Paranormal Investigator Seeks Out Truth Behind Ghost Stories

Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell has been to many places and debunked a lot of “ghost” stories over the years. Unfortunately, most of the “paranormal” events that he investigates have turned out to be less than supernatural.

According to NBC News, most paranormal activity is done by living “ghosts”. These “ghosts” can be anything from hotel clerks that keep flipping lights on and off to keep guests talking about the place’s ghost story, a mischievous child playing pranks on his parents or other kids, or dust particles in a picture that has been mistaken for a “floating orb.”

“Much of what so-called ghost hunters are detecting is themselves,” Nickell, the author of “The Science of Ghosts,” told Alan Boyle. “If they go through a haunted house and stir up a lot of dust, they shouldn’t be surprised if they get a lot of orbs in their photographs.”

The “orbs” are actually out-of-focus reflections of dust particles from a camera flash. The random footsteps and clomping noises often turn out to be the footsteps of other crew members in the building or even someone on a stairway next door. Also, the weird readings that are often picked up by thermal-imaging is often left by living things.

Nickell, a former professional magician and detective, has been investigating and debunking paranormal activity for Skeptical Inquirer magazine and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry since the 1970s. “I’ve been in more haunted houses than Casper,” he joked.

Nickell, unlike most people, actually kind of likes his job.

“I wouldn’t want anyone ever to know this, but it really is a great deal of fun to do what I do,” Nickell said.

Nickell doesn’t only investigate paranormal activity and ghost stories, he also takes on psychic mediums who claim to speak with the dearly departed. In his book, Nickell describes his encounters with TV-show medium John Edward, who uses “cold reading” techniques to draw information out of a crowd. An example of these “cold reading” techniques is, “I feel like someone with a J- or G-sounding name has recently passed.”

“The people who profess to be able to talk to the dead tend to be either fantasy-prone personalities, or charlatans, or possibly a bit of both,” Nickell declared. “They would be harmless if they didn’t mislead so many people.”

Nickell understands that a belief in ghosts and the afterlife is important to people.

“If ghosts exist, then we don’t really die, and that’s huge. … It appeals to our hearts,” he said. “We don’t want our loved ones to die. We have this whole culture that we’re brought up with, that encourages this belief in ghosts.”

However, ghostbusting can be a very thankless job. If at anytime a ghost gets attached to a place or situation, then anything that happens can add support to that “ghost” story.

“No one is bringing you a ghost trapped in a bottle,” Nickell said. “What they’re offering is, ‘I don’t know.’ Over and over, they’re saying something like this: ‘We don’t know what the noise in the old house was, or the white shape in the photo. So it must be a ghost.’ These are examples of what’s called an argument from ignorance. You can’t make an argument from a lack of knowledge. You can’t say, ‘I don’t know, therefore I do know.’… If I could just teach people a little bit about the argument from ignorance, I think we could give the ghosts their long-needed rest.”

Do you believe in the paranormal and ghosts?