A belief in ghosts is very common. Worldwide, more than half the population believe in ghosts or spirits of the dead. A lot of years ago, I did, too, although I never had any personal contact. Before a study of God’s word to guide me, I thought this belief was true, because that concept was so prevalent among the population.
A Huffington Post poll “shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, or that the spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations.”1 In the U.K., the statistics are even higher (52%), and even more widespread in much of Asia.2 Among Christians, “more than one in three feels they’ve been in contact with the dead, whether that’s through a ghost, a psychic, or other means.”3
The desire to contact or listen to spirits of the dead is nothing new, for there is mention of doing so in the Bible. The Persians and others practiced divination with aid from the dead (necromancy), and God’s people, the Israelites, borrowed the art from them. It is for this reason that the Bible repeatedly forbids it (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:11; 1 Samuel 28; Isaiah 8:19).4 This forbidden practice, in one form or another, has been going on in most Christian societies for thousands of years and is still practiced today.
With the coming of the twentieth century and the radio age, newer devices were considered for trying to communicate with the dead. In the 1920s, Thomas Edison wrote, “If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical or scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, other faculties, and knowledge that we acquire on this Earth. Therefore . . . if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.” He never succeeded with that idea, but he continued to believe that it might be possible to capture disembodied voices with a recording device.5
In this even newer electronic and digital age, with its amazing technological advancements, if you are interested in ghosts and spirits and want to hunt, contact, or record them, the most modern and high-tech route is through a voice recorder that can process ‘electronic voice phenomena’, or EVP. These are sounds which are considered a form of a paranormal phenomenon found, intentionally or unintentionally, in recordings with static or other background noise. These are sounds that are not humanly heard while recording, but can be heard during the playback.6
Most of these electronic recordings consist mostly of single words, phrases, or very short sentences. Sometimes they are made up of grunts, groans, growling, or other vocal expressions. Many are difficult to distinguish and their meaning is open to interpretation.7
EVP recorders are used to capture a ghost’s communications, sometimes after other associated high-tech electronic products first find the spirits. These products are easy to obtain. So are related items, such as books, computer programs, online instruction, and even phone apps. Just search the internet or go onto Amazon or eBay and you will find tons of related stuff. And for fun, when you are not actively on the hunt, you can watch TV shows or movies about EVP or join a local club to relax with a community of like-minded folk. It is very popular — why?
Well, everyone wants to see real results and with EVP you will most likely get them — sooner or later. You will then, apparently, have the documented evidence to prove you have hunted ghosts, found them, and recorded them. There are plenty of people willing to pay you a few bucks to find that ghost lurking in their own home. They want to see proof of what they believe is true.
Ghost hunting is big business and there is no need for a college education; for the most part, no established schooling of any kind is needed. Read a book or two, buy some electronic equipment, print up some business cards and you are good-to-go. Can it really be that easy? But what if ghosts are not real? If they aren’t real, what was it that was actually recorded?
My Own House
My home was built shortly after the turn of the century — not this last turn of the century, the one before that — in 1905, more than a hundred years ago. So I imagine that its old age may be a good qualifier for the possibility of ghosts. Also, people have died here in the past, and an investigation indicates my home has other criteria for a haunting ghost, too.
A walk through the rooms will demonstrate that some areas of the house are cooler than others (a ghostly possibility). There are also various strange noises, if you listen carefully (more possibilities). With my wi-fi router, signal boosters, cell (mobile) phones, electric appliances, circuit breaker panels, and the large electric coils inside my oven and range, I’m quite sure you would find many spots in this house with intensive and fluctuating electromagnetic fields (EMF) – (a super indicator of ghosts). Just about any ‘anomaly’, anything that anyone considers odd for any reason, from an undetermined sound to a ‘bad feeling’ to photographing a blurry picture can be, and has been, considered evidence of ghosts.8
My point is that just walking through a building with an array of scientific instruments doesn’t make you an expert, any more than using a calculator makes you a mathematician.9 But ghost hunters are not demonstrating real expertise, they are only implying they have it. It is only the ‘appearance’ of being scientific that they are portraying.
EVP, the ads say, is the best way to hunt and gather evidence of ghosts, but is that all that is needed? Many props can be used to suspiciously suggest someone is actually a professional in this field. Besides the voice recorder, many professional ghost hunters carry a camera with a ‘full-spectrum light source’. This fancy term only means regular white light plus infrared for night vision “to capture images reflected within both ends of the light spectrum, where theories suggest that spirits reside” — or so the ads say.
Another tool is a thermal field meter,10 to measure varying temperature ranges. Even Geiger counters are sometimes used. It would be bad enough to meet an ordinary ghost, much less one that is radioactive. Even with a lot of equipment, some ghost hunters have trouble explaining what ghosts are, while others randomly guess and say something like, “they are the disembodied sprits of dead people that have difficulty leaving this plane.”
It has been demonstrated that the amount of EVPs recorded can be increased through use of added noise and various filters. Some devices sold are designed to add some sounds or filter other sounds in an effort to make more noticeable the ‘ghost’ sounds that are captured. White noise, running water, air conditioners, and other continuous sounds supposedly tend to increase the potential of recording EVP. Some so called ‘electronic spirit or ghost boxes’ are used to manipulate the sounds and ‘improve’ the chances of capturing the ghost messages. I don’t see the logic of changing a sound to show what has been captured; that is like using Photoshop to make a photograph more real.
I hear voices!
I have to admit that I occasionally hear voices. Yes, I do. I’m not joking! I’m usually reluctant to discuss this with strangers, but here I am publishing this news to the world. This website gets a lot of visitors, so I guess my secret is ‘out of the bag’, so to speak. I also have a relative that has heard voices. Weird, huh? From my investigation, a lot of other people do, too. How about you?
Let me explain. At night, when I lay in bed, sometimes I think I hear a radio — voices or music — very low at some distance away. I know they cannot be ghosts trying to contact me, because the Bible indicates there are no ghosts; if someone is dead, their soul dies (Ezekiel 18:4) and their spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). That spirit is not some semi-transparent wispy floating image of ectoplasm — and it can’t communicate with you. A good study on the soul and spirit is listed at the end of this article.11
I should add that nowhere in the Bible is it implied that physical death is a transition from a material existence to the spiritual plane,12 so speaking to deceased spirits or ghosts is not possible. Everyone dies in the end and everyone shares the same fate; the dead have nothing—no passion and no power. Ecclesiastes states, “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).13 (See References & Notes for an article on ghosts.)14
In Paul’s letter of consolation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), he mentions that death is described as sleep and after dying, it should be recognized that nothing from this living world can touch those dead15 until the resurrection, when they will be awakened. Neither can the dead touch the living. “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:11).
The dead will be resurrected after the coming of Christ’s return in the future. And since the dead know nothing, while in that sleeping state, there is no activity or life between death and resurrection: “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost,” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).16
It is known that in some cases, Satan’s angels or demonic spirits could attack us and maybe they are who deceive us about ghosts. After all, the Bible actually warns us of this possibility by saying they will pretend to be friendly, helpful, and useful benefactors (2 Corinthians 11:14–15).
But it didn’t seem likely that this was happening to me, because I’m very serious about wearing the ‘armor of God’ as stated in the book of Ephesians, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm,” (Ephesians 6:13). If you see or hear a spirit or ghost, your experience may be real, “but they are not angels from God or our dead loved ones. They are fallen-angels trying to deceive us.” Another good study, this one about protecting yourself from evil, is listed at the end of this article.17
What could those voices be?
Having the confidence to know I wasn’t crazy, I figured I might be hearing some radio broadcast, maybe somehow caused by the several metal dental implants surgically bolted into my jaw and acting like an antenna. I had read about this rare event happening to others and my dentist said she had heard of it, but never before had a patient with that experience. So these sounds were an oddity, but they never really bothered me, because I have always been the type of person that can just adapt to changing situations. I’d listen and try to discern what was playing as I drifted off to sleep. Like most people, I get used to things over time.
Within the mental health field, the term ‘hearing voices’ refers to hearing voices when you are alone, or the voices you hear cannot be heard by others around you. Research indicates many people hear voices, but most are not mentally ill. “It’s a relatively common human experience.” Maybe you hear someone calling your name, or you hear them as you are falling asleep.18 These are all common events and likely nothing to worry about.
If however, you are hearing nasty, threatening, manipulative, or malicious voices, then it is time to contact a mental health professional, because it could be caused by schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or even prescribed or recreational drugs. Some medical problems, like epilepsy, brain tumors, hearing loss, some infections and even PTSD19 can also cause auditory hallucinations, so if you suffer from such things, it is best to seek medical advice.20 But, if you are not sick or delusional, what could logically cause ordinary and very normal people to experience this oddity? Well, there is a newer scientific explanation.
“It is too bad that many healthcare professionals still regard hearing voices as a ‘first-rank’ symptom of schizophrenia and assume that these voices are . . . coming from outside the head.” That is because most research into auditory hallucinations is done in a clinical setting and the test subjects are those already diagnosed as suffering from a psychosis.21 But, a Harvard Medical School study found that one in 20 normal people in the United States has had a related experience; that is 5% of the population.22 This may be a small percentage of people, but it is not considered rare. I’d rather call it ‘special’. You wouldn’t know it though, I think, because people just don’t want to tell other people about their weirdness.
Here is a logical and scientific assessment.
While ghost hunting enthusiasts consider EVP to be a form of a paranormal phenomenon, some ghost hunting skeptics say that EVP is interference from various radio waves emitted by AM, FM, VHF and other broadcasts, cell (mobile) phones and towers, and other transmission devices within or outside our homes. People are hearing sounds in the static that appear to be voices, but are not. “This psychological phenomenon . . . is when random images or sound are perceived as something non-random.”23
Scientists call it apophenia — being an error of perception. To narrow it down, they use the terms ‘visual pareidolia’ and ‘auditory pareidolia’. Visual pareidolia would be incorrect perception of something like seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, etc. Auditory pareidolia would be incorrect perception of something like hearing voices, music, or hidden messages in recordings, etc.24 Pareidolia is a real thing and scientists are even programing this type of imaging into AI,25 so computers can recognize faces and other images,26 as well as using patterns to recognize various odd sounds, such as gun shots.
A shadow person “is often attributed to pareidolia. It is the perception of a patch of shadow as a living, humanoid figure, particularly as interpreted by believers in the paranormal or supernatural as the presence of a spirit or other entity.” This may happen when people believe they have seen ghosts.
A psychologist has invented an algorithm for producing phantom words and phrases, using two speakers slightly out of sync. After listening for a while, these phantom sounds emerge and appear to reflect what is on the listener’s mind and they morph perceptually into different recognized words and phrases as the sequence continues.27
Some call one type of audio pareidolia as musical ear syndrome (MES). Typically, you hear music, singing, or voices, but vague as if far away. You begin hearing these sounds when within hearing distance of a fan, air conditioner, or other source of steady sound, and your brain tries to attach a recognized pattern to it. Your brain catalogs this pattern and later, when it hears a similar pattern, it will catalog it, too. Slowly it develops language recognition of any similar patterns. This continues all your life. This audio pareidolia is misinterpreting words for what are not actually words. Your brain searches for the pattern and finds the closest match. The process is much like learning a new language.28
Our mind is an amazing organ and capable of adapting in many ways. So if you, or someone you know, is one of these normal, but special, people, don’t despair and don’t think anyone is going crazy. And don’t think it is a ghost, either. We see and hear with our brain; the eyes and ears are but tools to convert reality into sensory information that our brain can recognize and use. Praise God. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works,” (Psalm 139:4a).
Copyright © 2019, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Speigel, Lee. “Spooky Number of Americans Believe in Ghosts,” (HuffPost, Weird News, 6 December 2017 [updated]), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/02/real-ghosts-americans-poll_n_2049485.html
- Wen, Tiffanie, “Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?” (The Atlantic, 2 September 2014), https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/why-do-people-believe-in-ghosts/379072/
- Miller, Emily McFarlan, “What Does the Bible Say About Ghosts?” (Relevant Magazine, 31 October 2018), https://relevantmagazine.com/god/what-does-bible-say-about-ghosts/
- Singer, Isidore (Ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), vol. 9, p. 204.
- Wagner, Stephen. “All About Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP),” (ThoughtCo, 24 May 2019), https://www.liveabout.com/all-about-electronic-voice-phenomena-evp-2594007
- “Electronic voice phenomenon,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 November 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voice_phenomenon
- Wagner, Stephen. “All About Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP),” (see above).
- Radford, Benjamin, “The Shady Science of Ghost Hunting,” (Live Science, 27 October 2006), https://www.livescience.com/4261-shady-science-ghost-hunting.html
- thermal field meter: (sometimes called a laser thermometer) an infrared thermometer which infers temperature from a portion of the thermal radiation (also called ‘black body radiation) emitted by the object being measured.
- Hermann, Ray, “What is the Soul: is it a Spirit or something else?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 26 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-is-the-soul-is-it-a-spirit-or-something-else/
- Moore, Russell D., “Death,” Chad Brand, et al. (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
- Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Hermann, Ray, “What is God’s View on Ghosts, Channeling, and Spiritism?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 13 January 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-is-gods-view-on-ghosts-channeling-and-spiritism/
- Mays, James Luther (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 1233.
- Hermann, Ray, “Do we go to Heaven when we die? Do people see Heaven during a Near Death Experience?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 4 October 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/do-we-go-to-heaven-when-we-die-do-people-see-heaven-during-a-near-death-experience/
- Hermann, Ray, “Ephesians 6: Evil Cosmic Powers & the Armor of God,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 17 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/ephesians-6-evil-cosmic-powers-the-armor-of-god/
- “Hearing voices,” (Mind for Better Mental Health, 2018), https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hearing-voices/about-voices/#.Xc6QxFf7SM8
- PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder; a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
- “Why Am I Hearing Things That Aren’t There?” (WebMD, retrieved 30 November 2019), https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/auditory-hallucinations#1
- “Hearing voices? Don’t assume that means schizophrenia,” (The Conversation, 10 March 2015), https://theconversation.com/hearing-voices-don’t-assume-that-means-schizophrenia-38616
- Foiles, Jonathan, “Does Hearing Voices Mean I’m Going Crazy?” (Psychology Today, 5 April 2018), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-thing-feathers/201804/does-hearing-voices-mean-im-going-crazy
- Rojas, Alejandro, “Recording Ghost Voices: The Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP),” (Huffpost, 23 October 2011), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/electronic-voice-phenomenon_b_1024541
- “Pareidolia,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 26 November 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia
- AI: artificial intelligence.
- “Pareidolia,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.), (see above).
- Bauman, Neil, “Apophenia, Audio Pareidolia and Musical Ear Syndrome,” (Center for Hearing Loss Help, 9 July 2015), https://hearinglosshelp.com/blog/apophenia-audio-pareidolia-and-musical-ear-syndrome/