Loyd Auerbach Discusses Paranormal Misconceptions

Karen Frazier
Loyd Auerbach; Image used with permission; Copyright 2011
Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach

Parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach is a respected professional in the paranormal community. As founder and director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations, Loyd is a widely published author and sought-after expert in the paranormal field. He is a college professor teaching courses in parapsychology, anthropology, and many other subjects.

Parapsychology

LoveToKnow (LTK): Are there misconceptions about parapsychology?

Loyd Auerbach (LA): Many. For example, people believe parapsychology has nothing to do with ghost hunting. I have heard this again and again - from people who haven't a clue as to the history of parapsychology (and its predecessor, psychical research) or the place of apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists in the continuum of psychic phenomena and experiences. In talking to many people, it seems that if it's not on TV, it's not worth knowing. Apparently, plumbers and cops and college students know more about the phenomena and how to investigate it than folks in a field that's been doing it since the 1880s. The early investigators were active well over 100 years ago, while the Society for Psychical Research started in 1882 (and apparitions and hauntings were one of their focal points). There were others even before them.

Many people also believe there's no scientific literature covering paranormal investigations. There are hundreds of books, including volumes of the early journals and proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and its American counterpart (ASPR)! Not to mention the fact that more contemporary issues of the SPR and ASPR journal, as well as the Journal of Scientific Exploration and others, cover field investigations.

Many people also believe parapsychology remains unproven, so there are no experts and it can't be taught. Parapsychology has well-developed field and laboratory methodologies for studying the phenomena we call psi, which includes ghosts and hauntings. I have taught in an accredited graduate program on parapsychology for a number of years, and I'm involved in developing a new graduate parapsychology program at Atlantic University. Over 20 universities in the UK teach extensive parapsychology courses that do cover field investigation.

Television Consulting

LTK: Talk about your advisory work with television shows.

LA: I've been involved in television work, both as an occasional consultant and in front of the camera, since 1983. I've helped news programs craft some decent coverage of parapsychological research and investigation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I consulted with numerous producers wanting to develop a show on the paranormal. Some were specifically about ghost hunting, many were more generally about psychic phenomena. I was also called by several dramatic series producers. One dramatic yet short-lived series I consulted on was a mid-80s show for ABC called Shadow Chasers. I also did a consult on an episode of L.A. Law (a parapsychologist was one of the characters) and several other dramatic shows.

Probably the most significant series I consulted on was Sightings in the 1990s. Along with Kerry Gaynor, I helped them get potential cases for the earlier episodes, recommended other investigators and researchers, and did a number of segments on the show during its run for FOX and then UPN when it moved over to that network.

I also was the consultant on the first season of the Travel Channel's America's Most Haunted Places. I did some work for the same production company when they did other shows for the History Channel. There have been others since then.

Paranormal Investigation

LTK: What are ghosts?

LA: What people often describe as a ghost - seeing or hearing a person who's not physically present - can be described as an apparition (spirit of someone dead or even sometimes someone alive) if it's interactive and seems to be conscious and aware (what ghost hunters like to call "intelligent"). Otherwise, it falls into the "haunting" model. What ghost hunters call "residual hauntings," parapsychologists simply call hauntings or place memory.

LTK: Which method do you use at OPI to investigate claims of the paranormal?

LA: We follow parapsychological methodologies for investigations. You can't investigate the paranormal without the ability to interview witnesses/people who have had the experiences.

All of our investigations are not scientific, per se. Often what we're doing is helping people with experiences understand them, and in some cases, deal with the phenomena. Often the resolution process can fall outside of a scientific methodology.

Some basic info on our approach to investigations:

  • As all of the phenomena we're investigating are defined by human witnesses/experiences, we start with witness reports. We interview people present in the case, even those who have not experienced anything. We consider each experience separately, as well as the case overall, looking for normal explanations for each event. It is common that some things reported in a case have normal explanations, even when there is something paranormal happening.
  • We consider the different phenomena that might account for reported paranormal experiences and try to see what fits best to go further.
  • We look at data from any environmental sensors in the context of the reported experiences, and whether anything is being experienced at the time of any unusual readings. We may use psychics/mediums as well as the witnesses themselves as sensors, and as possible communicators should there be an apparition likely.

We're playing detective to try to determine what might be happening, how the data connects to the experiences, and if the case warrants it, what we can do to help the folks in the location (including possible ghosts). In the latter case, the need to gather data within a scientific framework may go out the window as we focus on helping the people.

LTK: Are there misconceptions about paranormal investigation?

LA: Many people believe ghost hunting has to happen at night, in the dark. People throughout history have seen ghosts at all times of day or night. At night, they've seen ghosts with the lights on, by candlelight, by fire light, by moonlight, etc. And yes, sometimes with little or no light. However, investigating such things in the dark is an invention of television and directly related to the advent of night shot cameras.

Another misconception is that since early researchers investigated séances in the dark, so should we. True, the early psychical researchers often had to investigate séances and mediums in the dark, but that happened because the mediums (many of them phony) would only work in the dark so they could fake people out. In fact, the advent of using infra-red film was mainly to help catch the phonies!

Using Technology to Investigate

LTK: Is there any equipment that can detect ghosts?

LA: A broad misconception exists that the use of technology means we're being scientific in our investigations. This is caused by poor science education, and by no means limited to the paranormal folks. It's how you use the technology and what you do with the data, how you assess the data, and the application of the scientific method in the process that means one is applying a scientific approach in an investigation. You need to know how the equipment actually works, its limitations, what it can and can't detect, and so on.

Just because it says "ghost meter" on it doesn't mean it detects ghosts… or anything paranormal, psychic or supernatural. EMF detectors detect electromagnetic fields. Air ion counters detect changes in the ions in the air. Temperature sensors, including thermal vision cameras, detect ambient temperature and changes in temperature.

Most of the equipment used is to detect the state of or changes in the environment. They are not designed to detect anything paranormal because at this point in our understanding of the phenomena, they cannot be designed to do so. We simply don't know enough about the phenomena to design equipment to perform that function, if it's even possible with today's knowledge.

The appropriate use of environmental sensors is to look for anomalies or environmental conditions that can be correlated to people's experiences and to the reported phenomena. While some correlations have certainly been observed, much research needs to be done. Unfortunately, visiting a location and simply using the equipment, especially without correlating/connecting to human experiences, does nothing to further our understanding of what may be going on.

Advice for Novices

LTK: What advice do you have for new paranormal investigators?

LA: Learn about psychic experiences/abilities (ESP and psychokinesis), since that is how apparitions can be perceived and even how they might affect the world around them. Learn about parapsychology, especially what has been learned in field investigation and research.

Don't use the TV shows as models for what you want to do and especially how to do it. What you see on TV is barely representative of what actually goes on in an investigation. What's on the screen is what the producers want to show to get ratings.

It's extremely important to read material from investigators and field researchers who have either a background or working knowledge of the field of parapsychology. Learn the history of the real investigators in psychical research and parapsychology, how they've done what they've done, what they've found and what they think the phenomena is.

Learn about how to interview witnesses, how and why the technology is actually used (and its limitations), and especially how to help people with their experiences. Do not rely on technology alone. You'll eventually get bored and never be taken seriously. Understand the scientific method. Just because you use technology doesn't mean you're being "scientific." Do NOT jump to conclusions about photos, videos, EVP and other "readings." We still don't know what else might be out there that can affect such technology. DO interview witnesses and pay attention to your own perceptions and emotions. After all, a good ghost story is much more interesting that an orb photo or garbled sounds on an audiotape.

Beware of experts whose claim to expertise is "reading a lot" or "doing a TV show" or even only doing investigations - 20 years of bad investigative methodology makes one an expert in bad investigative methodology. Always question people who say they have "the answers." Actually, it's all about the questions and possibilities.

Certified Paranormal Investigators

LTK: Some paranormal teams claim to be certified professional investigators. Are they?

LA: Who certifies/accredits the certifiers? Why do these "certifications" rarely, if ever, cover the actual science that's been doing this for so long? How can watching a TV show or doing (often incorrectly) a bunch of investigations give one permission for calling oneself a "professional?" Should I call myself a "professional plumber" because I have fixed a few leaky pipes and know a bit about plumbing? I think a couple of TV ghost hunters would take issue with me if I did.

Poltergeists

LTK: What about poltergeists?

LA: There is a misconception poltergeists are noisy ghosts or evil entities. While the term "poltergeist" literally translates as "noisy ghost," that term was coined as far back as the 16th century in Germany to cover chaotic yet purely physical unexplained phenomena (typically things moving, flying, crashing, breaking). Over the centuries, the term "mischievous" was most connected to the phenomena, but applying the term "evil" seems to be a result of the movie Poltergeist (which was not a poltergeist) rather than because of any actual poltergeist cases.

However, for many decades the phenomena covered by the term "poltergeist" has been related by extensive work in the field of parapsychology to a living agent, under emotional and other stresses, whose unconscious mind essentially acts out with psychokinetic ability. There is extensive research and investigation behind this model, and the application of the model to resolving the case brings an end to the phenomena.

By the way, ghosts/apparitions are not actually seen/experienced in poltergeist cases, which is another thing that separates them from other kinds of cases. Just to be clear, if a ghost moves something - given that ghosts have no physical bodies - it's still psychokinesis.

Demons

LTK: What about demonic cases?

LA: Last time I looked, demons were strictly religion or mythologically-based concepts that vary quite a bit from religion to religion and culture to culture. They are basically creatures of magic or of gods or God. Science does not - in fact, cannot - deal with religion-based (essentially magical) phenomena or beings.

So many teams are quick to have a "demonologist" on their teams even though those folks almost never have had any religious training at all.

Evidence and Proof

LTK: Can evidence like EVPs and pictures prove the existence of ghosts?

LA: Sorry, but even if the evidence was obtained under meticulously controlled conditions with no other explanations, there's a fundamental question that is still a major philosophical argument in science: What is consciousness?

If science hasn't even come to terms/agreement that consciousness does/does not exist as something more than a trick of the brain, how do ghost hunters expect to "prove" the existence of ghosts - essentially consciousness without a body?

These types of things are evidence, not proof. If photos were proof, then science would have accepted the existence of UFOs. After all, the photos of UFOs are clearer, significantly more numerous, taken under better conditions by better photographers, analyzed to death AND are often taken while many people present are all actually seeing the thing being photographed. As for EVP, there are alternative explanations - even psychic ones - that don't put the source of the EVP as a ghost.

LTK: Many teams seek to debunk. What do you think of this practice?

LA: Debunking is not the same thing as looking for other explanations. Debunking comes from an assumption of finding fraud and fakery. That's a different approach than simply looking for all alternative explanations to reported paranormal phenomena, which is the responsibility of every investigator, not simply the team "debunker."

Psychics

Loyd Auerbach and Annette Martin
Loyd with psychic Annette Martin.

LTK: Do you believe psychics have a role in paranormal investigation?

LA: It's ironic so many ghost hunters disdain working with psychics or mediums who claim to be able to communicate with spirits, yet they get so excited to get high EMF or EVPs in a place where no one has reported a ghost for decades. It can be good or bad working with psychics, who are an added "detector" in your ghost hunter tool kit. If they are not too ego-involved and are open to questioning their perceptions and asking a lot of questions, then they're good to work with. They have to be willing to work with the witnesses and to focus on their perceptions.

All too often, a psychic has to be "right," even if her perception is in direct contradiction to what the witnesses have perceived. Frequently, psychics can't shift their focus and reassess their perceptions as potentially symbolic rather than literal. Often, they have their set beliefs about ghosts and poltergeists, and nothing will get them to consider that different situations that seem the same may not be. That's the downside.

The upside is that the good ones have trained themselves to focus in a way you'll be hard pressed to get the witnesses to do. You can "detect" more of what may be going on in a case. Remember, no psychic is 100% accurate in all cases (or generally even close to that). The best psychics and mediums I've worked with have the following qualities. They:

  • Are confident without being egotistical
  • Display a good sense of humor, especially when it comes to themselves
  • Display good people skills

In addition, we consider:

  • How useful is the information provided?
  • How useful is the practitioner in actual investigations?
  • How open is the practitioner to having perceptions questioned?
  • What are the practitioners individual strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does the practitioner do in cases of RSPK (poltergeists), misperception / misinterpretation, and fraud?

It is difficult to find a good psychic, especially one who's not all ego and is a good team player. However, they are out there, and many field parapsychologists have worked with them.

LTK: How accurate are psychics?

LA: There is a misconception psychics are 100% accurate. This is perpetrated (and perpetuated) mainly by phony psychics. Human beings are not 100% accurate at anything. Psychics who claim this are either lying outright, trying to market themselves too hard, or are incredibly unaware of their own actions and perceptions while at the same time being incredibly ego-centric.

LTK: Are ghosts and psychic phenomena related?

LA: Experiences with ghosts and hauntings are psychic experiences. Ghosts communicate via telepathy. Ghosts move objects via psychokinesis/mind over matter. People perceive ghosts and hauntings in a psychic/mental manner, not through eyes and ears. Otherwise, everyone present would see/hear the ghost. Ghosts perceive the world via psychic processes, since they have no physical senses. They mentally connect with the environment.

Learn More About Loyd Auerbach

You can learn more about Loyd on his website. He has also written several books about his work, including The Ghost Detectives' Guide to Haunted San Francisco.

Loyd Auerbach Discusses Paranormal Misconceptions