EVP – Silencing the Ghostly Voices

Electronic Voice Phenomena, abbreviated as E.V.P., is one of the most popular forms of paranormal evidence presented in circles of research and investigation.  In spite of many mainstream explanations and sceptic arguments, believers are passionate in their defence of this marvel of modern technology and ghostly influence.

Popular reality TV shows, such as Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters, have brought EVP back into the spotlight with mainstream culture; and for such a complicated technological process, it is widely accepted as the standard of evidence for a successful encounter with a spirit or ghost.

This sought after Holy Grail of paranormal evidence is given so much weight, for possibly the wrong reasons, though individually, it is difficult to hear any such recording and not sympathise on the side of belief.  On the whole, however, there are much more scientific explanations for electronic voice phenomenon.

The idea of EVP was a natural evolution of the explosively popular spirit photography of the late 19th and early 20th century.  This was a time when séances, complete with lurching tables and self lighting candles, were to blame for the vast majority of socialite hysteria.  In the time of the industrial revolutions infancy, people were still prone to believing in supernatural causes for completely natural events, including flim-flam artists out to make a buck on the misplaced awe of a gullible and newly wealthy upper crust.

Notably, a Latvian photographer and self-proclaimed medium, Attila von Szalay, was one of the first documented paranormal investigators to attempt to record the sounds of the dead, during his life long pursuit of ghosts and zombies.  His first attempts, in 1941, involved the use of a 78rpm record, though failing to find success he quickly moved to the use of a reel-to-reel tape recorder and believed he found what he was looking for.

Swedes, Friedrich Jürgenson and his later partner/collaborator Konstantin Raudive dove into the “science” of EVP and accumulated more than 100,000 so-called recordings of the dead.  Some of their recordings were conducted in an RF-screened laboratory, so as to eliminate the chance of radio interference on their early recording devices, and to their credit, most, if not all, of their experiments were conducted within the scientific method, as was accepted as the standard at the time.

Jürgenson and Raudive invited listeners to scrutinize their recordings in an attempt to confirm their findings, as they believed that their recordings were clear enough to be interpreted by anyone.  Raudive eventually went on to write his first book, Breakthrough – An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead, in 1968, which was later translated to English in 1971.

Through the ages, the lure of EVP has remained strong, and despite the many scientific arguments against it, has remained the staple of nearly every paranormal investigator and ghost hunter since the turn of the century.

Recording EVP is perhaps the simplest part of a paranormal investigation yet.  Simply set a sensitive audio recording device to record for an indefinite period of time, undisturbed, in an area where ghostly activity is said to occur, and later, examine the recording for voices in the static.

It really is that simple, though in that simplicity might lay the problem.  The first question that jumps to mind when one is excitedly presented with EVP evidence, is based in traditional psychology.  Are you/we hearing, what we think we’re hearing?

Auditory pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, combined with apophenia, the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, are the front running explanations for, not only EVP, but also for other paranormal phenomena as well.

The two camps of belief, obviously separated by a collective suspension of, or adoption of scientific reasoning, respectively account for both the paranormal culture and the mainstream scientific culture.  As easy as it is to find patterns in white noise and attribute those completely random results to an unseen intelligence, it is far more difficult to support your analysis without the influence of belief.

In those rare cases where verifiable audio results are recorded and collective agreement can be made that the above is not responsible for a false positive in analysis, the physical realities of audio recording must also be taken into account.

As noted earlier, the early Swiss experiments in EVP, were often conducted within the cover of an RF-screened laboratory.  This wasn’t just a way to steal mainstream credibility, Jürgenson and Raudive knew that even in the mid 20thcentury, there were enough random and specific radio frequency waves flashing about the environment that interference was not only possible, it was likely.  Fast forward to today’s technology, with the addition of cellular signals, high and low frequency radio signals, direct satellite signals, and who knows what else; we’ve got a veritable interference hodge-podge floating above our heads at any given moment.

It would be naïve to suggest that any EVP recording was completely free of RF, electrical or any other type of interference.  One trick many ghost hunters use, is to adjust the gain of the recording devices (microphone sensitivity), in order to enhance the background noise and/or white noise in the environment.  Not only does this increase the possibility of picking up man-made interference, but it also sets listeners up to be fooled by their own brains, into thinking there actually is a voice on the recording.

Some readers may be shaking their heads and fists by this point, and it should be said that each case of EVP should always be judged independently, as ever changing environmental conditions, and recording techniques leave too wide a field for interpretation.  No one can, and certainly no one should, say that all EVP evidence is either the result of interference or misinterpretation.  Clearly, there is a mounting pile of convincing EVP evidence that deserves much closer scrutiny.

In recent discussions on the topic, experiments have been suggested that could test and provide statistics for EVP evidence based on signal frequency and volume, as well as directionality.  Suffice it to say that there is much work to be done in finding the right way to not only record EVP, but also to interpret what so many steadfastly believe to be the voices of the dead.

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