Should I Go On A Ghost Hunt?

“The curse of man, and cause of nearly all of his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.” – H. L. Menken.

I’ve been thinking of going on one those ghost hunts that seem to be advertised all over the place. You know the kind of thing – pay some money and get to spend half the night in some supposedly haunted location. You can be just like those people in TV shows like Most Haunted and others.

Ghost hunt poster 03 Where I live, I often see posters advertising these events, and I have also often wondered if I should maybe cough up a few pounds just to see what goes on.

Then again, it’s pretty clear what goes on. A bunch of gullible clods get to wander about in the dark looking for non-existent ghosts, helped by the seemingly obligatory medium in tow, and the latest in high tech ghost hunting gizmos (EMF meters and suchlike).

You can expect séances and other mumbo jumbo, too. “Trigger objects” will be set up to elicit responses from the spirits. And if you just look at the websites that advertise these outings you will find rules and regulations that only a dimwit could agree to.

Having looked at some of these websites, I have to conclude that only the terminally credulous could think that they are actually going to find ghosts – but they also have to be willing to sign away their rights.

Participants in these events are encouraged to bring along their own recording devices – stills cameras and video cameras, as well as audio recording equipment, for example. Notebooks can be used as well.

But there is also a catch. Depending on which particular cowboy outfit you sign up with, you can expect to give up your rights to anything you do actually record on the night you pay them to participate in. As I looked at the various websites advertising their ghost hunting adventures I noticed a common theme: you pay them money to go on a ghost hunt, but you also give them the copyright to anything that you record with your own equipment.

To be fair, not every ghost hunting business demands the same level of rights to your recordings. Some say that you retain your own copyright, but they have the right to use your recordings as they see fit. But sometimes, if you want to use your own recordings for your own purposes, you can do so only if you can get their permission. What if you don’t get it?

I have also seen a website promoting these ghost hunts even saying that they retain the copyright to everything you record and that’s it. They’re not daft – but their customers might be.

But it’s a bit difficult to offer links to these sites for two reasons:

1) The web pages (in particular their terms and conditions) seem to be altered on a regular basis, so anything I link to is likely to be modified (or radically changed) in some way by the time you read it.

2) I have found one website that says quite clearly that it is forbidden for anyone to link to it. And the same site has said that they will take legal action against anyone who disobeys them.

That second part is a bit naive, of course; it’s the age of the internet, and linking to various sites is not illegal. But there does seem to be more than just a bit of paranoia on that particular website. As is pretty typical for the modern ghost hunting fraternity, they do not avert criticism by producing confirmable evidence of the paranormal, they stifle criticism with threats of legal action. But if they think their beliefs cannot survive a collision with reality, they must be pretty insecure about it.

Most of these organisations seem pretty much the same, though. The ones I have looked at commonly state in their terms and conditions that they accept no responsibility whatsoever for their customers’ safety and well being. Go on one of these outings entirely at your own risk, it seems. But I’m not sure if these organisations would get away with it if someone were actually hurt or injured. The law as it is now requires such things as risk assessments to be carried out, public liability insurance to be in place, and efforts made to ensure the public’s safety. They may well do all of that anyway, but the fact that they tell you, in effect and sometimes in fact, that they have no responsibilities must say something about them.

Oh, and they make a point of telling you there are no guarantees that anything paranormal will happen when you go along on one of these outings.

The bottom line seems to be this: you go ghost hunting at your own risk; you have to be prepared to give up your rights to any photographic, audio or any other recordings you make; there is no guarantee that anything will happen anyway; your safety is your own responsibility, and you may not say anything about the hosting organisation (positive or negative) that includes a link to their website(s).

And you pay them money for the privilege – twenty five pounds or so is not untypical.

I think I’ll give it a miss.

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6 responses to “Should I Go On A Ghost Hunt?

  1. I found this article to be very odd. A little about myself. I got my first degree in history so I have always enjoyed oral traditions associated with places and anything that deals with the past is a magnet for me. I will admit I am a ghost tour fan, however I just do them to hear the odder stories from various cities and I have normally found when I go through and research them they tend to be accurate. For me it is a just a way to learn and see some of the odder history of places I am visiting.

    Now I have signed waivers before but frankly none of them have stated the stuff your article claims. Maybe this is cause you are in England and I am in the US. The waivers I have signed say that you agree not to sue if you hit crossing the street and stuff of that nature which I do find to be reasonable. Lastly we do not have to pay nearly as much in the states!

    So have I seen anything paranormal. No but I did have one place that we did have so odd stuff happen and later we did get some very odd pics. Not proof of anything though I did enjoy the evening.

    Well these are just some thoughts of mine, have a good day.

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  2. Kris,
    Thanks for your comment.

    Things might, as you say, be different here in the UK, but the point I was getting at is that the organisers of at least some of these paranormal adventures impose what I think are unfair conditions on their customers. If I paid money to go on one of these events I would not be prepared to hand over my copyright (and therefore earnings potential) over to them, for example.

    As far as waivers are concerned, organisers of events (not just ghost hunts) are required by law to have public liability insurance. Not all of them do, so if there is an accident or injury (even a death), what then? I don’t think the organisers will have much of a get-out in court, no matter how many waivers have been signed. By law, organisers of events have a duty of care that they can’t get out of whether a waiver has been signed or not. (And if there is no insurance, by the way, the organisers might be leaving themselves open to criminal charges, and without insurance there is no compensation for anyone if something does go wrong) Personally, I don’t think I would take the chance.

    A waiver should be a two-way thing – the event organisers state that they have complied with the relevant laws and have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of their customers, and the customers agree that they understand their own responsibilities and will not do anything that will endanger themselves or others. But that is not how it is worded on some ghost hunt sites that I have looked at.

    In any case, these events are not scientific research projects; they’re a fun night out, perhaps, but a lot of their customers are being led to believe that they are doing something scientific. I don’t think they are, but if anyone can explain to me how, say, an electromagnetic field detector actually detects ghosts, I am keen to learn.

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  3. Yeah I suspect things are very different in the UK then they are in the States. Now I agree with you if ghost tour organizers did require you to sign away your copyright then that would be very problematic ( do you have any examples ?) but I have simply never seen them do that. You know we do things differently in the US when it comes to insurance and liability so just understand we do not approach it the way in the US hence the waivers. Well part of science is observation so if you are truly observing ghosts then you have done a part of science though of course the methodology of ghost tour would not cut it for a scientific study. Even if you did not see anything you would still be doing the part of the observation, you just failed to make the observations you wanted. Put it this way, lets say I am doing a study on a very rare bird, I go looking for the critter and I never find one. Did that mean my attempts at observation were unscientific or just unsuccessful?

    I am sure if you emailed a ghost hunting group and asked nicely, gave them the polite benefit of the doubt of at least being sincere and asked them how a electromagnetic field detector works they would explain it to you. Have you tried that before? Not saying you would accept the explanation but I am sure they would be willing to answer if you asked nicely.

    Have a good day in the UK.

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  4. Kris,

    As it happens, I have a pretty good idea of how an EMF meter works, and I am pretty sure the operating instructions do not include telling you what settings to apply to detect ghosts.

    In any case, ghosts, by definition (even if they were real), do not follow the laws of physics. It seems rather absurd on the face of it that an immaterial entity could be detected by physical devices that are designed only to measure physical events. I would like to see the device that can measure psychic energy, but there is no such device, and no such energy.

    As far as asking the proponents themselves how it all works, I have done that on many occasions, but without gaining any satisfactory answers. In fact, asking the “experts” to provide objective evidence to support their paranormal claims just annoys them. The burden of proof, after all, lies with the person making the claim, and in reality there is not a single claim about the paranormal that can be independently proven. They know it; I know it.

    Regarding examples of the terms and conditions that some of these organisations impose on their customers, it’s probably better if you do a search of UK based ghost hunting businesses. I’m not too worried about the legal aspects of linking to businesses that say they will sue if linked to, but I am not going to give them any free publicity, either.

    However, here is an exact quote from one such website: “You may not create a link to this website from another website or document without [site name’s] prior written consent.”

    Actual written permission to link? Do you think I would get permission?

    And another: “All events attended at the client’s risk, no liability accepted by [name of business.]”

    It’s ridiculous, but that is what we are up against (in this part of the world, anyway).

    Best regards.

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  5. Hello
    When I stated earlier that you could ask a ghost hunting organization how an EMF meters works I meant you could ask them how it works in detecting ghosts. I thought by the context of my response that I expressed myself clearly. Going through and rereading what I said I can see how you could think I was saying if you want know how an EMF meter works ask a ghost hunting company which of course does not mean what I wanted it to say. I am sorry for the confusion.
    However you have stated before that you have asked proponents of it how it works in detecting ghosts , but you were not satisfied with their answer. That is of course your right to be not satisfied, but the people who have to be satisfied are ultimately the ghost hunters . Universal agreement on the use of certain technologies is not something that happens all the time, for example in the US lie detectors are accepted as evidence but in Germany they are consider bunk. Of course I am not saying that an EMF meter is relevant to ghost hunting or would be remotely able to detect an alleged ghost but I am simply observing that some ghost hunters clearly think it has relevance to the field and that your disagreement is that a disagreement. It does not prove that you or they are mistaken. People in good faith can disagree on things.

    I do not like the term paranormal. I wish this is a term that would disappear because when one really thinks about this logically one comes to realize it makes no sense.
    There are either two scenarios for the existence of the universe and all that it contains.
    1.) A deity created it therefore everything (except the deity) is simply created. Therefore a hypothetical ghost would simply be another created aspect of the created universe and therefore be normal.

    2.) The universe came to exist without a deity. Therefore the universe is all and all that will be . Everything is a product of it. Therefore if ghosts exist they would be part of the universe and therefore normal.
    The term itself paranormal has a hidden premise in it; and that is that our knowledge of the universe is complete and has no error. How can we say something is beyond normal if we do not know what the totality of normal is? Scientific knowledge is often revised in light of new observations, what deems possible observations of ghost as something that cannot be normal? I find the term to be an inquiry inhibitor.
    However I fear the term will remain because both sides like it. Proponents like it cause it seems very neat indeed to see something beyond normal. ( how cool!!) . Critics like it cause it instantly discredits it( how absurd!!) Hardly productive to intelligent research and dialog I fear though.
    You cannot have objective evidence in science or any field of inquiry except for mathematics and philosophy. No evidence will convince everyone. That is just the nature of the beast. So therefore they cannot give you objective evidence for the paranormal for the same reason no one can give you objective evidence for evolution, you can always find some odd way to reinterpret the fossil record which while logically possible tends to be absurd. Remember creationist always cry for independent validation of evolution, they just never accept the independent organizations which validate evolution as truly being independent. Another thing you seem to forget is that at least sincere ghost hunters are trying to produce STRONGER evidence that one would have a harder time creating plausible alternatives too so you are asking them to produce on the spot that which they concede they do not have. Of course the burden of proof has to be met by the claimant but they have no obligation to prove something to someone that no amount of evidence would change their mind, nor do they have any obligation to disprove every possible supposition against the evidence they have produced.

    I have started to do some research on ghost hunting organizations in the UK and so far I have not found what you reported. Right now I am looking at this organization, Haunted Happenings in the UK ( I did not post the link just in case they do have such rules and I missed them). They encourage you to link and they have a standard protection clause against law suits which I do not fault them or any company over. Could you post the names at least of ghost hunting organizations that act in such a manner as you described earlier?

    Have a good day.

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  6. Kris,

    EMF meters are not really of any use in a ghost hunt. Someone is going to have to prove that ghosts can affect or create magnetic fields; which means that someone is going to have to prove that ghosts actually exist. Even if ghosts exist and can affect a magnetic field, it would not follow logically that a magnetic aberration is caused by a ghost. In a roundabout way, I am merely gently trying to get anyone who uses these things to justify their use when they are using them to find any discarnate spirits.

    Your mention of lie detectors interested me. However, they are as useless in detecting lies as EMF meters are in detecting ghosts. A polygraph measures a person’s heart rate, breathing and so on. It might be true that a person telling lies will experience alterations to those factors, but innocent people can have the same reactions just through the stress of being accused of something they have not done. And some people are fluent liars who are not stressed at all by lying. As well as that there are various countermeasures that can be learned. Science generally does not accept that polygraphs can really do what is claimed for them. The American spy Aldrich Ames passed lie detector tests while he was selling state secrets, and there are many other high profile examples. Here is a useful link that is worth looking at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygraph

    Personally, I don’t believe in any gods. Physical explanations for physical events are good enough for me. Religious people get their information about the universe from their holy books; I get my information from science books. At least the science is testable.
    It’s true, of course, that scientific knowledge is revised in the light of new observations, and that is one of its strengths. There would be no advances if, like religion, science was fixed and unchanging. Then again if science did not change in response to new findings, it wouldn’t be science, and we would still be living in caves.

    The qualities attributed to ghosts and the like do not fit in with what is known about the physical universe. I don’t think their investigation is inhibited by science, but mainstream science is not going to take much of an interest until and unless someone can demonstrate that there is something there to investigate in the first place. I certainly don’t begrudge a Nobel Prize to the scientist who can uncover a hitherto unknown force of nature.

    I have to disagree with you that evolution cannot be supported by objective evidence: the evidence for evolution by natural selection is overwhelming, but it is such an extensive subject that I couldn’t deal with it in this post. There are hundreds of creation stories out there from various religions, so I think they should decide between themselves which one is the true version and then put their agreed upon version up against the scientific version of evolution. (Keep in mind, though, that evolution does not deal with or speculate about the origin of life, just its development over time)

    I assume that ghost hunters (most of them, anyway) are sincere. The problem they have, however, is that they cannot produce the evidence necessary to establish their claims about the paranormal. I don’t think it has anything to do with sceptics like me producing “plausible alternative explanations.” Those plausible alternatives will stay plausible until the psychic power being touted is actually proven.

    My original post was meant to be a general overview of what I have come across in the area of ghost hunting businesses. Not all of them impose the same conditions and I am sure most of them deal fairly with their customers, but I don’t want to single out any particular organisation. If people who are planning to go on a ghost hunt take the time to check out what they are getting into before they commit themselves, then that’s fine by me.

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