Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

SmartPhone apps for the woo-woos

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the woo-woos went high tech.

Still, I have to admit that I was surprised, which is probably just a reflection of my own biases.  I'd always thought that the woo-woo state of mind came with quasi-medieval accoutrements -- things like crystal balls, dowsing rods, decks of Tarot cards, and so on.

So I was fairly stunned to find that the Android/SmartPhone platform has a bunch of apps for conducting paranormal "research."  Here are a few of the apps you can purchase, if you want to go on your own ghost hunt:

The Ghost EVP Analyzer.  EVP stands for "Electronic Voice Phenomena" and refers to the common practice by devotees of haunted houses, of leaving a tape recorder running in an empty house, and analyzing the tape for voices.  Now, you can use the app to analyze your digital recordings, and hear what the dead have to say.  You can save files, in case the dead say something memorable; play the recordings half speed, in case the dead have been drinking too much coffee; and play them backwards, in case the dead are listening to songs by Styx.

Then, there's the Entity Sensor Pro-EMF Detector.  The description for this one says that "this works just like special purpose EMF Detectors that cost up to several hundred dollars, and are used on the paranormal TV shows to find ghosts."  EMF, by the way, stands for "electromagnetic field" -- a perfectly measurable phenomenon, well known to scientists and anyone who has ever used a compass.  Ghosts supposedly "disturb the electromagnetic field" in some unexplained way, so this app allegedly allows you to detect these disturbances.  It's uncertain why an old-fashioned compass wouldn't work just as well, but I guess I'm to be expected to say that, given that I'm a bit of a Luddite.  It's also a little perplexing why, if ghosts disturb the electromagnetic field, no controlled experiment has ever detected one, because EMF detectors have been around for a long time, and are standard equipment in many scientific research facilities.

How about Ghost Radar?  The tagline for this one says, "Ghost Radar® analyzes nearby energies. This application does NOT detect EMF nor gravity. Interpretations of the sensor readings are displayed using numeric, textual, and graphical readouts."  My question, predictably, is "energies?"  What kind of "energies?"  This hearkens back to the tired old "psychic energy fields" so often bandied about by people who claim to be telepathic or clairvoyant.  At least the makers of this app follow it up by saying "results may vary."  I'll just bet they may.

Then, we have the DarkHaunts Haunted Site Locator, which will tell you the nearest "true haunted sites" to your location.  It then gives you the latitude and longitude of the site, and "what to look for."  I can only imagine this app as a sort of high-tech scavenger hunt for woo-woos.  "4.2 miles NE of your present location you will find the ghost of an OLD LADY WEARING BUNNY SLIPPERS.  Once you have collected the OLD LADY WEARING BUNNY SLIPPERS proceed 2.8 miles west to the HEADLESS MAN CHOPPING FIREWOOD."

Last, we have Paranormal Apptivity, which gives overviews of some famous hauntings, including the Enfield poltergeist, the Hampton Crown Court skeleton, and hundreds of others.  If I actually understood technology well enough to merit owning a SmartPhone, which I don't, I might actually purchase this app.  It sounds like it could provide some excellent material for future blog posts.

I know that by describing all of these apps, I'm giving publicity to the woo-woos (and the software developers who are trying to take advantage of them to turn a profit).  I guess that's the risk you take by calling attention to purveyors of the paranormal.  And I have to admit that the attitude that goofy ideas should simply be ignored into oblivion has its merits.  The flip side, however, is that many of these ideas are reluctant to go into oblivion -- they just seem to keep on coming.  On the one hand, it's kind of sad that we still have such a long way to go in terms of the public's general understanding of logic and the scientific method.

On the other hand, it's what keeps Skeptophilia in business.

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