Thursday, December 13, 2012

Investigating an Iowa Haunted House

Here's a ghost story from the neighboring state of Iowa. Over the past few months six student athletes living together in a house in Iowa City began noticing strange occurances. One student claims that the channel on his television set appeared to change on its own. Another saw a shadowy figure that resembled a young girl. The students also heard strange noises, and apparently small objects and pieces of furniture seemed to move on their own in the middle of the night. The furnished attic room of the house seemed to make occupants feel depressed and unmotivated.

Aside from the apparition, frankly a lot of that just sounds like college to me. When a group of people live together, it's not always possible to keep track of who moved what, especially if everyone is on erratic schedules. Television channels can change on their own, sometimes triggered by random electromagnetic signals. There's no mention of how old the house's wiring is, but high EMF could produce small electrical effects at the same time as provoking depression in sensitive individuals. Still, the students contacted a local paranormal investigation team who came and swept the house for anything unusual.

All four members of the paranormal group entered the house with their equipment to see if they could confirm or deny the presence of a spirit, or spirits, in the house. The tools they brought included thermometers, infrared cameras, voice recorders, dowsing rods, and equipment to detect electromagnetic fields.

They said that the temperature drops dramatically in a room if a paranormal spirit is around — the reason for the thermometers. The recorder is for catching sounds they may not have heard while conducting an investigation, but for this case, group member Sandy Marler said, the dowsing rods were the tools the members used most.

She said they had some of the members of the house hold a rod in each hand and ask a supposed spirit a question. If the rods crossed, that meant a spirit answered the question with “Yes,” and if the rods moved apart or outward, that meant “No.”

“We did find there are two spirits staying there,” Marler said. “We got information that there was an older, grandfather-like gentlemen and a little girl around the age of 10, but they were not related.”

The reliance on dowsing rods is probably the most troubling aspect of this investigation. It's not that such tools are useless, as I've known a few people over the years who found them to be valuable divination implements. The problem is that apparently none of the information obtained by dowsing could be backed up by any of the objective measuring devices brought into the house. Supposedly one of these spirits was a ghost capable of changing the channel on a television, so I would think that it should be capable of producing some sort of electromagnetic signal if it was in fact trying to communicate with investigators.

The fact is that psychic techniques of whatever sort produce poor evidence for paranormal phenomena. Taken at face value, the personal stories quoted in the article suggest something resembling a poltergeist - chairs moving around, loud noises, objects disappearing, and so forth. Still, that dowsing was the best that investigators could do suggests that these stories were probably exaggerated. It's not to say that nothing paranormal has ever happened at the house, but one would think that if everything the students report was indeed going on it would be easier to detect by objective means.

So at this point the investigation looks like a bust. It might be worth making a couple more tries with standard detection equipment, but if those also come up empty I would have to conclude that these seemingly strange events have more mundane explanations. So what makes it worth reporting? Simple. In the course of any scientific inquiry, it is important to report both successes and failures to get a sense of the relative likelihood of a particular phenomenon. Paranormal investigation is no different than any other form of experimentation in that regard.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: