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. To contact the ASSAP blog, email 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!

NB: WDTHDWP = 'what does this have to do with the paranormal'

31 October: Fairy or ghost?

Yellow ghostGhost or fairy, I can't decide (pic right)? While it resembles a mist, something which often gets reported as a ghost (see below), it is small, yellow and shiny. So why not a fairy, this time?

I'd love to report that it is a photo of a ghost or fairy, but alas I can't. It is, in reality, a falling leaf. And it was a lot more difficult to photograph deliberately than you might imagine. I had to take dozens of shots to get just this one with an actual falling leaf in it. And that was in a place where brisk gusts of wind were regularly detaching leaves right in front of me. The blurriness is caused by the motion of the leaf, rather than any lack of focus. I'm not sure what is causing the shininess. However, since this wasn't evident in the leaf at the time, I guess it must be a photographic artefact associated with the motion blur. It looks like a future subject for research.

I have examined several photos, reported as anomalous, that looked like this. My first thought would be, on seeing such a photo, that there is something close to the lens and out of focus. Which would be wrong, this time. The only clue to its correct cause is the trees in the background and the date - autumn! This shows why it is so important to try experiments like these (xenonormal studies). How else could we even guess that a 'glowing yellow fairy' in a photo was actually a falling leaf without a known example to compare it with?

PS: If you happen to be going to horror-themed fancy dress party, try turning up in your everyday clothes. If asked, say you're a ghost! Happy Samhain!

29 October: Mist ghost photo

White ghostIt's that time of year again. The time when I use the low sun angle to try to reproduce some of the fascinating anomalous photos I examine. There is an example here (right) showing a strange thick white mist in front of some bushes. I've seen many anomalous photos like this, particularly in recent years. In most cases, the photographer wonders if the white object might be a ghost. Most such photos are taken with a flash, often at night. However, with a low sun angle it is quite easy to produce such pictures in daylight without a flash, as this one was.

I've discussed 'mist ghosts' before (here). Most cases of 'mist ghosts' are photographic with nothing unusual actually seen by the photographer at the time of exposure. The 'mist ghost' generally turns out to be the photographer's own breath captured by flash on a cold night. But there are other causes. As these cases appear to be getting much commoner, I thought it might be time to explore a few other possibilities. I'm moderately pleased with this effort! It certainly looks misty - almost cloudy, in fact.

White ghostThe important point to note is that the 'mist' is actually heavily out of focus. That is what gives the object its misty quality. OK, here's the same scene (right) with the focus shifted to the 'mist ghost' and the bushes now out of focus. The 'ghost' is actually the top of a reed. Its light colour is good for producing a misty look. A much wider range of objects can look white in flash photos when they are close to the camera, even when they are a quite different colour, because they are heavily overexposed.

People taking such photos will often say that they did not see anything near the camera when they took the photo. I see no reason to doubt this but it doesn't mean that such an object wasn't there. It's easy to miss such objects near to the camera when looking at a scene in a viewfinder in low light. You can even miss things such objects in good light because they are heavily out of focus. And what is seen in a viewfinder is rarely exactly what you get in the final photo.

PS: Someone had to remind me today that it is Samhain in a couple of days!! Not being a great party-goer I'd completely forgotten.

25 October: Counting humps

HumpsIt was only afterwards that I realized what I'd done. I was using my account of an incident from my distant past to support my view of a current news item. Then I was asked a question I hadn't anticipated. If I answered 'yes' then my account would still support my view. If I answered 'no', it wouldn't. It all depended on some details of my account which I could not readily recall. I searched my memory for the answer. I answered 'yes' but I had a nagging thought that I couldn't really be sure. And I could hardly go back all those years to check!

I have a feeling that next time I recall that particular memory, it will have changed a little as a result of this conversation. Every time we recall something, there is possibility that the memory of it will be modified. It is a bit like 'Chinese whispers' but involving only one person. Essentially, it is a process of confabulation. When we are asked questions about things which we cannot really remember, rather than say 'I don't know', we have a tendency, quite unconsciously, to 'fill in' our memories with details that were not previously present (see here for an ASSAP study). Worse, the 'new' memories are not usually simply random but often tend to support any belief we might have formed concerning the memory involved.

Unfortunately, this can happen when witnesses to paranormal incidents are interviewed. When asked 'what colour was the coat' the witness may name a colour rather than admit they cannot recall. And once they have done this, the coat will always be that colour in their memory. As the process is unconscious, it rarely feels like anything is wrong and the 'new' memory subsequently appears real and true.

I think we are in greatest danger of confabulating when asked for details that we 'ought' to know but don't. So, if I see a coat being worn by a ghostly figure on a well-lit street, it is reasonable to expect that I would recall its colour. But if I don't, I may well confabulate to 'fill in' that detail (because 'I must have seen the colour'!).

The problem is that, unless we make a conscious effort to memorize a scene at the time we view it, we will probably only remember one or two things that catch our attention at the time. If I saw the scene shown in the photo (above right), for instance, I would probably remember that there were unusual humps in the ground. But could I say how many there were, how tall they were, whether they were all the same size and colour, whether they were spaced at regular intervals and so on? I doubt it very much but I might 'fill in' some of these details, when questioned, if I'd formed my own theory about the cause of the humps.

This is something that people conducting interviews of paranormal witnesses should be aware of. Sometimes, whether a case has obvious xenonormal or paranormal causes may depend on quite trivial details that the witness did not actually notice. If you want an accurate answer to your questions about such a detail, including the possibility of 'I don't recall', you'll need to be careful how you proceed. This is particularly important if the witness themselves is aware that such details are of huge importance in determining whether the incident might have been paranormal or not.

I have noticed how often witnesses will recall 'new' vital details that support a paranormal interpretation of their case, despite having been closely questioned on the subject in detail before. Following my own experience above, I can see exactly why that might happen. There is a strong unconscious bias towards 'filling in' extra details that support your own interpretation of an incident even if, in reality, you can't really recall them.

23 October: UFO against a cloudy sky

UFO with cloudOne of the questions I constantly puzzle over is, why does the xenonormal exist? Or to put it another way, why do people consistently report natural phenomena, with which they are unfamiliar, as anomalous or paranormal? To some people the answer may appear obvious but not to me. My best guess, so far, is that it comes from unconscious assumptions we all make about how the world works, based on our life experience.

Consider, for instance, that you walked into a room and found a small cardboard box hovering stationary in the exact middle of it. You would, no doubt, be surprised and might go through a few theories in your head to account for this bizarre occurrence. One obvious idea would be that the box is suspended by a fine thread that you cannot see. If you pass your hand all round the object and hit no thread, things would begin to look a bit more mysterious. Assuming you were sure you weren't hallucinating, you might well consider the possibility of the event being paranormal.

So why might you consider the event paranormal? Well, you don't need a degree in physics to know that such things should not normally happen. You know simply through your own life experience. And I think the idea that the paranormal might be involved in any witnessed incident generally arises when something apparently defies all that particular witness's life experience of similar events. But there's a problem here. Just because something is outside your life experience, it doesn't necessarily make it anomalous or paranormal.

Consider photography, for instance. Casual photographers expect their pictures to be reasonably accurate representations of what they saw when they took their photo, because that's their experience. Serious photographers soon realise, however, that 'reasonably accurate' is more like 'not even close' when photos are examined in detail. A photographer may see a scene they want to capture, take its photo and then compare the two, now easily possible using the screen on the back of their camera. They soon notice significant differences between the photo and the scene itself. The photo may be darker, lighter, more or less colourful, than the original scene. Even more serious, some objects might be out of focus or show motion blur. Some particularly bright or dark areas of the photo might show no detail whatsoever, unlike in the original scene. All of this arises because the camera does not work like human vision.

Most of the time, the differences between the photo and real life are too small for the casual photographer to notice. But not always. And it is when these difference are noticed that the photo may be reported as possibly anomalous. A popularly reported difference is the presence of object in the photo that the photographer cannot recall being there at the time of exposure. It could be a photographic artefact, like lens flare or an orb. But sometimes there really WAS an object present that the photographer either didn't notice at the time or didn't recognise in the subsequent photo. Here's an example.

The photo, above right, shows an apparent saucer-type UFO (top left) against a cloudy sky. Its presence could easily have been overlooked at the time of exposure, though in this case it wasn't. That's how I know it is a distant gull. We are used to seeing gulls as bright white birds but against a bright sky they often look dark. And their shape and characteristic gliding flight gives them a 'saucer' shape when viewed from the side.

How do I know this? From my own extensive experience of photographing birds. What might be a flying saucer type UFO to a casual photographer is a silhouetted gull to me. And I think this is how such things come to be reported as anomalous. And it is the whole point of xenonormal studies.

21 October: Is the yeti a type of polar bear?

CorvidsGreat news! No, don't stop reading, I'm not trying to sell you anything. I saw, last night, a TV programme here in the UK on Channel 4 called the Bigfoot Files. So what was so good about it? Well, for a start it used scientists using scientific methods, unlike most programmes about anomalous phenomena. Secondly, it came up with a remarkable conclusion, which many of you will already be aware of (see here if not). It shows what can be achieved when mainstream scientists get involved in anomaly research, something sadly incredibly rare. It also shows that riveting TV can be produced on serious science, even when it is concerned with anomalous phenomena. I'm hoping that it will start two important new trends - more involvement in anomaly research by mainstream science and coverage of the same in the media.

The big result of the investigation is that two samples of unknown animals found at opposite ends of the Himalayas, thought to be yeti, turned out not only to be identical but were DNA matched to an ancient polar bear (I couldn't help but be reminded on the TV series Lost). Of course, this is just the start of the scientific process of resolving what the yeti really is so it would be premature to say for sure that a yeti is a type of polar bear or a hybrid with brown bear. However, whatever the origin of the hair samples used for the DNA match, the fact remains that a species not previously recorded in the Himalayas, whether it is the yeti or not, has been found. The witness reports of yeti certainly tend to support the idea that it is some kind of bear but not one of species previously known to live in the Himalayas.

It is possible that, in a few years, following further research, we may come to conclude that the yeti is indeed a species of polar bear. One of the most enduring mysteries of crypotozoology would be solved once and for all. I can't help thinking, however, that even then there will be some people unwilling to accept such a conclusion. There are, after all, still people who think that orbs are paranormal, despite all the evidence to the contrary. But anyway, it's still great news!

And the photo? Well I didn't have a yeti picture but the programme featured some excellent Himalayan corvids.

18 October: What makes a vulpine premonition?

FoxThere is a high wall in our neighborhood which sometimes has foxes walking along its top. So, ever interested in nature, I never miss a chance to glance in its direction when I'm passing. Not only have I seen the animals walking along the wall in broad daylight but even at night. This is possible, even though there are no street lights nearby, because there are houses behind and the foxes can be clearly seen silhouetted against lit windows.

Recently, I was watching the wall at twilight. The windows in the houses behind were already lit and I saw something silhouetted in front of one. But I couldn't make out anything on the wall, even though it appeared still light enough to have done so. Then, seconds later, a fox appeared further along the wall. It was clearly visible in the diminishing light without the need to be silhouetted. It walked along the wall, in front of the very window where I'd seen 'something' just before! It was a premonition! That was the thought that instantly went through my head.

Well, it was easily explained. The 'something' seen in front of the lit window was only seen silhouetted, not on either side of the window. It was, therefore, most likely someone (and not 'snowmen', as the spell checker wanted!) actually IN the room behind the window! So probably not a premonition, just a coincidence.

It did raise an interesting point, however. Many 'premonitions' are only shared with someone else AFTER their apparent fulfilment. To use the current example. If I'd told someone, 'I've just had a premonition that a fox will walk along that wall' and then it did, that's fine. But to only mention AFTER the event 'I think I saw that fox just before in a premonition' isn't anything like as exciting from a scientific point of view. A premonition is a prediction, after all. Mentioning it after the event is more like reinterpreting the past in a new way than doing anything paranormal. But what if the remembered premonition was exact in every detail? The problem there is, how do you know that you are recalling your premonition correctly? You may be 'projecting' what actually happened onto your supposed premonition which, in reality, was not so accurate at all.

Many premonitions are visual in nature. In a lot of cases it's something seen in a dream. This current incident is unusual in that I was not asleep and the first sighting of a silhouette actually occurred, which would make it much more unusual premonition. But the question remains, how do we KNOW something is a premonition? If we see something similar to an incident in a pervious dream, it's easy to say after the event that it was a premonition. However, there are severe problems with this interpretation, as mentioned above. Occasionally people 'feel' that an event, like a dream or thought, is a premonition at the time. In many cases what is predicted does not happen, so it was therefore not as premonition after all. Or was it?

It appears to me that what makes a coincidence into a premonition is what people think about it. I can say that my fox incident was a premonition but you can disagree. As it happens, I don't think it was a premonition. I was actually able to observe both the 'premonition' and its fulfillment within seconds of each other and, though similar, they did not look quite the same. I looked carefully because the idea of a premonition occurred to me WHILE the fox was still walking along the wall towards the lit window! In most cases, the time difference between the premonition and its apparent fulfillment will be much longer, allowing inaccuracies in recall to creep in.

If I feel I have a premonition, I will write it down in as much detail as possible and get it recorded somehow with a date. I might send a copy as an email to someone, for instance. Then, if it is fulfilled, I can accurately compare the two and see if it really merits the title of premonition.

14 October: A ghost car?

Tree branchesIt was wet. Very. Walking along a street I was determined to avoid getting splashed by passing cars. There was one particular puddle that was so big that when cars went through it they created another one, almost as big, on the pavement. So as I approached the puddle, from the other side of the road, I took careful note of an approaching white car. After crossing the road I stopped short of the huge puddle and waited. And waited. The white car never arrived! Fed up of waiting, I walked quickly past the puddle to get a better view of the road ahead. There was no white car, or any other for that matter, in view. Had I seen a ghost car?

I should explain that from the side of the road with the puddle you can't see far along the road because it bends and is obscured by trees. From the other side, however, you can see much further along the road. So, when I crossed the road I lost sight of the white car, as I expected to. What I did not expect was for it not to arrive a few seconds later. Where had it gone?

There IS a turn off that the car could have used after I saw it and before arriving at the puddle. Except that, I was SURE at the time that the car was beyond the turn off and reversing from that position would have been a risky and bizarre thing to do. I've certainly never seen anyone do that manoeuvre there, nor would I ever expect them to. So what actually happened?

Well, obviously it could have been a ghost car that simply vanished! There is another rather more likely possibility - when I saw the car it WASN'T beyond the turn off at all. How could I have made such a fundamental mistake? I was, as I've said, rather anxious not to get heavily splashed. I've noted in the past that when I've misperceived stuff it has often been things I either wanted to happen or didn't want to happen. For instance, I've seen large house plants in nearby windows as people, giving me the distinctly uncomfortable feeling of being watched.

I've little doubt that the white car was real and not a misperception. So maybe it was the turn off that I was misperceiving! Visually, it is not particularly obvious from the place where I saw the car though I knew it is there because I'm extremely familiar with the road. But maybe, on this occasion, I misperceived it to be somewhere slightly different from where it actually was. Indeed, it seems likely that the car itself was obstructing my view of the real turning.

So, instead of a ghost car, this may be a case of misperceiving a geographical feature. There seems no reason why this should not happen. After all, I once managed to climb entirely the wrong mountain (see here)! Though misperceptions are generally of people or animals, in my experience, I've also often seen one type of inanimate object as quite another. So why not misperceive a distant geographical feature? Indeed, it's possible that such misperceptions may be quite common. However, they are unlikely to be noticed much, compared to the presence of an unknown animal or person. So, next time you see a tree, among many other trees, maybe it isn't there at all. Maybe it's just bits of other trees nearby overlapping to give the impression of a tree. But who would really care enough to find out?

11 October: Recognizing ghosts

Shadow ghostI mentioned the other day my idea that sounds resembling those caused by people, where none are present, might lead to reports of ghosts. Now, new research on facial recognition lends support to that idea.

I have mentioned before that people with face blindness (prosopagnosia), who cannot recognise people's faces, still manage to recognise acquaintances somehow. They do this, unconsciously, by learning to recognise people through things other than their faces, like body, clothing, voice, hair, behaviour, context (where and when seen, for instance) and so on. The new research shows that the rest of the population has this ability too. We can all, it seems, recognise people we know even when we can't see their faces, through other cues, like those mentioned above. And the strangest thing is that when people have done this they think they used the face to recognise others, even when they demonstrably haven't.

So, it seems, we all learn to recognise people by a whole variety of clues other than faces, and aren't even aware we're doing it. While the research was concerned with visual cues, it is entirely plausible that aural ones may be used too. And if this skill can be used to recognise specific individuals, it may also be used to infer the presence of unknown people in general, perhaps from clues like characteristic sounds. Someone might, from hearing suitably suggestive noises, think they are not alone in an empty house. And they might therefore decide that they are in the presence of a ghost. And, crucially, they will not realise HOW they KNOW there is someone, or a ghost, present. Indeed, this might even explain the 'sense of presence' that some people feel in haunted, and other, locations.

This all ties in with previous experiences I have had myself of apparently 'sensing' ghostly presences (see here for instance). I tied them in to mysterious sounds at the time and now I think I can see how I may have turned those unexplained sounds into a feeling that someone invisible (or a ghost) was present. Odd sounds are the most commonly reported phenomena in hauntings. They are often the key component of the new house effect. Now, it seems, there may be a specific brain mechanism, either innate or a learned skill, responsible for this effect.

9 October: No, orbs really are NOT dust!

Truncated orbsI'm surprised to still be writing about orbs so far into this decade. Orbs are the subject that, against all the odds, just refuses to go away and I've got a theory about why that is. It's because the popular idea that they are paranormal has been largely replaced, at least among paranormal researchers, by another one - namely that they are dust. This is despite the lack of any even mildly supportive evidence in either case. My theory is that if we could get rid of the 'dusts are orbs' myth, we might see orbs finally dumped once and for all into the dustbin of history.

The idea that orbs are NOT dust will, no doubt, come as news to a few paranormal researchers, though not, I think, to regular visitors to the ASSAP website. So how do we know orbs are not dust? Well the most obvious evidence is that airborne domestic dust consists largely of fibres, few of which, if any, are circular (or, indeed, hexagonal or diamond-shaped), unlike orbs. In addition, some orbs are 'truncated' towards the edges of frames of photos (see photo, right). There is no way of explaining this effect in terms of orbs as dust. There are many other aspects of orbs that cannot possibly be explained by the idea that they are dust (see here for some examples).

Orbs are, of course, out of focus highlights reflected from any number of different objects. This does include dust particles but also insects, water droplets, airborne seeds and even objects which are not floating at all (things dangled just in front of the camera, for instance). Indeed, dust is a much less common cause of orbs these days than it used to be. For a demonstration about how this works, see this video or read this article. Any explanation that doesn't mention that orbs are highlights and/or out of focus is completely missing the point.

There are any number of other myths still doing the rounds concerning orbs. There's the idea, for instance, that cameras with large numbers of megapixels don't get orbs, for instance. See here for the answer to that one. Then there's the idea that orbs captured with film cameras are 'different', maybe even paranormal. In fact, you can get orbs with film cameras, they are just rarer due to the (generally) physically larger frame size (see here). Then there's the old infrared myth. And the list goes on and on.

The wider point here is the vital importance of explaining any xenonormal phenomenon scientifically. Using non-explanations like 'orbs are dust' is worse than useless. Because these 'explanations' don't actually explain anything, they allow myths to persist and multiply. In fact, the orb zone theory has so far explained every aspect of orbs yet thrown at it (see here). By contrast, the 'orbs are dust' idea has yet to explain anything.

This may sound like I'm saying that only scientists should be doing paranormal research. Far from it! What I AM saying is that science is the best tool with which to do paranormal research. Some people say that the paranormal cannot be researched with science. I don't happen to agree with that but it is at least an arguable case. What is unarguable is that the xenonormal can be studied with science. And, since the vast majority of reported paranormal cases that have been carefully investigated had xenonormal explanations, it is obvious that science is a crucial tool for investigators. It would, therefore, be highly useful for investigation teams to include at least some people with scientific training or, if not, to consult with such people outside the group as required.

8 October: The past comes to haunt

ClockI looked into the brightly lit window and saw a bar. It gave me an odd feeling. I looked at the exact position where, some years ago, my desk had sat in the office where I once worked. Since then the office has been turned into a bar. I suppose the feeling was cognitive dissonance. I stood there, on the exact bit of pavement where I'd been many times before, staring through the window of a building I knew so well. Except everything was different! It just felt wrong.

The feeling I had was similar to one I often get when I see a ghost, a sort of detached feeling ('zoned out' one might say). If I'd seen a ghost appear or disappear in front of me at that moment, I would not have been surprised at all.

I've similar experiences when revisiting old haunts before. In such situations, a familiar object might trigger a fond memory while another jars because a favourite building has disappeared.

It made me wonder about that feeling of 'detachment' that often accompanies a misperception. It is possible that the 'detached' feeling is a sign of the brain being preoccupied, perhaps making it more prone to misperceive. If I could reproduce that state, maybe it might make misperception more likely. I suspect that mixture of familiar and unfamiliar puts an 'unusually heavy load' on my perception and memory, in particular. These are, of course, precisely the brain functions where misperceptions originate.

I will try out the idea by deliberately visiting some other old haunts, in future, to see if I get that odd detached feeling again and, maybe even get a really good misperception. I think I know just where to go.

3 October: Paranormal or coincidence?

ASSAP bloggerI have mentioned before that I see famous people fairly frequently and my theory which may explain it (here). Indeed, I saw a well known actor just a few weeks ago, and a couple of them not long before that. But then, the other day, I saw yet another. However, this time I excelled myself. I had seen this actor in normal everyday life (as opposed to visiting a play, for instance) before!

This is the first time I've seen the same famous person twice. The first sighting was on a train (fitting my theory!). On this occasion, however, it was in a restaurant, though not one often frequented by celebrities. So, it was a completely different context where I could hardly have predicted I would see him again. I started to wonder what are the odds against this happening by chance.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the odds of this combined coincidence are 1 in a million. Does it mean I should rush out a buy a lottery ticket? Does it mean that I was 'meant' to see this person because of some psychic connection? I should add, regarding the last point, that he is one of my favourite actors with an extensive CV in theatre, TV, films and radio. In other words, should I read any meaning into this coincidence?

The short answer is, probably not. The thing about unlikely coincidences is that there is no rule that says they CAN'T happen by pure chance, only that they are rare. However, if you live long enough your chances of witnessing a truly unusual coincidence improve. A 1 in a million chance is always a 1 in a million chance at any given instant in time. However, among a million people it is pretty much inevitable. And, for any individual, the longer they wait, the better their chances of witnessing such a coincidence.

The point of all this is that most people, if they live for a reasonable time, are likely to witness the odd 1 in a million* coincidence. So, when something extraordinary happens it is tempting to think that only the paranormal can be responsible. Suppose, for instance, you go to a psychic who tells you you will soon meet someone who has some important information for you. Then you go on holiday, only to find that someone you haven't heard from in 30 years is staying in the same hotel. They tell you what happened to some mutual acquaintances that you have often wondered about. It can't just be a coincidence, surely? But, in reality, that is exactly what it most likely is. The psychic's prediction was vague enough to refer to any number of possible future events. And, while the odds against bumping into someone you once knew long ago are long, it could happen purely by random chance. And it is probably happening to someone, somewhere pretty much all the time. And, on this occasion, it just happened to be you.

So, we should all look forward to one or two truly unlikely coincidences during the course of our lives. They only become significant if they keep on happening. So, I'm not expecting to meet that famous actor yet again!

And the photo? Me, not finding famous people, of course.

*I've said '1 in a million' purely as a nice round number for illustration purposes. I'm sure someone statistically minded could come with an accurate estimate of the odds of a 'once in a lifetime' coincidence that most people will have.

1 October: How hauntings start?

Shadow ghostI heard the alarm go off and, instinctively, looked up. I was at the checkout of a supermarket. The beeping sound was coming from a security pillar placed near the door of the shop. I expected to see someone walking out, or maybe coming in (!), but there was no one there. Indeed, there was no one even near the pillar, nor any nearby machinery that might conceivably set it off.

I was on the point of joking to the assistant serving me at the checkout that it must be a ghost, when I thought better of it. Such 'jokes' have a habit of ending up as 'ghost reports'. It could produce a jokey story in the local paper, vigils by local ghost hunting groups and employees unwilling to work the night shift! And all because of a false alarm and my 'harmless joke'. I shuddered at the idea of being responsible for all that!

The security pillar 'went off' again several times before I left the shop. On all but one occasion, there was no one near it. Even though I knew it was almost certainly just a system malfunction, I couldn't suppress a distinct feeling, every time I looked up, that 'something unseen' was triggering it. I knew it was highly unlikely to be a ghost because there isn't, contrary to popular opinion, any compelling evidence for existence of invisible ghosts. But still the feeling came, seemingly irresistible.

So why, in a well-lit, well populated shop was I even considering the possibility of ghost involvement, albeit involuntarily? I think this may be a core component of why people report buildings to be haunted. If they experience unexplained events, like odds sounds for instance, that might make them think there is an unknown person present, when there is not, it can lead a strong feeling of a ghostly presence. And it is easy to see how additional spookiness factors, like low lighting and low temperature, may tend to unconsciously bias their thoughts in that direction.

So, it is likely then that only SOME types of unexplained sounds will trigger an initial report of a haunting. A creaking stair of floorboard, which might normally be caused by someone walking on them, is a classic example. Only once the idea that there might be a ghost present has taken hold will other, more ambiguous, sounds tend to also be reported as signs of a haunting. It is often these more ambiguous sounds that are reported on ghost vigils. And yet, in non-haunted buildings the same sounds would probably be dismissed as 'nothing of interest ' or even not noticed at all.

I've discussed this idea that hauntings start with a specific trigger event, and can maintained by less dramatic stuff, before (here). I am now convinced that such trigger events will usually consist of some sensory experience that give a strong impression of a person being present who isn't actually there. This can be anything from an apparition to apparent walking sounds. And, in a lot of cases, the initial event may not even be repeated! Once a place has a reputation for being haunted it can be maintained by more ambiguous incidents.

PS: Those of you who remember the 'garden poltergeist' won't find anything too surprising in this video.

PPS: I noticed a misperception recently, seeing a photo one way when it was actually something quite different on second glance. But here's the interesting bit. When I looked for the second time, I'm sure I saw the objects rearrange themselves (from my initial misperception to their true forms) as I started to see the photo correctly! I don't recall seeing that happen before. Usually the second view is different from the initial one straight away. I'll keep a look out to see if it happens again. It could be key to how some people apparently see 'impossible' things in poltergeist cases, for instance.

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

Last month's (September) website figures are an average of 11373 hits per day. This is significantly up on the previous month's 10720 daily average.


Previous blog pages ...

  • Sep 2013 (including moving sticks, targets affecting odds in psi tests, shape shifting, not photographing ghosts)
  • Aug 2013 (including ghosts in plain view, mystery photo, seeing faces, ear pointing, shadow presence, time distortion)
  • July 2013 (including floating ghosts, on being a ghost, ghost ducks, follow that ghost - yes, ghosts galore)
  • June 2013 (including transparent ghosts, distance of UFOs, other stuff going on while witnessing anomalous phenomena)
  • May 2013 (including ghost seen AND photographed, time distortion, reproducing anomalous phenomena)
  • Apr 2013 (including door ghost moving, UFOs from a train, missing time, reality glitches, EVP without E, weird photos)
  • Mar 2013 (including witness credibility, distraction to see ghosts, movie in real life, photo or witness)
  • Feb 2013 (including possible orb comeback, OBEs go mainstream, walking ghost, feelings without touch, object movement)
  • Jan 2013 (including a big problem with ghost vigils, time distortions, cryptids, snow ghosts and rods, causes of hauntings)
  • Dec 2012 (including mysterious injuries, ghosts versus people, voice from nowhere, experimenting with a ghost)
  • Nov 2012 (including reflected ghost, isolated EVPs, ghosts talking to each other, invisible presences)
  • Oct 2012 (including ghostly presence, shadow ghost, strange pigeons, window ghosts, hallucinations)
  • Sep 2012 (including yellow grass, weird waterfalls, vanishing buzzard, ghost vigils, slowing down time)
  • Aug 2012 (including seeing unknown animals, glowing lampposts, EMF meters as an accident of history)
  • July 2012 (including turning rods into orbs, psychic insight, making insects spell, glowing eyes, haunting hot spots)
  • June 2012 (including doppelganger mystery, not expecting ghosts, anecdotal evidence, credible witnesses)
  • May 2012 (including lenticular cloud, ghost encounter, ghost train, weird stuff in a tree, van Gogh, resolution)
  • Apr 2012 (including naturalists and ghosts, odd feelings during OBE, wrong kind of sound, voice from nowhere)
  • Mar 2012 (including jogging and ghosts, misty ghosts, image noise, full spectrum photography, EVP of machines)
  • Feb 2012 (including ghost car, analyzing anomalous photos, ghost at rock concert, OBEs and motion sickness)
  • Jan 2012 (including stopping flying rods, photographing fairies, time warp, a ghost tie, ghostly fingers, New Year UFOs)
  • Dec 2011 (including missing time, improving ghost vigils, anomalous photos, ghostly faces, seeing fiction)
  • Nov 2011 (including OBE video games, EVP and VLF, whatshisname, paranormal misconceptions, invisible ghosts)
  • Oct 2011 (including smartphone ghosts, similacrum, smell of ghosts, morphing UFOs, slowing time)
  • Sep 2011 (including tidy ghost, MADS, transparent ghost, big announcement, ghost fox, not alone)
  • Aug 2011 (including cold spots, spectral hound, triangular UFO, ghost photos, rushing air and being dragged)
  • July 2011 (including Hilary Evans, Harry Potter, witness investment, bias in paranormal research, TV detectives)
  • June 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, detecting lies, hyper-vigilence, strange thunder)
  • May 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, lone shoes, flying rods, bias, early memories, strange floating object)
  • Apr 2011 (including royal wedding, mirror touch synaesthesia, sleep disorders, new ghost sighting)
  • Mar 2011 (including roof heron, Atlantis, first time witnesses, comparing film to digital paranormal photos)
  • Feb 2011 (including predicting the future, ghost bird, time slip, weird floor, what do we really know about paranormal)
  • Jan 2011 (including the ghost hunting boom, orange UFO, EVP experiment, extreme normality)
  • Dec 2010 (including microsleeps and road ghosts, shadow ghost in snow, lack of ghosts in photos, anthropomorphism)
  • Nov 2010 (including EMF meters, auras, evidence for precognition, sensitisation, the ghost hunting boom)
  • Oct 2010 (including black orbs, UnConvention, mirror visions, levitation, flying rods and orbs)
  • Sep 2010 (including a ring tone from the roof, shadow ghost video, time slip explanation, daylight orb video)
  • Aug 2010 (including Parisian UFO, sense of presence, SLI, consulting experts, misperception)
  • Jul 2010 (including Sherlock Holmes as a paranormal investigator, haunting sounds, what ARE hallucinations)
  • Jun 2010 (including the Loch Ness Monster, gorilla video, getting ghost stories the wrong way round)
  • May 2010 (including ball lightning, Wem ghost photo, waking up twice, eyewitnesses, Robin Hood)
  • Apr 2010 (including causes of road ghosts, new orb evidence, bird UFOs, UFO photo, not quite seeing is believing)
  • Mar 2010 (including experiencing hypnagogia, consciousness, belief, prolonged misperception, doppelganger)
  • Feb 2010 (including visual continuity errors - AKA ghosts, near sleep experiences on trains, spontaneous OOBEs)
  • Jan 2010 (including intelligent oil, SLI, inducing OOBEs, orange UFOs, the bleak midwinter)
  • Dec 2009 (including review of research in the noughties, pretty orbs, imperceptions, river monster)
  • Nov 2009 (including EVP without a recorder, demons and entities, why only some people see ghosts)
  • Oct 2009 (including grey ghost, near sleep experiences, a triangular UFO and seeing David Beckham)
  • Sep 2009 (including latent memory, Tufted Puffin, Bermuda Triangle and garden poltergeist)
  • Aug 2009 (including official UFO files, partial ghosts, flying rods and miracles)
  • Jul 2009 (including garden poltergeist, big cat video, orbs and hypnotic regression)
  • Jun 2009 (including thoughts from nowhere, shadow ghosts, premonitions and metallic UFO)
  • May 2009 (including analysing paranormal photos, making ghosts and ghost lore)
  • Apr 2009 (including phantom bird, choice blindness and grass that gets up and walks away)
  • Mar 2009 (including deja vu, ghostly mists, weird UFO photo, white ghosts)
  • 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 2013