EMF Meters…Why?

Of the many posts on this website, some are more popular than others.  Some topics seem to strike a chord with readers, or perhaps it’s my treatment of those topics that stir the hearts and minds of the few who happen across my work.

One of those popular posts has been what could be called a ‘review’ of the infamous Ovilus.  That’s actually a string of posts, but the latest has gotten more attention than the others overall.  I’m not certain that the Ovilus post is popular because people agree with my point of view, but if the commentary following it is any indication, many do not.  And that’s ok, anyone and everyone is entitled to disagree with me.  I’m generally quite willing to debate the issues and make my own case, and at the same time, I’ll happily listen to your well-reasoned arguments (providing they are well-reasoned, on topic and not personal attacks).

Another post that was popular is my critique of EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon.  I wasn’t exactly charitable with that topic, though I didn’t think I was being particularly harsh either.  I simply said that the evidence gleaned through so-called EVP research isn’t evidence of ghosts.  Or rather that it can’t be considered evidence of ghosts because there are too many other possible causes for the phenomenon.  Though I acknowledge the skeptic explanations of pareidolia or even delusion – which, although it can seem like a dismissive and insulting suggestion, is a good possibility in some cases – I’m actually talking about other environmental causes, like unexpected electromagnetic fields and their effect on recording mediums, as only one example.

Today’s post is connected to that very idea.  Among the tool kit of the modern Ghost Hunter there are numerous pieces of equipment that are considered staples of the endeavour. Flashlights, cameras, micro-recorders and maybe even the Ovilus (much to my own chagrin).  But the one device that nearly every Ghost Hunter relies on in their investigations is the EMF meter, and I question this practice in much the same way as I question the collection of EVP data.

The EMF meter is, for those not already familiar, a device for measuring electromagnetic fields in the general proximity of the device’s sensors.  Electromagnetic fields are everywhere, quite literally.  Our environment, that is the entire planet, is inundated with waves of energy.  The most powerful come from our sun, most of which is absorbed by our atmosphere, but everything that uses electricity in any way also generates an EM field.  Electromagnetic energy is a form of radiation and it is measured along a spectrum – the electromagnetic spectrum – which includes at its extreme ends: Gamma radiation and ELF waves (extremely low frequency).  Along the spectrum between Gamma rays and ELF are frequencies that correspond to radio waves (which includes cellular signals and other communications transmissions) and even the light spectrum that we’re able to detect with our eyes (the visible light spectrum).

EMF meters are generally designed to measure AC currents that are generated by electric appliances with frequencies between 50 and 60 Hz, with obvious variation between different models, but they can all detect EM fields outside of those generated by AC current.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I’m not qualified to argue about the technical specifications of EMF meters, nor am I an expert on electromagnetic theory, but I do have a working understanding.  I submit though, that such knowledge isn’t necessary to see the flaw in this situation.  I’ll explain.

It’s really as simple as this: there are many possible causes of EMF fluctuation in a given space, and as long as there is doubt about what caused the reading, it cannot be attributed to any one phenomenon.

The more experienced among you will already be gearing up to type out a comment pointing out that you, specifically aren’t claiming that these readings are attributed to one phenomenon and/or that baseline readings are always taken (though I doubt the word “always” applies) to differentiate those readings from what are commonly called emergent EM fields (that would be an unexpected field of electromagnetic energy that doesn’t appear to have been caused by sources that contributed to the baseline reading.  Unexpected and unexplained.)  If that’s you, the one getting ready for a fight, relax, I’m not referring to you.

With some exception, the Ghost Hunter will claim that this emergent field is evidence of the presence of a ghost, or more reasonably evidence of a paranormal event.  It is not.

Well, let me hedge my bets a bit here; it probably is not.  Even with the utmost care taken to minimize the influence of electrical appliances in the area, there are errant EMF fields everywhere, fluctuating, cancelling each other out and permeating every structure and every living body.  They’re there, and they can be measured by an EMF meter.  Cheaper meters are much more susceptible to interference from errant EMF than are the more expensive meters, which generally work in a different way than say, the K2 meter.

But all of this is beside the point.  Unless the source of the field can be identified, it cannot be attributed to any one phenomenon.  But I repeat myself.

The infamous K2 Meter

Much of this boils down to a problem the paranormal community is dealing with in a most ineffectual way.  The question is, why do Ghost Hunters use EMF meters in their investigations?  I’ve asked around, and I got some weird answers.  Some talked about the likelihood that an unexplained field was direct evidence of the paranormal; basically saying that if baseline sources are ruled out, it must be paranormal.  Others said, indirectly, that they do it because someone else does (not in those words of course, but when one says that they don’t understand it well enough to explain it, so go check so-and-so’s blog for an answer, the logical inference is that they only do it because so-and-so made them think it was a good idea).

And this leads me to the real point: having not had the opportunity to survey the entire community of Ghost Hunters around the world, I’m stuck with generalizations, but from what I have seen and the conversations that I’ve had, a large portion of that community really doesn’t understand what it is they are measuring with an EMF meter.  Many use models that don’t even given them an actual EMF reading, they just have lights that turn on when a field is detected.  What, if anything, does this tell you about what is causing the field?

The presence of an unexpected or unexplained electromagnetic field is an anomaly.  It may or may not be relevant to the investigation at hand, but in order to determine its relevance, one must identify its source.  It answers no questions to simply squeal and declare that there be ghosts here.

From a scientific standpoint, there may be some merit to the idea that certain phenomena can be identified and/or tracked using a measurement of electromagnetic energy.  However, for that endeavour to bear fruit, the researcher must have both an understanding of what the meter is measuring, how it measures it and what that measurement means in relation to every element of the environment in which it was observed.  Pointing your meter into a dark room and declaring that any readings you get are the result of ghosts is quite silly.

So, I said it.  I meant it.  And I fully expect that many will disagree.  I know that there are also quite a few who agree with me, and I cordially invite both groups to voice their opinion on the matter in the comment section below.  If you don’t wish to enter the argument, then I ask that you simply ask yourself, if you use an EMF meter to search for ghosts or for paranormal activity: why?

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