Penn State’s Harrisburg campus hosted a presentation by Paranormal State’s Ryan Buell (with Sergey along) on October 2. The event attracted over 60 people of all ages. Primarily, the crowd was students, some with their parents. There were obviously several fans of the show.

I have never seen the show. I can’t be bothered with watching another ghost hunter show when there are already so many that have a similar formula – set up techie stuff, go into scary places, look all green and creepy on night vision camera and freak yourself out. I can’t see the value in shows about hauntings. It becomes formulaic, same old stuff.

I had several objectives in attending Ryan’s talk: to find out what makes his show different (if it is different at all), to see how the show and investigator group related to my alma mater PSU (if at all), and to see a presentation of evidence.

I got a lot of stories, some sound and video clips, pictures and more stories. To his credit, Ryan made clear that his idea of legitimate evidence is something that convinces them. That does not mean that it convinces you. “Nothing [he has] proves ghosts exists.” It comes down to a matter of trust – do you trust the person showing you the evidence has been truthful and interpreted it correctly – and belief in what you think caused it.

He began with some background on the paranormal. I suspect it bored the giggly girls sitting in front of me who wanted (foremost, to hookup with Ryan after the session and) to be scared. I was not impressed by his knowledge, actually. He flubbed up the famous photo of the “back seat passenger” by telling us the man in the front seat had been dead for a while without mentioning the dead lady appearing in the back seat at the time the photo was taken. See the photo and story here.

In describing why parapsychological research fizzled out after the boom times in the 60s and 70s, he related a quote from a researcher that concluded “We just didn’t know what our purpose was”. That’s lame. It’s more than that they were at a loss for purpose, they were at a loss for making progress. They did little to add credibility to their field or knowledge to our worldview and it died as a science. I felt he didn’t look into the history enough to really understand but, perhaps he just didn’t get to express that since we were off to more interesting topics.

Talking about the signs of a haunting (pets acting strange, knocking noises, seeing things out of the corners of your eyes, objects moved, etc.), I noticed that all the signs could more easily be explained by normal reasoning. Ryan clarified that some, but not all, so-called paranormal phenomenon have scientific explanations. As yet, there were no explanation for events like levitation. Here he clearly jumped several steps in the process. Paranormal advocates tend to do this all the time. We do not have clear evidence that levitation actually occurs (sans trickery) so why seek an explanation at all. Establish some facts first. Much of what was presented throughout failed to qualify in the strict definition of ‘fact’. Even if it is a fact, one should not jump to an interesting interpretation just for kicks (or attention). You should exclude common ones first. Ghost hunters fail to do this.

There were a few instances where Ryan revealed his motivation. First, he said “We’re not debunkers, cause what fun is that?” Also, he suggested we watch The Exorcist. [I’m not going to comment on that except to say you can see where he gets his inspiration.] Forget theory and foundation, he was eager to get to the fun/cool stuff that they recorded. Very well.

The demonic haunting tales got the giggly girls all nervous and exchanging big-eyed glances and “Oh, shit” comments. Ryan tells a story about his own childhood haunting and of a client that was possessed. The imagery he creates is downright chilling but also perfect fodder for horror movie scenes – evil grins that paralyze one with fear. Yikes. If I even think about that stuff, I get chills.

If demonic possession is real, it COMPLETELY destroys my current world view that there is no god vs devil battle going on and demons and angels are fictional tales that serve to enhance people’s perception about morality in life. Stories are just stories, however, and I couldn’t help but think these might be embellished or remembered with exaggerated effect – the way people typically tell stories.

Ryan makes an stunning but unsubstantiated religious assertion that, even in non-Christian cultures, a possessed individual will react to holy water and the name “Jesus Christ”. I do not believe this is true in comparison to use of some other important sounding name and the sprinkling of regular water.

The audience found his stories riveting. I enjoyed them too. They encouraged me to think about things; they got others to believe or enforced their already established beliefs.

Because the event went on for longer than I expected, I did not stay to ask questions. The information presented did not leave a wide opening for skeptical questioning. Also, I think I’d seen enough. I knew what made their show sort of unique. I saw the tenuous link to PSU but, for legal reasons, I would suggest they cut all ties. I was not certain I could phrase a question that Ryan would be able to answer in a clear way. There were no scientific minded folks here. What they presented was in no way scientific evidence. So, for me, it was not legitimate evidence. I did not trust them.

As I left, one lady remarked how the TAPS folks never seem to get the kind of stuff that these kids do.  [Hmm, I wonder if there is some competition going on there.] If these things really happen so frequently, why can’t they be documented better, by objective researchers, rather than ones with a vested interest in finding “cool” stuff? If the haunting reoccurs every event anniversary or ever day at the same time, why aren’t they drawing crowds who all experience it? What is the mechanism of hauntings?

What is the hypothesis they are trying to test? They aren’t. It’s not objective or structured as they lead you to believe.

What are the ghost hunting groups actually achieving besides entertainment? Nothing.

Color me still skeptical of ghost hunting.

12 thoughts on “Ghost hunting entertainment – Paranormal State lecture

  1. I watch a lot of these shows for the comedic experience and I think Paranormal State is probably the worst for actually trying to document what they investigate. It’s complete lunacy. They believe ghosts are only active at 3am (despite any time zone differences) but never provide any scientific reasoning for this, other than one of their mediums saying so. The show reminds me of a bunch of teenagers with sophisticated equipment having a laugh. For paranormal research it’s a big fail, but it does make for great comedy.

    The one big difference I notice with this show as opposed to the others is that they often claim to fix the paranormal happenings. They like to deal with possessions and poltergeists, and will claim to have cleansed the haunted dwellings.

  2. Yes, Julie, they did do that. They do seem to want to be the new Ed and Lorraine Warrens of the world. Off on the wrong track, I think.

  3. I had wanted to attend that event, but my wife farted out on me, and I’m not too keen on night driving anymore. (And for some reason I thought the event started at 8pm, not 7pm, so I would have missed an hour of it anyway.)

    The scariest (but not surprising) part of your commentary:

    “There were no scientific minded folks here.”

    Welcome to the American educational system.

  4. Paranormal State is not my favorite because there is better and there is worse but Paranormal State is completely different than the other three big ghost hunter’s shows. Julie, I think you are expecting to see the ghost hunters program in Paranormal State but you never will because they planned on doing something different from the beginning. Also, Ryan Buell was in diapers when Jason Hawes started TAPS so that makes a big difference.

    The only thing that turns me off is the demon/god issues they go into. That to me is a bunch of bologna but it’s their gig.

    I have 43 Paranormal State episodes in my blog (YouTubes) if anyone wants to take a gander. Paranormal Video Morgue

    One of the more interesting ones were Sixth Sense, where you’ll actually see a child who looks like he’ll be going off the deep end as an adult and Asylum, which is where they use Frank’s Ghost Box. That one is really interesting.


    Sixth Sense

    1. Thanks for your feedback. What criteria do you use for “better” and “worse”? Which shows are better or worse? There are so many with new ones appearing all the time – it’s hard to keep up. It’s also hard to believe they can adequately differentiate themselves when the formula appears to be so similar. Actually, if the PRS guys stuck to demonology, it really WOULD be different. More silly but different.

  5. There are really only four ghost hunter shows for now. Only one of them are running right now. They are all scheduled for a new season.

    Ghost Hunters International – Syfy (season is over), Ghost Hunters – Syfy (running now), Ghost Adventures – Travel Channel (season is over but doing a Halloween thing), and Paranormal State – A & E (season is over until Jan 2010).

    There is a 5th but it’s a youth program called “The Othersiders” and they are great considering their ages. It is very well put together and the kids are extremely mature for their ages. Also, they have a member in the group who is the house skeptic. I feel that all of those programs should have a house skeptic but they don’t. They do have one with a more curious side but that’s about it. The Othersiders is put together by CN Real. ‘Real’ is the teen age programming at Cartoon Network. I know it sounds silly but the kids are unbelievably professional. Here is one of their shows that I liked – watch a little bit of it and check out how great these kids are.

    Airport Boneyard

    And, there are a three brand new ones that start very soon, which will give us a total of 8.

    1.) Ghost Hunters Academy – Syfy, airs November 11. It’s a spinoff from Ghost Hunters as was Ghost Hunters International.

    Ghost Hunter’s Academy – Syfy

    2.) Ghost Lab – Discovery Channel and airs October 6. Previous to Ghost Lab, Discovery Channel carried (and still does) Most Haunted, which is a program out of the UK.

    Ghost Lab – Discovery

    3.) Extreme Paranormal (A & E) – Not a spinoff from Paranormal State but more like a copycat version of Ghost Adventures since they will be ones to taunt ghosts such as Ghost Adventures is notorious for. Obviously the viewers like that kind of stuff.

    Extreme Paranormal – A & E

    My favorite is Ghost Hunters and by the numbers it is the favorite. They’ll be going into their 6th season so obviously the numbers are there.

    I think that Ghost Hunters International is more professional though. Everything they do is on the other side of the big pond, be it England or the Czech Republic. Those are done very well and many of them touch on castles.

    Ghost Adventures I feel is for entertainment purposes only. They have a lot of hype going on during the program. Most likely a good deal of it is staged or overacted. Like I mentioned previously, they are the ones that specifically taunt ghosts. lol

    I believe very little that I see in all of the above. For me there are no facts, just questions.

    I have had a tremendous amount of paranormal experiences in my life ever since I was 5 and I’m 57 now so I know such exists but, I still question what happens on TV. I’m one of those – if I can’t see it or feel it and science hasn’t discovered anything yet, then it sits in that small compartment in my brain called possibility and in no way is it fact, theory or certainly the truth. I keep my sanity that way. 🙂

    Lastly, if you haven’t watched anything yet, you must watch this one – especially if you are a fan of Meatloaf. This one aired last Wednesday and was a real big hit for Syfy.

    Bat Out of Hell – Ghost Hunters with Meatloaf

    Sorry for the long comment, I tend to be too thorough sometimes.

  6. The only thing any of these goofy ghost hunting shows verifies is that the only piece of equipment you need to find a ghost is the nearest mirror, and look at the reflection of yourself. Ghosts are us! The paranormal is nothing more than an misinterpretation of natural occurrences fueled by a mythology.

    And as far as alleged evidence is concerned there isn’t any! They only had roughly 100 years to collect one piece of credible evidence. The only evidence they have collected have been experiences and unfortunately (for them) this is not evidence it only serves to convince the individual. And the gullible.


  7. First of all, doesn’t Lorraine Warren lack creditibility considering her involvement in the Amityville case, which has been largely debunked? I bring her up since she appears regularly on Paranormal State (PS).

    IMHO PS lack quite a bit of credibility. My gripes;

    – There’s a lot of pre-commercial teases that make you think something big happens, and often its nothing happened or its a simple explanation. This is deceiving.
    – Ryan’s “investigations” tend to come out the same way; a form of poltergeist or demonic possession. Maybe he seeks these cases out, but it appears he casting his forte on the investigations. Most episodes focus around the human interest story versus pursuing legit evidence.
    – His use of the sensory deprivation device is not legit. Talking about the thing where he covers his eyes, turns on a light, and listens to white noise. This has been widely proven to induce hallucinations by Dr’s and Scientists.

    You know, what would really be great is a neutral web site that critically assess the legitimacy of these shows.


  8. I was wondering what happened to him as a child? Ryan brings up his child experiences but never tells them.

  9. I’ll admit that Ryan and Paranormal State are certainly frauds, but you seem to be judging all shows, researchers, clergy & scientists based upon this one suspect show.

    You also approach the subject with admitted preconceived beliefs and a strong world view that would be shattered should you experience an actual haunting.

    Would your beliefs change if you experienced a true paranormal experience in the flesh?

    1. Since this post I have completed an entire thesis for a master’s degree on amateur paranormal investigators. I’ve had quite extensive experience with this topic.

      I used to believe in some paranormal aspects. If I did experience what I perceived as a paranormal event, I think I am better prepared to evaluate it in a rational way. I understand how easily I can be fooled by observations and perceptions. Not many people realize how our senses and memories can trick us into believing something that isn’t true.

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