ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
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Maurice TownsendWelcome 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. To contact the ASSAP blog, email 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)

ASSAP @ 30: A series of posts summarising what we have learned through thirty years of ASSAP, whose anniversary was 10 June 2011. See here!

NB: WDTHDWP = 'what does this have to do with the paranormal'

16 September: Low flying UFOs

I occasionally come across UFO photos that show a dark blurred object in the sky that could be anything. Nothing unusual about that except that the object appears to be IN FRONT of nearby trees or buildings! And the UFO was generally not noticed at the time of exposure.

It is difficult to tell the size of an object in the sky unless you know its distance. And you can't tell its distance unless you know what kind of object it is. You can tell how far a plane is away, for instance, by seeing how big it looks in the sky and by knowing its approximate physical dimensions. However, with an unidentified object, you don't know its dimensions because you don't know what it is! The only way to tell the distance of an unknown aerial object is if it interacts with something of known distance. Obviously, if it is seen in front of an object like a cloud or mountain, it must be closer than those things. So anything in front of nearby buildings or trees is going to be small and close.

DragonflySo what might these blurry objects, that are closer than nearby trees, be? I had an idea but it was reinforced by something I saw the other day. I was looking out of a first floor window when I noticed several dragonflies flying by. We normally associate dragonflies with water and low level flight. But, in this case they were flying at around 3m height and nowhere near any body of water.

I would never have noticed these dragonflies if I hadn't happened to be looking out of the window. I certainly wouldn't have noticed them from below, unless I happened to look up. But what if I'd taken a photo of the building from the outside? The building would be in the photo, obviously. And in front of it a dark blur. The blur would arise either from the object's motion or its being out of focus. Or both! And it's unlikely that I would have noticed the dragonflies at the time of exposure.

So what were these dragonflies up to, away from their usual watery habitat? It is possible they were migrating. Relatively few dragonfly species migrate. But some do. Of course, this is only one possible cause of low-flying small UFOs. Others might include birds, model planes or even drones. Just like ghost sightings, there are more than one cause.

11 September: What UFOs and ghosts do NOT have in common!

UFOThe Rendlesham UFO case was the subject of last night's Seriously Strange London lecture. You can get an idea of speaker Ian Ridpath's investigation results at his website on the case here. Anyway, one of the points that emerged in the ensuing discussion was an idea about why there don't appear to be any 'big' new UFO cases, like Rendlesham, any more. This trend was a major topic of ASSAP's UFO conference in 2012.

The idea that emerged last night concerned modern technology. Most people now carry a video camera everywhere, in their mobile phones, so if they see a UFO they can record it easily. And then they can upload the video to the internet for others to view and comment on. And, in many cases, the objects will turn out to be readily identifiable as terrestrial objects. For example, see this video featuring orange UFOs in a triangular formation or this one showing a strange light in the sky.

Thus, modern technology can help to rapidly explain what might otherwise be puzzling UFO sightings. Before the internet and mobile phone, we generally only had eye witness accounts of UFO sightings to rely on. And as investigators know, witness accounts can be inaccurate due to things such as misperception and the peculiarities of human memory.

All of this appears a highly plausible explanation for the lack of contemporary 'big' UFO cases like Rendlesham. But what about ghosts? There seems no reason to think that people who see ghosts are any less likely to be carrying a mobile phone than UFO witnesses. But there are very few, if any, photos of ghosts showing exactly what a witness saw at the time. There are plenty of photos of apparent ghosts not seen at the time of exposure. I say 'apparent' because in the vast majority of such cases that I've examined, the 'ghost' was actually a photographic artefact. So the question remains, why the lack of photos showing ghosts as the witness saw them?

I think there are several possible explanations. Firstly, in many cases, the witness was not actually aware they were watching a ghost at the time they saw it. Secondly, many ghost sightings occur when people are not fully conscious, as in near sleep experiences. In both of these cases, it is highly unlikely the witness would have taken a photo at all. Thirdly, some people may actually take a photo of a ghost but later find there is 'nothing there' when they view the resulting picture. I say 'nothing there' because if the ghost sighting was a misperceived tree, for instance, it will be in the picture but there will be no human figure! The witness would probably conclude that either the ghost was a hallucination or that it could not be photographed.

I suspect all these factors, and maybe others, play a part in the absence of such ghost photos. If anyone knows of a photo, on the web, showing a ghost just as it appeared to the witness taking the photo, please let me know! I am still trying to do achieve this myself as my last post explains.

9 Septembers: Aiming to photograph a ghost!

When you're no longer young, you don't tend to have fewer ambitions. But there is still one that burns brightly in me - to photograph a ghost! There are many photos around purporting to show ghosts but, of the ones I've personally examined, most are photographic artefacts. But what I want is the real thing! Not too much to ask, surely?

To make the idea a bit more practical, I have set three specific conditions that would make a photo count in fulfilling my ambition. Here they are:

  • I must see the ghost as a real human figure at the time of exposure, even though it turns out not to be one
  • The photo must appear to show a human figure, if not to me then to at least one other person
  • it mustn't be a simple photographic artefact

The first condition means that it could be a misperception ghost, for instance, but not a hallucination. And obviously, if it was a real person, it couldn't be a ghost! With the second condition, I acknowledge that once I've realised the figure is not really a human, I might never see it as one again, in the photo or in real life. But if at least one other person DOES see it as a human in the photo, that will do. The third condition rules out all the common ghost photos where nothing odd is seen the time of exposure.

Ideally, I'd like the object to look unmistakably like a human figure, even to me, in the photo. I think this is possible because I've recently found that misperceptions can be photographed in such a way that they still work as a picture. See here for details including an example. That would be the ultimate ghost photo for me! So, whenever I have a camera in my hand, I am always on the lookout for a suitable ghost. It hasn't happened yet but I keep looking.

Tree stump as ghostThen unexpectedly, the other day, I came close to fulfilling my ambition without even taking a new photo! Someone saw one of my photos and thought it showed a human figure! It was a figure I photographed last year and described here. The photo is reprinted here (right). I said at the time that the tree stump (which is what the object really was) still resembled a human figure to me even in the photo but no one else, at the time, said they saw anything! So when, quite by chance, someone saw the photo, without knowing anything about it, and described it as a human figure, I was surprised and gratified.

While this photo technically satisfies my three conditions, it is a tiny 'figure'. I'm sure a much bigger, more obvious one could be produced. I could add a fourth condition concerning size but then it starts to look messy!

So the search goes on!

8 September: Phantom birds and ghost keys

Not crow under treeIn the last few days I've seen two phantom crows and been mystified by an invisible ghostly rattling of keys. I'll go through these mysterious incidents in the order they happened.

Firstly, I saw a black object on a path that, in the corner of my eye, was a crow. As an avid birder, I can never resist looking at birds, even those species I've seen thousands of time. I suppose I could justify it by saying that crows are intelligent birds and you never know what new stuff you might see one do. The truth is, I just like watching them!

Anyway, as I looked more carefully at the 'crow', it turned into a plant growing in a tiny gap between a paving slab and the tarmac of the adjacent road. The plant's shape was vaguely reminiscent of a crow but the colour definitely green. Of course, peripheral vision tends to towards monochrome which would explain the colour discrepancy. Peripheral vision also distorts shapes, to some extent. So, mystery number one dealt with.

Not a crow eitherThe second mystery was another crow. I saw this one in direct vision. What is more, I got a photo of it (above right)! The bird is the dark object on the grass in the very centre of the photo. Though seen from some distance off, it is the right size and where where you'd expect to see a crow! Except it isn't one. As the second, telephoto, photo (right) shows, the object is a clump of leaves hanging by a fine branch from the tree above. The leaves appear senescent which would explain they look darker than those in the rest of the tree. From a distance, as the upper photo shows, the leaves look black.

The simple dark colouration of a crow probably explains why they are the most frequent bird that I 'see' that turns out to be a misperception of something else. There are plenty of objects around that, when seen in the shade, can appear black overall from a distance.

The third mystery is completely different. I was walking along a street when I happened to hear some keys jangling behind me. Out of curiosity I turned to see who it was. To my utter astonishment there was no one there! It was a quiet street with wide verges, no traffic at the time and almost nowhere to hide in the second or two it took me to turn round. Could this be a ghost?

I looked all around but could see nowhere that anyone could have gone without my seeing them. Then I heard someone talking. I looked around and saw there was a person in a car nearby, talking on a phone with their window open. This could easily have been the person with the rattling keys. I hadn't noticed anyone in the parked car until I heard them speak. I guess I tend to assume that parked cars are going to be empty!

So, how come I notice all these little mysteries all the time? For the 'crows', it is my tendency to notice misperception. For the 'keys incident', I think it's because I tend to always be on the lookout for odd things, not just when I'm in a haunted location. I've found that there are a lot more strange things going on than you might think. Most people, most of the time, simply don't notice them.

3 September: And still it moves

Moving stillI saw a photo on a wall recently and one small bit of the picture was continually moving. I assumed it was a flat video screen of the type that commonly hangs on walls these days. I was disconcerted to discover, on closer examination, that it was actually a still photo mounted on board! And yet, a small part of the picture continued to move. An anomaly indeed! How was it possible?

There are, of course, examples of static pictures that appear to move (see here, for instance). However, such pictures usually consist of highly artificial patterns. But is it possible to see motion in still photos of natural subjects? If so, it might be possible to see anomalous movement in static objects in every day life.

To investigate, I tried to reproduce the photo I saw. It consisted of a word, in large type, photographed using what photographers call the 'zoom effect'. The bit that 'moved' was a single letter. The zoom effect looks as though the camera is moving towards, or away from, the subject during the exposure. I reproduced this effect using the front page of the latest issue of ASSAP's own Seriously Strange magazine, for its large headlines. I took lots of photos and most showed nothing odd.

Moving still with pointerHowever, a couple of photos DID show a faint hint of apparent movement. Of course, it may just be me, perhaps because I often notice misperception. But maybe some other people might see it too (particularly others who notice misperception). The best example is shown above. You will see some zoomed words too blurred to be read easily. However, there is a white trapezoid area (indicated by the arrow in the second version of the photo - right) which appears to move. Specifically, the nearest edge looks as though it is continually advancing and retreating. At least, it does to me. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who can see this apparent movement.

The apparent motion in artificial patterns has been explained as a result of microsaccades (see here). That may be the explanation here too, but I'm not so sure. I wonder if this one is more a brain thing than an eye thing. The reason I say that is because the zoom effect gives the visual appearance of movement. It might be deceiving the watching brain into seeing illusory movement in certain specific circumstances in the same way that pictorial perspective can sometimes mislead. I only found this effect in a tiny number of similar photos, so it probably only occurs for very specific circumstances.

1 September: Paranormal signatures

No duckWhat 'signature' would a strange incident need to have to be considered paranormal? I would say it should appear to defy the currently known laws of science. I think most people would probably agree with that. People don't actually talk about 'paranormal signatures' so I had to think of a term to describe the concept, making it easier to discuss.

I think we all have an idea of what the paranormal looks like, probably based largely on media representations. Certain 'paranormal signatures' appear to have become generally recognized without anyone ever defining them. For instance, something that appears in a photograph which was not seen by the photographer at the time of exposure. While this could be a sign of something paranormal going on it also happens to be a key characteristic of photographic artefacts. Of the many thousands of anomalous photos I've personally examined, the overwhelming majority were, as far as I could determine, photographic artefacts. That being the case, this particular signature would appear to be rather unreliable as an indicator of the paranormal.

DuckAnother paranormal signature that appears to be commonly accepted is the one concerning multiply witnessed ghosts. If a whole group of witnesses all describe seeing the same ghost it certainly can't be a hallucination. However, it could be a real person in a place where no expects them to be! But what about cases where some people in a group of witnesses see the ghost while others don't? That still rules out hallucinations, if two or more people describe seeing the same thing. And if the remaining witnesses see nothing unusual, that pretty much rules out a normal person too! So it must be paranormal, right?

In fact, some witnesses seeing something unusual while others do not is also a signature of misperception. That's because people vary a lot in whether they notice misperceptions or not. In a group of witnesses it is likely that some people may see a human figure (and agree on its features) while others will see only a tree! So, again, we have a signature that, while commonly recognised, may not be a reliable way of detecting the paranormal after all.

What about seemingly completely obvious signatures such as an object observed flying through the air in a poltergeist case? Well, in many cases the witness did not see the object take off, so it is possible that it fell or was thrown. It turns out that many of these widely accepted paranormal signatures actually have significant flaws. It seems that, just because you see something that apparently defies the laws of science, it isn't necessarily paranormal after all.

PS: The photos? Well, if you saw one of these scenes with your naked eye but your camera recorded the other, that would seem like a possible indication of the paranormal at work. In fact, the upper photo took mere seconds to edit from from lower one!

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

Last month's (August) website figures are an average of 16693 hits per day. This is significantly up on the previous month's 14506 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • Aug 2014 (including figure on a pillar, orbs still worth studying, ghost objects, shadow ghost)
  • July 2014 (including yellow orb, teleportation, ghostly whispers, owl, strange announcement)
  • June 2014 (including hand in a tree, blurry flying object, white alien, strange pattern on a dragonfly)
  • May 2014 (including single witness UFOs, ghosts vanishing, anomalies seen through gaps, rock face, creeping doppelgangers)
  • Apr 2014 (including unrecognized ghosts, odd UFO photo, do short-sighted people see ghosts, man with no face)
  • Mar 2014 (including unusual shaped UFO, ghost on a train, ghost presence, vampires, ghost calling)
  • Feb 2014 (including confusion, daylight orbs, haunted milk bottle, ghost on a bridge, too obvious explantations)
  • Jan 2014 (including colliding orbs, ball lightning, de-orbing, ghost mouse, mysterious flashes, ghost misidentification)
  • Dec 2013 (including popping orbs, new shadow ghost, ignoring a ghostly hand, dust turning into orbs videoed)
  • Nov 2013 (including hearing voices, blurry ghosts, mirrors and ghosts, coincidences, UFOs near airports)
  • Oct 2013 (including fairy photo, mist ghost, yeti, premonitions, orbs are NOT dust, how hauntings start)
  • Sep 2013 (including moving sticks, targets affecting odds in psi tests, shape shifting, not photographing ghosts)
  • Aug 2013 (including ghosts in plain view, mystery photo, seeing faces, ear pointing, shadow presence, time distortion)
  • July 2013 (including floating ghosts, on being a ghost, ghost ducks, follow that ghost - yes, ghosts galore)
  • June 2013 (including transparent ghosts, distance of UFOs, other stuff going on while witnessing anomalous phenomena)
  • May 2013 (including ghost seen AND photographed, time distortion, reproducing anomalous phenomena)
  • Apr 2013 (including door ghost moving, UFOs from a train, missing time, reality glitches, EVP without E, weird photos)
  • Mar 2013 (including witness credibility, distraction to see ghosts, movie in real life, photo or witness)
  • Feb 2013 (including possible orb comeback, OBEs go mainstream, walking ghost, feelings without touch, object movement)
  • Jan 2013 (including a big problem with ghost vigils, time distortions, cryptids, snow ghosts and rods, causes of hauntings)
  • Dec 2012 (including mysterious injuries, ghosts versus people, voice from nowhere, experimenting with a ghost)
  • Nov 2012 (including reflected ghost, isolated EVPs, ghosts talking to each other, invisible presences)
  • Oct 2012 (including ghostly presence, shadow ghost, strange pigeons, window ghosts, hallucinations)
  • Sep 2012 (including yellow grass, weird waterfalls, vanishing buzzard, ghost vigils, slowing down time)
  • Aug 2012 (including seeing unknown animals, glowing lampposts, EMF meters as an accident of history)
  • July 2012 (including turning rods into orbs, psychic insight, making insects spell, glowing eyes, haunting hot spots)
  • June 2012 (including doppelganger mystery, not expecting ghosts, anecdotal evidence, credible witnesses)
  • May 2012 (including lenticular cloud, ghost encounter, ghost train, weird stuff in a tree, van Gogh, resolution)
  • Apr 2012 (including naturalists and ghosts, odd feelings during OBE, wrong kind of sound, voice from nowhere)
  • Mar 2012 (including jogging and ghosts, misty ghosts, image noise, full spectrum photography, EVP of machines)
  • Feb 2012 (including ghost car, analyzing anomalous photos, ghost at rock concert, OBEs and motion sickness)
  • Jan 2012 (including stopping flying rods, photographing fairies, time warp, a ghost tie, ghostly fingers, New Year UFOs)
  • Dec 2011 (including missing time, improving ghost vigils, anomalous photos, ghostly faces, seeing fiction)
  • Nov 2011 (including OBE video games, EVP and VLF, whatshisname, paranormal misconceptions, invisible ghosts)
  • Oct 2011 (including smartphone ghosts, similacrum, smell of ghosts, morphing UFOs, slowing time)
  • Sep 2011 (including tidy ghost, MADS, transparent ghost, big announcement, ghost fox, not alone)
  • Aug 2011 (including cold spots, spectral hound, triangular UFO, ghost photos, rushing air and being dragged)
  • July 2011 (including Hilary Evans, Harry Potter, witness investment, bias in paranormal research, TV detectives)
  • June 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, detecting lies, hyper-vigilence, strange thunder)
  • May 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, lone shoes, flying rods, bias, early memories, strange floating object)
  • Apr 2011 (including royal wedding, mirror touch synaesthesia, sleep disorders, new ghost sighting)
  • Mar 2011 (including roof heron, Atlantis, first time witnesses, comparing film to digital paranormal photos)
  • Feb 2011 (including predicting the future, ghost bird, time slip, weird floor, what do we really know about paranormal)
  • Jan 2011 (including the ghost hunting boom, orange UFO, EVP experiment, extreme normality)
  • 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)
  • 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 2014