ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
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ASSAP blogWelcome to the ASSAP paranormal blog! Though this blog is aimed at anyone interested in the paranormal, it will be of particular interest to the paranormal research community. Updated frequently, but not regularly (don't expect something new every day!), it covers any paranormal topic, as well as highlighting recent changes to the ASSAP website. You may not notice it but this site changes on an almost daily basis.

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29 Sep 2008: Love your EMF meter!

Grey squiirelWhat self-respecting ghost researcher doesn't have an EMF meter these days? Not many, I suspect! But when you're not using it on vigils, what happens to it? Does it get thrown in a box or chucked on a shelf? Is it neglected and unloved, just gathering orb dust, until the next investigation? If so, it is a crying shame because you can use the time to get to know your meter properly.

It is said that haunted places produce higher than normal readings but if you don't know what 'normal' is, how can you tell? Here's a few things you can do with your EMF meter at home to get a feel for what is normal:

  • leave the meter switched on and watch how the readings vary over minutes and hours, even well away from electrical equipment
  • try moving your hand close to the meter (in both electric and magnetic field modes, if you have them) and look for a reaction
  • wave an unmagnetised piece of iron or steel near the meter and watch the reaction (eg. stainless steel cutlery or a food can)
  • try placing the meter near electrical equipment and watch how the readings change over time
  • see if you can detect the presence of electrical wiring behind walls, near light switches for instance
  • see what readings you get from different appliances around the house

Once you know your EMF meter better, you might have a better idea of the possible natural causes of readings that might occur on a vigil. And the same applies to other instruments. If the first time you use it is on a vigil, it's already too late! Squirrels may not care about instruments but paranormal researchers should.

Further reading (new page): Ghosts, baselines and EMF meters

26 Sep 2008: Do ghosts emit electromagnetic fields?

It is commonly reported on paranormal research websites that ghosts emit electromagnetic (EM) fields. Indeed, EMF meters are sometimes called 'ghost detectors'. But what is the evidence that it is true?

The belief that ghosts emit EM fields appears to stem from reports of EMF meters showing higher readings or 'spikes' at haunted locations and/or when paranormal activity is observed to take place. However, the reports of such incidents are vague and lacking in technical detail.

This means it is difficult to answer the question of ghosts and EM fields based on existing evidence. But there is another question we could ask that is easier to answer - are EMF meters even capable of demonstrating a link between EM fields and ghosts? EMF meters certainly have a number of problems that make it unlikely they could show such a connection. For instance:

  • they cannot show frequency data making it difficult to identify and compare readings from different EM sources
  • there are many natural sources of EM variability and spikes (including non electrical sources) which cannot be easily distinguished with EMF meters
  • EMF meters cannot identify EM fields capable of causing hallucinations

These, and other problems to do with how measurements are made, make it unlikely that EMF meters could ever satisfactorily demonstrate a link between ghosts and EM fields. What is really needed is magnetometers but they are expensive. For a full discussion, follow the link below.

Further reading (new page): Ghosts, baselines and EMF meters

24 Sep 2008: On the radio!

Yesterday, anyone listening to Radio Lancashire in the afternoon may have heard me on it, talking about orbs. I was the annoying one, contradicting almost everyone else (so I gather) by saying they definitely aren't paranormal! I also managed to dismiss most ghost photos as long exposures. Good thing I'm not planning to visit Lancashire any time soon.

While, as I mentioned last month, many paranormal researchers now agree that orbs are not paranormal, the attitude among the general public is rather different. Judging from emails I get, when people first see orbs on a photo they've taken, many will think they are paranormal. This is despite many having never been interested in the paranormal or even seen a ghost hunting reality TV show.

It seems that the idea that orbs are paranormal has somehow entered the culture, in the same way as the idea of ghosts being spirits. Many people simply 'know' these things, whether through friends or the media, without ever having consciously absorbed the information. I suspect paranormal researchers will be increasingly bombarded with orb photos from the public and have to spend a lot of time explaining why they are not ghosts or spirits at all. You have been warned!

22 Sep 2008: Partially obscured orbs!

Orbs behind leavesI know that elsewhere I say that partially obscured orbs are really in front of the objects they appear to be behind. It's because the orb and object effectively 'blend in' to each other in the photograph. That certainly applies to ordinary orbs but obviously not to those in this photo (right).

So what's going on here in this recently-taken autumnal leaf shot (technically these leaves are not turning brown because of autumn but due to leaf miner infestation but it looks similar)? There are, what looks very much like, bright orbs behind leaves.

The first clue is that the photo was taken in daylight. It turns out that these 'orbs' really ARE behind the leaves! The 'orbs' were created in the same way as 'ordinary' orbs - they are out of focus highlights. However, these highlights are bright leaves in the background, caught by the sun, that are too far away (as opposed to too close) to be in focus.

It is quite unusual to get objects too far away to be in focus with modern digital cameras because of their large depth of field (ironically, the cause of orbs). However, you can still get effects like this with telephoto lenses (as was used here).

Are they really orbs? Technically, probably not, but they were produced by the same basic principle. Certainly, someone getting a photo like this might assume they are orbs. So, in that sense, they really are orbs behind another object.

19 Sep 2008: Paranormal research looks inward

One problem I've noticed in the paranormal research community is a tendency to be too inward-looking, particularly over technical issues. It is, perhaps, understandable as some people still regard us a bit weird, or worse, because of our interest! However, it causes a problem with doubtful information being propagated continually through the community. This can cause some researchers, particularly beginners, to waste their time!

One good example is the 'infra-red myth' that supposedly explains why orbs (and other phenomena) are so much more prevalent with digital cameras compared to their film predecessors. The myth says that digital camera are more sensitive to infra-red and that it is that part of the electromagnetic spectrum where orbs supposedly 'manifest'. In fact, digital cameras are no more sensitive to infra-red than film cameras. Their internal sensors are, indeed, more sensitive to infra-red but camera manufacturers build in an internal filter to screen out the infra-red. If they didn't, it would make photos look strange and unrealistic. Here is an account by someone who removed such an internal infra-red blocking filter, a process which is definitely NOT recommended! It shows how deeply embedded the filters are.

As it happens, the fact that orbs are so prevalent with digital, compared to film, cameras is a massive clue to how they are really caused. Had paranormal researchers talked to knowledgeable photographers, instead of chatting only among themselves, orbs would never have been a mystery and the infra-red myth would never have arisen.

If, as a paranormal researcher, you want technical information about, for instance, what an EMF meter really detects, you'd be better off talking to expert in electromagnetism rather than a ghost hunter! On this website, I've tried to make all the information as factual as possible without drawing on doubtful sources. I hope it will act as a useful starting point for your own research into technical issues.

15 Sep 2008: Objects merging into ghosts

Objects mergingAll paranormal researchers are aware of the problems caused by misperception. However few, in my experience, know just what the phenomenon is capable of. Perception does not take place in the eye but in the brain. Human perception is not, as some imagine, like taking a photo. It is not an objective record of patterns of light that can be recalled in perfect detail. Instead, our view of the world at anyone time comes mostly from our memory and some objects, when poorly seen, can actually be 'substituted'!

As regular readers will be aware, I keep noticing my own, sometimes bizarre, visual misperceptions. I don't think these are peculiar to me as I've heard similar stories from other people. Normally, in our busy lives we don't notice these misperceptions but if you look for them, you will find them.

Recently, I noticed a mark on a shiny surface that I thought should be clean. It was only a glance but, because it annoyed me, I looked back. On closer inspection I could see that the shiny surface was blemish free. The mark was actually on an object close behind in the same line of sight! My brain, with only a glimpse to work on, had amalgamated the two objects in my memory so that the mark appeared on the foreground object.

In the photo above, which has high contrast, there are dark several fence posts. A brief glance at the scene might cause a post to visually 'amalgamate' with objects behind, or in front, so that it might appear like a ghostly figure. Looking for longer, the 'figure' would no longer be there, contributing to the idea that it was a ghost that had vanished. Indeed, many sightings of ghosts follow a similar pattern.

I don't know if anyone has done any research on this aspect of misperception but clearly it is an area well worth exploring.

5 Sep 2008: Paranormal research more polarised

I frequent all kinds of paranormal websites and forums. While there is a wide range of opinions, views and information on these sites, they do tend to fall into two sharply divided camps - believers and skeptics. There is very little common ground between the two groups.

This polarisation has, of course, existed since the beginning of serious paranormal research. However, the divisions appear to have widened since the days when ASSAP was founded. This is particularly sad given that ASSAP has always tried to tread the 'middle way' ie. a neutral approach, without any assumptions about nature of the phenomena being studied. Sadly, ASSAP's approach does not seem to have been widely followed.

The widening polarisation of our subject may be due to the influence of the media which tends to portray the paranormal from either a believer or skeptical viewpoint (an 'angle' as producers say). This means that few members of the public even realise that there IS a neutral approach. The believer / skeptic divide hasn't worked particularly well so far so maybe now is the right time to try a new way.

1 Sep 2008: Do spooky situations contribute to ghost reports?

EurofighterWhen we humans are psychologically stressed, by fear for instance, it affects our judgment. An article in this week's New Scientist (issue 2671, 27 Aug 2008) describes research that shows how we often misjudge risks after prominent news stories about disasters (taking the car for a long distance trip instead of flying, for instance, despite the fact that car accidents are statistically more likely).

I wonder if this tendency to poor judgment in fearful circumstances might also affect our perception. We know that people misperceive poorly seen scenes. Such misperceptions will obviously be influenced by what is actually seen. But what other factors influence affect what is seen? It is likely that the circumstances of observation will play a part. We will probably see what we consider most likely in a given situation. But what if we are fearful at the time, perhaps all alone in a spooky building. Might we then 'see' the ghost we fear rather than something more likely?

This is, of course, speculation. However, the content of visual substitutions is clearly produced by our brains. We also know that spooky situations produce more reports of ghosts than other places. If our judgment is compromised by fearful situations then it is not unreasonable to speculate that we might 'see' what we fear. Indeed, this may be the reason that spooky places produce more reports of ghosts. Our feeling of unease may bias the visual substitutions so that we start to 'expect' to see ghosts. That expectation, in turn, is fed by the media, just as in the news stories that make people drive instead of fly.

PS: The photo? See August's blog ...

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© Maurice Townsend 2008