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) 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 ...

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26 August 2009: ASSAP in Warminster this weekend

If you are going to Weird 09 at the Athenaeum Theatre in Warminster this weekend (29/30 August), don't forget to look out for ASSAP's stall. It's also your big chance to skywatch from Cradle Hill, with the weather forecast not looking too bad at the moment.

Warminster was a UFO hot spot in the 1960s and 70s. Nowadays, most ufologists recognise that UFO hot spots and flaps (lots of sightings over a short period of time) usually follow media coverage. Local journalist Arthur Shuttlewood kept coverage of UFOs in the area a hot subject in the media. So, was he reporting an existing activity hot spot or, by his coverage, creating one?

25 August 2009: Dream or ghost?

Last night I was woken up by the loud sound of our local foxes, whose activities I've reported before (!), making a racket. I went to the window but could see nothing and returned to bed and sleep. However, this morning I cannot decide if I really did this or if it was a dream. Given that I almost never get up to look at foxes in the night, it seems most likely to be a dream but, honestly, I've no idea!

The experience reminded me of several ghost reports I've read. People wake in the night to see a figure in their room which they assume to be a ghost. In many cases they wait in the dark, scared, until the figure disappears. In others they simply go back to sleep with the figure still there! I find the lack of any interaction with the ghost a bit unlikely in these accounts, as well as the decision simply to go back to sleep afterwards. I'm pretty sure if I saw a ghost in the night, the last thing I'd do is just go back to sleep!

I can't help thinking that many such experiences are simply dreams. This suggestion is typically strongly denied by the witness who is sure they saw a ghost. Having had a similar experience last night, albeit more mundane than a ghost, I am surprised that they can be so sure.

24 August 2009: The importance of a heron in a field

HeronThe other day I was travelling by train. Looking out of the window at the passing countryside, I saw a heron standing in a field. Later I saw two more in other fields. Except I didn't!

On all three occasions, closer inspection revealed the 'herons' to be isolated tall plants in otherwise grassy fields. Such sights are not uncommon at this time of year in the UK.

But why on earth did I first see each of them as herons? Simply because, I've seen herons in fields from passing trains in the past. Herons do not, as far as I'm aware, spend much time in fields. They are more usually associated with water, like the one in the photo (right). But I have definitely seen them in fields on several occasions.

Had I never seen a heron standing in a field before, I suspect I would never have misperceived straggly plants as tall birds at all. And that is the importance of seeing a heron in a field! We tend to misperceive what we expect to see, or at least think we might see (or have perhaps seen on TV or in the movies). So when someone misperceives a tree on a dark night as a ghost, it is because, even if only unconsciously, they think it at least possible. The scene might even recall a ghost movie they once saw!

Some ghost witnesses claim that they are skeptical about their existence. Others that they were skeptical but their sighting has convinced them. In almost all cases, however, if you suggest that they saw something OTHER than a ghost, they will appear more disappointed than relieved and may well argue against your ideas. Despite protesting their skepticism, they appear reluctant to have their ghost explained as something xenonormal. It is as if those who see ghosts expect, or even want to see them, if only unconsciously.

22 August 2009: Are we losing sight of ghosts?

Given the current extraordinary level of interest in ghosts, you probably think my headline is insane. So let me explain.

When I first got interested in ghosts, several decades (!) ago, the evidence for them and their behaviour came almost exclusively from primary witnesses. These were people who had actually SEEN ghosts, so it made perfect sense! As a result, most serious ghost researchers thought that there was little evidence that ghosts were spirits. See here for a summary of that evidence.

Nowadays, many ghost researchers rarely talk to primary witnesses. Instead, they mostly go on vigils and compare their results with people who have been on previous vigils to the same location. Given the ease of finding out about venues before going there, psychological suggestion is now a powerful factor in producing any 'phenomema' reported. As a result, most ghost researchers now seem convinced that ghosts are indeed spirits.

Personally, I think the evidence from primary witnesses should still take absolute precedence over vigil results. Sadly, many vigils are run on assumption-led lines and a lot of the 'evidence' gathered in this way has little scientific value. The original purpose of a vigil was to verify and test the observations of original witnesses. Nowadays, many vigils appear more like 'ghost tourism' than serious research, having little or no relationship with the original witness observations.

So now you see the point of my headline, I hope. Instead of listening to people who have actually SEEN ghosts, many people are now more impressed with unusual EMF meter readings or dubious EVP recordings, both of which can easily have xenonormal explanations. The original purpose of ghost research was to investigate and understand reports of ghosts. Hopefully, one day we can return wholehearetedly to that approach and find out what ghosts are really all about.

21 August 2009: Experts beware!

From time to time, someone who has achieved expert status in their chosen field, often a scientific one, beco0mes interested in the paranormal. This is to be welcomed as we need all the expertise we can get to study our complex field.

However, some experts start supporting certain paranormal ideas for which there is little or no scientific evidence. Indeed, there is often little support for the idea even among seasoned paranormal researchers. There are so many ideas floating around the paranormal, it's not surprising that some of the odder ones will appeal to newcomers. I am not going to name any names but examples of experts supporting very strange ideas are not difficult to find.

So how do experts manage to come unstuck so easily in our field? It probably stems largely from the nature of being an expert. After a while, experts no longer bother to test all the evidence they come across because they know things from experience alone. What is more, as acknowledged experts, few people challenge their pronouncements or opinions. Experts also tend to trust their own judgment strongly.

The result is inevitable. When an expert makes a mistake, it is usually a spectacular one. Their opinions can frequently be disproved by simple, obvious experiments.

Of course, not all experts fall into such traps. Many are careful enough to avoid this fate. However, as paranormal researchers, we should never take the opinion of an expert as definitive. They can make mistakes too, even if they are more reluctant than most of us to admit it.

20 August 2009: Garden poltergeist seen moving stuff at last!

'Garden poltergeist' - a red foxThe circumstantial evidence that the 'garden poltergeist' in our neighbourhood, that moves objects around gardens at night unseen, is a fox is overwhelming. A fox was even seen seconds AFTER an object had been moved. No one had any serious doubts that the fox was responsible. There was still one observation in this case, however, that was highly desirable, even if not strictly needed.

Now we have the final, satisfying proof. Early this morning, a fox was actually seen picking up and moving a shoe, it's favourite target. It held the footwear in its mouth for a few seconds until it realised it was being observed. It then dropped the shoe and sauntered off. There can be no further doubt that foxes are capable of moving quite sizable objects. Interestingly, the fox noticed it was being observed even though the observer made no movement or sound and was inside a house, so their 'scent' should not have been detectable outside.

Also, last night a pitiful 'human' sigh was heard in the middle of the night. This time of year everyone has their windows open (following one of the only truly hot days this summer) so it is highly likely the sound came from outside. A brief search revealed no 'human' around so, once again, a fox is the likely suspect. Fox calls vary from blood curdling screams to soft plaintive cries. They are certainly capable of producing human-like cries.

19 August 2009: Everyone misperceives

In the TV series House, the 'hero' has a saying; 'everybody lies'. Paranormal investigators should adopt a similar saying 'everyone misperceives'.

An astronomer is unlikely to see a meteor or a planet as a UFO, though others might. A zoologist will easily distinguish between a pet moggy and an alien big cat. But when someone, even an expert, sees something they don't recognise, they can still misperceive. There may be many different reasons for not recognising something. Viewing conditions might be poor, the observer might be very tired or they may simply never have seen the unknown object before. Indeed, it could be something outside their area of expertise. Regardless of the reason, seeing something you don't recognise makes you vulnerable to misperceiving.

When someone reports an anomalous phenomenon, it is usually because they don't know what it is! It doesn't mean it is necessarily paranormal. They might think it is a ghost, UFO, alien animal or whatever but all we know for sure is that they don't recognise it as something familiar. In such a situation, there is a high chance they are misperceiving. And that is what we find when we investigate such cases - most turn out to be misperception.

So, even if someone is highly qualified and experienced in their field, they can still be fooled. Everyone misperceives!

17 August 2009: More official UFO files

It seems to be a regular event now that UK's MOD releases reports it has received from the public about UFOs. Such releases tend to disappoint many people who expect them to reveal that the authorities know much more about UFOs than the public does. However, there is no obvious reason why they should.

When someone sees a UFO they can choose to report it to the media, ufologists or the authorities (such as the police or military). Since it is up to the witness who they report their incident to, we can probably assume that reports are spread fairly randomly among these destinations. Ufologists will typically follow up reports in the media so it is quite likely that they end up receiving most of the possible UFO reports to be had.

This being the case, there seems no reason to think that the cases reported to the MOD are going to be any different to those already investigated by ufologists. If there is any difference, it might be that the MOD have more resources to investigate such reports. I've no idea if they actually bother to use their resources in this way, but I would guess they probably have more important calls on their budgets right now. Even if they DO use superior resources to investigate UFO reports, they face the same problem as ufologists: all that is left of a UFO report is usually a witness and their story. So, it is difficult to see how even the superior resources that the MOD have could produce any more useful information than the most competent ufologists.

For this reason, I see no obvious reason why the MOD should know any more about UFOs than does the ufology community. So, it should comes as no great surprise that releases of official UFO reports do not bring out any amazing revelations.

14 August 2009: How can partial figure ghosts be explained?

Ghosts have occasionally been reported as partial figures, often just the upper or lower half of the body. Many of these reports are from traditional ghost stories, rather than contemporary cases, so they must be treated with caution. However, some have come from modern, investigated cases so clearly the phenomenon is not mythical.

Anyone seeing a partial human figure is likely to decide it is a ghost pretty quickly! What else could it be? A figure vanishing is also a major clue that someone is looking at a ghost! The latter case is actually common with misperception. An object is misperceived and will 'vanish' if the misperception ceases for some reason, giving the appearance of a figure vanishing. So, can misperception also account for partial figures?

It is obviously possible that the shape of misperceived objects may sometimes resemble only part of a figure rather than the whole thing. Anything with 'limbs', like a tree, might look like a partial human figure from certain angles. But visual substitutions come from our visual memory, so do we have partial images of humans stored there? It seems highly likely - who hasn't seen a figure partially obscured, by a wall, curtain or anything really? So, there seems no obvious reason why misperceptions should not include partial figures. Now, I'm going to try and actually see one! I may be studying trees a lot, for a while.

12 August 2009: Who hasn't heard of flying rods?

Last week the BBC showed an mysterious object caught on a video camera, which was obviously a flying rod, and yet few people recognised it as such. The most popular theories included birds and lighting effects. However, if you study the final section of the video carefully, where the object is slowed down and magnified, there are obvious undulations along its sides. This is a tell-tale sign of a flying rod. So why did so few people recognise it, or even mention the vital clue?

The problem probably stemmed from the original description of the object as a UFO. Though technically it WAS an unidentified flying object, to start with, that term carries lots of baggage with it. Few people thought it was extra-terrestrial in origin, or even paranormal, but after that wild guesses were the order of the day. Not many people made any effort to study the object in detail, which is why they missed the undulations.

Sadly this is all too typical of public reaction to a well publicised report of anomalous phenomena. It produces a lot of speculation but few people take the trouble to study the clues available. It seems it is left to us paranormal researchers to investigate properly and hope that our conclusions are heard above the din of ill-informed rumour and gossip.

10 August 2009: What are miracles?

Black SwanOne of the subjects ASSAP studies and investigates is miracles. We have not had many reports of miracles down the years but there have been a few. I went to witness a miracle in Willesden once that was supposed to happen at a Catholic church. In the event, nothing happened but there a lot of people there who thought it would.

In this week's New Scientist (5 Aug) there is an article on miracles which raises some interesting questions. For instance, what exactly IS a miracle? Many people think of a miracle as something that defies natural laws. However, if a natural law is defied, even once, it ceases to be a law at all.

We once thought, in Europe, that all swans were white but now know there are black swans too. The existence of just one black swan means that the 'law' that all swans are white is no longer true. It is replaced by a law that swans can be black and white (not to mention white with black necks!).

So where has miracle gone? The presence of the black swan is not a miracle. It merely shows us we did not fully understand the natural laws.

Some might say that beating odds of 14 million to one is a miracle but one or two people do this every week to win the UK lottery! Despite the incredible odds against such an event, it becomes almost inevitable if enough people buy lottery tickets.

This still leaves the question of what is a miracle wide open. That might explain why we don't get many reports of them!

7 August 2009: Afraid to let it go ...

Have you ever believed in something so much that you persuaded yourself it was true, against your better judgment? I am a keen bird watcher, when I'm not paranormalising, so I am always keen to see a 'new' species (one I've never seen before, not new to science, that would be cryptozoology). I'm ashamed to say that there have been one or two occasions when I've convinced myself I've seen a 'new' bird, even though I didn't really see it well enough to tell. I just so wanted it to be true!

I think the same thing sometimes happens with those who encounter the paranormal. They are so convinced they've seen something paranormal that no natural explanation for the experience, however plausible, is accepted. It's understandable. We all would rather think we've experienced something rare and extraordinary rather than the mundane masquerading as the paranormal. It can be difficult to let go of the special, the extraordinary.

But if we are to be scientific about paranormal research, we have to be ruthless when it comes to deciding what is real and what isn't. Most paranormal reports are explained by the xenonormal. Even though witnesses may continue to believe their experiences were paranormal, despite the evidence, as researchers we must decide objectively on scientific grounds alone.

5 August 2009: ASSAP appearances in August

As well as Weird Weekend, ASSAP will also be appearing at Weird 09 at the Athenaeum Theatre in Warminster on 29/30 August. So, if you're going to either event, please look out for the ASSAP stall and maybe take part in the experiments that we will be running. Your big chance to skywatch from Cradle Hill, if it doesn't rain!

4 August 2009: Our polt really likes shoes!

The 'garden poltergeist' operating in our neighbourhood has a marked liking for shoes. Odd shoes are often found in the middle of lawns in the morning, having not been there the previous evening. A new one appeared just this morning.

We have already established that the culprit is a fox (or more likely several foxes). I found this about a similar liking for shoes in a german fox! Is this a worldwide phenomenon?

Oddly, despite the obvious strange things going on in gardens, I can't recall a similar case before. I find it difficult to believe this sort of thing doesn't go on fairly regularly elsewhere, given the high number of urban foxes around these days in the UK. So what do people think when shoes mysteriously arrive in the middle of their lawn overnight? Do they look up for a UFO or put it down to pixies? Either way, they don't seem to report it to ASSAP.

If anything similar gets reported in future, however, we will have a pretty good suspect lined up straight away.

3 August 2009: Sounds inside or out?

Flying objectsIt is summer here in the UK, though you'd hardly know it. Apart from a brief heat wave in June, it has been mostly cool and wet! For the third summer in a row!

Despite this, many people have windows open for much of the time at this time of year. The other day I heard a nasty noise, as if I'd broken something, when I moved a chair. I looked around but could see nothing that could have caused the noise and, thankfully, nothing broken! Then I heard the noise again. It was only then that I realised it was coming in from the street, through the open window.

It really sounded like the noise originated in the room with me. I suppose it must have bounced around the walls and ceiling so that its point of origin appeared to be inside by the time it reached my ears.

It occurred to me that, when ghost vigils are held in warm weather, windows may well be left open. If that happened, strange noises interpreted as related to the haunting, may actually originate outside the building. It is something worth investigating when you get strange noises in vigils!

For more info on the photo above, see July's blog.

This month's (July) website figures are an average of 8948 hits per day - significantly up on last month's 8677.

ASSAP

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© Maurice Townsend 2009