What is it?
Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, is the name for the ghostly voices captured on electrical devices, such as televisions, radios or recorders. These voices are recorded intentionally, by those who seek them, or unintentionally, by people who intend to record something else. The voices aren't heard when the recording is made, but can be found on playback. Interest in the phenomenon was peaked with the release of the movie, White Noise. Thousands of websites are devoted to sharing examples of EVP and helping the curious capture samples of their own.
The capturing of ghostly voices on electronic devices is not a new concept. In the 1920s, Thomas Edison suggested that, if there is an afterlife, there may be a way to construct a device to communicate with those who have passed on. He maintained that the scientific approach would be more reliable than the techniques used by mediums of the time and be more difficult to fabricate. Some EVP researchers believe that he designed a device for this purpose, but no evidence exists that such a device was made.
Marcello Bacci, an Italian man, began collecting voices using an old tube radio in 1949. Townspeople gathered at his home in the hopes of communicating with dead relatives.
Another EVP researcher, Friedrich Jergenson, began researching the phenomenon after hearing his deceased mother's voice on a tape he had used to record singing birds. Dr. Konstantin Raudive began using EVP techniques after learning of Jergenson's discoveries. Despite his early skepticism, he heard over 100,000 voices on tape, and linked one to his mother.
Electronic Voice Phenomenon became a legitimate branch of paranormal research in the 1960s. Additional research was performed by George and Jeannette Meek, who claimed to be working with Dr. George Jeffries Mueller, who was deceased at the time.
At the forefront of modern EVP research is Sarah Estep, who founded the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena in 1982. She began researching EVP in an effort to contact her dead husband. In 2000, she retired from the association. Tom and Lisa Butler took over the association in her stead.
Several other amateur EVP researchers have taken to gathering examples of the phenomenon. Many of these have developed websites in order to showcase their findings, encourage others to join the research and sell various tools purported to aid in obtaining clear EVP.
Techniques for gathering EVP range from the simple to the complex. Amateurs with a tape recorder can venture out to cemeteries, houses that are rumored to be haunted and old buildings in an effort to obtain proof of life after death. Those who use simple tape recorders are encouraged to refrain from recording over old tapes or to purchase a digital recorder in order to avoid possible contamination of the messages.
Advanced researchers use television and radio static, external microphones and computers with sound analysis software in their explorations. They may invest in books written by some less-than-professional EVP researchers and various other paranormal investigation tools. Despite the availability of such technology, most professional EVP collectors rely on simple recorders, occassionally using computers to accent or clarify their findings.
Many messages have been allegedly captured by EVP researchers. Following is a short list of those phrases.
"I have to watch my horse."
"Killed Harvey with a post."
"I am sad."
"Tell me what time."
In addition to these phrases and many more, EVP researchers have obtained the sounds of dogs barking, children singing and foreign languages.
Many possible explanations for EVP are pointed out by those who are skeptical that the research proves the existence of an afterlife. One explanation is that of interference by a variety of other devices, including cell phones, CB radios and police scanners. While this may explain many of the examples of EVP, there are samples taken from areas far from civilization and any possibility of interference.
Another possibility is the brain's natural impulse to make patterns out of what it hears or sees.
Perception is a very complex process, and when our brains try to find patterns, they are guided in part by what we expect to hear. If you are trying to hear your friend while conversing in a noisy room, your brain automatically takes snippets of sound and compares them against possible corresponding words, and guided by context, we can often “hear” more clearly than the sound patterns reaching our ears could account for. Indeed, it is relatively easy to demonstrate in a psychology laboratory that people can readily come to hear “clearly” even very muffled voices, so long as they have a printed version in front of them that tells them what words are being spoken.Jim Alcock, Psychologist
In other words, when we are expecting to hear the voice of a ghost in the static on a recorder, our brains will take the random noises and "hear" something that isn't there. If we are told ahead of time that the voice is saying something specific, we will be much more likely to hear spoken words where no words exist.
EVP captured by investigators is often open to interpretation. As a result, it lacks the scientific certainty needed to deem it proof of an afterlife or the existence of ghosts and spirits. Still, there will always be believers and, just as believers need no scientific proof of God, EVP believers need no proof of the validity of what they've heard.
Carroll, R. T. (2005), Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), The Skeptic's Dictionary, Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://skepdic.com/evp.html
Watson, S. (2006), How EVP Works, How Stuff Works, Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://science.howstuffworks.com/evp4.htm
Alcock, J. E. PhD. (nd) Electronic Voice Phenomena: Voices of the Dead?, CSICOP, Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/evp.html
American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (2006), Frequently Asked Questions, Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://aaevp.com/faq/faq_evpitc.html#What_is_EVP/ITC
PRNSA (February 18, 2006) What is EVP? Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.paranormalinvestigators.com/WhatIsEVP.htm
Oester, D. (2003), Electronic Voice Phenomena Page, International Ghost Hunters Society, Retrieved September 22, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ghostweb.com/evp.html