The world is an arena of the endless confrontation of those whom one may call “believers” and those who are referred to as “skeptics”. In scientific terms, it is a debate between pseudoscience and science, respectively. Science uses facts as the starting point for any analysis, assumption or statement, whereas pseudoscience uses scientific methods applied to guesses and beliefs rather than facts. In this respect, pseudoscience “guesstimates” the realities of the physical world, with the “guess” part implying the word’s original meaning. Pseudoscience does nothing but adjusting the picture of the world so that it fits the believers’ vision, hopes and misbeliefs. As a result, for pseudo-scientists, phenomena such as ghosts or soul become scientific facts. Thus, a quest for the truth may have either a pro-scientific or pseudo-scientific direction. After all, “The wish not to believe can influence as strongly as the wish to believe”. In other words, while the true science is aimed at finding the truth, pseudoscience focuses on finding suitable evidence that would prove certain beliefs. Beliefs are subjective and the truth is always objective. Consequently, a “science” that chases beliefs instead of truth is a pseudoscience that is not to be trusted. 

Paranormal activity that occurs in the physical world but involves immaterial substances is the focus of many experiments, researches, observations and debates. People’s belief in ghosts, spirits or the soul results from a variety of natural needs. Being mortal, humans want to believe in the afterlife in parallel planes of reality from where ghosts, apparently, originate. Being religious, people need to have faith in the existence of an immaterial soul that could exist after death and beyond a body. When loosing the loved ones, people want to believe that there is a possibility of communicating with the deceased ones which is why they believe in spirits and invoke them. Thus, the necessity of belief in the paranormal is understandable, unlike the attempts to find a “scientific” proof that ghosts and spirits are real. In fact, the very idea of physically measuring, filming or capturing ghosts seems utterly anti-scientific. Nevertheless, groups like TAPS exist. TAPS stands for The Atlantic Paranormal Society, a group of activists who use modern scientific equipment for ambiguously scientific purposes. The group devotes much of their time and effort to pseudoscience of ghost hunting. From a scientific standpoint, the essence of pseudoscience is “falsehoods presented as truths”. The mis-presentation may result from either a conscious intention to manipulate the truth and people’s minds, or a wholehearted though blind urge to believe in something, no matter the cost. As an attempt to balance the scales, there is a counter-effort of groups such as SAPS founded by Alison Smith who says, “While our intention is not to disprove that there are unexplainable phenomena, we hope to show how easy it is to […] explain the psychological reasons that people are so eager to believe”. SAPS stands for Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society. The TAPS vs. SAPS confrontation is a perfect example of the endless opposition of believers and skeptics. 


The greatest tragedy about TAPS and similar endeavors is that when they lack scientific proof for their findings, they fake it. The arsenal of TAPS includes many instruments of advanced technology, such as handheld digital thermometers, EMF Detectors or Flir thermal cameras. A footage is one of the most eloquent and non-disprovable testimonies of a phenomenon’s existence. Unfortunately, a footage or an image, especially a digital one, is a limitless field for manipulations. Any desired object can be added to the picture via computer editing with the help of a relatively cheap and available software. Any amateur, not to mention professionals, can master it and excel in it. Other manipulations may involve seemingly less faulty use of filters or tampering with the recording or playback speed. Apparently, it is the case with TAPS “altering the footage to 15 frames per second instead of the usual 30 frames per second TAPS records at”. Alison Smith comments, “This would mean that the only people who had access to altering the footage were the TAPS crew themselves”. In other words, it means adjusting the materials so that they prove a belief, not an objective fact. Besides, apart from a conscious tampering with the recoded data, there is also a factor of misinterpretation of a footage. For example, a plane or a satellite may look like a UFO in the night sky, and lens flares can be misperceived as odd orbs or objects around the sun. Any believer will take such instances as a factual proof of a phenomenon that he or she seeks to prove. Thus, even such a seemingly undeniable body of proof as a camera footage or image can become the source of false “evidence” for a pseudoscience.

Alison Smith has analyzed the scientific ways in which TAPS conduct their experiments and research and found out that TAPS’ routine forms a faulty cycle. At first, they locate an ambiguous phenomenon. Then, they imply a paranormal nature of this phenomenon and try to convince the viewers, thus, making them see what they want them to see. Here, the greatest mistake is made when the “researchers” state assumptions as facts without checking, referencing or otherwise proving the validity of their judgment. At last, they sum up the hoax that they have created and label it as a successful scientific experiment that proves the existence of ghosts. Among the brightest examples of such inflicted “truths” are the instances of the spirit emergence. The TAPS specialists state as if it were a common scientific knowledge that the orbs of light are the physical form that spirits take when captured in a photo or video footage. In addition, they suggest in the form of an undoubted fact that spirits are able to decrease the temperature in the room. Evidently, they use both the footages and the temperature measurement data as a pseudoscientific proof of the paranormal activity, whereas in fact being the scammers who make money on people’s belief in ghosts. 

Some of the believers may argue that TAPS is only an unfortunate example of a group that undermines people’s trust in the practice of “ghost hunting”, whereas it does not imply that the phenomenon of ghosts is not real in itself. As a rule, when trying to defend the good name of other believers, people may refer to the latest scientific experiments that “prove” the existence of a soul. A soul may be regarded as a synonym of a spirit or ghost, or their type – a substance that is trapped in the material world. In fact, the believers say, a soul is the energy that is relieved from the body after death. Consequently, using the empirical “evidence” and logical speculations, a soul can either pass to a different dimension or remain in the physical world, thus, becoming a ghost that haunts houses and people. Using this chain of reasoning, some believers try to prove the fact of the ghost’s existence by proving the existence of a soul, which is a more valid term with which a real science can deal. Let alone the numerous experiments attempting to measure the weight of the human soul, the best “proof” of the soul’s existence are the testimonies of the so-called “experiencers”. The believers argue and scholars and researchers prove that “the overall tenor of the [near-death] experience is remarkably similar”. People from various cultures and countries encounter strikingly similar feelings and sensations, such as floating in the air (often over one’s dead/dying body), the atmosphere of love, meeting deceased relatives or spiritual beings, etc. The latter implies that such stories are less likely to be a pure creation of a delirious mind. Moreover, “many NDErs report that their experience did not feel like a dream or a hallucination but was, as they often describe it, “more real than real life”. As their ultimate argument, the believers refer to the scientific law of the conservation of energy according to which energy (a soul being its type) cannot disappear into nowhere and become nothing. 

Indeed, the law of the energy conservation is often applied to the studies of humans, though when studying consciousness or personality, not the soul. “Survival of personality after death is something like a law of conservation of energy applied to human consciousness”. As it often happens, the believers and the skeptics/scientists put a different meaning in the same terms or phenomena. Thus, what believers call a soul, scientists call a mind or consciousness. Such a replacement of concepts is wrong because a soul and a mind are not absolute synonyms. Thus, if science studies the mind and consciousness, it does not mean that the findings attribute to or prove the existence of a soul. George A. Mashour from the University of Michigan says, “Whether there can be a scientific explanation for NDEs is a critical flash point for the science of consciousness”. Consequently, even if science proves the existence of mechanisms that allows human consciousness to exist in some previously unknown states, for example, “apart” from a damaged or dying body, it would not prove the existence of a soul.  Respectively, the experiencers’ sensations are not yet proved real and will hardly ever be. From a scientific perspective, they are the products of the consciousness rather than a vision of some “higher” planes of reality. In short, near-death revelations are a weak proof for a soul, not to mention ghosts as the thought-to-be lost souls. 

In conclusion, the use of scientific methods and terms does not guarantee that the results of the experiments or their findings can be regarded as a scientific truth. In fact, the picture of the real world can be distorted simply because it is analyzed by humans. The distortion of the objective reality may result from either a conscious intention to manipulate the truth and people’s minds, or a wholehearted though blind urge to believe in something, no matter the cost. However, nothing, including a wish to believe, can justify the false “facts” on which pseudoscience is based. Consequently, pseudoscience is nothing more than a balm for the souls of believers.


Related essays