Smoke & Mirrors



Bryan Farha Published: November 4, 2008


Physical and Nonphysical; Scientific and Nonscientific


                                                               by John Nail, Ph.D. 

This is the season in which ‘paranormal researchers’ spend time in old buildings (often charging people to accompany them) with various ‘scientific equipment’ for the purposes of ‘studying’ paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Presumably, their goal is to photograph visual images of the disembodied spirits or record sounds made by them. However, there is one problem with this: it isn’t possible.

Vision and photography are possible due to physical existence. When you see your friend, it is because light being reflected from your friend is entering your eyes; when you photograph your friend, light reflected from your friend enters the lens and is recorded.

Presumably, ghosts / spirits are disembodied entities and do not have a physical existence, in terms of having a physical entity that could reflect light; if so, they could not be photographed.

Sound is produced by vibrations. Sound waves are produced by motions; once again, this involves physical entities, Not only would disembodied spirits be invisible and impossible to photograph, they would also be silent and would not produce recordable or audible sounds or other vibrations.

Of course, none of this is meaningful to the true believer in the paranormal. Studies have shown that people ignore evidence that conflicts with their beliefs and are unable to critically analyze evidence that appears to support their beliefs. Paranormal believers defend poor quality evidence that they claim that supports their beliefs and reject arguments that show that their beliefs are physically impossible.

It is sadly ironic when people try to use science to verify their antiscientific beliefs.

[John Nail is Chair of the Chemistry Department at Oklahoma City University


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