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Does a Building's History Matter?

PSI’s Dave Wood considers whether a building’s history has any relevance when investigating a ‘haunting’ case rationally.    

On a loaded and simplified level, history makes perfect sense. I’ve experienced something odd. That means this place is haunted. Haunted by a ghost. A ghost is the consciousness or impression of a living person who is now dead. Dead people lived in the past. Knowing about the past might help tell me who my ghost is. Simple, eh?    

Most paranormal history research seems to result from habit and social desirability. Assuming the nature of ‘ghosts’ and ‘hauntings’ leads us to the habit of history research. The hobbyist tendency of the field reinforces this, people are interested in a building’s history (especially if little else is going on). Client expectation also reinforces this, they often draw the same conclusions and – often – are simply interested in the history of their building. Needless to say TV programmes looking to fill airtime also reinforce this practice.    

But there are plenty of researchers out there who are not unquestioning creatures of habit, and are interested in research over hobbyism. So why does history prevail? Recently Facebook led me to a ghost history buff, whom I questioned about the point of historical research. Their response was that psychic tools often point to the identity of a ‘ghost’. Logically this, of course, leads to the need to know historical information. However this leads us back to the assumption-led approach.    

We are simply assuming hauntings are caused by dead people – without evidence – and using unproven tools to reinforce these assumptions. Adopting an unscientific approach becomes cyclical and, as we have seen over a hundred years, ultimately fruitless from a scientific perspective.    

Beyond history joining a range of paranormal toys and methods in distracting us from an impartial study of what is really going on, history has come to represent ‘curtains’ for any hope of a scientific perspective.    

Being scientific and rational rests with the principle of impartiality. We can only make assumptions about an unknown with the backup of scientifically valid methods to test the hypothesis. Ghost research has clearly not reached this stage of development. Adopting an assumption-led approach – embracing unscientific principles, values and tools – precludes the impartiality needed for good science. Drawing history into investigations is one such assumption-led approach.    

There is nothing to say – of course – that should a veridical apparition appear in front of several video cameras, and be willing to repeat itself, that you cannot adopt a useful hypothesis and look into its claimed history. But in the mean time history is valid for hobbyists and spiritualists, but for those seeking objective truth it does a great deal more harm than good.