ASSAP: Paranormal Research
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ASSAP bloggerWelcome to the ASSAP paranormal blog! Though this blog is aimed at anyone interested in the paranormal, it will be of particular interest to the paranormal research community. Updated frequently, but not regularly (don't expect something new every day!), it covers any paranormal topic, as well as highlighting recent changes to the ASSAP website. You may not notice it but this site changes on an almost daily basis.

Whenever new information becomes available on a subject ASSAP covers, it is added to the relevant pages of the website straight away. So, just because you've read a page, don't assume it will still be exactly the same when you next look. That way the ASSAP website remains an up to date research resource.

The photo (above right, pic by Val Hope) is the ASSAP blogger himself, out looking for anomalies wherever they are to be found, so that you can read about them here.

Important note: If anything in this blog does not make sense, try following the links in text! If it still doesn't make sense, that's probably my fault ...

Previous blog pages ... (including ghosts, UFOs, poltergeists, flying rods, miracles, orbs, hypnotic regression, big cats, vampires, near sleep experiences, premonitions, shadow ghosts, paranormal photos, auras, river monsters and dozens of other subjects)

31 January 2011: Fantasy prone? Me?

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time dreaming of alternative lives I could be living. All too soon, reality bit and I had no time for such fantasies. Just the other night, however, I found myself having one of these 'alternative life' fantasies again. Unlike the ones from my childhood, this one was tempered with so much 'reality', the product of experience, that it was not that attractive!

It is often stated that many people who claim to be psychic, or have paranormal experiences, are 'fantasy prone' (FP), a personality type implied from several characteristics. So it made me wonder if I might be FP as well. I found this article which was very revealing. There is a list 14 characteristics of FP and, if you have 6 or more, you may have a FP personality. As well as the obvious things, like having an imaginary friend as a child and reliving past experiences, I was intrigued to see things like 'claiming psychic powers', various near sleep experiences, 'encountering apparitions' and receiving messages from spirits!

Looking at the list, I don't come out as FP. However, anyone reporting a variety of apparently paranormal experiences could easily qualify. And that is even if they have NONE of the non-paranormal characteristics!

I can't see how saying paranormal experiencers tend to be FP is terribly useful! They can be FP simply BECAUSE they have had a wide range of weird experiences, even if they've never had an imaginary friend, are not easily hypnotisable and do not fantasize much. For more information on FP see here.

28 January 2011: The ghost hunting boom: Plenty of spirit!

Before the ghost hunting boom, ghost researchers were fairly evenly divided about what ghosts were. There were some who favoured the idea that they were spirits while others thought a stone tape theory more likely. A few thought ghosts might be explained by retrocognition or even a time slip. But the theory that was starting to gain momentum was that ghost sightings had many different causes, like UFOs, most of them natural. There were a few other theories kicking around, while some people even doubted if any ghosts were paranormal at all. The best evidence was decisively pointing away from the traditional idea of spirits with other ideas being vigorously explored.

With the advent of the ghost hunting boom, everything changed. While the stone tape theory clung on for a while, the only idea the vast majority of ghost hunters were interested in was the spirit one. Even when it wasn't explicitly stated, you could see the idea of spirits implied through assumption-led methods like calling out, seances and monitoring for EVP. This was despite the fact that the idea that ghosts are spirits was not at all well supported by the evidence from spontaneous ghost sightings.

So how have we ended up with spirit idea ruling the roost? Ultimately, it is a particularly tenacious cultural meme. But why has it been so widely adopted, apparently with little criticism, by the ghost hunting boom generation? I think it may be because the majority of the 'boomers' had little or no previous experience in the field of paranormal research. They had never pursued spontaneous ghost sighting cases through the traditional phases of interview, site examination and vigil. Instead, they skipped straight to what was seen as the exciting part - the vigil. In reality, vigils usually contribute the least amount of concrete evidence to a spontaneous case report. Well organised vigils are known for being incredibly boring - usually almost nothing happens! This is unsurprising because a ghost might only be spotted once or twice in a month, or even a year, at any particular location. What are the chances that they will just happen to turn up just when someone organises a vigil?

By using assumption-led methods, the idea of ghosts as spirits cannot be challenged by any evidence accumulated on vigils. So the idea simply carries on and on. Most of us who were around before the boom, plus a few others, continue to look at much more promising alternative ideas. It can, however, be frustrating to see so much effort being expended on an idea that simply is not supported by the evidence. Like all booms, those who speak against the prevailing wisdom are seen by the majority as out of step. Until the boom is finally over!

PS: I don't know why I decided to devote this week to the ghost hunting boom, but I did. It's the elephant in the room in paranormal research. It dominates everything in the subject but no one really talks much about it.

27 January 2011: The ghost hunting boom: Long term studies out of favour

All buildings have their own peculiarities. They have their own characteristic noises, peculiar reflections and light effects, even odd spreads of electromagnetic fields. These all have natural causes. Many building noises are caused by rising or falling temperatures, making materials like like wood and metal expand and contract (see here). Shiny bits of metal, plastic and glass can all produce strong, highly localised reflections that can appear as flashes when you move around a room (flashes are commonly reported on ghost vigils). You can even get work surfaces that vibrate when nearby electrical devices, like washing machines, are used, causing light objects to move across them. All of these phenomena could be interpreted as paranormal to someone new to a building. You need to really get to know a building well before you can discriminate between everyday natural occurrences and possibly paranormal ones.

So, when someone visits a building for the first time, they may well experience the 'new house effect', where ordinary, naturally occurring phenomena are mistaken for the paranormal. It can be seen when a group of people holds their first ghost vigil in a haunted location. They will, typically, produce lots of reports of strange phenomena, most of which turn out to be easily explained by natural causes. On subsequent visits the number of such reports diminishes as people start to recognise the peculiarities of a particular building. Indeed, any apparently paranormal evidence found on a first vigil in any particular location can usually be pretty much discounted, unless it is strongly supported by hard evidence.

One of the problems with the ghost hunting boom is a tendency to visit lots of allegedly haunted buildings just once or twice. There are a number of allegedly haunted buildings that can be hired for an overnight vigil, so that there is now a known 'circuit' of such venues to visit. Many groups go round these buildings in turn, often visiting each just once.

The result of so many 'one off' visits is that people can get the idea they have witnessed lots of good paranormal evidence in a whole range of locations. In reality, much of what they've experienced may simply be a result of the new house effect. What is really needed are many more long term studies at single locations where the same people visit many times.

PS: Today I found myself looking for a cup which I was sure should be right in front of me, but was not. The situation arose because I decided to make myself a cup of tea, then changed my mind and finally got distracted by something else. At the end of this sequence I remembered having wanted tea but not changing my mind. So I could not understand why there was no tea cup ready where it should have been. The moral of this trifling domestic drama? Not every 'object disappearance' is paranormal!

26 January 2011: The ghost hunting boom: What about the witnesses?

The most compelling evidence about ghosts comes from spontaneous witnesses. They are people who have had a ghostly experience unexpectedly. They were not looking for a ghost, did not expect one and, in many cases, knew little about the subject. When their accounts agrees with those of other spontaneous witnesses visiting the same place they become even more persuasive - there is clearly something happening that needs explaining. Before the ghost hunting boom, most ghost research concentrated on collecting and, if possible, explaining the accounts of such witnesses. In many ways, this is the fundamental core of all scientific ghost research. You might say that such reports are anecdotal and so of no scientific value. However, much scientific field research starts with such accounts. When someone has an experience there is always a reason for it, even if it is a hallucination. It is the paranormal researcher's job to find that reason, whatever it might be, and so deduce more about the nature of ghosts.

The ghost hunting boom has changed all that! The emphasis has moved away from spontaneous witnesses towards interested individuals having their own experiences. While every paranormal researcher dreams of having such an experience, there are many drawbacks with this approach. For a start, most ghost hunting enthusiasts are firm believers, not only in ghosts as entities separate from their witnesses but also in the idea that they are spirits, despite the lack of compelling evidence for this. Even an enthusiast who does not have any particular belief about the nature of ghosts is still likely to have an extensive knowledge of the subject. All of this this raises the likelihood that psychological suggestion (expectation) will have a significant effect on anything such people may report on a vigil. Even worse, vigil participants nowadays are likely to have a detailed knowledge of what to expect at a particular venue, due to the existence of many previous vigil reports available on the web!

I look at this way - spontaneous witnesses have actually seen a ghost whereas few ghost hunters have! I would value the testimony of one spontaneous ghost witness as far higher than umpteen vigil reports of unexplained (though usually not unexplainable) 'anomalies'. Of course, we know that witness testimony cannot just be taken at face value. There are problems with misperception, memory, accounts becoming exaggerated or altered over time and so on. But with cognitive interviewing techniques and careful site examination (to verify witness accounts and look for possible natural causes) it is usually possible to obtain a reasonably accurate account of what was experienced.

I have no figures but my impression is that the ghost hunting boom has actually prompted more spontaneous witnesses to come forward than ever before, probably due to high media coverage. This would be good but for the fact that most witnesses are unlikely to know the best groups or individuals to approach with their account. Few ghost research groups employ cognitive interviewing techniques or do a comprehensive site survey. Instead, witnesses are likely to be interviewed at a fairly cursory level, primarily in order to identify somewhere to hold a ghost vigil. This means that valuable witness testimony, the life blood of our subject, is being lost forever!

25 January 2011: The ghost hunting boom: Why assumptions only ever lead back to assumptions

One of the defining characteristics of the ghost hunting boom is the use of assumption-led methods (see here). Instead of looking at a haunting from a neutral scientific viewpoint, assumption-led methods include whole layers of implicit assumptions about the nature of what is being investigated. The problem with any method based on an assumption is that it can never question its own assumptions. Considering that many of those assumptions are not obviously supported by existing evidence from careful ghost research and it begins to look like a waste of time.

Consider one example - 'calling out' during vigils. This involves someone calling on a ghost to reveal its presence in some way. Virtually any unexpected event, such as a slight noise, will usually be taken as a positive response. But does it actually make any difference whether there is a response or not? To see why this is a relevant questions, let's look at some of the implicit assumptions involved in calling out.

The first obvious assumption is that ghosts cause hauntings. However, since ghost are never observed knocking on walls, moving objects or anything else associated with hauntings, there is no obvious evidence that this assumption is true. In fact, ghosts are nowadays only seen in a minority of hauntings and may well simply be a symptom of them, rather than a cause.

The next obvious assumption, if we allow the possibility that a ghost is indeed present, is that one can receive messages and respond to them. Given that most ghosts are reported to appear completely unaware of their witnesses and not seen to affect their environment, there is little evidence to support this important assumption either.

So, the two central assumptions on which calling out is based have no obvious foundation in evidence. But even if there WAS such evidence, getting results from calling out would still not tell us anything useful.

Almost anything that changes in the environment, like an EMF meter reading, could be taken as a positive response to calling out. Since, by coincidence, there are bound to be times when there will just happen to be a perfectly natural change in the environment when someone 'calls out', there must always be 'positive' responses from time to time. But even if we persistently get no response, does that mean calling out does not work? It's impossible to say. It could also mean that there is no ghost present or that ghosts cannot communicate.

So, to summarise, a positive response cannot be distinguished from a coincidence (unless there is a consistent, predictable, reproducible response, which I have never come across). And a negative response tells you nothing, not even whether the method works or not. And since there is no compelling evidence that calling out SHOULD work, why is it even used? It would be much better to use methods which do not rely on assumptions which have not been verified experimentally.

Did people use 'calling out' before the ghosting boom? No one I knew ever did! I'm not saying that the methods we used then were particularly useful scientifically. But at least they did not rely on untested assumptions. When it comes to the paranormal, I think we should admit we do not know much and keep assumptions to an absolute minimum.

PS: There's a new drama on UK's ITV network next week, called Marchlands, about a haunted house. Even without seeing a preview I suspect it won't be much like a real haunting case.

24 January 2011: The ghost hunting boom: Blanket monitoring comes back to haunt me!

Back in the days before the ghost hunting boom, I advocated 'blanket monitoring' for ghost research. The idea was to measure any environmental variable possible at a haunted location. The concept was twofold; to look for both permanent differences between haunted and unhaunted places and temporary changes that occurred when something apparently paranormal was experienced. It is important to realise that this was 'blue sky' research. No one had any real evidence, at that time, that there was anything physically different about haunted locations OR that something physical changed when something weird was experienced. We just wanted to find out!

I mention blanket monitoring because now, in the ghost boom, instrumental monitoring is now the norm. People take and endless array of instruments on ghost vigils looking for 'anomalous readings' that might indicate something paranormal is going on. This aspect has, unfortunately, proved one of the downsides of the ghost hunting boom!

On the question of responsibility for this situation, I have to hold my hand up. Yes, I strongly advocated an instrumental approach many years ago. In mitigation, I can say (i) I doubt many people took any notice of me, (ii) lots of other people were thinking the same thing (see here, for instance), (iii) things did not go as I'd hoped or anticipated.

The last point is worth exploring. My idea was that people would do long term studies at particular haunted location, as well as at 'control', unhaunted, locations nearby, to look for anomalies. Such longitudinal studies would bring out both permanent and temporary differences which could be tied to actual experiences. This sort of work would still be well worth doing and a few people have already attempted it, though with mixed results so far.

We now have studies which suggest that some, probably a small minority, of haunted locations may have an unusual magnetic profile (see here). In contrast, there is still no compelling evidence, either from the lab or the field, that infrasound can cause ghost sightings though, curiously, the idea has gained a lot of supporters despite that. A set of environmental variables that together constitute 'spookiness', such as low temperature, low lighting, high humidity and so on, have been positively correlated with haunting reports. All of this is the sort of thing I had in mind when I advocated blanket monitoring.

However, among the ghost hunting boomers, there is a radically different approach. People do short term 'investigations', usually one overnight session, deploying any instrument they can afford. Certain instruments are said to 'detect' paranormal events, though without any obvious studies to back up the claim. The most notorious is the EMF meter - for a full discussion of this instrument see here.

The use of instruments like EMF meters on such short term investigations is pretty much pointless. In many cases, instruments are also used inappropriately (such as being held in the hand rather than fixed in position, for instance) and the operators do not know what constitutes an unusual reading or what natural phenomenon might cause it. In short, the use of instruments in such circumstances is a complete waste of time in terms of scientific research. This is ironic since the use of instruments on vigils is often described as the 'scientific' approach!

On the whole, I was naive when I advocated blanket monitoring. However, I am still a strong supporter of long term studies with just a few instruments looking for specific correlations suggested by previous work. The 'blue sky' phase is over!

21 January 2011: EVP experiment

People have been trying the EVP experiment video (see here), put up yesterday, but not much feedback received so far. I've heard this clip so many times that I always hear a voice in it, though others don't. And when people DO hear a voice, the words are often different to the ones I hear! They may sound similar, when spoken, but are different words when written down. If you haven't yet had a go, please do so and email your answers at the address given in the video library (link above).

20 January 2011: Two new videos

Spectrum envelopeIf you look for videos of diamond-shaped UFOs on the web, you will find a fair number. But how many are simply out of focus? We have a new video to demonstrate the problem here.

Rather more experimental, there is a video designed to see if visual input can affect how we interpret EVPs (here). This arose out of two things. Firstly, I'm fed up with videos of EVPs accompanied by still photos or blank screens! OK, an EVP is a sound but, even so, if it's going on video, why not have a video clip with it? Even worse, some EVP videos have text telling you what you're supposed to be hearing! This is pretty much guaranteed to affect your perception. So the second thing was, can video affect EVP interpretation too?

This seems entirely plausible to me as we know the senses affect each other and sight is the most influential. So many EVPs are interpreted as having a ghostly meaning. However, that may be mostly because people know they were recorded in a haunted house. If you play an EVP without any idea of where it's come from, you can often get many different interpretations, few anything to do with ghosts!

Anyway, have a go and see what you think!

19 January 2011: Misperceptions about misperception

Paranormal researchers routinely find that paranormal reports can be readily explained by misperception. In the past it has been assumed that misperception was simply someone 'confusing' one thing with another, like clothes hanging on a washing line for a human figure, for example. It has emerged in recent years, from neuroscience research, that it is not really about someone getting 'confused'! When someone sees something poorly, their brains may actually substitute the object with something else from their visual memory, before they are even conscious of seeing it. They don't see the clothing on the line at all, they actually see a real person and can tell you details like what clothes they are wearing! And it is all part of the normal way perception works!

This point, that misperception is a lot more powerful an explanation than previously assumed, does not seem to have spread very far in the paranormal research community. In particular, there seem to be lots of myths about misperception. To counter this, I've put together a new page. It is the opposite of a FAQ - a FPO - frequently put objections to misperception! Anyone reading all the objections and answers should get a better idea of just how powerful misperception IS in explaining many paranormal or anomalous reports.

18 January 2011: Seeking 'the' explanation!

There is a widespread, unspoken idea that ghosts, UFOs, or any other weird phenomenon, each have only one explanation. In reality, there are many different causes of ghost sightings, like misperception, near sleep experiences, coincidence and so on. The causes of UFO sightings are legion, from sky lanterns to planets! And yet, people still look for 'the answer' to ghosts, UFOs and other anomalies, as if there is only one possible explanation. This seems to apply not only to those who seek paranormal explanations but, more surprisingly, to those who look for natural ones.

My guess, based on experience, is that there are probably half a dozen important causes of ghost sightings and maybe a dozen more lesser ones. For UFOs, there are probably a dozen important causes and countless lesser ones. Practically anything seen in the sky could be interpreted as a UFO, in the right circumstances.

What we need are good statistics for how many cases are explained by each different cause. This would be useful so that we know the most likely explanation to consider first during an investigation. Of course, circumstances may eliminate some possible causes right away. However, often there are still many options to consider and it makes sense to look at the most likely first. I already do this for paranormal photos because I have a collection from which to do some statistics. Easily the biggest group of explanations is photographic artifacts, perhaps 95% of the total. And yet the first thing many others consider, when examining a paranormal photo, is whether it is manipulated! Such fakes form a tiny percentage of the total and are only worth considering after other possibilities.

In the case of ghosts, I don't have any readily available statistics. Unfortunately, in many cases investigators lose interest when it becomes obvious that the explanation for an incident is natural. However, from the cases I've looked at down the years, misperception is the most common cause, so it would make sense to look for that first. I'm no UFO expert but, looking at videos on the web, sky lanterns are obviously a popular cause of UFO reports these days, as are planes!

Of course, just because one cause is the most popular, it doesn't follow that all cases will be explained that way. We should try not to force explanations onto cases when they just don't fit the evidence. There is always the possibility, after all, that some really are paranormal!

17 January 2011: New NDE book, with a twist!

In the Yule Issue of New Scientist there was an interview with neurologist Kevin Nelson. He has written a book called "The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain". It is about NDEs but, unlike most books on that subject which take a parapsychological approach, he looks at it from a neuroscience point of view.

As you might expect, he mentions the three main consciousness states: awake, non-REM sleep and REM sleep (dreaming). He says that these can mix sometimes, as we have previously noted here, with things like hypnagogia and microsleep with REM (MWR).

The new stuff (to me!) he mentions is that he classifies lucid dreaming as a mixed 'awake' and 'REM sleep' state, which makes sense. He also mentions that the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex is switched off during REM states, presumably whether awake or asleep. This bit of the brain is what controls 'rational thought' which is why our dreams tend to be weird compared to waking consciousness. It also makes hypnagogia and MWR weird too! The book talks about NDEs in a way I think few parapsychologists would like! It should be well worth a read though, when it comes out in March.

12 January 2011: Distracted

The other day I happened to be waiting for something, outside, when I noticed a group of youths. Bored with waiting, I watched them ambling along, chatting. I then got distracted by something, I forget what, and looked away, just for a second, before watching them again. Except, they weren't there! I quickly looked all around but could see no sign of them! They had been heading more or less directly towards me and were not far away when last seen, so I was at a loss as to where they could have gone.

Me being me, I then started to wonder if I'd just seen a group of ghosts! The area was moderately crowded and I looked around to see if anyone else showed signs of having witnessed something a bit odd. But no one showed the slightest interest that I could discern.

Then it hit me! What if the youths had changed direction? I quickly went and looked along a path, obscured from my original vantage point, which was the only other way they could have gone. And there they were, still ambling along chatting. I felt relief at a mystery solved.

This may seem a lot of fuss about a very minor coincidence - that I just happened to look away when the youths changed direction. However, such an incident could easily lead to a full-blown ghost case, which might be widely reported. 'A group of ghosts seen to vanish into thin air in front of an incredulous witness', is one way it might be reported. In many cases, witnesses rarely investigate their sighting at the time and, if they believe in ghosts, may feel no inclination to look beyond a paranormal explanation. They might not even recall, when later interviewed, that they were momentarily distracted during the observation. An investigator might find the alternative route the youths could have taken but, by then, the witness may have convinced themselves that they actually saw the 'ghosts' vanish!

Our jobs as paranormal researchers is to try to reconstruct such incidents from interviews, site examination and logic. But sometimes that job is impossible if the witness statement flatly contradicts an obvious natural explanation. And unless there was video coverage of the incident (which there probably would have been in this case), it will be difficult to resolve satisfactorily. Witnesses generally prefer the idea of having 'seen the paranormal' to being momentarily distracted.

11 January 2011: Visual impressions

Following on from yesterday's post, it made me wonder about visual memories. There is evidence that memories are stored with words linked to visual images, and sometimes other stored sensations like smells. So, if you are reading a novel, say, and you are, quite naturally, forming visual impressions of the characters, locations and events depicted, these will presumably be memorised in associations formed by the book's words. In other words, you may form fictional associations with particular stored visual images, as well as ones from real experiences. Further, it is possible that you may store visual images in your memory of people, places and events that come solely from fiction, or even dreams, having never had any real experience of them at all.

I had previously thought that, in order for someone to misperceive Venus a a flying saucer, for instance, they'd need to have seen a visual image, from a photo, movie, TV programme etc of such a saucer. But what if they'd only ever READ about such a saucer or dreamed of one? It might not look like any image from the movies but the witness would still have a visual idea of what a flying saucer looked like!

This is a vital point! It means that anyone who is even aware of the concept of a UFO, whether they've seen a representation of one or not, could have a visual memory of one in their brains. So, they could misperceive Venus as a flying saucer despite knowing little about the subject and having not seen any science fiction movies!

In reality, few people have not seen a representation of a ghost, UFO, monster or other weird phenomenon. But even those who haven't might have a memory of one. It would be interesting to compare the reports of witnesses with different levels of visual knowledge of what they claim to have witnessed. For instance, would a flying saucer reported by a UFO buff look different to one seen by someone who had no interest in the subject?

Visual images appear to be vital to memory, and even the way we process thoughts. It is likely we have a visual image of everything we've ever even heard of, in our brains, whether we have seen it in real life or not.

10 January 2011: Words are not enough

Have you ever read a novel and then seen it dramatised as a film or TV programme? Did you feel the characters and locations 'looked wrong'? It is quite a common feeling.

We all tend to have an idea of what a person looks like, even if we've only ever read a description of them or even just heard their voice and read what they've written. When we finally see a photo of that person, or meet them, it can come as quite a shock! It seems we tend to form visual images of things or people we've never seen, whether we intend to or not.

This can cause a problem when reading a paranormal case report. We may form an inaccurate image of a location and the events reported to have taken place there if we are restricted to words and diagrams. On examining the site of a reported paranormal incident, very often I am surprised. Sometimes it is immediately obvious that, due to the layout of the place, events simply could not have taken place as described in the report. Or if they did, they were not as dramatic as I had imagined. I have sometimes actually seen phenomena, previously described in a report, only to be vastly disappointed. I realised that either the report, or my imagination, had led me to a sensationalised idea of what to expect.

In some cases, it is definitely the fault of the report writer. In attempting to portray an incident as paranormal, they may have omitted to mention, quite unintentionally, obvious natural causes visible on site. This is probably just over-enthusiasm but it must, nevertheless, be considered as a possibility when reading reports. Just because something sounds like a solid case for the paranormal, it doesn't mean another investigator at the scene would come to same conclusion. It always pays to check out whatever you can when it comes to paranormal reports, particularly if they lack detail. More often that not, things will not be anything like as dramatic as they might appear in your imagination.

The real problem is those people who read the report and NEVER check them out. They may be left with a sensationalised idea of what happened that is simply not real.

7 January 2011: Extreme normality

What makes a witness report an experience as paranormal? It is because they believe they've experienced something 'beyond normal'. But what is considered 'beyond normal' will vary from person to person, depending on personal experience and knowledge. Few scientists report seeing ghosts, not just because most of them don't believe in the paranormal, but they also understand, though their work, that there is a lot hidden behind 'everyday reality'. The phrase 'I know what I saw' must be used ironically more than any other ever spoken. In reality, almost everyone who says it did NOT know what they saw, which is why they reported it as paranormal.

We know from recent science that what we experience is, essentially, an illusion manufactured by our brains. Though it approximates to reality, it is dangerous to take it too seriously. Despite this, most people seem to have decided, albeit unconsciously, on a firm divide between normal and paranormal. My own xenonormal research shows me that everyday normality is a only the tip of an iceberg. There is a whole area of 'extreme normality' beyond. This is not in the sense of 'extremely normal', as in mundane, but rather very rarely experienced, while being totally normal. Many people find the idea of misperceiving a tree as a human figure preposterous. This means that when it happens to them they will continue to maintain they really saw a ghost, no matter what the evidence ('I know what I saw'). To me, it is an example of extreme normality, rarely recognised or noticed, but there just the same.

Some of my contemporaries have lost interest in the paranormal down the years. Maybe it's because they never saw a ghost. Or perhaps doing investigations has shown them that most have natural explanations, so now they assume all do. By contrast, I am more fascinated than ever. Once I got off the treadmill of investigations that always produced much the same result (either natural causes or inconclusive), I realised the exciting prospect that paranormal research was revealing. It showed that there was much more 'extreme normality' out there than there was everyday normality.

We notice so little of what happens around us because we lead busy lives and only pay attention to things that interest us. So when someone notices, by chance, something from 'extreme normality', they straight away assume it must be paranormal. It is only when something from this extreme sphere forces itself on our attention that we see it. Unfortunately, we are usually completely unprepared for the experience and fail to notice the tell-tale signs that it is something normal, rather than paranormal.

A paranormal researcher should learn to be open-minded about 'extreme normality'. They certainly should not set hard rules about where the divide between normal and paranormal lies. In reality, it's much more complicated!

PS: As you may be aware, ASSAP will the 30 years old this year! We are planning a celebration event in September, date and location to be announced soon!

6 January 2011: What IS a paranormal investigator?

I've recently come across a slightly disturbing consequence of the ghost hunting boom, or at least the media's coverage of it. There has been a noticeable shift in the public idea of what a paranormal investigator (PI) is.

In truth, I don't think the public ever had a clear idea of what a PI does. However, in recent years that appears to have firmed up to a more definite expectation. A PI who doesn't turn up with an EMF meter may be regarded as a bit odd. One who doesn't automatically regard ghosts as spirits may be seen as seriously eccentric! As would one who was more interested in interviewing witnesses and trying to recreate possible natural causes for reported experiences, rather than trying to 'contact' or 'detect' a ghost! To be fair, many PIs fit the public idea perfectly. However, to me, that is not what paranormal research is about.

I am primarily interested in getting as clear a description as possible of reported paranormal experiences and then trying to explain them. If I happen to see a ghost during such research, that's great, but it is a bonus, rather than the sole point of the exercise. With most reported experiences having xenonormal explanations, most ghost hunts are going to be fruitless anyway, which is exactly what we find in practice. If you use the assumption-led methods that the public now expects, you will nearly always get 'positive' results. But then, with those methods you will get 'positive' results in ANY location, whether it was haunted or not, so it's not really a paranormal investigation.

The problem that the new public image of PIs creates is that witnesses are likely to be disappointed if you don't bring along a medium, lots of impressive electronic equipment and possibly a TV crew! It should not be an insuperable problem, though. It is just a question of explaining that, despite what they've seen on TV, there is no compelling evidence that ghosts are spirits or even that they cause hauntings (see here) . Nor is there any evidence that it is possible to detect ghosts (see here). In fact, we do not yet fully understand the many possible causes of haunting phenomena, which is why more basic research, rather than ghost hunting, is required!

5 January 2011: Planes can be UFOs too!

sky lanternI've uploaded the sky lantern / orange UFO video now (here). The opening sequence, where a saucer-shaped orange UFO pulsates, certainly looks distinctly extra-terrestrial! The shape is down to the aperture of the video camera and the pulsations to the flickering lantern - all definitely terrestrial! There is also a bit at the end showing an ordinary plane for comparison. Out of focus, even an everyday plane can look weird!

Every UFO researcher will, by now, be aware of sky lanterns. However, as with orbs, the general public is generally not. So we are likely to get more and more reports of these orange UFOs as the lanterns continue to become more popular. I was amazed by how many popped up at New Year. It is clear that there were many people releasing them. Any report of UFOs at midnight on New Year's Day would be easy to explain!

It is interesting how, when someone posts a photo or video of an orange UFO online, many people do not accept the sky lantern explanation. To anyone familiar with the lanterns, their appearance and behaviour is characteristic making them easy to identify. And yet, some will still not accept such evidence! This is why I put the video up - to help people familiarise themselves with what to expect. Let's hope it helps!

4 January 2011: Orange UFOs!

Orange UFONew Year offered an opportunity to observe sky lanterns again. These are being increasingly reported as orange UFOs and are particularly common around midnight on 1 January!

It proved possible to video a saucer-shaped orange UFO which pulsated. Such behaviour is often reported by UFO witnesses. So it was quite a convincing UFO, almost a classic flying saucer glowing in the night sky (pic, right). Except, of course, that it was really a sky lantern. The 'pulsations' were caused by the flame flickering in the lantern. And the diamond shape arose because the distant lantern was actually out of focus. This particular video camera produces diamond-shaped orbs, due to the shape of its aperture, so glowing UFOs look similar! It certainly looks like an artificial flying object but no normal terrestrial craft!

Having seen many UFO photos and videos, it is evident that they are often out of focus. This contributes to their circular, saucer-like appearance and hazy 'other-worldly' look. Since the eye witness rarely remembers what they saw accurately, they readily accept the out of focus video image as what they actually saw.

The reason many UFO videos and photos are out of focus is because modern cameras use autofocus systems. These work fine in most situations but in a featureless dark sky with a tiny bright object in the middle, they can get it wrong.

There were three sky lanterns videoed floating in a tight triangle. This can give the impression of a triangular UFO with the three lanterns looking like 'landing lights'. Triangles have become a 'popular' shape for UFOs in recent years. Of course, the lanterns gradually drift relative to each other so it breaks the illusion of being lights attached to one solid object.

It is interesting to see how the colours of sky lanterns vary. Although generally appearing orange, the lanterns can also look red, yellow or white, apparently depending on distance. Nearby lanterns tend to look yellowish or white while further away they look more orange. More distant lanterns look red. The different colours probably depend on light being scattered by the intervening dust in the air. The more air / dust their light has to traverse, the more certain colours are scattered, so changing the appearance of the lantern.

There is certainly a lot more to the appearance and behaviour of sky lanterns than might at first seem apparent. And they can make quite convincing UFOs in certain circumstances.

For a review of paranormal research in the noughties, see here.

Last month's (December) website figures are an average of 7577 hits per day. This is significantly down on the previous month's 10328 daily average, though there is always a big drop during the holiday season.


Previous blog pages ...

  • Dec 2010 (including microsleeps and road ghosts, shadow ghost in snow, lack of ghosts in photos, anthropomorphism)
  • Nov 2010 (including EMF meters, auras, evidence for precognition, sensitisation, the ghost hunting boom)
  • Oct 2010 (including black orbs, UnConvention, mirror visions, levitation, flying rods and orbs)
  • Sep 2010 (including a ring tone from the roof, shadow ghost video, time slip explanation, daylight orb video)
  • Aug 2010 (including Parisian UFO, sense of presence, SLI, consulting experts, misperception)
  • Jul 2010 (including Sherlock Holmes as a paranormal investigator, haunting sounds, what ARE hallucinations)
  • Jun 2010 (including the Loch Ness Monster, gorilla video, getting ghost stories the wrong way round)
  • May 2010 (including ball lightning, Wem ghost photo, waking up twice, eyewitnesses, Robin Hood)
  • Apr 2010 (including causes of road ghosts, new orb evidence, bird UFOs, UFO photo, not quite seeing is believing)
  • Mar 2010 (including experiencing hypnagogia, consciousness, belief, prolonged misperception, doppelganger)
  • Feb 2010 (including visual continuity errors - AKA ghosts, near sleep experiences on trains, spontaneous OOBEs)
  • Jan 2010 (including intelligent oil, SLI, inducing OOBEs, orange UFOs, the bleak midwinter)
  • Dec 2009 (including review of research in the noughties, pretty orbs, imperceptions, river monster)
  • Nov 2009 (including EVP without a recorder, demons and entities, why only some people see ghosts)
  • Oct 2009 (including grey ghost, near sleep experiences, a triangular UFO and seeing David Beckham)
  • Sep 2009 (including latent memory, Tufted Puffin, Bermuda Triangle and garden poltergeist)
  • Aug 2009 (including official UFO files, partial ghosts, flying rods and miracles)
  • Jul 2009 (including garden poltergeist, big cat video, orbs and hypnotic regression)
  • Jun 2009 (including thoughts from nowhere, shadow ghosts, premonitions and metallic UFO)
  • May 2009 (including analysing paranormal photos, making ghosts and ghost lore)
  • Apr 2009 (including phantom bird, choice blindness and grass that gets up and walks away)
  • Mar 2009 (including deja vu, ghostly mists, weird UFO photo, white ghosts and naked eye orbs)
  • Feb 2009 (including hidden memories, coincidences, auras and window UFOs)
  • Jan 2009 (including animals sensing ghosts, vampires, flying rod season and a haunted path)
  • Dec 2008
  • Nov 2008
  • Oct 2008
  • Sep 2008
  • Aug 2008
  • July 2008
  • June 2008
  • May 2008
  • April 2008
  • March 2008
  • February 2008
  • January 2008
  • December 2007
  • November 2007
  • October 2007
  • Even older

© Maurice Townsend 2011