Do Ouija boards work and, if so, how? Let's look at what modern research says and how this relates to the internet but, first, let me tell you my own creepy experience with one many years ago. It didn't involve ghosts or speaking to the dead but it was very strange indeed. In fact, it's a perfect illustration of how this all fits together.
(Note: If you are a Christian reading this, let me just be clear and state right out in the open that I do not advocate the use of Ouija boards nor recommend trying one since, as we'll get into, it is a form of divination, which the bible warns against--for good reason. That being said, there is a very interesting science behind how they work.)
Hidden KnowledgeIn sixth grade, my friend, Travis, had a birthday sleepover with a bunch of friends from school. I lived only a few miles away and drove my little Honda 60 quad on the dirt roads over to his house. When I got there, as usual, I turned the handlebars all the way to the right and then locked them so no one could steal it or take it for a joyride (at least not without doing more than going in small little circles). I tucked the key in my pocket and joined the party.
Later that evening, after a full day of swimming, playing hide and go seek, and running around Travis' backyard, we all headed off to his room for the rest of the night. At some point, I reached into my pocket and panicked because my quad key was not there. Maybe I didn't lock it after all, I thought. I went outside and checked. Yep, locked. I went back to his room, checked around and looked for a while longer and still couldn't find it. Oh well, I'll just worry about it tomorrow, I told myself.
After we all played Nintendo late into the night, Travis brought out an Ouija board. l had never seen nor heard of one before but he said that if two people put their hands on the plastic heart-shaped piece, it will start moving all by itself, answering questions or spelling out words. One kid protested and said they were evil but I was skeptical. I was pretty sure it didn't work...or was a hoax.
We all gathered around and gave it a try. It moved around chaotically as a bunch of ten-year-olds pushed on it. Travis said it won't work if you press too hard or try to push it. We tried again but this time just lightly setting our fingers on top. Nothing happened for a while...and then it started to move. Someone yelled, "Don't move it!" to which we all said in turn, "It's not me. You stop moving it!" Finally, we all agreed that we weren't moving it but were completely creeped out by the fact that it was indeed moving around the board seemingly all by itself. At this point, Travis said, "Let's ask it a question."
I was still worried about my lost key so I asked, "Where's my quad key?" We waited a bit and then it started to move. It didn't seem sure where it wanted to go at first but then it eventually meandered and settled on the first letter--"P". Next, it moved slightly to the left and stopped at "O". Then it moved down to nowhere and back up again to the "O". Lastly, it went slowly across the board up and to the right, landing on "L". We all yelled "POOL!", grabbed a flashlight and headed through Travis' backyard. We flashed around the lounge chairs, tables, and concrete. Nothing. Finally, I grabbed the light and pointed it into the water. A tiny reflection came from the deep end. There it was, just like the Ouija board said.
The Science Behind Ouija Boards
There are three possible explanations we can offer for the Ouija board finding my lost key: 1) someone set the whole thing up and moved it knowing it was there, 2) a spirit told us where the key was, or 3) the Ouija board somehow helped us answer a question we already knew the answer to...even though we weren't consciously aware of it.
Not too long ago, researchers tried to understand how and why an Ouija board works the way it does--if at all--and, after running a series of tests, discovered something very interesting.
Consider UBC researchers use Ouija boards to tap the subconscious:
Researchers at the University of British Columbia are using Ouija boards to test human intelligence.
Docky Duncan with UBC's Visual Cognition Lab says the spirit board traditionally used to channel the dead can also be used to test people's unconscious knowledge. He says it's not ghosts moving the board, but users' ideomotor reflex.
"The movements that you see on a Ouija board are unconscious movements. They are produced by the players themselves, but they don't feel responsibility for them," said Duncan.
To test this theory, Duncan has blindfolded subjects place their fingers on the planchette — or the triangular piece of wood that moves across the board — and then asks them yes or no questions. So far, he has found that most people answer two out of every three questions correctly, even if they think they don't know the answer.
"Ask someone if they know, you know, 'What's the capital of Cambodia?' and they might say, 'I have no idea.' But they might have heard it somewhere, and it may actually be inside your brain somewhere," said Duncan.
"When we ask people these questions using these unconscious answers, suddenly players can actually access that knowledge and it really becomes manifested."If you have never heard of the "ideomotor reflex" before, here's a really good description from The Clinician's Manual:
Though it is rarely spoken of in discussions about human movement, descriptions of ideomotor activity are present in the medical literature beginning in 1852 when The Proceedings of the Royal Institution reprinted a lecture by William Carpenter. He identified ideomotor as a third category of nonconscious, instinctive behavior, which also included excitomotor (breathing and swallowing) and sensorimotor (startle reactions) activity. Ideomotor movement is secondary to thought, and it begins in the cerebrum.
The discovery of its presence and descriptions of intricate studies demonstrating its manifestation conducted in the 19th and 20th centuries...[are] well documented and the reality of its presence has never been refuted. Instead, it seems simply to have been forgotten. As Ray Hyman states, "Although the effects of ideomotor action have been understood for at least one hundred fifty years, the phenomenon remains surprisingly unknown, even to scientists."
Ideomotor action is...the reason movement occurs in activities such as dowsing, the play with the Ouija board and "facilitated communication." ...like a simple reflex, ideomotor movement occurs instinctively, though it is often far more complex and always without volition. This is the primary reason those doing it do not commonly take responsibility for its manifestation or consequence. We suppose ourselves to be consciously in control of our movement for the most part, and it is difficult to convince people otherwise under ordinary circumstances.We must first understand that the Ouija board is a piece of technology--one that is specifically designed to amplify unconscious or reflexive movements between two or more people for the purpose of communication (disregard who or what is being communicated with for now).
It "works" because there is very little friction between the planchette (or plastic cursor device) gliding above the smooth surface of the board so that the slightest of movements in a person's fingers are communicated through movement of the planchette. When one person does it, there's not much mystery involved but when two or three people do it, that's when things start to get weird.
This is what happens: one person's hand slightly moves the planchette and, since everything is felt by the other participants, they too react to that movement in a manner that is somewhere on the border of conscious control and unconscious reflex. At first, it may start out as mostly conscious but then, after some time passes, the unconscious reflexes begin to dominate allowing for the very strange "ideomotor phenomenon" to take over leading to movement of the planchette as if someone (or some "thing") is physically pushing it around the board in an almost controlled manner even though every person at the board swears they are not doing it. The thing is everyone is still conscious and participating so it's a complex mix of "I think I'm controlling it; I don't think I'm controlling it; we're controlling it together; we're not controlling it; wait, who is controlling this thing and is it controlling us?"
Imagine that we were to scale this up to a much larger set of people. For example, instead of 2 or 3 people each putting their fingers on the planchette, imagine creating an Ouija board-style device where it could be used with 10, 50, 1000 or even a million people. To do this though you'd need a really big "planchette" or interface for everyone to touch and connect through. Voila! What do you know? Such a technology exists and we all use it today.
When I explained how the internet was one giant Ouija board to someone in the past, they said, "Yeah, but it's not quite the same because our unconscious minds aren't linked up and moving something around."
If you're thinking that, this is why you are wrong. The planchette or plastic cursor-like device in the Ouija board is merely the interface people use to connect for the purpose of shared communication at the unconscious level. It moves because that was the simplest and easiest "technology" of the time in order to achieve this property. Today, the interface we all use is a computer and the internet is the means by which we are connected both consciously AND unconsciously. Rather than placing our fingers or hands on a plastic "planchette," we place them on a plastic mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen. Rather than being connected with just one, two, or three other people at the most, we are instantly connected with billions of others electronically.
When the first few computer networks were connected decades ago, the people in charge told themselves "I'm in control of this." Then more computer networks were added and it became "I think I'm in control of this." Then a few more: "I don't think I'm in control of this." Then more: "Oh hey, we're controlling this together." Then more: "We're not controlling this." Then more: "Who is controlling this thing?" And now we have reached the point where people are beginning to ask, "Is it controlling us?"
When you ask the Oujia board a question, who provides the answer? The group. What about the internet? Who provides the answer then? (Hint: it has six letters and is named after a number.)
Click here for the answer