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)

28 February 2011: I predict the future again!

Following my spectacularly accurate football prediction last week (see 25 Feb), I decided to try again at the weekend. Once again I made very specific predictions, in front of witnesses, about a live TV match. I won't repeat my predictions here, to save my embarrassment.

Once again I got excited around the times my predictions were due to happen. For the first prediction, the goal time was just one minute out, so not bad. However, not only was it the wrong player but the wrong team that scored! Nothing happened until 6 minutes after my second prediction. This time it was at least the right team but the wrong player and even I cannot stretch such a time difference to being considered a hit.

So why the headline when my predictions were so wrong? I made another prediction - that I could not keep predicting the future. And that one, at least, was correct!

25 February 2011: I predict the future!

Last night I watched live football on TV: Liverpool versus Sparta Prague in the Europa League. After a goalless first leg, this match was the tie decider. Before the match started I predicted, in front of witnesses, that Kuyt would score in the 87th minute. As the game wore on, still goalless, I remembered my prediction and as Liverpool lined up a corner in the 86th minute I repeated 'time for Kuyt's goal'. Even I was shocked when he actually DID score seconds later and only one minute 'early'.

So what are the odds against making such a prediction. Firstly, was it a 'hit' at all, being one minute out? I'd say yes, as plus or minus one minute would seem reasonable accuracy over a match of 93 minutes. Was Kuyt a likely scorer? He is by no means the side's top scorer with 3 goals all season up to last night. Did I have any special knowledge? I found out today that the goal had been practiced on the training ground but I've never even visited it, nor am I in touch with anyone who has! So, all in all, I'd say the odds against making such an accurate prediction are pretty impressive. I should have put a bet on it!

Does this make me psychic? Maybe if I did it frequently it might. I didn't get any special feeling that I was going to be correct. Nor did I dream the prediction or get a vision or do a psychic reading. I just decided, off the top of my head, that it was going to happen. Sports fans make such predictions all the time before games. On this occasion I just got lucky. A great coincidence but no more. I guess I could always try and predict some more football results for the weekend and see if I really have the knack!

PS: This interesting story demonstrates how we should never dismiss natural causes for weird events simply because they are highly unlikely or even unprecedented. Strange stuff DOES happen! Apparently foxes can climb ladders. I've seen them get over high fences but never ladders! Never underestimate nature!

23 February 2011: How much of the paranormal is a state of mind?

I have given many examples in this blog of weird experiences I've had that turned out to have a natural explanation. Only this month I've mentioned the 'ghost bird' and the 'disappearing crow'! There have also been several examples of misperception with trees and plants experienced as human figures. If I was convinced I was psychic, my attitude to these experiences could have been quite different.

I go on many web forums and sometimes try to explain strange experiences that people post there. In many cases, there is a lot of resistance to natural explanations from the original witness, even if it fits the evidence really well. As I've said before, witnesses will often mention 'new' evidence that appears to rule out natural explanations, even though they never mentioned it before. I'm often left with the impression that the witness has long ago decided that what they experienced was paranormal and will no longer consider any other alternatives. This gives rise to arguments like 'you weren't there' - see below.

We all experience odd things in our lives from time to time. However, our attitude to such events can affect how we interpret them. Unless there is unambiguous evidence that an incident has a natural explanation, there will always be a possible paranormal explanation. I suspect that most people either tend naturally towards either paranormal or natural explanations. Given an identical incident, one witness might report it as paranormal while another would dismiss it as natural. In both cases, they may well not be doing justice to the incident unless they investigate it fully at the time, which very few people do. The difference arises from the attitude of the witness, not the real nature of the incident itself.

So I wonder just how many paranormal reports are down to the state of mind of the witness. There are few really unambiguous paranormal reports. Unlike in the movies, ghosts don't walk up to witnesses, introduce themselves and answer questions. In real life, someone sees a human figure they are not expecting and may wonder if it might be a ghost. How, and even if, it gets reported depends on who sees it.

22 February 2011: Ghost bird?

Looking out of a window in the morning recently, just as it was getting light, I noticed a small white object move swiftly across the twilight scene outside. I only saw the object in my peripheral vision but, given that it must have been off the ground and was traveling quickly, my first thought was a bird. But white? And at that time of day? Both highly unlikely in the UK!

I looked more closely at the area where I saw the object and got lucky. There it was again! Definitely not a bird and now it was obviously a reflection in the window from somewhere behind me. Looking round, I realised it was an oblique view of passing car headlights through another window. Mystery solved!

It made me wonder about the role of reflections in dark vigils. Any mirror, window, pane of glass, metallic object, and so on, could reflect light in such circumstances. It can be very difficult to determine the true source and nature of a light seen only by a brief reflection. And, unless people on the vigil memorise where all the shiny surfaces are before the lights go out, reflections could be an important source of spurious 'light phenomena' reports, which are common on such occasions. Even if all such surfaces HAVE been memorised, it is easy to lose track of which direction are looking at in the dark. Yet another reason to avoid holding vigils in the dark!

Interestingly, the window I saw the white object from is very familiar to me indeed. And yet I'd never noticed that particular reflection before! We can still be surprised even by the familiar. And if we are inclined to think what we're seeing is paranormal, it can be easy to see a 'ghost bird' which is, in fact, the reflection of a passing car headlight.

21 February 2011: Time slip?

The other day I found myself arriving by train in Inverness - in 1929! No, not, just before half past seven - 82 years ago! The streets looked unfamiliar. I know the area around Inverness railway station and it didn't look right. Having said that, I expect it's changed a lot since there.

I expect you're wondering why I'm wasting your time describing a dream. I don't tend to remember my dreams and, when I do, most are contemporary or set in the near future. So I take notice of those set in the past. The architecture and people's clothing looked authentic for the period, though I'm hardly an expert in such matters. Interestingly, I had been watching a period drama just before, set in 1934, so I had something to compare it with, or more likely it was the source material!

I've been here before, of course. However, last time I could not be sure of the source material for a dream set in the 1940s. Indeed, I was aware there were mistakes in it at the time!

We all know vastly more than we can consciously remember. It often takes a particular stimulus, like revisiting a place where a memory was formed or hearing some music from the time or even a smelling something familiar. This is important to know because it means that when someone says they got some information psychically and could not possibly have known it beforehand, it might be incorrect. We experience all sorts of things during a lifetime. Though we forget many things, we still remember a lot! Another situation where it can be important is when you visit a spooky place. It may unconsciously remind you of a ghost movie you once saw, influencing anything you misperceive. If the place reminds you of fictional ghostly place, you may misperceive a ghost!

So, here I have a case of a TV drama feeding directly into a subsequent dream. The story may have washed over me as just an evening's entertainment at the time but, clearly, some of it stuck nevertheless. In a few years I may find I mysteriously know something about how people dressed in the 1930s without remembering how I could possibly know.

17 February 2011: Another admission!

I seem to spend a lot of time admitting my mistakes from the past here. Well, you are supposed to learn from your mistakes. I can think of many people who still haven't!

My latest admission is that I've been on 'lights out' vigils! There are, of course, many obvious reasons why this is not useful scientifically (see link). Quite apart from encouraging rampant misperception, almost NO ghosts are reported to glow! So it is perfectly possible that many ghosts walked right past me on dark vigils and I missed them because the lights were out! There IS one advantage to dark vigils - the ability to observe others misperceiving. This was one of the mistakes I learned from. I realised that just because someone says they saw something, it doesn't mean someone else looking at the same thing will see it the same way. In other words, witness testimony should never be taken as absolutely correct!

What intrigues me now is this - when I sat there in the dark, straining to see something paranormal, or indeed anything much, what on earth did I think I would actually see? I've tried to think back but it can be difficult to recreate old thoughts. The best I've come up with is that I was influenced, whether consciously or not, by ghost stories I'd seen on TV and at the movies. In such stories, ghosts are almost always seen at night, usually in the dark. However, the 'dark' of movies is a little different to the 'dark' we experience in real life. In the movies there is usually enough light for the audience to see what's going on, even if the characters behave as if they can't see a thing. In 'movie darkness', it ought to be possible to see a non-glowing ghost quite easily, unlike in real life darkness.

Oddly, I never used to feel that anything paranormal was likely to happen when I sat there in the darkness. It was when I was alone, while packing up at the end of a vigil, that I sometimes thought something weird might happen. I often scanned the room where I was, expecting to see something weird. At least with the the light on I stood a chance!

14 February 2011: Too much information?

Consider the following fictional incident. Someone takes a photo, purportedly showing a ghost. Some people who look at it (we'll call them 'believers') see an obvious shadowy figure that the photographer never saw at the time, which they conclude must be a ghost. Some other people (we'll call them 'skeptics') see nothing more than a shadow on a tree that happens to resemble a human figure. To both groups, that is often the end of the matter. They have made their judgments and are ready to move on to the next mystery. To me, as a 'neutral', the mystery has is not over at all.

I would want to know exactly what caused the shadow. I'd want to know if it was an effect visible only in photographs (which may alter contrast and colour balance) or something actually visible to the human eye but missed by the photographer. I'd want to know if everyone could see the 'figure' or only certain people. And had other people ever photographed the same effect? Did the effect rely on particular lighting? And so on. In other words, I would want to know in detail exactly how the figure appeared, whether it was considered by most people paranormal or not.

Unfortunately the believer/skeptic approach to our subject, which can often be seen in web debates, is too superficial in my opinion. Both sides are mainly interested in whether a report supports their case or not, ignoring the detail. I think, if we can understand exactly how natural phenomena can resemble paranormal ones, it can help with investigating the less obvious cases. You can never have too much information when investigating the paranormal.

11 February 2011: What do we really know about the paranormal?

The quick answer is, as far as I can tell, precious little. However, that's not the impression you get reading many websites on the subject. So why the discrepancy?

You need to look at the sources of our knowledge about the paranormal to appreciate why we know so little about it. Firstly, there are spontaneous cases, like ghost sighting reports. This valuable data source forms the bedrock of our subject. Witnesses are interviewed in detail, the sites of their sightings examined closely and, sometimes, ghost vigils held there. Or at least, that was how it used to work. Nowadays, many groups skip the vital first two steps to go straight to more exciting, but much less scientifically useful, third step. It is more useful to interview witnesses who have actually seen a ghost rather than spend all night in a building on the off chance you might get incredibly lucky and see one for yourself.

Luckily, some paranormal research groups still interview witnesses. In addition, we still have data built up from investigations conducted before the ghost hunting boom. Though these reveal an interesting picture about hauntings and ghosts (see here), the results of detailed investigations reveal that most such reports result from the xenonormal rather than the paranormal. This means that much of what we know about hauntings from this data is the result of natural causes. And even the cases that remain unexplained may be that way simply because there is not enough evidence available, rather than that they are paranormal. So we end with a set of unexplained cases, some of which 'might' have a paranormal explanation, but we don't know which is which! The only long term solution to this problem, in my view, is even more rigorous standards of investigation.

Another data source is the thousands of ghost vigils undertaken every year in haunted locations. Unfortunately, nearly all of this use assumption-led methods. It is easy, using such methods, to get 'positive' results anywhere, whether the paranormal is really involved or not. So, once again, we have a mass of data, the vast majority of which is xenonormal and we don't know which bits of the remainder might be truly paranormal.

Another important source of data about the paranormal is laboratory parapsychological experiments. Though these rarely reproduce the sort of conditions that generate spontaneous reports, they are at least held in controlled conditions. The overall results from these experiments are slightly in favour of the existence of the paranormal. Unfortunately, this is what you'd expect if the paranormal did not exist at all but experiments to test for it contained small, unintentional biases in their design (see here).

Even if we assume that the overall slight positive results of paranormal experiments is real, the experiments don't reveal any obvious consistent facts about the paranormal. If you look at the 'discussion' part of papers showing positive paranormal results, they generally include theories about possible causes for that experiment's results. Unfortunately, they often differ significantly from those in other similar papers. There are no obvious, reproducible consistent characteristics emerging from this research.

So, given this lack of reliable sources of paranormal information, why are there websites full of details describing many aspects of the paranormal as if they were generally acknowledged facts? Some of this information may come assumption-led vigils but I suspect much of it, ultimately, originates in 'traditional' knowledge. People 'know' that ghosts are spirits, despite the lack of obvious supporting evidence, because it is a traditional belief, supported by legends and fiction for centuries. It would be fascinating know exactly where such ' paranormal facts' ultimately originate, given the lack of obvious reliable sources.

10 February 2011: Winter crow

CrowThe other day I was walking along a street when I saw a crow in the road. As someone passed nearby it flew up into a bare tree. The tree had been recently pollarded so it lacked most branches and had no foliage. I could no longer see the crow, which had landed on the opposite side of the tree. I walked cautiously past the tree, hoping for a close up view of the bird. But there was nothing there!

Puzzled, I looked around and saw the crow perched on the chimney pot of a nearby house. Somehow, I had managed to miss seeing the crow fly behind the tree and then carry on higher to a roof in plain daylight. But how? It soon became obvious. I was looking directly into bright sunlight which was obscuring my view. Though it was afternoon, in winter the sun never rises high above the horizon and it was shining pretty much straight into my eyes.

It is yet another misperception 'trigger'! Anything that can interfere with a straightforward, good view of an object can trigger misperception. The list of possible triggers grows all the time (see here for the latest). It is getting to the point where there are so many situations that might trigger a misperception that they might be considered common rather than rare!

A second factor in my missing seeing a big obvious bird flying was that part of its flight passed behind a tree. When objects momentarily disappear from view, our brains make unconscious assumptions about where they might reappear. The object could be assumed to travel in a straight line, for instance, and so reappear at an appropriate place. In my case, my brain seems to have assumed the crow would land in the tree, something birds often do! Our perception depends on our experience and, in this case, it was misleading. I've had this a lot in bird watching where a bird has flown into a bush, so I searched it. In reality, the bird flew straight through the bush and carried on out of the other side!

Some readers will no doubt think that this is a lot of fuss over a trivial incident. However, it is by observing such minor occurrences that we get an insight into the ways visual perception works. Most people take such things for granted and so end up reporting xenonormal incidents as paranormal.

9 February 2011: 'You weren't there!'

Sometimes the evidence given by a witness may strongly point to a xenonormal cause, like misperception or hallucination. However, a witness may strongly believe otherwise, particularly interpreting it as paranormal. They may sometimes argue that 'you weren't there'. The implication is that, although they've described in detail what they experienced, they are the 'expert' in their own experience and therefore their interpretation of events must be the correct one, whatever others may say! So how do paranormal researchers deal with such an argument?

Witnesses are vital sources of information in our subject and should always be treated with utmost respect. They are perfectly entitled to their opinion so you should not force yours onto them, possibly resulting in a loss of cooperation and goodwill. Having said that, any report on the case should reflect the balance of the evidence, irrespective of the witness's opinions.

But what of the actual argument 'you weren't there'? Does it really mean that people who were not physically present can never truly understand the experience or deduce its causes? Well, clearly no, otherwise no crime could ever be solved and science could not be used to infer what happens in places we cannot visit or touch, like other planets or atoms. So how do we deal with this argument?

Firstly, its use might imply that the witness has not given a complete account of the experience. They may be basing their conclusions on something they haven't told you. So, you should ask them what factor persuaded them that their interpretation was correct, in case it brings out missing testimony (though see here).

Secondly, the argument could imply that, had you only been there, you too would have instantly interpreted what was seen as paranormal. I always think, when reading an account of a paranormal event, 'I wonder what I'd have seen if I had been there'. On the few occasions when I HAVE been present when somebody else reported experiencing something paranormal, in each case I could see the real cause of their observation and it was always something normal! When people see things they don't recognise ('xenonormal') they may interpret it as paranormal.

Thirdly, the argument could imply that the reported experience had some effect on the witness that made them think it must be paranormal. It could be a 'sense of presence' or a strong emotional reaction, for instance. However, xenonormal phenomena can have the same effect, if the observer BELIEVES they are witnessing something truly weird.

It is perfectly possible to deduce what most likely happened during a reported experience, if there is enough detail available and you know what clues to look for. Things like misperception and near sleep experiences have distinctive characteristics that should appear in the witness account. Only when these are completely absent should we explore other possibilities as a priority.

8 February 2011: The problem of belief

One of the minor inconveniences of paranormal research is that there are some people who have strong, fixed opinions about our subject, and that can include witnesses that we might wish to interview. To many people a ghost is a spirit, regardless of the evidence! Similarly, there are those to whom the term UFO translates to 'alien space craft', rather than the more accurate 'unidentified flying object' that it actually stands for. Then there are people who say that ghosts simply don't exist, despite the fact that people see them every day. You need to develop your diplomatic skills to avoid inadvertently upsetting such people, particularly if you need their cooperation!

Suppose, for instance, you interview a witness and they are convinced that what they've seen is paranormal. There is nothing wrong with that, everyone is entitled to their opinions. If you ask questions that suggest that what they saw had a natural explanation, you will often find that they remember 'new' details, never mentioned before, that preclude your theory. This could be confabulation where, quite unconsciously, additional spurious details are being added that support the witness's own interpretation of their experience. Obviously, you wouldn't say this to the interviewee but it still needs to be considered when compiling a case report.

Another possible reaction to such a line of questioning might be that the interviewee thinks you doubt their veracity! In my experience, very few witnesses ever deliberately say things which are completely untrue, so I don't usually have any reason to doubt what they are saying. When they are describing their experience, there is usually no good reason for the interviewer to doubt anything they say. It is their subsequent interpretation of the event which may more open to question. It is why you are investigating the case!

What many witnesses fail to understand is the fallibility of both human perception (see misperception) and memory (see memory). They also may fail to appreciate that everyone can hallucinate in certain circumstances (see near sleep experiences) and it does not imply they are ill in any way. Seeing is indeed believing but it does not always objectively correspond with what is physically happening in the world.

If you are pursuing questions around a particular theory, it would be a good thing to make it unobvious. If that is impossible, you can always point out that, in order to discover if an incident was paranormal, all credible natural explanations need to be exhausted first.

Witnesses can occasionally not understand why an investigator needs to visit the site where an experience took place to examine it in detail. Since you have their statement of what happened, they may reason, why do you need to examine the scene, unless you have doubts. Thankfully, most witnesses don't see it that way and understand that there is a lot of useful information to be gained in this way. Ironically, though no researcher would ever usually mention it, examining a scene can sometimes indeed cast doubt on aspects of the witness's account. Once again, though, this is simply because of the inherent unreliability of witness evidence (see here), rather than a problem with any particular individual.

These sort of problems have been made a lot worse by the ghost hunting boom. Witnesses now assume, having seen ghost 'hunting' on TV, that paranormal researchers automatically attribute ghosts to spirits. They may well expect researchers to get rid of the ghosts too! This impression can be countered by pointing out that we still do not understand ghosts which is why scientific research is required.

7 February 2011: The 'not quite paranormal' diary

Many of my xenonormal experiences have appeared in this blog over the years. They include such things as UFOs, that turn out to be balloons or sky lanterns, ghosts that were really plants and so on. It occurs to me that it would probably benefit all paranormal researchers to keep a 'xenonormal diary' (or 'not quite paranormal' diary). This would be a catalogue of casual incidents where the diary keeper had an experience that could be thought paranormal but which, on subsequent investigation, was determined to have natural causes. Then, when faced with similar reports from paranormal witnesses, it would give the investigator tips on what to look for when trying to eliminate natural causes.

Another advantage in keeping such a diary would be that it focuses attention on how unreliable our senses really are. For instance, pretty much everything in peripheral vision is just a best guess by our brains. As are most things seen in very low light, such as on a dark vigil! Just today I saw a 'squirrel' in a tree I was passing in the corner of my eye. When I looked at it face on, the 'squirrel' was actually a fir tree branch moving in a stiff breeze. It looked as though it something furry moving along a tree branch just behind!

Seeing is definitely believing. The problem is, seeing is not necessarily reality. I think it is possible to get yourself into a mind set where you accept that and start to be able to split the 'definitely real' from the 'probably misperceived' without too much difficulty. For instance, I was suspicious of that 'squirrel' straight away, given that they are rarely seen in winter.

I go bird watching, which is great training for this. Sometimes you so want to see a rare bird that you find yourself turning leaves, shadows and flowers into birds! I doubt I could train my brain to only see what is definitely real but at least I can look for clues to decide if it is or not. And keeping a diary of 'not quite paranormal' events would be a great start.

4 February 2011: Ghost or zeitgeist - who decides?

When I was a kid, it was normal for many fictional stories involving ghosts (not ghost stories) to frequently involve fakery. A character pretended a place was haunted to stop someone else buying it, for instance, or to keep nosy people away while nefarious activities took place. Nowadays, almost every ghost you come across in stories is 'real' (for which read 'a spirit'). Clearly, there has been a change in the zeitgeist concerning paranormal phenomena in the intervening decades.

The question is, does fiction affect public attitudes, so that ghosts tend to be generally thought of as real these days? Or has the public attitude changed, so affecting what authors put into their fiction? I can't say which but the two certainly seem to march in step. Few people would admit to seeing a ghost decades ago, for fear of appearing delusional. Nowadays, they readily contact their local paper or publish their account on the web. And such witnesses can be remarkably resistant to suggestions that natural explanations could account for their experience.

One thing that has not changed in fiction is the role of the premonition. In every story I've ever come across, if there is an unlikely prediction made by a psychic in a story, it is ALWAYS fulfilled before 'The End' is reached! It is little wonder that people have trouble with the idea that an unlikely event could ever be a coincidence. I suspect the 'fulfilled premonition' is a standard device of fiction. It would be interesting to see how a story where the big premonition did NOT come true was received. But would any author be brave enough to try it?

I wonder if the 'fulfilled premonition' device in fiction reflects one of the strongest of all memes. Even stronger than the idea that ghosts are spirits! And yet, in real life, widely known predictions from psychics routinely fail to be fulfilled. But it seems to do no harm whatever to the reputation of the psychic involved nor the public's appetite for new predictions. Perhaps continual fictional representations of premonitions which are always fulfilled can overcome even repeated failures in real life.

3 February 2011: When the floor feels weird!

The other day I noticed a strange feeling in my feet. I quickly deduced that it was caused by vibration coming through the concrete floor from a busy washing machine. The feeling was quite odd - a strange unreal tingling sensation, quite disconcerting. As most of us stride across solid ground most of the time, we are not used to such sensations through our feet.

I wondered what I would have thought if I had not been able hear the source of the vibration. There would still be the odd sensation in my feet but no obvious source. If I was in a haunted house, it would be easy to put it down to some unworldly 'presence' or other. Some people habitually get a feeling, good or bad, when they enter a building, usually attributed to a psychic facility. Might some of those feelings, particularly unhappy ones, actually be due to physical vibrations in the floor?

It takes something fairly chunky to vibrate a concrete floor. Usually the source of such a vibration would be loud and easy to trace. But not always. And sometimes we can hear the source of vibration plainly enough but ignore it. If you live next to a busy road, for instance, there is a constant background noise that you block out after a while. Such traffic can, of course, cause noticeable vibration in nearby buildings.

I was once woken in the middle of the night by a small earthquake when I was staying in Switzerland. My bed shook and, particularly in the darkness, it felt as though the whole world was no longer dependable and solid but strange and threatening. We expect floors to be solid and not to move. When they DO move we naturally feel anxious. It's no wonder I felt a bit odd when my feet tingled.

2 February 2011: Does coincidence plus xenonormal equal paranormal?

Imagine you are walking along a familiar street one evening when you glance up and notice a shadowy figure ahead. Unconcerned, you look away until you are closer. But when you look again the figure has disappeared! This is weird because there was nowhere obvious for anyone to have gone in the short time you were not looking. So you wonder if you've seen a ghost! Later you do some historical research and discover that there was a fatal car accident, some years before, at the very spot you saw the shadowy figure!

There are many possible natural causes of your original sighting - it could be misperception, a peripheral vision 'shadow ghost', maybe even a real person who went off along a narrow alleyway that you didn't notice. Or even someone who took their coat off, to end up looking completely different, as happened to me once! But what about the accident? That could simply be a coincidence. Look hard enough into the history of almost anywhere and you are likely to eventually find an accident or some other incident popularly associated with hauntings.

Even if different people were to see a shadowy figure, from time to time, at the same place, it still need not be paranormal. A tree might only be misperceived as a human figure by a tiny percentage of passers-by but it is enough to give a place a firm reputation for being haunted.

So does the historical accident validate the original sighting of a figure as paranormal? Does it make it more likely that you saw a ghost? Well, obviously not. But nevertheless it is an argument used implicitly in many accounts of hauntings. It is seen as somehow 'building a case' for a paranormal interpretation, even though both elements could be easily explained by natural causes individually. But it remains just a coincidence unless there is something to firmly connect the figure to the accident. The Blue Bell Hill road ghost is frequently linked, in popular imagination at least, to a particular accident (which happened to occur before the first sighting) even though there is nothing in the witness testimony of the ghost to actually connect the two.

Even if the figure you saw in the hypothetical case above really WAS a genuine paranormal ghost, it might still have nothing to do with the accident you researched. We cannot use coincidences to validate witness testimony to what might well be an unconnected event.

1 February 2011: Negative evidence and blanket videoing!

Orange UFOIt is an unfortunate aspect of paranormal research that much of it relies on negative evidence. For instance, 'that object was in a different place before we left it in the locked room', 'no one was speaking when the EVP was recorded', 'there was no dust in the room to create orbs' and so on. In many cases, such negative evidence relies on people's memory rather than any instrumental recording. There will not usually be a video of an object actually moving!

Unfortunately, when negative evidence, or indeed the positive variety, relies on memory it becomes subject to all the problems of witness testimony (such as misperception, suggestion and confabulation). Many examples of 'negative evidence' occur on ghost vigils, which are supposed to be controlled environments. But the weird events that occur frequently still end up relying solely on someone's memory for their 'paranormal factor'! We may know that a room was locked but was there any photograph taken in advance to show where everything was? Or, even better, was a video left running to monitor the room! Usually, the answer is no!

Luckily there is a solution to such problems, though it isn't cheap! During vigils the ideal set up would be to have as many video cameras as possible to monitor everything, preferably from several different angles. Not just 'active' areas either! On several vigils I've been on, nothing happened during the official sessions at the 'active' locations. Instead, odd things happened during breaks, when people were moving around the building, usually on their own nowhere near a camera! Although it sounds a little Big Brother, I think the idea of blank videoing will go a long way towards getting rid of the need to rely on negative evidence, which rarely stands up to critical scrutiny.

In advocating 'blanket videoing' I am aware that 'blanket monitoring' , which I also once supported, leaves a lot to be desired. However, if asked, I would advise ghost researchers to forget about EMF meters, thermal imaging equipment, thermometers and other such stuff, and get as many camcorders as possible. Since there is no need to have lights off during a vigil, the cheaper ones, without low light capability, should be just fine. It is people that report the paranormal, not instruments. So we need to have vigil participants on video continually, to see what they see and hear what they hear. As well as videoing rooms, it would be fantastic if vigil participants could actually wear miniature video cameras. Then, when someone sees or hears something which the main room videos cannot pick up, there may still actually be a chance of recording it!

Of course, it is possible to misinterpret video recordings, just as you can misinterpret other instrumental readings. But video has the advantage of being a continuous recording, so transitory things shouldn't be missed. You also get sound as well as vision. You can always deploy more videos in one area if necessary, giving different angles to view things as well as allowing sound triangulation. Most importantly, most paranormal phenomena are visual and/or aural so you will get good coverage of the most important variables. All in all, blanket videoing would be a much better way forward than blanket monitoring with a menagerie of frequently misunderstood instruments.

The lowest photo on this page shows an orange UFO videoed recently. The full story is here.

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

Last month's (January) website figures are an average of 8373 hits per day. This is significantly up on the previous month's 7577 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • 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 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