Hayley is a Ghost

Sometimes it’s wrong to keep people believing in delusions. They’ll often work you out and make you feel guilty… damn it! Sorry, Lucky!

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I have no idea where graphic A originated from, but I’ve seen it numerous times in my Facebook feed as it is shared by my friends. It has always bothered me because up until a few years ago I didn’t know who Carl Sagan was either. Yet, I don’t consider myself to have been what was wrong with society.

People are capable of learning, and rather than being smug and blaming then for being “stupid” enough to not know who Carl Sagan is by sight, we could instead explain it to them. Share the knowledge we have and inspire people with the amazing things that we, ourselves, have learned. So I’ve redesigned it.

Don’t just embrace the cosmos, spread the love!

*edit* After posting this on Facebook I discovered that some people would prefer to punish people and call them out for being unaware of Sagan/science than just, you know, sharing. Punishing people for not being aware of things is wrong and offending them wont make them listen to you when you tell them they need to learn more. Trust me – I’m a ghost hunter who has been told she is stupid and pathetic for the beliefs I held. I didn’t listen to those people.

Watch Cosmos for free here. 
Buy Cosmos as a christmas gift today! 

*update Dec 19th* I have now opened this up to everyone, disability or not. Please apply if you are interested, and I will draw the winner on Friday, Dec 23rd. 

The very generous Chris Hofstader recently got in touch to offer me two free tickets to QEDcon next March to give away to someone who needs them. Chris was supposed to be attending with his friend Mia, but unfortunately, due to suddenly needing a new boiler he can no longer afford the trip over. Chris says:

I would like to ask that my pair, The Gonzo Giveaway, go to persons with disability but, if we can’t find any, hand them out as per the previous procedure.

Rather than getting people to apply for these tickets that’ll be won by someone who is selected at random I am simply opening this up to the first person that would like them. I would ask that right now only those with a disability apply as per Chris’ request. Perhaps you need a carer to assist you and couldn’t afford to buy a ticket for you and your carer? Here’s your chance.

If I cannot find someone then I will open proceedings up for people to apply for the free tickets as I did previously. I will add new applicants to the ones who didn’t win last time and then draw the winners on a selected date.

So yes. If you have a disability and want the free tickets please get in touch now and we can get this sorted. If not, watch this space – I will update what is happening with the tickets on Monday Morning (December 19th).

Thank you, Chris. This is really generous of you and it will be a shame to not meet you in person.

When I was young my mum told me that being naughty and telling lies would put a black mark on my soul, so that god could see it. I now know my mother doesn’t believe this to be true, but for a good while I thought it was fact and I was scared. At school I would be forced to sit on my left hand because I am left handed and my teachers often thought this was blasphemous. I was ashamed. I’m not anymore.

As I grew older I learned that my father was something called ‘atheist’ and that he didn’t believe in god. It blew my little mind that someone could be so defiant. I was a child who had been brought up in an environment where religion was normal and the existence of god unquestioned.

To suddenly learn that my own father didn’t believe in any of it was eye opening. I think I was about nine or ten at the time. It also scared me because he didn’t think those who have died are still around in heaven. Up until that point I had believed that everybody went to heaven or hell – the idea that this was false was deeply troubling, but the question had already been placed in my mind and the doubt started to build – eventually resulting in me realising that I too was atheist. It was a long struggle because my father doesn’t talk about his non-belief. I wish he had because it would have helped, but what’s done is done.

Before that happened I found it really difficult to let go of the idea that the deceased were completely gone. I could accept there was no god, I could accept the bible might be false and all the other things my father believed to be true, but I didn’t want to let go of the idea that I would one day see the grandfather Id’ never met. I was counting on meeting him, it was too cruel to even think I wouldn’t.

This is where my fascination with death and an afterlife really blossomed from – with encouragement from television shows and websites about paranormal research. The religious ideas that had been forced upon me at school as a young child had shifted into the idea that people do live on, just in spirit form. Heaven became ‘the other side’. It was comforting at the time. I can see that now.

For a few years it worked, but after a while I started to see the flaws in the idea that ghosts exist. I came to realise I was fooling myself all over again. I was terrified at the prospect of not really knowing anything about what happens after life.

People I had trusted promised me that I’d see those I’d lost and suddenly I realised I couldn’t rely on their words and I felt isolated and confused. Then, for reasons I can’t even remember, I purchased two books.

One was called ‘The God Delusion’ and the other was called ‘God is not great’. I read those books and I found answers. It wasn’t instantaneous – it took time and a lot of reading other similar things, and watching other people who said they were atheists, but those two books led to a clarity that I have held on to ever since. A clarity that often makes me weep at the very nature of the universe around me. I recognised myself as the atheist I have always been – ever since birth, and then I truly started to live.

I recognised the personal beliefs others had tried to push on to me throughout my life and I came to realise that life is insignificant and pointless – and that’s what makes it so fucking awesome.

Today the news broke that Christopher Hitchens passed away. I sat in sad silence as I thought over the impact that Hitchens had on my life. It feels odd that a stranger, who didn’t know I even existed, helped me understand my life better than my own parents could. This led me to feel not sad, but humble and grateful. I also felt very fortunate.

Thank you, Christopher Hitchens. Your words and voice will live on through those of us that they helped without you even realising it.

It was meant as a light hearted nod towards US blogger PZ Myers and wasn’t meant to alienate anybody, but when The Skeptic Mag temporarily removed Susan Blackmore from their banner and replaced her with PZ Myers, it left me feeling quite uncomfortable and sad.

I do have a problem with the way in which women are under represented throughout skepticism – I created SheTalks to try and help remedy the problem (and according to the feedback the register is working despite still being in its early days). To see a reputable publication like The Skeptic Mag take the only woman on their banner down – even just for a moment, as a nod to comments made on twitter earlier that day, seems so dismissive and needless. I’m not sure what led to them doing so, or why PZ Myers highlighted earlier in the day via Twitter that he wasn’t there.

People will say I am blogging over nothing or that I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I’m not. Intentional and unintentional exclusion of women in skepticism is something that so many people work tirelessly to eradicate. Although The Skeptic Magazine didn’t replace Blackmore like this with a dismissive or sexist intention, this demonstrates how one thoughtless action can undermine so much, and have a negative and demoralising effect on those who see it.

Having an all male banner up on the website of one of the biggest skeptical publications going isn’t something that’s great to see. Not now, not ever – not even for 5 minutes.

I was asked by the twitter account of The Skeptic which skeptic should have been removed instead, and I replied ‘none’. I was then asked which 8 people should be on a banner if it was made from scratch. My honest answer? Nobody.

Skepticism isn’t people centred. Well – that’s a lie because it clearly is, but I don’t think it should be.

The caricatures are awesome, and the people chosen all stand for something important. Yet, skepticism is about ideas, facts, information and outreach. Not celebrity. Just a thought.

An earlier blog of mine titled ‘Leave the ghosts alone’ has caused some confusion with some who have read it. I have seen a number of replies on my blog and elsewhere, where people can’t understand how I can think it is unethical for people to be disresepctful towards what they believe to be ghosts when ghosts don’t exist.

If ghosts aren’t real you can’t disrespect them, after all.

This is true, but you can disrespect their memory. Not to mention, the behaviour I wrote about goes much further than just taunting ghosts who aren’t there.

I should remember when writing about things like this that most people who read my blog have no first hand experience with the world of paranormal research and don’t understand the things you are exposed to when you are involved in the field. In my time as a paranormal researcher I have seen other groups conduct ‘investigations’ at venues where someone has killed themselves, or has been killed in the past ten years.

Personally, when dealing with a reported case I consider a death in the last 50 years to be ‘recent’ with the potential for living relatives to be effected negatively by the slightest wrong move on my part.

One instance that stands out in my mind was one occasion where the deceased still has family members living in the local area to this day. When the group in question (not my group), conducted their investigation in the building where this person had killed themselves they went to the newspapers shortly afterwards with the findings of their time spent there with their medium. They also posted a report on their website in which they detailed how this person was stuck in the building and still anguished, sad and angry over what it was that had made them kill themselves. It was horrible to read and I didn’t even know them.

Sadly, the family of the deceased still lived in the town and saw the newspaper report and the team report online. I don’t know how that made them feel as I don’t know them and didn’t get to speak to them – but I can imagine how awful it would be to hear that a paranormal team had done that. Whether they believed in ghosts or not.

One comment left on my blog by a visitor called ‘G T Hogg’ read:

…just because descendants living today are ‘woo’ and believe in ghosts/spirits, doesn’t mean that any real harm is done. It mattes not whether anyone today believes that they are related to any distantly deceased person, woo is still woo. For any offence or harm to be ‘felt’ by any descendants means that they are lacking in logical, critical thinking and hold crazy woo beliefs, in short they need to get real.

I do not agree with this. You don’t need to believe in ghosts to be disturbed by the intentions of unethical paranormal researchers. Everyone goes through grief in their own way. The sentiments expressed in this comment are extremely unsympathetic.

When Simon Singh was present at a Psychic Sally Morgan show, he witnessed her telling an audience member that their deceased loved one had tried to kill themselves numerous times. The audience member had been unaware of this, and I saw lots of skeptics (myself included) reacting in horror and disgust that such an awful thing would be said by someone unable to prove their claim.

I believe that ghost hunters who do the same sort of thing – just not on stage – are guilty of the same disrespectful and unethical behaviour. They too make claims about the deceased, often uncaring of how long ago the deceased died and what effect their claims will have on those around them.

The Pendle Witch case in the original blog post is a very old haunting and isn’t the best example of this behaviour. However those ghost hunters who go up on the hill and goad the witches into doing something – who take their cues from Yvette “Come on, you bitch. Bitch! Come on you bitch!” Fielding, are very likely to exhibit exactly the same behaviour and attitude in all of the venues and locations they visit. Most of them will be public buildings where minimal harm can be done to the general public, where hauntings are based on folklore stories that are really old. Yet some of those locations will be private houses, they will be places where employees will be too scared to work alone, where children live in fear of shadows, (as I once did).

To behave in this manner doesn’t just disrespect the deceased and potentially upset still living relatives – it scares the crap out of people. It misleads them and makes them live and work in fear of something they don’t understand. Sure, the person who is upset or scared may be wrong in the long run because of the lack of evidence that ghost exist, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok to put them into that situation in the first place. Nobody deserves to be brushed aside just because they’re not aware of certain information because after all, they’re not the ones claiming to be experts in paranormal research.

One bad habit, like goading a dead witch into throwing something at you, can have serious consequences further down the line if left unchallenged by those who know better.

That. That’s unethical.

After my blog post yesterday about how some ghost hunters were behaving irrationally over the recent discovery of a buried cottage at Pendle Hill I thought it only right to let those I mentioned by name know I had done so. I think it’s good blogging etiquette to do so.

In response, Don Philip has posted on his Facebook wall that I am

“A young lady trying to make a name for herself”

I would like to point out that if there is anything I have made a name for myself through, it is being open minded in my approach to paranormal research. I am willing to point out when I am wrong, and I learn new things all the time and change my beliefs and opinions as new facts become available. My main aim with my paranormal research is, and always has been, to learn more about the reality behind these experiences. This is something I have continued to achieve year after year. I have just enrolled on two courses with the Open University, with whom I am working towards a BSc Psychology degree in the hope that I can learn even more about the way in which people think, believe and perceive.

I am simply curious, and this curiosity has led me to experience the strange world of paranormal research through the eyes of a naïve believer who grew and evolved into a fact seeking, lesson learning skeptical researcher.

That’s why I am invited to speak at events all over the place. That could seem like an appeal to authority but it isn’t. Me speaking at events isn’t what makes me a good researcher – my constant research, fact checking and self questioning is what makes me a good researcher.

It’s also why I’m asked to contribute to research by others.

For example, I was once asked by Professor Chris French to review some footage that he’d been asked onto a UK television show to give a skeptical opinion on. He asked for my opinion because he isn’t a field based ex-ghost hunter. The footage was from an investigation conducted by a paranormal team called G.S.I – their founder, Don Philip.

The footage in question, as shown below, shows Don taking temperature readings in a room and asking a ghost to make the reading change. Over time it does. This is attributed to a spirit/ghost.

Watch from the 3 minute mark.

I was able to explain to Chris that the reason the temperature was changing is not because a ghost is present, but because Don was using the equipment incorrectly, or without knowing what the readings the thermometer takes mean. The model he uses is a laser thermometer that measures surface temperature. Don is waving it all around the room meaning that the device cannot measure on specific point as it is designed to do so.

I am able to offer such advice and spot such mistakes because I am open minded and I have learnt – and continue to learn, from those around me who conduct rational research into paranormal phenomena. It’s easy and lazy to apply a paranormal cause to something that looks a bit odd, especially when it only looks a bit odd because you simply haven’t bothered to work out how to use the device in question.

Dons accusation that I am trying to make a name by criticising him is wrong, it smacks of a diversion tactic because he doesn’t have an answer regarding the things I spoke of in the original blog post about illogical ghost chasing based on nothing but folklore stories. Prove me wrong though, Don. Defend your decisions and your methods… if you can.

Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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