Friday, January 13, 2012

Who’s afraid of the big bad skeptic?

You find yourself alone in a mist-filled cemetery as dawn breaks. Fading light traces the beautiful etchings on the tombstones around you. You’re at peace, surrounded by the dead with your digital recorder in one hand and a camera in the other. Wait a minute. What’s that? You hear the sound of a breaking twig from somewhere nearby. You suddenly realize you are NOT alone. Next, you hear footsteps, drawing closer and closer. Oh no! It’s the Skeptics. You can’t run, for Doubting Thomases are hot on your tracks. You can’t even hide, for their rolling eyes always seem to find you. They appear out of nowhere, reaching for you with their sharp pointy fingers, piercing your balloons of evidence with a sudden POP! It’s like waking from a zombie-filled nightmare.
It’s one of the many fears most paranormal investigators face every time we bring forth new ideas and evidence to the ever growing debate table. We learn it’s not the dead we need fear, it’s the living. Those who question our beliefs, strategy or even our findings have no problem passing judgment. They seem to find no trouble ripping down our walls of confidence and poking at our bellies of theory.
Through the ages, the idea of ghosts has come a long way. Ghost enthusiasts no longer have to hide in the dark along with our ghostly companions. Our numbers have grown such that we can now march in our own parade. However, we still fear those who stand on the sidelines, picketing and chanting against us.
Now, I know I’ve just painted a really ugly picture of those BIG bad skeptics out there. In fact there very well could be one in your own family (SCREAM!!!!!!). In all honesty, they are not as scary as some might imagine. Have we become less tolerant of them as they sometimes are of us?
A few years ago, a local skeptics group contacted me to arrange a speaking engagement on ghost hunting. I replied “Sure, I’d be happy too.” There was a silent pause on the phone, and then, the voice answered back, “Really?” I reaffirmed my answer, “Sure, why not?” To my surprise, I discovered the caller had been trying for months to get anyone in the ghost hunting field to speak to his group but came up with rejection after rejection from all the local groups. No one wanted to submit to appearing in front of a bunch of skeptics. WTF! We ghost hunters can hang out in cemeteries in the middle of the night with no fear but cower to a healthy debate on the discussion of paranormal activity? COME ON PEOPLE!
Just because someone calls themselves a skeptic, does not mean that they are closed-minded or they’re in search of the odd-man-out for next week’s public hanging. These people had valid questions, and I delivered answers. They were just as curious about the world of strange encounters, as we ghost hunters are. Sure, some may not be big believers in ghosts, but who’s to say that they can’t believe in the possibility of the unexplained events we encounter.
“SKEPTICISM” seems to be a big scary word for those in the field of paranormal research. But yet we try to encourage those who seek ghosts to carry a fair share of skepticism with them when they venture out into the dark. This is to keep anyone in this field more level headed and not so eager to label everything they encounter “paranormal.” Yet, I feel we have failed if paranormal investigators are not capable of being confident enough in their findings to face a skeptical review.
Now, granted there is a point when you can be too skeptical. Here the debate can go on forever with no conclusion, and you have to walk away agreeing to disagree. However, skeptics are not our enemies; they often challenge our observations while presenting different ways to view material. These views help us peel away the mistakes today’s ghost hunters often make in producing evidence. When the skeptics themselves cannot come up with an answer to support or refute data, then we’ve done our job properly. It’s those puzzling findings that show the world we are NOT wasting our time. When we enter the debate without first examining those elements we want to call PROOF POSITIVE with a skeptical eye, we fail to engage in the true science of our investigations or prepare ourselves for the larger debate. To avoid wasting time in the discussion of paranormal activity, ghost hunters should acknowledge and make use of skepticism as one of our most useful ghost hunting tools, which is too frequently lacking in most ghost hunters’ toolboxes.