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)

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

30 May: In Vincent's place

PoppyDespite the heat, I shivered involuntarily. I was standing in the exact spot where, in 1888, Vincent van Gogh had produced a well-known painting. The scene has changed but there are still key elements of the unremarkable urban scene that remain recognizable. One of the things I admire about art is its ability to turn the mundane into the exquisite.

Oddly, I never feel any historical connection with ghosts. This may be because I know some important things about them. Firstly, though many ghosts are supposedly identified with real people, the connection is usually tenuous to non-existent. There are very few ghosts seen by witnesses who are in a position to positively identify them. Instead, ghosts are often assumed to be a well-known person who once lived at the location, even though the actual figure seen may not even resemble them! Some ghosts are associated with alleged historical tragedies that never even happened! It is difficult to feel a historical connection with a legendary incident that never even happened.

When people arrive at a haunted location, they frequently are aware of the ghosts that are supposed to inhabit the place, and their 'stories'. I'm sure this emotional 'connection' contributes to the feeling of spookiness. It may well produce a state of psychological suggestion that increases the likelihood of people interpreting a xenonormal experience as paranormal.

Oddly, I can't find any reference to anyone sighting the ghost of Vincent van Gogh, even though he certainly had a difficult life. I expect if I dug around long enough I would find something. Fame and tragedy are common reasons to identify a ghostly figure with a particular person, even though there is little, if any, real evidence to support such identifications. I certainly didn't see his ghost when I shivered involuntarily. It was just the feeling of being in the exact place where something extraordinary once happened.

PS: Why a poppy? It pops up in several of van Gogh's paintings.

28 May: A mid-year resolution

GrassGrassWhy do we usually make resolutions in January? Why not May? My own mid-year resolution is to look at resolution - the ability to discern detail in an image or instrumental reading. Unfortunately, while the concept is well-known to those who write scientific papers, most people take little notice of it.

Why does it matter? Well, suppose two people, A and B (Arnie and Brett if you prefer), take photos of exactly the same scene at the same time. A uses a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and B uses 1920 x 1080 pixels. If there was an apparent ghostly figure in Arnie's photo but it looks more like a tree in Brett's, which would you believe?

It seems obvious in that example. However, many apparently paranormal photos are taken at decidedly low resolutions. Oddly, in many cases the camera being used is actually capable of a higher resolution but it is not being used. Maybe it is to save memory! The point is, people rarely, if ever, consider the possibility that what looks like a ghost or UFO may simply be a mundane object that is beyond the limit of the photo's resolution. I have seen more and more examples of these 'edge of resolution' type paranormal photos of late.

While the resolution of a photo is highly significant in detecting the true identity of objects portrayed in it, people are often swayed by irrelevant factors instead. For instance, if the photo was taken at a haunted location that is often seen as important. But if the apparent ghost is beyond the limit of resolution then it makes no difference where, or when, the photo was taken. It does not mean that the object photographed is definitely NOT a ghost. But it DOES mean that, from the photographic evidence, you can't rule out a mundane explanation. Until a xenonormal explanation is ruled out then paranormal factors, like whether the location is haunted, are irrelevant.

This is a fundamental problem when investigating paranormal incidents - deciding what are the most significant factors to look for. Generally, it is advisable to look for factors that could rule out xenonormal causes first. If you can't get beyond these, there's no point considering other factors. A fuzzy picture doesn't become any more paranormal simply because someone felt 'odd' at the time they took it!

More generally, one might say you should look at factors you can measure before considering those you can't. Measurable factors can often deliver definite answers while immeasurable ones usually cannot.

25 May: Are there things seen ONLY in peripheral vision?

It's already light at 4.30 in the morning here in the UK, as I found out recently. There should not have been much going on but I saw something move in the 'corner of my eye', as I surveyed the scene outside from a window. I immediately concentrated on that area but could see no further movement. Was it real or just a peripheral vision effect?

The problem is, our brains sell us the illusion that we have a continuous detailed of the world over a wide angle. That we don't can be demonstrated here. Without shifting your eyes from this line, try to read the one below, and the one below that. When you get as far as the periphery of your vision, the level of detail has dropped to mere vague shapes and uncertain colours and movement.

If you only see something in your peripheral vision, you cannot rely on it as solid evidence. Did I see a fox or a bird or even a ghost at 4.30? Or maybe nothing objective moving at all? I don't know and I would never make any claims based on that single observation.

Some people say that there are things, like certain kinds of ghost, that we can only EVER see in peripheral vision. However, it is difficult to see how you could ever reliably distinguish an objective thing 'out there' from something poorly-seen and misperceived as something else. Even if there are objects only ever seen in peripheral vision, how could you reliably demonstrate that they are not just other things being misperceived? As a start, it would be useful to test how easy it is to induce misperception through peripheral vision. I can already guess the likely results.

24 May: What if ...

Suppose we were to reject all the evidence derived from using assumption-led investigation techniques (ALITs)? What would be left of paranormal research? And what would it tell us?

Without actually trying it, I couldn't really say. And because it would it would be a huge task, I'm not about to attempt it. However, I can speculate that the body of evidence left would resemble that available before the current ghost hunting boom. Though some people used ALITs before the boom, they were probably in a minority. I say 'probably' because it would take research to say for sure. But certainly, in the early days of ASSAP few investigators would use mediums, dowsing or Ouija on a ghost investigation. Instead, the emphasis was on trying to explain and understand what the primary witnesses had experienced (evidence-led investigation).

In essence, removing ALITs from ghost research evidence would be a bit like removing extraterrestrial assumptions from UFO investigations. You would be left with a body of anomalous experiences, some explainable by natural causes quite easily, others less so. Even removing ALITs would still leave many witnesses believing they had seen spirits, simply because it is the overwhelmingly popular meme associated with ghostly experiences.

Removing ALIT evidence would also take away much of the most dramatic case material, which would be no bad thing. In my experience, the more dramatic a case, the quicker it falls apart when it is carefully investigated. It is the more subtle experiences that are most interesting and difficult to explain. The old saying 'if it's too good to be true then it probably isn't' certainly seems to apply in paranormal research.

The problem with ALITs is that they provide a massive distraction within a genuinely intriguing subject. Unfortunately, they are showing no sign of going away any time soon. However, there are some people who will ultimately realize that ALITs ultimately lead nowhere. I just hope they realize that there are other research methods available, rather than simply rejecting the subject completely.

23 May: Not a UFO but is it lenticular?

POssible lenticular cloudLenticular clouds are usually lens-shaped and can sometimes resemble saucers. I think the cloud pictured here (right) may be one, though I'm happy to hear contrary opinions. It is certainly quite unusual in shape, oddly isolated and occurred in the correct conditions (mountains, strong winds) in an area where they have been recorded before.

Some lenticular clouds can certainly resemble the classic 'flying saucer' shape and, when seen in suitable lighting conditions, could almost be taken for a solid object. It is difficult to judge the size of an object in the sky. Unless you know what the object is, you cannot know its physical dimensions. A small object nearby can look the same size as a large one much further away. This does not stop some UFO witnesses from stating with certainty the size and/or distance of the object they saw. With a cloud, we know it is likely to be large and distant but at dawn or dusk it might not be obvious what the object is.

If this particular cloud was seen at dusk, from a distance, it could resemble a flying wing. As such, it might be taken for an experimental aircraft. Experimental planes have been considered the source of some UFO reports. People don't notice much of what is going on around them, particularly in the sky. It is little wonder that there are so many UFO reports and that most prove to have a xenonormal origin when investigated.

PS: A UK-Swiss team is going to DNA test apparent Yeti remains. The technology has moved on in recent years to the point where very small samples can now be DNA tested.

12 May: A second chance to go on an investigator training course

We usually run one investigator training weekend a year. However this year, by popular demand, there will be a second chance to go on the 'Introduction to Scientific Investigation' course, on 26-27 May. It will take place at Oxenwood in Wiltshire. If you want to attend, or require more information, email here as soon as possible. Please note that you must be an ASSAP member to go on the weekend.

We've been running our investigator training courses at ASSAP since the earliest days of the organization. I was one of those who designed the original version, though it has evolved considerably over the years. I have many fond memories of this course, particularly the years when we held it regularly at Charlton House in London. Though it was a gradual process, I believe it was during those courses at Charlton that I began to realise just how much of what is reported as paranormal is, in fact, misperception. The learning process can be as educational for the teacher as it is for the student!

10 May: A recent ghostly encounter

Ghost treeWhen I turned round I noticed someone behind me. There was nothing unusual about it except that they rapidly vanished! It was such an 'everyday situation', not remotely spooky, that I hadn't even considered the possibility of a ghost!

When I explain to people that the vast majority of ghosts look like perfectly ordinary human figures, quite solid and normal, it usually brings a look of puzzlement. How, they ask, if a figure looks perfectly normal, can a witness decide it is actually a ghost? It's because the figure either does something impossible, like vanishing, or simply cannot be where it is. For instance, if you are looking into an empty locked room, through a window, then any human figure visible inside must be 'impossible' and so, most likely, a ghost. Another possibility is where people see someone they recognise who they know is physically somewhere else.

It is generally only in the movies that ghosts are typically transparent. I would guess that the idea arose as a convention in the visual arts (paintings, theatre) in order that the audience understand they were looking at a ghost, rather than an ordinary person. Though there IS a tiny number of real cases of transparent or partial figures, the vast majority of ghosts look unremarkable. If a ghost walked along a crowded street it's likely that no one would even notice.

In the case of my recent sighting, I didn't even think about it in terms of ghosts until later. I realized quickly that the pollarded tree, pictured right, had given rise to a misperception of a normal human figure. It's not the first time pollarded trees have been misperceived as human figures (see here). While it might seem odd, looking at this photo, that anyone could see it as a human figure, that was exactly what happened. It only appeared as a human figure for a second or so before 'reverting' to its true tree form. There are several reasons why pollarded trees make good misperceived ghosts. Firstly, they often have a similar shape and size to a typical human figure. Secondly, the lack of foliage attached to the trunk makes them less tree-like in appearance. Thirdly, the area at the top, where a branch has been removed, contrasts with the trunk to give the impression of a face at a position where you'd expect it. In this particular case, the foliage in front of the tree tended to break up the outline of the tree trunk so that, when just glanced at briefly, it appeared to be something quite different. Poor lighting or great distance can have a similar effect in making the tree less obviously immediately recognizable.

I can almost hear some readers saying 'but it still obviously a tree'. All I can say is, wait until it happens to you! If a photo was taken of the objects that others have misperceived as human figures, they too might be amazed at the fallibility of their senses! We tend to always believe what we see but there are occasions when we should really take a second look.

PS: In answer to the question 'what did the ghost look like' I'd say an elderly person with frizzy grey hair. Did I see the person actually transform into a tree? No, I didn't! Firstly, I wasn't paying much attention to the figure as it did not seem in any way remarkable. Secondly, our brains don't like us to see when they make a mistake! I simply became aware that there was no person there after all and it all felt completely normal and logical, at the time. It was only when I thought about it afterwards that the contradiction became obvious. This feeling of something only feeling odd after the event may well be diagnostic of a misperception.

8 May: Weird stuff in a tree

Weird stuff in a treeDo you ever take a photo and see weird stuff in it that you don't remember seeing at the time? I don't mean orbs, flying rods, ghosts, UFOs and so on. They are, at least, reasonably well known. Sometimes there are things that just look plain weird. Take the photo here, right.

The photo is clearly of a tree but there are three weird shapes in the branches. The objects look too big and heavy to be supported by the thin branches. They could, perhaps, be paper or plastic bags which have been blown into the tree by the wind. That might explain their rather odd shapes. The one on the left vaguely resembles a circular hut with an upside-down 'V' cut out of its base. The middle shape vaguely resembles a saucepan and handle set at an angle to horizontal. The rightmost shape might be a very small person riding a flying broomstick! Other people may see other things, or nothing in particular.

So what is going on here? The explanation is in the photo below, taken less than a second before. The same tree is now on the right of this photo. To its left there are three flying geese. It is now obvious that the photo above shows the same birds just behind the tree. However, because both photos are not particularly colourful, it is unusually difficult to distinguish the objects from each other. In such dull lighting conditions eyewitnesses, too, may unconsciously meld objects together visually when they are actually physically separate.

Weird treeWhenever you see a photo with unusual objects in it, like this, you should always consider the possibility of something flying, or even falling, in front of or behind the main subject. This sort of thing usually occurs in drab lighting conditions when there is little colour that would usually allow different objects to be separated easily. Though, in this case, the photographer was actually following the geese and photographed the tree accidentally, it could easily be the other way round. Someone might take a photo of a tree and not notice the geese flying by just as the shutter button is pressed.

If you suggest to someone that their strange photo may be the result of a flying, or falling, object (as in this case) you will generally get one of two responses. One is that they would have noticed the geese at the time, and the other that the odds are far too high against such a bizarre coincidence. Regarding the first response, we generally do not notice what is going on when we press the shutter. We are too busy concentrating on framing the shot. In this particular example, the geese arrived and left in less than a second. Regarding the second response, yes it's highly unlikely that geese will just happen to fly by just as we are taking a photo. However, when you consider the millions of photos taken by people around the world every day, a few will almost inevitably (and quite unintentionally) contain unnoticed rapidly moving objects. Indeed, some UFO pictures look just like birds from odd angles or falling objects of some kind.

Coincidences are responsible for many anomaly reports. And this applies as much to photographs as witness reports. There are two things to remember about events with high odds against their occurring. Firstly, just because they're unlikely it doesn't mean they can never happen. Secondly, when unlikely events DO occur, people will often look for a seemingly more likely explanation, including the paranormal.

4 May: Ghost train

Leaving a small railway station recently I heard the familiar sound of a buzzer indicating that the train doors were about to close. Except I knew for a fact there were no trains present! I turned round and my 'factual knowledge' was confirmed - the station was empty of all trains. Even if there had been one nearby, it would hardly be closing its doors away from a station! So what else could the unmistakable sound be - a ghost train?

Whenever I think of ghost trains, steam locomotives come to mind. I suppose the idea of a ghostly modern train jars. Part of the meme that we all share about ghosts is that they should be to do with something old. If you say 'haunted house' to someone they think of a spooky old mansion centuries. In reality, many modern buildings are haunted and I have investigated some of them. I've never investigated any ghost trains which may be why I have steam stuck in my mind.

Anyway, there is a plausible natural explanation for my hearing the train door buzzer, other than imagination or hallucination. I've often seen people videoing something, either with their mobile phone or a camcorder, and then replay it straight afterwards. Unless you're near the phone you won't see the picture but you will hear the sound. It is certainly possible that someone videoed the previous train on their phone and replayed it afterwards. Indeed, I expect this sort of thing happens all the time with so many phones around. And it is, no doubt, the source of many apparently ghostly sounds. I don't know if it was the case in this instance, I didn't have time to investigate, but it certainly could not be ruled out.

PS: There was a TV programme about foxes the other day here in the UK. One person mentioned how her shoe had been taken by a fox! Having reported our local foxes predilection for shoes here before, I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is. And why do the foxes even want shoes? Maybe there's thesis for a zoology student in answering these questions!

2 May: What the forest can tell you about a tree

Water orbI recently said that to be a paranormal photo analyst, first learn about photography! However, I can give one tip that might actually help - look at the whole picture, not just the anomaly. Examine a paranormal photo as you would if there was no anomaly present. Is there anything else unusual or different? People are too often distracted by the obvious anomaly when its real cause may be visible elsewhere in the frame.

Take the picture, right, for example. There is a fuzzy area just right of centre. Is it something paranormal? Or a daylight orb perhaps? If you look at the photo as a whole you'll notice that the colours are dark and well saturated. The illumination is, in fact, typical of a heavily overcast sky. The metal attached to the top of the railings (top left) looks shiny, as if wet. Both of these factors suggest that it was, or had recently been, raining when the photo was taken. This was confirmed to be the case by the photographer at the time. However, in many cases the photographer will NOT remember the circumstances of taking a photo accurately. Given these factors, the most likely cause of the fuzzy patch is water on the lens.

Looking at the 'whole picture' does not just apply to anomalous photographs but to paranormal investigation in general. When you examine the site of the a reported paranormal experience it is too easy to focus just on the immediate area where something happened. However, looking at a wider area may reveal details providing clues to a plausible natural explanation for the report. There is a marked tendency among paranormal investigators to focus too narrowly when looking for possible causes for something weird. While understandable, it can frequently lead to vital clues being missed.

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

Last month's (April) website figures are an average of 13727 hits per day. This is similar to the previous month's 14561 daily average and considerably up on Apr 2011's average of 8745!


Previous blog pages ...

  • 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 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 2012 NB: P