Jan 31, 2012 I Micah Hanks

Voices From the Shadows: The Voice Phenomenon of Parapsychology

While in recent weeks stories of "mystery noises" filling the air have captured the attention of many, sometimes the less easily discernible sounds around us could hold the key to unraveling strange secrets of time and space. This is particularly the case with Electronic Voice Phenomenon, also known as EVP.

I've always been fascinated with EVP personally, because unlike a number of other elements that are often associated with paranormal research, there seems to be a long history of interest in the recorded sounds of inexplicable voices that have provided tangible proof, according to many, that something strange is indeed going on. But if claims of EVP can be believed, what is the real basis for the phenomenon; how does it occur, and what, if anything, can we hope to learn from it?

Interest in electronic means of gathering voices of unknown origin dates back to the early days of electricity and its use in powering devices within the home. Thomas Edison was even asked whether popular spiritualist practices might be further augmented with the use of sensitive recording equipment that could discern the soft voices of the deceased. Edison agreed that doing so might present a more plausible approach to studying parapsychology of the day, as opposed to the sorts of table-tapping and séances that were so popular around the turn of the last century. This acknowledgment of the "spirit potential" likely contributed to the sense that Edison himself might have attempted to build such a device, though there is little evidence that this actually occurred.

The lesser-known American political dissident William Dudley Pelley would also make attempts at spirit communication, with claims that he had built a device used for communication with the dead during the 1940s. Again, there is little proof that this project really ever got off the ground; however, according to Pelley historian Vance Pollock, who managed to track down an old associate of Pelley's named Guy Harwood in the late 1990s, Harwood had claimed that Pelley "build a machine that could speak with the dead."

Later on, another revision of the infamous device for dead-talking came with William O'Neil and George Meek's Spiricom, which was allegedly so successful due to O'Neil's own prowess as a medium. However, many critics argue that O'Neil had likely hoaxed many of his recorded conversations with the deceased. A number of other attempts at recording ethereal and otherworldly voices would be attempted over the years as well, citing varying levels of success with the controversial art of EVP.

In all likelihood, if EVP does exist, it is capable of being recorded via of one of just a couple of processes. One possibleway this is achieved is by the recording of sounds that may be sub-audible to most natural human hearing; in other words, while an individual with very acute hearing may do better in terms of detecting such noises in real time (something which a few mediums claim to be able to do), these noises would remain almost inaudible to the average listener. Perhaps more likely as an alternative solution to the way EVP are recorded is the notion that electromagnetism and/or resonance are somehow involved. For instance, when recorded sounds are sent as an electrical signal to an antenna, rather than a set of speakers, the information being broadcast is no longer capable of being heard. However, the use of a dynamic microphone, which functions by a process of electromagnetic induction, will enable the sounds to be recorded nonetheless, as the signal broadcast from the antenna resonates with the coil in the microphone. On playback, one will find that some things that cannot be heard with the ear can nonetheless affect recording equipment.

So does an experiment like this provide some justification for how EVP might work? While we can assume that it does, it is still impossible to discern exactly what the source of such strange noises may be. EVP, while inconclusive in terms of being that all-hallowed "proof" of an afterlife, nonetheless presents some rather compelling evidence for something inexplicable... but what, precisely, is it? Will science ever reach a point where technology will be capable of discerning the likelihood that voices of the deceased, perhaps remaining in the physical world in some energetic form, can still make their presence known through electronic means?


Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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