ASSAP: Paranormal Research
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ASSAP blogWelcome 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.

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29 May 2008: Solar halo

Solar haloI recently photographed this solar halo (also called an ice halo). A solar halo is a comparatively rare natural phenomenon, caused by ice crystals in thin high cloud. In fact, it may not be that rare but simply rarely noticed. It is said that solar halos occur more frequently than rainbows in some places! Not many people look up at the sun, for obvious reasons. Plus, this photo was taken up a mountain which may have helped! Well, I hadn't seen one before and I wouldn't have noticed it this time had not a passer-by pointed out the 'rainbow' above.

Though solar halos are not rainbows, they may include rainbow colours in their ring, as this one did. Sunlight is reflected and refracted (hence the rainbow colours) to form a ring around 22 degrees around the sun. There is a much rarer version that forms a much bigger halo (at 46 degrees). The sizes of halos is derived from the shape of the ice crystals forming them.

You may wonder why I am talking about what is clearly a natural, as opposed to anomalous, phenomenon. It is such rare, unfamiliar phenomena that frequently give rise to xenonormal reports. Paranormal researchers need to be familiar with such unusual, but natural phenomena, so that they can recognise them in reports.

28 May 2008: Crystal skulls

If you've never heard of crystal skulls before, the chances are you have now, thanks the the latest Indiana Jones movie. Like many movies and TV programmes, the film includes several plot elements derived from non-fiction (though usually controversial) reports of anomalous or Fortean phenomena. I won't spoil your enjoyment of the film by saying which they are.

It is unlikely that many people watching such films will think that the plots are anything other than fiction. However, movie plots often popularise, or even invent, explanations for well-known anomalous phenomena. It will be interesting to see if the 'Indiana Jones Theory' of crystal skull origins becomes the predominant one in the public imagination over the next few years, just as UFOs are now almost universally associated with extra-terrestrial craft.

The media certainly influence public, and even paranormal researchers', perception of anomalous phenomena. This, in turn, may also affect what witnesses report in paranormal cases (everyone 'knows' what a UFO looks like). Elements taken from real-life cases and popular theories of anomalous phenomena popularised in this way gain general currency, thus forming a feedback loop between fiction and real-life. For instance, before the 'reality' ghost hunting TV shows, paranormal researchers held a diverse variety of theories of what caused hauntings. Now, among the huge number 'recruited' by these shows to our field, most agree with the long-held popular idea that hauntings are the work of 'spirits', despite the evidence. This has led to 'assumption-led' investigation with the built-in assumptions often obscuring other possibilities.

It is difficult but important, when it comes to paranormal investigation, to forget everything you 'know' about a phenomenon. Instead, just ask the simple, obvious questions like 'what could have caused this report of a strange light?' Standing back from the phenomenon, in this way, yields useful results that using assumption-led techniques simply can't.

23 May 2008: Strange mountain photo

Anomalous mountain photoI nearly decided that this was yet another example of a daylight orb (see previous entries for this month). However, the same strange anomaly appears in the same place on the frame for several subsequent shots. This shows the value of keeping photos taken around the same time as an anomalous one.

The anomaly consists of an orb-like semi-circle with a green line across the straight side. The green is, I believe, derived from the colour of the greenery behind the anomaly. The whitish area indicates a more diffuse scattering of light from all over the photo area. There is a fainter, circular 'orb' above and to the left of the main anomaly.

The fact that the anomaly is in the same place on the frame in several photos shows that it is in some way attached to the camera (so not lens flare, for instance). The big clue is that was raining at the time. The anomaly is, in fact, an example of water getting on the lens of the camera and distorting the image behind.

Such water droplets on the camera lens can produce spectacular anomalies at night but in daylight shots more closely resemble strangely shaped orbs.

This is then, yet another, example of a daylight photo anomaly. Many people, when they see such a photo produced by someone else, may think it is the product of photo editing software. However, most such anomalies are simply the result of unusual circumstances, like this one.

14 May 2008: Senses work better together to see ghosts

It is easier to understand human speech if you can see the moving lips of the speaker. The way you taste food is strongly affected by its smell. Our senses cooperate to improve our accurate understanding of what is happening in our environment. Our brains use as many clues as possible, from different senses, to build the 'picture in our heads' we like to call reality.

In the McGurk Effect, when you see someone speaking but different voice sounds are dubbed onto an accompanying soundtrack, you may hear something other than what is actually being said. This demonstrates how sound and vision interact, often strongly affecting what is finally understood. Some deaf people use lip reading, relying solely on vision, to understand speech.

When you are deprived of one or more of your senses, it is inevitable that the number of perception errors will increase. Reduced vision is the most common problem likely to affect paranormal reports. It is certainly a factor that needs to be considered when examining reports at night or at dusk, for instance. It is also a problem with dark vigils, where people voluntarily sit around in darkness. It might make sense to hold part of a vigil in the the same lighting conditions as the circumstances of the original witness reports. However, it is always better to hold most of a vigil in good lighting conditions to avoid misperceptions and the false positive reports they generate.

12 May 2008: More daylight orbs!

Daylight orbsDaylight orbs are rare. Often taken without the aid of a flash, they are sometimes seen as more difficult to explain than 'normal' orbs. Here is a photo of some daylight orbs (taken the other day) which are quite different to the ones caused by soap bubbles, reported below. These look much more like 'classic' night-time orbs, however no flash was used!

These particular orbs are, in fact, seeds floating on the wind. They looked similar to 'dandelion snow', familiar to most people in Europe. The all appear circular for the same reason that 'night orbs' do - they are too close to be in focus. There was a lot of seed floating around but only the very close ones show up - as circular orbs! To the naked eye the seeds had all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes.

The seeds further away that should have been in focus, of which there were plenty, were clearly too small to show up in the photo. This is interesting because, although the seeds were quite easy to see with the naked eye at the time, only the very close ('orbed') ones showed up in the photograph!

It is certainly possible that someone who failed to notice (or forgot) such floating seeds at the time of exposure might get orbs on their final photo. The absence of a flash might be taken as showing a paranormal origin but, clearly, this is not the case in this example.

1 May 2008: More problems with dark vigils

Face in vegetationTake your favourite torch and use it to light up the objects in a darkened room, using a narrow beam. By sweeping across the room slowly with the light, it is obvious what most things are. When you sweep quickly, however, you may notice what appears to be slight movements in the objects in the scene. Obviously, they are not really moving. What you are seeing is the effect of rapidly moving shadows, caused by the light source movement, caught by the rod cells in your eyes. The shadow movements are particularly pronounced if you see them in the 'corner of your eye'. If the room you are scanning is an unfamiliar one, on a vigil perhaps, it would be easy to imagine there was real object movement, perhaps paranormal.

Your sweeping torch light may also catch reflective surfaces. This will produce momentary lights on the opposite wall. This too may give rise to apparently paranormal 'moving lights'. Reports of apparent object and light movement is quite common on dark vigils. These visual artifacts from torch light are just a couple of the many misperception problems caused by holding vigils in the dark.

Night vision equipment is often used on dark vigils to overcome the problem of low illumination. However, night amplification technology produces low detail images compared to normal daylight photography. Though such equipment amplifies low light images to make scenes visible, the lack of light still limits the detail that can be captured! Since most night vision equipment is also sensitive to infra-red, this allows the use of 'invisible' illuminators which help to some extent. However, night vision equipment also usually has a limited field of view and, being usually monocular, can cause problems with depth and size perception.

Infra-red video cameras are better that night vision equipment as they use illuminators and provide a standard of picture approaching normal video cameras. Their range is, however, limited by the illuminator and the images of distant objects lack detail. You can also get the 'moving shadow' and 'moving reflection' effects described above with illuminators.

The alternative to night vision/infrared is the very expensive thermal imager. These cameras are the 'most wanted' bits of kit for many paranormal research groups. However, since they use the far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, their images require careful interpretation. Again, the image is not as good as normal daylight video cameras.

So, even with night imaging aids, there are serious problems with dark vigils. With or without technical aids, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that much of what is 'experienced' on such dark vigils is the result of misperception. People may be fooling themselves while discovering nothing paranormal.

NB: For an explanation of the picture of a 'face', see the April blog.


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© Maurice Townsend 2008