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. To contact the ASSAP blog, email here.

Important note: If anything in this blog does not make sense, try following the links in text! If it still doesn't make sense, that's probably my fault ...

Previous blog pages ... (including ghosts, UFOs, poltergeists, flying rods, miracles, orbs, hypnotic regression, big cats, vampires, near sleep experiences, premonitions, shadow ghosts, paranormal photos, auras, river monsters and dozens of other subjects)

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

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

29 July: Floating ghosts?

WallWalking along the street recently I barely noticed the woman in front of me until she did something rather odd. She turned off the street to approach the front door of a house and, at the same time, started to rise! Her feet were concealed by a low wall but, nevertheless, she was definitely rising above the surrounding ground level! Given that the street is flat throughout, this was unlikely, to say the least!

Puzzled, I walked up the the house, where the woman had just entered the front door. The door was well above the level of the street and approached by several steps. Looking around, all the other houses nearby had front doors at ground level and no steps. Why this house was different, I've no idea. And the low wall lining the path which approached the front door neatly concealed the steps until you drew level with the house. The oddest thing of all was that I'd walked along this street many, many times before and never before noticed this oddity.

I can't say I ever thought the woman was really floating in the air, even though it looked like it. But I was certainly mystified! And had I watched the scene in darkness or from a passing vehicle, with no chance of getting a closer look, I may well have concluded that the woman was floating in the air. And, if so, that she was a ghost!

The idea that ghosts float is commonplace in fictional representations in movies and on TV. However, it is rarely reported in real-life ghost cases. In the uncommon real-life cases where ghosts ARE reported to be floating, a close questioning of the witness often reveals something striking - the figure is seldom, if ever, actually seen to float in the air. Usually, the feet are concealed by some intermediate object, like the low wall in my case.

That a ghostly figure might APPEAR to be floating, when it is not, may be due to various factors. Firstly, there is usually no sound of footsteps. But since ghost sightings are seldom accompanied by any sound, this is not unusual. Also, real people do not always produce the sound of footsteps. They may be wearing quiet footwear, like trainers for instance. Secondly, the walking action of the figure may suggest floating, rather than walking. However, how many of us have really studied a range of walking motions so that we can definitely, without sight of the feet, be sure that the action is unusual? Different people walk differently! And some can appear to almost float along if their legs are at least partially concealed. Thirdly, the witness may misjudge what they see if they don't know the height of the ground behind any concealing intermediate object, like the steps behind the wall in my case.

One common factor running through many of the 'floating ghost' reports, then, is that the feet (and in some cases legs) are concealed from the witness. This appears to trigger a special type of visual misperception (a specific variation of the 'partial view' type). When objects are partially concealed, our brains guess what the rest of them looks like, from experience, and sometimes make mistakes. And even familiarity with the scene may not help us avoid these errors, as my case shows.

Do floating ghosts actually exist, outside fiction? I don't know but if anyone has any good, well researched cases where figures are actually seen to be floating above the ground, please let me know. We may have to consign the idea of floating ghosts to the 'no compelling evidence' category, along with clanking chains and invisibility.

25 July: The ghost that won't appear in sunshine!

ShadowThe door ghost (the what?) seldom, if ever, appears on bright sunny days. Recent sunny days (we've recently had the hottest weather here in the UK since 2006!) have allowed me to try to get to the bottom of this puzzle. With the ghost appearing on almost every occasion, when I'm in the correct position, in recent months, it was clear that it was the sunshine itself that was behind the ghost's recent nonappearance. But how, exactly?

I tried hard to 'see' the ghost on sunny days, when in a suitable position, but it stubbornly refused to appear. Then I noticed a big difference from previous occasions, when the figure has appeared without difficulty. I could now see the details of the paving slabs that form the backdrop to the shadowy figure. Normally, they lack visual detail. Though the photo, right, is not of the actual site of the door ghost, it is a similar situation. As you will see, there is plenty of 'detail' in paving slabs if you observe them carefully. I should explain that the slabs where the ghost appears are normally seen reflected in frosted glass and only in peripheral vision. Obviously, if I looked straight at them, even in low light, there would be much more detail to see. But with lots of bright sunlight, the details are apparent even when reflected in frosted glass and in peripheral vision, something which surprised me!

It appears that with a detailed background, my hand does not turn into the ghost. Specifically, it does not appear further away than it really is, as happens when the shadowy figure is present. The hand is silhouetted, showing no detail itself, but it appears that the state of the background is more important. Even when I tried to visualize the 'figure', which normally works easily, it made no difference.

This is central to how misperception works. It is the lack of detail in certain views that allows the unconscious brain the latitude to make an informed guess about what it is seeing. It may then 'fill in' its own (spurious) 'detail' by substituting something with an image from visual memory. Sometimes the 'guess' is wrong and we see 'human figures' where there are really poorly-seen bushes or trees. Seeing something better will almost always disperse a misperception. I say 'almost' because, although the object originally misperceived may now be seen properly, there may be a detail within it, a branch in a tree for instance, that might then be misperceived instead. The general principle is that you can only rely on an object NOT being misperceived if it is well seen. For everything else, you're most likely just 'seeing' what your brain thinks is probably there.

This incident illustrates how crucial it is to establish the exact viewing conditions of any ghost (or other anomaly) sighting. The difference between whether the sun was out or not (and even from what angle it shone), for instance, could affect whether the witness misperceived or not. It is also vital to visit the exact location of the sighting, if possible, in as near to the original conditions, particularly lighting, as possible. Even the angle at which the witness was looking is important. There is only one specific position and particular angle of view where the door ghost appears. Though it appears in most lighting conditions, sunshine definitely stops it.

It can be easy to wrongly dismiss misperception as likely if you don't get all these details right. But consider this - the very specific conditions required for a particular misperception means that most people will, most of the time, fail to see it. If misperception was commonly observed, few people would report such incidents as paranormal! It is likely that many investigators will fail to reproduce a reported weird sighting unless they know about misperception works and try really hard! I wonder how many cases have been labelled 'unexplainable' when, in fact, they were just hard-to-reproduce cases of misperception.

22 July: The day I was a ghost!

Shadow ghostLooking at the exhibit, I found myself being addressed in an oddly familiar way from someone I didn't know. Bemused, I gazed into the gloom and saw a woman of about my own age. She gazed at me and apologized. She explained that she had taken me for her father!

I did not reply but instead retreated with my dignity! While I could understand that I might share her father's build and general appearance, I was surely nothing like his age! Had this woman really seen me as her father? I was obvious that her father had wandered off but, on turning round, he was who she expected to see. So she did!

It was a classic misperception, one of the likeliest cause of any ghost sighting. Actual real humans are probably one of the commonest, and yet most frequently overlooked, causes of ghost sightings. It only takes someone to walk around in historical costume for no obvious reason (such as a play, parade, fancy dress party or historical reconstruction) to generate a few ghost reports, particularly in low light and/or at a known haunted location. But there are other instances where real humans can be the cause of a ghost report, such as where they are present at a location they none are expected.

So how did I come to be a ghost? Or, at least, someone else? I was in a museum which had very low lighting. I assume it is designed to protect exhibits from photodegradation. Low lighting would also make the many interactive visual displays, so common in museums nowadays, easier to see. Such low lighting is, of course, a common cause of misperception.

I had my own striking misperception at the same place. I contrived to nearly trip over a perfectly flat floor! The floor had a uniformly coloured carpet (grey?). It was interrupted in one place a dark metal strip. The strip was flat and level with the carpet so that there no step where the two met. However, what I saw in the low light was a long step. I interpreted the dark strip as the shadow caused by a step. So I 'climbed' the step only to find there was none there! If you've ever misjudged the number of steps there are in a staircase and tried to 'climb' one too many, you'll know exactly what I did. Even as I stood, looking at the strip afterwards, it still gave the strong impression of being a step! It was one of the strongest misperceptions I've ever had.

The lesson? Low lighting is one of the most powerful causes of misperception. And yet, low (or even no) lighting is exactly what happens on many ghost vigils, for no obvious reason. It is little wonder that such vigils produce 'positive' results. And how did it feel to be a ghost? Mostly annoying!

19 July: Where birds never sing ...

Grey Wagtail I sometimes look at old photos of myself and cringe. It's not the hopelessly unfashionable clothes -I still ignore fashion now. No, it's the thought of how naive I was then. I remember some of the early anomalous investigations I was involved in, when I first took up paranormal research. Like many people new to the field, I had lots of ideas about what I was likely to find, drawn mostly from books (this was before the internet and even DVDs). These ideas turned out to be mostly wrong! It was the start of a very long learning process.

In one early case I was told about an area of a wood where wildlife was reported to be habitually silent. Interestingly, I've heard this claim made about other places since. It is, according to conventional wisdom, often taken as a sign that the place is 'special', possibly haunted or subject to some other paranormal activity. So, naturally, I went along to see for myself. Sure enough, the area indicated seemed uncannily quiet during my visit. Nearby areas, in contrast, appeared to contain the 'normal' noises you might expect when visiting a wood.

This all happened several years before I took up birdwatching. So, at the time, I knew next to nothing about what factors might affect whether birds might be singing, for instance. I now realise that things like habitat, time of year, time of day, weather and so on, all have a major influence on how noisy wildlife might be in a particular place and time. But what about my observation that nearby areas appeared 'normal' at the same time? Well, firstly, I may well have been influenced by expectation. I may have unconsciously 'tried harder' to hear things in 'normal' areas to confirm the exciting anomaly. Secondly, there may have been a perfectly good ecological reason for the difference. For instance, the density of animal territories varies according to the suitability of the habitat for a particular species. In areas with smaller territories there are more animals around so you are more likely to hear them call. So, an area where animals make little noise may simply be one of large territories, typically because of poorer habitat. And this difference may not be obvious to the untrained eye.

What started as a possible sign of something paranormal has now become a technical question that can be settled by science. And that was something I didn't get in those early days. I was too eager, in those days, to find something that didn't make immediate obvious sense, try a few simple tests for natural explanations, and then label it an anomaly. And what if I'd never become a birder? I might still have little idea about the perfectly natural reasons for variations in the frequency of animal calls across areas of a wood.

I now think that discovering an apparent anomaly is not the end of the investigation process but merely its beginning. If I can't see any natural explanation for a reported phenomenon, it usually just means I just haven't done enough research or talked to the right experts yet. It's taken a long time to realise that paranormal research is a lot more complicated than it, at first, appears!

16 July: Follow that ghost!

On entering a short passageway through a door recently, I heard a bang. Looking ahead I saw that there was a second door less than two metres beyond. The noise was it banging shut ahead of me. I was slightly puzzled because it meant there was someone just ahead of me. However, I hadn't seen anyone going through the first door just ahead of me. I supposed the person must have been hanging round in the short passageway between the two doors for some reason!

On going through the second door I entered a smallish room. There was no one there! Now this was weird because there was only one door in the room and I had just entered through it! OK, there was a window but it was firmly closed. There simply would not have been time (a few seconds) for someone to enter the room, climb out of the window and shut it behind them! So, it must be a ghost then!

I searched the room again, more thoroughly, but there was no one there and nowhere for anyone to hide. A ghost seemed the only viable solution to this little mystery. Except ...! I noted that both doors I had been through opened inwards. I had pushed both to enter the room. Looking at the short passageway separating the doors, there were only walls, no windows, no ventilation grills, nowhere for air to escape easily!

Anyone who has stood on the station platform of an underground railway will be familiar with the piston effect, even if they don't know what it is called. Because the air is confined by tunnel sides, when a train is approaching you feel a wind. A similar effect was causing my 'ghost'. When I opened the first door I compressed the air in the passageway slightly, because there was no easy way for it to escape. This opened the second door a little. As I entered the passageway, the air was released through the gap I had created by opening the first door. The second door then slammed shut, giving the impression someone had just used it. Mystery solved!

The sort of piston effect can explain mysterious door openings wherever there is a similar arrangement of doors. It sounds like a bizarre arrangement of doors for any building but it's surprisingly common, in my experience. It is always worth keeping an eye out for situations like this which COULD be interpreted as haunting phenomena if not properly thoroughly. The chances are that, one day, you will come across it really being reported as a ghost!

11 July: The 'ghostly faces in photos' mystery!

Simulacrum camelOne thing that always puzzles me is why people report seeing apparent faces in photographs and report them as ghosts or, at least, anomalous. It is puzzling because, in most cases, the faces are clearly not 'real' but an accidental shape that resembles one - a simulacrum, in other words. Someone seeing a rock that resembles a camel (pic right) is highly unlikely to report it as the ghost of a camel! So why, when a 'face' shape appears in what is clearly a bush, would anyone report it as a ghost?

I have previously discovered that blurred photos are particularly good for producing anomalous 'faces' - see here for an account of this research. On writing yesterday's blog entry, I noted that some people's fusiform gyrus may be reacting to face shapes as if they were real faces. This still didn't seem to be a complete explanation to me. So I looked back at the many reports of 'faces' I've been sent in anomalous photos down the years. A remarkably consistent picture emerged.

Ghostly maskNearly all the photos reported to contain faces (except orbs with faces which is a different phenomenon - see here) were either blurred, noisy or so compressed that the lack of detail and many compression artefacts made it difficult to distinguish objects clearly. Of these photos, the majority were motion blurred. What all these photos have in common, apart from an apparent face, is that the entire frame is unsharp. In such cases it is difficult to clearly identify all the objects present in the frame. This suggested a more complete explanation for the 'photo ghost face' mystery.

The photo, right, is an example of a 'face' in a motion blurred photo. Visualize a pair of those 'comedy tragedy' masks associated with theatres. Now take one of the two masks and add a sinister-looking moustache. Then look right. Do you see one such mask, looking left ('his' right) in the centre of the photo? The 'mask' is entirely illusory - see here for a non-motion blurred version of the same scene. But also notice how the vegetation in the background is unsharp. In some cases it is difficult to distinguish individual stalks and blades of grass that would be easily seen in a sharp photo.

And it is the unsharp background, as well as the blurry face itself, which may be key to why some people see such simulacra as ghostly faces! When we view a blurry photo, our brains are less able to quickly and accurately identify all the objects visible. So the brain must consider (unconsciously) a wider range of possible identities for each discernible object than would be needed with a sharp photo, where objects are obvious. So, to the brain, it becomes at least a possibility, albeit a remote one, that an apparent face in an unsharp photo might actually BE a face. This might be enough for the fusiform gyrus to react as if it was a face. And, given that the 'face' is not attached to a human figure, it becomes logical for the viewer's brain to conclude that they are looking at a ghost! It is, in many ways, a parallel process to misperception.

Given I can rarely see these faces in photos I'm sent, I suspect only a certain proportion of the population will react like this. Many people would see a blurred 'face shape' as simply that, even in an unsharp photo. To me this makes some sense as a more complete explanation of the 'ghost faces in photos' mystery.

10 July: Why most people don't see ghost ducks

Duck on a bridgeWhen I looked up I saw a duck perched on a wall. It wasn't that unexpected, given that the road bridge spanned a slow moving river frequented by ducks! The 'duck' only lasted a second or so before, like a ghost, turning into something quite different. I took photos to check out my misperception in detail later. The one here, right, shows roughly what I first saw. If you look at the top of the wall, the 'duck' is the orangey-brown object roughly halfway along. From this photo, the object could be almost anything. So why did I think it was a duck, and why would most people disagree?

On a wider point, why do people sometimes report seeing human figures (or ghosts) which are really bushes or trees but never the other way round? I've not heard of anyone seeing a human figure as a bush and I don't recall doing it myself. That doesn't mean it can't happen. It may simply not be noticed. And this may be throw light on why the overwhelming number of ghosts reported are human figures while only a few are animals or ghostly objects.

To understand why we are more likely to see bushes as people, rather than the other way round, it is worth considering prosopagnosics, who cannot recognise people's faces (including their own in some cases). Around 2% of the population have this condition of face blindness. And yet many people who have it are not even aware of it. That's because, unconsciously, they learn to recognise people through things other than their faces, like clothing, voice, hair, behaviour, context (where and when seen, for instance) and so on. It's a bit like using jizz (see here).

Brain scans show that certain areas of the brain are used in recognizing faces. One, in particular, the fusiform gyrus (FG) appears particularly important, though there are others involved too. But while the FG is heavily implicated in face recognition, it also is used to recognise objects in which the observer is expert. For instance when a keen birder sees a bird, such as a duck! Interestingly, the FG also responds, though weakly, to objects that simply resemble faces! Or, in my case, perhaps to an object that resembles a duck!

There is a still a debate, not yet entirely settled, in neuroscience about whether we recognise faces through some in-built 'modules' in the brain (like the FG) or by developing an 'expertise' for the problem through experience. Whatever the answer, it is clear that we have, or develop, an ability to recognise faces, and other objects we have a particular interest in.

The fact that the FG responds to objects that resemble faces may explain while people report seeing apparent faces in photographs and report them as ghosts, something which has puzzled me for a long time. In many such cases it is clear that the 'face' is just an accidental pattern - a simulacrum - so why is it ever reported as a ghost? Certain people may, on seeing an object in a photo that resembles a face, react to it as if it was a person. Since it is obviously not a person, they may conclude it is a ghost! See also here for an example of photographic ghostly faces that not so obviously accidental.

Duck on bridge closerAnyway, back to the original point! The second photo I took, right, was a telephoto version of the same scene. It is now possible to see that the brown object is a collection of senescent leaves, on a branch, overhanging the wall. It still looks a bit odd and does have a vague duck shape but that isn't what most people would see. I saw a 'duck' because I'm a birder. I guess the object stimulated my FG! Also, in my defence, there is a big difference between glancing briefly at an object with the naked eye and being able to study it at leisure in a photo.

So why don't we get reports of people being misperceived as bushes? I think this may come down mainly to context. A person might, indeed, be mistaken for a bush in a forest, if they are stand very still in suitable clothing, but it's unlikely a witness would notice them. One more bush in a forest is not really noteworthy. But a bush appearing like a person in a forest would be much more likely to attract attention. That's because the presence of another human in a forest is important to the witness. They could represent a potential threat, for instance, or assistance if the witness is lost. Or the witness may simply be curious about the presence of the other person. The fact is, as people, we are much more interested, in general, in other people than bushes or other inanimate objects and we tend to notice them.

So, while we may well misperceive either way, we're much more likely to notice objects seen as human figures. It would be interesting to know if those few people who've seen animal ghosts were especially interested in animals. I suspect this will turn out to be the case. I can confirm that birders have mistaken some pretty unlikely objects for birds, something that would probably never happen to a non-birder. Which is why you almost certainly didn't see the object on the bridge as a duck, ghostly or otherwise!

5 July: How would you recognise a ghost?

KestrelI saw the distant bird from my office window. It was behaving differently to any bird I knew in the area. I decided it could only be a buzzard, even though they were extremely rare in the area. A few weeks later I saw another bird flying in just the same fashion. But this time I had a much better view and knew for a fact it was a kestrel! I'd never seen a kestrel behave like that before. It became obvious that the first bird must have been a much commoner kestrel , too. I was still quite new to birding at the time, which explains my confusion.

But there was also another factor biassing me towards seeing a buzzard - it would have been a much rarer sight, and so, more exciting! As it happens, I've now seen buzzards in that same location as, in the intervening years, they've spread much more widely in the UK. Also, ironically, kestrels have become much rarer nationally since then making it a 'good day' when you see one!

It's not the only time I've 'seen' a bird mainly because I really wanted to, rather than because of a definitive identification. On such occasions, when the bird is not well seen, I know that what I think I'm seeing may only be wishful thinking. The only sensible thing to do in such circumstances is say 'I honestly don't know' and let the bird be 'the one that got away'. Oddly, birders tend to remember the 'ones that got away' just as keenly as their first ever sighting of a species.

So, WDTHDWP? I remembered these experiences when looking at anomalous photos. In many cases I simply cannot see what the photographers sees, whether it's a ghostly figure, face or other anomalous shape. In some cases I can't see a 'ghostly figure' because I can actually recognise it as a tree, bush or some other mundane object. Once you recognise an object, it is hard to see it any other way. I never confuse kestrels and buzzards these days, for instance. Also, I sometimes wonder if the photographer is seeing a ghostly figure because, whether consciously or not, they actually 'want' to see one. After all, a ghost is a lot more exciting than a bush!

Human perception is heavily influenced by personal experience. What is instantly recognisable to one person will mean nothing to another. It is important to realise that, when you don't recognise something, you need to be extra careful in identifying it. It is better to let it be the 'one that got away' rather than persuading yourself that a poorly-seen bush is really a ghostly figure.

Few people ever see ghosts, so how do they recognise one when they see it? In fact, in most cases they don't. It is often only when the apparently normal human figure does something weird, like vanish, that it becomes obvious they were looking at a ghost! But sometimes people will misinterpret a wisp of fog as a ghost. Why? Because they 'recognise' them from the movies! And maybe because they 'wanted' to see a ghost.

PS: I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by saying what bird is in the photo!

3 July: OBEs and the door ghost - a connection!

ShadowRegular readers will be aware that I have, on occasion, had mini-OBEs. This has involved me seeing something as if from a point much closer to me than it really is in space. In other words, as if I was floating outside my physical body. Well, recently, I seem to be able to do this pretty much to order.

Like the door ghost phenomenon (see here), it only happens (so far) in a very specific situation. It is when I am looking at a particular wooden floor. If I stare at it for a while, it suddenly appears to be much further away, even though I haven't physically moved. I'm not sure if there is any significance to the fact that it looks further away instead of closer - I strongly suspect the same brain mechanism is responsible in both cases.

So how do I 'do' it? I simply concentrate on staring at the wood pattern! I stop paying attention to anything else around me. Indeed, I get an odd feeling of detachment during the experience, increasing the feeling of being 'out of my body'. It is the same way I feel while watching the door ghost. Another interesting point is that when the experience starts, I actually see the wood 'moving' away. It isn't like a normal photo zoom, however, where the view widens. Instead it's like a dolly zoom (see here). When the experience ends it stops suddenly, as if 'broken' somehow, also like the door ghost. It's difficult not to see a connection between the door ghost phenomenon and the mini-OBE. Another connection, for instance, is that the door ghost appears further away than the hand that actually produces it. In addition, I only get the mini-OBE when I'm in a very specific position, just like for the door ghost.

So does my proneness to noticing misperceptions also make me have mini-OBEs? It's an interesting point because there is a reasonably well-understood explanation for most OBEs and it's different to the one for misperception. Against our instinctive view, our brains actually have to work hard just to maintain the positional view we have of the world, as if from a point just behind our eyes. They do this by integrating sensory input from our eyes, vestibular system and sense of touch. If these inputs provide contradictory information, or if the bit of our brain integrating them (the TPJ - temporoparietal junction) goes wrong, our point of view can change, an experience most people would call an OBE. Our brains are able to manufacture a reasonably accurate 'view' from a different position in space, apparently outside our bodies. Given that our 'normal' view is manufactured, from eye input, visual memory and expectation, this isn't such a surprise.

In my case, I believe I have these mini-OBEs when I look at an object with repeating patterns. They don't have to be identical patterns, like a wallpaper or carpet, just similar. In my case it has happened with brickwork and the patterns in wood. I think these patterns make it difficult for my visual system to accurately judge the distance of the object. The mini-OBE works more easily when I close one eye, so further reducing my ability to judge distance.

So is that the connection between my mini-OBEs and misperception this - compromised visual sensory input? That is certainly the usual cause of misperception. With mini-OBEs the 'compromised sensory input' is specifically about judging the distance of objects. So is that another 'trigger' that may cause misperception? Perhaps I'd see more ghosts if I went around with one eye closed!

In fact, the door ghost may well be the first example I have found where an inability to correctly judge distance may actually be the trigger of a misperception! No wonder, then, that my abilities to see the door ghost and to have mini-OBEs have grown in parallel!

1 July: Voices on the wind

Sound affected by distanceSounds of music outdoors are not unusual in summer with so many windows open. But what I heard recently was music in bits - fragmented. It was coming from a fair being held a couple of streets away. The music was fragmented because there was a stiff breeze blowing. Such conditions cause turbulent air flow which can break up sound into bits. It made me think of some reports I'd read of people doing EVP recordings outdoors.

Most EVP recordings appear to be made indoors, if reports on the web are a reliable guide. But some people do EVP sessions outdoors, often in reputedly haunted locations. The problems with this are fairly obvious. It will be difficult to identify (and eliminate from consideration) likely 'normal' sound sources, particularly if the session is happening at night, compared to more controllable conditions inside. But my 'fragmented music' observation suggests another important problem.

Suppose there is someone, out of sight, talking loudly enough to be recorded by an EVP investigator. In calm conditions it is likely that the natural origin of the voice will be fairly obvious to anyone listening to the recording. Even then, however, the distance may distort what the voice is actually saying. That's because air absorbs higher frequency sound, so making spoken words less recognisable at a distance. Though the resulting sound may be recognisable as a human voice, the words heard may be different to those actually spoken. There's an example of this in the EVP Gallery (here). You can see the effects of increasing distance on human speech in the audio spectrogram above. Time is the bottom axis, increasing rightward (0 to 28s). The right axis is frequency, increasing from the back (from 45 to 5000 Hz). The vertical axis is loudness. The same word is spoken repeatedly at increasing distances from the microphone. See how the upper frequencies are lost progressively with distance (towards the right).

But what happens if there is a bit of a breeze blowing? The words will become fragmented. There is probably no more potent source of 'formant noise' than bits of actual human speech! Formant noise is a non-speech sound which happens to contain frequency peaks in simple harmonic ratios that a human brain interprets as speech. Many natural sources of noise, like rustling paper, can produce such sounds. There's a lot more to the concept than that so I suggest you follow the link (here) if you are not familiar with it. If real human speech gets mangled by the wind, there is a good likelihood that it will be interpreted as different words to those actually spoken. It's intermittent nature will also make it sound more like typical EVP, which often comes in short bursts, rather than everyday speech.

So, a crucial question when listening to EVP recordings made outdoors must be, was it windy?

PS: Chinese lanterns are being blamed for more serious problems than UFO reports - here.

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

Last month's (June) website figures are an average of 9684 hits per day. This is incredibly close to the previous month's 9683 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • June 2013 (including transparent ghosts, distance of UFOs, other stuff going on while witnessing anomalous phenomena)
  • May 2013 (including ghost seen AND photographed, time distortion, reproducing anomalous phenomena)
  • Apr 2013 (including door ghost moving, UFOs from a train, missing time, reality glitches, EVP without E, weird photos)
  • Mar 2013 (including witness credibility, distraction to see ghosts, movie in real life, photo or witness)
  • Feb 2013 (including possible orb comeback, OBEs go mainstream, walking ghost, feelings without touch, object movement)
  • Jan 2013 (including a big problem with ghost vigils, time distortions, cryptids, snow ghosts and rods, causes of hauntings)
  • Dec 2012 (including mysterious injuries, ghosts versus people, voice from nowhere, experimenting with a ghost)
  • Nov 2012 (including reflected ghost, isolated EVPs, ghosts talking to each other, invisible presences)
  • Oct 2012 (including ghostly presence, shadow ghost, strange pigeons, window ghosts, hallucinations)
  • Sep 2012 (including yellow grass, weird waterfalls, vanishing buzzard, ghost vigils, slowing down time)
  • Aug 2012 (including seeing unknown animals, glowing lampposts, EMF meters as an accident of history)
  • July 2012 (including turning rods into orbs, psychic insight, making insects spell, glowing eyes, haunting hot spots)
  • June 2012 (including doppelganger mystery, not expecting ghosts, anecdotal evidence, credible witnesses)
  • May 2012 (including lenticular cloud, ghost encounter, ghost train, weird stuff in a tree, van Gogh, resolution)
  • Apr 2012 (including naturalists and ghosts, odd feelings during OBE, wrong kind of sound, voice from nowhere)
  • Mar 2012 (including jogging and ghosts, misty ghosts, image noise, full spectrum photography, EVP of machines)
  • Feb 2012 (including ghost car, analyzing anomalous photos, ghost at rock concert, OBEs and motion sickness)
  • Jan 2012 (including stopping flying rods, photographing fairies, time warp, a ghost tie, ghostly fingers, New Year UFOs)
  • Dec 2011 (including missing time, improving ghost vigils, anomalous photos, ghostly faces, seeing fiction)
  • Nov 2011 (including OBE video games, EVP and VLF, whatshisname, paranormal misconceptions, invisible ghosts)
  • Oct 2011 (including smartphone ghosts, similacrum, smell of ghosts, morphing UFOs, slowing time)
  • Sep 2011 (including tidy ghost, MADS, transparent ghost, big announcement, ghost fox, not alone)
  • Aug 2011 (including cold spots, spectral hound, triangular UFO, ghost photos, rushing air and being dragged)
  • July 2011 (including Hilary Evans, Harry Potter, witness investment, bias in paranormal research, TV detectives)
  • June 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, detecting lies, hyper-vigilence, strange thunder)
  • May 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, lone shoes, flying rods, bias, early memories, strange floating object)
  • Apr 2011 (including royal wedding, mirror touch synaesthesia, sleep disorders, new ghost sighting)
  • Mar 2011 (including roof heron, Atlantis, first time witnesses, comparing film to digital paranormal photos)
  • Feb 2011 (including predicting the future, ghost bird, time slip, weird floor, what do we really know about paranormal)
  • Jan 2011 (including the ghost hunting boom, orange UFO, EVP experiment, extreme normality)
  • Dec 2010 (including microsleeps and road ghosts, shadow ghost in snow, lack of ghosts in photos, anthropomorphism)
  • Nov 2010 (including EMF meters, auras, evidence for precognition, sensitisation, the ghost hunting boom)
  • Oct 2010 (including black orbs, UnConvention, mirror visions, levitation, flying rods and orbs)
  • Sep 2010 (including a ring tone from the roof, shadow ghost video, time slip explanation, daylight orb video)
  • Aug 2010 (including Parisian UFO, sense of presence, SLI, consulting experts, misperception)
  • Jul 2010 (including Sherlock Holmes as a paranormal investigator, haunting sounds, what ARE hallucinations)
  • Jun 2010 (including the Loch Ness Monster, gorilla video, getting ghost stories the wrong way round)
  • May 2010 (including ball lightning, Wem ghost photo, waking up twice, eyewitnesses, Robin Hood)
  • Apr 2010 (including causes of road ghosts, new orb evidence, bird UFOs, UFO photo, not quite seeing is believing)
  • Mar 2010 (including experiencing hypnagogia, consciousness, belief, prolonged misperception, doppelganger)
  • Feb 2010 (including visual continuity errors - AKA ghosts, near sleep experiences on trains, spontaneous OOBEs)
  • Jan 2010 (including intelligent oil, SLI, inducing OOBEs, orange UFOs, the bleak midwinter)
  • Dec 2009 (including review of research in the noughties, pretty orbs, imperceptions, river monster)
  • Nov 2009 (including EVP without a recorder, demons and entities, why only some people see ghosts)
  • Oct 2009 (including grey ghost, near sleep experiences, a triangular UFO and seeing David Beckham)
  • Sep 2009 (including latent memory, Tufted Puffin, Bermuda Triangle and garden poltergeist)
  • Aug 2009 (including official UFO files, partial ghosts, flying rods and miracles)
  • Jul 2009 (including garden poltergeist, big cat video, orbs and hypnotic regression)
  • Jun 2009 (including thoughts from nowhere, shadow ghosts, premonitions and metallic UFO)
  • May 2009 (including analysing paranormal photos, making ghosts and ghost lore)
  • Apr 2009 (including phantom bird, choice blindness and grass that gets up and walks away)
  • Mar 2009 (including deja vu, ghostly mists, weird UFO photo, white ghosts)
  • Feb 2009 (including hidden memories, coincidences, auras and window UFOs)
  • Jan 2009 (including animals sensing ghosts, vampires, flying rod season and a haunted path)
  • Dec 2008
  • Nov 2008
  • Oct 2008
  • Sep 2008
  • Aug 2008
  • July 2008
  • June 2008
  • May 2008
  • April 2008
  • March 2008
  • February 2008
  • January 2008
  • December 2007
  • November 2007
  • October 2007
  • Even older

© Maurice Townsend 2013