If you watch any of the paranormal TV shows that are so popular now, then you've heard the investigators talk about EMFs and detectors and how to use them to hunt ghosts. But what are they, and how do they work?
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are generated when an electrical current passes through a conductive material. The electrical field is always present and rarely changes, while the magnetic field fluctuates with the current. For instance, when a stove is plugged into a wall, there's always an electrical field, even when the stove is turned off, but the magnetic field will increase when the stove is turned on and in use. Any item with a power source will produce an electromagnetic field in a room, and this includes a ghost hunter's own equipment
, such as a cellphone.
Other items in an area can also produce an EMF. For instance, copper is a natural electrical conductor, so copper pipes in a home will produce an EMF. However, these fields tend to produce constant readings without fluctuation.
EMF detectors were designed to locate and measure man-made electromagnetic fields, and there are many different types available. Many ghost hunters use EMF detectors believing a high reading or disruption in a field is a sign of a spirit presence. However, this may not be true.
A normal EMF reading is from 0.1 to 10 mG (milli-Gauss), and the manual that comes with each EMF detector will usually include a chart showing what's standard for that model for various appliances and sources. It should be noted that base readings should be made when appliances are both on and off and only when the meter user is standing still. Fields can fluctuate, which will cause a reading to spike. However, meter users can also walk between fields, causing a "spike" on the meter. While this may appear to be a fluctuation in the field, it's actually a change in the user's location, produced as they walk from one field into another.
So why do ghost hunter's think an EMF spike means a spirit may be present? One of the prevailing theories is that ghosts need energy to "feed on" in order to manifest. If that's the case, then a natural conclusion would be that areas with high EMF readings would attract ghosts as a restaurant would attract patrons. As a spirit "feeds," it then produces a phenomena, or spike, to show its presence.
However, a theory in the medical community is that exposure to high EMFs, or even prolonged exposure to low-moderate EMFs, may interfere with the body's natural electrical system. Just as a power surge can disrupt the electrical system in your home and cause things such as your lights to flicker, so can a disruption in the body's system cause little flickers and bobbles, producing a variety of symptoms.
Reported symptoms of high or prolonged EMFs include headaches, anxiety, a feeling of being watched or not alone, depression, fatigue, sleeping disorders and nausea, and there have even been reports of hallucinations and suicide.
Michael Persinger, Professor of Psychology at Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada, has his own theory regarding EMFs and ghosts. In his book, Hauntings and Poltergeists, Dr. Persinger theorizes even weak EMF exposure can stimulate a person's temporal lobe and thus produce a sensation of not being alone or being surrounded by unseen beings.
Another theory of Dr. Persinger's is that paranormal experiences are simply side effects of the brain's two halves trying to work together to figure out something. The right hemisphere of the brain controls emotion and certain stimulus will trigger activity. When the left, or language, side of the brain attempts to figure this out, "misfires" can occur. This will result in flickers of lights, brief glimpses of old memories, etc. and could explain ghost lights, apparitions and other supposedly paranormal experiences.
So, if even weak EMFs can produce "paranormal" experiences then high EMF readings should not be used as evidence of a spirit presence but rather should be used to dispute a haunting since their presence could actually explain the phenomenon in question.
At a bed and breakfast in West Tennessee, guests frequently report awakening in the middle of the night to see figures at the foot of their bed, as well as other paranormal phenomena such as the sounds of voices. Because of these first-hand accounts, as well as the presence of high EMF readings, many ghost hunting
groups have "certified" this establishment as haunted.
An investigation of this establishment by the American Paranormal Society (APS) turned up high EMF readings, especially around the head of each bed, where there were window air conditioning units, clock radios and other devices. When the air conditioners were on, the EMFs were unusually high, and someone sleeping in that environment could actually experience hallucinations and sleep paralysis due to the constant temporal lobe stimulation.
Sleep paralysis occurs when one half of the brain continues to dream even as the other half awakens. This results in your dream being projected onto your actual surroundings. You experience your dream as if it's real, and you're unable to get out of it until both hemispheres of the brain sync up again.
The voices heard by guests could be explained the same way, but they could have also had a different, but equally normal, explanation. Just behind the bed & breakfast, though hidden by a wall of shrubs, was a 24-hour market which remained very busy and active both nights of the APS investigation. Many times conversations between market patrons could be clearly heard through open windows and even partially heard through closed ones.
The APS could not declare this bed & breakfast haunted since all evidence gathered during the two-day investigation could be explained via natural means.
So, if you plan to use an EMF detector your ghost hunting kit
, be aware that it may not tell you if a spirit is present. It may, however, help you explain what may not
be paranormal in nature.