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!

31 October 2011: Could I be psychic?

Nettles and orbsAm I psychic? While a seemingly suitable subject for Samhain it is, perhaps, a little self indulgent. In my defence, I'd say it could prompt other people to think along similar lines, which could be helpful to them.

The question was prompted by a bizarre misperception I had the other day. I thought I saw a couple walking down the road, one with their head on the other's shoulder. I should explain, in mitigation, I could only see the head and shoulders of this couple from my vantage point! It was, in fact, just one person wearing a particularly ruffled scarf! I knew there was something not right about the 'couple' straight away because 'they' were not walking in a way that suggested one person leaning on another. It was such an unlikely misperception that it made me wonder - could I really be psychic? Could I be seeing things that others cannot?

I think it is a worthwhile exercise for everyone to test their own long-held assumptions and beliefs from time to time. Otherwise, there is a danger that they might be missing something interesting and important about life! So I decided to examine whether I might be psychic, despite always having believed I was not. Some of my recent experiences certainly have something in common with accounts I've heard from psychics.

Anyway, here is the case for me being psychic:

  • I see ghosts (and other things that are not physically present) from time to time

That's pretty much it, really. Having said that, I think if someone sees one or two ghosts in their lifetime that doesn't make them psychic. But seeing one every few months, in completely different locations, means they could be, and that applies to me. But here is the case against me being psychic:

  • I only started seeing ghosts recently, after I learnt that misperception is part of normal perception, despite decades of active ghost research
  • in all cases where I've seen a ghost I've positively identified it as a misperception, through investigation at the time
  • I don't show any apparent psychic abilities (such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance etc)
  • I don't score well in psychic tests

As a result, it comes down decisively against me being psychic! No surprise there, then, but it raises the question of, how come I now regularly misperceive when I never used to? And why don't other people misperceive as much as me?

It is important to understand that everyone misperceives all the time. However, not many people actually NOTICE these misperceptions, including me until recently. I know other people DO notice these misperceptions sometimes because (a) I've heard first-hand accounts from others of everyday incidents which were undoubtedly misperception and (b) I've observed other people actually experiencing them, mostly on ghost vigils. In both cases, as with me until recently, these misperceptions were not recognised by their witness for what they were. They were either seen as paranormal activity, 'just one of those things' or simply ignored!

That people see, but simply ignore, misperceptions is truly weird! Someone might see an object (a misperception) which then rapidly 'turns into' another (the real misperceived object) and yet only remember the final object. If prompted, they might recall the earlier object (the misperception) and find it odd that they forgot it! It was as if their brain told them to take no notice of it, like someone obeying a post-hypnotic suggestion.

So, when I started noticing misperception it was as though I had somehow given myself psychological 'permission' to notice these things, after I understood they were part of normal perception. Maybe someone who thinks they are psychic gives themselves psychological 'permission' to notice misperceptions, perhaps through strong prior belief in the paranormal. In both cases, seeing something that is not physically there becomes psychologically acceptable to the witness. A good reason to examine one's beliefs from time to time! Happy Samhain!

PS: I wonder if the failure to notice misperception is a form of inattentional blindness or change blindness. Take an example of tree that is misperceived as a human figure. Either the witness only sees the 'figure' unconsciously but then notices the tree. Or they only see both unconsciously (in other words, they never notice the object at all). The first would be change blindness - you really ought to notice a person becoming a tree! The second would be inattentional blindness - the witness simply never notices the tree at all. So why do some people tend to notice misperceptions? That may be a question of meaning. You can hear someone mention your name across a crowded room full of people talking even though, overall, all you hear is a buzz of chatter (the Cocktail Party Effect). It's because your name has meaning to you. So, maybe people notice misperceptions when have significance or meaning to them. So walking along a dark, spooky lane at night will mean you may be hyper-vigilant to any possible human figures around, for obvious reasons, and so be prone to notice misperceptions. Being a paranormal believer may also predispose witnesses to misperceiving objects as human - or ghostly - figures. As I've mentioned before regarding misperception, in my experience you tend to misperceive either what you want to see or fear to see!

28 October 2011: Smartphone users - I need your help!

It seems a shame that smartphones may turn out to be of limited use in obtaining paranormal photos. But that could happen if we don't sort out these photos of 'ghosts' which are actually produced by certain apps! Such 'ghost' photos are now circulating widely, causing problems for people who analyse such shots. Although it's true that, as with most manipulated photos, the 'ghosts' look 'too good to be true', that's hardly a reliable test, being just a matter of opinion. Indeed, just because, out of the hundreds of paranormal photos I've examined so far, I've never seen one with a perfectly sharp, well-exposed obvious ghost, it doesn't mean they don't exist. So the 'too good to be true' test may yet fail!

Sadly, at the moment the situation has reached the point where every paranormal photo taken with a smartphone, that ISN'T an obvious photographic artefact, is being treated with suspicion. This is a waste as the latest smartphones can produce high quality photos and video and they have the great advantage of always being on hand when something unexpected happens.

So the question is - is there an easy, consistent way to determine whether a photo from a smartphone was manipulated by an app? There are some hints about how this might be possible - see here for instance - but much more information is needed. So I'm asking smartphone users for help. If you have one of these apps that modifies photos on your phone to include a 'ghost', could you please email me (here) a version of a photo before and after the app has added the 'ghost'? Hopefully, from a number of examples, it will help in producing a reliable way to spot these 'ghost' photos. And maybe smartphones can help in the ongoing search for real paranormal photos.

27 October 2011: What will you be doing on Monday?

I am often asked what I will be doing for Samhain. Though many people assume that paranormal researchers must be particularly busy at this time of year, it is not generally so. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that paranormal phenomena occur more frequently at this time of year.

Given that Samhain is now Britain's third biggest annual festival, there isn't much in it for adults. I suppose you could dress up as a ghost and go to a party but fancy dress is hardly unique to Samhain. Or you could hollow out a pumpkin and put a candle in it but that just causes a recycling nightmare. Or you could buy a ghoulish cake or some scary sweets, perhaps. Or maybe watch back to back horror movies all evening.

One increasingly popular pursuit for Samhain is to go on a ghost walk or attend a ghost vigil. I'm afraid I have problems with both of these. The stories on ghost walks can be entertaining enough but they are usually told the wrong way round. And ghost vigils are almost inevitably held in the dark! I won't bore you with yet another rant on how misleading these can be. For people who've never been on a vigil before, these events can give them some decidedly odd ideas concerning serious paranormal research.

So, it looks like it will be ghoulish cakes and scary sweets for me!

26 October 2011: Reflect before a dark vigil

Reflected treeIf you're going on a dark ghost vigil in the coming days, it being 'that time of year', please reflect on this. There are many reasons why a dark vigil is a terrible idea, most of which have been discussed here before. But here's yet another - reflections! In many rooms you will find glass or other reflective surfaces. It could be a mirror, glass case, window, TV screen or even shiny plastic or metal objects like vases. In the dark you can't see these things and you may forget where they are. Indeed, if you move around, you might not even be sure where YOU are!

Even at night when the lights are off, it is usually never completely dark in most rooms. A curtain may allow light from a streetlight in. There might be light under a door from an adjacent lit room. There could be electric indicator lights on equipment to show that it is powered on. People may shine a torch to allow them to write notes. And so on.

All of these light sources may cause reflections from certain objects. You may be able to see any real light source reflected in the shiny object. In addition, the shiny object may reflect the light into another part of the room completely, onto a wall perhaps. In either case, it may then be interpreted as a mysterious, possibly paranormal, phenomenon because there is no known normal light source where the reflection appears. In addition, if the reflecting surface is not flat, it may distort any image it produces, so making it harder to identify the original light source.

Such 'mystery lights' are commonly reported on dark vigils. They almost always have a normal explanation and reflection is often involved. So if you must vigil in the dark, despite all the good reasons not to, take some photos of the room beforehand noting where all reflective surfaces are. Then hopefully it will help you resolve the mystery of any unexplained lights you might see in the dark.

And the photo? It's autumnal trees reflected in a moving stream showing how reflection from a non-flat surface can distort an image. I find it reminiscent me of an Impressionist painting, but that's probably just me.

25 October 2011: Spiritualism then, ghost hunting now

In a fascinating blog post, Michael Prescott draws a parallel between various public manias and early research into psychic (and particularly physical) mediumship. Popular 'manias', like the South Sea Bubble and Tulip Mania, are characterized by a sudden and increasing popularity of something, often involving money, where popular beliefs, often unfounded in reality, nevertheless become widely accepted. People who should know better often suspend their judgment and get dragged along by the craze.

Though it isn't mentioned in the post, we are in the grip of another paranormal 'mania' right now - the ghost hunting boom! I've already written extensively on the boom and its consequences (see here). It certainly shows some important characteristics of a boom, such as sudden widespread popularity and the spread of poorly supported but highly fashionable beliefs. As I've mention before, in the years prior to the boom few serious paranormal researchers thought that ghosts were spirits whereas among the 'boomers' it is pretty much a given (despite the lack of compelling evidence). And bizarre new ideas, seemingly born in the boom itself, have taken root, again despite a singular lack of evidence. An obvious one is that ghosts can supposedly be detected by EMF meters (designed to detect mains electricity) - see here for reasons why this is highly unlikely.

I won't go into detail about all of this again (look at the 'boom' link and subsequent posts). I just found it interesting that the current boom is probably not the first 'paranormal mania' in history.

PS: ASSAP affiliated group PSI is organising a ghostly week of events in Swindon - see here for details.

21 October 2011: The smell of ghosts!

The smell of old buildings reminds me of ghosts! Well, to be exact it reminds of various ghost vigils I've done down the years, most of which were in old buildings. I've no idea if ghosts smell. The only ones I've seen were to distant to smell and were, in any case, misperceptions.

Of course, not all old buildings smell the same. But many old buildings that I've visited, particularly those with extensive wood panelling, have a similar smell. It probably comes from old wood, polish and stone floors. Whatever its origin, it immediately reminds me of ghost vigils I've been on. My next thought is to wonder if the building I'm visiting might be haunted too. Scientific research has shown that smells have a strong relationship with emotion and memory so my experiences are probably quite common.

Unexplained smells are a fairly common feature of hauntings but they are very difficult to investigate. For one thing, we lack instruments to measure smells and individuals vary in their sensitivity to odour. Worse, smells are affected by air currents which move, disperse and even sometimes concentrate odours away from their source. If an unexpected smell turns up with no obvious nearby source, some people may interpret it as the arrival of a ghostly presence when there could be other reasons for its occurrence.

So, I've added a new page to the site on paranormal smells to discuss this tricky subject. As with other pages, I hope to update and add to it as new information becomes available on this surprisingly little discussed subject.

19 October 2011: Morphing UFOs

If you do a web search for 'morphing UFO' you will find that most references are very recent, this year or last. I've come across several reports of this type of UFO which all have appeared only recently. As you can guess by their name, these are UFOs which change their shape, or appear to.

Being a fairly new phenomenon, there does not seem to be much written about it, just bits here and there and several videos (if I'm wrong and there is a good review article around, please let me know). Interestingly, most of the web stuff is in the form of daylight videos. There are probably good reasons for this. Regarding daylight, many night time UFOs are just 'lights in the sky' and most appear fairly shapeless. By contrast, daylight UFOs usually have a fairly obvious shape. The fact that these morphing UFOs are mainly recorded on video is probably because changes of shape are more obvious when you play a video. Eye witnesses will probably not realise a UFO is changing shape unless it is particularly dramatic and obvious.

As with any UFO, many 'morphing' ones have fairly obvious natural explanations, one particularly relevant one here being balloons. These come in many different shapes these days (see here and here). Toy balloons, in particular, come in many strange shapes. As they rotate they can appear to change shape, when seen from a distance. If they have a reasonably reflective surface, as many balloons do, the sun can produce a strong contrasting pattern of light and shadow, increasing the apparent 'morphing' effect.

In some cases, the apparent shape change may simply come from the object going in and out of focus (see this video). Indeed, some examples of morphing UFOs are little more than a blur which could be almost anything!

So, is there really something 'going on' in the world of UFOs or is the term 'morphing' just making it appear so? Just as once upon a time, most people saw saucer shaped UFOs, then later triangles, 'morphing' objects may just the latest fad. The real nature of these aerial objects has probably changed little over the years but their interpretation certainly has. Expect to see a lot more morphing UFOs in future!

17 October 2011: Who's scared of bats?

I've felt privileged and excited on the occasions when I've been lucky enough to see bats. What I've never felt is scared. And yet, visiting local shops which are stuffed full of Samhain paraphernalia at the moment, you will find bats as well as more obviously scary items. Why? What's scary about bats?

If bats flew during daylight hours, like most birds, I'm sure we would not find them scary at all. I believe it is their nocturnal habits and relative unfamiliarity that gives them their unlikely reputation. Of course, there is the association with vampires but that is recent, since vampire bats became well-known outside South America. I suspect bats already had a scary reputation long before that.

Nowadays bats have become a major feature of Samhain celebrations. This is despite the fact that don't pose any obvious threat to human beings (aside from spreading some diseases, something which has only become known quite recently). I guess it is another example of a meme, a self-sustaining cultural idea that survives despite the lack of any evidence (like the idea that ghosts are spirits).

So when I see the huge range of Samhain products around at this of year, I think the bats should simply not be there. They are completely out of place alongside all the horror movie props that people like to buy at this time of year.

14 October 2011: Persistent misperceptions

StumpEven though I KNEW at the time there was none there, I still saw the rabbit! Indeed, if I look at the photo (below) I still see it now. So I have a lot of sympathy with people who see things in photos that others don't. For me, at least, it is an example of a persistent misperception. I have come across a few examples of these but they are rare.

The new photo, right, shows the same scene from a different angle. It is now obvious that the object I saw as a rabbit is, in fact, the stump of a tree by some water. What makes this misperception truly odd is that I KNEW the 'rabbit' was a tree stump even before I ever saw its picture. And yet it STILL looked like a rabbit to me!

I have come across one or two other cases of this. A few people have said to me that, although they knew that what they saw in a photo was not as it appeared, they could not help seeing it. There is a video that catches me out regularly (here), even though, again, I knew what it was from the start. I've also had an example of a persistent misperception outside a photo or video when I saw a bag as a child on a seat (described here). The same misperception caught me out repeatedly, even though I knew what it really was after the first time.

So, are persistent misperceptions any different to the more common short-lived ones? I think the main factor is that they simply more closely resemble what you misperceive them to be, whether in appearance or behaviour. Also, they do offer many clues to their real appearance.

In the 'rabbit' example, the reeds conceal major clues to the real shape of the stump while leaving a 'snout, 'eye', 'ears' and 'body' all apparently present. The 'child' I saw in the chair was in a position where you'd expect to see someone. The 'snow ghost' in the video looked the right size for a person at the distance it appeared to be. In short-lived examples of misperception, extended observation usually reveals the true nature of the object being seen. With persistent misperception, prolonged or repeated observation does not help.

What I really need is more examples of persistent misperception. It would also help if I misperceived such examples myself. Misperception tends to be a personal thing, as demonstrated by the 'rabbit'. Even though I primed people to see a rabbit, no one else saw it as readily or persistently as me. They saw something that resembled a rabbit but were not convinced. The position of the 'rabbit', very close to or even in water, seemed unlikely to some people. There are also plenty of examples where other people see things that I can't, no matter how hard I try. This is, no doubt, due to differences in perception (based on personal experience) between individuals.

12 October 2011: Can you see it too?

Grey rabbitI frequently examine photos where someone claims to see a face, figure or something else that isn't immediately obvious. In many cases I struggle to see what they do. I've had people give detailed descriptions of a figure, including what they are wearing and their facial expression when all I can see is a bit of out of focus background foliage!

But every now and again I, too, see something in a photograph that I just know probably isn't really there. Or is it? And try as I might to get rid of the impression it just won't go away.

So, seriously, can anyone else see a grey rabbit in this photo? To me, the animal is sitting in the reeds staring at the water. I can see its snout and eye quite clearly! I can also see its body shape. But is it just me?

Meanwhile, I was walking along a street recently and I saw some people sitting in a parked car. It was unusual because the car was part of a long line of similarly parked vehicles, all the others being unoccupied.

Then I realised that the 'people' were actually misperceptions caused by the reflection of the cloudy sky on the windscreen. So, mystery solved! Except that, as I got closer I realised there really WERE people in the car! The lesson? Not everything seen poorly is a misperception!

11 October 2011: A velvety touch in the dark!

Stumbling forward in the dark I felt a completely unexpected velvety touch brushing my naked arm! I reeled back sharply, suddenly wide awake! Whether it was a huge spider or a ghost, I knew I wasn't keen on that sinister soft touch one bit! As I reached gingerly for the light switch, I noticed a strange unfamiliar flickering orange glow coming through the curtains from somewhere outside. A little disorientated, I finally got the light on and saw what had touched my hand! It was a tissue on a shelf that I knocked down onto my arm as I had walked past in the dark.

One mystery solved, I felt brave enough to tackle the unearthly light outside. I opened the curtains to see the reflection of a street light on a neighbouring window. Not normally visible, the light was usually concealed by a tree. But a strong breeze was uncovering it periodically and giving it a flickering appearance as if it was moving. A ghostly touch and a UFO encounter all at the same time was a bit much for a single nighttime call of nature!

There are plenty of dark ghost vigils where this sort of thing can happen - several different incidents happening in quick succession. Each incident may, on its own, have a mundane explanation but, taken together, they can give the impression that something more is going on. If you go looking for a ghost and a lot of weird things suddenly happen together it can lead to the conclusion that a ghost is responsible (even though ghosts are never seen doing things like moving objects).

Dark vigils are, of course, inadvisable for many reasons. But quite apart from removing our most important sense, sight, the darkness can add a sense of eeriness that contributes to a misunderstanding about what is really going on. Add in an air of expectation and it is no wonder that dark vigils can appear to produce lots of exciting evidence for ghosts.

However, once the night is over, it is time to analyse each of the incidents separately. If you feel a ghostly touch and then a sudden cold breeze, it does not necessarily follow that a ghost is responsible. If the vigil was held with the lights on you'd have easily seen that the 'ghostly touch' was caused by you brushing up against a plant and the cold breeze by someone silently opening a door nearby! The fact that the two happened at the same time was a coincidence, a potent cause of xenonormal experiences.

We are in the twenty-first century now and it really is time that dark vigils were ended forever. Wandering around in the dark mistaking ordinary events for ghostly encounters may be entertaining to some people but it tells us nothing useful about the paranormal.

10 October 2011: Paranormal experiences slow time

Considering that time slowed down there once, the place looked oddly unfamiliar. I was revisiting the scene of an accident I had suffered decades before. It wasn't a serious accident (though it could have been) but I felt shocked at the time, particularly just after the event. I had that experience many people do during an accident - time slowing down! It happened just as I realised that there was nothing whatever I could do to avoid falling. The actual fall, which must have been very quick indeed, was like a movie in slow motion. I felt strangely detached from it, as though it was happening to someone else, until I hit the ground forcefully. Afterwards I realised that the few bruises, and a broken suitcase, that resulted were minor repercussions compared with what might have happened.

That experience of time moving slowly is common during accidents as well as with scary or novel experiences. Recent research (in this week's New Scientist) shows that when people have scary experiences they do not actually perceive more quickly, which would be one explanation for time appearing to slow down. Instead, they appear to absorb more detail about the incident, while it is happening, than they would during a similar time period when nothing special was going on. There is similar to way flashbulb memories work, as discussed recently.

Given that paranormal experiences are usually novel for the witness, whether xenonormal or truly paranormal, we should expect the experience of time to slow down in a similar way. So, if someone says they saw a ghost for one minute, it may in reality have only been 30 seconds or even less. Such a discrepancy between apparent time and reality is important.

If someone says they saw a ghost for a full minute, when in reality it was only seconds, it might make misperception appear less likely as a possible explanation. Most misperception experiences are brief (though some can last a long time). Generally, the longer a witness looks at something they don't recognise, the more likely it is that they will see it for what it really is. So, generally misperception would be considered unlikely for longish experiences but, if witnesses are overestimating the time of the incident, perhaps it shouldn't be dismissed so quickly.

There is also the simple fact to consider that many (most?) apparent paranormal experiences may be (much?) shorter than we previously believed. And some of their 'spooky' feeling may actually be due to a psychological 'time stretching' effect rather than anything truly paranormal. It would be interesting to do some research on this.

PS: In the BBC's new 'supernatural' drama, 'The Fades', there are several incidents of Street Light Interference (SLI). You don't often see that on TV!

6 October 2011: You decide!

Here's the evidence, you decide! You'll find those words, or something similar, on many videos, photos and witness statements on the web and in published reports about the paranormal. Unsurprisingly, the evidence supplied generally appears to be in favour of a paranormal or anomalous explanation. People don't ask generally you to decide that a strange occurrence actually has a mundane explanation!

The problem I find with much of this evidence is that there is not enough information to decide one way or another. Take an anomalous photo, for instance. To analyse such a photo you need to have the original, unedited, uncompressed original, complete with EXIF information (if it is digital). And you need to examine it in photo editing software to extract as much information as possible. You also need full background information, like when, where and how the photo was taken. Other photos of the same place, ideally taken soon before or after, are also tremendously helpful. But a compressed, edited, photo on a website just isn't enough to decide anything much. Similar considerations apply to sound or video recordings.

Then there is context. It is a lot easier to understand possible causes for a strange recording or witness report if you can visit the location where it happened, ideally in very similar conditions. There can be obvious natural explanations, like misperception, for apparent weird phenomena on site. Obviously, it is not possible for someone to visit the location of every strange report they read, so those who present such evidence should collect as much relevant detail as possible.

If this sounds like doing a full investigation, that's not surprising. Because that is exactly what is really required before anyone can come to a reasonable conclusion about a strange incident. Striking photos or witness testimony are interesting, of course, but quite meaningless with full detail and context. Anything less will always leave unanswered questions that leave alternative explanations that cannot be ruled out. Where all likely natural explanations have NOT been ruled out by the available evidence, the only reasonable 'decision' is that no final verdict is possible.

Of course, you may disagree with my opinion on this matter. I leave it to you to decide!

4 October 2011: A bit less mysterious

Is paranormal research really as mysterious as we think? Some anomaly researchers are fond of telling us that the evidence is so contradictory that it doesn't make a lot of sense. They conclude from this that it is an insoluble mystery. Some even conclude that it is beyond science to understand such matters. But is that true? I don't think so!

If you think about any particular paranormal phenomenon, there is always a useful body of evidence from witnesses, that is, in the main, reasonably consistent. Ghosts, for instance, are generally silent, solid human figures that don't interact with witnesses or their physical surroundings. They sometimes vanish but not always. There are also a small number of ghost reports that are radically different to this. However, considering we are talking about eye witness reports, with all their problems of accuracy, that is hardly surprising. Statistically, there will always be small numbers of reports that are radically different simply because of inaccurate perception, memory or reporting.

There are two reasons why this picture of a ghost could appear mysterious. Firstly, if we insist on giving the same evidential weight to rare and unusual reports, as opposed to the consistent bulk, it is bound to introduce contradictions that make theorizing almost impossible. Secondly, if we try to apply a pre-conceived theory to the data that simply does not fit, such as 'ghosts are spirits', then things will definitely appear mysterious.

Consider a practical example - orbs! The main body of evidence surrounding orbs is consistent - small circular (or rarely other shapes) grey shapes in photos taken with a flash, usually with a digital camera. If you apply the idea that such orbs are, in fact, spirits, you soon run into problems. For instance, some cameras produce hexagonal orbs all the time (see this video). If orbs are spirits, why should they appear hexagonal for one specific model of camera? What difference could it possibly make? But if you start with no preconceptions as to the nature of orbs, a few simple experiments will tell you that they are out of focus bits of dust, insects or water droplets caught in the flash of a camera. This is described by the orb zone theory. Once you have such a theory you can test it and use it to explain all sorts of exceptions to the majority of reports.

Looking back at ghosts, again, the consistent bulk of evidence, described above, is consistent with misperception, which careful investigation reveals is indeed responsible for most reported cases. Of the remaining weirder cases, many are consistent with near sleep experiences. The whole subject of ghosts, thus, soon starts to look less mysterious in this light. It is only when you try to impose preconceived ideas, like 'ghosts are spirits', onto the available data that gross inconsistencies and seemingly insoluble mysteries arise.

This does not mean that we know everything there is to know about ghosts (or even orbs), far from it. There are ghost reports that are difficult to explain by either misperception or near sleep experiences. These cases probably have some other explanation which is indeed mysterious, at present. There is also much we don't know about misperception and near sleep experiences. That's why it is vital to study such subjects so that we can identify their effects more accurately. We need to correctly eliminate these cases in order to concentrate on the truly mysterious remaining ones.

I don't think it is helpful to look at the evidence from paranormal cases and say they are too mysterious for us to ever understand. We need, instead, the tools to clearly differentiate between what is explicable and the truly mysterious remainder.

3 October 2011: What ufologists hear most

Orange UFOI wish to report an orange UFO! This opening to a conversation has become the bane of many ufologists's life. Such UFOs are now the commonest reported. Inevitably, the first thought is that such a UFO is a Chinese (or sky) lantern. Further details (flickering, multiple objects together, moving slowly and silently) just serve to confirm this initial thought.

Orange UFOs have become to ufologists what orbs are to ghost researchers. They are constantly reported by people who've never seen one before, even though they are widely known by researchers to have a simple natural explanation. It is much easier to verify an orb because there is a photo to examine whereas, orange UFOs are only rarely caught on camera so there are eyewitness factors to consider (see here).

In many cases, witnesses accept the verdict of the investigator without demur. However, just as people sometimes say certain orbs are 'different' (ie. paranormal), so too there are some orange UFOs which some say are 'not Chinese lanterns'. To be fair, they may indeed be 'different' and should always be investigated properly. However, many common objections raised by witnesses do not change the verdict. In the case of orbs, there is a whole list of such 'frequently made objections' which can be found (with their answers) here. In the case of orange UFOs, common objections to the lantern explanation include:

  • I know what sky lanterns look like (or even 'I KNOW they weren't sky lanterns')
  • you weren't there!
  • they moved in a different direction to the wind

I've discussed 'you weren't there' previously in this blog. The question of the wind is easily answered. Wind directions at ground level are altered by surface features, like buildings, vegetation, hills and so on. For this reason, the wind direction at higher altitude may be completely different to that at ground level. Indeed, the wind may continue in the same direction on the ground while veering at a higher level. This may happen if buildings funnel the wind in a particular direction, for instance.

As to 'I know what sky lanterns look like', this tends to be contradicted by the instances where such UFOs have been videoed. If you study the videos of orange UFOs that are supposedly NOT sky lanterns, they are often indistinguishable from videos of known lanterns (such as this). A major difference between that particular video and many others featuring orange UFOs is that it zooms in on the object making it obvious what it really is!

When people see UFOs they are usually completely unprepared. So, obviously, they are not going to have video equipment with a powerful zoom, just in case. Nor binoculars! Which is a shame because it would save ufologists a lot of time if witnesses could get a closer look at the mysterious orange UFOs they report and see them for what they really are.

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

Last month's (September) website figures are an average of 10434 hits per day. This is significantly up on the previous month's 9180 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • 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 2011