The “ghost” who moved the chair and killed the dog

A family in the U.K. (Coventry) say they have a poltergeist or mischievious ghost in their home. The story was reported in the Daily Mail.

Those who believe in the supernatural use stories like this to bolster their worldview that there is more to nature than we can explain with our earth-bound laws. I’m not a supernatural believer. I’m going to play armchair skeptic here and point out the various flubs to illustrate how one can view these stories with a critical eye. It’s not meant to be disrespectful towards the people in the story or those who wrote it, however, it’s worth emphazing that the media does not always give us the information we need to truly make a sound conclusion. They aim, instead, to give us a good story.

I see a number of places where what is stated makes little sense and immediately raises questions…

A preist was called in. The family is spreading salt around and wearing crucifixes.This assumes there is some sort of demon or evil force involved – straight out of the movies. The existence of demons or evil entities has NEVER been established except in superstition. This suggested cause further assumes that the evil force is repelled by Christian symbols which will protect the residents. The afflicted resident requested to have a preist brought in. Therefore, the resident holds prior beliefs about evil infestations. Immediately, we see a bias in the way the resident is viewing the issues in her home and they are based on superstitious causes.

Video of door and moving chair. How easy is it to make one of these videos? Astoundingly easy. And, what does it show? That doors open by themselves. I’m not really scared by a moving chair. Hurl it at me and maybe then I might be. Unimpressive. Easy to fake. I’m not even going to go into detail about how utterly fakey this video is with cuts and the fact that YOU CAN HEAR A PERSON IN THE BACKGROUND. The mother says the “footage proves a ghost exists.” It does no such thing; no more than a common magic trick can “prove” that a woman can be sawn in half. All it “proves” is that a video appears to show a moving chair. We can not go beyond that without examination of the location and more reliable observation than a video that can easily be faked or manipulated. I’m not as fast and loose with “proof”, especially when you are claiming to overturn what we know about nature.

Update 3/30/11: Here is the video recreated (and EVEN better, I think) by Hayley Stevens and the British Anomalistic Research Society. Great job!

A medium calls the house a “portal”. There is no basis for such a claim. If there were such a thing as “portals”, we should be able to detect them with instruments. No one has. Besides, mediums go by feelings, not facts, not measurements. Feelings are pretty worthless in this case because they are totally objective and are very influenced by what you are already know or have heard about the site.

The children started hearing noises and seeing objects move. Many poltergeist events have been established as kids playing tricks. Kids can be very naughty. And, they love to use it to get attention. I am not saying this is the case here but it is one that must be considered. It is also an explanation that is far more likely than concluding that a discarnate entity is inhabiting your house, making messes and moving furniture. Just saying.

The pet dog was killed when it was “apparently shoved down the stairs” where the owner found him hurt. The vet reportedly said “his injuries were consistent with being shoved”. I rolled my eyes at this one. It raises a boatload more questions than it answers: Was the dog old? Could he have taken a mis-step and fallen? How can you determine injuries were consistent with being “shoved” when the fall presumably did him in? This claim makes absolutely no sense and, as presented, is ridiculous. One can hardly determine the difference between accidental fall and a “shove” IF (a big if) the injuries were from the physical trauma.

Our beliefs influence how we interpret the world around us. A ghost, a demon… we assume what we feel is a reasonable explanation in our own minds. And, any event that CAN be interpreted within that explanation, WILL be, especially if you do not look too hard at alternatives. There is much left unchecked here.

Notice what is not said in this story. Do the residents want out of this house for some reason? Are the children unhappy with a family situation? Are there psychological issues at play? We do not get the whole story. In fact, we get a deliberately constructed, singular view of the story from this article. It has a point to make – that this is a haunting.

If one makes such a claim, presumably, one would like to see it confirmed. A claim of this type can be tested. Trained observers (skeptical ones, that is, not some that are predisposed to paranormal beliefs) can check the rooms, set up cameras, and control the situation during observation, that is, keeping trickery out. This would not be a TV ghost hunter kind of observation setup (since theirs is non-skeptical/pro-paranormal, uncontrolled and edited version). This would be an empty-house, carefully observed, closed, detective-like investigation. I’d like to see a paranormal claimant allow such a test in their supposedly haunted house. They ought to allow it – for their own vindication and for science! Somehow, I don’t think this family is going to chose that particular route.

People who believe in the paranormal will tend to consider this story factual and credible. I find it to be neither. It’s a story. No more, no less. It’s a place to start, not to finish.

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Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.