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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31 Oct 2008: Happy Samhain!

Spooky cobweb... or Halloween, if you prefer. If you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you may remember the standing joke that the vampires and demons didn't go abroad on Halloween because it was too crass. Many paranormal researchers don't do much on Halloween either, probably because there are too many people around playing ghosts in the dark! Also, many venues are full of 'one-timers' doing a ghost vigil for a dare.

Nevertheless, it still feels like it's 'our' festival. Certainly, many non-ghost researchers assume it is a busy day for us. It is a time when people who aren't normally interested in the paranormal will ask us questions. Some of these are even serious. The media, rather predictably, uses it as a time for 'spooky' content, much of it tongue in cheek.

Perhaps, the party atmosphere doesn't really lend itself to serious discussion of our subject. Maybe it is a day to 'go with the flow', don a pointy hat, enjoy a Halloween party and return to serious research tomorrow.

30 Oct 2008: The day before

It's the eve of Halloween and people are starting to go around wearing pointy hats in public. Halloween is, of course, the Eve of All Hallows Day. This refers to a Christian festival (All Saints Day) that is nowadays totally overshadowed by Halloween itself. The festival originated with Samhain, the Celtic celebration of the end of harvest.

In the UK, Halloween was once a fairly restrained festival, involving such things as apple bobbing, but now, under the influence of America, it has become a big celebration. It is, perhaps, set to eclipse Guy Fawkes night, on the fifth of November, which has declined of late. Going 'trick or treating' was unknown in the UK until relatively recently but is now standard fare along with the ubiquitous carved pumpkin lamps.

Halloween is associated with ghosts, among other things. There are many 'ghost watches' held on Halloween, often for charity, by people who would never normally do such things. Probably for this reason, many serious ghost researchers prefer to stay at home that night.

29 Oct 2008: Big cat?

FoxJust two days to go to Halloween - are you getting excited? According to the media, ghost researchers should be. Well I'm not, but everyone else is. Just about everywhere that opens to the public seems to be planning some sort of event on Friday.

I was out today taking photos of flying rods today, as you do, when I saw a hunched old man on a river bank. Except, it quickly turned into a recently pollarded tree when I looked more carefully. This misperception thing is really getting out of hand now. My rod photos weren't great either, which is why I haven't included one here.

The photo right is, of course, a fox walking away. I saw just such a fox today but it was so far away, it was difficult to make out properly. What DID strike me was how big the fox's tail was in relation to its body. Then I remembered how people often claim they've seen a 'big cat' in the UK, distinguishing it from pet cats by its large tail.

It made me wonder how many of the big cat sightings might actually be foxes. They certainly have a big tail (and, as in this pic, the white tip isn't always obvious). Of course, they don't look particularly cat-like but, in the distance, they don't look very fox-like either. Some of the big cat sightings are probably perfectly genuine since some pets were thought to have been released after the laws applying to them were tightened up. But if you saw the animal above briefly, in the distance, could you be SURE it was a fox?

28 Oct 2008: Paranormal romance

There was no sign of the reported pumpkin shortage when I went shopping today. With Halloween becoming a bigger festival by the year here in the UK, pumpkins are now big business. Does anyone still actually eat any of these things or are they solely used for spooky lanterns?

Anyway, I was stopped in my tracks in one shop by a display of 'paranormal romance' books. Shocking though it is, I'd never before come across this literary genre before. Being too much of a coward to browse, I waited until I got home to consult the internet to see what it actually meant. Before that, I imagined tales of love affairs between ghosts, or between ghosts and humans or between humans but prompted by ghostly intervention. There was even the possibility of love across the Ouija board or perhaps while playing Zener cards. Apparently, it actually usually involves romances between humans and vampires, ghosts, elves and so on.

I was, nevertheless, reminded of an observation of mine through my years of paranormal research. A lot of people seem to meet their partners through a shared interest in the paranormal. OK, that's not as dramatic as an affair with a vampire but it still could be described as paranormal romance.

27 Oct 2008: Children 'have more paranormal experiences'

It is often claimed that children are more susceptible to paranormal experiences than adults. It occurred to me recently that, if true, there might be a simple reason for this. In most cultures, children's stories usually contain lots of events that would be considered 'paranormal' by adults. As they grow up, children are told that fairies, dragons and even Father Christmas don't really exist! I'm not sure why we follow this seemingly cruel ritual but that's tradition for you.

The point is that children are, for a significant chunk of their childhood, freely fed the idea that ghosts, fairies and other such beings definitely exist. Only later are such ideas questioned. If children were to misperceive something (regular readers will say here, 'I knew that was coming') then it would be perfectly reasonable for it to be interpreted as a ghost.

I can't say I had any paranormal experiences when I was a kid. There were rumours that certain houses near our school were haunted but no one had any actual experiences to relate. I think it was sufficient that a house looked 'spooky' for it to be considered haunted by school children.

It is probably in our impressionable years that we absorb the concepts of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. Even if we later reject such things as 'impossible', the idea is still lurking there in the back of our minds, ready to ambush our perception when we see a tree in our peripheral vision. Even if someone tells you they have no interest in,and no knowledge of ghosts, they could probably still tell you what one looked like!

24 Oct 2008: Can alertness reduce misperception?

Misperception sneaks up on you. You may be extremely alert, concentrating on doing something, when there is a movement in your peripheral vision. Is it a small animal, something blowing in the wind or a ghost? Unless you can get a clear view of it, you'll probably never know.

At any one time, we all usually concentrate on just one thing. Multi-tasking is a favoured management buzzword right now but research shows people can't really concentrate on more than one or two things at once. However, you can certainly become more watchful and alert than normal, if you're waiting for something in particular.

When we get new cases of hauntings at ASSAP, we often tell witnesses to start keeping a detailed record of everything weird that they are experiencing. The funny thing is, the phenomena often seem to decrease in frequency when people do this. The ultimate example of this is the ghost vigil where, if it's properly run, without assumption-led techniques, it can be horribly boring. It's as though the more closely you look for paranormal phenomena, the more elusive they become.

So what's the explanation? We know that misperception accounts for many paranormal reports. If people are more alert and actually waiting for something to happen, they are less likely to misperceive it. What was a 'ghostly groan' half heard the day before is today 'the wind in the eaves', clearly recognised.

This doesn't mean that all paranormal reports are caused by misperception (though a lot are). But it may account for the ironic fact that, in many cases, the more you look for a ghost, the less likely you are to see one. Indeed, many long term ghost investigators never have.

22 Oct 2008: Fun photo

Gull standing on waterI couldn't resist taking this photo, when out recently enjoying the rare autumn sunshine. It shows a Black-headed Gull apparently standing on water! You can even see its right foot above the water, if you look carefully!

In case you're wondering, the water is not a puddle, it is actually a fairly sizeable lake. I don't think it's particularly deep but it is certainly more than one or two millimetres! I definitely wouldn't attempt to walk across it, even wearing waders.

It is not photo manipulation, which would have been quite tricky (though not impossible) in this case due to the reflection in front. The answer is, of course, that the bird is standing on a post that is concealed just below the water line. Despite the mundane explanation, it still makes for an unusual and interesting picture. Well, to me anyway ...

Many apparently anomalous photos have similarly simple explanations. In most cases, though, they are not as clear as this one, so it is more difficult to work out what is going on. Indeed, hardly any apparently paranormal photos are really clear and detailed. I suppose if they were, their explanation would be obvious and so no one would think there was anything weird about them. I still live in hope of seeing a really clear, detailed photo of a ghost!

20 Oct 2008: More weird misperceptions!

Today I saw a roof partially obscured by curtains. So what, you may say? Well, something instantly felt wrong and I suddenly realised, being very familiar with the scene beyond the curtains, that there was no roof in that position. More prolonged inspection showed that it was a wooden fence! The texture of the fence vaguely recalled that of roof tiles.

How could I make such a ridiculous mistake, especially with a familiar scene? I believe the reason is that the curtain obscured most of the shape of the object behind. This idea of breaking up the outline of an object is one of the main principles behind camouflage. Clearly, when our brains cannot see the outline (or a large part) of a shape, they can be fooled. It is the reverse of the idea where, if we see the shape of a human in a random pattern, we think it is a real figure. For a real human not to be seen, they need to break up their shape, like military camouflage.

So, yet another type of misperception appears! The list is growing: short views, poor lighting, corner of the eye phenomena, distant objects, ambiguous shapes and, now, incomplete object outlines. I'm pretty sure that, between them, these phenomena may account for a large number of apparently paranormal sightings (and photographs). In fact, I'm beginning to think that viewing conditions should be the first thing we should ask witnesses about!

On Saturday there was a massive peak in the number of website hits here - an amazing 37000 hits in one day! Interest is high this month, of course, so such such spikes are, perhaps, to be expected. My own access is still restricted, though!

17 Oct 2008: Host move latest

Though the ASSAP website move to the new host has been mostly trouble free, there were some weird problems. One prominent page on the website not only 'fell' out of search engine listings completely (even though there were no broken links to it) but also had all its photos go 'strange'! I'm sure there's a connection between these two oddities but I can't see what it is. The page looks OK now.

Anyway, apart from that things look OK except that I am still only able to see things here on a slow link to the site. The latest 'hit' figures are averaging 7000 daily since we moved host (I knew those earlier figures were too high), which is over a week now. Even that figure is probably a fair way above average, given that we are in the 'peak' month (for paranormal websites!) of October. If anyone comes across any more problems, please email me.

16 Oct 2008: The curious incident of the ghost in the night-time

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So said Arthur Conan Doyle, well known for his fascination with the paranormal, in his Sherlock Holmes stories. However, paranormal researchers have to do something rather different. It might be stated as:

"When you have eliminated all the possible natural causes of an event, whatever remains, however mundane, must be paranormal."

Strictly speaking, whatever remains has 'no currently known natural cause', however adding such a rider would make for a decidedly unquotable maxim. What is interesting is how the rule is an inverted form of Holmes's method. It explains why paranormal research is so difficult. When do you decide you've eliminated all possible natural causes? Is it even possible, in many cases?

The sad fact is that, in most cases, insufficient information is gathered about a paranormal incident, at the time, to eliminate all plausible natural causes. It is a great shame, but we must learn to drop such causes when they become untenable. If some vital clue wasn't collected at the time, there is nothing we can do to fix it later.

Sadly, some people are so sure they've witnessed the paranormal that they descend into 'possibilities' and 'likelihoods' rather than rely on hard evidence. They say things like 'dust couldn't have caused the orb because I always clean my camera lens every time I do an investigation'. Such a statement shows not only a misunderstanding of what causes orbs (see here for similar misconceptions) but also that relevant evidence wasn't definitely gathered. By saying '... I always clean my lens ...' it implies a habit. However, the witness is not claiming that they specifically noticed, far less recorded, cleaning their lens on that particular occasion. Maybe it was the one time they forgot to clean their lens! Or not. We just don't know and we never will.

In such ways, plausible natural cases that could have been eliminated were not. Claiming such an event as paranormal, in such circumstances, is unjustifiable. I think Holmes would have understood!

14 Oct 2008: Indian summer

Autumn butterflyHere in the UK we're having an 'Indian Summer', with temperatures well above normal (with butterflies, like the one in the photo right, still common). Given the awful 'real' summer we had here, you would think everyone would be talking about it. They are not, of course, because the credit crunch is dominating all news at the moment. So, I give in ...

The stock markets are performing wild swings at the moment and, no doubt, there are more to come. Even if this is the end of the stock market problems, there are still likely to be repercussions financially for us all in future. This is why everyone is still nervous.

ASSAP's own Hugh Pincott did a study once to see if the stock markets could be affected by psi forces. If they can, I'd guess most people are willing them upwards right now. Research has shown that stock markets are driven by emotions and can over-react to news. This can lead to wild swings of the kind we're seeing now. Certainly, the traditional idea that people make rational decisions to buy and sell stocks, based on available public information, is being severely challenged.

Some traders ignore news altogether and simply look at the patterns of ups and downs in stock market graphs. Recurring patterns give them 'signals' to buy and sell. For instance, at the moment they will be looking a 'double bottom' to make sure we have reached the absolute end of the current fall in prices. If the market dips again but NOT below the lowest prices last week, it will form a double bottom. After that we can expect the start of a bull run (according to their theories). I, for one, would welcome that. (NB: This is NOT to be construed in any way as financial advice!)

10 October 2008: Locked out of the website!

AutumnHere's an irony. While everyone else seems to be getting onto the ASSAP website on its new host without any problems, I couldn't get onto it at all! Not only couldn't I update it, I couldn't even see it! Even now, I'm only able to get on with a (slow) technical workaround. I'm still trying to fix the main problem but this will have to do for now.

So, I haven't even had time to worry about the credit crunch, which seems to bring changes to the familiar landscape of our lives daily, even hourly. Apparently 'solid' banks and institutions that have been around for years, decades even, suddenly need propping up. We are in a time of major change and who knows what things will be like this time next year.

I speculated the other day (see below) about how this would affect interest in the paranormal. I wasn't able to reach a conclusion but I suspect things are more predictable for witness reports and sightings of paranormal events. I predict that these will increase over the next few months. When people are anxious they are more susceptible to misperception. The autumn photo above is meant to be calming during these trying times. At least nature carries on the same.

One of the advantages of the new website host (besides me being locked out of it!) is I can get stats on hits. I only have a couple of days of stats so far but the results are interesting already. We are currently logging around 8000 hits a day (not including web crawlers), which is pretty amazing! Of course, it is a very small sample and October is always a good month for paranormal website hits. Also, 'hits' is always a bigger number than 'pages downloaded', which is a fairer representation of website popularity, but it is the unit used by other websites so it is useful for comparison purposes.

8 Oct 2008: Moved!

As I watch my savings and pension disappear into the black hole known as the credit crunch, at least I don't have time to worry. Yesterday we moved ASSAP's website host and that certainly kept me busy. Visitors shouldn't notice any difference - at least that's the idea. I am well aware that there are a few temporary problems with missing links, here and there, but I am working on them right now. If you see anything wrong, please do email here to tell me.

It is interesting to speculate whether interest in the paranormal will wax or wane in these testing times. If there isn't much money around, maybe people will become more interested in hobbies to take their mind off their woes. Or maybe they will have no time for hobbies, being too busy with DIY in an attempt to keep the bills down. It could go either way. We will just have to wait and see.

The BBC is doing a new tale on Arthurian legend with their Merlin TV series. It's refreshing to not have any inkling of what will happen next, even though the characters and situations are so familiar to many of us. I'm still waiting for Arthur to say: "One distant day Merlin, when we are all slumbering deep in a hill, an organisation called ASSAP will arise in Albion and it will name its research project after you."

6 Oct 2008: Site moving host!

The ASSAP website is shortly due to move host (see here for info on what this is about). What this means is that there will be a short time when the website is temporarily unavailable. Unfortunately, for technical reasons we cannot just carry on without a gap in service. Obviously, I will try to keep this time as short as possible - hours rather than days, I hope!

So, if you come to the website over the next few days and find it gone, don't panic. Just imagine me desperately getting stuff reloaded as soon as possible and you'll have a good idea of what's going on behind the scenes. I'll just have to forego taking photos of orbs, UFOs and rods for a while.

3 Oct 2008: Human subject tests haunted bed

Regular readers will doubtless be familiar with the MADS project which is looking for magnetic fields similar to those that have produced ghostly hallucinations in the laboratory. In recent research, a human subject has been used to produce EIF (experience inducing fields) simply by lying on the bed and tossing and turning a bit, to simulate a disturbed night's sleep.

The 'haunted bed' in the Tapestry Room at Muncaster Castle, where many striking haunting experiences have been witnessed, has a flexible iron mesh mattress support. It distorts the ambient magnetic field. If someone lies on the bed they move the mesh with their weight, changing the field. On a disturbed night, changes in the field may act as an EIF. The latest experiments demonstrate this.

Further reading (new page): Haunted bed 2!

1 Oct 2008: Bee caught in the act

Bee rodOctober is the month when more people than usual take an interest in the paranormal, in general, and ghosts, in particular. It is, of course, all about Halloween which seems to become a bigger festival every year.

Oddly there is, contrary to popular expectation, no evidence for more ghosts being around at Halloween than any other time of year (though are certainly more people looking for them on all sorts of commercial and charity events). It is a time when the cultural element of ghost lore reaches a maximum leaving real life cases to take a back seat. I suppose, as ghost researchers, we shouldn't complain because it does bring a lot of media interest to our subject.

Orbs behind leavesThe media have always taken either a 'skeptical' or 'believing' angle (or sometimes even both) to paranormal stories. Whereas, in the early years of ASSAP the skeptical angle seemed to be in ascendancy, nowadays it seems to be opposite. It is probably the effect of the reality ghost hunting TV shows which have changed ghost research radically in recent years (particularly encouraging assumption-led investigation).

Nowadays, we no longer need to rely on the media to get through to the public. The internet allows people direct access to information about paranormal investigation. This is good and bad. As is often pointed out, it is difficult for web surfers to know what is reliable information and what is not. Nevertheless, all paranormal websites get higher numbers of hits this time of year which has to be good for the subject.

And what has this to do with the bee photo above? Nothing, really. It is a bee caught in the act of flapping a wing and so producing a translucent shape which strongly resembles the 'membrane' type 'appendage' on flying rods. If you keep taking photos of insects, as I do, eventually you get lucky!

PS: The lower photo? See September's blog ...

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© Maurice Townsend 2008