More Options

Where Is the Science in Electronic Voice Phenomena?


Everett A. Themer

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.6, November/December 2013

It is hard to turn on the television today without coming across a program about ghosts and the paranormal. These shows might shine an entertaining light on the unknown, but they are often more about their cast of characters and investigators than the science of parapsychology.

Since the 1920s, when Thomas Edison hinted that he might have attempted to build a “ghost machine” to communicate with the dead, some have tried to apply a scientific method to proving the existence of life after death. So far this has been unsuccessful, and to this day every group of investigators, both amateur and professional, has their own set of protocols as to what is or is not considered paranormal (see Sharon Hill’s “Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups Doing ‘Sciencey’ Things,” SI, March/April 2012).

With no universally accepted methods of investigating the paranormal, the beliefs of investigators can greatly influence the outcomes of their own investigations. Some investigators believe removing objects from a location will end a possible haunting. Others use objects to capture spirits, and psychic investigators believe spirits can be blessed or cast away. None of these methods have been scientifically proven, yet every investigator claims that the method they use is successful.

In pursuit of scientifically verifiable evidence, tools of all types have been employed. Many theories about detecting paranormal activity have been tested using everything from dowsing rods to Geiger counters. While the evidence they provide is scientifically debated, some tools such as audio recorders have become popular mainstays of the paranormal investigator.

sound waves and shadowy figures

The art of recording EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena, is one of the most widely accepted methods of collecting evidence. Originally, a portable tape recorder was used to record an investigator asking a series of questions and waiting for responses in the silence following each question. After the EVP session, the tape was played back and investigators listened for intelligent and relevant responses caught on the tape but not audible to the ear at the time. The theory is that spirits do not have enough energy to create sounds audible to the human ear but can leave impressions on the tape.

As technology advanced, digital recorders replaced tape recorders, and investigators began processing the recordings through computer programs and filters. Using these filters, background noise could be eliminated and frequencies isolated. Hypothetically this made it easier to hear the spirit voices. Lacking any scientific protocol, some investigators began manipulating the speed of the recordings. Their belief is that ghosts exist on a different dimensional plane than the living and would communicate in a different frequency range. In their opinion this means that the recordings need to be sped up or slowed down to hear any responses.

Some investigators began processing their recordings so much that to an independent listener it might be impossible to tell the difference between a response and ambient noise manipulated and processed into sounding like intelligent communication. At the other end of the EVP spectrum are recordings of investigators asking questions and the responses that they get are so obvious and clear without any processing that the recordings are either intentional hoaxes or definitive proof of life after death.

In its current form, the recording of electronic voice phenomena is more of an art than a science. With no accepted protocols, results are often vague and left to personal interpretation. Why would some spirits communicate on different frequencies and at different speeds while other spirits are able to give a response that sounds almost as if they are standing in front of the recorder? Scientifically it stands to reason that spirits would respond one way or the other and that method would be universal within the spirit world.

What happens after we die may be an unanswerable question, but as the interest in parapsychology grows it is time for both believers and skeptics to look at the field and begin to adapt some universal protocols for its study. Until these are created, real evidence and data are going to get lost in a soup of frauds, natural phenomena, and poor science.

Everett A. Themer

Everett A. Themer's photo

Everett A. Themer is an audio engineer and copywriter for a Midwestern marketing company. He used to be an active researcher into paranormal concepts until he became tired of people going into it proclaiming that they intended to be science-based but in reality just wanting to find activity they could claim as paranormal.