Halloween Post, 2010

               Happy Halloween to everyone. I hope you have someone in your life that gets excited about the sweet prospects that today brings. It’s only one day a year, after all, when we get to wake up dreaming of all the free candy we’ll be eating later tonight. While Halloween has an interesting history, and encourages us all to have fun as we dress up as goblins, heroes and ghouls, I’d like to take a moment to address something a little more serious, and definitely creepier (IMO). 

               A story on CNN.com, “Paranormal Activity Finds Mainstream Acceptance”, got me to thinking again about science education in the United States. The article recounts how a young woman, Peaches Veatch, got involved with a group called California Paranormal Private Investigations in 2007. It explains that programs such as “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal State,” and “Ghost Adventures” have made it easier for people to talk about their experiences, because before, “no one wanted to talk about the unknown”.

               This makes me want to laugh and pull my hair out at the same time. Young people who are obviously fascinated by the boundaries of what is known, wasting valuable time and energy pursuing ghosts. I have seen the programs mentioned above, and I am always amazed by the lack of scientific reasoning behind anything that the “hunters” do. According to one of the article’s ghost experts, “Despite all of the fancy equipment that people see on television, the only real necessities are a good flashlight, digital voice recorder for conducting EVP sessions and a digital camera,” said Bernstein. “Electromagnetic frequency detectors can also be helpful to communicate.”

               All of the jargon and scientific gadgetry is used to disguise the fact that the only real equipment you need is an active imagination and a poor understanding of science. No one on the shows ever bothers to explain how a ghost could produce an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) or how the research team accounts for background disturbance, such as radio or white noise. There is no explanation for how ghosts create cold spots in a place or why they seem to prefer the infrared spectrum to operate. The “research teams” often choose sites known for their haunting lore and shoot the programs using the green night vision, which makes everything seem alien and disturbing; and suggestive.

               While this may all be meant as entertainment, it unfortunately reinforces age old superstitions and steals away too many young minds who might otherwise enjoy the real mysteries being uncovered daily by science. Imagine if instead of listening to the self claimed psychic Sylvia Browne and being inspired to chase ghosts, young Peaches Veatch had learned of Jacques Costeau’s explorations of the oceans and had been inspired to chase aquatic creatures. Ms. Veatch might have been one of the 2700 scientists who conducted a ten year survey of the ocean and discovered over a thousand new species of marine life. Perhaps she would have preferred studying tropical life had she ever heard of Darwin’s expeditions on the Beagle, in which case Peaches might have been one of the scientists who worked with the World Wildlife fund since 1999 and cataloged some 1200 new species in the Amazon Rain Forest. Maybe Ms. Veatch would have taken her search for the unknown into virology, where she could be working to crack the H1N1 or HIV threats. If she had learned enough science, Peaches Veatch might have heard of the Pioneer anomaly, dark matter, neutrinos or quantum mechanics and discovered that science is in a sense, already seriously engaged in the pursuit of “ghosts” and more than willing to “talk about the unknown”.

               Instead she is one of a group of paranormal investigators lugging around tape recorders, digital video cameras, magnetic spectrometers, and other equipment that Scooby Doo and his pals never seem to need to show there are no ghosts or monsters. In closing, one of the so-called ghost hunting experts says, “Our advice is to just be open to the possibility that this is real, and if one day you have an experience, you will know it to be true.” As for his advice, I am reminded of the saying, “It’s okay to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”

                Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have more Treats tonight than Tricks! Boo and see you all tomorrow.

UPDATE: Since posting, Ive learned of yet another awful show (that I’m watching now at 10pm) called “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal” on A&E, which takes the whole paranormal thing to a new creepier cult level. It’s one thing when adults believe in super powers, but when we dupe children and adolescents who are confused about the nature of reality, it seems mean and criminal. Or is it just me? 

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

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About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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