Here are extracts from my interview and correspondence with Asheville, NC, paranormal investigator Joshua Warren that were too lengthy to fit in my print article (“The Ghosts of Erwin High,” Mountain Xpress, July 3, 2002). My questions are edited for brevity and clarity, but Warren’s answers are transcribed or copied verbatim.
Q: [Many people still dismiss the notion of paranormal investigation with a smirk about “Ghostbusters.” You indicated, however, that the science of ghost investigation — is there a formal name for it? Pneumatology? — has developed greatly in recent years both in sophistication and in general acceptance.]
A: I call myself a paranormal investigator. Though I research all unexplained phenomena, ghostly activity is my specialty. There is really no official term for one who studies ghosts. This area of serious research is so new to legitimate, systematic science that those involved in the field are more or less paving their own way at this point. However, I sincerely believe that, in the next 100 years, my field of investigation will be as common as those called physics, astronomy, biology, etc. There was no such thing as a nuclear physicist until advanced microscopes were invented. This area of research is the same. Until the proper advances are made, those like myself are doomed to be labeled as “pseudoscientists.”
Q: [How do you measure a ghost? What is the evidence you see when one is nearby?]
A: One of the most basic telltale signs of a ghost is an extreme anomalous fluctuation in electromagnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields are produced by all things, living and non-living, to some degree. But they are especially enhanced around living things, and particularly humans. I have meters which will register the field of energy around your body, and it’s quite clearly an organically generated field, because of the way it moves. If you take these same meters, and place them in an area that is supposed to be haunted, and monitor it remotely, while you are nowhere around it, oftentimes the meter will respond just like it’s responding to a human body — but again, no one is there.
So, for one thing, we can simply look for these fields which we associate with humans where there are no humans, but ghostly activity is reported. We also test for any kind of anomalous energy field — microwaves, radio waves, gamma rays we can’t necessarily account for. We also use infrared and ultraviolet photography. We feel that anything that allows us to see more than the naked eye can see — or for that matter, to gather more information than we can with the human senses alone — is valuable when you don’t know exactly what you’re researching.
That’s one thing about how I approach the subject, and how I think any good paranormal researcher would do it: You don’t have an idea of what you’re going to find necessarily — I’m not going out there to prove what I believe — that there’s this or there’s that — I simply go out and see what I can record in the objective environment. And if there are things that happen which I cannot explain I won’t report that, but otherwise I won’t go out trying to confirm a particular belief that I may have. I look for the objective always.
And so really in paranormal research, all these tools that we use — ultra- and subsonic audio recordings, or anything else — is there in order to help us gather as much information about every variable of the environment, so that we can use that in order to make the most informed decisions and really find the best overall, most comprehensive picture of what actually is or is not happening at a location.
Q: [I have a photograph taken at a gathering that shows a bunch of people sitting by a table and, next to them, a swirling glow of reddish light that’s about the size of a person, which appears to be shaped like a double spiral (more precisely, a closely wound helix or double helix). I later noticed that same spiral quality in purported photos of ghosts I saw on a TV show. Is that possibly a ghost that showed up in my photo, or is it just a light leak?]
A: When these linear anomalies appear, they seem to be just sort of swirling and misting around. I think that one of the big keys to why photographs show these things whereas the naked eye doesn’t always see them can be found with the simple demonstration of taking a fan and turning it on high. At that point the fan blades become invisible. But if you photograph those fan blades, with the correct shutter speed, well, you can see the fan blades — it makes them stand still. It’s not that different really than putting a strobe light on them.
I think that if you consider whatever these apparitions are — they apparently are non-physical and they’re not restricted to the same barriers that we are. They probably move at incredibly high rates of speed most of the time — there’s no reason they shouldn’t. There’s probably a lot more stuff zipping around us all the time than we can see with the naked eye. But when you photograph it with the right shutter speed and exposure, you capture it.
And of course a lot of people report seeing something out of the corner of their eye sort of flying by them frequently, and that also can account for what’s happening — you’re just catching a glimpse of something going by very quickly. And also there’s evidence that some people can see infrared light out the corners of their eyes to some degree. And we have found that these apparitions — whatever they may be — are usually most visible in the infrared realm.
Q: [The same realm as heat. I wonder why that would be? You’d assume they’d be in the ultraviolet — which is at a higher frequency.]
A: We’ve gotten the pictures in UV [ultraviolet] as well — and by the way it’s much more difficult and expensive with today’s technology to photograph UV, so I should say that out of our overall data, we don’t have as many UV to start with. That is a good question, because you’re talking about a lower frequency as opposed to a higher one. But then again, it’s possible that maybe there is some aspect of an apparition which is in the UV, and some aspect that is in the infrared — just like with people, you know, we have aspects in both — and that because the technology that we have available right now is simply easier for us to pick up the part in the infrared.
Q: [Ghost-story lore (as in the movie The Sixth Sense) often links the presence of ghosts with a sudden chill in the air. Have researchers found this chill to be a real, observed phenomenon, or is it just a storyteller’s metaphor for fear and death? If it’s real, how does that correlate with observations of infrared (heat) readings? (I may also be misunderstanding your references to infrared.)]
A: The ghostly “chill in the air,” otherwise known as a “cold spot,” is indeed associated with spectral activity. However, researchers like myself are still trying to determine whether or not they constitute an actual drop in the objective temperature, or if observers simply have the subjective experience of coldness. We know ghostly activity is accompanied by strong electrostatic fields, and such energy creates what is known as an “ion wind.” When static electrical charges move across your flesh, they make you feel cold, and force your hair to stand on end (the hair and flesh receive the same charge, and like charges repel). This phenomenon may account for a cold feeling even though the objective temperature hasn’t necessarily dropped. At this point, it seems likely that most cold spots are the product of such moving charges instead of a change in the external temperature.
Regardless of how these sensations manifest, the presence of infrared energy is not temperature-dependent. Although heat produces infrared radiation, infrared radiation does not necessarily produce heat. The terms “heat” and “infrared” cannot necessarily be used interchangeably, at least in terms of human perception. For example, the average television remote control produces pulses of infrared energy to communicate with the television. However, if you place your hand in front of the remote, that doesn’t mean you feel heat. You could effectively use an infrared remote in a freezer. We often detect, measure, and document activity in the infrared realm that has no impact on temperature whatsoever. When referring to infrared, I most often mean in the visual sense (that is, light that possesses a wavelength of approx. 700-1200 nm). We also use meters that can detect electromagnetic energy in this realm.
There is no conventional explanation for much of the phenomena we observe in the infrared realm. That doesn’t mean these anomalies are spirits of the dead, but are most definitely the product of a phenomenon that cannot be explained by our current body of mainstream scientific knowledge. Considering we usually find such anomalies at locations where “haunting” activity is reported, there is an undeniable connection between these manifestations and such activity.