Since childhood, I've always had an interest in the paranormal. I'm sure that many of those who choose to read this can relate to the excitement I felt, when, as a young man, I first ventured into the vast ocean of cyberspace, and learned that there were entire online communities of people who shared my passion and interest. Having grown up in a relatively small town in the American southeast, such things just weren't discussed openly. What's more, the local library only had a handful of dust covered books on the subject. Yet, online, I had access to not only a collection of kindred spirits, but also a wealth of information from across the globe that I otherwise wouldn't have had access to. In my excitement, I hurriedly joined the fray, posting my vast collections of digital "orbs", "ecto" and disappearing body parts. Imagine my dismay when they were readily explained away as dust, environmental conditions and camera malfunctions.
At first, I probably didn't want to believe it. I might have even gotten a little angry. Then, I decided to start doing as much of my own independent research as possible, in an effort to prove the "naysayers" wrong. In doing so, I inadvertently proved them right. Everything I came up with, at every twist and every turn, showed me that most of my photos did have very plausible, non-paranormal explanations. Sheepishly, I returned to these communities, proverbial hat in hand, and said "teach me".
It was during this time, that I truly came to appreciate the value of individual members, and the life experiences that they brought to the table. A plumber might be able to explain the knocking noises in the walls of a home. A woman versed in ancient cultures may have helped me to better understand some strange symbols, and realize that they weren't inherently evil at all. A photography expert, usually had a plausible explanation for some rather odd anomalies captured on film. During this phase of "enlightenment", I not only used the skills and experiences of others to build upon my knowledge, but I began to understand how to utilize my own skills and experiences when investigating the paranormal.
While I realize that this post has probably been rather long and tedious already, I'd like to take some time to share some of the opinions I've formed, as I've applied my skills to paranormal research, in hopes of doing what I can to help some of you in the future. For those of you who "stick it out", I hope this post will prove to be both interesting and informative.
This particular thread deals a bit with analyzing evidence, and subjecting your evidence to the opinions of others, such as in an online community.
As a detective, I deal with some form of evidence on a day to day basis. While this is always done in regards to a crime, and preparing a case for prosecution, I've found that many of the rules of evidence and conduct which are associated with a criminal investigation and trial, can likewise be applicable for reviewing evidence of the paranormal.
First off, we need to establish the difference between "evidence" and "proof".
According to Webster's Dictionary online, "evidence" is:
on the other hand, "Proof" is defined as:
b : the process or an instance of establishing the validity of a statement especially by derivation from other statements in accordance with principles of reasoning
So, in a nutshell, "evidence" contributes, or rather, can contribute to "proof", but it generally takes the presence of more than one piece of evidence to generate that proof. With that being said, a single picture, or even a single EVP will most likely never constitute solid "proof" in regards to the existence of the paranormal. This does not mean, however, that just because you may never capture that one awe-inspiring, indisputable picture of a full bodied apparition, that you should give up hope, and in turn, give up the hunt. Just as in police work, we may find that evidence continuously gathered over a period of time will generate the proof needed for wide spread and generally accepted "proof" of the paranormal.
I mention this, because in some instances, simply knowing the difference between the words "evidence" and "proof", and utilizing these terms in the appropriate context, will add to your credibility as an investigator.
Now, the following rules will mostly be applicable to the process of presenting your potential evidence for review by your peers.
1. Keep an open mind. I've got to be completely honest when I say that I cringe every time a member posts a picture, EVP, personal account, etc., and proceeds to become hostile when opinions are presented which differ from their own. In a way, this goes back to knowing the difference between "evidence" and "proof", or rather, not knowing the difference. I say this, because in my experience, this situation takes place most often when a member believes themselves to have captured undeniable "proof" of the paranormal, while others disagree.
I can't tell you how many times I've begun to investigate a crime, and found evidence to suggest that one individual was the perpetrator, only to discover that the actual perpetrator was a different individual altogether by the time that the investigation comes to an end. I've been wrong in preliminary stages of an investigation, but have always managed to get my facts straight by the end. This is accomplished by continued investigation, further research, and even the opinions and advice of my coworkers. Don't be afraid or unwilling to look at ALL angles in regards to the search for evidence of the paranormal. You might be surprised by what you find!
2. Never Let Them See You Get Angry: Just as Having an Open Mind ties in to knowing the difference between "evidence" and "proof", Never Letting Them See You Get Angry ties in to having an open mind. As I said before, in the past I have presented potential evidence for review that was debunked, and at the time, it got under my skin. I'm almost positive that I probably made a few assinine comments that I deeply regret to this day. I say this, because every time I see a member get angry over a difference in opinion regarding potential evidence, they tend to lose a little bit of credibility in my opinion. It's as if they appear defensive, or close minded, neither one being a good attribute.
In a jury trial, if my demeanor changes for the worse during cross-examination by the defense, I would likewise lose a degree of credibility and respect in the eyes of the jury. I have to remain calm, cool, and even cordial, in an effort to avoid swaying the opinion of the very people whom I'm trying to convince I'm right.
3. Know Your Facts! When you present a piece of potential evidence for review, you must expect that others will more than likely have questions. What was the weather like? Was there anyone else in the vicinity? What's the history of the location? What kind of camera was used? These are just a few of some of the more commonly asked questions, especially in regards to photographs. Being prepared, and knowing the answers to these questions will lend to your credibility.
I understand that in some cases, maybe even the majority of cases, potential evidence is captured accidentally. In these situations, you most likely will not know the answers to many questions that are asked, a problem which is seemingly unavoidable. In cases where you go out LOOKING for things that go "bump in the night", however, you should make note of EVERYTHING!
4. Always Tell the Truth! Never, under any circumstances, purposefully fabricate a piece of evidence, or knowingly give false answers to questions. If you don't know the answer, say "I DON'T KNOW"!
If there is even a possibility that someone else was in the area, don't say that there is none. If you don't remember if someone was smoking, don't say they weren't! Even if you don't have an answer, you'll gain more respect by admitting that fact than you will by making something up. If you're caught in a lie, you'll probably destroy much of your credibility for quite a long time. The problem is, not only are you detracting from your own credibility, but the credibility of other investigators as well!
5. Never Take it Personally I don't remember the first time I lost a criminal case, because from the onset, I refused to take it personally. If I had, my first lost probably would have been my last, as I would have lacked the will to continue in my career.
If a piece of potential evidence is debunked, accept it! Move on, and keep investigating, because that next piece of evidence is right around the corner, and you never know, it just might be the big one!
6. Avoid Labels, Don't Alienate the Jury! In a criminal case, the smart thing to do is to avoid calling undue attention to a person's race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., as you never know which one the jurors might have something in common with the "bad guy". In bringing attention to these traits, you risk insulting and/or alienating the jury, which can cause a case to quickly go down hill.
Too often, I've seen the labels "Skeptic" and "Believer" tossed back and forth as insults. (Regardless of the fact that there's nothing inherently insulting about either term.) When you use these labels as weapons, however, sometimes you not only hit your intended target, but others who sympathize with their point of view, whether in public or private. Now, instead of the one enemy that you intended to make, you have ten!
This can really put a damper on your efforts to receive unbiased opinions on a potential piece of evidence.
I hope that if you've made it this far, you've found the post informative and entertaining.
In closing, I'll simply say good luck, be safe and Happy Hunting!