Unenlightened spirit communication – ‘yes or no’ devices

As part of the talk I deliver to Skeptics in the Pub groups I often touch upon how modern ghost hunters are often just upgraded seance participants of the past whose main aim is to talk to ghosts. The only thing that has changed is the medium they use to communicate with them through. In times gone by that medium would be a table (for table tipping perhaps), a seance circle, a Ouija board, a person who claimed to have the ability to communicate with spirit, or perhaps a glass that the spirit would push around a surface (this was sometimes replaced with a top hat or similar).

Although people still use such Spiritualist methods today, ghost hunting has become much more hi-tech in the last few decades with devices being used to both rule out naturally occurring causes for phenomena witnessed, and for pseudo-scientific reasons such as detecting fluctuations in Electro-Magnetic Fields alleged to be caused by a ghost manifesting. Yet, there’s another purpose these devices are used for that doesn’t set modern ghost researchers apart from the antique ghost hunters of the Victorian Seance Parlour.

When EMF meters don’t find anything interesting they are sometimes turned into what I like to call a yes or no device, as are any other devices that light up or makes a noise. The idea is quite simple – you place the device on a table or the floor and ask questions that can be answered with ‘yes or no’. You might ask ‘Did you die here? Make the EMF meter light up for yes’, or ‘is your name Elizabeth? Make the device beep to answer yes’. Devices such as the K2 meter (a type of EMF meter, pictured above right) that have a selection of coloured lights are often used to detect a ghosts strength with ghost researchers asking the spirit to ‘light the meter up as far as you can’. The more lights lit, it seems, the stronger the spirit.

I can remember taking part in a ‘vigil’ with some ghost researchers I’d never met before in a pub in Devizes, Wiltshire. After a number of hours of trying to experience something ghostly and failing the other people present got a torch (or flashlight) out of their bag and unscrewed the bottom of the torch which you would normally do to put new batteries in. The bottom part remained loosely in place and they then placed the torch on a bed in one of the rooms and began to ask questions of the ghost, asking it to light up or turn off the bulb in the torch in response. The light did go on and off occasionally- sometimes seemingly in response to a question, sometimes in response to nothing at all, and sometimes when the alleged ghost was asked to turn the torch on or off,nothing happened. However those occasions when the torch seemed to respond to a question were noted as spirit communication and the times when the light turned on or off without command, or didn’t respond were overlooked completely.

Many ghost researchers who use these techniques fail to acknowledge the huge flaws in their thought processes. For example, ignoring the times the torch or the EMF meter don’t respond to a question but making a big deal out of the times the device does seem to respond is a form of  cherry picking – a form of Selection bias, as is Confirmation bias which sees humans favour information that supports their beliefs or hypothesis e.g. that ghosts exist.

Believing that a yes or no device is responding to their questions is a conclusion ghost hunters reach with no supporting evidence and based only on hearsay from other researchers and their own positive experiences. There is nothing that supports the idea that a ghost can and does effect these devices and there is nothing to support the idea that ghosts cause/have an energy that they can manipulate to interact with an EMF meter or the bulb in a torch. On the other hand we know that EMF meters detect naturally occurring (and naturally fluctuating) Electro-Magnetic Fields, and that if you loosen up the connection between the bulb in a torch and the batteries used to light it, the bulb will flicker because it does not have the constant power source it needs to stay lit. Ignoring these demonstrable causes for the effects experienced when something is turned into a yes or no device is irrational and desperate.

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

13 thoughts on “Unenlightened spirit communication – ‘yes or no’ devices”

  1. Dear Haley
    I make a lot of electronic and mechanical devices/ We have met a couple of times. The things, I imagine that ghost hunters use have been debunked, so they are returning to psychic ideas which cannot be sourced as none- detectable. he other devices they use, thermometers, ultrasound, and EF meters are not designed to detect spirits they are designed to detect EM and other fields. So this is why they have ‘backed off’ from meters to using ‘psychics’ who don’y exist.

  2. Hi Hayley,
    Thank you for sharing my video. The link does not seem to play very quickly for some reason so I have added the link below for your readers.


    I have struggled to understand what prompts people to believe in so called phenomena occurring which provides them their confirmation of belief without rational testing in a controlled environment. This has led me to a deep scepticism and changed my interest to one of studying the psychological effect of investigations on ‘investigators’ and participants and trying to find rational explanations for witness claims. Although I do not participate in séances and the like I find the conscious and unconscious responses of subjects quite fascinating. For me this is just a hobby as my day job does not allow me to take it any further, although I have completed ASSAP training and take the education of good practice quite seriously.

    As you probably know, referrals are few, so in order to experience a location which is reputedly haunted, you sometimes have to team up with another group to share the cost. The methods of investigation vary and the scale of belief does so likewise. A lot of investigation methodology seems to be derived from television series such as Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters. The subject of electro-magnetic field detectors being used in investigation has been debated to death and is now due for another review by ASSAP. An increasing trend though is the use of the Maglite torch to identify when a ‘spirit’ is close and communicate with it. The Maglite head or base is unscrewed to such an extent that it is just in contact with the battery. This causes it to flicker on and off. It is usually left in the off position and then if it illuminates it may indicate the presence of a ‘spirit’.

    At this particular event, myself and a friend, who are members of the BSPRI, were guests of another group investigating (or should I say trying to experience paranormal activity), at Bodmin Jail. The host, Mark, had set up a Maglite torch in one of the rooms with cells and we found it to be flickering. We started to ask questions to see if the flickering and on and off of the torch responded to them. To my surprise the torch did seem to respond on cue, however, as can be seen from the video, if you keep asking, to fill the gaps between the changes of activity of the torch, it will eventually change. As you can see, those who have a tendency to believe in the afterlife and ghosts were encouraged by this. Their bias may have allowed them to believe that this was not merely coincidence. This was an impromptu experiment as I was not prepared to leave it without setting up a camera to show what happened to the torch with no human presence. As you can see it makes no difference (the control and test were longer than shown on Youtube). My group carried out a similar experiment this weekend with less favourable results for the believer.

    This method of detecting a so called ‘spirit’, is pseudo-scientific and based on assumption (will offend spiritualists and psychic mediums at this point). However, it seems that unless you provide evidence in support of this argument, people will continue to use it. It’s just another gadget, like the Franks box.

    [These are my views only and not necessarily those of the all of the members of the BSPRI or Supernatural Investigations].


  3. So because it doesn’t light up on command every single time, how is this “proof” that it is NOT paranormal in nature still? Some of the theories involve the spirit expending energy to accomplish some tasks, and if you expend energy, you might not have enough to another task. Because it cannot be proven to be so doesn’t make it wrong, because you cannot prove it to be “not true” either. It doesn’t make your stance right. It makes both stances “unproveable” and therefor does not make either side more right or wrong than the other.

    1. If you are claiming it is paranormal in nature then the please provide the evidence. I have given solid, logical reasons why it is unlikely to be paranormal in nature. You cannot, after all, prove a negative.

    2. @David Howard – Down the road from me is a street light that keeps flashing on and off. Perhaps a bus load of ‘researchers’ would like to come and communicate with the ‘other side’ or should someone just phone the council and get it fixed?

  4. I am interested to know how you can have a theory about a spirit expending energy. Surely if you wanted to prove this theory you would not use a torch. A Spectrum Analyser might be more appropriate. Some evidence of the existence of ghosts might be helpful also.

  5. Using paranormal hunter’s logic: I believe that you can use a methane sensor to detect the presence of ghosts. It is my belief so therefore it is a correct assumption. Anytime the sensor shows a positive reading, it is proof of the presence of a ghost.

    Of course methane sensors are also very good at detecting bullshit.

  6. hi hayley,

    i am interested in the questions/commands that are being asked and how the spirits understand them. in the video for example there are questions of turning the torch off and on. in my opinion this to me is a relatively modern term of phrase. how do spirits who would have lit a lamp/torch and put one out understand these commands or interprt them correctly in the context of how we understand them. maybe i am missing something so appologies if there is a simple explanation.

    1. Well that’s another question added to the pile of questions about this, isn’t it?

      I’m not sure if you read the post fully or not, but I’m not claiming this method works…

    2. There’s also the question of the spirit having some basic knowledge of electricity and how the internals of the torch work, in order to manipulate them to cause flickering.

    3. thanks for your replay hayley. i never intended to question whether you think this method works as is it clear from the post your position on this method. yes it is another question added to the pile.

  7. You know anything about “veridical apparitions?” You know, apparitions involving the transfer of unknown knowledge or that are seen by many people. Stuff from the “Report on the census of hallucinations”. Thanks.

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