Across the Great Divide

The Harsh Truth about Ghost Boxes

The various ghost hunting “reality” shows that plague the airwaves have given a great deal of attention lately to an amusing new line of gear that merge EMF, audio recorder, and K-II devices all in to one unit; some even assert to turn this data into spoken words that they spout as proof of spirit contact. While in theory this sounds fantastic, in practice it’s a very different, very sobering, reality.

Not only are these devices laughable at best, but these “professional” ghost hunters are actually trying to pass off the data from these devices as legitimate evidence of paranormal activity. These devices are complete crap. Come on, folks- this is supposed to be science, not a scene from the set of Ghostbusters III.

There are numerous versions of these devices readily available for sale on eBay, and YouTube abounds with video clips of their supposed findings. It’s no shock to learn that the fine “professionals” over at Travel Channel’s Paranormal Adventures swear by these toys. That, if anything, is proof enough to discredit these devices and their data.

I first came across this type of device a few years ago when I heard of the Ovilus. Created by Bill Chappell of Digital Dowsing and appropriately labeled “for entertainment only,” it claimed to translate EMF fluctuations into phonetic speech by converting the EMF readings into numbers, and then those numbers into words by sounding them out using text-to-speech algorithms via a vocabulary of 512 words.  Various modes on the device include speech mode, using the environment to pick the words to say; phonetic mode, using the environment to create words phonetically; commutation mode, using speech mode and phonetic mode together, EMF Mode; yes/no mode, to ask questions and get yes or no answers (a digital Ouija board?); level mode, to watch the energy change in the environment; and dowsing mode, to work like a pair of dowsing rods.  It is powered by a battery and is equipped with a headphone jack, a recording jack with attenuated output, and something called the ‘Paranormal Puck.’  The Puck is designed to aid in paranormal research and meant to be the “center” of investigation as a place to gather, log, track and maintain the data.  It also watermarks data to prevent tampering. Users note that it can be “randomly repetitious” at times by stating selected words for every question asked and every environment investigated.

*ahem* Really? Say it isn’t so.

The first question that comes to mind is how can the inventor of this device possibly test the results?  What evidence or reasons are the formulas based on? Whatever method he used to equate EM energy with words would have to start as an arbitrary guess.  It would then need to be tested repeatedly to verify the results. In any case, this makes me think of the dog collars that supposedly turn barking patterns into words like “outside” and “water;” seems to me that this is just another example of wannabe researchers barking up the wrong tree.

The fine folks at Paranormal Research & Resource Society frequent their local Radio Shack for their “ghost boxes.”

Known as the “Radio Shack hack,” it was discovered in 2007 by a retired electrical engineer. These are modified AM/FM radios that continuously scan the various bands to create white noise in the belief that entities can use the audio falloff from broadcasting stations to communicate.     One model, the 12-469, simply produces a clicking sound when scanning through the bands; other models are modified armband FM radios from the likes of Jensen that are common among joggers.

A man named Frank Sumption invented a version of the device after experimenting with software to record EVPs. His device would produce random voltage to create raw audio from an AM tuner, which was then amplified and filtered into an echo chamber for recording.

What makes these boxes unique in terms of EVP analysis is that in addition to being modified to record the sounds, because that they were originally radios they are equipped with external speakers that proponents say can be used for real-time two-way communication with the other side.

Not surprising, many users report that results of the ghost box are affected by the strength of the radio signals in the area; poor signal quality reduced the ability for spirits to make contact (insert facepalm slap here). Furthermore, what conclusive proof do users have that the voices are indeed paranormal in nature and not simply the broadcast of local stations? Depending on the atmospheric conditions one could even pick up a station from great distances. This is not unlike an experience I had with a CB radio some years back. While driving in the northern suburbs of Detroit one clear summer night I ended up in a chat with a trucker outside of Las Vegas!

Anyone with the latest generation of Smartphone can even download an app (often for free or a few bucks) that claims to do the same. Ghost Radar is one that comes to mind that I’ve come across myself from the Microsoft Marketplace. These are toys, nothing more. If that’s your team’s idea of science, stay at home and play Angry Birds instead.

I’m all for inventiveness, and I think some of the reasoning behind these devices has some merit; but these self-made devices are tainted by their very nature. No conclusive proof could ever possibly come from them unless the findings can be proven using other verifiable equipment as a control measure. As with the field of paranormal research itself, the tools and theories behind them need to go through extensive experimentation and testing to prove or disprove their validity for recording and measuring paranormal activity, let alone the resulting data that is collected by them.

One again we have the misguided practice of amateurs do disservice and disrespect to science.  I applaud those who invent these ghost boxes, as necessity is truly the mother of invention; but I must condemn their inept notion that anyone with an intelligence greater than a garden radish take their findings seriously. The Ovilus and the various ghost boxes need to undergo years of intensive experimentation in various settings and controls to not only prove their worth, but decisively identify what sounds or readings mean exactly which words or phrases.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- it doesn’t matter how new or fancy the technology is, a tool in the hands of the unwitting is just a toy.

As always, happy hunting in your quest for knowledge, and here’s to a very happy new year!

© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions