It is apparently very simple to record a ghost.
The audio is out there; courtesy of our nifty digital recorders which can be left recording for hours on end in pitch-black cellars which have lary case histories.
The sounds made beyond our ken are called EVP: and that’s not Executive Vice President, let me tell you. It’s Electrical Voice Phenomena.
Ghosts have always loved electricity, haven’t they? When William Gilbert gave their communication tool a name the wraiths of the spirit world must have been beside themselves with joyful anticipation. At last, the living world was speaking their language. They must have watched as Luigi Galvani uncovered the dialect by which nerve cells speak to muscles, though the scientist little suspected that the dead might, men would claim, talk to the living using the same simple impulses.
The advent of sound recording opened up a whole new world to our nether friends, if paranormal researchers are to be believed. Suddenly here was a way of using electrical impulses to elucidate one’s message. Electric Voice Phenomenon is anything that sounds like speaking, but is unexplained.
It all started with Thomas Edison commenting in an interview with Scientific American that yes, his phonograph might possibly pick up a ghost better than all the paraphernalia of the spiritualist movement of the time; because phonographs were so sensitive, and the electrical disturbances of spirits so very small.
A wishful crackpot American photographer, Attila von Szalay, tried recording ghosts on a 78rpm record in 1941. He had no success, but claimed better results when he turned to the reel to reel tape recorder. And since then there have been a raft of strange inventions – Spiricom, Frank’s Box, and so many more – which depend on there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the philosophy of some.
It all sounds rather impossibly far-fetched. It is very hard to find a voice of reason in this area.
But amid all the murky ectoplasmic bilgewater of the field, I found someone who might be worth reading.
In 1997, Imants Barušs, Professor of Psychology at King’s University College at The University of Western Ontario, Canada, began a series of 81 recordings of a radio turned to an empty frequency. The recordings span some 60 hours. Sometimes someone just sat there and listened; other times someone attempted to make contact.
Baruss is an intriguing academic. He began studying engineering science at the University of Toronto but became preoccupied with existential questions. These days he is a Professor of Psychology, studying all aspects of consciousness. I have a sneaking respect for what I read of his work – have a look here.
During those 60 hours in 1997, he did indeed record events which sounded like voices.
But he is a scientist, not a parapsychologist. And these events were almost impossibly random, and open to many interpretations. He concluded: “While we did replicate EVP in the weak sense of finding voices on audio tapes, none of the phenomena found in our study was clearly anomalous, let alone attributable to discarnate beings. Hence we have failed to replicate EVP in the strong sense.”
So can one leave a digital recorder recording in a place, and let it pick up the subtle impulses of someone who once walked the earth and now drifts somewhere intangible?
The question has implications for the living, does it not?
And in the light of that: I hope fervently that the whole thing is just preposterous mumbo-jumbo.