Friday, June 26, 2015

The EVP as Scientific Evidence

People love electronic voice phenomena (EVP) for personal validation of paranormal activities. I don't know any ghost hunting teams that don't use them, because you can get an EVP just about anywhere, any time. What is done in every case I've seen is quite unscientific - fortunately, I'm going to offer a remedy for that situation.

My biggest issue with EVP recordings is the captioning of ambiguous environmental sounds: It could be the person's fingers moving on the body of the recorder (which with digital models, that is really loud!), it could be the person's own subconscious vocalizations, or stomach gurgling or joints creaking... or a person speaking in another room or outside the building. Captioning (or otherwise telling someone what to listen for) just triggers the brain's natural pareidolia function: It finds meaning, even when meaning isn't really present. To get a better handle on this, you must read my post about the use of Spirit Boxes, EVP recordings and the like.

We're not talking about hoaxing, here. There is plenty of hoaxing to be found, too, especially on YouTube. We're talking about sincere attempts to find evidence of paranormal activity. Mostly, it's just audio pareidolia - something the human brain does by its nature. And here we come to the crux of the problem: In order to rule-out pareidolia, we have to show that there are scientific controls going on (such as recording in a soundproof room or box). Nobody does that, although I'd like to help rectify this issue.

On another page, I've written about how audio pareidolia may still have a paranormal component, but having said that we must also admit that if it is paranormal at this level (psychic) then it still isn't scientific evidence; just more personal validation. And with normal EVP procedures as presented to us, we have only personal validation.

There's nothing wrong with personal validation, of course, it's  just that it isn't scientific evidence. Yes, you are sure you heard something. Do other people hear the same thing without you telling them what to listen for? Is it just your fingers brushing the body of the recorder? Did you breathe-in at that moment, thus making a sound? Did your clothes rustle a bit? Did your joints creak? Did a floor board pop? Did your stomach growl? Did someone say something in another room or outside the building?  Don't know? Of course you don't know - nobody can say for certain what a sound might be, when you make open room recordings.

There are all kinds of sounds going on - even in a "quiet" room - of which you may be consciously unaware. When you play back the recording, those sounds you didn't notice while you were making the recording will suddenly seem paranormal - but only because you didn't notice them when they happened.

I'm proposing that we stop playing ghost hunter and start developing scientific controls so that IF we get something on a recording, it is no longer mere personal validation but actual evidence. It can be done...

The Pagani Controlled EVP Experiment

What you will need:
  • Two identical digital recorders
  • A carry-able soundproof box with a door and battery powered light in it.
  • A video camera on a tripod.
  • Computer software that can put two audio tracks side by side for comparison. I am currently using the Acoustica MP3 Audio mixer program. It allows for side by side synching of tracks without changing them, and you can amplify any interesting points within the program, also without changing the original audio. There are probably other programs that do this, too.

You might search "How to build a sound proof box" here. That's a start. You need a box small enough to be carried by two people (or one) but not tiny. You'll want to make it as soundproof as you can, but also realize that nothing is perfect, which is why we have a control mechanism (the second recorder).

I'd put a battery powered light in the box, because I want to make it as friendly as possible. - and of course a digital recorder set on maximum quality. Note: Always set digital recorders to maximum bit rate, otherwise you get compression artifacts.

You will be taking the box an all of your equipment to a proposed haunted location. Hopfully, you will thoroughly scout out the location in advance and determine a relatively quiet area within the proposed haunted zone to place your box.

Experiment Procedure:
  1. Set-up the box near the center of alleged haunting activity, if you can. Hopefully, it's fairly quiet, but you will have a control recording to help you sort out environment noise from possible EVP activity.
  2. Place the video camera at a location opposite of where you intend to stand and start the video.
  3. If there is a particular item that is associated with the haunting, or an item belonging to the suspected spirit at that location that is small enough to fit in the box, place that item inside and turn on the light.
  4. Have both recorders in your hand and start them simultaneously. Place one recorder inside the box, and announce, "I'm placing recorder 1 inside the box."  Close the door, and announce "I'm closing the box door."
  5. Walk away from your set-up, as far as is possible in the room, while still in range of the video recorder.
  6. Announce your intentions.Something as simple as "I want to communicate with anyone present, and I've placed a box with a device in it to help."
  7. Ask questions!  I might begin by asking, "Are there any spirits present?" And "Do you wish to communicate?"
    • "Please enter the box, if you can, and see what is inside."
    • "Please answer my questions using the device inside the box."
    • If you have an item in the box, say so. "There is an item inside the box in the room, can you identify it?"
    • "Are you associated with the item inside the box?"
    • "What is your name?"
    • "Why are you here?"
    • "Do you need help?"
    • "Do you have any messages you would like to give us?"
    Add any questions germane to the situation. Allow plenty of time between questions for answers. When you are done, thank the spirit for their help. It doesn't matter if you think maybe there's nothing happening: There MIGHT be, and being polite is appropriate even when you don't know if anyone is there.
  8. Announce that you are going to close the session. Walk back to the box and announce when you open the door. Announce when you are removing the recorder. Stop both recordings simultaneously.

Post-Experiment analysis.

  1. Download both recordings to your computer while preserving them on the devices. The preservation part is important in case any questions about sound sources arise.
  2. Line up the two recordings in your audio software so that you can compare tracks.
  3. Look for sounds from the box recording that do not appear in the external control recording. 
  4. Amplify as necessary but do not apply additional filters. Everything you do must be logged and the original recording must be preserved. This means that any amplification work you do will be saved as a separate file.
  5. Document everything!
  6. If you get something, share it! Save a separate file of your evidence and play it for several people, one at a time, without giving them clues as to what to hear. Do they hear a message? Do they generally agree as to the content of the message? The video of the session will provide supporting evidence in that case. Don't be disappointed if nothing happens, though. There are so many possibilities: For the skeptic, the only answer is that spirits don't exist, but for more open minded people we realize that it might be difficult for any spirit to understand your instructions or use the equipment provided. And we're not even mentioning willingness to communicate!  If you get nothing, nothing is proven. Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack; there are too many variables. All you can do is keep trying and keep your controls tight.

So there you have it, the first EVP experimental method with scientific controls. It's not perfect but it's a whole world away from what everyone else is doing. And yes, it is a lot of work, but think of it this way: You might be the first researcher to provide scientific evidence of hauntings.  That would be worth all of your trouble, wouldn't it?