From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: electronic voice phenomenon
15 April 2015
I just read your blog about EVP's and I have news for you, you are wrong. I have a paranormal group but I am also skeptical so I understand that not all EVPS are real [and] some can be debunked. But I am here to tell you that ghosts really do exist and I have 100% proof. What I want to know is where is your proof that they do not exist? I am attaching a short clip of a photograph and two EVPS that were captured at the same time this photograph was taken at a cemetery in Vacaville, California. These are two of 20 that we captured that same night. I have been to four other locations where a ghost has actually said my name, clear as a bell. Now if this was interference then how do you explain my name? I challenge anyone who is a skeptic to give me 20 minutes of your time and I will change your whole world. Proof of the paranormal has arrived. You are about to witness the greatest discovery the world has ever known. Where will you be? Wake up guys, otherwise you are going to miss it; I know I almost did.
reply: Lucky you. Ghosts know your name and you can hear them clear as a bell. You may be right about spending 20 minutes with you changing my world, but I don't think the change would have anything to do with ghosts.
I'd advise that you spend as much time studying perception as you have spent in cemetaries looking for ghosts.
29 Mar 2011
You are right to warn readers of teenage pranks when it comes to EVPs. I was such a prankster. In my first year at Durham University, England, I was living in Lumley Castle (student accommodation) and a friend and I faked some ghostly mediaeval monks by faintly chanting words out of a Latin dictionary to an equally faked background of a windy night. We had no trouble fooling our other friends, but we quickly owned up to the joke. I guess I should have held out and collected that Nobel prize.
reply: Jim's story is a reminder that when looking for explanations of curious phenomena we should consider the possibility of hoax or fraud along with the possibility that there are physical causes we might be overlooking.
5 Mar 2010
Dear Sir: I am writing concerning your article on evps. I recently finished an investigation with four teenagers and picked up several voices that came about as direct responses to my questions. Two of the responses were in different languages, one French and one German. No one on our group knows any French or German and the locations of all team members was known and no one was near the area. That leaves your "CB" theory which, quite frankly, is laughable. First of all, we were no where near a highway and no one uses CBs any more any where else. I never have heard a CB person speak in French, lol! The only other explanation you gave was that we create the voices in our head. Balderdash! They are captured on audio software! In most cases we get NOTHING! Explain that. Your sound man claims that he has never heard any evps. I suppose you slipped that in to bolster your argument among the uneducated, but YOU know that a statement claiming no experience with a particular event does not make the event unreal. "I have never seen a cat. Cats do not exist." Sure.
To ignore solid evidence captured under rigorous scientific conditions, is the height of folly. I'M laughing at the sound engineer who doesn't have a clue as to what is real and what is not. The previous email said it all. You should not be a skeptic just for the sake of being one! There is a thousand times more solid evidence for the position that evps are disembodied people than there is for string theory, yet most scientists believe in it. The positions put forth are so out of date that they are indefensible and ridiculous. This article needs to be re-written or deleted.
reply: I assume you have good documentation for your claims and will make them available to the public. I look forward to reading your report and would like to attend the ceremonies when you're awarded your Nobel prize.
For those who think James might be on to something, let me note that he wouldn't be the first "scientist" to have been duped by teenagers. The history of paranormal investigation is marred by an entire (and very long) chapter devoted to smart men who thought they couldn't be deceived. Not that James is smart. He could be. His claim that the evidence for EVP is "a thousand times more solid" than the evidence for string theory is a pretty clever way of putting it.
Bob, Yes, I have good documentation. I'll make sure you get a front row seat!
This says it best.
"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." -Tolstoy
reply: A quote from Tolstoy, a man who has some strange beliefs himself, hardly counts as documentation, but I still look forward to reading the published account. Not that I believe there ever will be one.
John Renish, the SD editor, comments on James's comments:
Good thing I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read this one: it deserves a spit-take.
P1.1: One response was in French.
P1.2: One response was in German.
P1.3: Nobody in the group knows any French or German
C1: Therefore the messages were real
How does James know what the messages were if none of the experimenters know French or German? Did the messengers speak in native accents? Since none of them know French or German, could any of the experimenters recognize a native accent if they heard it? Did he consider the possibility a frisky experimenter could have recruited a native speaker to provide verisimilitude? Could any of them distinguish between spoken Portuguese and Polish? (I once made that mistake, despite knowing some Spanish.) Could he understand a drunk’s Glaswegian English if he heard it? (I couldn’t for several minutes, thinking it was perhaps Norwegian until he dropped a heavily accented F-bomb, the only word I actually understood to that point, after which I got maybe three more words before giving up.)
P2.1: I have never heard a CB person speak in French
C2: Therefore the messages were real.
Contradicted by P4.2, below, and by James’s apparently never having listened to CB traffic while traveling in Quebec. Surprisingly, he does not deny having heard a “CB person” speak German. Here in California and my former home in Colorado it’s not all that unusual to hear CB traffic in Spanish. Likely Arabic, Farsi, and Punjabi are heard on the taxi-service channels in most big cities.
P3.1: The messages were captured on audio software.
C3: Therefore the messages were real.
Exactly how did the audio software convert the messages to plain English text? James does realize, I hope, that understanding natural language, particularly spoken natural language, is beyond the best AIs we’ve been able to make. As a former user of the best-of-breed Dragon Naturally Speaking software, I can assure James that it often makes mistakes, even after considerable training by its only user.
James also realizes, I hope, that the best translation software is abysmal compared to native speakers of the target language. Just last week I had to ask a native French-speaking professional translator friend about “traiteuse” that means literally “female caterer” but in context meant something nearer the colloquial English “fixer.”
P4.1: I have never seen a cat.
P4.2 [implied] But we all know cats exist.
C4: Therefore cats exist.
Sorry, but I don’t do sarcasm when it comes to logic. What controls were put on interpreting the experiment? Did one or more experimenters actually convert the captured audio to human language? Were the messages any clearer than a back-masked record that tells us “Paul is dead,” and “Turn me on, dead man”? Were doubters isolated from the believers and used to verify the experimental results? What assurance, then, do we have that different listeners would not have heard something different, assuming they had not been prompted to hear a particular message at each point?
Did the experiment absolutely eliminate ionospheric “skip” as contributing to the alleged phenomenon? (I have heard clear and garbled AM radio transmissions from all over the world.) What sort of receiver was used and was it quartz controlled? What frequencies were used in tuning the receiver, and do we know for certain that neither the frequencies tuned nor simple harmonics of those frequencies are not used by any radio transmitters, anywhere? When I was experimenting with radio and studying for the broadcast engineer’s license fifty-odd years ago, it was well known that the still-ubiquitous superhetrodyne circuit is susceptible to harmonic crossovers, spurious oscillations, sideband noise, and other problems that may have occurred during these experiments. If the tuner was amplitude modulated, were single sideband or squelch control involved? What was the antenna length and was it adjusted to be appropriate to the frequencies tuned? Whenever the experiment got a “hit,” did the experimenters leave the tuning where it was and get additional hits, or did they move on randomly?
Finally, did James consider any contrary hypotheses and did he apply Occam’s Razor? I have seen self-deluded people ride hobbyhorses. Unless all these questions and no doubt many other procedural and technical details are addressed satisfactorily, we must conclude the experiments were uncontrolled and unverified and therefore their results are no better than anecdote for establishing fact.
I don't disagree with much that you said. I did no controls. It wasn't an experiment and I'm not trying to prove the existence of these voices. You see, I KNOW they exist and since they responded to specific questions, I doubt they are CB traffic. I can understand that my evidence is not good enough to prove anything. I never thought it would be and that was not my intention. I am only a Dad taking his 14 year old son and his friends to something they have begged me to do. I was laughing and making fun of the whole evening. I seriously doubted the existence of anything paranormal. Until I reviewed the recordings, that is. I don't claim that these voices are paranormal, I don't know what they are, but they are THERE. Of that, there is no doubt. You have no idea if I faked them or what, so my evidence only serves to convince me. However, they are MANY paranormal groups who have captured evps under rigorous scientific conditions, a fact that I am assuming you already knew.
I appreciate your responses to me. I'm sure you have better things to do! I do, however, wonder how you feel about the possibility of communication with unknown voices, possibly from another dimension or plane of existence? Would it be "earth shattering?" Would it be the top story? Of course. So why aren't scientists all over the world rushing to a paranormal investigation? The obvious answer is that ANY evidence that might lend credence to the theory that some type of life after death exists would fly in the face of every modern day, secular scientist and most are not willing to risk it. The fact that most scientists today do not accept any evidence of the paranormal certainly does not mean that that the evidence is any less appealing. Science is wrong many more times than right. Eugenics anyone? How the coming ice age predicted in the 70s by the leading climatologists?
There ARE scientists who have studied the phenomenon known as evp and pronounced it to be a real event, not produced on an ordinary, earthly plain. No one knows for sure WHAT these voices are. You will admit to that I would assume. We just know they are there. I am attaching a few of the ones I captured that seem to be responses to specific questions. Since I was conducting a scientific experiment, they are for your enjoyment only. I do assure as a man of my word that they are not "faked", that we knew the location of all team members at the time they were recorded, and that I have been in possession of the recordings since that night.
The main issue I have with your opinions about evps is that you have set impossible standards for proving their existence. I know, I know, Occam, but, he doesn't say that NO evidence will be deemed sufficient, only that the evidence must be extraordinary. I maintain that the evidence on thousands of recorders and journaled in MANY scientific investigations, using the most rigorous standards, is extraordinary. You obviously disagree. I'm assuming you dismiss the assertion that man's activity is causing the atmosphere to heat up since the standards for proving that are MUCH lower than you have set for anything paranormal.
What would convince you otherwise? I have a feeling that nothing would.
I wonder how you feel about UFOs and the Disclosure Project? (http://speedstream.netro.ca/netrostream113/npcc.wmv)
My best to you,
reply: James sent me several laughable audio files to support his contentions about EVPs. (I think I've figured out which one he thinks is French, but I haven't a clue as to which one he thinks is German.) I give him an A for effort for taking his son and his son's friends on an empirical investigative outing. I give him an F in just about everything else he says.
His initial letter makes it sound as if I have tried to explain all EVPs as being from CB radios. I don't. I mention several possible sources for picking up sounds electronically, as well as some problems regarding interpreting such sounds. I mention cross-modulation and that some of the "voices" are most likely people creating meaning out of random noise, a kind of auditory pareidolia or apophenia. I mention hoaxing as a possibility. I don't mention aliens as a serious possibility, but that is what Sarah Estep, president of the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena, thought she was picking up.
James could have used this as an opportunity to learn and explain some important lessons on perception, how the brain works, how humans are always trying to find meaning in things, etc.
He mentions my "sound man." I don't have a sound man, but David Federlein, a sound engineer did offer his observations and insights regarding EVPs. Unfortunately, James creates a straw man and claims that David argued since he'd never recorded a ghost, ghosts don't exist.
James implied he has solid evidence gathered under strict scientific conditions, now he admits he had no plan at all. On the basis of his one evening with a few teenagers, he tells me I should rewrite or delete the EVP entry. I don't think so.
In a final effort to get James to help his son think more critically, I sent him the following note:
Nobody is claiming that you heard CB traffic. The choice is not "ghosts or CB traffic." You had a chance to teach your son and his friends about how the brain deceives and distorts with regard to perception; you had a chance to teach them to be scientific, not superstitious, and look for a naturalistic explanation before speculating about EVPs being spirits. Then you made fun of me and a sound engineer and told me I should rewrite or take down my article. My work is based on years of experience, studying, thinking, reading, investigating....yours is based on a few hours speculating with little attempt to get the background knowledge you need to talk intelligently about EVPs and sounds recorded on electronic equipment. It's not too late. You might start by reading a book with your son called How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives....put your son on the road to science not the road to superstition.
James was not impressed. He spent a few hours with his son doing what he thinks of as research but what I call confirming his biases. Here is James's final reply (he promises!):
You got me. Can't argue. Please! I withdraw my statement that you should delete your article. After reading it again, I think it should be left online, as is. The fact that it leaves out any mention of the hundreds of respected physicists, psychologists, sound engineers, and writers, who have studied the topic extensively and came to conclusions completely opposite of yours*, makes it a testament to every idiotic website that purports to be "skeptical" when in reality, the only thing contained therein is denial. I'm just a hick from the sticks but even I can smell a rat when you offer up ghoststudy.com to bolster your argument.
reply: David Federlein, whom I quote in the EVP entry, mentions the website ghoststudy.com as particularly laughable for its advice on how to detect ghosts. Neither of us tries to bolster the case against EVPs being spirits by citing this ridiculous website.
Please, tell us (the three readers here)! What do you think of Alex Macrae's book? What about the six year investigation by Konstantine Raudive? How about Emeritus Professor Senkowski, a distinguished physicist who has made the study of EVP his life work or the recent work by Dr Anabela Cardoso, and the subsequent confirmation by several universities that correct answers to questions posed were spoken in a language easily understandable, but definitely NOT HUMAN? [I swear James really wrote this. I am not making this up. RTC] She is one of Portugal's most senior diplomats, having held such posts as the Portuguese Consul in the U.S. and Consul General in France and Spain. She's a real crank! The empirical data supporting my position that your article should be scrapped is overwhelming. I know it. You know it, yet you ignore it. I still don't what I have [sic].
If I had read your article and you had presented a logical, reasoned argument debunking the leading scientific findings concerning the phenomenon (like Alcock's article, which I read in full), It would have given me great pause and made me much less likely to think my recordings and those of the many esteemed scientists are anything other than ordinary sounds. Instead you poked fun at a website that doesn't claim to represent science and completely ignored any TRUE science out there. You also ignored the one "expert" (Alexander Macrae) who wrote in to tell you not to dismiss evp out of hand as he had done the research, but instantly jumped on the band wagon to attack the scientific credentials a "Chef" and father/son team out for a night of fun. Then went on to insinuate that I was deceptive and gave me advice [about] my child's reading list!
Here is what I did yesterday. My son and I researched the current evidence for EVP, we read excerpts and articles by many of the scientists noted above. We called our friend, the "sound man" who HAS heard evps. We then read several articles skeptical of evp. Then we read your article together. I wanted him to make up his own mind about our research. When we finished reading your article, he looked at me and said, "Dad? These guys have no clue what they're talking about"! Ahhhh...my little critical thinker, love that kid!
Since I relish having the last word, I have blocked your email, changed my address, and will never visit your idiotic site again! Spit on that.
reply: In other words, James has put on his Belief Armor. I hope he and his son stumble upon Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and they read Chapter 8, "Can You Hear Me Now." In that chapter, Roach traces some of the early history of the connection between spirits and electricity and the attachment to various electronic gizmos that have fascinated spirit scientists for years.
In the meantime, you might enjoy this YouTube audio:
20 Aug 2000
Dear Professor Carroll, it is good to be skeptical, and indeed it seems to have become a necessary survival tool in these times.
Regarding EVP however, there is more to be said than what you may have heard from Mrs Estep et al.
I have researched the subject in some depth and with a background in applicable subjects. I am not, however, offering opinions.
The waveforms of EVP speech sounds are the "same" as those in natural speech, though with certain deficiencies. This is EVP produced in my own experiments under defined and controlled circumstances.
This is not a subject to be dismissed with a cursory glance at the written outpourings of the scientifically illiterate. That is all I am saying. And email is really not a suitable vehicle to take the matter further. Besides, you and I may have some lively ceilidhs to attend to instead ... or, in my case, at the moment, to recover from....
Alexander MacRae An t'Eilean a' Cheo Alba