Get the Meaning?

Every day I talk with people I call true believers, people who believe in paranormal phenomena 100%.  People who can’t believe they are not being taken seriously, people who can’t believe that I don’t believe. 

You see I used to be a true believer, but when I found out the method of questioning everything, the paranormal belief slowly but surely faded and I became a skeptic.  I call myself the paranormal skeptic, because I still have a passion in investigating paranormal claims, I just look for rational and logical explanations and never evoke the supernatural as an explanation.

Yet, I do see people in the paranormal community who really want to be taken seriously, but haven’t given up the belief totally.  IMO here is the first thing people need to do, people need to start using terms properly.  Like the word energy.

The word energy is littered all over the paranormal community.  It isn’t just ghost hunters that use this word improperly, reiki enthusiasts, psychics and spiritual healers fall victim to this as well.  I will give a quick example on a way the word energy is used in the paranormal community.

This happened to my best friend Jason Korbus in a chat room to a radio show while I was being interviewed on what it means to be open minded.  The conversation they were talking about, involved the concept of Jesus.  Jason said that the belief in Jesus wasn’t bothersome; it was the fact that he was supernatural, which is what didn’t sit right with Jason.  The person in the chat opposed this and said Jesus healed people like doctors do, so Jason must also think doctors are magic or not believe in doctors.  Jason simply explained, doctors heal people with medicine and asked how Jesus healed people.  The response was that Jesus healed with energy, which science has proven.  Jason asked what kind of energy they were talking about.  This person replied with spiritual, healing and earth energy.  Jason had to explain; that science has never proven the energy this person was talking about.

I see this all the time, people misusing the word energy.  The way it is used in the ghost hunting world, sort of makes ghosts sound like a luminescent form of some kind or as Brian Dunning of Skeptoid says “Energy is considered to be literally like a glowing, hovering, shimmering cloud, from which adepts can draw power, and feel rejuvenated.”  And that is exactly how the word is used.  If people reading this don’t believe me, just ask any person who is a true believer in paranormal phenomena what a ghost is or how it manifest, I guarantee you will hear the word energy misused. 

So what is energy?   Energy is a thermodynamic quantity equivalent to the capacity of a physical system to do work.  To make this sound a bit easier, I am going to quote Brian Dunning again.  In his first episode of Skeptoid titled “New Age Energy” he defines energy as “measurable work capability.”  This is a brilliant definition and a lot easier to remember.  But what does all this mean?  Well let’s think about it this way.  When we eat our body takes the energy from the food and converts it into energy to do work.  This energy allows us to do work; such as walk, run and lift things.  As I write this article I am doing work, just as you are while reading this. 

Another concept paranormal enthusiasts get mixed up with or misuse is the first law of thermodynamics which says energy cannot be created or destroyed.  For some reason to paranormalist this means when you die, your soul exists, because energy cannot be created or destroyed.  However that isn’t at all what the first law of thermodynamics means.  It’s actually very simple; the first law of thermodynamics means when adding heat to a system only two things can be done.  Either it causes the system to do work or it changes the internal energy of the system.

Now when thinking of thermodynamics and human body it is even easier to understand.  Thermodynamics deals with heat.  Heat is a form of energy called thermal energy.  Now the human body can’t use heat to perform work, it only works from chemical energy.  So when a person does exercise, the heat produced is transferred to the skin and it is lost to the air and other surroundings. 

As you can see, it explains nothing that slightly resembles a soul or an explanation for ghosts.  I mean ghost hunters use energy when walking around a house in the dark but that’s about the extent of the energy used in ghost hunting.

The next word that is thrown around improperly is the word theory.  The paranormal field has taken this word and mutilated it to mean an idea I had while in the bathroom.  Anything that can’t be tested or produces no results is considered theory in the realm of the paranormal.  Actually anything anyone comes up with to hunt or explain ghosts is considered theory.  There are things called stone tape theory, water tape theory, the theory of E.V.P., E.M.F. theory and so on.  However the word theory is a little more than just an idea.

In science the word theory means a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory.  In the world of science a theory is valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it.  So a theory can be disproven, if only one alternate legitimate explanation can be given.

So now let’s look at what a hypothesis is.  A hypothesis is simply an educated guess or testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study.  So let us look at an example of how a scientific hypothesis may work for the paranormal field.

Example: Take a working radio and modify it so it continuously scans up and down the different channels.  This will create a way for us to have intelligent conversations with unknown entities.

So, right away I can provide an alternate explanation of what is going on.  People trying this method are using audio pareidolia with the fragmented words by DJ’s, songs, sports games, news broadcasts and commercials.  This is a legitimate explanation of what is going on, so this cannot be considered a theory.

Another thing people in the paranormal community can’t seem to grasp is the word scientific.  Over the years I have come across many ghost hunting teams who consider themselves scientific.  When I ask them, what makes you scientific, the answer is usually revolves around them not using psychics or because they are using top of line equipment.  Let me show you an example of what I mean.

On an article about a group called Para-Boston says this Para-Boston takes a 100% scientific approach to paranormal investigation, using state of the art technology including infrared DVR cameras, tri-field meters, electro magnetic field meters, IR thermometers, digital audio recorders, Mini DV cameras, etc.”

This doesn’t make you a scientific based group, not at all.  The cool thing about the word scientific is you don’t have to be a scientist to follow the scientific method.  I have a little saying about people in the paranormal field.  “If you are in this for thrills, good, go to a cemetery.  If you are in this for self validation, fine, just admit it.  If you are in this for science, only accept science as your answer.”  And as of right now, anytime you evoke the supernatural as an explanation, it is outside the realm of science.

The scientific method is actually really cool and very easy to understand.

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Do your background research.
  3. Construct a hypothesis.
  4. Test your hypothesis with experiments.
  5. Analyze your data and design a conclusion.
  6. Communicate your results.

If your hypothesis is true, perhaps it can move on to becoming a theory, however if it’s wrong, go back to step 3 and start from there.  However this has to be done correctly and peer reviewed.  It doesn’t mean take your results to a paranormal message board where you are only looking for people to confirm your belief systems.

The word skeptic is another disfigured word in the paranormal community.  I can remember once I was doing a debate on the paranormal and I said “I don’t believe ghosts exist, however if positive evidence is shown I will reevaluate my belief depending on the evidence.”  I was instantly told by many people in the chat room that I wasn’t a skeptic.  You see, to the paranormal community a skeptic is a cynic. A cynic is a person who doesn’t believe despite positive evidence.

That isn’t what a skeptic is at all.  A skeptic is a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.  We usually test the reliability of these claims by using the scientific method.  It is seriously that simple.  However this explanation usually leads to another thing I wanted to briefly touch on, and that is being open minded.

Skeptics are constantly accused of being close minded, and my thought is, true skeptics are actually the most open minded people in the world.  For example I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I am ever shown positive extraordinary evidence, I will reevaluate my belief.  That is what truly being open minded means.  Not just accepting the possibility everything in this world exists without any kind of positive evidence.

I came up with my own informal logical fallacy when talking to people of this kind and it’s very simple to understand, I call it the appeal to open mindedness. The appeal to open mindedness states that just because one subscribes to that belief, doesn’t mean that belief actually exists. 

I usually use this when talking to people who try to tell me that know for a fact ghosts exist and I have to correct them by saying, no, you 100% believe ghosts exist.  There is a very big difference.  I like to quote Carl Sagan by saying “don’t be so open minded that your brain falls out.”  I usually follow it up by tell them the Pet Dragon in my garage story.

What if I told you I had a pet dragon that really breathed fire.  I keep him chained up in my garage for anyone who wanted to see him.  One day someone comes over because they want to see my pet dragon and when I open the door the only thing lying on the ground is a chain.  Do you think this person would believe me when I told them that the dragon was real but just invisible?  Or they would magically believe when I say you’re just not being open minded?  Not at all, they would most likely storm off and say “I can’t believe he thought I was the gullible.”   And that is the word I want everyone to look at, gullible.  Be open minded, not so open minded your brain falls out and not so open minded you are actually being gullible. 

Thanks for reading.

Last Minute Christmas Shopping Anyone?

So Christmas is only a week away and if you are looking for a quick gift for that “special someone” I have a wonderful suggestion. Take a ride over to your local bookstore and mosey on over to the science section, the book you’re looking for is The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.

The book teaches scientific method, skepticism and critical thinking. It explains the difference on what is viewed as legitimate science and what is viewed as pseudoscience. Just a few topics covered in this collection of 25 essays are alien abductions, astrology, channeling, crop circles, demons, electromagnetism, ESP, Roswell, UFOs and extraterrestrials.

So if you know someone new to skepticism, someone who loves science or someone who is REALLY into the paranormal this is the perfect gift, hell this is a perfect gift for anyone.