Tuesday, December 2, 2014

EchoVox, Spirit Box, SCD-1 and what is WRONG with all of Them

Most ghost hunting TV shows use EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) as a staple for demonstrating the existence of paranormal entities. Everywhere you look, people are asking questions in dark places while running a digital recorder, Spirit box or EchoVox. When the recording is played back, there are often answers to their questions.

Before we look at any of the video evidence, though, I would like you to ponder a question: If these are audio recordings of sessions talking to spirits, WHY are they always posted as videos? I'm serious about this. Just stop and consider that question. You will find that it is very important as we go on from here.

It's become very popular to mix digital recording sessions with devices and smartphone apps that "assist" in communication. This method is so quick and easy - and works every time - how could anyone resist? Most of what is on YouTube today is probably from a device or app. Again, though, audio devices that mysteriously require a video to work correctly... hmm...

EchoVox: Pre-packaged Assisted "Communications"
The EchoVox app - latest version

EchoVox is a smartphone app that has a database of phonemes. Phonemes are parts of words, and with 24 consonant phonemes and 20 vowel phonemes you can make every word in the English language and most of the words in other languages as well. EchoVox has all of these, and it will play those phonemes as soon as you hit the Start button. It is claimed by its maker in rather vague terms that EchoVox mixes the phonemes with information from your device's input, whatever that means. Are they trying to say that the phonemes of the app's database are somehow altered by environmental sounds...say, from the microphone?  Well, EchoVox plays a barrage of phonemes even if you don't give it access to the phone's mic. I know that, because when I first tried it, I didn't give it access to the microphone and it still played the phonemes. The microphone only goes into effect if you turn Echo on. If you don't do that, it won't even ask permission to access the microphone. Based on microphone on/off tests, the phonemes are just played randomly. The app uses 4 "channels" of phonemes, but I think that the channels just have speed differences plus different levels of distortion, and that's all.

When you have a lot of phonemes being thrown at you, some of them are going to sound like words. There's just no getting around that.  There are all the phonemes of the English language bombarding your ears in both male and female voices. Words will be heard. So, on what basis are we thinking that the phoneme collection - which is what Echovox produces - represents paranormal communication?

That claim is based on "accurate answers" to questions. Sure, the phonemes are random, and that's all that is really here, but if you get the right phonemes to make words, and those words are the correct ones to answer your questions, then there MUST be something to it, right?

EchoVox has become really big in amateur paranormal research. You'll find thousands of videos on YouTube, and there are even several Facebook groups devoted to Echovox and populated by over one thousand "serious investigators." The developer has also added variations on this theme such as BlackVox, which is the same thing but with a pentagram and scarier-sounding voices included. Yeah, I'm sure that helps.....

Adventures in Assisted Spirit Communication

I paid for this app because after all the claims, I had to see it in operation for myself. So even if I felt kind of stupid about it, I did the usual things: I asked if anyone was present, what is their name, do they have any messages. That sort of thing. I recorded all the questions and answers. (EchoVox will record everything for you, IF you turn the "Echo" feature on. If you do that, I'd suggest setting it to 0 delay or the echoing of your own voice will drive you crazy.  You can also just use a digital recorder.  I went for the EchoVox internal recording feature at first - and I was excited by the results. It did seem like there were intelligent responses to my questions, and even though I knew that the device deluged you with phonemes, and I knew about audio pareidolia, it seemed like maybe there was something there. I guess I wasn't that interested in the "how" - mostly I only cared about the positive results -- until it was proven to me that it was just audio pareidolia. Here is how that happened....

I transferred some of my best stuff to a portable digital recorder so I could play my fabulous results for all my friends. At first, I would tell them about all of the incredible, true answers I got - and then they would listen to the recording - sure enough, they heard them too! Confirmation!

But then, I played it for another person without telling him what to listen for, and he just got nonsense sounds - couldn't pick out much of anything except a word or two he mentioned, which I had not heard on that recording. So then I told him what I got and asked him to listen again with headphones: This time he heard my answers. Success! ..... So maybe... yeah.... EXCEPT for an important detail I should mention: I played the wrong file. I had several on there, and I played an Echovox session with different answers (according to what I had heard). I told him what I heard on the file EVP-1 but I played EVP-2 instead. Yet he heard the answers I had told him to listen for! They were the "wrong" answers for the file he actually listened to, though.
Then I tried my files with other people without telling them what answers to listen for. Some heard answers and some didn't, but the ones who heard answers to my questions never heard the same answers I heard. Not one of them.

As a last test - on myself, I put the audio on my computer and cut it up into separate questions and answers; one file for each question; one file for each answer. Then I mixed them up so questions were paired with different answers.... and I still thought I heard correct answers. So audio pareidolia was definitely confirmed.

TL;DR Audio Pareidolia

Audio pareidolia is a very powerful effect. It happens because the brain doesn't really process a whole group of sounds, determine they are words and then match them with your brain's database for conscious understanding. That would be way too slow: A conversation would be over before you figured out what the first sentence said. Instead, your brain picks up a piece of a word, a phoneme, matches it with its database of words according to context (expectation), and then delivers that product (a whole word or sentence) to your conscious mind.

This is the reason we all have times when we were very sure that person A said X when they actually said Y. And we would swear up and down that they actually said the thing that they didn't say - because that is what we really heard. We just heard it wrong. They said what they said, our brain grabbed onto the wrong phoneme, or completed a phoneme into the wrong word, and we consciously heard the other person say something that they didn't actually say.

Audio pareidolia is also why you may think you hear the phone ring when you're in the shower (when it's not actually ringing) or why you might think you hear someone say your name in a conversation that turns out to not be about you at all. Your brain takes fragments of sounds, latches onto them based on a preconception of what meaning might be derived, then delivers the word(s) that it THINKS might be present to your conscious mind.

EchoVox (and its cousins) is an app that is designed to take advantage of this phenomenon of brain function: Echovox has a database of phonemes in several voices, and the phonemes (parts of words) are spit out randomly, at whatever speed you select in the 4 bank speed section. By default, this is quite fast - like a bunch of people yacking away at top speed. The microphone input has NO effect on these phonemes. They are just random. You can prove that for yourself by turning the mic off. If you can't do that on your device (it's just the Settings app, scroll down to EchoVox and tap it, then turn off the switch that gives permission to access the microphone) then plug a dummy mic into the jack. It won't change the phoneme barrage at all; it's exactly the same. So that's how EchoVox works; a big phoneme soup! And you can't help but hear words in that pile of word pieces - because phonemes are what words are made of and the human brain only needs pieces of words to deliver whole words to your conscious awareness. Last but not least, you will hear the words you are expecting to hear - the words that are contextually appropriate - because that is how your brain works. I wish there was more to it than that, but there isn't. YOU CAN CONCLUSIVELY PROVE THIS FOR YOURSELF - READ THE 'DO IT YOURSELF TESTING' SECTION BELOW.

The Spirit Box

Spirit Box (technically P-SB7 by ITC) is an older device working on the same principle, but derives its phonemes from radio broadcasts. With the Spirit Box, what you have is a little handheld scanner that rapidly scans FM (or AM) radio frequencies. Unlike a police scanner (which may be more familiar to some) the Spirit Box doesn't stop when a signal is picked up, it just keeps going. It's blowing by radio station after radio station. The TV show Ghost Adventures loves this little radio scanner.

I probably don't have to tell you after all we've been through, but what that means is that you're getting phonemes from the radio stations; bits of words here and there.  And now that you understand the basics of audio pareidolia, you know what is going to happen, right?  Yep. So EchoVox supplies a full set of phonemes in multiple voices while the Spirit Box relies on phonemes from rapidly scanned radio stations. And like EchoVox, the "proof" comes in the form of videos - because they need to have captions so your brain will know what to hear.

And just to make the madness complete, Spirit Box now has an app version, called SCD-1. It works exactly the same way, the only difference being is that the app version draws phonemes from Internet radio station podcast feeds. There's no practical difference and the effect is the same. SCD-1 stands for "Spirit Communication Device, number 1" - but you're not getting spirits. Like Spirit Box, you're getting actual people talking on radio stations, and then your brain creates an artificial meaning in order to give you the illusion of communication. That's the only thing that it does. If you enjoy fooling yourself, you can have some fun I guess, but there must be a cheaper way to do it. The SCD-1 is outrageously, almost criminally expensive.

Back to my earlier question: Why does everyone take audio recordings and put them in a video? At this point, you should know the answer. Your brain needs an expectation trigger in order to hear specific words and phrases, so you won't hear their amazing messages from beyond the grave unless you are told what to hear via captions - or possibly the person telling you what is said and then replaying the "message" so you'll get it. It's just a trick of the mind because the human brain works that way (with a caveat which I will place in the footnotes).

I mean, think about it: If you linked me to a lecture by Stephen Hawking or... I don't know, an interview of Mariah Carey - would you feel the need to tell me what to hear in order for me to "get" what they're saying? Of course not, because they're speaking real words (in Stephen's case, we're not even talking about a human voice but an electronic one - and STILL no captions are needed). The reason these phoneme cannon recordings need to be captioned is because they're just phonemes, LOTS of them, not actual words, and the brain needs an expectation trigger in order to know which phonemes to lock-in on to turn into words and phrases.

Oh, I have to give a dishonorable mention to Ghost Adventures, here. If you use this device in an area with lots of radio stations, it sounds pretty much like EchoVox; a barrage of phonemes but with bits of songs being played on those stations, here and there. On the other hand, if you take this device out to the desert of eastern Oregon, or some similar place where the stations you can pick up may number in the zeros, you'll just get a steady, rhythmic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound - the scanner locking to each frequency for a tenth of a second, then moving on to the next where it does the same - and so on.  On Ghost Adventures, the sound is clearly edited. All you have to do is use a Spirit Box once to realize they don't sound as portrayed on the show. On the show, it's a very formed, pattern click-click-click static until there's a voice giving a message. That really never happens with this device, for the reasons stated, and cannot happen in real use. So they're editing out the phonemes from other radio stations. And the people involved KNOW that's going to happen, which is why the star of the show mutes the device as he speaks - to cover the edit. Of course, this is also the tv show that recently tried to sell a spider descending on a thread from the ceiling as something supernatural, so they're pretty much beneath contempt and appear to have no ethics at all.

Bottom Line: With apps such as EchoVox and devices such as the Spirit Box, there's no input from spirits or anything else as far as we can tell, it's just all the phonemes of the English language being thrown at you, and the ones that meet your expectations for an answer will stand-out in your mind. They'll probably even seem louder than the background chatter. The human brain does that. All of the "answers" are coming from your own mind via your brain's natural inclination to make intelligible words out of minimal input. And of course, if you have to tell someone else what to hear in order for them to hear it too, it isn't real. I guess if you have spirits that must be spoken with, you'll have to find yourself a good psychic medium. Probably, anyway; I have a longshot alternative explanation in the footnoes.

Random Example Video

So now that you know the truth, let's put this to the test! I don't want to hear any crap about how it's just my opinion. I'm talking about well-documented science of how the brain works, but you  won't be satisfied until you see this effect in action. I made a random choice of an "amazing" spirit communication - and the one I chose was chosen only because it came up in the first page on YouTube and is very short...

 To do this, you will need to follow my instructions. It's something I already mentioned, though, so this is just a reminder. You're going to watch a video of the EchoVox app in action. Except you MUST NOT watch it the first time through. Get a pad and paper, then start the video and turn your head away. DO NOT LOOK AT THE VIDEO.  Write down every word you think you hear (not counting the "investigator's" words, of course - just stuff from the stream of phonemes). Since you have 4 banks throwing phonemes blaring at you, every once in a while two or three of them will come together by sheer coincidence to make an actual word or phrase. There are only 44 phonemes that make up every word and every name, so when you are being hit with a barrage of them, SOMETIMES you'll get real words. Even so, maybe you won't get anything. Your brain needs to pick a context in order to infer meaning. But if you are thinking that ghosts are talking to you, then maybe that is all the context you need. Remember, no looking! ....Yes, I know, one of the captions shows up in the preview here. I can't help that. Just try to listen for words and forget about what you're told to hear...

As I said, I picked a short one so I wouldn't be torturing you too much, but you can do this with ANY of these videos of EVP sessions, regardless of the device involved. Just look away from the video the first time through and write down your own impressions. Sometimes (as happened here at one point) the person who is doing to the recording will give you an audio cue as to what answer is expected - so you'll hear that. But if you go back and listen carefully, the word you thought you heard isn't really there. It's just a phoneme. Your brain did all the work and filled in the details.

Now, if you like, you can go back and watch the video, and see what you were supposed to hear, according to the person who posted it. Did you match them very often? No? Of course not, because their "answers" were based on their own expectations for answers. Your expectations are different, so your answers will tend to be different. But with them telling you what to hear, you'll probably clearly hear their messages now. Try this with as many videos as you like, but you're going to find out fairly quickly that audio pareidolia is all that is going on, here. Sorry.

Old-School EVP Recordings

EVPs are obtained by other methods, too. In paranormal TV shows, you're more likely to see someone using a digital recorder, like the one shown above. They will hold the recorder up to their mouth, ask a question, then immediately stick the recorder out into the air and wave it around, like they are interviewing a moving yet invisible guest. For non-TV paranormal teams, digital EVP recordings are a staple.

The problem with that is that these recorders have variable sensitivity and when you stop talking the audio gain instantly goes to maximum - so they  pick up any noise whatsoever. Contact noise (like moving your fingers on the body of the recorder) will be the loudest things that get recorded. Of course there will be noises during that moment of "silence!" There's more, too: the rustling of your clothing as you move, clearing your throat, barely audible mumbling you might do subconsciously, stomachs growling, someone speaking in another room or outside of the building.... You won't be aware of any of these things when they happen, but the recorder will pick them up. With playback, now they seem supernatural, because you didn't notice them when they happened. Add audio pareidolia and magically you have a message from dead people.

Do-It-Yourself Testing

Digital recorder videos can be analyzed the same way as EchoVox videos: Just listen to them without looking at them. Write down any words you think you hear, and when you are done then and only then watch the video to see what happens. Unless the investigator also tells you what to hear in addition to the captions, you won't hear it. Except in perhaps a rare case: Sometimes the investigator's question will have such an obvious answer that your brain will immediately know what it is supposed to "hear." Sometimes the investigator is simply muttering the answer (perhaps subconsciously) and giving a real message that way. Sometimes the recorder will pick up someone speaking in another room. With EchoVox, on top of pareidolia you'll also have phonemes come together in the random assault on your ears that accidentally form words. But mostly, it's all pareidolia. This simple test will debunk 99.9 percent of EVP videos out there. And you can prove that yourself.

If there are any true EVPs out there, then this is the test to find out: Have a number of people listen to the audio only, with no cues as to what they are supposed to hear, and have them write-down (not speak) what they think they heard. Look at their notes after you are done. If you give them suggestions as to what to hear, you've killed the test: You're just trying to trigger their pareidolia mechanism. SO NO CUES!

If all of them agree on a phrase being spoken, it might be something. Maybe: If the answer wasn't obvious from the questioner's context, and if you can show that it wasn't the investigator muttering or a real live person in another room or outside the building speaking. Super mega bonus points if the message is not only intelligible to everyone but also contains information that can be verified but couldn't possibly have been known to the investigators or test subjects.

On the other hand, if your test subjects can't agree, it's because audio pareidolia is in operation and they don't have enough context to trick their brains. That's all.  And congratulations, you just conducted your own scientific investigation!

VERDICT: Debunked. Devices like Spirit Box and apps like EchoVox are just phoneme generators. They take advantage of the fact that the human brain is pre-programmed to latch-on to any shred of a word, and turn it into a real word or phrase - and this process happens entirely subconsciously, so people think they really heard something. Digital recorder EVPs are not entirely debunked but they also typically rely on captioning ambiguous environmental sounds to trick your brain into hearing words. Obviously, if it is real then nobody will need to tell you what to hear. Otherwise, there's nothing paranormal going on - to a 99 percent certainty. My only reservation will be contained within the footnotes.

There is something scam-like happening though with the various apps and devices, because there is a moneymaking opportunity which takes advantage of a known brain phenomenon. That is, "known" in the sense that anyone who has done any research at all knows about it. The average member of the public probably doesn't know, though, and that's where the scam comes in. And to the people who make money off of that, all I can say is shame on them. These developers are walking a very fine line between running a legal scam and outright fraud.

(1) I did say there was a caveat, although it's a big long-shot I feel obligated to mention it since apparently I'm the first human on earth to notice this: Here goes... If we must, let's talk about pareidolia and all the special messages you see on YouTube: Ghost boxes, Echovox, and all that - all that must be captioned in order for other people to "hear" the special message that the original person heard.

Obviously, the words are not really present in the sounds - that's why you have to have captions. When you hear a message, it's only in your head. But did you ever ask yourself (apparently nobody does); where did the message in your head come from? ...Well, your own brain, right? Right. But where did your own brain get the idea to make a particular choice and give you a plain message from gibberish?

Let's consider the use of psychic mediums for spirit communications. Now of course the skeptics here will all say it's bullshit because they think everything is bullshit. They used to spend time debunking quantum mechanics, too, until they had to shut up about it. Ever notice how skeptics never do a mea culpa? They never admit when they're wrong, they just go on to the next topic? Skepticism is a no-lose proposition; you just say no and it didn't happen until you start looking foolish then you shut up about it and find something else to ridicule and belittle. Being a skeptic is a great because you get to feel intellectually superior to the rest of the world and you never have to say you were wrong about anything, ever, nor do you have to do any actual work beyond negating everything anyone else says.. But I digress.... Skeptics will say any kind of spirit communication can't happen because spirits don't exist and nothing exists but the material world, and so forth. On the other hand, Dr. Gary Schwartz, professor of psychiatry and surgery at the University of Arizona says mediumship is real, and he can prove it. What if he's right?

So if Professor Schwartz and others are right, then it is possible to make psychic contact with the spirits of the deceased. At least, *some* people can do it. Are you with me so far?

Only certain people have that knack, and it's a small minority of a minority (I think most of the people who *think* they are psychic mediums are probably fooling themselves). BUT... if it's real, even for a tiny percentage of people - even only one person, then there is a mechanism behind it; a way the conscious mind can interface with the spirit world. And if there is a mechanism, then we all have it but most of us are unable to latch onto that stream of information and pull it up into our consciousness (like every human has a voice but few can sing opera). At best, it would be a tiny subconscious influence for most people.

At this point, the argument should be a real no-brainer but I will spell it out: Spirit communication is possible via some brain (third eye/pineal gland?) interface for everyone (must be true if there is even one person EVER in this history of mankind who did it) but most people can't bring the information stream up to the level of conscious awareness. Pareidolia happens at the subconscious level: The brain creates whole words and phrases out of sounds, and that happens before your conscious mind hears anything. Spirit communication is also potentiated at the subconscious level. It's the perfect intersection of non-conscious processes; where any spirits could influence the words your brain manufactures from random sounds, and thus deliver a message.

Not sure how you would prove or disprove that other than delivering message content that can be subsequently verified but could not have been known to the receiver. ..But there it is. By the way, I do NOT authorize anyone to use this argument to sell their pareidolia wares. Since I invented it, I own it. I will come after you if you do that! :) It's intellectual property rights at work. ...Others are free to quote me, but you must give correct credit to this author. Sorry, but I just want to make sure my own intellectual work isn't used for evil purposes.

(2) More information on pareidolia in general and audio pareidolia in particular:
Paranormal Research: EVPs - things you should know
Audio Pareidolia at The Rogue's Gallery
Pareidolia on Wikipedia
Bridgtown Paranormal Group on Audio Pareidolia
Visual and audio pareidolia examples

(3) If you want to do the world a big favor, and dispel some ignorance, save a link to this page and post it every time someone puts up a new EVP video. Everyone should know the truth - it's only fair.

EDIT: Confirmation from the other side. The "other side" in this case, being the builders of these devices. Now, it's difficult to believe that any of these hawkers of paranormal gadgets actually think they work - but you'd expect them to keep their mouth shut about it. It's how they make their living, after all! Nevertheless, one gadget developer came clean to Popular Mechanics in an email: Bill Chappell (inventor of the Ovilus and many other paranormal gadgets) explained his view on the paranormal in a blunt email saying "I do not believe in Ghosts or Spirits."
The inventor says he's built hundreds of devices and performed countless experiments over the last decade trying to understand the phenomena of EVPs and instrumental transcommunication. "The unmistakable conclusion," he wrote. "It is us, we are the ghosts."

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post or blog is meant to suggest that the supernatural or paranormal does not exist. The fact is, I don't know. All I can do is look at the evidence to see if it stands up to the test of very simple scrutiny. If it passes, yay. If it fails, oh well... there's always next time. Investigators are human. I'm human. We all make mistakes. My pointing out the mistakes that others make should not be taken to imply that they are wrong in general, or that the things they investigate are only the product of imagination. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Show "The Dead Files" and the Problem with TV Psychic Mediums

In my previous post, I discussed a potential paranormal entity caught on video by the Ghost Stalkers tv team, which is led by paranormal investigator John E. L. Tenney. It occurred to me that these ghost hunting shows are lumped together when there are actually stark differences, which led me to examine another variety of paranormal inquiry; the highly entertaining (but dubious, as we shall see) show, The Dead Files.

The show has an an interesting duo, and they are definitely entertaining together: You have Steve DiSchiavi, a retired New York City police detective who went on to an acting career, appearing in a short film "Stake Out" before being cast in The Dead Files. His job is to interview the people involved and do background research on the location. He is joined by Amy Allan, who now bills herself as a psychic medium (except on a page on the Travel Channel web site, where she is called a physical medium. Really? Physical mediums are known for moving objects, remotely playing trumpets, stuff like that).[see footnote 2] Although scrubbed from her ImDB database, a little Google research tells me that she had previously appeared in episodes of the fictionalized ghost hunting TV show, A Haunting, in at least one of those she played a scientific paranormal investigator doing research on locations rather than using psychic powers. The episode everyone can a see is  "A Haunting in Georgia" - you can Google that. Other blog posts on other sites mention additional roles she's had. But before that she was in Season 1, Episode 4, Cursed. I have the DVD set.[see footnotes] So she's basically an actress. I don't know anything more about her. Here's a sample of her work from the episode we will review in this post:

The set-up of the show is Amy does a walk-through of the haunted location, accompanied by her husband (or former husband, depending on what database you believe) and camera man, Matthew Anderson.

At the end, Amy the psychic and  Steve the detective get together with the people involved in the haunted location, where they present their findings. It's very dramatic. Steve always has some tale to tell and Amy has some dramatic hits (and some misses) to present. Everyone is amazed.

The Evidence
For the purposes of this discussion, I will confine myself to the episode filmed at The Barbee Hotel in Warsaw, Indiana. The air date was November 15, 2014.  The clip I posted above is from that episode, and you can find more at http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/the-dead-files/episodes/intolerance

The only paranormal things that one might look at are the impressions that Amy gets as a psychic medium. We see those in the filming of her walk-through, where she throws out a bunch of stuff. It's very cut-up and we can't even tell what she's trying to describe, half the time. Obviously, not everything makes it into the final cut, but it's fair to say she has misses and hits - maybe (as the show portrays) more hits than misses. "Hits" are combined with her pronouncements about the presence or evil entities, and such - which aren't really "hits' because they can't be verified by anyone. And this is the first problem we have: There is no way to judge her accuracy from what is presented on television. She looks good, but you'd expect the producers to make her look good, otherwise they'd have no show. So the one and only thing that could be analyzed for possible paranormal activity, really can't be analyzed at all.  We can only say she looks good on the show, and that's it.

The Problem with TV Psychic Mediums
This brings us to a critical point when dealing with shows that feature psychic mediums: Even if they have a huge number of hits, where did that information come from? Is it from a paranormal power, such as psychic mediumship, or are the hits coming from something much more ordinary and unexciting?

The show's premise is that Amy's psychic walk-through and Steve's mundane plowing through library files and old newspaper clippings happen separately, without any contact between the two. This is obviously necessary, since if Amy were told what Steve found, her "impressions" would be ...well, quite UNimpressive!

So the premise is that they don't communicate. Okay, let's buy into that for a moment. Does that mean her impressions must be obtained by paranormal means? No. It could be that they are - that's what they're selling. But one thing I noticed about this episode: ALL of Amy's "hits" - the stuff everyone oohs and ahhs about at the end, can be found on the first page of Google by just typing in "Barbee Hotel Warsaw Haunted."

Did Amy do that before her walk-through? I'm sure she'd say no - so then we have to consider her personal credibility..

Amy Allan - like all psychic mediums - has a reputation built solely on her ability to obtain "hits" - that is, accurately describing a situation or thing without having apparent direct knowledge of it. Her "credibility," then, stems not from her personal integrity but from her performance.
With that in mind, we can readily see that Amy Allan has every incentive in the world to hit that Google search button before she does her walk-through, and basically no incentive not to (other than the incentive to not get caught). There's just no upside to Amy being honest in this situation, and no down side to her cheating.

That doesn't prove that she cheats, of course, it just shows that she has no reason in the world to not cheat. And when you add that to the fact that her hits can be found online without any real effort, there is strong reason to doubt her. I would add too that this is only "cheating" in the sense that the show's premise is that she has no information about the location.

When you watch the various ghost hunting shows, you should keep this in mind no matter who is involved. Scientific investigators and psychic mediums with TV shows are coming at this issue from opposite directions, and they have diametrically opposed motivations driving them.

Oh, and about her sketch of the entity haunting the upstairs - and what the people involved made of that... .and GOOGLE.  On the first page of Google using the search term shown above, you get a reference to Al Capone having stayed there. That's who her sketch looked like, and she was claiming at least three entities haunt that location: The one on the main floor was the original owner, she said, and there was another more ominous man upstairs, which she had a sketch artist render for her. It's Al Capone. But the the people involved in the haunting didn't pick up on that in the big reveal; they thought the sketch looked kind of  like the original owner of the place (Steve brought a picture with him). This made Amy shift gears and change her claim: now it was all really just one entity, using different disguises on different floors. Google didn't work so well for her this time - she had hoped to get credit for finding Al Capone haunting the place - but since the people thought the sketch looked kind of like the original owner, it was declared a "HIT" anyway. So it was a win for Amy, even though her skills really failed her. Oh well. 

VERDICT: There's nothing to see, here. If Amy is using psychic abilities to obtain her information, she's doing it the hard way: Google can be utilized without any travel, any hotel reservations, or any walking around  in a haunted house. And we haven't even mentioned potential information obtained from the cast and crew. Google explains everything. Except maybe Amy's propensity for finding evil entities everywhere she goes. That is contrary to the experience of just about every other ghost hunter you'd want to give any credibility to. She is especially fond of "finding" evil men - men are just evil in Amy's world. She never finds a friendly one or even an indifferent one. Men are evil. Amy has told us so..

Since we're on the topic, I will add that I am acquainted with a psychic medium: William Becker of Paranormal Insights. Personally, I consider him to be a man of integrity, and I tend to trust his impressions. This trust comes from my assessment of his own moral compass, and his work. But he doesn't have a TV show, he isn't under the same pressure to get hits, and he isn't out to wow anyone. He also gets things wrong and there's no TV producer standing by to edit out those flops.

I'm not dismissing the field in its entirety. Psychic impressions are very hard to verify and essentially impossible to establish scientific controls for, so it's one of those things that you can either take or leave, depending on your persuasion. Just bear in mind that professionals with TV shows have nothing to lose by deceiving you. Never forget that.

Let's look at this question by examining two intellectual propositions:
1) TV production companies are driven to bring you the absolute truth. They would never lie or fake anything because truth is their highest priority, ratings be damned.  Or...
2) TV production companies only care about ratings, because that is how they make their money. They want the show to have maximum ratings and the longest possible lifespan. If the truth gets them that, that's great. If they have to lie, cheat and fabricate, oh well... see the first sentence of this proposition.

As a logical, rational and intellectually honest viewer, which proposition seems most likely correct to you?

If Amy Alan wants to sit down with me for a reading, and she comes up with something you couldn't find through Google or cold reading techniques, then I will tell you that. Mega bonus points if she comes up with something even I don't know, but can verify through research. I'm totally open to the idea that Amy or someone else out there might be the real deal - and it if ever happens I will definitely tell you. Otherwise, it's just an act. Sorry.

1. IMDB discussion of Amy Allan's appearance on Season 1, Episode 4 of A Haunting - this episode is titled Cursed. Amy plays a "researcher" and in this episode she actually demonstrates how she researches a location (a private home) before she goes there. This episode will answer any questions one might have about Amy's ability to research private homes and develop a profile of them so she knows what to talk about when she goes there.

First Aired: November 18, 2005 - is about a private home in  Tucson, Arizona. In this episode, Amy the researcher shows you how thoroughly she researches a private home without actually going there. It's probably why they scrubbed this and all other previous acting credits from her IMDB.

Doesn't this make you wonder about why they might have scrubbed Amy Allan's previous acting credits from her IMDB and Travel Channel profile? Is it just that they don't want you to know that Amy Allan is an actor? Or is it that her appearance here reveals too much about her real technique?

2. Strangely, some fans have decided to argue with the definition of physical medium! Amy has tried to create a niche for herself by changing the meaning of a term that has been around for over 100 years, Well, it doesn't work like that, Sorry, Amy (and fans) you're just wrong and making stuff up doesn't help your credibility at all.
 "Physical mediumship is defined as manipulation of energies and energy systems by spirits. This type of mediumship is claimed to involve perceptible manifestations, such as loud raps and noises, voices, materialized objects, apports, materialized spirit bodies, or body parts such as hands, legs and feet. The medium is used as a source of power for such spirit manifestations. By some accounts, this was achieved by using the energy or ectoplasm released by a medium, see Spirit photography.[24][25] The last physical medium to be tested by a committee from Scientific American was Mina Crandon in 1924.

"Most physical mediumship is presented in a darkened or dimly lit room. Most physical mediums make use of a traditional array of tools and appurtenances, including spirit trumpets, spirit cabinets, and levitation tables." (Wikipedia)

I could add multiple references to this but those not satisfied should just try doing their own research. If you enjoy the show, that's great, enjoy the show! But let's stop trying to re-write history in order to make the show more believable, okay?
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post or blog is meant to suggest that the supernatural or paranormal does not exist. I believe that there is something there, but I cannot prove it. All I can do is look at the evidence to see if it stands up to the test of very simple scrutiny. If it passes, yay. If it fails, oh well... there's always next time. Investigators are human. I'm human. We all make mistakes. My pointing out the mistakes that others make should not be taken to imply that they are wrong in general, or that the things they investigate are fictional. I named this blog "U Debunked It" to be cute, but I actually hate the debunking mindset. One should go into every investigation with an open mind. It's the only way to find out what is really there. That is what I do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

TV Show "Ghost Stalkers" Full Body Apparition Video Analysis

(Updated 19 November with new information)
(Updated 20 Feb 2015 with new revelation from John E. L. Tenney, conclusions in BOLD - old analysis remains as strike-through text to keep the record straight)
The clip from "Ghost Stalkers" - Or you can go to the Destination Discovery page here: http://www.destinationamerica.com/tv-shows/ghost-stalkers/ghost-stalkers-video/ghost-apparition-caught-on-camera.htm

Enhance & Zoom
I did my usual analysis of the video. It took awhile to get just a clip of the figure, which I enhanced at maximum brightness to help us understand what is going on here:

NOTE: Use the little square-ish box at the lower right of the video to make it full screen. The clip is very short! You'll have to watch it multiple times to get a sense of what is going on here.

When we watched the show, it was pretty dark and hard to see. This enhanced excerpt, however, gives us a definite figure. Unlike my previous analysis of a claimed ghost caught on video by an Oregon paranormal team - but which disappeared in the frame by frame analysis, there is a figure here: You can see moving legs, arms, etc. The shape, although lacking detail, seems clearly human. What was it?

There are three possibilities:
1. They faked it.
2. It's a person
3. It's an apparition/spirit/paranormal event captured on video.

Did they fake it? It's a TV show, after all - but if they ever got caught doing that it would be the end of them. It's important to know that John E.L. Tenney, the star of Ghost Stalkers, is a legit paranormal investigator whose whole life work hinges on his credibility. It's extremely unlikely that he would be a knowing party to a hoax - to the point where this explanation is not believable. (Turns out that while it may not have been a hoax, John Tenney confessed in an interview on a skeptic podcast that he thought it was a homeless guy, despite the fact that he sold it on the show as a possible paranormal entity - LINK TO JOHN's OWN WORDS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE). If there was any hoaxing going on, my vote would be for it being perpetrated by a bored crew member: They would be the only people who would know enough about the positions of the static cameras to be able to get in and out without detection. Or there is also Chad. He was my prime suspect from the beginning. Sorry, Chad, if it wasn't you.

Is it a person? Well, it has all the characteristics of a living being. If it's a person, then it might be someone who sneaked into the building to perpetrate a hoax. And if that were true, they also did a shitty job of it. This tiny clip is all there is to show for their "work." Really, who would do that? But that only speaks to a person who is not part of the show perpetrating a hoax. A crew person is another possibility but I'm told the crew people aren't even there at night; they just set up the equipment and leave. After my conversation with John, this seems unlikely. But again, it could be a person who was accidentally caught on camera, in which case John should know better than to suggest a paranormal cause. I can only go by his word at this point.

Is it an apparition? It has a very solid form and even though it's as gray as the back wall, you can see moving arms and legs. Watch it about 10 times. Or more. It looks more like a solid thing - a human being, than a spirit - but I can't draw a firm conclusion about this. (UPDATE: My inability to draw a conclusion was based entirely on John. E. L. Tenney's equivocations on the subject. His words led me to think there might be something here. My apologies to all!) What would a ghost look like? I would expect something a little  less solid but that's only an expectation.We'll have to have additional information. With what we have, a person seems the slightly more likely explanation (except for a detail or two). However, a captured apparition is a definite possibility!

Oh yes, the detail!  Or two.
1) Well, John. E. L. Tenney, the legit investigator of this show, is adamant that there was no sound as the figure walked by; no footsteps, whereas one could hear Chad walking around. Okay, that makes it interesting. I'd like an audio comparison of Chad walking in the hall versus this figure, so we could see if this is a big deal or not.
2) The figure was never seen on any of the other cameras, nor by Tenney, Chad or the crew. This is odd. Evading detection by the cameras would be tricky. One may imagine ways to get in and out of the building without being seen, but how would a person pass in one direction down that hallway - toward the room where Chad was located at the time - and never be seen coming back from that direction or anywhere else? The world wonders....

4) Finally, an actual person would be walking around in total darkness: The light you see is infrared, recorded by an infrared camera. This is John's big selling point; the thing he reminded me about in emails when I questioned his evidence. HOWEVER, on viewing several more times; to me, the figure does appear to reach out for the wall on his left, as if to feel his way along the dark hallway. In mid stride, you can see the right arm raise and appear to cross over the front of the body, and just before he exits the view area you can see his shoulders rotate left, as if reaching out. It's hard to tell for sure but if my sense of this is accurate, it lends credence to the idea that this is an actual person walking in a dark hallway. John E. L. Tenney says I'm wrong about that. (UPDATE: Yes, he said that, but he knew I was right).

On a blog one of the stars, John E.L. Tenney,  said this:
"Honestly, I don’t know what it is.

I took the footage to our head of photography for the show and had him check it out. I wanted fresh, skeptical eyes to see it. Our head of photography has worked on hundreds of paranormal reality shows and after seeing this footage and running it through all kinds of image processing software eventually told me, “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen working on a paranormal show”

"The building was sealed off and sweeped by the crew before they left, we do this at every location to make sure no one is in the building. Since Chad and I are alone when we investigate it is a safety measure we take to make sure there isn’t anyone who might hurt us when we’re alone in the building.

"I saw the figure I saw it in real time.

"Although it’s often mind-numbing to stare at the check-in camera monitor all night long it’s necessary and in this case was worth it. I honestly didn’t even know if I saw what I saw. By that I mean the camera is a live feed I have no way to go back and look at it until the morning. So I saw the figure and then I was like, “what did I just see?” It wasn’t until the morning after Chad was done that I could go retrieve the camera and check for what I thought I saw."

The fact that one of the show's cast members isn't selling it as totally real is interesting. (UPDATE: And as it turns out, it was because he was selling it as possibly paranormal when he never actually believed that was the case). It may mean that there is a lot of room for a more natural explanation. Or maybe he's just trying to maintain a certain distance from it, in case a more prosaic explanation comes to light. That's an excellent policy,  now that I think about it.

SUGGESTION TO PRODUCERS OF THE SHOW: Invest some money in a recording FLIR heat detection camera and add it to the check-in site. Two would be even better; one to carry with whomever is in the building at the time. If this figure had no heat signature, we could rule-out an actual human messing with you. Please consider this.

VERDICT: Possibly paranormal phenomenon captured, with some caveats and subject to further revelations and information. As a matter of intellectual honesty,  we have to consider the possibility that there's a crazy naked homeless guy living in that building who only comes out at night (or a bored crew member who decided to pull an unethical stunt... or Chad, who is always pretty wired and seems like the kind of guy who might do this). If it was a homeless guy, it would be easy enough (a necessity, in fact) for him to find a never-visited crawl space/attic/duct system to hide in. On the other hand, it is strange that he wasn't caught on any of the static or perimeter cameras, so there's that. And that's the only reason I mention a crew member: John E. L. Tenney wouldn't pull anything like this, in my opinion, (UPDATE: But he has no problem with misleading his audience. In John E. L. Tenney's skeptic interview, he tells us that he doesn't believe that ghosts exist, or "any of that" - so any statements he has made in the show suggesting paranormal phenomena were disingenuous) but we know nothing of the crew people and they alone would have the information necessary to evade detection.

FINAL VERDICT: Debunked, thanks to John Tenney's candid admissions on a skeptic podcast show. If we just went by what was on television, I couldn't say that. On Ghost Stalkers, his show, Tenney referred to this image over and over as an entity and an apparition, and suggested various supernatural explanations. But when John Tenney recently spoke to skeptics, he informed them that he didn't believe that, that he doesn't believe in ghosts or anything else. He told the skeptics he thought it was a homeless guy. I don't know if that is true, but I know he never told the Ghost Stalkers audience anything like that.

Who was it? For what it's worth I DID tell John E. L. Tenney in an email way back when this all started that I thought it was a homeless guy - or maybe even Chad, which he assured me was wrong. Now I'm more inclined to think that I got it right from the beginning and I let Tenney mislead me into thinking he had something genuine. After his interview on the skeptic podcast (A MUST LISTEN!) it seems pretty clear that you can't really take Tenney at his word.

ONLY John E. L. Tenney's disingenuous commentary made it seem real. He never thought it was paranormal. Even when he commented on this post back in November (you can still see that comment below), he was still selling the high points of what he thought made this video paranormal... but now we know he didn't believe that. Listen to the skeptic interview of Tenney and get the inside scoop. (Link below)
FINAL THOUGHT, February 20, 2015. Well, here we are, with me doing a mea culpa. I'm all about honesty with my readers, so I have to confess that I was duped by this one. John E. L. Tenney did a good job of selling this video as paranormal evidence on the show, and in email communications to me. Even though he tempered that position in his own blog, he still left it out there as possible paranormal evidence. And I was gullible enough to buy his testimony, since I wasn't there and I misread his character. Well, that just goes to show you: Never ever trust anything on one of these shows, or any of the people on them. They will say and do anything for ratings. In the end, you'll just get burned.  

Buyer Beware!

HERE IS THE LINK to the Skeptic podcast where John E. L. Tenney confesses that HE DOES NOT BELIEVE IN GHOSTS and never found anything paranormal. According to Tenney, he acts like he believes in the paranormal so that he can get people to come to his lectures where he hopes to convert them.

HELPFUL TIME CODE GUIDE FOR THE PODCAST! Although the host of this podcast is nice as pie to Tenney (because he's talking to one of his fellow non-believers) the guy is a major dick in general and has a hugely smug sense of superiority (rather unjustified from what I've heard). So you may want to avoid the smugness oozing out of his mouth and skip to the highlights (not that John Tenney seems to have any better opinion of those who believe in the paranormal, but I can't fix that for you):
  • 19:10 The show is NOT about figuring out if a place is haunted
  • 24:10 "It shocks people when I tell them I don't believe in ghosts."
  • 30:40 "It's really funny that someone who doesn't believe in any of this snuck onto a show." (Referring to himself).
  • 42:00 John E. L. Tenney refers to himself again as a non-believer.
  • 45:50 Reiterates once again, "I don't believe in ghosts."
  • 46:20 Refers to what he is doing as somewhat manipulative. In this whole segment, (from this point on) John E. L. Tenney details how he uses the idea of being on a ghost hunting show to get people to come to his lectures so he can "rip down the fabric of what they think they believe." (John's words, again).

This John Tenney revelations reminds me of something from professional wrestling known as the heel turn. You have a guy who says he's on your side, then when your back is turned - BOOM - you get hit in the head with a chair. The "chair" in this case is that John is a nonbeliever who isn't looking for evidence of hauntings at all. In fact, you were foolish if you believed that, according to Tenney.

But who is supposed to be impressed by John's heel turn? Are his new fans now the fundamentalist materialist skeptics? I doubt it. They don't believe John is one of them, despite his insistence that he is a total skeptic and his believer fans are idiots, they aren't buying it.  And the skeptics are skeptical of John for some very good reasons. The first being that he constantly sells his "findings" as evidence of paranormal activity on the show. Tenney tells them it's just an act, but they aren't so sure.

Then, if you just plug John Tenney into a Google search, you'll come up with John declaring the Devil is real! And other such religious pronouncements.All from a guy who says he is a skeptic and doesn't believe in anything. Who is the real John Tenney? We'll probably never know.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post or blog is meant to suggest that the supernatural or paranormal does not exist. The fact is, I don't know. All I can do is look at the evidence to see if it stands up to the test of very simple scrutiny. If it passes, yay. If it fails, oh well... there's always next time. Investigators are human. I'm human. We all make mistakes. My pointing out the mistakes that others make should not be taken to imply that they are wrong in general, or that the things they investigate are only the product of imagination.  And the number one lesson of this post: TRUST NOTHING ON A PARANORMAL TV SHOW! Assume they are lying (because they probably are).

Investigator John Tenny enters the room (same camera). John is 6'2"
           ...... photo courtesy John E. L. Tenney

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Old Wheeler Hotel, Ghost Caught on Video?

When I first saw this ghost video, I was blown away. It just blinks when you see it at normal speed, but in the slowed down version (second half of the posted video) it made me feel like a figure really crossed in front of the television screen! Wow, proof of the supernatural at last. Why aren't these guys on television?

Oh yes, this video is a few years old - I only found it because I read a review of the Old Wheeler Hotel, where this event takes place. You can see the paranormal investigator sleeping in the bed. There's a blip on the screen. Can't tell what it was. But then the video has a second half where it's shown in slow motion, and the blip now looks more like a figure. Sort of. I was stunned. Be sure to watch the video before you continue reading! These are investigators from PSI of Oregon, located in Coos Bay. They don't have much on youtube but this one certainly got my attention! Feel free to check out their web site.

But seriously - watch the video first! Twice!


Did you watch the video? No, really, you need to do that first....

I was able to break the video down into frames, and brighten it a bit, just to see what is going on here. When you do that, it looks much less impressive. First, though, I want to mention that I applaud their work. People who want to provide evidence that paranormal activities are real should be thorough and open in their investigations. I'm always excited to find anything new and different, and this one got me excited.

Looking at the frames from the slow motion portion of the video, brightness enhanced but no other changes:

Time stamp: 8 hrs 14m 17sec
You'll want to focus on the television set. This is an old old picture tube type television. The kind you can't buy anymore. You might want to look-up the process of how they work. Basically, an electron gun at the back of the tube shoots a beam of charged particles at the front of the tube, the inside of which is coated with phosphor, so the particles cause the phosphor to glow momentarily. It's a single stream of particles, the gun itself is moved back and forth very rapidly by electromagnets. They're a big bunch of wires surrounding the neck of the tube, should you ever get to look at one.  Obviously, as with any mechanical process (and this IS mechanical) stuff can go wrong.  Here you can see that the very bottom right of the picture is pulling in just a tiny amount. In other words, the electron scan is missing a little at the corner. The picture tube is probably pretty worn out, so this is no surprise.

8hrs 13min 31 seconds
Here we see that the tired picture tube scanning has lost a few dozen pixels or so wide stretch from the bottom right to the right middle - and now the scan failure is creeping across the top of the picture. Again, this is old mechanical picture tube equipment - and it's been left running for hours. This thing happens with old tvs left on for long periods. The static (rather than an actual picture) provides no information so the electron gun has to hit every pixel. It's more than it can handle..

8hrs 14min 02 seconds
Now the scan has filled in at the top, but expanded the scan failure along the bottom - AND it's overscanning a little on the left side, about two thirds of the way down, creating a little bright spot.

We've captured our ghost!  Very interesting. When you watch the video,  it really looks like a shadowy figure walks in front of the tv. This is an optical illusion. The TV is the source of light, it's right in front of the camera AND it's the brightest object in the room by several orders of magnitude.When you look at the frames, you see the only thing happening here is electron gun scan failure in the old picture tube. The illusion of motion comes from how the scan failure creeps around the corners of the screen - and as it does so, it darkens the room a little (since it is the primary source of light) and the smearing of the whiteness of the screen (because it's the light source) means the darkening of the picture also appears to spread vertically from the image. That's the camera's sensor having trouble with the sudden light change.  And with this frame analysis, you can now see that the only thing darkening the room is the slight loss of light from the television. There is no intervening figure.

Disappointing. I really thought they had something at first. Oh well, try try again!  No apparitions. No ghosts, just the appearance of failing 20th century technology, as far as I can see. If you have an alternative explanation, I will be interested to hear it. Oh well... Now, if you want to say the scan failure was caused by paranormal phenomena, that's a different question. I'm answering the main question: No, there isn't any figure present. The root cause of the apparent picture tube failure is something that is a bit beyond me. Perhaps some technical experts would like to weigh-in..

So, I'm sorry (very), PSI of Oregon investigators. Sorry Old Wheeler Hotel.  I wanted very much to believe you. But alas ....at least as far as the presence of a full body apparition of some sort -  u debunked.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post or blog is meant to suggest that the supernatural or paranormal does not exist. The fact is, I don't know. All I can do is look at the evidence to see if it stands up to the test of very simple scrutiny. If it passes, yay. If it fails, oh well... there's always next time. Investigators are human. I'm human. We all make mistakes. My pointing out the mistakes that others make should not be taken to imply that they are wrong in general, or that the things they investigate are only the product of imagination. I named this blog "U Debunked It" to be cute, but I actually hate the debunking mindset. One should go into every investigation with an open mind. It's the only way to find out what is really there. That is what I do.