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)

Please note: results from the 2010 Paranormal Olympics held at Fortean Times UnConvention will be published soon!

29 Oct 2010: The paranormal IS what it used to be!

There are some members of the paranormal community who spend much of their time examining old cases. Really old cases! I'm not one of them but I can see the attraction. The evidence in such old cases is often spectacular, such as D D Home's extraordinary feats, which supposedly included levitating out of a window! Then there is the cross correspondences, which appeared to show strong evidence for survival. Or the many classic ghost photos, most of which date back several decades. And what about the Cheltenham Ghost or the Enfield Poltergeist? Many of these old cases are still regularly used today as arguments supporting the existence of the paranormal.

Of course, all of these old cases are controversial and are not without their critics. Nevertheless, we don't seem to get anything comparable these days. Physical mediumship is now extremely rare, which is a pity because we now have excellent instruments which could be used to study it. Mediums don't seem to produce anything comparable to the cross correspondences and modern ghost photos are generally easily explained.

Scientifically, what was true in 1880, 1930 or 1960 about the paranormal should still be true today. So what has changed? In the case of ghost photos, it may be a case of technology moving onwards. In the early days of photography, film took a long time to expose and people could wander in and out of a photo during an exposure and be left appearing as a transparent figure. In the case of mediumship, it is difficult to say what is different but few mediums seem interested in getting involved in long term scientific research. Instead, they seem to have joined ghost hunters, exploring haunted locations!

There is, I think, a more general reason for the lack of contemporary spectacular cases - new science! We now know, for instance, that witness testimony is generally unreliable. We also know that most paranormal reports are explained, when carefully investigated, by misperception, hallucination and coincidence. And, as mentioned above, what is true scientifically now also applied in previous decades. So, many of those spectacular cases from the past might be much more easily explained if investigated to contemporary standards. And that may be precisely what is happening! We may be getting just the same kind of cases now as we always did, but now we can see that most have a xenonormal explanation.

Another reason is that accounts can become exaggerated with retelling. I was once told about amazing goings-on at the ASSAP Chislehurst investigation by someone at a meeting. I was actually AT that investigation and I knew the claims weren't accurate! It many of the classic old cases, the witnesses are no longer around and, even if they were, their memory could not be relied on. The original research accounts may still exist but the cases were investigated to very different standards to those we would use today. Therefore, much information that would be useful to analyse a case was simply never collected at the time.

This is why I do not concern myself with old cases. There is generally not enough information to analyse them properly now. They may be great cases but there are too many unanswered questions that will never be answered now. If there really was something paranormal going on in those cases from all those years ago, it should still be happening now! The difference is, we can re-examine contemporary cases and find answers! The paranormal really IS what it used to be! We just see it differently now.

PS: Apropos of nothing, have you noticed how orbs are usually explained as dust reflecting light back into the camera! That's the way nearly everything else in a photo gets there too! So, as an explanation it is pretty meaningless. The key point they almost all miss is that orbs are OUT OF FOCUS bits of dust, insects, rain drops etc. That really important bit explains almost everything you need to know about orbs.

27 Oct 2010: UnConvention Paranormal Olympics results and Halloween thoughts

The results for the Fortean Times 2010 ASSAP Paranormal Olympics are now available. The scores ONLY are available for now. The answers for the games are being withheld until next week because the same tests will be run again elsewhere at the weekend.

At this time of year interest in the paranormal peaks, though judging by what is on sale to mark the day it is more about horror to most people. A lot of people will try a 'ghost hunt' for the first time around now. Having sat through many vigils when nothing of note happened at all, I wonder what the attraction is. I suppose, for those not used to ghost vigils, it is an adventure, a rare chance to possibly encounter the unknown without having to travel to the back of beyond.

Of course, my experience is of scientific ghost vigils. Those vigils organised along 'assumption-led' lines can be pretty much guaranteed to produce 'something' that can't readily be explained. However, the chances are that it will remain 'unexplained' forever, rather than becoming definitely attributable to the paranormal. That's because assumption-led methods generate a lot of ambiguous data which cannot be verified. Lots of unknown and uncontrolled variables are introduced making definitive explanations pretty much impossible.

I suppose it is this ambiguity that keeps people interested but, personally, I prefer solutions to mysteries. So, in the scientific method we try to eliminate and control variables as much as possible. Even that is difficult since many paranormal reports come from subjective phenomena like misperception which is hard to control. But it is certainly better than the alternative!

25 October 2010: Psychic experiences at the UnConvention

SLI UnconventionI helped out at the ASSAP Paranormal Olympics at the Fortean Times UnConvention this weekend. Over 100 people took the five experiments this year. A new test was Street Light Interference (SLI) in which participants tried to turn off a 'street light' (photo, right, by Val Hope). It was not a full size one but a delightful model. No one managed to turn out the light, though.

I have not visited the UnConvention for 4 years but I still recognised many familiar faces. But there was one person who I was sure I knew but could not name. Then suddenly I found myself saying 'I'm getting the name ...' before pausing and naming the person. Only afterwards did I realise I'd just used a phrase so often heard from psychics. I had not intended this, it just came out. But the experience also felt psychic. The name just came into my head as if from somewhere outside it. I 'knew' I was correct and studying the UnConvention programme confirmed that I was.

However, it was an example of the way our memories work rather than ESP. Our brains tie images to names like a pictorial dictionary. Sometimes we only have one end of this connection but it can eventually draw out the other. So if we see someone we haven't met for a long time it can take a while for the name to be retrieved. And when it comes, it can feel as though we never knew it in the first place, as if drawn in by ESP.

It is easy to see how someone might conclude they are psychic from such an experience. It was pointed out to me, later, that I had actually met this person at the previous UnConvention I'd attended so it was no surprise really that I knew their name! It was not a real psychic revelation but nearer to cryptomnesia. It was information I did not even realise I even knew! Everyone has lots of such information.

I also saw a ghost at the conference! Alone in a noisy room, I saw a grey shape near the door in my peripheral vision. Wondering who it was, I turned to see - nobody! It was a fairly typical peripheral vision misperception experience and, again, it is easy to see how such things can be reported as ghosts. The fact that the room was noisy was significant. This meant I could not hear whether the door was opened or not so I knew someone COULD have entered without me hearing it, though in reality no one did.

22 October 2010: Strange causes

South coast UFOI read many reports of paranormal investigations. They often include reports of weird phenomena that could not be explained at the time. Investigators tried to replicate the effect with various obvious 'natural causes' but did not succeed. They therefore concluded that the effect was unexplained and implied that it may well have a paranormal explanation. But if the effect had unobvious, strange natural causes?

It is always easiest to explain something on site just after the event. The conditions that caused the phenomenon are likely to still be present. This is not always the case if the report is investigated days, weeks or even years later. I find it frustrating, therefore, when I can see an fairly obvious xenonormal explanation for something mentioned in a report that was not tested at the time of the investigation. It never occurred to the investigators present, perhaps because it was not obvious to them at the time.

This is why I advocate that paranormal investigators always be on the lookout for unusual phenomena in everyday life, where they know the explanation. For instance, as I mentioned just a couple of days ago, I take lots of photos deliberately designed to look like ghosts, UFOs etc. Then, when I see a very similar photo, I straight away have a likely 'natural cause' to test and see if it fits the case.

A perfect example was mentioned briefly in yesterday's blog entry. I had never seen a report of a UFO like the one pictured here. But then a report appeared in a newspaper here showing something strikingly similar! I do not know if this UFO was really a soap bubble, it would take a proper investigation to test that idea. But at least it gives a theory to test straight away. And it is not a particularly obvious or likely explanation, at first sight.

It is just such strange or unusual natural explanations that we, as paranormal investigators, should always be looking out for in everyday life. Paranormal investigation isn't just hanging around in haunted buildings. It is also about looking out for possible natural explanations at any time!

21 October 2010: Life behind the mirror

Ever tried to turn your sense of vision off? You can stand in complete darkness but the visual processing bit of your brain, which is what really does the 'seeing', is still working. If you are in a darkened room with a small point source of light and you look at it for a long time, it will appear to move, even though, physically, it is motionless. If you stare continuously at yourself in a mirror in a darkened room, illuminated only by a dim light, eventually you will see your facial features appear to change, usually for the worse (see here and here)!

So what is happening here? Your brain uses all the information at its disposal, including data from other senses and your sensory memory, to try to provide a view of the world in your head. When direct visual sensory information is lacking, your brain tries to compensate and starts to make mistakes. Without a surrounding spatial context, isolated lights seem to move. The distorted face illusion is more complex but is related to the way our brains adapt to sensory input if it does not change over time (like the way you stop hearing a continuous background noise after a while) and the way it interacts with our face recognition system. It may be the principle behind the psychomanteum.

The point is, we cannot turn our senses off and they work most reliably with good sensory input. In situations of sensory deprivation our brains can make mistakes about what is really going on in the world around us. What is more, our senses interact with each other (see here and here for instance). In situations of sensory deprivation, information from other senses may affect what we experience even more profoundly than usual, leading to false information.

And yet, people still hold vigils in the dark! Even though there are almost no reports of any casual witnesses seeing ghosts in the dark - they don't glow! Such voluntary sensory deprivation makes paranormal investigators open to all sorts of false sensory information. And with many people holding vigils this Halloween, we can't rely on much that they will report.

The more we find out about how our senses work, the more we realise how they can produce ghost sightings easily, through misperception. We also realise that there are more and more reasons why looking for ghosts in darkened rooms is a bad idea. But it still goes on!

PS: For those you who thought the UFO featured on these pages a few months back was too unlikely a configuration ever to be reported as such, take a look at this.

20 October 2010: So many paranormal photos

I take a lot of photos and I'm always on the lookout for situations to snap which could look anomalous, like mist that might be a ghost or a bird at an odd angle that could be a UFO (see here for instance). It's useful to build a library of such images which help in understanding odd photos taken by other people. Sometimes I've been able to say that I knew exactly how a particular ghost photo came about because I took one just like it myself!

But here's where it gets weird. Of the great many other photos I take, without any intention of getting an anomalous effect, a surprisingly high number have unexpected oddities in them. I can almost always explain these oddities easily because I examine my photos quickly after taking them, often while still on site. But the sheer number of things that could be interpreted as ghosts, UFOs, alien animals and other anomalies is extraordinary.

I can easily see how, if I assumed these images were paranormal and I did not look into their more prosaic causes (see here), they would tend to reinforce my initial assumptions. This is the central problem with assumption-led investigation methods. By starting with assumptions, you tend to not look too far for alternative explanations. It is easy to find ambiguous evidence, that could have paranormal causes, if you look for it. So it is easy to reinforce your own assumptions.

Given how easy it is to produce 'possible paranormal' photos, I'm amazed at how many such images are very easily explainable or simply not clear enough to show anything much (or both). Just going round taking lots of photos of all sorts of things is likely to generate plenty of clear, quite convincing weird images, as I've discovered, though most have simple natural causes. Perhaps the problem is that very often 'ghost photos' are taken in poor lighting conditions, such as at night in a supposedly haunted house! The same photo, taken by day in a non-haunted house would probably be dismissed as simply a 'blurry photo' and discarded.

19 October 2010: Seeing is believing

Last night's Horizon TV programme 'Is seeing believing' on the BBC (iPlayer link for the UK) covered recent research in (ordinary) sensory perception. Regular readers of this blog will have found almost nothing new in it, though most of the ideas will be completely unknown to the general public. Such ideas as the interaction of the senses and how what we perceive is largely derived from prior experience, rather than direct sensory input, are central to the idea of misperception. And misperception is what explains most paranormal experiences.

We have always known that most paranormal cases can be explained by misperception. What has not been appreciated until recently is (a) how exactly it works and (b) just how powerful the effect is. We literally SEE a human figure, complete with clothes and facial features, instead of the poorly visible tree that is really there. Misperception comes about because our brains need to take short cuts, otherwise they could not process all the sensory information they receive quickly enough to be useful in a fast moving world. It means that, what we experience is based largely on expectation rather than direct sensory input.

One thing I hadn't come across before last night's programme was the idea of creating a 'new' sense. Experimenters have used a magnetically sensitive belt to allow volunteers to sense which way is north. After a while, their brains start to process information from the belt unconsciously, just like a new sense.

Here's a thought! Given what we now know about sensory perception, wouldn't it be odd if no one ever reported anything highly unusual or fantastic that they had experienced. Like a ghost, UFO or monster? But, of course, that is exactly what DOES happen! It would actually be weirder if it DIDN'T happen. It does not not mean that all such anomalous reports are misperception but we know a large proportion are. Most of the remainder may be explained by things like near sleep experiences. This is another field where there are exciting new developments. The fact that some people can fall into a brief microsleep, which they may not even be aware of, and instantly go into a dream state, can explain many otherwise inexplicable reports.

There will always be reports that cannot easily be explained in any of these ways. But if we can understand the causes of the majority of paranormal reports, it leaves us free to concentrate on the really significant remainder. Sadly, far too much time is currently being wasted on what is easy to explain.

18 October 2010: Ghost investigators: the new generation

There is a new generation of paranormal investigator now that is mostly unaware of what came before the reality TV ghost hunting shows.   It may come as a surprise to some of them them that, until a decade or so ago, almost no serious paranormal investigator thought ghosts were spirits! Popular theories included: stone tape theory, ESP (retrocognition, telepathy), time slip and various others, with spirits coming very low down on the list. That's because the evidence from ghost cases simply didn't strongly support the idea of ghosts as spirits. It still doesn't today.

However, few paranormal investigators now collect case material from witnesses. Instead, they go straight to a reputedly haunted location and hold ghost vigils there. Of course, without collecting witness testimony, they cannot be certain if the place is even haunted but once somewhere gains a reputation, few bother to question it. It is likely that several supposedly haunted locations would never have been considered so in the 1980s or 1990s. Most hauntings turn out to have natural explanations (like misperception, near sleep experiences and so on) when properly investigated so many locations would simply not have reached a 'standard' of being considered haunted.

Nowadays, the 'investigation' only starts when the paranormal researchers stage a vigil. Instead of trying to explain the experiences of prior witnesses, investigators seek out their own evidence (sometimes even 'proof') with the use of ouija boards, EVP, instrumentation and so on. The problem with this assumption-led approach is that you tend to find what you are looking for, whether it is really there or not. Such methods can work just as well in a non-haunted as a haunted location.

It may sound horribly like nostalgia to invoke the 1980s investigation methods but they yielded useful results. By contrast, all those who seek 'proof' nowadays seem to end up either disappointed or defending ambiguous data that could mean almost anything. For those of you who find current methods leave you wanting something different, try ASSAP's Training Weekend where scientific methods are put to the fore. These methods are not as 'old fashioned' as you might think!

PS: I've been mentioned in the current issue of Fortean Times, in the article on how hauntings often seem to be triggered by renovation work. The reference is to the New House Effect. Fame at last!

8 October 2010: How to survive the ghost hunting boom

There is little doubt that we are currently experiencing a ghost hunting boom. Compared to the first two decades of ASSAP's existence, the third one has seen an enormous increase in the number of people looking for ghosts. Like any other boom, it is notable for big changes in generally-held beliefs and ways of doing things. Indeed, it is interesting to compare it with the economic boom which recently precipitated us all into the credit crunch. During the economic boom traditional beliefs, like the idea that house prices do not inevitably always go up, appeared to be largely forgotten. Inevitably, real-life economics intervened in the end to dispel such beliefs.

In the ghost hunting boom traditional methods of ghost research have been ditched. Ghost research had previously been about examining witness reports and trying to understand and explain them. In the 'new model', the idea was simply to identify a location as haunted and then hold vigils there, in the hope of producing definitive evidence for ghosts. While the traditional methods often included vigils as a final phase this was only after exhausting other avenues of investigation, like interviewing witnesses and site examination. Now vigils are the central event and have even became known as 'investigations', as if they were the entire process!

Another major development has been the rise of 'assumption-led' investigation methods. Such methods inevitably tend to reinforce their own assumptions whatever the actual results. The traditional idea of a neutral, scientific stance, simply examining ghost sightings without preconception, is no longer popular.

The rise of instrumentation is another prominent feature of the boom. This would be fine if instruments were used to test specific theories or if the likely causes of particular readings were generally understood. Instead, instruments are often used as 'ghost detectors', despite the lack of evidence that they can do any such thing.

So, where will it all end? Booms, of course, have a habit of ending badly. It has happened in the field of anomaly research before. In the 1960s and 70s you could hardly open a popular newspaper without something about a UFO sighting. Now ufology is very much a minority pastime.

Booms collapse because the popular beliefs on which they are based are not ultimately sustainable. How might this happen in the ghost hunting boom? If you look at the thousands of hours of broadcast investigations on TV, plus all the efforts of local groups who often publish their results on the internet, what do you see? Is there definitive evidence of the kind of ghost that assumption-led research says exist? Not so far. One wonders how long this is sustainable. If people start to notice that these 'new approaches' never produce anything more than ambiguous evidence, will they get bored? I'm amazed that the boom has gone on so long already. It seems to be sustained more by prior belief than definitive evidence. But then, that is a feature of booms!

What would a post-boom ghost hunting scene look like? Would it be bleak? Not at all! It might well look like ASSAP's first two decades when dedicated teams of researchers discovered real things from exhaustive investigation of ghost reports. That most ghost sightings are caused by misperception, for instance. Or that ghost photos almost always have a natural explanation. Or that eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as most people think.

In an economic boom, wise people accumulate cash steadily without speculating in all the fads that will inevitably go 'bust' in the end. So, in a ghost hunting boom, wise researchers use the high volume of evidence produced by all the activity to see how it can be explained, usually in xenonormal terms. When the boom ends, this vast fund of knowledge will be invaluable to serious researchers after everyone else has packed away their EMF meters and ouija boards.

PS: All ghost fans in the UK should check out the Swindon Ghostfest coming up soon - see here for details.

PPS: In the flying rods video, have you noticed how one hoverfly seems to hold its position perfectly within the shot, even though the camera is shaking slightly (best seen in full screen)? It is as if it is following every slight movement of the camera! It is the fly hovering just above the centre of the shot in the early part of the normal speed clip. However, the illusion breaks down when you watch the same fly carefully in the subsequent slowed-down version that follows. Then you realise the fly is changing position slightly all the time. In the normal speed version we only notice the movements when they appear to track the camera! Another example of how we see patterns in pictures while ignoring the bits that don't fit!

7 October 2010: New video of flying rods

HoverflyMost paranormal researchers appear now to accept that flying rods are motion-blurred insects. Despite that, it is relatively difficult to demonstrate the effect directly on video. You could take a video of the same flying insect with two cameras set with different shutter speeds but that would be complicated and require a lot of equipment.

An easier way is to find an insect that obligingly flies both quickly and slowly. Hoverflies (pic right) do just that! As their name implies, they do a lot of hovering as well as quick flying around. So, if you video one you should eventually see an insect turning into a flying rod, or vice versa.

I have now put up just such a video in the ASSAP video gallery. The video shows a group of hoverflies alternately hovering and flying quickly. If you concentrate, particularly during the slowed down section, you can see hoverflies arriving as flying rods before stopping to hover. You can also see them hover and then turn into a rod as they fly away. The trick, is to follow just one fly at a time.

The mention of 'shutter speed' may surprise some people not familiar with video technology. Effectively, video consists of a sequence of still frames each with their own shutter speed, just like pictures in a still camera. It is the motion of a fast insect during such a frame that leads to the motion blur that produces flying rods in videos. Inevitably, things are more complex than that in reality. This video, for instance, was shot in interlaced mode where a frame consists of two 'fields' each made up of alternate lines of pixels which are combined to form one whole 'still' picture. Using interlacing can produce blurring effects with fast moving objects. However, we know from still photos of rods that it is the motion and wing beats of the insect that produce the characteristic rod shape.

Anyone looking at the current video gallery will notice that all the entries so far seem to feature trees! This is just a coincidence! As more entries are added, further scenery will be explored. Trees are, however, a rich source of misperception experiences so they should not be underestimated by paranormal researchers. It's not all about spooky old buildings!

5 October 2010: Misperception versus optical illusion versus simulacra versus ghosts

Despite banging on about misperception all the time and pointing out how it explains most paranormal sightings, some people still don't get it. For a start, they sometimes confuse it with optical illusions.

Optical illusions (OI) essentially work by tricking our visual systems to expect one thing while actually presenting another. OIs are seldom, if ever, seen in nature. They are an artificial way to exploit the 'short cuts' our brains use to speed up visual processing of things like perspective. Importantly, they work on just about everyone, pretty much all of the time, always with the same result.

Misperception, by contrast, does not involve any tricking of our senses. It is simply part of normal perception. We all misperceive all of the time, it's just that we almost never notice it. That's because our brains actually tell us that what we are seeing is real. With OIs, our brains tell us that what we are seeing is contradictory and cannot be real.

An important characteristic of misperception is that, once one is noticed it is almost never seen again, unlike OIs. That's because our brains stop telling us the misperception is real and now say the actual object is real! OIs continue to deceive us because the 'short cuts' in our visual processing that they exploit cannot be bypassed without slowing down our whole visual system.

So how do misperceptions cause ghost sightings? The essence of misperception is that our brains replace objects in our visual field, when they are not seen well, with other things from our visual memory that look similar. Normally, we don't notice this process. But when the misperception is alarming in some way, like an unexpected human figure in a spooky location, we tend to notice it. If we look more carefully at the 'figure', it will usually 'vanish' (ie. turn back into the poorly-seen tree, or whatever, that it really is). This never happens with OIs.

It is important to understand that misperception is a brain thing. It is nothing to do with how our eyes work. You can be long-sighted, short-sighted, wear glasses or contact lens, look through a window or even use binoculars or a telescope, it makes no difference. It does not matter what the state of the lighting is or whether there is fog, rain or bright sunshine. In ANY of these conditions you can misperceive. It is NOT an optical phenomenon but one of visual processing in the brain.

In ANY viewing conditions there can always be objects in the distance that are hard to make out. There can be objects that are poorly-lit, in comparison to others nearby. There can be objects seen in peripheral vision or just glanced at briefly. Any condition which causes such object not to be seen clearly, however caused, can produce misperception, irrespective of the viewing conditions. It is the brain that substitutes poorly-seen objects with others from visual memory.

This is why it is so difficult to reproduce misperception. Conditions that may cause one person to notice misperception may not work for another. Even if you video something that caused a person to misperceive, that experience may not be shared by others viewing the result. It will depend not only on the viewer's threshold for noticing misperception but also on such things as their computer screen, the quality of the recording, the lighting in the room and so on.

Misperception is not like simulacra either. It is not about seeing something that looks like something else and mistaking the two. The object being misperceived need only vaguely resemble the object it is replaced with. And 'replace' is the operative word. Your brain actually substitutes a complete picture of another object over the real one. This is why it looks so convincing. You don't see a shape that 'could' have been a human figure, you see a real human figure! It is little wonder that ghost witnesses are so convinced about what they've seen and can describe it in some detail. They really DID see a human figure, just not a physical one but a visual memory from their own brain.

Finally, misperception is just an aspect of normal perception. It is not a hallucination and you don't have to have any kind of medical condition or disorder to see it. You just need to be able to notice misperceptions, which most of us fail to do most of the time, which is why there are not more reports of ghosts, UFOs and monsters. You may find, as I did, that once you know about misperceptions, you start to notice them yourself!

Misperception is our brain lying to us about something in our visual field. We don't normally notice it because our brains tell us there is nothing wrong. Seeing really is believing! Everyone misperceives but only a few people ever notice it. And it can easily explain many ghost sightings. And that's why I keep going on about it. Misperception does not explain ALL paranormal sightings but it does explain a considerable percentage, including why they feel so vivid and real.

4 October 2010: I see the weirdest thing!

It is the weirdest misperception I've had to date! I was on a train the other day when we slowed down to approach a station. On the opposite platform I saw a man and next to him a small child with long black hair. Because of the long hair I assumed it was a girl though she was facing away from me towards the man. Within a second the 'girl' had turned into the suitcase, with a dark coat flung on top of it, that it really was! I felt faintly foolish and I could suddenly understand why people rarely report misperceptions except when they are convinced they've seen a ghost. I doubt anyone would have reported this strange sight as a ghost! It turned so obviously and quickly into something else that it was breathtaking.

I've added another video to the slowly expanding paranormal video gallery. This one shows a curious green orb in a tree. Even people who think orbs are paranormal concede that most are caused by bits of dust, insects etc. However, they maintain that there are certain orbs that are 'real' (ie. paranormal). When asked how they tell the difference, they will come up with examples like this one.

In reality, this is not an orb. Orbs are all a regular shape, usually symmetrical and most circular (not spherical as 'orb' implies). This 'orb' has an irregular shape. That's because it is a brightly-lit leaf showing through an irregularly shaped gap in darker leaves in the foreground.

One of the oddest things about this video is the bit where it zooms in on the orb (just after the title saying 'like the bright green orb top centre'). Though the image is a still, it can appear as if the leaves are moving gently in the wind during the zoom. It is particularly noticeable if you play the video in full screen and look at the leaves on the left side of the screen.

It is a form of misperception which some people may not even see. It is caused by the fact that it looks like a movie shot, rather than a still, so our brains expect the leaves to move, as they generally do in such shots. Just like other misperceptions the effect seems to stop after one or two viewings, never to be seen again! This happens once you realise your brain is being being deceived. You can get a similar effect by turning your head while viewing a static scene. Objects in the scene often appear to move as your head is turning even though they are perfectly stationary in reality. So this is another form of misperception that can be illustrated by video though, as with others, sadly the effect wears off! This is a major difference from optical illusions where the effect is persistent even when you know you're being fooled.

1 October 2010: How we know what we think we know about ghosts

Gull UFOI came across an interview with an author of ghost stories recently. It was clear that, during their research, they had looked at reports of real-life ghost sightings. However, they chose not to use such material in their stories. Real life ghosts tend to just wander around, walk through walls and sometimes vanish. They don't communicate or show any sign that they are aware of the presence of witnesses (see here for more info).

The sad truth is that real ghosts just are not interesting enough for ghost stories! Instead, fictional ghosts have characters and motivations and can usually communicate with people. I can see how these fictional ghosts make for a much more interesting story than the real ones I've spent a large chunk of my life investigating. It's difficult to make a plot out of a figure that appears very rarely and then vanishes after a few seconds, even if it is more authentic!

However, fictitious ghosts cause a problem for real life paranormal researchers. Most people get their knowledge of ghosts from sources like ghost stories. So when such a person actually sees a ghost they are likely to see it in terms of a character with a personality and motivations. Witnesses sometimes do historical research to find out who their ghost might be. They are usually looking for someone with the 'motivation' to hang around a particular place as a ghost.

In reality, most ghost sightings are explained by misperception or near sleep experiences. In both cases, the 'ghost' is either some other object poorly seen or a hallucination. Neither of these requires a character or motivation! However, by the time a case has been properly investigated, the witness may already be convinced they've seen Dick Turpin or Mary Queen of Scots instead of a tree! All of which can make telling a witness the results of your investigation painful.

There is nothing we can do to stop the widespread cultural idea that ghosts are spirits. Even ghost story writers understand the difference but it doesn't stop them perpetuating the idea. We just have to learn to live with it!

The lowest photo on this page shows a UFO photographed recently in Paris. The full story is here.

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

Last month's (September) website figures are an average of 9254 hits per day. This is up significantly on the previous month's 8217 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • 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 2010