Quite often when I am being questioned about my involvement in ghost research people get really hung up on the fact that I stopped believing in ghosts. They sometimes really struggle to get their head around the idea that someone who actively hunted for evidence of ghosts, had weird experiences while doing so, believed in ghosts and psychics and all other sorts of jiggery-pokery could suddenly decide that she was wrong and shed those beliefs completely.
To some people it’s such a huge commitment to say “oops, I was wrong” about something so… so life and death.
But it wasn’t an “oops, I as wrong” moment. It was a long hard look at all of the hours I spent in dark buildings in the cold convincing myself there was more than life and death and admitting it was time wasted, a fruitless venture, a mistake…
So easy it would have been to allow that time (not to mention money) invested to convince me there was something to it, but maintaining an open mind is important to me and the decision I made that so shocks people today is simply the product of an open mind. That’s all. Once I knew I was barking up the wrong tree I couldn’t allow myself to be drawn in by the allure of ignoring protesting information. I believed in ghosts because at that point in my life that made the most sense to me but after two years spent actually looking for ghosts I started to notice that the explanations offered up by people who didn’t agree that ghosts were real made more sense and I couldn’t ignore that because my aim has always been to understand the world around me and my place in it.
Why am I telling you this?
I love a good urban legend, folk tale, ghost or monster story as much as the next person but I think it’s important to acknowledge where fantasy and reality meet and it’s important to share that information. Annoying then that a number of paranormal proponents would have you believe that anyone who offers a rational alternative to their paranormal explanation is a spoil sport and closed minded.
This is a claim that I wholeheartedly reject, and one I have seen too many so-called authorities in paranormal communities using as a scapegoat lately.
In my experience the antidote to a false claim of being open-minded is rational inquiry of the claims the person is making. “I’m open minded about Electronic Voice Phenomena” quickly becomes “I’m open minded about Electronic Voice Phenomena and fuck you for thinking otherwise!” Start poking around the ideas someone says are true with a reason stick and they’ll grab the stick from your hands and beat you over the head with it just as quickly. Usually while claiming to be open minded and not realising that they are, in fact, being closed minded and being intolerant of open-minded discourse.
Ouija boards, mirror scrying and seances are great examples of this issue – widely debunked and yet still very popular, these spirit communication methods often crop up in headlines and RSS feeds because people are superstitious and believe them to be real. Often because people who stand to profit from the belief in these ideas have told them they are real. People genuinely think these methods can bring them harm, that they can be possessed or that they can bring a demon or malevolent entity into their home if they’re not careful. I don’t think that countering this information makes one a spoilsport – I think it’s the right thing to do.
Yet I don’t even think you need to be able to justify the countering of a claim by how much harm the false claim can cause. Bad information should always be countered with good information. False claims with factual claims. A reader of my blog recently got in touch to say that ‘the tool-kit that skepticism has provided me has been less of a ‘candle in the dark’ and more of a ‘blowtorch to the bullshit” after what skeptics wrote and shared helped them to make sense of their own personal experiences. No longer fearful of sleep-related incidents they can now make sense of their hallucinations and this is why it’s important to have these conversations and to share our knowledge. We shouldn’t keep it to ourselves just because people happen to be affronted by it.
Describing yourself as open-minded is fashionable within paranormal research circles – always has been. But actually being open minded… eh, not so fashionable! Accepting a large number of fantastical ideas as plausible doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an open mind but could indicate that you are fantasy prone and if you can’t enjoy your ghost toys because some mean skeptic has a different opinion than you then perhaps you need to pack up your toys and go home until you’re grown up enough to play with the big kids?