Ghost Hunting is an Oxymoron (or, The Skeptical Ghost Hunter)

autopsy table

“Ghost hunting” is an oxymoron, is it not?

Just what is a ghost, anyway? A spirit? A shadow? A memory? A smell? A sound? A laugh? An old photograph? Displaced energy? A lost soul? A figment of our imagination? A longing, a burning desire…? We “hunt ghosts” – and yet, what are we hunting? And what will we do when we catch these ghosts we seek? Bottle them up? Kill them? Keep them as pets or hang them on the mantle as trophies?

Kirsten wrote about the “ghost hunter’s dilemma” and she’s right — any one who ‘hunts ghosts’ is stuck between two worlds. Sometimes I wonder (especially in light of some of our more recent experiences), if confronted with a full-fledged and “evidential” ghost encounter, would I turn from ’skeptical ghost hunter’ to ‘hard core believer’? Or would I simply convince myself that I was losing my mind? Would I know the difference? Would anyone? What evidence could be enough to lead me to conclude, proof positive, that some contact with the other side had been made. Can a skeptic ever truly believe and do hard-core believers ever doubt? And where does the skeptical ghost-hunter fit in? I leave open a window for possibility…and yet, if confronted with a reality that shifts all reality, what would I do?

Something happened to me this weekend, that forced me to think about all these things. This weekend I caught a ghost. And I don’t know what to do with it.

We were investigating the abandoned Linda Vista hospital in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. We were near the morgue and a surgery room. Kirsten was in front of me and Brian behind me. We rounded a corner and came upon a small side room off of the surgery room. We walked up to the door, which was partially ajar, and as Kirsten put her hand on the door to open it, I began to hear a female voice, humming. It was very clear and loud — it sounded right as though it were with us. My first thought was that it was Kirsten, but then…I started to realize that it didn’t seem to be coming from Kirsten, that it didn’t really sound like her – and that it in fact, might not be Kirsten at all.

That’s when my whole sense of reality tilted on it’s side, because, as I was thinking that, Kirsten put her hand on the door of the room, and the door seemed to take on a life of it’s own — it swung wide open with force, hitting the back wall and bouncing back on itself. At the same time, I felt as though something or someone moved right through me. The whole space we occupied seemed to be filled with some form of energy, and I couldn’t understand what was happening except that I knew we had just come in contact with a ghost. And so, I screamed. And yet, I couldn’t believe that’s what had happened, so I yelled out “Don’t do that!” to whichever member of the team was hiding in the room as a prank, humming and yanking on the door in an attempt to scare us. Except that there was no one in that little room. In fact, everyone else was down the hall and all came running.

My audio recorder captured the entire episode, as did Brian’s. You can hear the humming, clear as day. I have listened to the audio over and over, trying to make sense of what I am hearing. Could it be Kirsten humming, even though she was just as shocked by the humming as I, and even though it is clear that the voice in the audio is not hers, and even though you can hear the humming even after we both start yelling? I listened to it in slow motion, over and over again, trying to make sense of it all. The audio recordings and my personal recollection of the incident, along with those of Brian and Kirsten — are the only real evidence I have. The incident was not captured on video or in a photo — but so what if it had been? Would that be any more compelling? Any snippet of video can be broken down frame by frame and negated by one who chooses to do so. And so, I ask, what video would be compelling enough? What photo could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was not staged or a simple trick of the light?

Scientific methods lean on testing and retesting in controlled environments. Results must be re-creatable by others before a hypothesis becomes a truth. Can this ever be possible when ghosts are the subjects? We have collected odd audio clips, strange photos, and been witness to unexplainable events before. But they have always been faint sounds, distant noises, brief glimpses out of corners of eyes…assumptions and suppositions. Nothing concrete, nothing conclusive. So many things have felt real, and yet were mysterious enough as to leave open a window of doubt.

As a skeptical ghost-hunter I know that there has to be a logical, natural explanation for what happened. However, there is a part of me that knows that something happened there unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. No matter how hard I try to explain away the incident, a lingering, nagging voice in my head won’t let me release this ghost. I cannot accept that this clear, loud female humming and the door flinging open could be something supernatural. It must have been a cosmic sequence of events that collided in a split second to cause the illusion that something supernatural was happening to us. Or so I have tried to tell myself…

While we spend our time in various efforts to collect evidence of the existence of the afterlife, here is a case where as much as I would like to, I cannot provide evidence that this is NOT proof of something paranormal – and that leaves me in a quandry.

I have wondered, if confronted with a full-fledged and “evidential” ghost encounter, would I turn from ’skeptical ghost hunter’ to ‘hard core believer’? Or would I simply convince myself that I was losing my mind? Would I know the difference? Would anyone? What evidence could be enough to lead me to conclude, proof positive, that some contact with the other side had been made. Can a skeptic ever truly believe and do hard-core believers ever doubt? And where does the skeptical ghost-hunter fit in? I leave open a window for possibility…and yet, if confronted with a reality that shifts all reality, what would I do?

In addition to the window I’ve left open for possibility, I’ve always kept another one open for doubt. Both must remain open. That is all I know.


  1. kathryn Hamilton 4 Dec 2009 at 5:50 am

    Hi, I never even thought a bout afterlife(and still do not think that a Deity watches over us). But am beginning to think after more than 1 personal (quite by accident experience–am trained ias a science treacher and urse(lots of bio, chem and even physics) that we have great 5 senses-

    -our 5 senses often fool us, but there are times when an intelligent reply has come over my digital audio recorder during the day while out taking photos and using said recorder to just help me remember things about photos time , place ,etc. Where I have heard those voices, being that my family is Southern and come from the earliest yrs of NC migration –11665 in Virginia–we have our own on farmland– family cemetery. I know many of thos enow in this cemetery. I have gone back and heard distinctive voices when I have tried to talk and taken odd photos too. Voices of relatives I know when trying to do repeatable eVPs -accents i know,etc.. also odd anomolies on just a low end Canon digital camera–very “ghosty ” looking ones. In historic sites during the daytime ,I am apt to catch similar anaomomies– and have actuallly hear a very few times inthe ambient air voices– and been brushed passed by something in a night time cmeetery when I was by myself early in the evening –near a friendshouse…

    I have no ability to photshop/not good with the computer, so could not if Iwanted too. So as an atheist, a wife of a husband who is both a an atheist and NASA physicist (he simply refuses to talk about what I show him–gets angry-it turns a scientist’s worldv iew on its head) and fear makes you angry–also incongruity does that when you “know” what is possible in Newtowian world we live in.. My life was much more simple before I ‘+”caught these voices” as now I am returning to historical sites, etc–live in The Williamsbur/Yorktown VA area–English settlement since 1603 or so and explored and roughly settled in1590s..and my own family history in NC is w/in 4 hrs by car and close by.. I recognized voices of dead peole Iloved. as did my mother…At age 50, I thought that when we die, our “energy” is conserved–by the soil.

    But if , and only if it is not necessary that a mind need a body– an intelligence can live without one–the only reason for having one to me would be to have or want,or need in some sense to learn what Earth sensations, feelings,etc are like. That brings up another thing I did not think possible—reincarnation. ..but, despite reading Skeptical Inquirer, I remain a true skeptic. That means follow the data– and am finding that many members of Center for Inquiry/producers of skeptical Inquirer when attending a recent summer retreat–feel that they have the world “figured” out..and their skepticism has turned to a dogma or belief system. and are tuly not open to exploration beyond “certain” boundaries..

    Where would science ultimatley be without those willing to consider possibilities of all kinds–esp quantum possibilities –remember, a few hundred years ago, we had no rudimentary microscopes so could not see a one celled pond bug of any kind even..I am having to rethink my whole life philosophy. ..not what I can know for certain using the scientific method, but what I can see patterns in, can replicate–not perfectly,but in some manner (but use as much of the scientific Method approach as you can with something that does not conform if it exists to our physical laws..we may have the wrong study methods here and blunt instruments for for tools…–not ideal for science yet, but study via science when possible, philosophy /logic /thought experiments/modeling when possibly /observational data. and live with uncertainty..but enough certainty is forming in m ymind.. to for at least some “Possibliity Opinions”.

    Just think if Decartes was right and the mind is not inthe body at all,but “out there ‘ in the cosmos– the mind is the server like a computer system a nd the brain is the cpu/monitor,etc..and whether you get a high end receiver /computer or a cheapo depends on your family genetics..the mind if it needs no body for intelligence to be retained–what holds it together at death–if all is energy–it seems that the intellectual “energy” would dissipate like gas in the air..upon death..not be able to stay together..– what vessel would hold inteligence when there is no brain?

    How does the mind/the intellect of a previously Earthly human stay together to send you a short , but appropriate response to a question asked when you make an effort on an EVP..or snap a digital photo–some pretty weird ones too..If we find in neuroscience that there is ‘no ghost in our machines” –or that we are not tapping into the ghost/intellect in the cosmos that i s using our brain/body to increase its intelligence about Earthly things– and when we die, dust is al l we have become..then the concept of talking to a sentient being is grand delusion. Too many people have experienced this–we can’t all be I cannot and refuse to say that his is fact..survival of spirit or discarnate humans for fact, but I am more open to the possibility.

    Still not open to the Big Santa in the Sky Deity, though. He just seems to be too human like not to be a manmade deity. thanks. Perplexed, too. Kathryn in Virginia



  2. Even more compelling is the fact our entire group was split up into two teams. A team had already gone through this room and, unknown to us at the time this event happened, they claimed to have experienced the presence of a female that they perceived to be a little girl. That revelation at the end of the eve was too much to be a coincidence. I am thankful our recorders were on and captured the moment. I too have played the clip over and over and the female humming does overlap voices. Something happened that I cannot explain that is both exciting and confounding. I’m pouring over the rest of the audio this weekend to see if anything else pops up.



  3. Kirsten A. Thorne 2 Jun 2009 at 9:29 pm

    This is a great post. As a participant in all this, I’ve gone through similar emotions; I just don’t understand what happened to me, to us, as that door swung open. I’ve never felt anything like it before, and it was as real as anything else in my life. I don’t question my reality on a daily basis; to do so would make me crazy. Yet, am I supposed to keep questioning this incident until I’ve denied that it happened? That would make me feel equally crazy. It DID happen, it was recorded, none of us were responsible for it, and I have not felt the same since.

    What am I supposed to do with this experience? A GHOST WALKED THROUGH ME. What does that mean? I am humbled by it, and amazed that it happened at all. We started this adventure in the hopes of experiencing such supernatural activity, but I guess I didn’t realize how different it is when it’s personal, when something literally touches you and makes contact in such an obvious way. It almost seems wrong, disrespectful, to keep my distance from this issue now. Yet, if I don’t, I’m not sure how that changes everything. And I’m not sure if I’m ready for everything to change.



    1. Layla – Much of your theme here in this very thoughtful and wonderful blog will be covered in my lecture this weekend at Haunted Hills! Great minds think alike!!




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