the thing about EVP

In 1980 the film ‘The Changeling’ was released by MGM. It is a pretty effective ghost/haunted house/mystery movie starring the great George C. Scott. As the film openings we see Scott’s character, John Russell, suffer an incredible tragedy. The story then continues four months later as Russell gets back to living his life.

He moves to Seattle where he takes a job as a college music professor. Russell leases an old historical mansion which is waaay more house than one man needs, but makes for a more haunting setting than a little bungalow. Soon after taking residence, he begins to experience ghostly activity.

Of course, he’s skeptical at first, but before long he enlists the assistance of a psychic. The medium and her husband arrive and set out to see if they can identify who is haunting the house and what it is the ghost wants.

A séance is held.

The psychic goes into a trance and does what I think is called dissociative writing. She asks questions of the ghost as she runs a pencil over a pile of paper. Whenever she receives an answer, which only she can hear, she writes it down and her husband reads it to the others present at the séance.

Thrills and chills ensue.

The séance ended, everyone has gone, leaving John Russell alone in the big, old house. (Unless you count the ghost.) The séance was tape recorded, so he decides to listen to what happened. To his astonishment, he hears the voice of a child answering the medium’s questions! The answers all correspond with what the psychic wrote while in her trance, only no one else had heard the answers.

The voice is as clear as can be. The film leaves no doubt that somehow a reel-to-reel tape recorder can pick up voices from beyond the grave. It is a movie, so anything is possible. However, the real world is something altogether different.

Why this mini movie review? It gives me the opportunity to make a skeptical observation on Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). As I said the real world is different than the movies. The recorded ghost voice in ‘The Changeling’ is what real world paranormal enthusiasts would consider an example of Class A EVP.

From the admittedly small amount of research I’ve done, the vast majority of EVP examples I found are nowhere near as clear as in the movies. More often than not they are in the ear of the beholder. The examples I’ve found all tend to be described as though they were right out of ‘The Changeling’, but they don’t play that way.

(I must say that in my research I did find one EVP example that sounded clear. It sounded as though someone, in this world, spoke in a low voice into the recorder. I guess this is a bit of a catch 22 for the paranormal folks. Skeptics require clear evidence, but, the clearer the photograph or voice, the more likely it will be considered a hoax. I know that’s not fair, but we only have the presenter’s word that no one else was present to make that ghostly voice. And there is the fact that that particular EVP hasn’t made headlines and it remains tucked away on one of the thousands of paranormal websites.)

Last September, I appeared on Scotty Robert’s internet radio program, “Dead Reckoning”. Scotty is a dear friend of mine who can hardly be considered a skeptic. He reads tarot, hunts ghosts, speaks at paranormal events and hosts that internet radio show on politics and the paranormal and whatever else comes to his mind. He has me on periodically to add a skeptical perspective. We do our usual round and round on science, skepticism, and the paranormal.

During my September visit, my friend mentioned EVP he and his team of investigators had recorded. He talked about one in particular of the several he claimed to have captured of a singularly foul-mouthed “spirit”. The “spirit” told Scotty and his fellow investigator, “F--- you both!” when asked to turn on a flashlight. Of course, they didn’t hear the voice until they played back the tape.

During that show, Scotty described the vulgar EVP just the way I described that scene from ‘The Changeling’. Then, 10 minutes later, he played the clip. It was laughable. All one can hear for sure was some low gurgling sound. It was nothing like the profane statement Scotty claimed. My reaction was, “That was so convincing!” I was being sarcastic.

As a skeptic, I require much better evidence then some scratchy static or some low gurgling sounds to convince me of ghosts or angels or demons, etc. These real world EVPs are not like those from Hollywood. They are far too subjective and prone to suggestion to be considered convincing evidence of anything but wishful thinking.

Remember: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

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