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)

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

28 July 2011: Hilary Evans's legacy

What made Hilary Evans important in the field of anomaly research was that he could always see the wood for the trees, as the old cliche goes. It is not easy, when you are on the 'front line', investigating cases and going on ghost vigils all the time, to notice what the overall data being collected points to. Each case has its conclusion, maybe considered paranormal, maybe not, but what does it all mean when considered with lots of other cases?

Hilary pointed out previously little-noticed connections between supposedly completely different entities like ghosts, aliens and angels. If someone has a hypnagogic vision while lying in bed and sees a strange figure, it could be any one of these three types, depending on the witness's psychological makeup and the culture in which they live. If the witness does not realise they have had a hypnagogic experience, they may be convinced of the physical reality of whatever they saw.

It is little wonder that Hilary saw the subject boundaries between the paranormal, ufology, earth mysteries and Forteana as largely artificial. You can misperceive a river monster just as easily as you can a flying saucer or a ghost. To properly investigate any case of anomalous phenomena we first need to understand the common mechanisms, like misperception and near sleep experiences, behind many apparently anomalous experiences, as well as the cultural influences of the witness.

Hilary prompted his fellow anomaly researchers to look at what the evidence from anomalous phenomena said in total, not simply the causes of individual cases. In the early days of ASSAP we were always saying that we wanted to accumulate lots of evidence so that we could analyse it all together and see what patterns emerged. In reality, we spent a lot of time gathering evidence but little precious little analysing, until recently. It was left to Hilary and a few others to do that analysis and the result is a much better understanding of the causes of weird experiences.

Obituaries to Hilary are to be found here and here.

27 July 2011: Hilary Evans

One of the founders of ASSAP, Hilary Evans, has died. Hilary was the person who came up with our rather unusual name and the concept behind it. He, quite rightly, foresaw that one day people would take a wider view of anomalous phenomena rather than simply being ufologists, psychic researchers or Forteans. It is an approach which has proved fruitful.

A prolific author, Hilary also edited ASSAP's Evidence For series as well as contributing to our own Paranormal Investigator's Handbook. He wrote the first book that ASSAP published in its own right, The SLI Effect, usually considered the first volume ever on this subject.

Though perhaps best known in ufological circles, Hilary also studied and wrote about many anomalous phenomena. He co-founded the Mary Evans Picture Library with his wife. Latterly he took a particular interest in street light interference, recently authoring Sliders: The enigma of Street Light Interference. It is a subject which would not be so widely known without him. And neither would ASSAP be what it is today without Hilary.

27 July 2011: That Harry Potter magic

I stood there amazed! It was four in the afternoon and yet there were queues waiting to get into the group of restaurants at the mall while those inside were clearly eating lunch. Even the restaurant staff were a little surprised. I guessed the reason quickly. It was that well-known wizard, Harry Potter! It was the opening weekend of the film of the final installment of his saga. Just above the restaurants was a large multiplex cinema showing the film on several screens at once, all full!

It is the end of an era. After all these years the Harry Potter saga is finally over. Movies and novels about magic are always popular. After watching the film I began to wonder, what exactly is the big appeal? I'm sure there have been essays, dissertations and books written on this subject but I'll still shove in my contribution.

We all, even the rich and powerful, have problems in our lives. The idea of a superhero or wizard who could intervene in our everyday lives and solve those problems in an instant is certainly appealing. The plots of these stories usually revolves around some growing problem caused by a villain. Then comes that moment that sets your spine tingling, the one you've been anticipating for a while. The wizard/superhero finally uses their special power to stop, or at least slow down, the villain. I think we all would love to be that wizard/superhero, effortlessly brushing away our problems. As we leave the cinema, a part of us secretly wishes it was all true. We wish we really could magic away the bad things in life.

As a paranormal researcher, I am effectively seeking out 'magic' in real life. If it was as easy to spot as it is in the movies, it would be a simple job. But in real life there are no Hollywood moments. The search for solid evidence is a long hard slog that not many stick with. It is easy to be impressed by a weird experience caused by misperception, but only until you realise the real explanation.

Many people believe in the paranormal, even those with no relevant personal experience. I think a lot of this may stem from a desire for the paranormal to be real. Wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to see future events or talk telepathically to someone or move heavy objects just be thinking about it? In reality, if such powers were widespread and obvious it would be a nightmare. There would be no privacy and few people would feel the need to work! But that aside, it is still a powerfully attractive dream.

We know the paranormal is not widespread and pervasive because it would be obvious if it was. But it could still happen occasionally in special circumstances to certain people. And that is what paranormal research is really about - seeking out these special circumstances. But we cannot take the luxury of simply assuming the paranormal is real and go from there. We have to start from a point of neutrality. If the paranormal is real then there will be evidence of it, however hard it may be to uncover. Life isn't like the movies but you can still get spine-tingling moments when you lots of hard work allows you to find some new nugget of truth!

PS: A thoughtful new article on the decline in ufology in the UK here.

26 July 2011: Witness investment in their experiences

I've talked before about post-interview witness confabulation. This is where, after an exhaustive interview or two, witnesses will suddenly 'remember' new details about their experience, but only when it's been suggested that there could be a natural cause for their reported incident. This 'new' detail will invariably rule out the precise natural cause suggested! Further suggestions of other natural explanations will produce further 'new' details that rule those out also! This clearly looks like confabulation, where the witness is unconsciously 'remembering' spurious details to support an already existing interpretation of their weird experience.

I have come across some quite dramatic examples of this sort of post-interview confabulation. For instance, there have been witnesses to strange experiences who have identified a photo they've found on the web as exactly what they saw! However, on subsequently finding out that the photo is actually of something with natural causes, they have decided it wasn't 'quite' the same after all! Incidentally, I would not recommend showing witnesses pictures of things they might have seen as an investigation technique! It could alter their real memory of events! In all the examples I've come across, the witness went searching the web for similar examples by themselves.

So why does this kind of confabulation occur? I believe it is caused by the witness's psychological 'investment' in their weird experience! This can range from being a really good mysterious anecdote, that they are reluctant to abandon, right up to a life changing experience that prompts them to adopt a new belief system. If such new beliefs are rooted solely in a single dramatic weird experience, any questioning of that occurrence could prompt confabulation.

This is something we need to be aware of as paranormal researchers. We should never discount the possibility that witnesses can remember real new details about an incident, even after several exhaustive cognitive interviews. However, when these 'new details' only appear directly after a xenonormal cause has been suggested, and they specifically rule it out, we must treat such 'new' information with caution.

25 July 2011: Is paranormal research biassed?

There was an interesting article in New Scientist this week about bias in scientific research. It concluded that, although scientists are naturally biassed in their beliefs (as are we all), they still collect accurate data. And this data forms an important part in the the self-correcting mechanism within science. If a scientist comes to a biassed conclusion about their experiment, you can always go back to their original data to check if their interpretation is reasonable.

But what about paranormal research? There are two causes for concern here. Firstly, few would deny that there is the high level of bias among paranormal researchers. Almost all believe in the paranormal, which is usually their motivation for doing research in the first place. Secondly, a significant proportion of paranormal researchers have not been scientifically trained. So does this have an affect?

Looking at the evidence from ghosts and hauntings it would appear not. Even though many people who investigate hauntings believe that ghosts are spirits and that they cause haunting phenomena, the overall evidence from many cases provides no compelling reason to support these two ideas. If the data was biased, it would provide unambiguous support for these beliefs. This is encouraging as it suggests that the overall body of data generated by ghost investigation is not biased.

Of course, in many individual case reports the investigators conclude, often implicitly, that spirits are responsible for the haunting phenomena that they have documented. However, on close examination, it often becomes clear that this conclusion is not supported by the data they actually collected. The problem is usually not that the data is inaccurate but rather that it is incomplete. The investigators have not gathered enough information to compellingly rule out various natural causes for the phenomena recorded.

This is where personal bias MAY indeed be having an adverse effect on paranormal research. Because investigators believe, usually quite early on during an investigation, that they are dealing with real paranormal phenomena, they may not exhaustively rule out all plausible natural causes. There are several common natural causes regularly found to be responsible for reports of apparent paranormal phenomena. These should always routinely be checked for but, surprisingly often, they are not. These causes include misperception, near sleep experiences and coincidence. If the investigation fails to satisfactorily rule out even these basic causes, it is impossible to draw any compelling overall conclusion about the case.

So, it is reassuring to conclude that, overall, the data being collected from ghost research appears to be unbiassed. However, the problem is that, in many instances, this data is incomplete and does not rule out even common natural causes.

22 July 2011: Where am I?

Imagine you are working on designing a robot that resembles a human being. OK, it might be highly unlikely but bear with me. The particular problem you have been tasked with is knowing where the robot is, physically, at any given time. This is obviously important for a robot that can move around autonomously.

The imaginary robot is equipped with two video cameras (set up as a stereo pair) to see forward and touch sensors on its exterior to detect when it is touching another object. If the touch sensors are in continuos contact with another object they turn down the signal. So you would get a blip if the robot sat down as it touched the chair but after that it would no longer register anything while it sat motionless.

Our robot, which naturally has a computer onboard, has the capacity to learn which is just as well. Otherwise the problem of telling where it is in space could be an extremely complicated one, requiring a huge software programme and lots of computer processing power.

So how do we teach the robot where it is? The touch sensors can only tell the robot if it is actually in the process of touching an object. So the only obvious way for the robot/computer to find out where it is lies with those stereo video cameras. Although the computer can use the stereo cameras to triangulate the distances of objects nearby, it still needs to understand perspective for things further away. Otherwise, how can it tell the difference between a nearby filing cabinet and a distant building which occupy the same amount of visual space in the picture from the video cameras? And, given that robot can move, it needs to be able to avoid objects BEFORE its touch sensors find them!

You could teach such a robot to understand its own position in space. But, just as with humans, there would be times when the visual cues used to judge perspective would be fooled. For instance, if you stare straight ahead at a brick wall which completely fills your visual field, how do know how far it is away? The best way would be to use your knowledge of how big bricks tend to be. Otherwise there would be few visual clues! There might also be times when our robot's hardware might suffer a temporary glitch. On both of these occasions, the robot might temporarily lose its idea of where it was in space. For our robot to move around without crashing into things it would need to run its 'positional awareness' software all the time, using data feeds from the cameras and touch sensors.

The same thing happens with humans. We have a system in our brains which continuously keeps track of where we are in space. And not just where we are in a room, say, but also that we are in our bodies. It is probably the fact that we can feel objects, like a seat we are sitting on, and particularly SEE our own bodies that keeps this system working! And when this system temporarily breaks down, perhaps due a 'glitch' in the brain (maybe in a near sleep state), or if we have no visual or tactile cues about where we are, we might have an out of the body experience (OBE).

Of course, robots are not people and computers are not brains. But they have to solve the same problem and scientific research suggests that humans DO have a system for continually maintaining an idea of their position in space and in their body and that when it goes wrong they may experience OBEs.

My point is this. Our brains are working continuously to STOP us having an OBE! So, it is not having an OBE that is so surprising and weird, it is that they don't happen more often that is so strange. In essence, you don't need to make a special effort to have an OBE, you just need to stop unconsciously working out where you are all the time for a bit. Easier said than done, obviously!

PS: This blog will henceforth also be available as a standalone blog here.

21 July 2011: Website upgrade

Regular visitors may notice something a little different about the ASSAP website today. It has been upgraded! The content is mostly the same but the look has changed radically. I guess with our 30 year anniversary, we were due a makeover!

There may be a few things wrong here and there. I'm trying to visit every page to spot problems but I'd appreciate it if you would email me (address on this page) if you find stuff wrong. I've been doing this upgrade for about a week so what's another few days? Incidentally, I'm aware that the site (particularly the home page) can look different in different browsers. But there's not much I can do about that.

In passing, my contact with MWR (microsleep with REM) has had a few very odd experiences recently. Normally it is obvious which bit is dreaming and which waking normality. But sometimes the two merge with disturbing consequences. How many people with this condition think they are psychic I wonder?

15 July 2011: Don't talk to me when I'm not there!

The other day I was talking to someone and then, minutes later, I asked them about the stuff we'd just discussed. It turned out that I had completely forgotten, or never even absorbed, key points from our conversation!

While I know I am forgetful, I am not usually that bad. Luckily, I have an excuse! I was considering a taxing problem at the same time as the conversation. Even though I took part in the original chat, listening and asking meaningful questions, my mind was working hard on the difficult problem at the same time. We humans can only pay attention to one item at a time and I was clearly missing important bits of the original conversation.

This is important when considering witness testimony in paranormal cases. You need to establish whether the witness was concentrating solely on their weird experience. Oddly enough this is often not the case. Many witnesses do not even realise they're seeing something odd until after the event, when the apparently normal human figure vanishes, for instance! So any details that the witness provides from the period when they were not paying that much attention cannot be considered too reliable.

Multiple witness cases are usually seen as more reliable than single witness ones. However, they do suffer from the problem that witnesses may distract each other, whereas a single person would probably give their full attention to something strange they saw. Another problem with multiple witness cases is that people may feed each other with ideas that affect their perception. If they discuss alien spacecraft while watching a weather balloon, it may hamper the ability of each of the witnesses to correctly identify what they are seeing.

Anyone who thinks paying attention is not a problem should try composing a long email while listening to a speech radio programme. Either the email will suffer or you will miss details from the radio show. Both tasks require your brain's verbal reasoning powers so there is bound to be a conflict. Listening to music while writing is easier but you'll still find that whole tracks may slip by without you even noticing, particularly if they are highly familiar to you. Attention is a limited quantity and unless we devote it completely to experiencing something we are likely to miss details.

12 July 2011: Is a witness the best judge of their own experiences?

Is the witness to an apparently paranormal experience the best judge of what actually happened? At first sight they must be - they were there while investigators interviewing them were not. However, while no one can dispute that a witness is the best person to describe their own experience, others may sometimes be in a better position to judge what actually caused that experience. Consider the following.

Firstly, our brains cannot absorb all the details that our sensory organs are feeding them continuously, far less remember much of it. It is, therefore, no surprise that staged incidents demonstrate how inaccurate witnesses testimony can be. Secondly, much of what we 'see' is actually manufactured by our brains as a time-saving shortcut to presenting us with a real-time view of what's going on around us. This leads to misperception, a common cause of paranormal reports. Thirdly, perfectly healthy people with no mental disorders are capable of hallucinating, such as in near sleep experiences. Fourthly, in many paranormal reports witnesses are seeing something they've never seen before and that they don't recognise (xenonormal). In this case, their brains may misperceive the object as something from memory, like a ghost or UFO they've seen in movies.

Unfortunately, many witnesses do not appreciate some or all of these points. If they are convinced they've seen a ghost or alien spacecraft they may not take suggestions of alternative explanations for their experiences kindly. It is important in such cases to draw a distinction between an experience and its cause. We all tend to assume that everything we see has a physical cause outside our brains but that is simply not the case, as the points in the previous paragraph illustrate. Even when the cause of an experience is definitely outside our brains, it may not necessarily be seen for what it really is.

Witnesses will sometimes 'remember' additional details of their experience, never mentioned before in extensive interviews, that appear to rule out any suggested xenonormal explanation. This tends to suggest that their interpretation of their experience as anomalous has taken root to such an extent that they are unconsciously confabulating to support it. Confabulation works backwards compared to perception. Instead of seeing an object and interpreting it, confabulation starts with the interpretation and alters the memory of what was 'seen' to support that idea.

Are there any witnesses who really are consistently better judges of what they've seen than other people? There are a few people who are fully aware of the weaknesses of witness testimony and the vagaries of perception. Such people may investigate their sighting on site at the time, which hardly any other witness ever does. In this rare case, they MAY be better judges of what caused an experience than others who were not there, though they would still probably benefit from getting other people's opinions too.

For investigators, it is vital that you visit the scene of a witness's experience. If you merely read a description of the scene, it is likely to be as inaccurate as the witness account of the original incident itself. So that is one way of improving on the accuracy of the witness account. Sometimes the scenes of a witness account have shown that things could not possibly have occurred as described by the witness!

Attempting to recreate the original incident is also vital as this, too, can reveal details that the witness account may have missed. It may also suggest possible xenonormal explanations. With such techniques it is indeed possible for someone who was never there for the original incident to be a better judge of likely causes than the original witness.

11 July 2011: The state of mind of ghost witnesses

A recent article I read about how people make mistakes when distracted or under pressure had me thinking about my state of mind just before my various ghost sightings. Nearly all those sightings were misperception, as with most ghost sightings, but what triggered them? We all misperceive all the time, we just don't usually notice it. So is there a specific state of mind that makes us more likely to notice misperceptions?

It's obviously difficult to recall my state of mind before seeing a ghost but I can say a few things about it. For instance, though I often give the example of someone being anxious when walking along a lonely road alone at night, that was certainly not the case with any of my sightings. They were all in broad daylight. There WERE people around though, in each case, no one was particularly close. In none of the cases was I thinking about ghosts or even the paranormal. In a couple of the cases I felt slightly anxious because I thought someone was looking at me. This turned out to be the 'ghost', though in both cases it was actually a misperceived plant in a window (two different plants and two different windows). I am not aware of being anxious BEFORE I spotted the ghost!

I have heard this sort of thing time and time again in ghost reports. The witness was not expecting anything paranormal. The sighting usually, if not always, comes as a complete surprise. Indeed, in many cases people do not even think they've seen a ghost until after it has gone. For instance, they may only realise they've seen a ghost because it vanishes or is in a place where no person should have been, like a locked room. It is possible, indeed likely, that many ghost sightings are not reported because the witness NEVER comes to realise they've seen anything out of the ordinary. Even on ghost vigils, where surprisingly few ghosts are ever seen, the sightings are most frequent during rest periods or when setting up or packing away! They almost never turn up when they are actively sought!

When people make mistakes it is often because they are under pressure or concentrating too hard on what they are trying to do. Research shows that if you concentrate hard on what you're doing when you play a sport you perform worse than if you just 'go with the flow' or even think about something else entirely! Anything you have practiced many times is better performed without conscious attention. I've noticed this effect when giving talks. I do it better if I don't try too hard but just let the words flow out without conscious effort. It feels as though someone else is giving the talk and I am just a spectator! So does this apply to noticing misperception too?

Given that we hardly ever notice misperception I would guess that it is normal not to notice it. You won't notice misperceptions simply by trying to - it doesn't seem to work like that. For me, I started noticing misperception once I realised it was there to be noticed. It was not a conscious thing, just putting the idea in my head. In the case of ghosts, people see more of them in spooky-looking surroundings than elsewhere. Again, it appears to be an unconscious thing to do with suggestion and expectation. Belief probably helps - those who believe in ghosts will unconsciously expect to see them more than those who disbelieve.

Expectation may bias you towards noticing misperception but what triggers it specifically? I go past trees all the time but only one in a million is misperceived as a human figure. Though perception is an unconscious process, it can sometimes alert us consciously to possible dangers. Fort instance, most of us get an involuntary feeling of anxiety when seeing a spider or snake that other animals simply don't elicit. So seeing an unexpected human figure watching you or where you don't expect one might force us to notice a misperception we might normally ignore. That certainly fits all my ghost sightings. In two cases I felt I was being watched and in the others I was simply surprised to see someone in the place the 'figure' appeared.

So, it may not be a specific state of mind that is required, rather a combination of expectation and a misperception becoming conscious because of possible danger. You can hear you name being mentioned in a party with lots of people talking at once because it is relevant to you. And you notice a human figure in an unexpected place because it relevant to your personal safety. When everything goes as you expect it to, there is nothing to concern you. But when human figures suddenly appear where you don't expect to see them, it is a cause of anxiety, however unnecessary.

6 July 2011: ASSAP video, UFOs and SF

As I hope all readers will be aware, this is ASSAP's thirtieth anniversary year. We are holding a major conference in September in Bath to celebrate - see here for more details and to book.

It seemed like a good time to explain to a wider public just who we are and what we do. So we have produced a promotional video to explain these things. It can be seen here. If you like what you see about ASSAP and want to 'spread the word', please pass the link on to others!

Have you ever noticed how radio presenters try so hard to link the previous item or programme with the next, even when there is no obvious connection? Well, I'm not bothering with that so here is the latest offering from David Clark on UFOs here. After visiting an exhibition at the British Library, he points out, as many others have done, how many things that first appeared in science fiction later cropped up in real UFO reports. He also makes the point that, despite this obvious connection, there is little or no dialogue between the science fiction community and ufologists.

Interestingly, though there is also a clear connection between ghost fiction and real life ghost reports, it is less clear cut. Indeed, there are significant differences between the fiction, where ghosts typically communicate and manipulate their environment, and real life cases, where they generally do neither.

It seems that, with both UFOs and ghosts, the fictional idea of the phenomenon probably significantly affects real life reports. But while the 'plots' are followed with remarkable accuracy with UFOs, with ghosts they are not. So why the difference, given that misperception is an important cause of both UFO and ghost reports? In the case of UFOs, the object being misperceived, like a balloon, is generally distant, somewhere in the sky, and ambiguous in appearance. With ghosts, the object being misperceived, like a tree, is often close and its shape more closely dictates the 'figure' seen. Importantly, ghosts are almost always human figures while UFOs come a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Perhaps the most important difference, though, is that we humans have a clear idea that a ghost must look like a human being. We don't need ghost stories to tell us that. By contrast, we have no prior expectation of what an alien space craft might look like and so could do with a few pointers.

4 July 2011: Why xenonormal research is every bit as exciting as the paranormal!

I once attended a performance of table tilting. It is a notoriously difficult thing to do and so, purely for the purposes of demonstration, someone used a mechanical device to tilt the table without anyone else realising how it was done. It showed how easy it is to replicate paranormal reports if there is no limit to what tools or methods you are allowed to employ. An illusionist or special effects team could replicate any report of anomalous phenomena with ease. But while it might look exactly the same, it would hardly rule out the possibility that the original report was not a genuine paranormal event.

But what if the original report could be replicated convincingly using only the original site, things that were there at the time and events that actually took place at the time? That surely would make anyone wonder if the event was really paranormal at all. That is the xenonormal standard for replicating paranormal reports. There must be nothing that was not there at the time of the original sighting and the conditions must be as close to the original as possible. Indeed, the ideal time to try to replicate an apparently paranormal experience is directly after it happened on the same site. Sadly, very few people do this, for obvious reasons!

One place where people DO try to replicate apparent paranormal effects on site, at the time, is when something weird has been reported on a ghost vigil. Unfortunately, though these efforts are sometimes successful, frequently such attempts at replication are perfunctory, inadequate and unconvincing. That's because the people involved generally do not know much about how to do such replications scientifically. And that's because they are interested in the paranormal, not the xenonormal.

For instance, few people who make paranormal claims about orbs have studied the behaviour of dust, the thing most likely to cause this phenomenon, in any detail. Similarly, people who make anomalous claims about flying rods don't tend to study insects much.

I realise that insects and dust are never going to be as exciting as the paranormal, which explains why few people study them. But there is something really satisfying about replicating an apparently anomalous effect without recourse to anything that was not present at the time of the original experience. Take flying rods, for instance. It is easily possible to make flying rod photos and videos that look better than most on the web if you want to. Photos of insects deliberately taken with slow shutter speeds can produce excellent rod effects (see here). They look better because most other photos of rods were taken accidentally under less than ideal conditions.

And that is why I find xenonormal research just as interesting as paranormal research. It is the challenge of reproducing an apparently paranormal experience using nothing that wasn't there at the time of the sighting. It is a lot harder than using the skills of the illusionist or special effects expert. But then, it is also much harder to dismiss as a likely natural cause of the original report!

1 July 2011: Do TV detectives affect paranormal reports?

Many people have discussed the link between fictional representations of anomalous phenomena, like ghosts and UFOs, and later actual paranormal reports. But what about a possible link with detectives on TV and in movies?

I watch a lot of TV detective shows, as do many others judging by their popularity. I no longer care that much who 'did it' or why (is it just me or do the motives get sillier by the year?). The fascination is all about the process of putting together clues to come up with the final answer - a skill of great use in paranormal investigation. I've noticed something peculiar about these TV cop shows - they never waste a single second of screen time. Everything you see either tells you something about the case or the personality of the detective and their, usually outlandish, methods.

There are frequently scenes, particularly early on, which seem to be irrelevant to the plot. However, it will later emerge that these scenes actually offer clues, to the observant, about the final solution to the case. Try watching the same episode of a detective show twice within a few days, as I often do, and you'll see so much relevant detail that you missed first time round. As I said, these shows never waste a second. If it's on the screen, there's a reason for it!

The reason why you may not notice relevant details first time round is because they just appear to show irrelevant coincidences. But, as many of the TV detectives say, 'there is no such thing as a coincidence'. And in the fictional world of the TV cop, they are absolutely right! Coincidences abound and they are always meaningful!

However, here in the real world, things are a little different. We come across completely meaningless coincidences all the time. Most events happen at the same time purely because of random chance. You look out of a window and see a bird flying by. The odds of just happening to see a bird flying by may not be that high but there is no special significance to it. The odds decree that such a coincidence MUST happen some time. It doesn't mean the bird telepathically sensed you were about to look and flew in front of your window for your benefit! Of course, if a bird flies by EVERY time you look out of the window, maybe it is NOT just a coincidence! But how often do such things happen in the real, non-TV fiction, world?

So here's the point! Just as people may see a balloon as a flying saucer if they watch a lot of science fiction movies, so they may see random coincidence as meaningful if they watch a lot of TV detective shows. Fiction can affect real life perceptions because our brains may not divide experiences into real and fictional as neatly as we like to imagine. We know the TV detective shows are just stories but they still give an impression of how life works that is not so easily categorised as 'not real' by our brains. The cop shows give us a strong impression that there is no such thing as a random coincidence in life. Some of us may carry this idea, albeit unconsciously, over into real life. Once you start to see many, or all, coincidences as real, it is easy to see apparent paranormal effects everywhere.

Few of us really appreciate how statistics work, making it easy to see meaningful coincidences where there are none. Our liking for TV detective shows may make this situation much worse!

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

Last month's (June) website figures are an average of 8512 hits per day. This is slightly up on the previous month's 8369 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • 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 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