While I am primarily interested in the application of magical philosophy and skills to cryptozoology and the paranormal, I do not assume that everything that goes bump in the night is necessarily a haunting caused by an astral/etheric entity. Some hauntings are indeed caused by ghosts (however you want to define them – more on that later), some seeming hauntings are simply the misinterpretation of natural phenomenon and yet others may be the result of mental illness, stress or other emotional/psychological disturbances on the part of the percipient/s. Another theory that has been bandied about by both paranormal researchers and skeptics is the idea that electromagnetic fields (EMF) may be a cause of some seemingly paranormal instances.
The theory, proffered by Dr. Michael Persinger, among others, is that EMF, especially low frequency EMF may actually produce hallucinations in the temporal lobe of the brain based on the cultural expectations of the individual. Thus some people might see ghostly apparitions while others might see UFO’s and space aliens. In addition, Persinger tried to prove, through the use of what came to be called the God Helmet, that stimulating the temporal lobe of the brain with a weak magnetic field causes an individual to sense an “ethereal presence” in the room. In other words, EMF fields might actually account for some or all of the experiences of the mystics throughout the ages.
The so-called skeptics love this theory since it gives them a very neat way to wrap up any episode that they can not explain and dispose of it by saying “it’s just EMF”. In order to do that, however, according to the scientific method, one has to be able to replicate the experiment. Not once, or twice, but on multiple occasions. That has not been the case with Dr. Persinger’s work and, though he has defended his experiments and theories, his hypothesis about EMF has yet to be established by the conventions of science . . . something that the so-called skeptics seem eager to overlook.
The human brain, like our whole body, is a marvelous piece of equipment. While I personally have no belief that my consciousness resides there, the brain is an outstanding organic computer system that processes amounts of data in each moment that boggle the mind (if you will pardon the pun). Given the complex chain of interwoven neurochemical and neuroelectric processes that keep the brain working, it is entirely possible that, in certain times and places, certain stimuli may cause a malfunction in the brain and produce phenomenon that are extremely real to the witness. We know, for example, that temporal lobe epilepsy can produce a variety of sensations that can easily be mistaken for paranormal episodes – feelings of being out of body, for example, or experiences that involve the full range of senses and leave the epileptic convinced that they have seen, heard, touched or tasted something that was not actually there.
Is it possible that, in some instances, abnormally high levels of EMF are causing witnesses to experience things that are only happening in their minds? Certainly. The trouble comes when the skeptics get hold of this information and use it as a sort of universal field theory of the paranormal. Anytime, one proposes the idea that all instances of a phenomenon are caused by X, whatever X happens to be, then the bar of evidence is raised very high. Looking at the difficulties that other scientists have had replicating Persinger’s experiments, I think it is safe to say that the EMF theory does not even come close to clearing that high bar of evidence.
EMF certainly plays a role in the paranormal. I recall a high school science teacher, a former employee of NASA who had fallen victim to the budget cuts after the moon missions, telling the story of going with a colleague to investigate a haunting, supposedly at the behest of the local archdiocese. Things seemed pretty normal in the old house until the EMF meter that they had with them spiked and then flat lined. “As though someone had opened a door,” my teacher said. The room grew icy cold and, in all honesty, neither scientist stayed around to see what would happen. If you have watched any of the many ghost shows on TV, EMF meters are standard ghost hunting equipment these days and provide a lot of dramatic footage as their lights light up or their needles fluctuate in the supposed presence of the unseen.
With EMF, as with so many other things, we are faced with a continuum. On one end we find the skeptics, quite willing to attribute all paranormal phenomenon that they can not give another explanation for to EMF; on the other end, we have the folks who completely disregard this very real force and assume that everything is a spirit. As always, I urge you to fall into the mid-realm as you look at cases. Be a true skeptic, one who suspends judgement about a situation until the evidence is in.