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Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society

"Le doute n'est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde."


Spurious Relationships and the Belief Engine

What need paranormal occurences satisfy, and how they can be presented as truth.

"Faulty logic" describes how we perceive what we are told as truth, even if it is not. One type of faulty logic that is frequently taken advantage of by paranormal investigators is "Spurious Relationships". Spurious relationships are when two events are said to be linked, but without logical reasoning. For example, if I am standing in a supposedly haunted house holding a digital camcorder in one hand, and I see a humanoid form pass in front of the camera, I might wrongly assume that this is evidence proving the haunting. What I am not taking into account are the other people in the facility, camera malfunctions, and animals. While I may seem to attempt to debunk the evidence that my camera has gathered, I ignore the probable explanation of fraud in order to make a better case for the footage. When something is deemed paranormal ONLY because the person there says it is, the evidence should automatically be thrown out. For example, if one of my crew passed in front of that camera, and I know it, obviously I'm not going to say so on television and ruin the credibility of my group. And yet it remains possible that the figure picked up on the camera is nothing more than a person. The only evidence the viewers have of a paranormal experience is the word of the investigator.

So why do we believe paranormal investigators without question? Well, some seem to actually attempt to debunk hauntings. This is a calculated move to win our trust. But the main reason we are so apt to believe in the paranormal at all has to do with something called "The Belief Engine". The Belief Engine is a model for how we construct our beliefs, and what evidence we use to create them.

The first segment of the Belief Engine is the Learning Unit.

The Learning Unit has its basis in our pasts. It exists to keep us from making the same mistakes over again. An example would be our desire, as children, to pet stray dogs. All it will take to free us from this dangerous habit is one time when the dog bites. Now we have learned - strange dogs are not to be trusted.

The next segment is called the Critical Thinking Unit. This can only be acquired through experience and education. We are taught to think of things properly, to throw out faulty logic and false evidence. We do not know to do this from day one. This is one possible reason that paranormal experiences are more commonly reported in children - from strange imaginary friends to seeing monsters in the closet. Experience has not taught children that these things are not possible. While this gives the believers ammo to say that children are more "open" and "aware", when looking at it critically, we know this to be false. Children haven't lived long enough to understand situations completely, or to relate them with a high degree of accuracy.

The Yearning Unit of the Belief Engine is the most pertinent in our look at paranormal investigators. We tend to find more evidence for what we want to believe than what is actually true. Our desires override observable evidence, which might be why there has never been a shred of true evidence of the supernatural. This segment also works off the assumption that all beliefs are designed for one common purpose - to stop anxiety.

The Input Unit describes how we perceive raw informational data. We do not have a direct feed to the world that we can remember perfectly, or access any time we wish to. The information that we choose to retain is biased toward our own beliefs. We may choose to remember a ghostly figure in front of the camera, but choose to forget that the silhouette looks very similar to the silhouette of one of the investigators. If it does not fit with our preconceived notions about the world, we are likely to throw information away.

Experiences, as outlined in the Emotional Response Unit, are colored by how they make us feel. If an event leaves a strong emotion, it may override critical, objective analysis. Back to the figure in front of the camera. If seeing it sparks a feeling of elation tempered with fear (because my initial response is to believe that the figure is supernatural) then I am less likely to objectively review the evidence.

The next unit has to do with anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a favorite for paranormal investigators and believers alike. Anecdotal evidence is using an experience of your own to say that something must be true, rather than actual information or evidence that is impossible to alter. In the Memory Unit, we learn that the memory is far from infallible. It is, however, incredibly difficult to reject one's own memory of an event. We don't intentionally forget what really happened - the memory is just colored by our experiences and the framework of our beliefs. Paranormal investigators sometimes say that skeptics will remain skeptics and believers will remain believers. The reason that's true? The Belief Engine. We are constructed to believe what we have always believed.

In the Environmental Feedback Unit, it is suggested that we compare our own experiences with others who were there without forcing our own beliefs on them. For this, it is good to have people of different beliefs along with you. If you have a group of believers, then they will all stand around saying how supernatural an experience was, whereas if you brought a skeptic, you would be more likely to hear an alternate version of events.

Also, no matter how much skepticism a paranormal investigation group may claim to have, all of them are going out on the assumption that there is paranormal activity SOMEWHERE. It would be interesting to see one of these shows take along a true skeptic - ie: someone who doesn't believe AT ALL and see what evidence was found then.

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