~ Written By Bobby Elgee ~

Many paranormal groups will detail the difference between two types of hauntings–residual and intelligent. Without going into a great degree of detail, residual hauntings are like a tape recorder that periodically plays for a variety of supposed reasons, while intelligent hauntings imply some degree of consciousness and interaction with the environment, including the people that encounter them.
The goal of this article is not to go into a myriad of details regarding the specifics of these two types of hauntings, or necessarily, how to tell the difference. Instead, I’d like to discuss people’s propensity to attribute human characteristics to things that aren’t human.
The following definition is taken from Merriam Websters 11th Collegiate Dictionary, probably the most widely used dictionary, especially in the publishing industry:
Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
an·thro·po·mor·phized; an·thro·po·mor·phiz·ing
transitive verb
: to attribute human form or personality to
intransitive verb
: to attribute human form or personality to things not human
‚ÄĒ an¬∑thro¬∑po¬∑mor¬∑phi¬∑za¬∑tion -?m?r-f?-?z?-sh?n noun

If you are a human being, you have a natural tendency to do this. It’s part of being human, much like recognizing faces in ambiguous visual stimuli; a wonderful ability afforded us by the most spectacular of all organs–our brains. The question is, how does one do this accurately in the realm of paranormal investigation?

It’s natural for humans to be self-centered or egocentric. If something happened, its probably related to you, and perhaps is because of something you did. Ask a child of a certain age “Why does the sun come up?” and they will answer with some variation of “Because I got up.” It is simply a developmental stage that–hopefully–we all outgrow.

But, to me, it seems that we may revert to earlier developmental stages when analyzing paranormal phenomena. Consider the following hypothetical questions and answers….

Why did that mist show up in a picture?
It was a ghost trying to show itself to me.

Why did those plates fall off the counter?
A ghost was trying to get my attention.

Why are the dowsing rods moving?
A spirit is spinning them around in answer to your questions.

Why did my EMF detector spike when there’s no electrical source around?
A spirit is attempting to make contact with us.

Why did this cold spot materialize?
A ghost is trying to manifest, and tell me it’s here.

Why did that door slam?
The spirits are upset that we’re here.

What is the cat looking at?
A ghost, animals can see things that we can’t. It must be a member of PETA.

The questions could certainly apply to many paranormal investigations I’ve been on. The answers however, show a clear indication of anthropormorphism–in addition to a lack of a debunking attempt. Their is no indication from the events that this is an intelligent haunting, and yet the person answering the question automatically makes it a conscious spirit interacting with the investigator. In addition, they are clearly ascribing human attributes to something non-human, in this case, a bunch of environmental observations.

Whether such things are paranormal–not explainable by science–may be determined in the context of a careful investigation. Whether they were caused by a spirit or ghost can certainly never be proven, regardless of whether it is a residual or intelligent haunting.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all need to fight against our basic human propensity to anthropomorphize. I feel it can sabotage an investigation, causing investigators to lose focus and pigeon-hole data into their belief system, and, perhaps, even cause people to miss potentially relevant events.

So, unless a full-bodied apparition materializes in front of you in period dress, tells you it’s a ghost, and then offers to play a game of cards with you, be very careful about calling anything an intelligent haunting. The events that occurred are probably not paranormal to begin with. To make them into a ghost interacting with you is quite a stretch.

Have I been in haunted places where I felt that a presence was interacting with the team? Absolutely! Have I recorded EVPs that respond to an investigators questions in a specific manner? Yes, albeit rarely.

Assigning attributes such as sex and personality traits–as well as motivations–to paranormal phenomena is a slippery slope. I prefer to leave that stuff up to competent psychics–which are very, very rare.

Please visit Bobby Elgee’s site: Sights Unseen Paranormal