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Ghosts: A Skeptic's View

Date: 07-04-12
Host: George Noory
Guests: Joe Nickell, Patrick Wilcken

Paranormal investigator and columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Joe Nickell, discussed his latest work on ghosts and so-called spirits of the dead. He argued that most paranormal cases are promoted with an "argument from ignorance" i.e. "we don't know what the noise in the old house was, therefore it's a ghost." Nickell was critical of modern ghost investigators who use an array of testing equipment at locations said to be haunted. It's highly unlikely that their readings are detecting ghostly activity, but rather they may be picking up microwave power in the area, or the electromagnetic signatures of their own devices, he suggested.

According to Nickell, we most look toward Occam's Razor for the simplest explanation in cases of anomalous phenomena. For instance, with EVP (electronic voice phenomena), we are not hearing the voices of ghosts, but rather something caused by acoustic variables, he said. Nickell recounted his investigation at Mackenzie House in Toronto where phantom ghost steps and other phenomena had been reported. He discovered that there was a staircase that ran parallel in the next door building, which he believes accounted for the sound of the phantom steps.

Regarding sightings and communications from the deceased, Nickell cited sleep paralysis-type episodes, in which a person is in a state between waking & sleeping as the most likely cause of such visitations (he also associated sleep paralysis with alien abduction cases). He charged that mediums and psychics who claim to communicate with the dead are using cold reading techniques for their material. Additionally, Nickell spoke about his study of Spontaneous Human Combustion cases, and found that they have a "real world" explanation. For example, in the case of Mary Reeser, she was smoking cigarettes and taking Seconal, and when the fire started, her body acted like a wick, he said.

Levi-Strauss & Anthropology

First hour guest, author Patrick Wilcken (book link) talked about Claude Levi-Strauss, and how he revolutionized the field of anthropology by showing that primitive peoples were actually quite sophisticated. "In the 19th century there was this idea that indigenous cultures were a throwback to another era," Wilcken said, but in the 20th century, Levi-Strauss was one of the early synthesizers of various anthropological accounts that showed a huge range of cultural phenomena among these groups. Levi-Strauss also studied indigenous mythologies from across the Americas, and found similar structural properties in them, Wilcken added.

News segment guests: Ryan Mauro, Rosemary Ellen Guiley

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