Zak Bagans, the ghost-hunting star of the popular Travel Channel series "Ghost Adventures," is releasing music later this month that he claims includes the voice of a television actor’s ghost.
According to a press release issued on behalf of Bagans and reposted on several websites, “In 1999, actor David Strickland, best known for his role on the NBC sitcom 'Suddenly Susan,' committed suicide in room 20 of the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas. More than a decade later, Zak Bagans, the host and lead investigator for the hit TV series 'Ghost Adventures,' spent hours in that very room attempting to establish communication with Strickland's departed soul. The results of that investigation can be heard on the track 'Room 20' from NecroFusion, the upcoming album from Bagans and musical partner, The Lords of Acid's Praga Khan.”
According to Bagans, he went to the motel and "after hours of recording sessions… I began communication with mind-blowing responses. One of the responses I got was when I said 'hello' to David, and a male voice who I believe was his, replied 'Hi, Zak.' I asked if he could hear me and he said 'yea.'… I asked him if he knew where he was, and told me the name of the hotel… 'Oasis.' This was one of the most powerful spirit communication sessions I have ever conducted."
Ghost Voices, EVP, and Science
Many ghost hunters, including the "Ghost Adventures" team, use voice recorders in an attempt to capture a supposed ghost voice, or Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). Often an investigator will hold the recorder while standing in the middle of a room addressing the supposed spirit, or while walking around. He or she will later go back and review the recordings at high volume, enhancing the audio and listening for any faint murmurs, sounds, or noises which could be interpreted as ghost voices. For example, a ghost hunter may ask out loud, "If there's a spirit here, what's your name?"
Often ghost hunters will get no answer at all; other times, if they wait long enough they’ll hear some random sound that could be interpreted as a faint, mumbled name, such as “Mary.” (Or maybe Terry, Kerry, Larry or Barry — never mind the fact that, as disembodied spirits, ghosts presumably do not have vocal cords, a tongue or a mouth that would allow them to speak.) One problem with EVP is that microphones are very sensitive and may record anything from someone talking in the next room, to wind blowing, to ordinary random sounds from outside, or even sounds from the ghost hunters themselves.
There is little mystery about what causes EVP, and it has nothing to do with ghost voices. EVP are created by a well-understood psychological process called apophenia, which cause people to “hear” distinct sounds in random white noise patterns such as the background static in an audio recording.
In her 2005 book "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," Mary Roach described “an experiment in which a group of people were handed paper and pencil and asked to help transcribe what they were told was a faint, poor-quality recording of a lecture. The subjects offered dozens of phrases and even whole sentences they’d managed to make out — though the tape contained nothing but white noise.”
In other words, people hear words and messages in random sounds that aren’t really there, influenced by imagination and suggestion. It’s not necessarily an issue of faking or deception, but instead a common perceptual and cognitive illusion.
Bagans offers no scientific evidence for his claim. But assuming for a moment that Bagans did in fact contact a ghost, how does he know it was actor David Strickland? Several other people are known to have died violently in that Las Vegas hotel, including murderer Theodore Sean Widdowes in 1996 and professional poker player Stu Ungar in 1998.
In fact, given the sketchy area of Las Vegas where the Oasis is located, there might be dozens of people who died nearby by murder, accident or suicide over the years, any or all of whom could presumably haunt the motel. Yet Bagans somehow positively identified a few short, muffled, ambiguous bits of words (what he hears as, “yea,” “Hi Zak,” “Oasis,” etc.) as spoken by Strickland’s ghost.
Proof of Ghosts?
If what Bagans claims is true, he may have a unique opportunity to prove skeptics and scientists wrong and show once and for all that EVP really are ghost voices instead of an auditory illusion. If the sounds that Bagans recorded are indeed the voice of deceased actor David Strickland, it should be easy enough for an audio expert to compare the EVP to voice samples taken from "Suddenly Susan" or any other of Strickland’s television appearances.
Either the sounds that Bagans recorded match Strickland’s voice or they don’t. Strangely, despite being “one of the most powerful spirit communications” Bagans has encountered, such a basic analysis was apparently never done.
EVPs are nothing new; ghost hunters have claimed to record supposed ghost voices for years (either dismissing or ignoring the psychological explanation). However most of the supposed voices are from random, anonymous spirits. Bagans claims that dead man makes a cameo appearance on his upcoming record. It’s unclear how David Strickland’s family feels about his tragic suicide (fueled by the actor’s drug addiction and mental illness) being exploited as entertainment.