with others on the program, their belief in having seen a ghost can be viewed in a very different light when we analyze the tape.

"...But none can be authenticated."

That might be because they look authentically unimpressive.

"Are they real?"

To some people, yes.

"You decide."

I've decided that anyone who thinks the videos of World's Scariest represent real ghosts most likely has not tried very hard to think of another explanation.

2 comments:

Kingcover said...

As with a lot of ghostly feelings and sightings it's the person's perception of what has happened to them that is the hardest thing to convince them that there is a logical explanation for it. It's all in the mind in-other-words. I also think that it's a lot more fun to want to believe that paranormal activity exists rather than trying to debunk it. I'm sure you would agree with that because we are all intelligent people in here and so can understand that whilst we know in our heads that things can be logically explained we can also just sit back and go with the flow without it spooking us out :-)
I'm going to go and view the video now and see if I need to book myself into psychiatric care after it :-P

Galtron said...

I think I'm going to need a doctor myself... I laughed too hard at the video last night and my abs are still sore! Serves me right.

I wonder if anyone's gone up to that one woman and said, "It's a camera strap, lady!!" How can she not recognize her own camera strap? Does the flash make that much of a difference?

At the same time, it's so sad that the people who make these shows prey upon people like this. It's the whole reason why there's a disclaimer at the end, saying that it's all done just for fun!

It's a real insult to humanity, all the way around.