Rather frequently, I find myself ranting about paranormal equipment and methods. I don't mean to. I just can't help it! Yesterday, I watched a group, live streaming an investigation, using equipment that could be described as dodgy at best. I lasted no more than 2 minutes before turning it off. My frustrations lie, not with the group or individuals, who tend to be enthusiastic and well-meaning, but the equipment they use and the 'evidence' that they purport to provide. Top of the list of these bug-bears has to be the spirit box.
The spirit box is a device which is used to supposedly contact spirits through the use of radio frequencies. Although the idea that being able to pick up spirit communication through the use of white noise is not entirely new, via the invention of the Frank's box in 2002 and the popular SB-7 model in 2009 and SB-11 in 2014, the use of spirit boxes among the paranormal community has exploded in popularity. Helped, in no small part, by the promotion of Gary Galka's inventions on episodes of Ghost Adventures, the spirit box has become a standard piece of equipment which offers instant responses from 'spirits' to an investigators questions.
I will admit to using both the SB-7 and SB-11 spirit boxes in the past and to this day, my SB-7 still lies sadly forgotten in my equipment box. I have been in haunted locations in the past and the SB-7 has responded to seemingly intelligent questions such as: "How many spirits are there in this place?"
"Nine," came the reply.
And in other situations, quite common with spirit boxes, I would get swearing i.e. "Why are you here?" quickly followed by a very polite "Fuck you".
So what do I make of this? Surely with intelligent responses and swearing, this can't possibly be the work of random radio clips as the spirit box scans through the frequencies?
Are we indeed picking up genuine spirit communication? In a word, no. The cause of these 'spirit voices' are due, I believe, to two factors - Pareidolia and what psychologists call Subjective Validation. Let's take each in turn:
Pareidolia is defined as a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists.
Essentially, your mind will make words or simple phrases out of the clips of radio frequencies created by the spirit box. Come on, be honest, how many times have you heard this on TV?:
Investigator: "Do you have a message for one of us? Do you mean us any harm?"
Investigator: "Demon! I heard demon!"
Subjective Validation is the process of validating words, statements or other such signs as accurate if that person can attach personal meaning or significance to them. When subjective validation is at play, an investigator is in danger of hearing two or more unrelated words using a spirit box and then relating them together, finding personal meaning in those words where no link actually exists.
Coincidentally, this is also why I believe investigators should avoid studying historical information before entering a location and for using any equipment (such as the Ovilus), which uses random word generators. Both of which might also allow investigators to see meaning in unrelated information due to their personal desires or belief in the paranormal.
Let's go back to those SB-7 responses I previously mentioned for a moment. Am I, or any investigator for that matter, receiving validated responses when they use a spirit box? Obviously every case is different but I am more inclined to believe that the more likely reason for such responses is a combination of subjective validation and pareidolia. Was I really hearing, in response to my question about how many spirits there were, an answer of 'nine'? More likely, I heard noises which had the same phonetic sound. For example, if I heard the sound 'oo' I might link this to the number two, the sound 'ee' might be linked to the number three and so on. And the swearing? What is more likely? That I have a 'spirit' saying 'fuck you' or was it a radio clip which included the 'oo' sound?
So that's that then. Spirit boxes are bunkum. A categorical hoax.
Well, not quite. No investigator can be that closed off to possibilities. I'm a skeptical paranormal investigator not a skeptic. Two very different things entirely.
I would be more than happy to hear examples of EVP's captured through the use of a spirit box which goes beyond mere pareidolia. Clear, repeated and accurate answers in response to questioning over a substantial period of time would help. Use of a faraday bag, designed to block the vast majority of sounds from FM channels (though less successful with AM channels), would also add greater credibility to spirit box sessions.
I personally don't use spirit boxes anymore simply because I believe that the most likely cause of voices is nothing more than clips of radio broadcasts. The rest is down to psychology not the paranormal. At the end of the day, the paranormal is a belief. What you choose to believe about spirit boxes is down to you. The late Frank Sumption, inventor of the Frank's box, explained his theory about how 'spirits' use the box thus:
The box is one method of supplying what is known as “raw audio”, a term I lifted from EVPmaker meaning bits of human speech and other noise–forget white noise. The entities, both human and non human, rearrange this raw audio to make their voices.
Frank Sumption, 2011
You might believe Frank's position that spirits are able to manipulate 'raw audio' or not. You might believe that spirit boxes are truly a means of spirit communication or, like me, you might be more skeptical. I'll just leave you with one last quote from Frank Sumption (link):
...as usual with all these paranormal expert twits, y’all have it all figured out, know all the answers, nothing left to discover, all is known, just sit back, throw out these idiotic statements and idiots eat the crap up!
With that sentiment ringing in our ears, whatever you believe, let's make sure that we still remain open to the possibilities of spirit communication, and in whatever form that might take.