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Ghost Hunting Flashlight Trick: Physical Explanation and Experiments

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5:22 am
March 25, 2012


Verklagekasper

Investigator

posts 28

Hi guys, I thought it would be worth to figure out how the SFT (stupid flashlight trick) works. So I purchased the flashlight model they use on Ghost Hunters, experimented and made a video. Here's the result:

Some ghost hunters use a flashlight to communicate with ghosts. Typically, the performing ghost hunter turns the flashlight's head to a position where the lamp easily goes on or off by the slightest touch. Then the ghost hunter puts it on a table or on the ground and starts asking questions. Eventually, the flashlight seems to respond by going on or off. The questioning goes on, and the flashlight keeps going on and off without any noticable force affecting it. The ghost hunters claim that the flashlight is operated by a spirit.

But there is a physical explanation for the flashlight repeatedly going on and off by itself. The video below presents experiments with the Mini Maglite 2-Cell AA (Xenon), which happens to be the model used in the TV-Show "Ghost Hunters" that made the trick popular. Experimental results and considerations of contact physics reveal that the trick is actually caused by a heat cycle.

In particular, the cycling is caused by the flashlight's reflector expanding under the heat of the lamp and contracting when the lamp is off, thereby breaking or making contact as it is reducing or increasing pressure on the switch. The long and distinct on and off phases of the cycle are caused by complex events on the contact surfaces. First, when the lamp is off, some pressure is required to break the insulating layers of oxide and other debris that cover the contact surfaces. The lamp stays off until the reflector contracted far enough so that the spring in the tail cap inflicts enough pressure on the contacts to break the oxide layers. When the layers break, the first point of electric contact overheats, melts and spreads, and the contacts get welded together. As the lamp goes on, the reflector starts expanding from the heat of the lamp. It expands until it generated enough force to break the welded spot. Depending on the quality of the weld, the lamp either goes off quickly, as the contact surfaces jump apart, or it goes off flickering, as a bridge of molten metal is formed between the contacts which burns out. After the lamp goes off and the contacts start closing again, it takes some time to remake contact. Because if the surfaces jumped apart when the welded contact spot broke, the resulting gap needs to be closed again. In any case, pressure on the contacts needs to be built up again to break the oxide layers, which either grew back instantly after the weld broke or which got even worse by the oxidization and degredation of the liquid contact bridge. As contact is remade, the cycle starts again.

 

 

12:48 pm
March 25, 2012


Learjet

Australia

Lead Investigator

posts 1147

Wow, that's a most detailed and professional presentation. I hope it spreads through the paranormal community to show reason why the SFT isn't paranormal.

OD'd on EMF

12:10 pm
March 26, 2012


Verklagekasper

Investigator

posts 28

Post edited 12:11 pm – March 26, 2012 by Verklagekasper


Learjet said:

Wow, that's a most detailed and professional presentation. I hope it spreads through the paranormal community to show reason why the SFT isn't paranormal.


 

Thank you! Btw, it seems that the TAPS people are really not aware that the SFT depends on the heat of the lamp. Like, in the recent "Dead and Breakfast" episode (http://www.skepticalviewer.com…..012-9pm-e/), Amy tried three flashlights, but only one did the trick. The one blinking happens to be the one that lied closest to her when she prepared the three lights. It's the one that she had been carrying alite when she entered the room… It was still warm and thus the cycle could be started, whereas the two backup lights were cold and thus failed. She didn't seem to know that the backup lights would have required some warm-up to make the trick work.

2:24 pm
March 26, 2012


alicat

Lead Investigator

posts 1215

Post edited 2:33 pm – March 26, 2012 by alicat
Post edited 2:35 pm – March 26, 2012 by alicat


Actually the SFT has been discussed numerous times throughout many SV threads as well as written about, demonstrated via video, discussed and debunked in a more concise way by Nosfer back on July 18, 2010.  Here is the link.

People have to understand that this is a television show for entertainment purposes only.  Trust me, anyone is a fool to think that the TAPS people are not aware of this.  Like it or not, but the misuse of equipment, slight of hand, doctored FLIR, pranks on other cast members, incredible moving lamp, bad acting, guest "star" appearances, heavy editing, etc. all prove this to be the case.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is watching and believing in these shows with blinders on.

Sadly, the paranormal community will give no mind to any video or explanation.  They are divided into two camps… the fawning over TAPS camp or the distancing themselves from TAPS camp.  There are even those in the distancing themselves from TAPS camp that believe in the SFT and you are never going to change anyone's mind even if you show them otherwise.

In the end, there seems to be a great deal of detail on this video but 21 minutes of my life is too long to spend watching what we've all known and seen since the outset and which can be shown to be fact in 25 seconds or less.

3:11 pm
March 26, 2012


Verklagekasper

Investigator

posts 28

alicat said:

Actually the SFT has been discussed numerous times throughout many SV threads as well as written about, demonstrated via video, discussed and debunked in a more concise way by Nosfer back on July 18, 2010.  Here is the link….

In the end, there seems to be a great deal of detail on this video but 21 minutes of my life is too long to spend watching what we've all known and seen since the outset and which can be shown to be fact in 25 seconds or less.


 

The debunk that you meantion implies video editing. But there is amateur footage out there which is not edited. So no, it has not been debunked before properly. I don't mean to waste your precious time, but at least get your facts straight, mkay.

6:26 am
March 27, 2012


Learjet

Australia

Lead Investigator

posts 1147

There are other people on youtube that show how the flashlight does it's trick, but none to this level of detail. It's an awesome demonstration, even if it is 20 minutes long. I'm nowhere near capable of putting together a demonstration this concise. That video must have taken quite some time to put together.

Yes there will always be those that dismiss any attempt to find a natural explanation. Does that mean we should give up trying? I sometimes think this way also, but recently I read a post over at JREF that changed my mind. It was a poster that once believed in all things "woo" but through rational explanation and demonstration he learned of more likely explanations for certain things in his life and adopted critical thinking. 

Skepticism isn't something that we're born with. It has to be learned.

OD'd on EMF

10:41 am
March 27, 2012


Stephen

San Jose, CA

Admin

posts 591

That's an awesome video. It would be an interesting explanation of the physics of everyday things even if people weren't believing that the flashlights were talking to them.

Stephen the Friendly Skeptic

8:11 am
February 21, 2013


CASPR Founder Wanda

Guest

I want to THANK YOU for posting this…My Team actually did this type of experiment and came up with almost the same results…..perhaps now people will do some REAL research into the Paranormal on their OWN…not try to mock a Television Show…Confused

Wanda Stone

CASPR Founder

Carolina Anomal Spirits & Paranormal Researchers

Taking Paranormal Research Seriously

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