Perception and the Paranormal
Written By Wendy Cywinski
The Ghosts of Ohio Research and Investigation

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Ok, so this all starts out two years ago with two ladies I met in Gettysburg who had an encounter with a soldier ghost. Peggy and Kim were out in the Wheatfields just before curfew with their camcorder. As they wandered across the field, a soldier appeared and passed in front of them. They thought a re-enactor was playing a trick on them except for one thing. They were following him with the camcorder, but couldn’t see him on the camcorder screen. He was plainly there; they both saw him. Yet the only thing the camcorder picked up was his voice. Both ladies described essentially the same person, although one insisted he had a cane over his shoulder, while the other insisted it was a gold etched scabbard. And they argued over that point. So who was right and who was wrong? And what was up with the camcorder?

At the Michigan Ghost Expo a couple weeks ago, the same subject came up. Two sisters in the audience related this incident, and finished with the ubiquitous ‘why’ question. Both sisters saw the apparition. One sister saw a woman in a puffy skirt, with her hair pulled back, walking towards her. The other sister who was about 5 feet away saw a thick white mist, but nothing even remotely resembling a person. Why did each sister have essentially the same paranormal experience, yet see something completely different? Even the TAPS guys have watched a full bodied apparation walk across the room with their eyes, while seeing absolutely nothing registering on the hand held camcorders they were using.

The word being tossed around for incidents like this is perception. Each person perceives a given situation uniquely. An EVP is played at your evidence review. Two people hear ‘monkey boy’, 2 people hear ‘monday’ and 2 others hear no voice at all, just a sound they can’t identity. I see a red shirt, and you see a red shirt, but is the red you are seeing my red? Or are you seeing what I would call blue, but you know it as red? Its all perception, and this stuff can seriously keep you up at night thinking of all the possibilities because it essentially comes down to one thing……you can never know what the reality is in any given situation. Or can you?

Lets face it….if you are having a good day and you see an apparition during an investigation, it can just be an apparition to you…maybe just going about its business, or perhaps looking at you trying to communicate. But your tag team partner not only got into a fight with his girlfriend that day, but topped it off with a speeding ticket on his way to the investigation site. He may see your innocuous entity as angry, threatening, or sad or upset. Here is where most investigators feel equipment comes into play. Your equipment is a machine. It isn’t basing its recording of the event on feelings, intuitions, moods, drunkenness, etc. Yet that little gizmo you love to whip out on your investigations isn’t infallible. It is basing its recording on batteries, electrical outlets, tapes and disks, all of which can run down, blow up, crash, crinkle, etc, causing your ‘reliable scientific’ evidence to be just as unreliable as the human perception.

I always hear ‘the camera doesn’t lie, the tape doesn’t lie’, which, as long as no mechanical failure occurred, is probably closest to the truth. So why do we continually see apparitions that our cameras do not record, while we don’t hear voices that our audio recorders DO record? Is that perception, or is it a totally different animal altogether? On some level, is it possible that the entity is actually not there at all, but is merely manipulating your mind to ‘see’ it? That would explain why one person will see one thing, and the other person in the room see something different, and why one person will see it, while 3 more will not. Everyone’s mind is at a different level. Some people are more intuitive, others aren’t. Some people hear things, while other people see things. I don’t think it is a case of wrong or right. It doesn’t mean that anyone is ‘better’ than anyone else, or by that same token is more ‘cracked’ than anyone else, and I think that if you don’t realize this, you are going to have problems relating to the investigators in your group.

As for equipment, well I don’t even know where to go with that. What do I believe and what is the truth? The apparition I am seeing right in front of me, or the Digital 8 tape that shows a completely empty room? Where do you even begin? You can’t discount the human element in this situation. It may be that our camcorders just aren’t scientifically ‘there’ yet. Or it may be the entities we are chasing have gotten the hang out of manipulating the audio fields, but are still working on manipulating the video fields. Do you trust your eyes? Or do you trust the equipment. And if you do trust the equipment, then does that mean you are crazy? I think it is all the truth, because machines don’t have perception. Their one plus, and their one downfall.

I guess for me it all boils down to this. While perception may be skewed, it shouldn’t be discounted. I think if you want to be as well rounded a group as possible, then you need to take into consideration not only your scientific evidence, but your human experiences as well, topped off with a dose of historical research on the property. Make sure you document your investigators personal experiences just like you would document your equipment results. It will bring balance to your conclusions, and won’t make your more sensitive investigators feel as if they are not being taken seriously. Besides, it will give your client even more cool stories to tell as they show off their disk of ‘hard evidence’ to friends and family!