ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
Privacy and cookie information ASSAP mailing list

Vigil man


  • Error-prone; eg. optical illusions or misperception
  • Adaptive sensitivity; eyes adapt to light
  • Subjective; can hallucinate

  • Makes assumptions; beliefs can affect interpretation
  • Multiple interacting sensors; generally two (sight and hearing) predominate
  • Can investigate odd readings; if something weird happens can check it out
  • Gets bored, tired, distracted; readings can vary according to mental state
  • Not very accurate
  • Poor memory; distorted within minutes by conversations, interpretations; false memories
  • Reports paranormal events
Vigil equipment pages
Vigil equipment
Instrument baselines
Investigation techniques
Witnesses versus instruments
Paranormal equipment failures
EMF meters - what they do
What EMF meters measure
EMF meters - cause of readings
Analysing vigil data
Sound and radiation detectors
Negative ion detectors
Using still cameras on vigils
Static electricity and paranormal
Data loggers on vigils
Humidity and lighting
EVP infrasound IR thermometer

Comparing humans with instruments

Comparing humans with instruments might seem like a pointless activity, especially when we are all interested in doing is seeing and recording ghosts. It is, however, instructive when you're considering the use of instruments on vigils.

Unless you use instruments regularly, it may not be obvious that they record things very differently to human witnesses.

Instruments: objective but dumb

Instruments are very literal; they see, they record, they don't react. For people, the very act of seeing includes interpretation. One witness may be scared because they see a floating light as a ghost. Another witness may gaze at the same light in wonder, recognising it as very rare ball lightning. A camera just records the light's size, position and colour. When the witnesses are interviewed afterwards, both may get the colour wrong but the camera won't.

Though the instruments appear to come off better in this comparison, being objective, tireless and accurate, they have their faults. Sometimes they may be too sensitive or not sensitive enough. However, their biggest fault is that their readings have to be interpreted. This means that they are at the mercy of biased, subjective people.

Only people see ghosts

An anomalous photo is only 'anomalous' because someone says it is. A photographic expert may examine the photo and decide it's not anomalous at all. Similarly, an 'anomalous' reading on an EMF meter is only anomalous because someone says it is.

Instruments are dumb but people have different levels of experience and knowledge that can direct their interpretation of equipment readings. People are very important because only they see ghosts. On a vigil you always need people but you don't always need instruments.

Seeing and hearing is in the brain!

The single most important thing to remember is that much of the process of seeing or hearing occurs in our brains rather than in our eyes or ears! What we see or hear can be modified before it even reaches our memory. This applies to other senses too. Try, for instance, the EVP Gallery.


Vigil machine


  • Errors rare; if used properly
  • Constant sensitivity; can lose data outside range
  • Objective; sees only what’s there
  • No assumptions; can’t interpret
  • Generally single sensors; sees one thing well but misses everything else
  • Cannot actively investigate
  • Never gets bored; accuracy remains constant
  • Generally accurate
  • Great memory; provided you take down measurements or record to a storage device
  • Don't report paranormal


It is important that researchers are aware of the limitations of their equipment. For instance, human eyes can make out details in scenes containing high contrast (very bright objects next to very dark ones). Cameras, however, cannot cope with this and generally either under- or over-expose parts of such a picture. The result is a loss of detail that a human eye could see.
© Maurice Townsend 2006, 2014