It may be thought that amateur investigators can have great difficulty discovering new scientific truths. But what may not be appreciated is that a great deal of our current scientific knowledge has been made by people without an advanced scientific education. Amateur science has a long history, and in today’s education obsessed world it is easy to forget that many of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by amateurs with a passionate personal interest in their subject. Michael Faraday, perhaps the greatest physicist ever to have lived was born into a poor family and educated himself whilst working as an assistant to a bookseller. He would later become the world’s leading authority on electromagnetism and electromagnetic induction. His work established the basis for magnetic fields and led directly to the development of the electric motor and the electric generator. Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, the telegraph, the phonograph and many other devices that we consider essential today was another who was entirely self taught and never once set foot in a school, let alone a university. Coincidentally, both Faraday and Edison developed an interest in the questions being posed by the 19th century rise in Spiritualism.
Intrigued by reports of tilting and tipping tables during séances Faraday conducted experiments that conclusively showed that the movements came from the sitters and not from some external spirit force. Interviewed in 1920, Edison stated: “If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on earth…I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, moved, or manipulated…by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.” Many believe that Edison was working on just such a spirit communication device at the time of his death.
The academic mainstream of science has frequently been resistant, even hostile to new ideas and concepts, a criticism that might also be justifiably leveled against parapsychology, the study of ostensible paranormal phenomena. Parapsychologists rarely investigate or even bother to study the countless accounts of ghosts; therefore the majority of investigations into ghosts, hauntings and related phenomena has largely been left to amateur researchers. In many cases these enthusiastic researchers have been sidelined by mainstream science and forced to further their investigations without any proper guidance, instead drawing their inspiration from TV shows and the internet. But science is not the preserve of academics; anyone can do serious science; sound method and the good presentation of results is the real key to success. Faraday, Edison and hundreds of other amateurs understood this and used this knowledge to further their discoveries and enhance our knowledge. In the investigation of ghosts and hauntings amateur investigators frequently have the technical ability and the equipment necessary to conduct investigations and experiments that would stand up to scrutiny by their scientific peers. However, they frequently fail to appreciate the need to develop their competency in conducting investigations to a proper scientific standard. Too often, they are in awe of parapsychology and its message of “Trust me I’m s scientist”.
Amateur investigators must appreciate that it is possible to make a valid and important contribution to our general understanding of ghosts and hauntings; but in order to do this they must ‘up their game’ and like Faraday and Edison develop techniques and standards of evidence presentation that are acceptable to the scientific establishment.
© Steve Parsons 2012