William Brower loves the Titanic. Really, really loves it. Brower, a freelance writer who lives in Coral Springs, has written seven books and a screenplay about the star-crossed ocean liner, plus at least one syrupy prose-poem in which he misspells twilight and viciously mangles a John Masefield quote.
According to identical stories published this morning in the Palm Beach Post and the Sun-Sentinel, Brower is one of "100 paranormal investigators" planning a trip to
the "bleak North Atlantic," to the patch of ocean where the Titanic sank 98 years ago. There, Brower -- who in addition to being a Titanic nut and creative speller also happens to be a ghost hunter -- will commune with the Titanic's dead passengers with the help of recording devices meant to pick up "EVP," or "Electronic Voice Phenomena." (Brower could not be reached for comment for this story.) The theory behind EVP is as follows: Record silence and background noise in an area with purported supernatural activity, and if you play back the recording with proper amplification, you will hear the voices of the dead.
"It's utter crap," says Alan Melikdjanian, a Floridian skeptic who has become famous on YouTube under his pseudonym, Captain Disillusion, for investigating purportedly supernatural video clips. Melikdjanian explains that most reported EVP are a matter of pareidolia -- the propensity of the human mind to seek out patterns where there are none, just as we do when we hear "backward masked" Satanic messages in Led Zeppelin songs or find the face of Jesus on a piece of toast. Melikdjanian is less concerned with the ghost hunters than he is with the news outlets that give them credence.
"Journalists are supposed to be skeptical, aren't they?" he asks. "But this story doesn't seem to be about whether it's possible to skip out on the ocean and have a talk with a bunch of dead Titanic passengers. Instead, it seems to be about whether it's ethical or not."
Indeed, the only skepticism expressed in Robert Nolin's Sentinel/Post story is about the propriety of bothering the dead with recording devices. One quoted critic called the practice "disrespectful and unethical."
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"How could they know that?" asks Melikdjanian. "There's never been any evidence -- anywhere, ever -- that beings continue to exist in some form after death. And if they do, we've certainly never found any evidence that they can talk to us -- or that we can somehow eavesdrop on them against their will."
New Times suggested to Melikdjanian that a proper test of the reality of EVP might be conducted as follows: Record several audio tracks, one at the site of the Titanic sinking and several others at points in the ocean where no known disasters have occurred. Then, play them for a group of ghost hunters and paranormal investigators and see if they can determine the genuine Titanic tape.
"That'd be a good test," Melikdjanian said. "Or you might not even have to go to the ocean -- you could go under a highway overpass, anywhere. I think you'll find these 'ghostly' voices just about anywhere you record."
If so, so much the better for William Brower and his friends. For their next field trip, they're thinking about visiting Jonestown.