LEWISBURG - Humans naturally are curious, and studies have found they actually like to be frightened and dabble in the realm of the unknown.
For Dr. Rich Robbins, associate dean of arts and sciences at Bucknell University, interest in paranormal phenomena began for him when he was a boy living across the street from a cemetery in Bloomsburg.
He and his family experienced several unexplained events in their home.
Robbins, among other academia professions, is a certified parapsychologist - a study that takes a scientific look into paranormal psychological phenomena. Things like telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis were the norm, but today Robbins said parapsychologists investigate different forms of "paranormal" phonenomena.
ESP, hauntings, ghosts, demonology, vampires and creatures such as Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster or Mothman are the focus of his investigations.
"As well as other events that cannot be accounted for by natural law and knowledge," he said.
His interest lies more within the realm of ghosts and hauntings.
In his childhood home, furniture was being moved when no one was home, cupboards would slam in the middle of the night, he said. Even objects moving from one place to another with no one around to move them, and footsteps on the stairs were common occurrences.
"My mother claimed to have seen a ghostly figure standing over my bed when I was around 12 years old," he said.
With his background in psychology, it helped him understand why people believe in ghosts or what is commonly referred to today as "the paranormal."
"Paranormal just means outside the normal. It has come to take the meaning of supernatural or ghosts today," he said during a presentation Oct. 9 for retired professors of Bucknell University.
Robbins said that the words ghost and paranormal have become synonymous with each other today.
He presented different aspects of his study, and discussed the paranormal and what methods are used during investigations.
Hunting ghosts or launching investigations into finding a phenomena really has become prevalent in today's society.
Robbins himself has been on many ghost hunts he said, but has yet to find anything.
"The people who call themselves 'ghost hunters' typically have a sincere interest in the phenomena, but no real education in what alternate explanations are out there for the so-called 'paranormal' events," Robbins explained.
Today's ghost hunters usually are well informed of the surrounding folklore and relevant urban legends. He said they take the time to learn the real history of the investigation site, but rarely possess the knowledge of human physiology, electromagnetic influences, physics, geography, psychology and other areas that can be involved in claims of ghosts and hauntings.
"With all due respect, most of these folks pick up a video recorder, sound recorder, electromagnetic field detector, and maybe some other equipment and start taking measurements," Robbins said. "They go into the investigation believing that ghosts exist, and assume that any positive measurement is evidence of a ghost or spirit."
Numerous environmental factors during an investigation can give false-positive readings, along with psychophysiological factors that can cause feelings and experiences associated with ghosts and hauntings that may be misleading.
Robbins has been where a "ghost hunter" has been.
"I started 'ghost hunting' while in my Ph.D. program at the University of Nevada, Reno. I met with a couple who claimed their townhouse was haunted, interviewed them, set up video equipment overnight while they were away and did some EVP. I got nothing," he said.
The EVP method is asking open-ended questions with a recording device to catch voice phenomena, a common method used today.
While in Kansas, he investigated the tale of the "white woman" who was rumored to walk through a cemetery at night during a full moon.
On two consecutive nights, with cameras recording, he saw nothing.
"I sat in a car in San Antonio at the site where ghosts of children supposedly push cars across railroad tracks, and experienced nothing," he said. "There are a few other investigations as well, but I have never seen, heard, smelled or recorded anything."
Robbins hasn't been on a ghost hunt in almost seven years.
After public presentations, like the one planned for 7 p.m. Monday in Trout Auditorium of the Vaughan Literature Building at Bucknell University, titled "Ghosts and Hauntings: Decide for Yourself," Robbins gets many inquiries from the public.
He receives calls and emails telling him about some personal experience, often times with a paranormal explanation for them, he said.
"Rarely do I get asked for a reason for their experiences; they usually have their own beliefs and explanations - mostly supernatural (or) paranormal," he said.
During the presentation, Robbins, will introduce classical and scientific theories of what ghosts and other related phenomena are, offer a discussion of evidence for and against the existence of ghosts (including alleged ghost photos and examples of electronic voice phenomena) and provide a critical look at ghost hunting.
"Almost everyone has had an experience or knows someone who has experienced an event attributed to a ghost or haunting," Robbins said. "This interdisciplinary presentation will include perspectives from psychology, human physiology, folklore, religion, sociology, philosophy and parapsychology. It will examine several questions, including 'Are ghosts real?' 'What is the difference between a ghost and a haunting?' and 'What is the evidence that ghosts exist?' and 'What natural phenomena could explain such events?' My role is to provide the information and educate those in attendance, who can then make up their own minds about ghosts and hauntings."
It's not that ghost hunters are wrong, or out of touch with doing these investigations to find answers to the "paranormal."
In Robbins' experience, it can be biases, presumptions and beliefs one already has that can determine the explanations of what is happening.
"In many cases, they [investigators] are attempting to assist people and families who perceive that they are in danger or are just annoyed with events going on," he said.
"But, I do think that the typical ghost hunter does not have the understanding of all possible explanations and is quick to presume and attribute any out-of-the-ordinary events to something 'supernatural' or 'paranormal' such as a ghost, spirit, demon or other similar source."