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Glossary of Paranormal Terms

 

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W XYZ

 

 

 

 

 

A

 

anemometerAnemometer:

Originally invented for meteorological purposes, an anemometer detects wind and measures its velocity.  Handheld versions of this device now assist paranormal investigators in substantiating claims of spontaneous rushes of air.  (See also "Cold Spots" and "Environmental Data."

 

 

 

Anomaly:

Anything abnormal or extraordinary, particularly in contrast to Baseline analysis, is an anomaly.  This does not automatically suggest something paranormal, but rather points out an experience, an observation, or an evidence artifact that stands out from its surroundings as unusual.  Some of the most commonly reported:  shadows; orbs; footsteps; taps and knocks; flashes of light; cold and warm spots; voices and whispers.

 

apparitionApparition:

The scarcest of paranormal phenomena, the apparition is a full or partial materialization of “spirit energy” (though, there is nothing officially recognized or objectively measured as “spirit energy”.) An apparition may be anything that suddenly appears (i.e., becomes apparent).  As such, it ranges in form from an orb to a “full-body apparition,” the latter of which is synonymous with the popular conception of a ghost.  Apparitions can also vary in opacity, from solid to transparent.  Some apparitions are not merely forms, either; apparitions that manifest along with a “ghost room” are also said to occur rarely. (See also "Orb.")

 

AVP:

Audible Voice Phenomena are anomalous voices and sounds that are heard in real time by investigators and captured on the recorded media.  The vast majority of AVP are noises—bangs, taps, gasps and moans—but rare AVP have included audible “spirit voices” as well.  (See also "EVP" and "Knocks and Taps.")

 

B

Background:

Investigators perform preliminary research about the clients, their history and experiences, and the history of the venue or its vicinity, for features that might help to create a backdrop of information assisting us with the investigation.  This research helps us to provide “background” to the case and to select approaches to investigating, such as the names and references included in EVP vigils.

 

Baselines:

Investigators use a baseline measurement of environmental conditions to determine environmental anomalies during the investigation.  Measurements of temperature, radiation, electromagnetic fields, air density and pressure, and others are systematically recorded to determine what’s “normal” about the site; departures from those baselines, therefore, potentially suggest what could be abnormal or paranormal.  Many groups use weather, solar and geological data as well, in order to create a baseline for the region of the investigation. (See also "EMF" and "Environmental Data.") 

 

 

C

Case:

When a request is accepted for an investigation, a Case Manager or one of the Directors will establish the case by issuing it an identification number.  Though many mistake the investigative process, itself, as the case, the investigation is but one stage of a completed case.  Each case begins with a preliminary gathering of information (the Prelim you completed).  This is followed by a stage of research and planning in which Background information is obtained, investigation dates are scheduled, and teams of investigators are organized based on their skill sets and their availability.  At this time, a PPI member will begin developing a written Report to include this research and background info.  After a formal investigation has been staged, Evidence Review is conducted and the legitimacy of more compelling audio and video evidence, as well as subjective experiences, is discussed and debated among team members and analysts.  The background information, the reviewed and debated evidence and the collected data are collated into a cohesive Report that presents the findings in a Reveal and offers a final Determination for the Case.  Pending the request for further investigation from the Client, the Case is then considered “closed” at this point.

 

Cold Spots (a.k.a. Chills):

An environmental anomaly marked by a sudden and focused drop in temperature is commonly referred to as a “cold spot,” but warm spots are also recorded.  Paranormal enthusiasts theorize that “spirits” draw energy from the environment in order to manifest themselves, and that a drop in temperature is the “footprint” of a spirit trying to manifest.  Consequently, investigators use thermocouples (thermometers) and thermal images to track the movement and, in some cases, the shape of these thermal anomalies in hopes that they are monitoring an entity.  (See also "Anemometer" and "Environmental Data.")

 

Controls:

Just as scientists and researchers attempt to put limits and parameters on their experiments in order to limit such factors as margin of error and unreliability, PPI investigators will exact such controls on the environment of the investigation so that our analysis will lead to more reliable results.  Controls may be as simple as limiting the number of individuals within the venue, to more sophisticated matters such as triangulation of audio sources.  Controls are considered an essential feature to any application of the Scientific Method.

 

D

Debunking:

See "Explaining Paranormal Activity"

 

Determinations:

The conclusions that investigators draw concerning the paranormal status of a venue they have investigated are referred to as a “determination.”  Determinations are largely subjective, but they nonetheless rest in the objective use of equipment and analysis of the evidence.  Different paranormal investigation groups will use different systems to determine the “haunted” status of a venue, or may use different terminology for similar determinations.  However, the following are the most frequent sorts of determinations for TAPS style investigations:

 

Explained
Enough evidence has been amassed to offer a rationale and ordinary explanation to the alleged paranormal experiences of the client; no follow-up investigation will be required;  
 
Unexplained
Insufficient evidence has been obtained to make a conclusion in denial of, or in support of, paranormal activity, though some degree of inexplicable activity might be conceded
 
Inconclusive
Sufficient evidence has been obtained, but analysis is inconclusive or disputed among the investigators; a conclusion, therefore, cannot be determined.
 
Paranormally Active
Evidence is deemed sufficient and persuasive enough to support the probable conclusion that the client's experiences are of a focused paranormal nature.

 

 

Dust:

See "Orb."

 

 

DVR:

See “Surveillance.”

 

 

E

Ectoplasm:

A viscous material believed by some to be the residue of ghostly visitation, ectoplasm has almost no substance in fact.  Rather, it is a "residue" of an older style of paranormal huckstering and spirit photography, in which spirit mediums represented their ability as spiritual conduits by drawing ropes of cheesecloth out of their ears, mouths or nostrils.  With the success of the film Ghostbusters, which featured copious amounts of viscous material in its special effects and makeup, ectoplasm became a boilerplate detail once again in films and television programs with ghostly subject matter, and adds an atmosphere of horror by drawing on our fear of the disgusting.  However, even though unexplained stains and real residue turn up from time to time in reports of paranormal activity, ectoplasm is found primarily in the realm of fantasy only.

 

 

 

EMF (Electromagnet Fields):

EMF readerLocalized electromagnetic fields are measured before and during an investigation, first as a means to determining a baseline of electromagnetic activity, and then as a means of measuring anomalies whose EMF measurements stray from that baseline.  The presence of increased anomalous EMF activity is thought to coincide with the manifestation of some paranormal phenomena, and instruments such as a K-II Meter are now routinely used as a crude method of communication that allows alleged spirit entities to manipulate EMF fields to light up buttons on the meter, generallyas “Yes/No” answers.  It is also thought that some individuals may have a genetically predisposed sensitivity to EMFs that causes them to experience phenomena they understandably interpret as paranormal:  paranoia; headaches; nausea; skin irritation; nightmares; visual and auditory hallucinations; and more.  This is why detecting EMFs, especially high EMF readings--called "EMF hot spots"--is a routine part of modern paranormal investigative procedure.  It should be noted, however, that even though some countries (particularly in Europe) regulate wiring and appliances to protect consumers and employees against electromagnetic "poisoning," in the United States, protection against EMF poisoning has never been signed into law because the connection between high EMF and the abovementioned symptoms has never been persuasively argued by the medical community.  This is why, in the United States, EMF poisoning is sometimes treated as though it is fringe science.  Most paranormal investigators, however, remain quite open to the seriousness of it, making an EMF meter one of their most valuable tools.   (See also "K-II Meter" and "Knocks and Taps.")

 

Environmental Data:

What may seem at first like superfluous information to a paranormal investigation in fact provides a backdrop of data that allows investigators to draw connections between anomalies in their evidence set and conditions in the environment.  The types of external environmental conditions that pose potentially significant factors are meteorological (weather), geophysical (earthquake and solar events), and tidal, while the kinds of internal environmental factors of consequence are concerns of electromagnetic fields (EMF), carbon monoxide and natural gas, radiation, barometric pressure and temperature. (See also "Anemometer," "Baselines" and "Cold Spots.")

 

Evidence:

Analogous to how the word "tuition" is nearly always used, not in its literal sense as actual academic instruction, but rather in its metonymous sense as "tuition expenses," the word “evidence” is used loosely in paranormal investigating to refer to the unexamined, raw data, audio and video recorded during the investigation.  When the word is used to mean a specific artifact of paranormal evidence, it will be combined with a category of evidence, such as “EVP evidence” or “video evidence.”  However, until one or more specific anomalies have been found within it and singled out, it has no inherent significance other than as a general pool of raw data.  (See also "Anomaly.")

 

Evidence Review (a.k.a. Evidence Analysis):

After an investigation has concluded, a period of time will be devoted to examining the gathered evidence for paranormal anomalies.  This activity is collectively referred to as “Evidence Review.”  (See also "Peer Review.")

 

EVP:

EVP stands for “Electronic Voice Phenomenon,” usually the imprint of anomalous voices on analog and digital audio recordings, or on the audio of video recordings.  Although a majority of EVP are, in fact, voices, the term is also used to describe any sound discovered in the recorded evidence that was not audible to investigators or other equipment at the time of the recording.  Reputable groups use a standard of classification for EVPs in order to separate the most convincing or compelling ones from those that have a higher probability of ordinary explanation.  Persuasive EVPs that seem to be direct communication to the questions, rather than random words or phrases, and which are clearly audible and unambiguous in content tend to be classified as Class A EVPs.  The vast majority of such evidence, however, falls into the category of Class C for its poor sound quality and high levels of white noise.  (See also the following:   "AVP"; "Pareidolia"; "White Noise."

 

Explaining Paranormal Activity:

Since PPI strives to honor the scientific method and promote skeptical inquiry of paranormal phenomena, the term "explain" is preferred over the word "debunk."  While the term "debunking" is still frequently used, many conscientious paranormal groups are moving away from the term because it is does not dignify the motive of most clients who request investigations.  The term derives from bunkum, an insincere public display or statement, which suggests that debunking a paranormal phenomenon means to expose the trickery of duplicitous clients.  Such clients are an extreme rarity for investigation groups.  "Debunking," in fact, entered into the popular vernacular because of criminal investigators and scientists who, in the interest of protecting the unwitting public, apprehended charlatan spirit mediums, defrauded psychic flimflam, and exposed medical quackery.   One of the most famous debunkers who has evolved from a professional illusionist into one of the leading figures of skeptical inquiry is James Randi.  The preferred term among paranormal investigators these days is "explaining," which is far more empathetic to the possibility that a client in paranormal distress may have misunderstood or overlooked a rational explanation for paranormal activity, rather than have conspired to dupe the public.  (See "Haunting" and "Scientific Method.")


Eyewitness Testimony:

Many subscribe to the old adage, "Seeing is believing," but eyewitness testimony is among some of the more unreliable evidence admitted into any investigation.  Paranormal investigations are no exception.  Although clients provide personal accounts of activity as part of the Prelim process, investigators cannot use these as evidence.  Rather, they must depend on a combination of their own personal accounts and the documented evidence they capture on the investigation.  Even the eyewitness testimony of investigators remains the most subjective and least reliable form of evidence in the report.  It is significant only if there are correlations between subjective experience and documented evidence, or patterns among independent reports of experiences.

 

F

Faraday Cage:

"Faraday" refers to physicist Michael Faraday, who in 1836 invented the Faraday cage. Also known as a "Faraday shield," Faraday cages do not have to take the form of an actual cage, but rather can be any sort of enclosure surrounded or lined by a mesh of conducting material that blocks electrical fields and radio frequencies.   Its use in paranormal investigating is largely experimental and theoretical:  working from the major premise that electromagnetism is a common principle of our physical universe and the unknown physical universe of the spirit realm, it provides an opportunity to rule out localized EMF pollution as the source of paranormal activity:  if activity occurs within the Faraday enclosure, and it cannot be rationally explained by any other devices within, then its origins are potentially paranormal.  (See also "EMF.")

 

Fear Cage:

Coined by TAPS investigators as a nod to Michael Faraday's EMF shield (see "Faraday Cage"),  the term "fear cage" describes an area within a building that is demarcated by unusually high EMFs, creating effects on individuals mistaken for localized paranormal activity.  Many who report the sensation of being watched, feeling goose bumps, or experiencing uneasy feelings when entering a specific location in their own homes quite often are victims of this electromagnetic field phenomenon, especially if the fields are targeting the head.   (See "EMF.")  Locations where a fear cage may occur typically include sources of high voltage electricity and the surfaces that can conduct them:  circuit breakers, 220 voltage outlets, stripped or exposed copper wires, and so on.  However, certain appliances (especially older ones) are also commonly responsible for creating fear cages.  The most frequent culprits are refrigerators, lighted electric clocks and clock radios, free-standing oscillating fans, bathroom ballasts and ceiling fans, and over-taxed extension cords and power strips. Fear cages caused by appliances are simple to test, since a rearrangement, replacement, or outright removal of the sources should dispel the effect.

 

Floor Plans:

Blueprints of a venue are a reminder of where PPI equipment was located during the investigation, where paranormal hotspots were reported by the client, where noteworthy anomalies were recorded, and where sources of high EMF were documented.  Collectively this information can assist investigators in the crucial post-investigation stage and provide a visual point of reference when comparative analysis of evidence and experiences is undertaken.


Footsteps (a.k.a. Footfalls):

A universal feature of many a ghost tale, disembodied footsteps are frequently included in reports of paranormal activity:  a regular pattern of footfalls, often in another room or on a staircase, that sometimes causes witnesses to imagine intruders are in their homes.  Footsteps and other anomalous sounds such as Knocks and Taps rally skeptics who call into question the physics of such phenomena and blame matrixing as the common culprit.  (See "Pareidolia.")  Defenders of footsteps as a well and true paranormal phenomenon conjecture that it is an imprint of a residual haunting, or even that it is an indication  of parallel dimensions.  (See also "Anomaly," "Haunting" and "Knocks and Taps.")

 

G

Geiger Counter:

Science oriented investigators use Geiger counters to measure anomalous readings of low-level (non-harmful) radiation thought to be one of the energies emitted by a manifesting entity.  Any levels of radiation detected, whether or not they coincide with alleged paranormal activity, are recorded and published with other environmental data in the client's Investigation Report.  As with changes frequently noted in other environmental conditions, no definitive evidence as yet has been acknowledged by the scientific community that draws a reliable correlation between radiation readings and paranormal activity, nor that there exists such a thing as "paranormal" energy; it is merely a working hypothesis at present.  (See also "Environmental Data.")

 

Ghost:

See "Haunting."

H

Haunting:

When a location exhibits a pattern and a personality of paranormal activity, it is said to be haunted.  Hauntings are generally classified as Intelligent or Residual.  An intelligent haunting implies that one or more spirit entities are “attached” to the premises and interact with it and its living occupants in a sentient way.  A residual haunting is defined by its rote characteristics:  paranormal phenomena, such as apparitions, occur frequently or repetitiously, but without being mindful or aware of the occupants.  A third classification, Poltergeist, remains controversial and, although it resembles a haunting, is thought to be, in fact, a manifestation of a living mind; in consequence, it is more often categorized with such phenomena as possession, rather than with hauntings.  (See “Determinations.”)

 

I

Infrared (IR) Illumination:

IR cameraDigital video and still shot cameras used by PPI investigators are equipped with an ability to "see" in the dark using infrared light.  This feature is indispensable since virtually all investigations take place in the cover of darkness.  Anomalies such as shadows and moving objects that would otherwise be unseen by the naked eye are more likely to be detected in infrared.  Images and video recorded with infrared sometimes seem like they are black-and-white; this is a false color impression.  (See also "Surveillance.")

 

 

Inhuman:

This controversial term describes a paranormal entity thought to be of non-human origin, which suggests a being native to the so-called “spirit realm.”  The classification includes demons, elementals, nature spirits, and even angels, though most inhumans are feared as feral and dangerous.  Although skeptical paranormal investigators keep an open mind to reports of an “inhuman,” the classification is largely the concern of Demonology and frequently is associated with religious philosophies. (See also "Jungian" and "Thought-Forms.")

 

J

Jungian:

Carl JungSeminally influential nineteenth century Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, founded analytical psychology, often referred to as Jungian psychology, and is frequently invoked by scholars of the paranormal for his interest in the human psyche as inherently mystical.  Of special interest to paranormal folklore enthusiasts, demonologists, and ghost trackers, alike, are his study of psychological archetypes and his theories on the collective unconscious of the human species, which, he argued, explained the coincidental similarities among the pantheons and spiritual rituals of so many disparate human cultures.  From dream analysis to tarot card readings, and art therapy to 12-Step patient treatment, Jungian psychology is frequently the favored approach.  In paranormal investigating, Jungian analysis takes an inevitable role in any alternative explanations of client accounts of paranormal activity that, interpreted as personal expressions of a common cultural folklore, often possess archetypal traits--e.g., the crone; the spirit girl; the tall man with the hat; and so on.  (See also "Inhuman" and Thought-Forms.")

 

K

K-II meter:

The K-II Safe Range meter (which acquired its name from its manufacturer, K-II Enterprises, was designed as a simple detector for laypersons to identify potentially hazardous electromagnetic fields in their homes or businesses. PPI uses them as inexpensive broad spectrum EMF/RF (radio frequency) detectors during our investigations.  The K-II possesses a panel of five L.E.D. lights that light up cumulatively as the EMFs increase or spike.  Because these lights provide a visible confirmation of EMF or RF activity in the darkness of a paranormal investigation, K-II's have come into popular use by the paranormal community as simple communication devices.  Working under the premise that unseen "spirits" create measurable electromagnetic fields, investigators invite entities to interact with the device and use the lights to answer questions in the style of "one knock for yes; two knocks for no" (see "Knocks and Taps"; however, other creative interrogation techniques are possible and encouraged:   questions in which the answers can be limited to five responses or fewer (e.g., "If you are a child, flash one light; if you are a teenager, make two lights illuminate; etc."); questions whose answers are a matter of intensity (e.g., "On a scale of one to five, five being the most, tell us how angry you are?"); and so on.  In the capacity of a communication device, K-II meters both inspire innovation and invite criticism.  PPI and many other groups have already devoted research and experimentation to the K-II's potential for false positives resulting from its inherent design weaknesses or from flawed tecniques in its somewhat clumsy adaptation to paranormal investigating.  Such controversy and criticism are perhaps a testament to the fact that K-IIs seem to produce results sometimes.  Further study of their credibility as tools of the paranormal trade is reason enough for most investigators to continue using them, but with a careful degree of skepticism.

 

Knocks and Taps (a.k.a. Raps)

A mainstay of paranormal investigating is the documenting of knocking sounds or taps, which are believed by many to be attempts at intelligent communication by unseen entities.  The concept is basic enough to have partly inspired the acronym of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (in addition to the military melody eulogizing fallen soldiers).  Taking inspiration from nineteenth century seance mediums who beckoned a spirit to knock as a sign of their arrival—more often than not, the medium’s cohort knuckling the underside of the table—paranormal investigators frequently attempt to initiate knocks and taps as a way for unseen entities to “make their presence known.”  However, a system of raps and taps are also encouraged to answer basic yes/no questions, much in the fashion that a K-II Meter is now being used.  Detractors and skeptics point out that, during the nighttime hours that most tapping and knocking phenomena are heard (and during which most paranormal investigations are staged), building infrastructure responds to drops in temperature and changes in barometric pressure and outdoor wind speed that create these sounds.  For this reason, responsible paranormal investigators give taps lower priority as evidence, or reject it altogether, unless 1) it seems strongly to suggest intelligent responses to questions, and 2) it coincides with other anomalies such as EMF spikes, Cold Spots, EVP, and so on.

 

L

Lights Out:

For a variety of practical reasons, investigations are usually conducted in the dark.   Though not a hard and fast rule, “Lights Out” can be used to signal the official start time of a formal investigation, when protocols protecting the evidence gathering from light and sound contamination go into effect until the designated breaks or the end of the investigation.

 

M

Matrixing:

See "Pareidolia."


Microsievert:

A unit of measurement (mSv) for radiation; 1 microsSievert is the equivalent of 0.001 Sievert.

 

Milligauss:

A unit of measurement (mGs) for low-level electromagnetic fields recorded by EMF readers; 1 milligauss is the equivalent of 0.001 Gauss.

 

N

 

Night-Vision:

See "Infrared Illumination."

 

Non-Contact Thermometer:

Non-contact thermometers project an infrared beam to measure surface temperatures.  During investigations, PPI uses these sophisticated thermometers to check the surface temperatures of vents, doorways and windows in order to discount ordinary sources for cold spots, warm spots, or sudden breezes.  They differ from thermocouples in that they do not measure the ambient air temperatures.  (See "thermocouples.")

 

O

Orb:

This spherical light anomaly is controversial in that it is frequently interpreted as an indicator of “spirit energy” in the vicinity.  Some even theorize that the orb's spherical form is a simple matter of evenly distributing energy in a three-dimensional space.  Orbs, however, have had their detractors, mostly in response to paranormal hobbyists who confused them with camera artifacts caused by dust, moisture and bugs caught in IR light.  True orbs, it is alleged, emanate their own light source and, as such, cast light onto nearby surfaces as well as incur shadows (just as light bulbs do).  Investigation groups serious about projecting a more scientific and credible view of themselves will usually omit orb evidence from their analysis altogether, unless they are sure that they have captured a “true orb” in their video evidence, or have seen one with their own eyes.

 

P

Pareidolia:

Pareidolia is a common psychological phenomenon in which random stimulus is organized by the brain into a recognizable pattern (e.g., seeing faces in wallpaper patterns, or hearing musical beats in the sound of heavy machinery).  Often used synonymously with the term "matrixing," pareidolia explains a large percentage of visual evidence mistakenly touted as definitive proof of the paranormal.  In photographic evidence, it occurs in the tendency to pick shapes out of the blurry background or the random contrasts of light and shade (the face in a window, for example, that's merely the window pane reflecting the trees).  In audio evidence, it occurs largely in the tendency to hear words and phrases in random sound; a good example of this is in Class C EVPs where words and phrases are discerned in the white noise, but without consensus as to what they are saying.  Critics of those who protest claims of pareidolia rightly point out the interpretive bias that often accompanies such evidence:  an apparition in the rust of an oil tanker may resemble a veil and a blank face, but, predisposed to a religious interpretation, the observer will fill in the missing details and identify it as the face of the Virgin Mary; or, fear of "evil spirits" or concern for "lost souls" will influence the listener to hear "Get out!" or "Help me!" in the white noise of poorly recorded digital audio.  Pareidolia can be a powerfully convincing experience and, as such, it is sometimes difficult to disabuse people of their assumptions once they take an emotional or psychological investment in them.  Consequently, pareidolia is a challenging problem for paranormal investigators who value objectivity in their analysis of the evidence.

 

Paranormal:

Popularly used to mean anything supernatural, credible investigators use the word in its literal sense to describe any experience or artifact of evidence that cannot be explained through normal means.  The word, however, does not automatically signify evidence of the supernatural (such as a haunting or a demonic possession). Rather, it is used to suggest that, based upon the limitations of investigators’ knowledge, the evidence cannot be rationally explained.

Peer Review:

In any academic community, the findings and interpretations of researchs are evaluated by the peer community to determine their validity or to pose alternative or contradictory remarks.  In this manner, the standards of an academic community are withheld, and the discipline is protected from the damage that can be done by poor research, bad science, or biased analysis.  When a PPI investigator examines the data after an investigation, the evidence he or she selects as potentially significant is subjected to review by other PPI investigators, and a dialogue is created to pose alternative explanations or to submit corroborating or contradictory evidence.  This important stage of the PPI case is collectively named "Peer Review."

 

Poltergeist:

See “Haunting” and "Thought-Forms."

 

Prelim:

A preliminary questionnaire gathering basic information about the clients and their circumstances is the first stage of development in a PPI case.  Prelims establish the general nature of the paranormal activity believed to be occurring at the site, and the severity of that activity.  (For example, a prelim will help us decide if a case has a degree of urgency that should persuade us to schedule an investigation sooner.)  Prelims also provide rudimentary background information that gives PPI interviewers a starting point for asking further details and information necessary to the investigation.

 

Projection:

See "Thought-Forms."

 

Protocols:

PPI honors two types of protocols in its methodologies:  Investigative Protocols and Organizational Protocols.  Because PPI and other more scientifically driven groups set out to disprove hauntings and the occurrence of paranormal phenomena, they follow a set of guidelines to assure that their evidence and their methods for obtaining it have not been compromised; these guidelines are our investigative protocols.  Our commitment to professionalism and to the well-being of our clients, however, has also created a need for guidelines in behavior; these are the organization protocols to which we adhere.  (See also "Scientific Method.")

 

Psychic Intuitives (a.k.a. Sensitives):

Unlike other terms in this glossary, "psychic intuition" is a term unlikely to be heard during your time with PPI because techniques reliant on the subjective impressions of individuals do not conform to the scientific method and are therefore not used for determining a cause for alleged paranormal activity.   This principle also applies to the subjective accounts of clients and investigators.  (See also "Eyewitness Testimony.")

 

Q

Q & A (Questions and Answers):

See "Vigil."

 

Qualifications:

The paranormal community has within it a system of accreditation unrecognized in any official way by institutions of higher learning.  Though areas of study such as parapsychology and demonology can be found in university settings, credentials and certification for skill sets involving paranormal forensic analysis, EVP, psychic intuition, spirit photography, etc., have no gravitas except as matters of personal enrichment.  This is not to say that some of these credentials are not backed by courses of study.  However, there is no oversight as to the content and pedagogy of such courses, and no regulation by any authoritative agency to determine the accredited value of any degree or certificate obtained after such course of study.  In other words, no matter how sophisticated the content of these courses maybe, they are still unrecognized in any official capacity.  Consequently, one must be wary of the claims that self-credentialed paranormal groups make about their qualifications.  With no official rubric to determine the merit of any group, everyone from the well-meaning to the downright unscrupulous can claim expertise in a field that, for all intents and purposes, has no experts.  It is best to research the real-life skills sets that individual group members bring to the task of paranormal investigating, as well as assess the merit of the group based on its case history and any accomplishments that might be acknowledged by peer communities such as T.A.P.S., the James Randi Education Foundation, and other skeptical enquiry organizations.  (See also "T.A.P.S. Family.")

 

Qualifiers:

In applying logic and critical thinking techniques, proper researchers generally avoid staking absolute claims about phenomena being of supernatural origin, since such claims open themselves easily to criticism and contradiction.  Qualifiers imply that certain conditions must be met for a claim to be true.  In result, the conclusions are either probable or possible, but rarely definite.  For PPI, the conclusions of a paranormal investigation are unlikely to result in a definitive claim of a haunting for this very reason.  Pronouncing a location "haunted" with absolute certainty is irresponsible unless absolute proof can be shown to substantiate the claim.  Unfortunately, even "proof" is a relative term in the paranormal community, and its veracity often depends on the credentials of the paranormal group involved.  Every claim of "proof" subjects a group's credibility to ridicule.  Qualifiers, therefore, allow us to offer less orthodox determinations but with the proviso that ordinary causes may yet be uncovered.  (See also "Determinations.")

 

R

Reveal:

This term is used for the presentation of PPI conclusions (even if the results are inconclusive).  Ordinarily, a collection of data, evidence and experiences are reviewed with the client, followed by a discussion of their ramifications.

 

Report:

A Case Report is a document representing the culmination of the Case, outlining various aspects of the investigation and showcasing selected evidence that was used to lead PPI to its Determination.  A printed Case Report will usually accompany a Reveal; however, reports can also be delivered separately or offered on-line in lieu of a personal Reveal.  In cases where successive investigations are conducted, Case Reports will ordinarily be cumulative:  they will cover all of the investigations in one report so that clients may compare the findings and notes of each case under the cover of one document.  Reports often represent the collaborative hard work of team members and several report writers who personalize and “write” every report separately and uniquely.

 

S

Scientific Method:

Reputable paranormal research groups like PPI rely on methodologies that are consistent with the investigative protocols of the science community.  These are collectively referred to as the "scientific method."  A scientific method collects data through observation and experimentation, and tests hypotheses with a willingness to revise them when subsequent observation and experimentation requires it.  The steps of these methodologies must be repeatable and predictive.  Furthermore, the process must be regulated to remove bias, especially in the interpretation of the results.  One other very basic but significant component of the scientific method is documentation and disclosure:  a careful chronicling of the methods used and the results achieved must be made fully available for peer review and criticism which in turn allows others to verify the results and reproduce them using the documented methods.  In this manner, the scientific method assures reliability in the findings through the integrity of the methods used to achieve them.  The increased interest in the scientific side of paranormal investigating has polarized the community into three groups:  those who, like PPI, are  more strict in their adherence to the scientific method and who work to disprove hauntings; those who rely on a variety of metaphysical, spiritual, and religious rituals to prove the existence of spirits; and those who use technology and a loose interpretation of popular science to validate metaphysical philosophies about the so-called Spirit Realm.

 

Setup:

A stage of the investigation involving the placement and adjustment of surveillance equipment is called the “Setup.”  However, setup can also include special projects and experiments (e.g., chalk lines around objects reported to move).  When an investigation is complete, teams will “break down” the setup by putting equipment back into storage.

 

Shadow Phenomena:

When references are made to shadows, they are usually concerns of disembodied shadows, sometimes called “Shadow Persons”:  dark apparitions of human (or animal) form, sometimes opaque but often transparent, and quite often moving independently in the dark.  (See “Apparition.”)

 

 

 

 

Surveillance:

Styles and techniques in paranormal investigating are wide ranging depending on the degree to which teams objectively collect data.  Subjective metaphysical approaches often see results in a more spontaneous and immediate manner, but approaches dependent upon data collection, analysis, and peer review take longer and require surveillance and recording equipment—not only for collecting data, but also for documenting investigations and cross-referencing evidence.  A multi-channel DVR surveillance system utilizing high-resolution infrared surveillance cameras permits real-time monitoring of multiple locations at the investigation site while it saves that footage for later review.  (See also "Infrared Illumination.")

 

T

Tapping:

See "Knocks and Taps"

 

T.A.P.S. Family:

The success of the SciFi Channel reality series, Ghost Hunters, has made the acronym “T.A.P.S.” instantly recognizable to anyone with even a passing fascination in the paranormal.  However, the television program and The Atlantic Paranormal Society are separate entities, and T.A.P.S. carries its own history.  Based out of Warwick, Rhode Island, T.A.P.S. was originally begun in 1990 as Rhode Island Paranormal Society (R.I.P.S.) by Jason Hawes who, shortly after changing the name of the organization, joined forces with Grant Wilson in 1992.  With the advent of the internet and the success of the T.V. program, the group’s primary mission as an outreach organization and its commitment to disprove hauntings using the scientific method inspired many new groups to forge themselves upon these same protocols, while other groups who had been using these investigative approaches for many years (some pre-dating R.I.P.S.) began allying themselves as a single network under the auspices of the T.A.P.S. organization.  This network is collectively named the T.A.P.S. Family.  In encouraging a commitment to research, technology, volunteerism, not-for-profit outreach, and the basic tenets of the scientific method, the T.A.P.S. organization drew would-be paranormal investigators out of the closet and raised the bar intellectually on an activity that at one time had been thought of strictly as a matter of séances and table-tipping.  Today, the T.A.P.S. Family is internationally broad.  While it is still generally overseen by T.A.P.S. originators Hawes and Wilson, it now has its own management and continues to exist under its own power as a think-tank of skeptical enquirers, writers, inventors, and humanitarians for whom compassion above all else is the most important criterion for membership. It should, however, be noted that many credible, likeminded groups do not possess membership in the T.A.P.S. Family.  Exclusion from the international T.A.P.S. Family does not mean that a group is less qualified, less scientific, or less skeptical, nor is the T.A.P.S. Family the only available network of paranormal research groups.  As with any organization claiming to provide outreach, research into a group’s background and qualifications is crucial.  However, the T.A.P.S. Family roster continues today to expand as a kind of Angie’s List, making such research more available and more reliable.  Groups who do demonstrate excellence sufficient for membership take a great deal of pride in this, and their websites often display a banner on the homepage verifying the authenticity of their claim to membership; this banner links either to further authentication or to The Atlantic Paranormal Society’s roster of bona fide T.A.P.S. Family groups.  Prospective clients are encouraged to explore these links further.

 

Teams:

In order to limit the activity going on at any one time during an investigation, PPI investigators will be grouped into small teams who conduct their vigils and their investigative experiments.  A careful record of teams and their participants allows us to put “controls” on the amount of noise and activity that might later be confused for paranormal phenomena on the recorded media.

 

Thermocouple:

This handheld or portable electrical device measures a wide range of temperatures, such as ambient room temperatures and surface temperatures. (See also "Baselines "Cold Spots," and "Environmental Data.")

 


Thought-Forms (a.k.a. “Projection”):


incubus-thoughtformAmong the several clashing camps of methodology in paranormal investigating, the concept of “thought-forms” (sometimes better known as a tulpa, in Tibetan mysticism) is perhaps more controversial than others.  As the word implies, a “thought-form” is a psychic invention in which a spiritual or metaphysical being is projected into existence from the human subconscious.  Thought-forms have appeared in the literature, mythology, and popular culture of virtually every society and can be used to explain a variety of spirit phenomena:  an invisible childhood friend; a doppelganger; transient spirit activity; poltergeist activity; and so on.  Even broader spiritual archetypes such as angels and devils—indeed, Satan and God, themselves—have been hypothesized as thought-forms made manifest through the collective will of a people.  In paranormal investigating, thought-forms test the real strength of one’s methodologies--whether in strict adherence to the scientific method or in deference to religion or demon mythologies—because the phenomenon is thought to be autonomously self-aware yet inextricably bound to one or more human occupants as a projection of their psyche.  This places the matter squarely in either the realm of metaphysics or the arena of psychoanalysis, both of which quite often extend beyond the amatuer abilities of ordinary paranormal researchers.  Nonetheless, thought-forms are a cutting-edge look at the phenomenon of haunting, particularly with regard to violent poltergeist activity.  (See also “Haunting,” "Inhuman," "Jungian" and “Scientific Method.”)

 

U

 

V

Vigil:

Synonymous with “session,” this word is used generally to describe an organized activity in which investigators study one location in the venue for a period of time and observe the environment for signs of paranormal activity, usually while recording audio and video.  Some vigils are held in silence, but most involve the technique of Q & A to query the facts and motives of putative spirit occupants.  Methods of interrogation differ among groups, and even among individual investigators.  Provocation, for example, is a method of interrogation in which the vigil is made more confrontational in hopes that more aggressive evidence will be obtained.  It's alleged that simple and respectful querry, however, is the method creating the least risk of exacerbating the activity, especially if family occupants are concerned about the repercussions of bringing in outsiders to "make contact" with the resident entities.  Vigils should not be mistaken as religious; rather, they are merely sessions in which investigators are "vigilant” for unusual activity or experiences.

 

W

Walkthrough:

Two kinds of walkthroughs occur during an investigation:  a preliminary walkthrough of the premises in which the clients are interviewed and decisions are made about equipment setup; and, investigative walkthroughs, in which investigators conduct their vigils and experiments, as well as gather readings and data, while they are moving through the venue.

 

White Noise:

White noise is a random, neutral sound with a flat power spectral density.  Most recording devices, analog or digital, generate a degree of white noise in their recordings, the sound of which is frequently compared to a rushing waterfall.  In fact, white noise generators are used as meditative and sleep aids for this very reason, since white noise creates a calming and constant "background" sound that drowns out peripheral noises.  Paranormal investigators fall into two camps of thought about its uses.  One sees it as a substantial liability--a result of poorer quality microphones or inadequate controls on the baseline sound of the environment.  Another, however, actively contrives it in the evidence with a belief that "spirits" harness white noise to facilitate EVP communication.  Anything from specially designed white noise generators, to oscillating fans and coffee percolators, have been used to produce white noise with the express intention of culling EVP evidence.  Critics of this technique, however, remain suspicious of the considerable opportunity for matrixing this creates--i.e., the human brain's tendency to impose ordered speech onto random sound.  They also point out that little evidence relying on white noise ever surpasses a Class C EVP.  This technique of generating white noise is by no means a new one, but it recently received a certain cache of credibility after the success of the film White Noise, which showcased electronic voice phenomena.   (See also "EVP" and "Pareidolia.")

 

XYZ

Zombie:

Awkwardly grouped in the paranormal with ghosts and doppelgangers, zombies are not so much a paranormal phenomenon as they are a cultural phenomenon.  With rare exception, writers of the horror genre have portrayed them as instruments of necromancy (the raising of the dead)--mummies sans bandages, sometimes with a slimming carnivorous diet, stumbling about under the influence of demons and curses.  Science fiction writers, on the other hand, have plundered every conceivable biomedical cause leading to the contagion that gives rise to legions of zombies.  If there is even a shread of truth to the phenomenon of zombies, it is probably in the spirit of the horror genre, in which quite living (not dead) individuals are drugged and placed in a suggestible condition so that their will and actions may be controlled:  the combined effect of a truth serum and hypnosis.  Zombie enthusiasts would be quick to point out that any account of reanimation by "magic" is, technically, a voodoo zombie.  In fact, the word "zombie" is speculated to have been derived from several possible West Indian and African terms, all with meanings having to do with the spirit of the dead or the soul of a living person.  One variation, the zombie astral, is purported to be a living human's soul commandeered by an evil sorcerer.  This kind of similarity between a zombie and a ghost's wandering soul is perhaps the only connection that justifies inclusion of zombies in the vernacular of modern paranormal investigating.  However, it is far from scientific, even though some investigators report feeling like zombies the day after an all-night investigation.