A Paranormal History
Written by: Tyler L. Yates
“I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.”
Paranormal investigators like T.A.P.S are a popular Hollywood version of ghost hunters today; the fact is that this kind of investigating has evolved for over 2,000 years. Pliny the Younger is thought to have documented the first ever ghost hunt. This story is popular when looking at the basis of paranormal investigating, and is looked at as an example to ghost hunters today to take a scientific approach when looking for answers to the unexplained. Brian Wilkerson, an avid writer on any area of the paranormal recounts Pliny’s story as follows.
The oldest recorded case of ghost hunting is reported by Pliny the Younger in 100 A.D. When he told the story, it was already a century old tale. The tale tells of a man who bought a house in Athens. The price of the house was far below what it was worth but the sellers wanted to be rid of it and quickly. One night while the new owner was resting comfortably by the fire, a spirit came to him wrapped in chains. The spirit beckoned him to follow and so he did. He was led to a spot in the garden behind the house where the spirit vanished. The next morning, with the permission of the city magistrates, he dug the spot and found a skeleton wrapped in chains. Once the body was given a proper burial the hauntings ceased.
While this kind of story is what drives many paranormal investigators today, the passion of the paranormal did not really spread into main stream society until the mid 1880’s. It was around this time a man by the name of William James, a philosopher, created the American Psychological Association. This was really the first time that someone had suggested applying a scientific base or method to try and explain paranormal questions. He soon found allies in London, who shared his passion and together they created the Society for Psychical Research. While this is the first group that applied scientific skills to explain the unknown, there was one other group that beat them to a spot in the history books. This group is known as, The Ghost Club, and it is thought to be the oldest documented paranormal research group in the world. It was founded in London in 1862, and had a very famous founding member by the name of, Charles Dickens. (Wilkerson)
While looking into the past on paranormal research, Charles Dickens is not the only famous name that comes up. America’s most well known inventor, probably tops that list. While he is best known for the invention of the light bulb, he was also pioneering in an area of science to create a device that could communicate with the dead. Stephen Wagner, a writing guide for the website About.com, writes about two relatively unknown articles featuring interviews with Thomas Edison. Wagner writes, “…the great inventor Thomas Edison in an interview in the October, 1920 issue of The American Magazine… another interview with Edison, published in the same month and year, this time by Scientific American…” So within the period of a month, Edison reports to two different magazines that he has thought to have created an instrument, which will allow people to communicate with the dead. The title of the article that was published in Scientific American on October 30, 1920 was titled, Edison’s Views on Life and Death. The report was written by Austin C. Lescarboura, a writer for the Scientific American, who conducted a personal interview with Edison. In Lescarboura’s article, he reports the following;
Several weeks ago the word was passed around to the effect that the great inventor was working on a device, or apparatus as he prefers to term it, to communicate with personalities which have passed on to another existence or sphere. (446)
For Thomas Edison to speak in this manner in 1920 must have been shocking, because it is still shocking today. There was no greater voice then the voice of Edison, to expel the thoughts of those who are non believers in the idea that there is not life after death. He argued on behalf of this statement for the following reason;
There has always been a certain amount of life on this world and there will always be the same amount. You cannot create life; you cannot destroy life; you cannot multiply life.
For this reason he thought it possible to create a “machine or apparatus” that would be able to detect or interact with disembodied personalities. While this all points in favor of those who have been called believers of the unknown, it is also important to know that even thought Edison thought it possible to make contact, that he still took a skeptic approach in doing so. Edison acknowledges this fact in the following;
I have been thinking for some time of a machine or apparatus which could be operated by personalities which have passed on to another existence or sphere. Now follow me carefully; I don’t claim that our personalities pass on to another existence or sphere. I don’t claim anything because I don’t know anything about the subject. For that matter, no human being knows. But I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in the existence or sphere, this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves.
Even though Edison takes a skeptic view, his words are still compelling evidence that the possibility of ghost is real. Wagner in his article, while quoting Edison makes a good point;
Edison’s was a scientist’s approach: If there was a popular need or desire, and invention might be able to fill it. ‘I believe that if we are to make any real progress in psychic investigation,’ he said, ‘we must do it with (a) scientific apparatus and in a scientific manner, just as we do in medicine, electricity, chemistry and other fields’.
The most interesting fact of this story is that when Edison was asked latter about his invention, his response was, “no comment.” This was the last time Edison ever talked about his invention, the great mystery of what happened to Edison’s idea of an invention are unknown, but ghost hunters today still hunt by one of Edison’s most prominent ideas, the fact that they must hunt in a scientific manner. While ghost hunters today don’t have a device such as Edison described, they still have many tools in their arsenal which aid them in their search today.