“Stump the Ghost Guy”
I wouldn’t say that I have a unique point of view among paranormal researchers, but it is a rather rare one. Most people exist huddled at opposite extremes; that is, they either have a passionate belief in paranormal phenomena, convinced by the tiniest shreds of evidence, or they think it’s all a bunch of superstition and Hollywood hogwash and keep their worldview locked behind a steel door.
There are a few of us in the middle, though. We are both scientist and mystic; believer and skeptic. For as much as I am a fervent supporter of paranormal happenings- be it the adventurer in me or due to religious persuasions, I am also equally skeptic of any evidence presented to me because the scientist in me has more questions than answers.
This double-edged sword is unleashed every time someone finds out that I am a paranormal investigator and decides to play a game of “Stump the Ghost Guy.”
I’ll be at a bar or some social event and someone will either already know what I do or I’ll innocently give them my business card- which is a great way to make friends and network, but when I see their eyes flare upon seeing those words I get that feeling like a mouse caught in a trap.
“Oh, my god! You’re a ghost hunter? That’s so cool! Hey, let me tell you about my (experience, aunt, grandma, etc)…”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love hearing peoples’ stories and I’m not trying to be pretentious, but there’s a time and a place and I’m not always in business mode; however, if there aren’t too many distractions or I’m not preoccupied I’m always happy to hear a good story and share in a good discussion. The problem arises when too much is expected as a result of the conversation.
The believer will finish their story, sometimes accompanied by a grainy photo on their four-inch smartphone and anxiously await some mind-blowing revelation that confirms everything they’ve ever believed.
When I can’t give them a definitive answer they shuffle and the conversation turns to them trying to find a way out. I know what they’re thinking: “This guy doesn’t know squat.”
The skeptic will want me to give an answer that they have pre-written rebuttals for so they can turn up their nose and say, “Ha! I knew it. It’s all lies and Harry Potter nonsense.”
Both scenarios always- and I do mean always- include the storyteller asking, “Well, how do you explain it, then?”
The short of it is, I can’t. Nope, I can’t and I won’t; especially not on the spot.
I wasn’t there. I didn’t see all of the gathered material, which would include all of the dismissed as well as the saved evidence. I can’t verify any of the many, many environmental and human factors that could impact the event. At the end of the day it’s just a story. One of many that have been shared around holiday tables and campfires for generations. Unless it’s a well-researched or well-known case, then as much as the believer in me may be intrigued by the possibilities, the skeptic has to say, “Sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”
I also refuse to be put in a position where the storyteller’s feelings could be hurt because I seemingly dismiss their claims. Look, I’d never call anyone a liar but I wasn’t there and a brief conversation and a couple of tiny digital photos doesn’t give me enough material to base a knowledgeable or reputable verdict on it.
Speculation is what the folks on Ghost Adventures do. Real science looks at all of the evidence and investigates before rendering an opinion.
To expect a detailed analysis on the spot with little or no time to properly digest everything is not only pointless but also rather rude.
The only thing I can do is keep an open mind and say, “That is cool. What have you discovered in your own research?”
It’s very unusual for a case to be well-documented and referenced. This occurs in academic circles, let alone outside of it. Some of the stories I’ve listened to aren’t even the experience of the teller, but third-party recollections.
Have you ever played ‘telephone’ as a child? That’s where someone tells you something, you have to tell it to the person next to you, and they, in turn, pass it on down the line. By the time it gets to the end it’s a mess- with dates, times, and locations mixed or replaced.
I read a book about ghosts of Anchor Bay, a community off Lake St. Clair in Michigan, which was like that- a total mess. The speculations were off the wall at best, the photographic ‘evidence’ a joke, and the historical records either false or grossly misinterpreted.
While we’re at it, there’s been too much dependence on personal anecdotes in paranormal research these days, anyway, and it really needs to stop.
There’s one that springs to mind from here in Michigan, coincidentally also in the Anchor Bay area, that I’m not going to give further credence to by repeating the name- but there are plenty of readers out there who know what I’m talking about.
I only mention it because I’ve heard story after story for years and there’s just no feasible, credible way to verify any of it. Not a shred. It’s just a cool story with a local twist. It’s not science, it’s story time.
Local and personal ghost stories simply exist. That’s it. They don’t become valid evidence simply because they’re repeated or have had a few similar versions. It’s never ‘evidence’. They certainly don’t become credible just because you’ve cornered a paranormal investigator with your story and he or she gives their best opinion about it, thus stamping it with the word of gospel truth.
These experiences are called ‘personal’ for a reason. Only you can determine just how important or how much it means to you to find the answers. Do the research. Investigate and attempt to replicate the experience. Appreciate it for what it is- a brief moment where you peered across the Great Divide into something amazing and special.
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions