And now for something completely different on Practical Skepticism:
I think my house is haunted! Should I call a paranormal investigator?
The short answer is “No”. But there is a surprisingly long and complicated answer that’s worth exploring.
Why do some people feel the need to call for help for their perceived paranormal problem? What is the harm?
Belief in the paranormal is widespread. It’s foolish to ignore that and reprehensible to dismiss the general public as “stupid” for subscribing to such beliefs. Our culture is rather accepting of belief in ghosts, spirits and hauntings. Our families, friends, and the media (especially television) reinforce such beliefs. Since around 2000, with the advent of paranormal reality television, many viewers accept that paranormal investigation and ghost hunting are legitimate fields of research.
It’s common for people to experience strange and not readily explainable events in their living and working spaces. Lights going on and off, appliance malfunction, lost items, noises, smells, disturbing feelings, etc. If they already hold an accepting view of paranormal activities, they will interpret such events in terms of that view. And, they may decide that they need help from one of the many, many local groups that portray themselves as paranormal investigators. Most do not charge a fee, they say they want to help, and they appear to know what they are doing.
I asked some former and current paranormal investigators the question “Should you call in a paranormal investigator?” They gave me straight talk I’m sure you haven’t heard on this topic before. But you need to.
Mellanie, currently a paranormal investigator, says that requesting assistance from a paranormal team is not necessarily a bad thing. But the main focus should first be on investigating the investigators. Look at the quality of their presentation to you, the client.
Some teams do have the ability to think critically and assist people in need. For example, a household problem could be related to wiring or plumbing. Getting in qualified professional technicians can be near impossible or prohibitively expensive. Mellanie says that people who may believe in the paranormal may not know what to do and are stressed:
From our experience, [homeowners] have been very appreciative when we go in and can help them understand what’s really going on. We don’t make them feel “dumb” in any way or belittle their beliefs. We don’t even try and convince them ghosts are or aren’t real. Their personal spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be, are not for us to judge. We simply explain what we can and we also provide referrals to electricians, plumbers, etc. that offer reasonable prices and are good at what they do.
The website of a paranormal group will give you a good indication of how they present themselves. Avoid groups that appear to be too steeped in paranormal or occult belief (demons), those that can’t write or spell well, and those that look like thrill-seekers or call themselves “paranormal experts”.
Angela agrees with Mellanie, to a point. It’s true, Angela says, that a low-income household may benefit from someone who knows more about house issues to find simple fixes to solve a problem. But she struggled with the idea of condoning calling in a paranormal team to do it:
Many have personal agendas, such as playing pretend scientist or possibly even fraud. There are other options that should probably be considered.
Three other former ghost hunters, now turned skeptics, felt even more strongly against calling in a paranormal team.
Kenny gets contacted often to do investigations. However, he says that calling in a ghost hunter is the LAST thing you should do”
There are very, very few teams that I would trust to do an investigation from a truly detective perspective. In my experience, most owners already have a solidified belief that their place is “haunted”; that belief gets “validated” by TV shows.
It’s no secret that paranormal teams are heavily influenced by what TV ghost hunters do and copy their techniques without question. It looks convincing.
“If I truly thought my house was haunted,” Kenny notes, “after spending money on electricians, plumbers, I would attempt to contact a University before a paranormal team.”
Jason and Bobby are also former paranormal investigators and know well that almost none of these self-styled researchers know what they are doing. Jason says:
I was actively involved in a paranormal group for years. I know I gave bad information to people at times, and I also know that there were other groups in the area that were a lot worse than we were. I would really have to suggest that the average person not call in a group to help with their perceived paranormal problem. It’s just really difficult to find people who know what they’re talking about, but all too easy to find people who don’t.
Bobby shared the same sentiments:
I cringe when I think back to all these houses that I “investigated” and sat down with home owners and passed off tons of false information as if it were science. These home owners call in groups as if they are experts, so whatever information that is given will be looked upon as if it were experts. To me this is very dangerous; I don’t think anyone should ever call in paranormal investigation teams.
Bobby also noted that some paranormal investigators might advise homeowners that there was a problem with high EMF readings (based on their blinky-light gadgets) and tell them they should call an electrician to fix it. “I often wonder if the family should hold a paranormal group responsible for payment after an electrician is called and says, ‘I don’t know what those guys are talking about, all the levels on you circuit breaker are normal…that’ll be $250 please’.”
Bobby and Jason still get calls to investigate homes through old contacts. But as soon as the person finds out they no longer believe in ghosts, that they would be seeking only non-paranormal explanations, they don’t call back. Once again, a major factor in calling in a paranormal investigation team seems to be that the person wants their own beliefs validated.
“Without exception, every tenant or homeowner I visited believed they had a ghost in their home, and wanted that belief to be confirmed by our group,” Jason recalls. “When we would stay at their house overnight and came away empty-handed,they seemed disappointed. When we found real, logical explanations for their perceived ghost, I think they were satisfied, but not really truly relieved.”
So, we see that the idea of calling in help for a perceived paranormal problem is not so simple. It’s couched in personal belief, a sense of real concern and maybe fear, and could be possible normal problems the resident doesn’t have the background to assess.
There are several sound, scientific, and sane reasons why you should NOT call a paranormal team:
- It’s unlikely they are bonded or insured. What if they cause damage or get hurt in the home?You do not know who these people are. Are you comfortable with strangers in your house? What if they ask you to leave for the night? Does the risk outweigh any benefit?
- They are not scientists, they are not doing legitimate research, and they often just make stuff up. These are not experts unless they can show you their qualifications as a plumber, electrician, HVAC repairperson, exterminator, etc. You may have a real issue but to call in “ghost hunters” means you are condoning a pretend investigation. If they tell you, “Yep, it’s paranormal,” your real problem (faulting wiring, plumbing, vermin, a psychological problem, etc.) does not get identified and fixed.
- Most come in with a preconceived notion about existence of the paranormal. They are not necessarily aiming to thoroughly look for normal explanations. In fact, they CAN’T ever rule out all normal explanations, especially after a short visit. To conclude “It’s paranormal” is no explanation.
- They may make things worse especially for kids or the emotionally vulnerable. There are many occasions where homeowners were told they have a haunting, evil spirit, or demons in their midst. The homeowners, especially the ones that are actually frightened at the start, are taken advantage of and left feeling even more scared with no resolution.
While there are a very few research scientists that look into parapsychological claims, your local paranormal crew is not scientific. We’ve been looking for ghosts and spirits since ancient times but there is still no good evidence for spirits or hauntings. We can measure all sorts of subatomic particles and the tiniest releases of energy, but we still can’t measure or pin down a “ghost”.
Check out the Ghost FAQ
Hauntings and ideas about ghosts are constructs based on folklore and on speculation by those who have assumed a role of an expert where there is actually no documented knowledge. Such ideas are endorsed by our popular culture. Odds are, there is another explanation for hauntings. It’s not very likely that a paranormal team can help you with that. The best advice is to ask those who can give you an objective view about your problem.
You can be your own do-it-yourself investigator
Before even considering calling in a paranormal team or technicians, set up your own investigation protocol. Take detailed notes, keep records, and call in other observers to see what they think (without prompting them with any spooky suggestions). Discuss various options, be curious.Don’t assume it’s paranormal. Apply practical skepticism and work out the most probable and objective causes and explanations. The truth matters.
You might be surprised when you can figure things out for yourself with just some critical thinking.