Ciarán O'Keeffe ain't afraid of no ghost. The parapsychologist and research associate for the Université de Toulouse in France is also an expert commentator for a number of paranormal investigations and TV shows in the United Kingdom and beyond. Despite conducting field work in a number of haunted locales, he hasn't yet been scared out of his profession.
“To be honest," he says, “if a ghost jumped out in front of me I wouldn’t be scared at all. In fact, the ghost would be bored by all my questions."
The audience won't be bored by Ciarán's stories when he speaks at the Student Research Showcase gala event, "Oh, The Places You'll Go."
What is parapsychology?
Parapsychology is the scientific study of the paranormal. It covers three main areas – ESP (extrasensory perception), PK (psychokinesis) and Survival. ESP looks at the mind’s ability to communicate – for example, telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance. PK is the ability to manipulate inanimate objects (e.g., spoon-bending) and Survival covers a multitude of areas that indicate survival after death (e.g., haunting, mediumship communication).
How did you become interested in this field?
It would be more appropriate for me to say I was drawn into parapsychology by my fascination with very early psychologists or the teenage foray into classic ghost stories, but it wouldn’t be true…. The one thing that tipped the scales and sent me on this path was the movie Ghostbusters!
How did you get involved in providing your expert opinion to paranormal TV shows and other media?
My first experience with “paranormal TV” was due to my expertise in testing mediums. A channel in the UK had heard about my work through national newspaper reports about a journal article I had written. They asked me to observe a séance and report back so they could decide whether it was worth showing. I jumped at the chance.
That led to being chosen for shows including Most Haunted and Jane Goldman Investigates.
What is the spookiest experience you've had while researching the paranormal?
I once investigated a Second World War underground bunker in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. While a group of us were in one room, three of us, at the same time, turned to look towards the doorway and corridor. A shadow had seemingly “walked” past. No one was in the corridor.
Not long afterwards, we heard whispering in the corridor. When I went into the corridor, it stopped. As I was about to re-enter the room (after setting up cameras and recording devices), it started again. Spooky.
What advice do you give people who are quick to believe in hauntings and other seemingly paranormal events? What advice do you have for skeptics?
Always question. Be a critical thinker. Accumulate knowledge about alternative explanations. It’s through knowledge and questioning that you can find the truth.
The same is true for skeptics – and cynics. Too often, I hear cynical attitudes when it comes to the paranormal – even from other scientists – without any understanding of all the possible explanations and without any empathy for the experience.
So, whether you are a dogmatic believer or closed-minded cynic, I advise you to question and accumulate knowledge. Be a true skeptic, which means you are open-minded but questioning.
What do you want our student researchers to take away from your keynote address?
No matter how unusual your dream is, follow it.