We all know the phrase: "Where there is smoke there is fire." If a person smells smoke, automatically their brain tells them that somewhere there is fire. It is then in our nature to find the source of the smoke, so we go looking for the fire. Much of what we do as paranormal investigators can be attributed to this phrase. When we have an experience we can't explain, we go searching for the source or the answers. We go looking for the fire, which in our case is the unknown.
For centuries, there have been claims that still remained unexplained. Let's put aside deception and cognitive bias and all of those things that I know I cling to in an attempt to explain things because we all know to a degree that there are still things that in spite of all of these explanations cannot be explained. Maybe I should say, cannot YET be explained. There are a lot of things that seemed impossible hundreds of years ago which are widely accepted in today's society so I like to avoid the words impossible and never, regardless of how unattainable they seem. In a lot of ways, I feel like from a research perspective, the paranormal field has not advanced all that much over the last few decades. The way we conduct research has most definitely changed, but that doesn't mean we have advanced. Instead of looking for the explanation for how it is occurring, a lot of people are simply trying to find the fire causing the smoke .... or in ghost hunting terms, they are trying to find the ghost doing the haunting.
So should we be trying to put out the fire or should we be investigating what started the fire in the first place? I guess this is where the big debate comes in with the difference between ghost hunters and paranormal investigators. Many paranormal investigators (and honestly including myself) don't like being referred to as ghost hunters. A ghost hunter I suppose would be the one just looking to find where the fire is whereas the paranormal investigator would be more like the fire inspector trying to find the cause and investigating the source. The question is, what do you do once you have found the source? Is the case closed or do you automatically go searching for another fire? Do you wait for another fire to start or do you actively go looking for another?
The reason maybe we haven't advanced much further is that we seem to be in an endless cycle of dare I say ghost hunting. The very fact that we are heading to a location to 'find a ghost' means we are doing that just. I just need to state for the record here of course there is nothing wrong with that and we need to not shame the term ghost hunters because it is a bit broader than maybe we give credit for. I think it needs to be redefined. Years ago, people that were researching paranormal phenomena and in particular claims of psychical ability were called psychical researchers. They were academics from different backgrounds using the knowledge from their respective fields to investigate and even test these fantastic claims. As time evolved, so too did the approach and even the name. Parapsychology eventually replaced what we knew as psychical research.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
If we fast forward to what I like to refer to as modern-day paranormal investigation, it is very electronic and very much about finding 'ghosts'. A lot of purpose-built devices are used to test something that we aren't even sure can be measured. A lot of what people do is mirrored or based on what is seen on paranormal reality television which has also trickled down into YouTube. There is some really good content out there, and there is some really sensationalized content out there that would frustrate even the most open-minded person. When I think about it though, look back to the Victorian Era. For that time there was a lot of deception and sensationalized content, it was just presented in a very different way. A lot of it was presented in a staged format for the entertainment of people that bought tickets to a night at what was like theatre. Now people digest this kind of content through these reality television shows and YouTube channels instead. When you make the comparisons on this kind of level, the intent has not changed. It is just a new approach and a new way we digest this kind of content. Back then and even now it is considered a form of entertainment.
In a lot of ways, I think paranormal investigation and ghost hunting have merged into a hybrid hobby and nobody wants a label because it doesn't quite accurately describe what we do or more so what our intention is. People ride or die by their intent and it is something that we all agree is really important. So does what we do even need a label? Isn't a search for the unknown enough without having to apply a label to the way we do it? Each person is an individual and has different beliefs and approaches. We don't have to be paranormal investigators or ghost hunters, skeptics or believers, we are just us. The way I research doesn't make me any better than someone who does it differently, however, a lot of people do treat others in the paranormal field like they are superior because they hold a special belief or just think their way is the 'right' way. I like to immerse myself in books while some others like to sit in a location and see what they find. It doesn't make either of us right or wrong, it makes us different, and perhaps our different approaches when put together could lead us somewhere.
We can get outraged by what another person is doing, but in the same breath, we have to ask ourselves what it is we are doing to further the field? It is easy to judge someone else who holds different beliefs, but are we doing any better? In the past, when these claims came to pass, instead of rolling their eyes and switching off the TV or writing a passive-aggressive comment on social media (yes I'm definitely guilty of that), psychical researchers would investigate the claims. If someone said they had amazing psychic ability, they didn't just tell them they were full of rubbish, the ability was put to the test. They wanted to understand how it is that people could have these abilities and looked further. If people felt they were experiencing certain things, instead of heading to a person's house to investigate or 'search for the fire', they would look at the bigger picture and look at many similar claims from other people experiencing the same to see if there were similarities. It meant that instead of just constantly going around and putting out fires, they were looking for what was causing all the fires in the first place. This kind of research has taken a bit of a back seat to the more modern approach, but it is something that we should still be looking at.
I love a good paranormal investigation, so I am not saying don't go and investigate because I do think this is an important piece of the puzzle, however, it is not the only piece. Puzzles sometimes need another person to come in and look at things from a different angle and you can build it together. It is time for us to put our differences aside and use our strengths to work together to not just find a fire but find out the source where the fire is coming from and why so many people have them. We don't need to put it out, we need to accept that the fire is just a part of our life, so we need to start to understand it a little bit better. (In case it wasn't obvious, fire = paranormal).
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