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Investigating in the Dark

Dave Wood briefly delves into why people investigate at night and why some investigate with the lights out. Eye looking into darkness

Much to the chagrin of many a rationalist there is almost an unspoken tradition that paranormal investigators investigate at night time and often in complete darkness. This brief piece explains why this practice causes so much consternation but why it is often necessary. And finally that if you seek to be scientific you must always justify your decisions.

Rational but interested onlookers often question why investigations are held at night. This is normally suffixed with an – often derisory – observation that there is no reasons “ghosts” should only appear at night. What is perhaps a more valid question is why an investigator’s first reaction is to turn the lights off. On a simple level it is pointed out that if you want to see a ‘ghost’ you are best of seeing it in good lighting. Then at least you can be sure of what you see. A raft of other problems can be brought in, such as accurate operation of equipment and the ability of night-vision camcorders to see every detail in very dark conditions. But perhaps the most compelling criticism is that in the dark any person’s eyes will inevitably play tricks on them. A lot of what is seen during investigations could just be a paranormal interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Doing it in the dark can also been seen as crass. It conjures up images of a band of thrill-seekers whose main objective is to get scared and see things. Damning criticism indeed – but is it justified?

The first instinct of the conscientious investigator should be to seek to observe paranormal phenomena in a place in the same location and environment the observations were made in the first place. This may in fact have been at night, which is a firm justification for investigating at night. However, if sightings were in the day then that is the best time to investigate. Unfortunately in reality this is often not possible. If a group is investigating a public building it is often not possible to shut it during the day, so on an operational level the only option is to investigate at night. Furthermore the level of distractions involved has to be considered. If a group of individuals seeks to observe an environment for any unusual noises, for example, they need to be reasonably assured the building isn’t filled with visitors or that there is not a lot of daily noise and traffic interfering with the senses. But a cautionary note is that after 2-3am the body’s physiology and perceptions do begin to change and any results should be treated with some suspicion.

The investigator should think twice about switching the lights off during an investigation. Pitch black usually serves no purpose save from ‘spooking people out’ and equipment operation and meaningful observation is nearly impossible. However a lower-light setting can often be justified. Bright lighting can provide plenty of distractions to the investigator, but gentle lower lighting can provide an environment of good perception and equipment operation.

In the case of PSI, it is conducing longitudinal research into investigator perceptions, so in each case the environment has to be held as constant as possible.

If an investigation group claims to be scientific it must always not only justify but demonstrate and understand the decisions it makes and the consequences of those actions. So next time you turn out the light, remember why you’re doing it.