Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A review of the Discovery Channel's new paranormal investigation-themed show GHOST LAB

I like all the paranormal investigation shows. I like this one, too. I haven't seen any that I judge to be so poorly done that I can't enjoy it at least somewhat. While I (so far) still prefer the original Ghost Hunters, this one is at least as engaging as GHI and appeals to me more than Most Haunted (which disappointed me for not detecting Derek Acorah as a fraud before putting him on the show in the first place).

The Klinge brothers have set themselves apart from the other shows and investigative bodies by having a particular "theory" that they wish to advance, which they call their "Era Cues" theory. It is good that they did that, and it is a reminder of the scientific mission that these men are on, which is emphasized by the show's title and the name of their group: Ghost "LAB".
But to me, they do not seem quite at home with the vocabulary of science. I could be getting the wrong impression of course, but I am the viewer, and they are the ones making the show. If I get the wrong impression, is that entirely my fault?

Their use of the term "theory" for their proposed "Era Cues"methodology is a case in point. Until their idea is rigorously and repeatedly tested under conditions that could disconfirm it, what they technically have is more like a hypothesis. Moreover, the term "theory" tends to be used to designate an explanation of some thing or event that places it in a broader conceptual relation to the natural world. It is supposed to present us with a testable vision how this phenomenon might fit in with our "Big Picture" of how the world works. It does not seem to me that the "Era Cues" notion does this. If it does, the first episode fails to make it clear. In fact, in this premiere episode they did something worse than merely ignoring and neglecting this point -- they vaguely and inexplicably relate "era cues" to a notion of "parallel universes" that they attribute to "quantum physics" without giving us any idea how these ideas are related.

How would the evidence of paranormal activity instigated by the use of "era cues" lend any support whatsoever to Hugh Everett's Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics, known more popularly as the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics or the Everett-Wheeler-Graham Model of wave collapse? Is the idea here that ghosts are not spirits of dead people, but actually living denizens of "parallel worlds" where "eras" that are part of our past are still present? If that is the case, why is this show called "Ghost Lab"? Shouldn't it be "Advanced Quantum Physics Lab"?

Ghosts are spirits of dead people. The "Parallel Worlds" of quantum physics as conceived in the EWG model are not spiritual worlds. They are all physical worlds, quantifiable in the wave collapse equation. Actually, to be more strictly accurate, they are all mathematically distinct physical aspects of one world that is merely much vaster than we perceive, in which all physical possibilities are instantiated, even though only one coherent possible scenario is ever available to our senses, scientific instruments and consciousness. (NOTE: In case you didn't catch it, I said only one world is available to our "scientific instruments" - that is, to our digital recorders, our camcorders, our thermal imaging cameras, our cold-spot-detecting air thermometers, etc. That means there is no way to use these instruments to test the theory that there are "parallel worlds"). The inhabitants of these "parallel worlds" are all alive, and most of them are alternate versions of us. There is no reason why they would be "era-specific". The "universe next door" has a slightly different me, and yes, I might be rock-and-roll singer in a world where the cultural events that we remember as having occurred in the 50's didn't happen until the turn of the millennium, or I might be dead in one of these "parallel worlds". But how would either of those possibilities enable me to leave EVP evidence in THIS perceivable version of events, in which I am both alive and not a 50's-type crooner in 2009?

The suggestion that these ideas are related is baffling, and while I don't want prematurely draw with certainty and finality the conclusion that it is definitely as absurd as it seems and a sign of more absurdities to come, I don't know how long I will be able to hold out open mind for this show. I will absolutely try to catch the next episode, and I expect I will still be trying to judge it as charitably as I can. But this talk of an "Era Cues Theory" is at least as likely to distract and annoy me as it is to draw me in to the drama of the show.

Don't get me wrong, it is not that I mind that the "Era Cues" idea is unoriginal (Ryan Buell's use of a civil war re-enactment to provoke paranormal activity at the Tillie Pierce House in the 17th episode of Paranormal State season three, "Ghosts of Gettysburgh" certainly fits the Klinges' description of what would qualify as "era cues"). Good ideas deserve to propagated widely and tested independently. That's not my problem. My problem is that the insistence on calling this notion a "theory" without explaining how it qualifies as one that is likely to get on my nerves.
I will keep watching and try to keep an open mind, and, despite my criticism here (which might, I admit, seem harsh), I applaud the Klinge brothers for what they do. I admire all competent paranormal investigators. You are all at the cutting edge of science, ahead of the curve, gathering the data that will eventually topple the dominant materialist paradigm, which I liken to Bernie Lomax, the dead guy in the movie "Weekend At Bernies". He may look hale, hardy and healthy, but that's the con. When materialism is finally revealed to be as dead as Descartes, I have no doubt in my mind that you who gathered the evidence for a spiritual aspect to the universe will be the ones whose work will have been responsible for blowing the gaffe.

Perhaps I should end this review with an expression of appreciation for what I am glad the Klinges did NOT do in this first episode. We saw no mediums telling us what they see or feel, but which we cannot see or feel and have to take their word for it. I appreciate that because I tend to be skeptical psychics and when I hear them give their spiel I cannot forget for a moment that they could just be making it all up. We also did not see multiple pictures of "orbs", which are almost always just dust and lens flares. The Klinges seem focused on gathering only a few pieces of truly first rate scientific evidence rather than diluting that evidence by pooling it with all the crap in the kitchen sink. That commands my respect.