• Dr. Timothy Smith

The Spooky Tools of the Trade: How Ghost Hunters Attempt to See the Unseen


Photo Source: PxFuel


With Halloween approaching, ghost stories from horror movies to ghost hunting reality shows will increasingly seek our attention. Stories both current and ancient tell tales of people encountering spectral apparitions, and the public’s appetite for all things ghostly has not diminished over the years. A cursory check reveals over one hundred reality series have aired detailing the search for ghosts with titles such as Ghost Hunters, Haunted Highway, Paranormal State, and Scream Team. Moreover, the Pew Research Center found that 18% of Americans claim to have seen a ghost, and 29% felt in touch with someone who had already died. (pewresearch.org) A Gallup poll confirmed the Pew Research and extended the findings to conclude the three out of four Americans believe in some form of the paranormal, such as extrasensory perception, haunted houses, and clairvoyance. (gallup.com)


With such a broad section of society believing in the paranormal, the popularity of ghost hunting shows makes perfect sense. Apart from visiting spooky places occupied by rumored ghosts, how else do ghost hunters try to find these elusive spirits? Ghost hunters have various devices that detect physical phenomena, such as the electromagnetic field detector, the ghost box, and the laser grid. A quick viewing of ghost hunting reality shows or online search reveals several tools marketed for ghost detection. These tools are readily available online from some vendors such as GhostStop, Walmart, or Amazon, sold separately or as a kit.


A mainstay of the ghost hunter remains the electromagnetic field or EMF detector. It sounds fancy, but the EMF sensor simply measures the halo of energy and magnetism caused by the flow of electricity. For example, electricity flowing through powerlines, moving through a smartphone, through a lightning bolt, or the signals moving through your brain all produce detectable electromagnetic fields. We all have a halo of energy. The earth also produces an electromagnetic field. You can see it move the needle in a compass. EMF detectors sense magnetic and electric frequency changes. Some paranormal researchers believe that ghosts consist of a measurable electromagnetic field that lives on after the body dies. Ghost hunting EMF detectors do not have the sensitivity to detect a living person’s faint aura. It stands to reason that the even softer electric field of a specter could not move the needle, so to speak, of an EMF ghost detector.


Another popular tool for exploring the paranormal goes by the name of ghost box. The ghost box scans across the spectrum of fuzzy noise in the AM and FM radio frequencies, searching for voices from beyond the grave. Analog radios had a knob that, when twisted, would scroll through the AM or FM radio waves to find different radio stations. The radio would make a hissing sound called static while turning the knob until one found the right frequency for the radio station you were looking for. The ghost box searches through the static, looking for signals from beyond. Frequently, paranormal researchers will ask questions of unseen spirits at purportedly haunted sites and then record the white noise of the scans to hear voices. According to GhostStop.com, sweeping through the radio frequency allows for communication with entities. However, we must keep in mind that apart from artificial radio signals such as AM and FM radio towers and high voltage powerlines, nature produces radio signals from atmospheric events such as lightning and stars' activity such as the sun. (nasa.gov) So far, radio waves do not appear to emanate from living things or act as a medium of communication except for humans broadcasting over the airwaves.


Another popular tool for ghost hunting uses laser beams to project a grid pattern. The devices called laser grid sensor arrays work by sending out laser light in specific designs. (theghosthunterstore.com) The patterns remain steady as long as nothing with mass gets in the way. If a physical body were to step into the grid of lasers, the pattern would get disturbed. The laser grid detects the disturbance and records it. The detector possesses the sensitivity to measure movement and even get a sense of the shape of whatever is moving in front of the lasers. In principle, the laser grid should detect a body moving through its array. However, laser light does not interfere with other types of light, and if the ghost hunter is looking for a specter made only of energy, this tool will not deliver valuable results.


Many people in the US believe in some paranormal activity, from ghosts to extrasensory perception. In an age of increasing technology, it follows that paranormal researchers would try to use technology to study paranormal activities such as haunted houses and ghosts. In response to the popularity of paranormal research reality shows and a growing number of paranormal enthusiasts, several companies now provide an array of technical tools for ghost hunting, all available online. Fluctuations of an EMF detector will add drama to a spooky scene like an abandoned house or graveyard late at night. Still, the source will likely have other explanations, such as a power surge or energy emanating from an electronic device. The ghost box helps explore radio waves for voices from beyond the grave, and the laser array detects moving bodies. However, if ghosts represent a deceased person's residual essence, these tools cannot measure what ghost hunters are looking for. It does not mean that ghosts do not exist. Rather, the current tools cannot help.




Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.


You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.