Ghosts & Hauntings —A Skeptical Analysis
WATCH (IN CLASS)
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
- “Ghostbusters,” Season 3, Episode 10
- “Signs from Heaven,” Season 3, Episode 12
National Geographic: Is It Real?
- “Ghosts,” Season 1, Episode 3
- “Hauntings,” Season 2, Episode 12
From The Skeptic’s Dictionary:
From the course website:
- Chapter 5: “Looking for Truth in Personal Experience” (96-105), focus on examples of pareidolia
- Chapter 7: “Case Studies in the Extraordinary” (220-294), focus on“Ghosts”and “The Ghost Hunters” (268-77)
- (a) Define, in your own words, each of the following methods “ghost hunters” use to convince people ghosts exist and haunt houses. (b) Be skeptical: explain why the method is not good evidence of ghosts or hauntings. How are the “ghost hunters” misusing their equipment and misinterpreting their observations?
Electromagnetic field (EMF) detector
Photographs and video of “spirit orbs”
Electronic voice phenomenon (EVP)
- “Ghost hunters” claim to use science to investigate hauntings and find ghosts, such as the methods in prompt #1 above. Explain how “ghost hunters” are actually engaging in pseudoscience (i.e. fake science).
- Define “pareidolia” in your own words and discuss how this human tendency helps explain why some people interpret fuzzy faces and figures in photographs and on video as images of ghosts, just as some people will see the face of Jesus or The Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, the bark of a tree, water stains on a window pane, etc.
- Explain the role auditory pareidolia and the power of suggestion play in allowing people to hear spoken words and phrases in ghost hunter EVP recordings, as well as backwards masking in popular songs.
- In your own words, explain how dowsing is supposed to work. Some “ghost hunters” use dowsing to indicate the presence of ghosts. What was dowsing originally invented to find? Dowsing has been used to attempt to locate a wide variety of items and entities, from buried treasure to ghosts. How does this fact call into question the efficacy of dowsing?
- Devise a simple experiment to test these “ghost hunters” to determine if the techniques and equipment they employ actually work to verify that a house is haunted. Keep in mind, “ghost hunters” usually know the full stories of the supposedly haunted houses they investigate. How might your test eliminate this prior knowledge? Briefly explain your experiment.
- In your own words, explain how each of the following informal logical fallacies may convince people that ghosts exist and haunt houses:
- Anecdotal (Appeal to personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence)
- Argument from Ignorance (Often phrased as “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”)
- Appeal to Emotion (Manipulate an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument)