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) 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 ...

31 October 2009: Happy Samhain!

Spooky orbThe name Halloween (eve of all hallows) is about the only Christianised aspect of this ancient celebration of the end of summer. Despite that, it is celebrated more every year, particularly in the US.

It is, nowadays, associated with ghosts, witches, ghouls and all manner of weird beasties. Contrary to popular perception, there are no more reports of spooky things today than any other day. Indeed, with so many people going round in fancy dress, most witnesses are likely to assume that anything weird they see today is just a normal human being! One wonders what interesting stuff gets missed this way!

The photo, chosen to look suitably spooky for today, contains a rare multicolored orb. The 'orb' in question is actually lens flare rather than being caused by flash. If you look carefully you can see the rainbow colours within it.

So what do paranormal researchers do on Samhain? In most cases probably go to a party and enjoy the fun like every one else. Even serious paranormal researchers deserve a night off.

31 October 2009: Haunted bed in New Scientist

In this week's New Scientist (31 Oct) there is a feature article about the research into the Muncaster Castle's 'haunted bed'. ASSAP, of course, helped with funding this project. It is good to see coverage in a popular, well-known magazine like this. It's just a shame that ASSAP and MADS don't get mentioned.

30 October 2009: We see scenes as individual objects - including ghosts!

It's nearly Halloween, are you getting excited yet? Last week's New Scientist, which continues to provide useful material for paranormal research, had an article about how our brains process the concept of time. Apparently we sense perceptual changes not continuously but in frames, like a movie film.

The most interesting bit, from my point of view, however, was how we handle objects in a visual scene. Although the 'picture in our heads' looks like a continuous scene, like a still photograph, that's not how our brains process it. Research has shown that each object in the 'picture in our head' is dealt with separately. This applies even when two objects overlap.

Thus, if a badly-seen object is replaced by one from your visual memory, it is 'inserted' into a real scene naturalistically. It might even be partially obscured by another, real object. So when someone misperceives an object as a ghost, it would appear perfectly natural, within the scene. It's another reason why misperceived objects can be so convincing as ghosts and other anomalies.

28 October 2009: Striking light anomaly

Blue light anomalyI took this photo (right) recently in the oddly mild autumn weather. There is a large bright blue 'orb', so striking it appears like a real object. It resembles a translucent balloon, hanging lazily over water (there was no real object present). Behind it there is a second overlapping 'orb' darker but less distinct.

They are not daylight orbs but lens flare. The sun is low and shining strongly towards the camera. In such lighting conditions, lens flare is quite common. Other lens flare photos taken at the same time showed green 'orbs', coloured 'rays' and even 'orbs' with several different component colours. These resemble some photos of night-time orbs suggesting another possible explanation for such weird coloration.

There is so much research that could usefully be done on such topics but, sadly, most people interested enough to examine orbs are fixated by paranormal explanations. They are not, therefore, aware of what can occur naturally. Anything particularly extraordinary or striking is simply assumed to be paranormal because 'how could it possibly happen by natural causes'?

27 October 2009: Seeing David Beckham!

I saw David Beckham in a shopping mall today! On a second, longer look after my initial quick glance, it wasn't David at all, unsurprisingly. It didn't even look that much like him when I looked properly. It was obviously a misperception.

It is interesting because my misperceptions are usually not anyone recognisable! So it seems you CAN misperceive actual individuals. It could explain how some people apparently recognise ghosts or rare occasions. Most ghosts are not recognised by witnesses at the time of the sighting.

23 October 2009: Weird flying object

Weird object in treesIn the photo (right) of trees there is a strange translucent orange object. To call it a UFO would be going too far as we can't even tell if it is flying. It is clearly not an orb as it is not even remotely circular.

So what is it? The photo was taken recently and the time of year should be a clue if you haven't guessed already. It is a falling leaf! It is, of course, out of focus (being much closer to the camera than the trees) which is why it is hard to make out.

This photo was taken deliberately but falling leaves do sometimes appear, unintentionally, in general photos. Even when they are in focus they can appear a bit mysterious.

Even if the odds of a falling leaf appearing in a photo are long, they are not zero. So it must happen to a few people all the time, particularly in autumn. Note that no flash was used in this photo. The leaf is illuminated purely by the sunshine.

22 October 2009: Triangular UFO

Triangular UFOs are almost as commonly reported these days as the traditional saucer shaped variety. I was reminded of this when I saw a strange moving triangular light in the night sky the other day. Just for a second or two I was puzzled as to what it might be. Then it emerged from low cloud to reveal itself as a low flying plane (I was near an airport). The triangle was produced by a white headlight at the front of the plane. Interestingly, I only saw the coloured flashing lights that usually make a plane obvious once it was out of the clouds. Until that point it looked truly weird!

I doubt this explanation fits many of the reports of triangular UFOs. However, as my first strange triangle in the sky I still felt strangely privileged. I had not realised that low cloud could make a plane look so mysterious at night.

21 October 2009: Are ghosts and hauntings completely different phenomena?

Following on from yesterday's musings, there is an interesting, if shocking, possible consequence of the observation that ghost sightings in haunting cases have dropped dramatically in the last decade. It might be that ghosts and hauntings are completely different phenomena with different causes!

Even I balked at that conclusion but it was there staring me in the face! For a start, many ghosts are seen with no accompanying hauntings. Secondly, the huge recent drop in ghost sightings WITHIN hauntings suggests that the two may not be causally related. As I said yesterday, when someone gets haunting phenomena they may assume a ghost is responsible and so see one (through psychological suggestion). Now that the TV ghost shows have shown how rare apparitions are on vigils, this may have produced a cultural change whereby people no longer expect to see ghosts.

There is certainly no clear evidence that ghosts cause haunting phenomena. And now, it appears, there is no clear evidence that hauntings cause ghosts! Of course, many people will say that simply because a ghost is not visible, it doesn't mean it isn't there. But there is simply no evidence to support that idea and several bits (like the fact that ghosts are not seen causing haunting activity or the existence of hot spots) against it.

If we look just at xenonormal cases, it is clear that hauntings and ghosts can be entirely separate. A haunting may be caused by the New House Effect, where a new occupier of a dwelling (or someone on a their first vigil there) simply isn't used to the natural noises in a building and interprets them as paranormal. Ghost sightings, on the other hand, could be caused by misperception or hallucination. So, in terms on natural causes, it is entirely possible that hauntings and ghosts have quite different causes. Given that most paranormal cases have xenonormal causes, this would fit well with the available evidence. Whether such a distinction might apply in genuinely paranormal cases, it is impossible to say.

Oddly, this leaves us in the unlikely situation of having to thank the TV ghost hunting shows for, albeit inadvertently, producing a valuable piece of evidence!

20 October 2009: Are ghosts a rare symptom of hauntings?

Since ASSAP was formed, sightings of ghosts associated with hauntings appear to have declined. In a survey for Haunted Swindon, it was found that very few cases in the last 10 years involved apparitions while in older ones they were far more common. Earlier surveys also found ghosts to be common in hauntings but by no means universal.

It is usually assumed that ghosts cause hauntings. However, ghosts are not observed causing the other symptoms of hauntings, such as making noises or moving objects. And given the recent trend towards ghost-less hauntings, it looks increasingly unlikely that such a causal relationship exists. So what IS the connection between ghosts and hauntings?

One possibility is that haunting-type activity may alert witnesses to the possibility of on-going paranormal activity. In many cases this may, in fact, be the New House Effect. Either way, once the possibility of a haunting has been raised, it will inevitably generate psychological suggestion. Thus, any further unexplained events, whether naturally caused or otherwise, are likely to be attributed to the haunting and, most importantly, to the 'ghost', even if no apparition has been seen!

Thus it should come as no great surprise that in at least some cases, unexplained figures will be seen and reported as ghosts. In many cases these will be caused by misperception, encouraged by psychological suggestion. Effectively, the witnesses become sensitised to the idea of a ghost being present and so, in some cases 'see' one! Under this scenario, ghosts are not only not responsible for the haunting phenomena but may not even be part of it, their appearance being triggered purely by expectation.

If there are few ghosts associated with hauntings these days, there are still plenty reported in one-off incidents. A witness will notice a figure while out walking, only for them to disappear if they glance away momentarily. Or they may see 'someone' in their peripheral vision who vanishes when stared at directly. Regular readers will recognise these are instances of misperception.

So why are there fewer ghosts associated with hauntings recently? It is probably because of the expectations generated by the TV ghost hunting shows. Apparitions have never been common on vigils, including on the TV shows. Thus, the public perception of hauntings may have been changed. Instead of expecting ghosts, the public probably now thinks of strange noises and apparent object movement, as seen on TV, to be what hauntings are about. Oddly enough, this is probably nearer to what hauntings have always really been about, the connection with apparitions being probably just a tradition.

In summary, ghosts are still regularly reported but mostly as one-off events. Ghosts within hauntings are now rare and may only appear because they are expected, rather than being intrinsic to haunting phenomena.

19 October 2009: How did we end up here?

I looked at my copy of Andrew MacKenzie's 'Haunting and Apparitions' recently. It is a classic account of the state of ghost research in 1982, one century after the foundation of the SPR (when ASSAP was just one year old). It still reads well today, thoroughly modern and well researched, though sadly long out of print.

It was obvious by 1982 that the question 'do ghosts exist?' had been finally answered affirmatively. Far too many people had experienced them for there to be any question on the matter. The new, somewhat unexpected, question was 'what are ghosts?' or perhaps 'why do people experience ghosts?'. This was because the traditional idea of ghosts as 'spirits' was not obviously supported by the evidence.

It had become obvious that ghosts sightings had many different explanations. Hallucination and misperception were already widely suspected of causing some sightings though it was not then realised just how frequently healthy people hallucinate or how compellingly realistic misperceptions could appear. The number of cases where 'spirit' was the most likely explanation was becoming vanishingly small. Spirits might, or might not, exist but it was obvious that ghost research was not a promising place to look for evidence of them.

In the years after that book was published, the world of ghost research changed utterly. Nowadays, the 'spirit' theory of ghosts is all-pervasive, despite the fact that, if anything, the evidence in favour of it has diminished even further in the intervening years. For instance, the recently-noted existence of haunting hot spots makes no sense in any theory that 'spirits' are ghosts.

So why did ghost research take such a strange lurch away from promising modern ideas back to those broadly based on legend and folklore? The obvious reason is the widespread use of assumption-led investigation methods. These, in turn, where probably prompted by very 'traditional' coverage of the subject in the media.

Can we get ghost research back on track? While the 'spirit' theory is fashionable now, and probably always will be with the media and public, it may well drop out of favour with the ghost research community. After all, the current 'spirit' theories are not really leading anywhere and, unsurprisingly, have not produced any new information. One day people will become hungry for real answers again.

16 October 2009: That time of year ...

Daylight orbOctober is the month, more than any other, when it feels like paranormal research is part of the entertainment industry. All the ghost hunting shows, newspaper coverage and Halloween parties, getting ever more elaborate, can get a bit much. Most paranormal researchers try to ignore it but it isn't easy. People are amazed when they hear you are going to do NOTHING on Halloween! If just one or two of the many people who become interested by all the publicity take up serious research, I guess it will be worth it.

The photo (right) is a daylight orb I recently snapped. It was caused by hoverfly. Unlike previous hoverflies, that I've been able to get in focus, this one remained resolutely out of focus. This meant that it became a rare daytime orb, requiring no flash. The yellow colour comes from the sun which was the source of illumination. Had I used a flash the colour would have been a more conventional white. Oddly, there does not seem to be much interest among the few remaining orb enthusiasts in daylight orbs. That may be because more of them are really lens flare!

15 October 2009: Near sleep experiences - a huge source of paranormal reports!

Misperception may well be the biggest source of paranormal reports but near sleep experiences (NSEs) must run it a close second. So many anomalous accounts start with 'I was lying in bed, completely awake, when ...' or 'I was awoken by something and saw ...'. In all such cases, it is difficult to eliminate near sleep experiences, like hypnagogia or sleep paralysis, as possible causes. Indeed, they account for the reported experiences so well that it would require exceptional circumstances, such as multiple witnesses or physical evidence to satisfactorily eliminate them.

As recent science has demonstrated, there are so many connections between these various types of experience, both in effect and cause, that it is justified to lump them together. This is why I'm calling them near sleep experiences, which mirrors NDEs. Indeed, some scientists believe NDEs are related to OOBEs as well as sleep paralysis. It is beginning to look as though they may all be closely related to each other.

I've written a new article on NSEs to update Paul Chambers' excellent 1999 one. A lot has happened in the last 10 years as the pace of neuroscience is fantastic at the moment, to the huge benefit of paranormal research.

Not all near sleep experiences involve someone lying in bed. It is possible for people to sleep in many places and paranormal researchers should consider this possibility when interviewing witnesses. Sleep deprivation (which might occur on a vigil) can cause microsleep events, when people become inattentive and unresponsive for a few seconds up to several minutes. It is common for people suffering microsleep episodes to not notice them. They may see events 'jumping ahead', as if going through mini time slip episodes. This, on its own, could produce paranormal reports. Imagine if an object is moved, perfectly normally, while someone has a microsleep. The experiencer would see the object jump to another place for no good reason, perhaps appearing as a poltergeist event.

Doing monotonous tasks can also trigger microsleeps. Often the experiencer's eyes don't close so someone watching them might not notice the episode. A few people can even dream during a microsleep generating some distinctly weird temporary 'changes in reality'.

Many witnesses defend their near sleep experiences, convinced they are paranormal mainly because of their content. However, just because a NSE features a 'ghost' or 'alien', it is no less likely to be hypnagogia than if it featured an ironing board. Essentially, dream content is being superimposed on real pictures from the experiencer's senses to produce bizarre images. Any paranormal content may derive from cultural influences.

14 October 2009: Are psychics good at recognising patterns?

Looking at the photo of the 'woman in grey' (see 12 October, below), I was tempted to draw an outline of the figure I saw on top of the photo. That reminded me of the many photos you see where people add outlines to photos to show where they can see a paranormal face or figure, often not obvious to others.

It then occurred to me, maybe psychics (or those who believe they are psychic) are particularly good at recognising patterns. While recognising patterns is a great human skill, important in learning, it can go too far. Sometimes people see patterns when none exist, like the 'faces' or 'figures' in photos mentioned above. That would probably also make them particularly good at misperception! That, in turn, would explain how many psychics report seeing ghosts far more frequently than the rest of us.

This is another personal trait that someone who thinks they are psychic, while having no actual paranormal ability, might have. There are a number of such traits which, if someone had several, could easily make them believe they were psychic. The only real way to find out if someone is truly psychic is an an objective test of paranormal ability which few psychics ever bother with. Here is a list of some of the personal traits that might give someone the idea they are psychic:

  • good at latent memory or cryptomnesia
  • have good unconscious insight
  • are a super recogniser
  • believe in the paranormal
  • often get random thoughts 'as if from nowhere'
  • are good at recognising patterns
  • good at unconscious cold reading
  • have had one or more striking weird experiences
  • have synaesthesia, temporal lobe epilepsy

For more information on these, see 'Am I Psychic'?

It is possible to test for such things as pattern recognition and latent memory abilities as well as other things in the list. It would be interesting to see if psychics scored highly on several of these traits.

12 October 2009: Sound or vision but not both and the Woman in Grey!

Misperceived 'woman'In space, famously, no one can hear you scream. This doesn't stop the roar of giant spaceships being clearly heard in science fiction movies. It also seems to be a media convention that ghosts talk. The reality is oddly different. Weird sounds are certainly heard in haunting cases and attributed to ghosts. However, when apparitions actually appear they are virtually always silent.

More generally, most visual anomalies, like UFOs, ghosts and so on, are perfectly quiet. Indeed, the silence of UFOs is often taken as showing how they cannot be simple terrestrial objects like planes. It seems that, in most cases, you can either have noises or visuals but not the two together.

This strange oddity fits well with misperception. It is unusual to misperceive both sound and a visual scene at the same time. It doesn't fit so well with the idea of a ghost as a 'spirit'. If ghosts are really responsible for hauntings then why are they never seen creating the noises that are the commonest features of such phenomena? It is another oddity that paranormal theories do not address because most paranormal researchers haven't even noticed it.

In the photo, taken recently, is the scene that caused me to misperceive a woman in a grey coat leaning over, as if examining something on the ground. The photo was taken seconds after the misperception was seen, in the exact position from where it was observed.

I caught sight of the 'woman' in my peripheral vision. I completely accepted it was a woman at the time as there was a path nearby and no reason why someone should not be present there. When I turned to see more clearly, all I saw was a tree stump and some reeds (as in the photo). It didn't look that much like a person! A quick search showed there was no one present. As with other visual misperceptions, I heard nothing to indicate the presence of anyone or anything moving around. It was a strikingly realistic misperception and it is easy to see how others would have labeled it a ghost.

This is only the second time I've had the opportunity to photograph what I misperceived AT THE TIME and this was a much more striking example than the previous one. I've gone back to the site of previous misperceptions but, inevitably, it was difficult to locate the exact position where I stood originally and the light was different. As in the only previous example, a tree stump was involved!

Even at the time I saw the figure on this occasion, it was obvious after the misperception 'broke' that the tree stump did not really resemble a human figure that much. This demonstrates both the extraordinary power of misperception and why people who were not there find it easy to dismiss such things as an important cause of ghost sightings.

The figure of the woman was not just the tree stump but was taller, probably continued by the nearby reed. In peripheral vision, objects can appear to meld together because resolution is nothing like as good as central vision. The stump and reed combined to give the impression of a figure leaning over. Why I had an instant and strong impression that it was a woman I don't know. Possibly the tree stump suggested a long dress.

If the figure had consisted only of the tree stump, the misperception would probably have been of a child. That's because the reeds behind the stump, though tall, would not have towered over an adult at that distance from the witness.

This photo has produced a rare opportunity to see exactly how our brains construct misperceptions from everyday objects. It is not as simple as something, like a statue, that obviously resembles a human figure.

9 October 2009: Near sleep experiences

This week's New Scientist (10 Oct) has some articles of great interest to paranormal researchers, including one on hypnosis. In an article about the many states where sleep and wakefulness intermingle to produce strange experiences, like hypnogogia and sleep paralysis, one scientist also lists NDEs and alien abductions! He points out that most of the latter happen when people are lying down!

Sleep-deprived people are particularly prone to these weird near sleep experiences (NSEs), where dreams can spill over into consciousness. It is even possible that some parts of our brains may go to sleep while others are still awake leading to daydreaming, forgetfulness and even strange behaviour. Many strange experiences happen to people in bed and most are probably due to near sleep experiences. It makes sense, in paranormal research terms, to group all these phenomena together as NSEs because they al involve some being near to sleep and all can give rise to hallucinations which are commonly reported as paranormal.

There is also an article on out of the body experiences (OOBEs). Oddly enough, it turns out that there is a part of our brains, the temporoparietal junction, which is dedicated to sensing where our body is and its spatial limits - where we end and the rest of the world begins. If this goes wrong for any reason, we can feel ourselves floating outside of our physical bodies!

9 October 2009: Hanging around psychics

Hanging around psychic, as I have done, can be a revealing experience. Small sounds, previously unnoticed, suddenly become obvious. They are interpreted by psychics as the presence of 'spirits' though, to me, they sound more like the natural creaks that any building has, especially one with central heating. In the dark, psychics may report seeing lights that I can't see, even when told which way to look.

Most of us go through our lives hardly noticing what is going on around us. We walk along a street not seeing the tin can rolling along the road, blown by the wind, or the fox sneaking away at our approach. We don't see the tree branches blowing in the wind or the small birds flitting about in them. We don't notice these things because they are not relevant to our lives at that moment.

To psychics, 'spirits' show their presence through many small things that the rest of us do not notice. Psychics are sensitised, by belief or prior experience, to notice these things. This process of sensitisation, which may come about through a striking personal anomalous experience, may be key to understanding why some people think they are psychic when they are not. That they notice what others do not, reinforces their idea that they are special.

The way we can tell who is truly psychic is not by listening to their reported experiences but by objectively testing for extra-sensory abilities. I suspect there are many people who believe they are psychic, because of personal experience, who would not pass such tests of paranormal ability.

8 October 2009: The internet has not solved the paranormal!

Following on yesterday's theme of what effect the internet has had on paranormal research, I've been looking at various relevant websites. My idea is that since the internet has allowed people to swap ideas and information easily, someone, somewhere should be getting close to solving the puzzles of the paranormal by now.

What I found was not encouraging. A lot of information is duplicated, some of it simply copied for other places. There are lots of theories out there but not much research evidence to support or test them. Many of the ideas seem to date back to well before the internet, suggesting that surprisingly little has changed recently. There is lots of 'what they say' material about without any research evidence to back it up.

What is particularly interesting, however, is what is NOT there. Some organisations have been around for many years now and yet their research doesn't seem to have moved them on from their position when they were first formed. Some highly significant aspects of hauntings, such as their apparent purposeless nature, hot spots, the new house effect , and so on on, are not even mentioned.

The most obvious explanation for this depressing lack of progress is probably the widespread use of assumption-led investigation methods. Such methods just tend to 'confirm' prior assumptions, in a 'circular logic' way, without challenging or testing them. Thus much 'research' appears to be no more than 'ghost hunting' for its own sake, with little or no new information gained. Why is the existence of hot spots, for instance, ignored when it is so obvious, not only from ASSAP's research but from reading the case files of innumerable investigations on the web? Perhaps it is because they do not fit in with any prior assumptions!

7 October 2009: Has the internet helped paranormal research?

I was prompted by something I heard on the radio recently to ask this question. You could easily write a book on this subject so I'm just going to give my quick opinion here.

On the up side, it is now easy to obtain vast amounts of information about the paranormal. Organisations like ASSAP, that try to give out neutral, scientific information on the subject, can now reach more people than was ever possible before.

On the down side, it is difficult to arrange for participants to attend a vigil at a place where they have no idea of its paranormal history, leaving open the possibility of psychological suggestion. More seriously, the polarisation between believers and skeptics, has become worse. It is easy to find dozens of people and websites to back up your prior beliefs within minutes. Ghettos have sprung up around websites where challenging alternative ideas are hardly ever seen or are derided in forums.

Overall, the effect of the internet has probably been negative for paranormal research, which has taken several steps backwards in the last decades to things like assumption-led investigations. But the advantages of the internet overall far outweigh any disadvantages. So we must try to use the strengths of the internet to 'spread the word' about serious paranormal research.

6 October 2009: Reproducible ghosts?

As promised (2 Oct), I'll now discuss situations where misperceived ghosts might potentially be easily reproduced. This concerns ghosts seen indoors at night, where the illumination is easily and precisely controllable. So, if someone sees a ghost in a room under certain controlled lighting conditions, why wouldn't they continue to see it indefinitely? And could it not be easily reproduced with the same lights switched on?

The first point to make is the misperception state is fragile. Witness movement, or even looking away briefly, can break the state easily. Indeed, once broken, the misperception may never be seen again by that witness, even if they stand in the exact same position again. Once our brains correctly recognise what they are seeing, they are unlikely to be deceived again.

Having said that, the ease with which the lighting conditions can be recreated might mean that other people might see the 'ghost' sometimes. So, it might be easier to reproduce a misperception indoors rather than outside. However, you may need a new 'witness', ideally someone who does not know what to expect, to try it out.

5 October 2009: What THEY say!

I know I will get accused of inventing new terms in a field already flooded with them but we really do need one. A word is needed to separate out 'what they say' from actual evidence!

I suggested in the article about recording ghosts that there was a striking contrast between 'classic cases' (which seem to be rooted in legend and ghost stories) and 'modern ones' (properly investigated recently). For instance, the clanking chains and identifiable apparitions of classic cases are absent in their modern counterpart. But there is a second striking contrast concerning such cases when comparing what 'they' say about what ghosts do with actual evidence. For instance, 'they' maintain that ghosts emit a magnetic field though there seems to be no actual evidence that anyone can quote supporting this idea. Yet it is still widely stated!

It is likely that the two things are closely linked. It is probable that many of the 'facts' that 'they' know are actually derived from 'classic' cases which in turn are derived from legend, ghost stories, rumour and speculation. I would advise all paranormal researchers to ask, whenever someone tells you what 'they' say ghosts do, to ask who 'they' are and where 'their' evidence is. In many cases, I fear, you will find that 'they' and their 'evidence' is nebulous or simply non-existent.

So, we need a new word to describe these 'facts' which come from dubious sources. The best I can come up with is WTS - what they say! If anyone can come up with a catchy word instead of this acronym, please let me know. I think we, as paranormal researchers, need to ruthlessly root out this WTS stuff once and for all. We cannot hope to do scientific research when so many 'facts' are little more than speculation or rumour.

I had a perfect example of latent memory (or cryptomnesia) this morning. I was flicking through the channels on the TV (yes I do have better things to do but I was just checking something!) when I happened on a quiz. Naturally, like most people, I felt I was bound to be better than the contestants, so I tried answering a few questions. It turns out that I WAS better than the contestants! I didn't even have to wait for the multiple choices to get the correct answer!

I've no idea how I knew these obscure facts. Am I clever? Or am I psychic? Neither of these, I fear. I simply know stuff I never knew I knew (as Donald Rumsfeld never quite said). The questions acted as cues to unlock latent memories I didn't even realise I had. It is easy to see how anyone particularly good at this trick might easily think they are psychic.

2 October 2009: Why are ghosts so rare?

Yesterday I pointed out that many cases where paranormal reports were caused by misperception involved patterns of light and shadow (rather than misperceived objects). But if this is true, shouldn't ghosts be seen more frequently than they are? After all, the right lighting conditions must pop up fairly frequently.

Firstly, a misperception may require the witness to be in the right place at the right time. Since exact lighting conditions, which depend on the angle of the sun, for any particular place are only identical once every year, sightings could be rare. This idea could even explain 'anniversary ghosts' which only appear on particular dates, though there isn't a great deal of evidence that these exist outside legend. It is possible that the conditions may be right for a particular misperception over several consecutive days but always at the same time of day.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, many people may not notice misperceptions. I didn't notice them much until I started researching them. Most of us tend to walk around not noticing much that is going on around us, particularly in familiar surroundings. Perhaps only the observant notice misperceptions. Even then, some people may see them for what they are - a pattern of light and shadow. Only a small number may see them as a human figure.

If you put these factors together, right time and place and right person, it would explain why ghosts are only rarely seen. There is ONE set of circumstances where such ghosts ought to be seen regularly but I'll explore that idea another time.

This month's (September) website figures are an average of 11080 hits per day - a big jump up from last month's 9675 and an all-time record! It is normal for hits to rise at this time of the year as we approach Halloween! Still a gratifying trend though!

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© Maurice Townsend 2009