Full disclose: this writer doesn’t believe in ghosts. But he does believe, as all scientists do, that there is plenty we can’t currently explain about the universe. So does Christopher Chacon, an “anomalist” and a “scientific investigator of paranormal phenomena.” Chacon does some advising on the “Paranormal Activity” series — whose latest, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” hits theaters Friday — though he tends to come in after picture’s wrapped.
A former magician and illusionist, Chacon went from a full-on skeptic to someone who occupies a space between skepticism and belief. Nowadays he investigates extreme cases of phenomena that he claims cannot be explained, at least not now, by rigorous scientific explanation, and could possibly point to ghosts or something else beyond humanity’s limited perception. We spoke to Chacon about the science behind his approach, what people, even those who believe in the supernatural, get wrong and, of course, what the movies, he says, get right.
This is a silly question, but have you noticed an uptick in interest in the paranormal or even more cases since these films started coming out?
Discussion, yes. But the actual cases, no. That’s a constant. A lot of them are out of the country and the majority of them don’t gravitate to films like this. The cases I get are the most extreme cases. People are traumatized, there’s injury involved, the situation is extremely precarious. If they experience that, they gravitate away from films like these.
What does your job usually entail?
What happens is someone has some kind of paranormal experience, or what they think is a paranormal experience. It can range from someone being possessed to a poltergeist in the house they see a UFO or claim to have had a close encounter abduction, or they see some kind of creature and are attacked by it. Maybe it’s some huge psychokinetic event and someone makes objects move about a room. It’s either so severe or it’s ongoing that these people seek assistance. But they don’t want press. Their experiences are traumatizing.
I imagine there are a lot of cases where either it’s a hoax or there winds up being an obscure but perfectly reasonable explanation behind what’s going on.
Right off the bat they go through a criteria. Whoever’s referring them to make have to do a psychological check. They have to do physiological tests, background checks, circumstantial tests to see if it’s a hoax. All those things are done before [they get to me], because my time is precious. [Laughs] They have to have all those things figured out before I get there. They rule out hoaxes, they rule out people who are on drugs. There was one case with some elderly people thought poltergeist activity was hitting their home. It turned out they were testing a new stealth bomber, and every time it would take off it would have this very strange trajectory, and it wound send a huge impact tremor that shook the whole house. Nobody had explanations while it happened. There were no earthquakes, there was no airport nearby. It was a top secret aircraft, so there was another explanation. Seventy to 80 percent of phenomena that happens does have a rational explanation. But of course there is the 20 to 30 percent that cannot be dismissed, cannot be explained by scientific means.