The Flashlight Experiment

Most people who have watched the television show “Ghost Hunters” on SyFy will probably recognize what has commonly been referred to as the “Flashlight experiment” in the paranormal community.  Recently featured in the second season finale of  Ghost Hunters Academy (also on SyFy), the “experiment” has been getting a fair amount of publicity.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, please allow me to describe the scenario.  Typically, several ghost hunters will sit in a darkened room around a flashlight which is normally set on the floor or on a flat surface of some kind, and attempt spirit communication by asking any ghosts present to turn the light on and off.  Oftentimes direct questions will be asked.  The light turning on or off, seemingly on its own, is then considered to be an answer from beyond.*

Having seen this on television, in person at various “haunted hotspots,” and in talking about it’s use with friends of mine, it has become clear that a fair number of people believe it is an effective method of talking with ghosts.  I am hoping this article today will help provide a very clear non-paranormal explanation.

First, there is the use of the flashlight itself.  A friend recently asked me point blank how I would explain the effect.  I replied that it is really quite simple:  people are using a flashlight incorrectly.  You see, before the “flashlight experiment” can be carried out during a paranormal investigation, the flashlight must first be slightly tampered with.  In fact, what investigators do, depending on their particular model, is either push the switch or twist the cap precariously between the on and off position, thus making the instrument that much more delicate.  At this position, little if any interference from a person or the environment is required to cause the light to turn all the way on, off, or flicker.

A flashlight contains many parts that come together to make the instrument work.  Among these parts are contact strips, the switch itself, and the lamp.  Batteries, of course, are also essential to the use of most models.  According to Enegizer.com, “when a flashlight switch is pushed to the ON position, it makes contact between two contact strips, which begins a flow of electricity, powered from the battery.”  Activated by the flow of electrons, the filament, or LED, in the tiny lightbulb (lamp) begins to glow, producing light.  Disrupting the flow of this electricity, which is exactly what happens when you place the flashlight between the ON/OFF positions, creates an open circuit and, as a direct result, it doesn’t work right.*

But what, you may ask, about the responses ghost hunters seem to get from ghosts in regards to their questions?  Now that we know the flashlight is being used improperly, and is malfunctioning as a result, these alleged responses become suspect.  Furthermore, how can we actually know a ghost is communicating?  Using this same method, I’ve made it appear I am having a conversation via flashlight with anything from an invisible purple dinosaur to a flying spaghetti monster.  Even my dirty gym socks joined the party from miles away once.  “If my gym socks are present here, please turn the light on.”  The light turned on.  “You are?  Wow.  Here I was just looking for ghosts!”

One of the major problems with this method is how unscientific it is used in conjunction with a ghost hunt.  Paranormal researchers are taking the flashlight only to locations they believe may be haunted and are using the flickering light to prove their case!  Why aren’t they testing the validity of the method in locations they don’t believe to be haunted; a gas station bathroom, next to the litter box in your friend’s basement, your own house?  If the “flashlight experiment” is attempted in a non-haunted setting and behaves in a similar fashion, why would you believe it would be any different in a place you think is crawling with ghosts?

Another problem ghost hunters have when using this method is they set the situation up for success before they begin by giving the alleged ghost the simplest of tasks to perform.  That isn’t scientific at all.  For instance, when the light is off, the ghost is asked to turn the light on.  Well, that’s the only option there is!  So then, when the light eventually flickers and turns on, it’s considered a positive case of ghost communication.  That’s absurd.  Ask this so-called ghost to tap out a sentence in Morse Code.  Ask it to turn on at a particular letter of the alphabet.  Ask it questions to see if it can give you information you don’t already have.  The point is, if you ask for only simple results, you’re likely to get them.  And that proves nothing other than your own lack of creativity.

In conclusion, the “flashlight trick” as used by TAPS affiliated ghost hunting groups on television, and in amateur squads around the country, is a severely flawed method for obtaining scientific validation of ghost communication.  It can be explained easily by non-paranormal means as simple manipulation of the flashlight itself and an all too eager community of believers.*

However, if you have doubts about whether or not the flashlight is being used improperly during this phase of a ghost investigation, I will pose you a challenge:  Find me a reputable set of Maglite flashlight instruction which say something along the lines of, “For best use, place between an ON/OFF position and attempt to talk with ghosts.”  Only then will I concede your point.  Until then, perhaps it would be wise to abandon this ghost hunting technique as yet another in a long line of failures to communicate.

Thanks for reading.

REFERENCES:

http://www.energizer.com/LEARNING-CENTER/Pages/how-flashlights-work.aspx

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When Good Games Go Bad

One of the most controversial tools ever used in spirit communication, a tool that is still used today, is a simple wooden board. It comes in many different sizes, with a variety of beautifully painted scenes and symbols. Yet they all share certain characteristics: located somewhere on the surface of these boards are the words “Yes”, “No” and “Goodbye“, the letters A through Z. and the numbers 0 through 9. With this board comes a pointer called a planchette. The planchette is a triangular or heart-shaped device that will point to the letters, numbers or words, spelling out phrases, names and dates. The planchette actually predates these boards. Planchettes were originally used with a pencil attached for automatic writing (a method used a lot during the spiritualist movement). But now the planchette and this board go hand in hand. This board goes by many names such as a talking board, a witch board, or a spirit board. But most of us know it as the Ouija board.

The Ouija board is quite possibly the most infamous tool used in paranormal research. I would venture to bet that most people reading this have heard a terrifying story that has either happened to a friend or a friend of a friend that involves the Ouija board. But when was the Ouija board created? What’s the history of this fascinating tool of devilish mischief? Was it constructed under candlelight in a dark dungeon sometime in the Dark Ages? Or maybe it was created by a witch who practiced black magic and satanic rituals. Many will be surprised to learn that the Ouija board is fairly young and it was made as a novelty item.

On May 28th 1890, a patent was filed by three individuals: Elijah Bond, Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin. The patent was for a novelty item developed by The Kennard Novelty Company, and the first boards were stamped February 10, 1891. Kennard was the one who named the board Ouija. People say the name Ouija means yes-yes because oui is French for yes and ja is German for yes, but Kennard claims to have named Ouija after an Egyptian word for good luck. In all actuality the word scarab means good luck in Egyptian (or Arabic) and not the word Ouija. The story goes the board itself repeatedly told Kennard that Ouija meant good luck in Egyptian and the name just stuck. The company only produced the Ouija board for fourteen months but kept corporate control until 1898.

In 1898 the Ouija board was appointed to a man that would revolutionize the board’s history, William Fuld. It was this man who said that he invented the board and that the name meant yes-yes. In 1919 Fuld bought the remaining rights and sold millions of these boards along with other toys. Sadly Fuld would die from a horrible accident falling from his company rooftop while supervising a flag pole replacement. This didn’t stop Fuld’s children from taking over the business or the production of Ouija boards. In 1966 the business was sold to Parker Brothers who still own the rights today.

So what happened? When did the Ouija Board get associated with evil? The history seems harmless, so why is it so closely related to Satan and demons? Although I cannot be 100% sure, while researching the subject I found that almost all negative reports relating to the board came about in the 70’s, after a novel was published and then turned into a movie two years later. The movie is a classic horror story about a teenage girl who tells her mother she has been talking to a person named Captain Howdy through the Ouija Board. Later this girl becomes possessed by the devil, which causes her body to contort, she spits up the classic green pea vomit and her head spins 360 degrees. Yes, you guessed it, I’m talking about “The Exorcist.” Now The Exorcist is “based” on a true story of a 14-year-old boy who was possessed and actually required three separate Rites of Exorcism from three different Christian denominations: Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic. The case happened in 1949 and the boy did admit to playing with a Ouija board. One thing to remember here is that religious groups had already become involved when this claim came out, so the Church automatically would assume this was the reason behind the possession. Just because the Church assumes this doesn’t make it fact. After 1973 (the year The Exorcist came out) there was a skyrocket of claims dealing with Ouija boards and demons; that’s the fact but the movie isn’t all at fault. After this another group that heavily promoted the Ouija Board as the work of the devil would be Christians.

I personally have received many claims from people telling me their stories, and as I suspected most are second- or third-hand. One thing people kept assuring me was that evil has been associated with this board since at least the 50’s, possibly earlier. There are two things I noticed in these stories, though: A. Hardly any of them had demons or possession associated with them. B. All were told that the board was evil by clergy or family members with strong religious views. This still holds me to my theory that the Church has a large role in why this toy is evil. From experience growing up in Christian house hold, I know the Church views any type of spirit communication as a product of the devil. The church has two views on where a spirit goes when it departs from the body, ones that go to Heaven and ones that go to Hell. I have even been taught that ghosts are actually demons portraying loved ones to win over trust so we will “let them in.” With that being said, the very fact that the Ouija board claims to be able to contact spirits would automatically be looked down on by the church, whether it be a toy or not. But still I will say I believe the reason why people have associated this board game with the devil is largely due to the movie The Exorcist.

So one has to wonder whether the Ouija board really is a tool that contacts demons or even Satan himself? Maybe it isn’t demons but entities that exist on a lower plane. Maybe it isn’t anything except one’s imagination. When dealing with controversial subjects, I feel it is important that we have to look at both sides: the side of belief and the side of doubt. With that being said, let’s look at something called the Ideomotor effect, a term that was coined by William B. Carpenter in 1852. With the power of suggestion or expectation and the subtle unconscious movements made by the hand, one may trick oneself into thinking that something supernatural is occurring. William also states that the muscle movements can be made by the brain independently of emotions. This simply means we do not know we are the ones influencing the planchette to move. This same effect also could explain pendulums and dowsing rods (actually that’s why this explanation was created).

Another common factor in the Ouija stories I received (and have heard in the past) is most of them end with someone burning the board to get rid of the evil, but to their surprise it isn’t affected by the flames. I have heard many other stories that consist of the smell of flesh when the board is thrown in the fire pit, even a board screaming in the flames. But the biggest commonality is that the fire has no effect on the board. Could this stem from the belief that the Ouija board is closely connected with demons and the Devil, and the belief that fire is associated with Hell? It is difficult for me to believe something made out of wood could survive the fireplace.

Still this common factor is interesting, so I contacted a man by the name of James “The Amazing” Randi, to talk about this. For those who don’t know who James Randi is, he is an investigator of paranormal claims. His foundation “The James Randi Educational Foundation” currently offers a $1,000,000 check to anyone who can prove paranormal abilities and/or claims. You may have even heard of this as the “Million Dollar Challenge”. This challenge has been going on since the 70’s and has never been won. So Mr. Randi told me to present everyone here with an experiment, in his words: “Have everyone go out and buy a Ouija board and set it on fire. If it doesn’t burn, they’ll win a million dollars.”

"Me burning the Ouija Board 

James Randi has also done tests on the Ouija board. To prove it is nothing more than the ideomotor effect, he blindfolded the operators, and the results produced were nothing but nonsense. No words, names, or phrases, no yes, no or dates–it was only gibberish. Surely demons or evil spirits would be able to spell the same whether the operator is blindfolded or not, so what happened? The logical explanation according to Randi is that it’s all done subconsciously by the operator. When the operator can’t see the board, the operator can’t produce positive results. It is also important to note that in controlled tests, the board has never produced any information that isn’t already known to the operators.

One major problem with the modern day paranormal investigator is lack of common sense.  People jump to conclusions way to quickly and let myths become fact.  Based on all the information I gathered while studying the Ouija board, I have to conclude the following.  The Ouija board is and has always been a board game, a children’s toy.  It has never been and is not a portal to hell, it does not let entities of any sort in through some invisible doorway, it does not conjure demons or Satan himself.  It matters not of your intent or belief, it is a piece of wood or cardboard with fancy paintings and designs, nothing more.  I have personally tested the burning of the Ouija board and it may surprise most readers, but it does in fact burn.  I heard no screaming, I smelled no burning flesh, it wasn’t waiting for me on the mantle magically rejuvenated, however it was a waste of 15 dollars.