cat heading team resources

team resources evp a iconThe American originator of EVP Classification system, Sarah Estep, describes the Class A event of interest as a "clear and distinct voice or sound that is universally accepted and undisputed, because it must be understood by anyone with normal hearing and without being told or prompted to what is being said or heard. It can be heard without the use of headphones.” Estep here is talking about the consensus that forms around what’s clear and trustworthy....

 

The first of these criteria quite literally speaks for itself (or seems to). However, it’s the second criterion, trust, that moves most people to want to topple a Class A EVP from its pedestal. After all, how are people to trust you when you announce you’ve found something extraordinary? It’s not like you’re bonded, right? How do they know what methods you used to capture it? How can they be certain the voice in the EVP doesn’t belong to someone very much flesh and blood? What assurances can you give them that you weren’t being pranked, or that you haven’t actually faked the findings by yourself? Character and credibility are the bottom line if anyone is to believe your EVP is as compelling as you think it is, and in a field suffering a crisis of credibility from the get-go, your character is never as unimpeachable as you would wish it.

By way of example, my team and I gave a library lecture one year on the science of pseudoscience of paranormal investigating. After presenting one of our Class A EVP and explaining why it impressed us, one audience member very respectfully asked, “How do you know someone wasn’t pulling a prank on you and your team?” I didn’t take offense; in fact, I praised him for his skeptical thinking and explained our rigorous protocols precluding any possibility of shenanigans. I also emphasized how we vetted out own members, which made it improbable anyone would trick a team member. In the end, though, I just had to be honest with him—and with myself—and admitted it was just something I innately knew to be credible. There wasn’t anything I could recommend to him except that he search for his own findings, which might then persuade him to put more trust in the ethos backing ours.

But, he was absolutely right about the problem with claims like ours: who gets to set our methodological and moral standards, what are the established rules about faking “evidence,” and who consequences us if we break those rules? In the U.S., there is no oversight regulating paranormal investigation—no accredited institutions, no licenses, no embossed certificates you couldn’t have merely made by yourself. As long as no money is exchanged for services, the law treats what we do as a form of entertainment. There is, however, membership to self-regulating organizations that value scientific and principled paranormal investigating—Ghost Research International, for instance, or ASSAP (Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena). Belonging to a group, organization, or network chartered and coded on the idea of rigorous and skeptical inquiry is at least one way that our own investigative group can claim a certain degree of ethos in how it handles its cases and its findings.

 

Ethos

Fourth century BCE Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle coined the term ethos to describe the persuasive impact of ethical character, rather than the appeal of reasoning (logos) or emotion (pathos). He understood that people put their faith in claims they don’t fully understand only if they can trust the character of the person making those claims. In order to inspire that trust, the person making the claim must appear to 1) be earnest; 2) empathize with the audience; and 3) demonstrate knowledge and rigor. Like all rhetorical appeals, though, ethos can be a matter of perception only, rather than anything bona fide. We’ve all seen first hand how adeptly some politicians can “spin” the public’s perception of their sincerity, compassion, and smarts.

However, the motivation of paranormal investigators to search for Class A EVP (or any other “evidence”) is usually assumed to be earnest and compassionate enough to make those first two criteria of ethos a forgone conclusion. After all, what gets most people into the search for extra-corporeal phenomena is the same sincere intellectual and/or spiritual curiosity inspiring some scientists to search for signs of extraterrestrial civilization, the quest for that one compelling artifact being first and foremost an existential one. But before we Joseph-Campbell our way onto a journey of discovery, we have to be at least somewhat honest with ourselves about our own motivations: how lonely and insecure we really are in our own corporeal existence: how fearful we are that death will isolate us, even from ourselves; how, in an era marked by its quickly evolving technology, science, and pragmatism, belief in an afterlife is just humanity’s neurotic inability to detach itself from ego; how all our intellectual pursuits to discount death as a final nothing could be, finally, all for nothing. Then, when the Class A EVP beatifically resounds in our own audio, it can feel like a clarion call to put aside (for now) our doubt and existential angst and share that little lost artifact of humanity with other soul-searchers. Who could pass up such spiritual wonderment?

Once spiritual wonderment has plumbed within us, however, a Class A EVP will next evoke within us a strong empathy. Like Horton hearing that vulnerable little Whovillian and declaring him "friend," we feel a deep-seated responsibility to honor the life that once identified with that voice. We might feel this way about Class C and B EVP as well, but a lingering degree of doubt prevents us from fully committing. That Class A voice begs us to acknowledge the forgotten, the disempowered, the disenfranchised, the homeless and aimlessly lost, the hopeless and anxiously waiting. If we dignify a Class A EVP, then we are suddenly very much responsible to the datum, the soul, and the realm in which it seems to exist. Perhaps this is why we feel morally obliged to share it with others.

Ahh, but this “sharing” of a Class A EVP is where things may go so terribly awry, making that third and final criterion of ethos unattainable, because, even though your motives might be beyond reproach, why should anyone trust you to “know” what you’re doing? Sure, you have faith in what you’ve found, but what critical thinking and controlled methods of capture did you employ to earn that trust? What degree of skeptical enquiry did you apply to balance faith and logic? What experiments did you attempt to recreate the results? What acknowledgment of possible discrediting factors did you make to discount your EVP being a false positive? Who else reviewed your so-called evidence, and were they objective? The real challenge of laying claim to a Class A EVP is, if you're proved wrong about it, your character takes a palpable hit. Plus, even worse, if you’re seen to have misled others, any idea about you being honest and well-intentioned goes out the window. I’ll invoke politics again for the sake of analogy: risking the claim of a Class A EVP is the same as risking the idealism to back a controversial candidate, and when he wins and his scandals tribulate an entire nation, no one’s going to let you slide with a sudden bout of amnesia. The faith you put in a Class A EVP should be like the faith you attach to a ballot for an elected official. Idealism is nice, but the smart idealist knows never to stop being a realist. And being realistic means not to trust promises and claims but, rather, to do your research, and to do it with intellectual rigor!

 

Rigor

The Latin phrase rigor mortis means that stiffness that sets into the body after death, but, ironically, the notion of “intellectual rigor” in paranormal investigating mostly means the opposite: rather than to accept one inflexible position about the “truth” of things after death, rigorous thinking is deep and carefully principled, open to self-correction and adaptation when new evidence is presented. Not coincidentally, intellectual rigor is one of the mainstays of the scientific method. This is why the twentieth century founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Marcello Truzzi, said, "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” (Yes, Carl Sagan also famously offered his own version of this axiom.)

Class A EVP depend on investigative rigor more than other classifications, because they are claimed to be more extraordinary. Unlike Class C and B EVP, whose uncertainty arises as a result of factors such as obscured sound quality and competing acoustic sources, lack of rigor caused by dubious investigative practices and unreliable recording methods will render a Class A EVP nothing more than a curiosity. Retracing Class A EVP to their source should take you back to a scrupulous account of when, where, and how the EVP was recorded. If there is any doubt whatsoever that deserves mention, it will be to your credit, not to your shame, to announce these when you post a Class A EVP. In fact, a simple caveat is expected with most Class A EVP. Remember, it's all about the odds of a piece of audible evidence being for real. If you can give up on the idea of proving life-after-death, or that Heaven is for real, or temporarily put aside the social work of “crossing over” wayward spirits, then you can get down to the rigor of things. A strong, clear, articulate EVP with no probable explanation is an excellent “catch,” and it's the best we can hope for, given what we don't yet know about the scientific side of this phenomenon. But, if you put too much faith in the veracity of your EVP and do not acknowledge and accommodate its potential detractors, then you will seem to equivocate the truth, and this can only damage your credibility. Substantiate your claim that an EVP is Class A by revealing your methodologies, your protocols, and your analytical criteria. Delineate a list of plusses and minuses; show others you have come to your decision by way of a pragmatic debate and always invite further dialogue to continue that debate. Don’t be inflexible. Our field needs and deserves rigor, not rigor mortis.

 

The “Listening” Brain

A little faith in your own motivation to find Class A EVP is a good thing. After all, why deny that paranormal investigating is a spiritual pursuit. However, it's another thing altogether to allow yourself to be overly confident in the science of a Class A EVP, or to become complacent with the results. Class A EVP are not captured to entertain. Rather, because of them, we as paranormal investigators are made even more responsible to the scientific method, and to check our facts. Additionally, more than Class B and Class C anomalies, Class A EVP force us to be more demanding of our results. They should make us want to take up the role of serious researcher, which requires we stay current in EVP theory, stay abreast of the tech we employ to capture EVP, study the psychological and neurological factors that influence our “listening” brain, and engage in carefully controlled experiments to recreate or anticipate the effects of EVP. With hard data collected, the science can actually begin. And, with it, you won’t merely look like an amateur putting on the appearances of having “scientifimicacity”; you’ll actually be contributing to a community of thinkers in a knowledgeable and trustworthy way.

When that day arrives, your ethos as a science-driven paranormal investigator will finally convince others of what a great find that one Class A EVP really was—because you’ll have tried repeatedly to knock it off its pedestal first.

Here, then, are a few typical Class A take-downs:

Cross-Talk: In an era where satellite communications might well be responsible for decimating the honeybee population worldwide (from which the toll on agriculture will be incalculably devastating), it's pretty clear that there is a lot we don't yet know about how much radio and microwave transmissions might factor into anomalous voice recordings. It's true that, if radio transmissions were responsible for EVP, we'd hear EVP more often through our speakers, or we'd hear J-Lo singing more often in our EVP. However, try not to discount the possibility that the building materials, wiring, plumbing, or other infrastructural elements of a location are not potentially responsible for transmitting short-range telephonic communications: in other words, walkie-talkies. By this, I'm not implying that people are out to fool you into thinking you're capturing spirit communication. (Though, naturally, we are on the lookout for it in our case investigations.) However, listening for the tell-tale signs of walkie-talkie communication is just practical. With Class A EVP being so audible, listen carefully for push-to-talk (PTT) protocols like, "Copy" and "Over." Probably the variety of EVP most suspect in this way is the spirit conversation: two or more voices are exchanging responses in the unseen spirit realm, and the investigator is lucky enough to have eavesdropped on the conversation. If the contents of the exchange can be discerned clearly and make identifiable references to the room and the activities and people within it, then there may be more to this EVP. If not, however, it may be that you've stumbled into a pocket of telephonic crosstalk.



Facilitated Speech Devices: An issue has come to the debate floor of the paranormal community. The Spirit Box is more commonly known by Frank’s Box, eponymously named after its Colorado creator, Frank Sumption, who alleges that his device virtually facilitates two-way telephone-like conversations (also called instrumental transcommunication) with the spirit realm by scanning AM/FM and low band frequencies, from which a noise matrix is created. According to Sumption, this matrix is modulated by the spirits to form their messages--messages that range from one-word utterances to full-length sentences. To date, the clearest and most impressive Class A EVP to have been generated by Frank's Box have come from Frank's very own "Frank's Box," which has led many to be understandably suspicious. But, let's be frank about the box, shall we? There are infinite ways to generate a noise matrix, including Charli Claypool's percolator. Plenty of demonstrations of Frank's Box can be found on the web, and schematics for building your own are readily available too. The concept of the Spirit Box has since evolved into the Ovilus, an electronic speech-synthesis device engineered by Bill Chappell that randomly interprets passing electromagnetic waves into speech, much in the same way investigators use the K-II meter to facilitate basic “yes”/“no” communication. To most in the skeptical community, both of these devices are high-tech Magic 8-Balls, and basing a Class A EVP finding on one is a bit like saying the Ouija board spoke to you. Uh-uh.

Quality Control: For the same reason that EVP occur with inconstant quality, one should not necessarily expect a Class A EVP to remain Class A quality from start to finish. Especially in longer instances, the pattern seems to be that Class A quality occurs in shorter, unpredictable bursts of vocal clarity. (It's better for them to be voices than whispers, but you takes what you can gets.) For that reason, you should be prepared to label some parts of your audio clip "Class A," but other parts as "Class B" or even "Class C." This does not diminish the importance of the sound clip. If parts are loud and clear enough for you and others to form a consensus about what it says and what gender or age the voice is, there's no denying its worth. However, be careful not to ignore potential evidence for the sake of showcasing only the Class A portions of the audio. Quite often, taken together, all of the evidence in its inconstant quality will create impressive results. You may have to extrapolate some of the quieter parts--and, of course, offer a disclaimer with the evidence--but if it feeds into a broader context that makes sense for the case and its background, then all of it should stay together. This, however, can present a problem when attempting to filter and adjust the sound of the EVP.  You won't want to ruin the impression made by the Class A portion of the audio clip by over-enhancing the Class C parts. Accompanying the EVP with a waveform showing where the anomalous voices are and in what classification strength they can be heard will relieve you of the burden of having to fiddle unduly with filters while keeping the integrity of the original audio clip.

One-Word Responses: With the volume and clarity of the anomalous speech less an issue, one wants to listen to a Class A EVP and not just hear it. Unfortunately, investigators too often use a roster of questions designed to solicit "Yes" or "No" answers only. Never mind it's a little like playing the Ouija board without swinging the pendulum over the letters. More importantly, this technique increases the likelihood that these short denials or affirmations are matrixed noise. Additionally, the risk of the investigator manipulating the interrogation is scandalously bad. The use of K-II meters is an apt illustration of the problem. This controversial do-hickey is now standard in the equipment arsenals of paranormal investigators, under the proviso that more data always makes for better science. It's an adapted EMF detector calibrated to be more sensitive to electromagnetic field disturbances in close proximity and used by investigators to encourage spirits to make their presence known by triggering a series of lights responsive to the detected EMFs. Not only are they suspected to be hypersensitive to everything from the investigator's subconscious desire for the little lights to work to cell phone data boards activated by incoming calls, they work more often than not in the same way one or two knocks signal yes/no responses. They have a funky visual appeal, and hobbyists readily glom onto them so as to "look the part," yet the K-II meter's authenticity and reliability continue to be hotly contested. One-word EVP responses are not dissimilar. Regardless if they're Class A, yes/no responses go little distance to providing the kind of detail that can be cross-checked against the history and background of the case.

Contextual and Complex Responses: An EVP that specifically answers questions or responds to investigators in a uniquely relevant way is called a "contextual response." When a contextual response is also a resoundingly clear, or it takes a full and relatively complex sentence to express itself, it's a rare windfall, indeed. It's far more common that one-word EVP are too fast, too slurred, and too affected by accents and intonations (as they are in living speech) to be winners. One of the simplest and easiest ways, then, to uphold more reliable Class A EVP is to insist that they be longer, more complex, contextual responses to your questions. Creating beforehand a specific roster of questions that draw from the background of the case will more effectively put EVP communication to good work when it does occur. Clearly worded questions that ask for more than yes/no or true/false answers will encourage active communication. By eschewing the seemingly random one-word responses, or at least classifying them as Class B EVP, investigators can showcase an evidence set of intelligent, contextual responses that will discount the possibility of coincidence or random transmission. Sure, you can make allowances from time to time for random one-word blurts, like when "Petunia!" was the answer to a question no one asked. In general, though, your objective should be to boil off any easily contested findings so that you're left with a purer, truer and more credible data set.

 

Clear and Transparent

In a way, the classification system for EVP misrepresents the motivation to pursue EVP findings. Say, you've spent the entire third grade improving your Spelling grade from a "C" to an "A." Good for you and your self-esteem. The goal of EVP classification, however, is not to self-actuate. Or, rather, at least it shouldn't be for those of us involved in organized paranormal investigating. To make the classification process about the collecting relegates the whole business to a hobby. Rather, we want Class A EVP to contribute to a Class A case, in which excellent findings corroborate a compelling claim of paranormal activity. I've resigned myself to the inevitability that proof positive won’t happen during my lifetime—perhaps ever—but hypotheses as big as ours are rarely proved; they're merely upheld by the strength of our circumstantial evidence, our methods of inductive reasoning, and the strength of our character as paranormal investigators.

Perhaps the best rubric by which to measure that character is the degree to which we avoid self-delusion. If our Class A EVP seem clear and transparent to us, then let’s be equally clear and transparent as investigators and researchers. Your ethos will then speak for itself.

 

Examples

The following annotated waveform videos exemplify the different ways an "A" EVP classification can be made, and illustrate the value of investigative skepticism and rigor in making that determination.

 

Go, Don't Go... Whatever.

The two Class A EVP in the following clip occurred five minutes apart in the same location, the costume and makeup rooms of an allegedly haunted theatre converted from an old railway depot. Their deadpan delivery was characteristic of the prolific EVP we gleaned from this investigation. These two are obviously the same adult male voice, but other EVP seemed spoken by a clear female voice with the same acoustic fingerprint. At first, we were positively buzzing with excitement, speculating the entire railcar might be a "conductor" (choo-choo!) of electronic voice phenomena. Then we realized that three people running the theatre that night, two adult males and one adult female, were stagehands experienced in using two-way radio communication to coordinate calling cues, of which the most commonly used is "Go." We can't prove it, but we think we were probably duped by the management into thinking we were capturing spirit voices, making this our first true case of debunking.

EVP 1: (adult male) Billy, go.

EVP 2: (adult male) Don't go.

Anger Begets Anger

The technique used in this audio clip is a mild form of provocation, something our team generally agrees to avoid because it is thought to put unseen "entities" on the defense and invite an adversarial relationship. This EVP seems to show just how true that can be. The first thing you'll notice about this audio clip is its sound quality, which should make it a Class B EVP. However, it's extremely unusual for a finding to be a complete sentence of seven whole syllables. The rarity of that makes this EVP, not just intriguing, but kind of compelling. In the interest of total transparency, the clip has been edited for the sake of brevity, but neither the original sound quality nor the context have been influenced.

Investigator 1: Do you want us to leave?

Investigator 2: I'm not going to leave unless you make me.

EVP: Don't let us catch you alone.

 

An "Aha" Moment

This next clip illustrates how the designation of "Class A" doesn't always depend on whether listeners recognize the words; it's enough to recognize that the words don't belong there, and that they're acoustically loud and distinct. This waveform video also demonstrates the benefits of meta-surveilling the investigation and documenting the moment this event of interest was captured. DVR surveillance footage was used for the inset video to provide assurances that no one but the client and I were present during the event (though others can be heard chattering in the distance). The initial equipment ratchet noise was caused by me, and the client can be heard off camera exiting the water closet to wash his hands at the sink. It's at that moment when two relatively loud female voices are heard having a brief exchange that would have had no meaning to us if it weren't for the fact that the client's home was built adjacent to a nineteenth century missionary school for the regional Kumeyaay tribe members, and "Ahseewahkee" in Kumeyaay means, "Cold water"—an uncannily precise contextual reference to the client's activities at that moment. The inset also correlates the movements of the client afterwards and points out where the recording device was situated at the time, proving nothing and no one else could be responsible for the two female voices in this engaging Class A EVP.

EVP 1: (female, speaking in Kumeyaay language) Ahseewahkee?

EVP 2: Aha. 

 

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

During this particular EVP vigil, the loud, whirring noise of a nearby vending machine was doing us no favors. However, despite this handicap, an affecting Class A EVP still manages to be heard resolutely. One of our team members had marked on the floor the location of a small plastic ball he was using as a trigger object, and, in the midst of debating whether the ball had moved, this suprising and very clear voice of a child interjected in words no one could mistake.

Investigator 1: (referring to a toy ball used as trigger object) I think it moved.

EVP: (child) Have you seen Mommy?