When I was a kid, I loved the idea of ghosts. Not in a religious sense, like I was comforted by the thought that the soul could survive death, or even the idea that there were phenomena out there that science couldn’t explain. I wasn’t that deep a kid. I just liked the concept of poltergeists floating around being all scary and translucent, and maybe sometimes they make creepy croaking noises because they died via neck-break. In hindsight, I may have been a strange child. I imagine my childhood guidance councilors still talk about me to this day.
Ironically, I may be the one haunting them
Politically, I was very pro-ghost. So you can imagine my glee when, in the mid-2000s, an inexplicable surge of ghost hunting reality shows started showing up on TV. Oh man, did they ever. From Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Hunters Academy, Ghost Lab, Girly Ghosthunters, the list goes on and on and on.
Girly Ghosthunters was widely heralded for bringing long overdue gender equality to the ghost hunting world
Each show followed the same basic premise – a team of plucky ghost hunters shows up at a supposedly haunted location, wait until night falls, and shoot some very poor, very low quality video and audio recordings of nothing happening at all. Then they go back to their lab/trailer and analyze all the nothing they just shot. For some reason, these shows that were produced in the last ten years hold all the cutting-edge technology of a convenience store surveillance camera, so most of the show involves squinting at blurry video footage of an empty room.
It’s a well-known fact that ghosts only appear in standard definition
I was pretty into these shows at first, being they about ghosts and all. So you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that virtually every “paranormal” phenomenon caught on these shows had a completely rational scientific explanation. And now it’s time for me to share my disappointment with you.
“But Dan”, you might say, “Thousands of people see ghosts every year. What are people seeing?”
“Well,” I’d reply, unsure of whether I should use quotations here since I’ve been narrating this entire time, “let me tell you about a guy named Vic Tandy.”
Yes, the Vic Tandy
Before you accuse me of trying to change the subject, Vic Tandy was a medical equipment engineer who found uncovered a source of “ghostly” phenomenon completely by chance. He was working in his lab late at night, the story goes, and suddenly became very uneasy and broke out in a cold sweat. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a g-g-g-ghost!
Instead of quitting his job and hiding under his bed for all of eternity the way most of us would, he went back to examine the room the next day. He was a man of science, dammit; he wasn’t about to let this go by uninvestigated. He had a fencing blade in a vice in his lab, and noticed that the blade vibrated on its own. From there, he pieced together the fact that a new extractor fan in his lab created a standing wave of 19 Hz, just below the range of human hearing (20-20 000 Hz). This is known as infrasound.
The bigger mystery may be why a medical equipment engineer had a fencing sword in a vice in his lab
Infrasound causes a number of strange sensations in humans, including headaches, nausea, and feelings of dread, which are all commonly associated with ghost sightings. The pulse of 19 Hz is also close to the resonant frequency of the human eyeball, which may explain the ghostly shapes people see in their peripheral view. Infrasound is also responsible for the paralyzing fear effect that a tiger’s roar has, which is awesome.
It’s even more awesome if you visualize a tiger literally roaring out a ghost
Tandy and other researchers have studied “haunted” locations only to discover high levels of infrasound, providing a non-ghost explanation for ghost sightings.
“But Dan,” you might say, “Not all ghost encounters are about seeing ghosts. What about when ghosts move things, like you see in Ouija boards or table tilting, especially in this terrifying video taken by noted demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren?”
To be fair, that kitchen décor is pretty horrifying
First, I’m very impressed by your encyclopedic knowledge of videos taken by noted demonologists. That’s a pretty niche field, well done. Second, I’ll see your demonologist and raise you a renowned physicist. Michael Faraday, renowned physicist, studied the ideomotor effect, a psychological effect where beliefs or suggestions lead to unconscious coordinated muscular movement.
Also known as the “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It” effect
See, back in the 1800s, people used to get together for a good ol’ séance, as a close-knit community does. These séances would see people seated with their hands on a table and try to contact the dead. If they were lucky, the dead would reply in the form of moving the table around, or table-tilting. The same idea applies to modern Ouija boards. Faraday, performed an experiment at a séance performed by “very honorable people” where he put a bunch of marked cardboard sheets on the table top. He reasoned that if the people at the séance were unconsciously pushing the table instead of ghosts, the cardboard sheets would be staggered across the table top. Which is what happened.
Who would’ve thought humans were capable of supernatural feats?
The “very honorable” part of the last paragraph was meant to show that perfectly innocent people are susceptible to the ideomotor effect, which is why Ouija boards are so scary to people who believe in them. They see the little planchette move around the board without knowing that they’re moving it themselves. Which has the potential to reveal some deep-seated emotional issues.
“The spirit says I’m worried I’m not attractive enough to be with you. Curious”
“But Dan,” you say, because you know I don’t have a proper segue into this next section, “that covers ghost sightings and ghost contact, but what about the things they show in those ghost hunting shows, like glowing orbs and cold spots?”
“Surely these guys would never lie to us!”
First of all, think about what would happen if these shows ever found real evidence of a ghost. Would they really show it in a half-hour episode on weeknight TV, sandwiched between two episodes of Say Yes to the Dress?
“Tune in this week when the guys make the biggest scientific discovery of all time by finding undeniable proof of the afterlife, having foundation-shaking implications for all the world’s religions and our understanding of the meaning of life. Stay tuned afterwards for a new episode of 90 Day Fiance.”
But back to the glowing orbs and cold spots. If you’ve been fortunate enough to never witness desperate ghost hunters frantically shout about glowing orbs in their footage, let me show you what they look like:
Above: Indisputable proof of ghosts
The idea here is that the orbs aren’t visible to the human eye, but show up in photos and videos, and are ghosts. It’s never been explained why anyone thinks this. Know what they really are, though? If you said “bugs or minor detritus in front of the camera lens”, then you’re not making any friends in the ghost hunting community. You’re also right. As several studies have demonstrated, insects and dust particles that get close to a lens can reflect the camera light and show up as “orbs” on the final footage. And not even dead insects and dust particles.
The spirits are telling you to clean your lens
And those cold spots? The ones that ghost hunting shows say indicate a ghostly presence? Generic convection between hot and cold areas in a room. In fact, why would ghost make things cold, aside from giving out-of-ideas TV producers something to put on their ghost show?
It’s actually ghosts that make conference rooms too cold
Anyways, all of this isn’t to say that there are no ghosts, or afterlife, or unexplained mysteries out there, or even that ghost hunting as a hobby is pointless. Lots of people take a scientific approach to unexplained phenomena without making a spectacle of it on TV. I’m just saying that many of the “inexplicable” factors in ghost encounters are actually quite explicable. The biggest mystery of all is how ghost hunting shows produce enough material to fill out a season.
It helps if you watch ghost shows with other kinds of spirits
Now I’ve got my own ghosts to catch, because the child in me just died a little.