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Based On a True Story? White Noise and EVP
2005.01.02 (Sun) 23:38
Is it just us, or has there been a disturbing trend of entertainment endorsing crackpot bullshit lately? We've talked about the SciFi channel, and their endorsement of ghosts and spirit mediums. CourTV, a usually fact-based network, has gotten into the act as well with Psychic Detectives — supposedly true stories of psychic involvement in law enforcement. This month, White Noise is scheduled for theatrical release, and is a perfect example of what we're talking about. During the previews, they mention that you can learn more about EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) at the web site for the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena. Also, while we were watching parts of the recent Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi channel (one of the few things we will watch on that channel), we saw a bunch of crossover promotions for both White Noise and the SciFi series Ghost Hunters, another example of the entertainment industry's validation of bullshit.
As an interested party, we went to the AA-EVP website to "learn more". What we learned was about what we expected — that this is just more of the same old bullshit with a shiny new movie to make it look more mainstream. In a nutshell, EVP encompasses a combination of traditional photographic pareidolia (which is the same bullshit "phenomenon" that causes people to see Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun), spirit photography, and a sort of pareidolia for the ears. A few tips from the AA-EVP FAQ:
Is there any danger in EVP?
Obviously, no one starts taping, automatic writing, or playing with the Ouija board, thinking he will become possessed or obsessed. But it can happen.
It is possible for an entity to masquerade as someone you are seeking to make contact with—even a loved one. It is also possible that a "low level" entity might tell you something that is not true, but that is something that they believe you want to hear. This is probably why many of the prophetic EVP have not come to pass.
A prolonged period of carefully listening to EVP samples has been shown to increase the experimenter’s sensitivity to sounds and flickers out of the corner of their eyes. In this way, experimenters report an apparent increase in their clairvoyant ability. Since we feel that everyone is inherently clairvoyant, and that the ability can be improved through practice and training, it seems reasonable that working with EVP might increase clairaudience or clairvoyance.
So, EVP is right up their with Ouija boards on the scale of believable, fact-based events. Good to know. Also, we must be careful not to become possessed — important safety tip (thanks, Egon). And thanks for providing the rationale to explain why prophetic EVP messages just aren't coming true as often as, say, psychics whose average is, well, average. With all bogus crap of this nature, an escape clause is key (see John Edward and his "write it down if it doesn't make sense, and see if it makes sense later" line). And finally, thanks for the tip about improving our clairvoyance! We've been doing weight training for our muscles, and hitting the treadmill for cardio improvements, but until now, we didn't know what to do to improve our clairvoyance. Whew!
Let's look at EVP itself. We'll touch briefly on the visual examples which are basically spirit photography and pareidolia. Spirit photography, which utilizes pareidolia, is generally explained by tricks of the light from the camera, double exposures, and hoaxes. Pareidolia is the act of the human mind discerning patterns where there are none — interpreting natural or "random" visual stimuli as a meaningful image. This can happen in the case of spirit photography, or with ordinary pictures and videos, or on other objects. In general, the human mind is prone to seeing patterns, especially human forms and faces. The predilection for faces can be traced to the human brain's biological specialization in recognizing and differentiating human faces. Since we are so good at this skill, and since we practice it almost constantly, it is easy to see how our mind might see a face where there is none, as long as the lines and shapes are somewhat like that of a face. The AA-EVP has the following examples of photographic and video EVP on their web site. Browse through them if you like. As you can see, nothing new — just the same old tired crap.
The auditory component of EVP is very similar to the more traditional visual forms, but this seems to be the new angle. Basically, people turn on some form of background noise, hit record, and wait — the AA-EVP suggests the following in their FAQ:
Experimenters commonly use a fan or radio static for background sound—anything that creates noise that is relatively steady-state, and that can then be filtered out. We have also had many reports that "canned" sound as you find in a CD is less desirable for EVP than is "live" noise as you get with a fan or radio static. We have no idea why this may be true, but our recommendation is to use the fan or radio, even running water.
This background noise is recorded, and replayed. If something "interesting" is heard, the sound sample is isolated, filtered, enhanced, and otherwise changed as much as necessary in order to make the "interesting" sounds into something vaguely intelligible. And when we say vaguely, boy do we mean it! Here are some examples of these "extraordinary" voices and their ever-so-clear messages, taken directly from the AA-EVP web site. These EVP samples fall into the first category which we lovingly refer to as CI-EVP (Completely Imagined EVP).
% "This is Ron" (or "Click" as his friends call him)
% "Egypt Air" (or "Swoosh click, swoosh" as that airline is often called in the Middle East)
One good example of CI-EVP that lays this out pretty well is the "Jason" example, again taken directly from the AA-EVP web site. In the first sound file, we hear the unaltered sound of someone asking "What is your name?" — followed by two clicks that are supposed to mean "Jason," if you believe the EVP folks. The next clip is the "cleaned up" or "edited to make it sound more like what we want it to sound like" version, which is still just two clicks, but sounds ever so slightly more like "Jason." What a load of bullshit.
The AA-EVP site has this to say if you aren't quite able to make out the messages, even after they are properly "enhanced":
After an audio recording is made, the experimenter must then listen to the sound track very carefully for any hint of intelligent sound. Since the recording is often made with a background sound source, the experimenter must learn to listen "around" that noise, or "into" it to distinguish noise from message. This is very similar to learning a new language, in that you may need to "train" your mind to recognize words that are spoken with a different cadence, and often, at different frequencies, than normally spoken words.
The thought here being that, if you know what the message is supposed to say (thanks to the handy file name and explanation provided), and you listen enough times, your mind will eventually create or imagine the desired association. We did something like this once as well. We turned on our voice recognition software, put the microphone on the table, and went around hitting and tapping objects in the room without talking at all. The text that the program recorded from these taps was the following:
Dole with low in fat and-go for all. It is that only an end in "an issue that only that would need only thing would be a day she only two young women only and needs to use the new sample on the person in history that was in no way the unions Ellison's the username News and main reason In a series of using an easier thing is the only reasons to own and the NFC on new to me to see say the NFC games E. long Delhi, India was 80 years or low-life use them the online they knew if I can only one that they know all the FAA the man they live in the new the new
We called it a Beat Poem, and figured we could recite it accompanied by light bongos and a subdued bass line. The idea here is that if a computer can "hear" words where there are none, we can only speculate what a creative mind might hear, especially if that creative mind is desperately trying to hear something. Another biologically developed specialty of the human brain is language. Just as we see patterns in visual stimuli due to our brain's skill in discerning facial features, we hear patterns in auditory stimuli due to our brain's skill in discerning meaning from patterns of sounds. The phenomenon — pareidolia — is the same. Our brains are constantly trying to derive meaning from any stimuli introduced to our senses — even a series of meaningless clicks will send our minds racing to figure out a pattern, whether it is a simple rhythm that intrigues us, or phonetic sounds that seem to comprise a spoken word.
Of course, these vague clicks aren't the only examples of EVP. There are other examples where someone asks a question, and receives an answer, but with a twist — the answer is heard in reverse! So, when played back in reverse, we hear the question (in reverse), followed by the answer, in clear, straightforward...clicking noises. We refer to these as WiP-EVP, for reasons explained below. The AA-EVP has this to say:
Intelligible messages are often found on the reverse side of the audio tape. Some examples include a fragment of the experimenter's voice which you will hear in reverse. The entity then speaks normally. You may want to think about this for a moment, because no known mechanism is able to cause reverse voices.
Hmmm...where shall we start on this? First, does "the walrus is Paul" mean anything to anyone? Haven't we been here before? Hearing messages when regular sounds are played in reverse is a well known form of bullshit. This is why we refer to this second type of example as WiP-EVP (Walrus is Paul EVP). Second, the very obvious fact that jumps to mind is that, in reverse, this means that the answer "from beyond the grave" actually came before the question was asked. Then again, we can only assume that spirits just know what the question will be before they even hear it. Sorry, silly point. Our bad. Third, we want you to think about the file linked here. We created it. We also created the file here, which is the first file played in reverse. The first file is a series of noises, followed by one of the members of the Two Percent Company asking a question. The second clearly depicts that question in reverse, now followed by a clear answer to the question. How did we do this given that "no known mechanism is able to cause reverse voices"? Easy — a sound editor. I guess it isn't so hard to fake this kind of thing after all.
We found another interesting type of example on the AA-EVP site as well, one which we call TSL-EVP (That Sounds Like...EVP). In these examples, people don't even bother with static or white noise — they just tune a radio to a given channel and see what they get. In one example, an English-speaking person tunes to a radio broadcast in French and asks a question. All the while, the French broadcast continues, and after the question, there is a part of the French broadcast which might sound vaguely like a relevant answer. Here's another example that we found of this same kind of "phenomenon" — this weird Japanese song that an English-speaking person thought sounded like some dubious English lyrics.
Try listening to the shortened mp3 first, and see if you can discern any English words. Then highlight the invisible text below to see the words, and listen to the mp3 again:
[TV says doughnuts are high in fat, kazoo. Found a hobo in my room. It's Princess Leia, the yodel of life. Give me my sweater back or I'll play the guitar.]
Does it sound exactly like these words? Heck, no. But it's close in spots, and if you know the target words in advance, and you listen a few times and say them in your head, you can hear it. And yet, the entire thing is still in Japanese. You can watch the complete Flash movie as well, if you like, which shows the English lyrics on the screen. Those wacky Japanese — incorporating secret English messages (about some pretty random stuff) into their own spoken language! We wonder what you hear if you play it backwards...?
There is one other category of auditory EVP: the examples that are really stunningly clear, and are certainly human voices. A few examples can be found on the AA-EVP site. So what's the explanation for these "phenomena"? Uh, if we recall, some of these people are putting on a radio between channels. Have you ever done that? If so, then you know that every so often, frequencies that are close to the one you are tuned to often come into tune, ever so slightly, and you hear a little bit of sound from another frequency. Hell, it even happens when you're tuned to a specific channel sometimes — we start getting a Spanish radio station interspersed with our regular radio station when we're a few blocks from the mall. Could this be the explanation for these clear voices? Abso-fucking-lutely. We refer to these examples as TNF-EVP (The Next Frequency EVP). Of course, they could just be hoaxes as well.
Don't get us wrong — entertainment that embraces impossible and fantastic concepts and events in order to move their story forward are great, and personally we love movies, television, books, and other forms of entertainment that fall into this category. The problem comes when people start to pitch this crap as "real" and not just a story. To us, it's the same thing as needing to believe that in 1997, the machines will take over and start building Terminators...or that we're all really plugged in to the Matrix...in order to enjoy those movies; it's just plain stupid. You don't need fiction to be real in order to appreciate it; that's the wonderful thing about human imagination.
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