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 ...

Previous blog pages ...

31 July 2009: Garden poltergeist caught!

Fox - garden poltergeistIn May I mentioned the 'garden poltergeist' that has been operating in our neighbourhood recently. Small items left in gardens overnight are found to have moved or disappeared. Larger items are pushed over. Nobody ever sees these things happen as it is all under cover of darkness.

The mysterious events have continued ever since, usually with something happening every few days. Now the prime suspect has been caught red handed (well, almost!). Last night a witness was looking at their garden from a window and saw nothing unusual. They then left the scene for no more than 2 minutes and returned to see the scene had changed! Firstly there was a fox present. Secondly, an object in the garden, one popular with the 'poltergeist'. had moved! So there was an object frequently moved by the 'poltergeist' and standing right next to it, the prime suspect!

With no other suspects present at the scene, it was almost as good as seeing the fox actually move the object! There is no serious doubt remaining that the garden poltergeist really is a fox!

30 July 2009: ASSAP at Weird Weekend

ASSAP is running an experiment at the Weird Weekend, hosted by the Centre for Fortean Zoology, being held at Woolfardisworthy in Devon on 14-16 August. For more info and booking go here!

30 July 2009: Changing witness stories

Sometimes, when you investigate a case, an obvious xenonormal solution will occur to you that fits the description given by the witness very well. However, when you put this idea to the witness they will suddenly 'remember' other points about their observation that (a) they never mentioned before, in spite of rigorous interviewing, and (b) tend to confirm the paranormal interpretation that the witness already places on what they experienced.

While it is entirely possible that the witness may remember more things over time, another possibility is confabulation. If the witness is convinced that they've seen a ghost they may, quite unconsciously, add 'new memories' to plug the gap that might otherwise allow a xenonormal explanation.

Some witnesses gratefully accept the suggested xenonormal explanation as they simply want a satisfying solution. But those who may have profoundly convinced themselves that they've experienced something extraordinary may be reluctant to let that idea go and so, unconsciously, confabulate. Given that (a) most cases do end with xenonormal explanations and (b) the fact that this scenario happens frequently, it tends to support the idea that confabulation is indeed taking place. Obviously, no investigator can assume such a thing but if it happens repeatedly, with several xenonormal suggestions producing more and more 'new memories', it has to considered a strong possibility.

28 July 2009: Big cat on video

A policeman in Scotland has videoed what looks like a black panther. It was photographed by the West Highland railway line at Helensburgh. The size (which can be gauged by comparing it with the rail track), long tail and way of walking (both the pace and the way the tale is held horizontal) all point to the possibility of a genuine big cat. On the video, the length of the body of the cat appears to be not much less than the width between the tracks (it is hard to be precise), making it about 1 - 1.3m long, not including tail! Another possibility, apart from a genuine big cat, is a melanistic hybrid domestic cat and wildcat, like the Kellas Cat.

There have been many reports of alien big cats (ABCs) in the UK but the evidence is often ambiguous. This latest video looks rather better than most. It is thought that ABCs might indeed be loose in the UK, having originated as pets that were released into the wild. Though many of the reports of ABCs are probably domestic cats, other pets and native wildlife, there are enough remaining to suggest big cats could be present, living wild, in very small numbers. Other non-native, or previously extinct, species have established themselves on the UK in recent years, such as wild boar and Eagle Owls. These unobtrusive species may have been present for years before they were noticed.

27 July 2009: We're all experts, aren't we?

Painted LadyThis butterfly (right) is a Painted Lady. This year it has arrived in the UK in unprecedented numbers and, with eggs now hatching, we could see a billion on the wing in coming weeks! Such 'irruptions' (mass migrations) happen from time to time with this species which arrives in Europe from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

If you are not a naturalist, you may not be aware of this phenomenon, though you might notice a lot of colourful butterflies on thistles at the moment. The point is that, though it is a natural phenomenon, it is only known to a relatively small group of people.

When faced with paranormal reports, it is just such expert knowledge that might produce a xenonormal explanation. However, as paranormal researchers, we cannot be expected to know all these, often quite obscure, facts. And yet, that does not stop people saying that an orb was not dust because 'dust doesn't behave like that' or a flying rod could not have been an insect because 'insects don't fly that high'. But are the people who make such statements experts in dust or insects? In many cases, the answer is no!

We must learn to do research and consult experts before making rash statements about what is, and what is not, possible naturally. In some cases a quick search of the internet will quickly reveal things like how high insects can fly though usually more effort is required. It is on such technical information that the 'paranormality' of a case may rest. We cannot be experts on every possible xenonormal phenomenon but we owe it to our subject to consult those who are.

24 July 2009: A hole in rock

'Hole in rock'In the photo here (right) you can see a rock face on the side of a mountain. Towards the bottom right is a remarkable hole through the crag, allowing you to see the blue sky behind.

Well that's what it looks like anyway! However a second photo of the same scene (below right), with slightly different exposure parameters, looks different. That is, it looks different to me on my computer screen. I cannot guarantee it will different to you, on yours. The difference is subtle but important.

The reality, more obvious in the lower photo, is that the 'hole in the rock' is actually an isolated patch of snow! The 'hole effect' is an illusion. The crag has only solid rock behind it.

The lower photo was exposed more than the upper one, which is why everything looked brighter. It is, to me at least, now obviously a white snow patch and not a hole.


Snow patch on rockThis sort of illusion is fairly common in photography and can sometimes be seen with the naked eye, at the time, on site. Whenever you see something that appears unlikely like this, you should always do everything you can to check it. It might mean changing your position or shining a light or even blinking. Too many people simply stand and stare at something weird, as if afraid it will go away if they do anything.

In the case of an illusion or a misperception, it might well disappear if you move. However, this is not because it is paranormal but that it only works in certain precise circumstances. If you do move and the illusion vanishes, go back to where you started and it will probably return.

When we receive reports from witnesses, or their photos, about this kind of thing, they will generally NOT have made any attempt to investigate at the time. It is a pity but a fact of life!

22 July 2009: Line of sight misperception

To get a three dimensional view of an object, we need to see around it. We can always tell if one object is behind another but not necessarily how far behind. This can lead to thinking that two separate objects are attached when they are simply in the same line of sight.

I've experienced this kind of misperception, associating objects in the same line of sight when they are well separated. It has not led me to think I'd seen anything paranormal, so far, but I can see that it might do. In restricted viewing conditions (eg. through trees in a wood or along a narrow alley) or in poor light, the two objects may appear to become one. So two 'normal' objects might appear to coalesce into one larger 'paranormal' one (like an alien animal, for instance).

21 July 2009: When the familiar does the unexpected

I read the other day, can't remember where, that we often miss the unexpected. People running tests are able to smuggle dummy bombs past airport security because they are so used to seeing nothing suspicious, they fail to see the unexpected, even though they are looking for it! I guess when you've seen a few thousand scans of luggage, with all the usual stuff, you start to expect them all to look the same. It is all down to the way our brains work - we become used to things.

Such over-familiarity means we expect things to behave in a certain way. So when familiar things do something unexpected we will either miss it completely OR it could lead to a xenonormal experience.

Here is an example. You notice someone, perhaps in your peripheral vision, walking along a familiar street. Suddenly they have vanished! Was it a ghost? In fact, the person slipped into a narrow alley but, because you were not watching them closely, you missed it. Your expectation, that they would continue to walk along the road, was not met, leaving you with a strange feeling that something paranormal has happened. Something like this happened to me last week and it definitely felt weird until I discovered where the person had actually gone!

17 July 2009: Butterfly points

Butterfly effectWhat do butterflies have in common with sensational paranormal reports? Chaos, is the answer! The famous butterfly effect says that chaotic systems are highly sensitive to their initial conditions. The flap of a butterfly's wings on one continent can set off a storm in another, as they say.

A paranormal investigation can be seen as a chaotic system though not just in the obvious way! The final results of the investigation can depend critically on small details of how it is conducted. In particular, those aspects of the case that show apparent paranormality are highly sensitive to the degree of detail obtained about them. If an investigator fails to get the full details of a crucial incident, the interpretation could be radically different and probably wrong! Trying to recreate the crucial incident on site may help illuminate what details may be missing!

This is all explained here, on a new page. It describes how some sensational cases displaying obvious paranormality may not be what they seem.

New page: Paranormal butterfly effect

15 July 2009: Large insects as rods

Damselfly rodI wondered if it was possible for large insects to form flying rods and, if so, what they would look like. Large insects tend to fly slowly so they are less likely to form rods. On the other hand, as big, often colourful animals, the results could be spectacular if they did.

I thought I would try with a Banded Demoiselle Damselfly, my favourite large insect!. If you look at the photo here, you can see what one looks like normally.

The photo, right, is what the damselfly looked like when I tried a slow shutter speed. The shutter speed was 1/25s, which is longer than you would ever get with a video still frame. The blue body has been blurred into a weird, even spectacular wispy shape, though not the classic flying rod.

While this is unlikely that a video would produce a flying rod from such a large insect, it could crop up on photo from a a still camera, like this one. It will be interesting to see if there are any examples of such photos out there already. It is possible that if there are, they might be interpreted as something paranormal.

14 July 2009: The stories behind paranormal photos

I realised recently that I'd omitted the 'stories' behind the paranormal photos I'd examined in my informal survey. The reason for this was that I wanted the photos to stand up on their own as evidence. Unlike with witness statements, which are usually incomplete, often inaccurate and even change over time, a photo is a fixed artifact you can examine again and again.

However, it occurred to me that these 'stories' are interesting in themselves. In some cases, where there is nothing obviously weird about the photo at all or it is easily explained by natural causes, the 'story' may be the only reason for thinking anything paranormal is going on at all. Effectively, such photos rely entirely on witness statements.

So what did the stories reveal? In most cases people think their photos are paranormal, even if they are not sure how, which is hardly surprising. In some cases people deliberately went out trying to get paranormal photos but in most it was just accidental. In some cases there is a strong belief in the paranormality of a photo, even when it contains something easily explainable. In such cases, the 'story' may sometimes be elaborated to bolster the paranormal 'credentials' of the photo!

In the end, the stories are witness statements and carry the same sort of weight. A paranormal photo really has to be judged on its own merits. There are so many 'natural' reasons for odd photos around that we need additional objective evidence, such as more photos or instrumental readings taken at the same time, to really show if a shot is paranormal. Witness statements are subjective and cannot bolster objective evidence, like a photo.

12 July 2009: Fact or fiction?

The gap between fact and fiction is becoming greyer all the time. In particular, video games, role playing activities, 'reality' TV ghost hunting shows and startlingly 'realistic' effects in movies are blurring the boundary. You can easily 'experience' seeing a ghost without leaving the comfort of your armchair. In a video game, you can even 'be' one! Since most paranormal reports turn out, on investigation, to be xenonormal, this can only increase the number of anomalous reports.

Many years ago, if a witness professed no knowledge of, or interest in, the paranormal, that increased the credibility of their statement. It is hard to see how, today, anyone could claim such a total ignorance of what ghosts supposedly look like or do.

Some witnesses claim they 'did not believe' in ghosts before but now they do, after having apparently seen one. However, this instant 'conversion', often on fairly flimsy evidence, may betray an unconscious desire or expectation to believe. When a shadowy figure is seen in conditions resembling those of a ghost movie, it is easy to go with a paranormal interpretation. As investigators, we should not regard protestations of prior ignorance or disbelief as adding much to the credibility of a report these days.

10 July 2009: ASSAP Training Weekend 2009

For anyone interested in investigating the paranormal, ASSAP's training weekend is a great place to start! Held annually, this year it is at the Oxenwood Centre in Wiltshire on 28/29 November. You need to be a member of ASSAP to attend the course but that is easily done online. There is more information at a new facebook page. You can get information on applying to join the course by emailing here.

9 July 2009: Orbs or UFOs?

Flying objectsHere are some strange flying objects, pictured recently against the backdrop of trees and a mountain rock face. They resemble orbs but don't quite look circular enough. It is difficult to judge their size without knowing their distance. They appear to be glowing. So what kind of UFO are they?

A clue lies in the fact that the trees are sunlit and the mountain is not. This implies that the sun is shining towards the camera, from above. Thus the rock face is in shadow but the trees below aren't.

In fact, these are wind-blown seeds, a bit like the 'parachutes' from dandelions clocks. They are glowing because they are backlit by the sun. They are probably no more than a metre or two from the camera and rather small.

If the circumstances of this photo were unknown, or forgotten, they could appear strange and difficult to explain. That is precisely how many photos come to be labeled paranormal or anomalous. With few clues in the photo itself, we might be restricted to speculation. For instance, they could easily be described as mysterious glowing spheres traveling along a cliff face!

6 July 2009: Research volunteers required

ASSAP's Plymouth Group is looking for volunteers living in the area to help with its research into ESP, telepathy and hypnosis. They need volunteers from any background, whether a student, housewife, vet or professor of psychology. What they really need is optimism, enthusiasm, dedication and the ability to attend a regular weekly session. If you are interested, contact the research department.

I caught sight of a 'large brown bird' flying past my window, in my peripheral vision, today. I swung round to get a better look and was just in time to see it was wind-blown pink rose petal. Two things struck me as interesting. Firstly, I got colour wrong in my first view - not unexpected in peripheral vision. More interesting was that I thought it was a large object in the distance when in reality it was small and close!

It isn't really possible to judge distance in peripheral vision because you usually only see things with one eye at that extreme angle. My brain clearly made an error about the distance, and therefore size, of the object. It meant I 'saw' a large bird rather than, say, a small leaf. A classic misperception! I'm sure people see such things all the time but don't take any notice. It is only when they are in spooky surroundings that some people report such things as paranormal.

3 July 2009: ASSAP hypnotic regression video

Back in the 1980s, ASSAP ran a regression hypnosis project. The highlight was a character called 'Cerdic the Saxon'. As well as some extraordinarily detailed accounts of the life of Cerdic, the hypnosis subject produced drawings! Hugh Pincott, now ASSAP Research Officer and then person in charge of the hypnosis project, now stars in a video reconstruction and documentary about Cerdic. You can see this extraordinary new video here.

1 July 2009: Have you ever seen a ghost?

Metallic UFOHow many paranormal researchers have actually seen a ghost? Many of us look for ghosts for decades without ever seeing one. Others, in contrast, see many! Some would claim that this difference is because some paranormal researchers are psychic. However, given that most ghost sightings are found on investigation to be misperceptions, there is another explanation.

The key difference between researchers who see ghosts and those who don't, for most reports, is probably whether they correctly recognise what they see. When people fail to recognise (xenonormal) what they are seeing, their brains substitute in other things from visual memory. Given that people are expecting to see something paranormal on a vigil, it is not surprising that ghosts will feature frequently in such a scenario. If they saw the same thing in their own home, they might dismiss it as of no consequence!

Whenever I receive a paranormal report, I always wish I'd been there when the event happened, standing next to the witness. I suspect, in most cases, I would have seen something quite different to what they saw. I also wonder how many other people in the same situation would see a ghost, UFO, etc and how many would see something altogether more mundane. It used to bother me that I've been on so many vigils but never seen a ghost but not any more.

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

This month's (June) website figures are an average of 8677 hits per day - much the same as last month's 8760.


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© Maurice Townsend 2009