ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
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Maurice TownsendWelcome 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)

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

22 January: Ghost from a train

Crows in a treeI was casually looking out of a train window recently, as you do, when something caught my attention. The train was approaching my stop so the scenes outside were familiar. I saw someone standing in a garden, close to the railway track. For some reason it struck me as odd though I wasn't sure why. I wondered if the person was standing in a strange way, perhaps, or was of an odd appearance. I didn't see them long enough to tell. I even speculated that they might be a ghost.

I travelled on the same train again a few days later and noticed a person standing in exactly the same place as before. I had forgotten about my previous sighting and only remembered when I saw the new figure. Once again, something struck me as odd about the figure but I couldn't say what. The fact that someone, maybe the same person, was in precisely the same place on two separate occasions struck me as unusual. Once again I wondered about ghosts.

On a third train trip I remembered about the figures just before we reached the spot. This time I looked very carefully. I was expecting to see no one there. So I was surprised to see a human figure in exactly the same position once again. Except that, as I watched the figure for a prolonged duration I could see it wasn't a person at all. It was a garden chair! So this was an example of a glance misperception. I could only see the true nature of the object when I got a reasonably prolonged view of it, though still only a few seconds.

Three things struck me from this experience. Firstly, there was the fact that the chair caught me out twice. I think this happened because I forgot about it before the second sighting. This seems to be a crucial factor in repeat misperceptions. Secondly, on the two occasions I misperceived I literally saw a human figure but, nevertheless, had a feeling there was something odd about it. This was, no doubt, due to the fact that the chair did not look quite the right shape as a typical human figure. Thirdly, I'm surprised I thought I saw a standing human figure, albeit a strange diminutive one, when someone sitting might have made more sense. You cannot, it seems, expect too much sense with misperceptions.

This most interesting, and novel, observation was that a misperceived figure could appear odd though definitely a person. This 'oddness' could easily contribute to the impression that a figure being observed is really a ghost. It means that misperception not only lets us see human figures that are not really present, but can even add to the impression that we're seeing a ghost.

20 January: Seeing evolution in action?

RobinThough I was some 10m or more away from the small bird, I recognized it immediately, even in poor lighting conditions. It was perched, looking away from me and I could not see its most distinctive feature. Despite that, as I approached the bird and it turned round my identification was confirmed, as I knew it would be. It was a Robin.

Though the Robin is probably the UK's most recognisable bird, identification can be difficult when you can't see its red breast. Long distance and poor lighting conditions make it even more tricky. So why was I so confident that I knew what this bird was? I was using something called jizz. It is a combination of factors that characterise a particular species. These might include the way it flies, its general shape, characteristic movements, habitat and location. Put together these can often point to a single species.

You can use jizz to look for rarely-seen birds. For instance, if I see something that has the distinctive jizz of a Robin but something is not 'quite right', I'd take a closer look and see if it could be one of its close relatives, like the Bluethroat, instead. This species does not breed in the UK but a handful pass through the country every year, especially in autumn or spring. But consider the odds. If I see a Robin that doesn't 'feel' right the chances are incredibly small that it will actually be a Bluethroat. On the vast majority of such occasions the bird will turn out to be a regular Robin. My feeling that the jizz is not right will be a result of my not being completely familiar with every possible aspect of the Robin's appearance and behaviour.

Now suppose I see some animal I don't recognise at all. It could be an anomalous 'out of place' or 'unknown' animal. However, as in the case of the Bluethroat, the chances are very high that it is actually a species native to the UK that I have either never seen before or don't recognise because I'm not completely familiar with its jizz.

It is not just birders and naturalists who use jizz to identify animals. Everyone does it without realizing what the process is. We all, even those people who have no interest in natural history, unconsciously absorb details of animal appearance and behaviour. But the process is error-prone. Encounters with wild animals are often fleeting and distant as most avoid human contact. So few people get a chance to build up a great familiarity with any particular species. I suspect many of the reports of 'out of place' or 'unknown' animals in the UK are misidentifications of native species, or pets, where the witness has little experience of their jizz.

And sometimes even familiar species can appear unfamiliar. I have previously reported several times on the crows at a nearby railway station (see here). They have started to behave more like street pigeons than wild crows. They allow people to approach them to within a metre, they walk off rather than fly away and are found in covered areas with no immediate access to the sky. All these behaviors are more typical of street pigeons than wild crows. If a local population of a familiar species starts to behave in an unusual way, it can easily make identification by jizz problematic. This could easily lead to the misidentification of such species as 'out of place' or 'unknown' animals.

There is a fascinating article in this week's New Scientist concerning evolution. Recent research suggests that species may adapt to new environmental conditions BEFORE any genetic mutation takes place. One dramatic experiment showed how fish could learn to walk if changes in their habitat demanded it, without any genetic change. It now seems that, in evolution, adaptation may precede genetic mutation.

It hadn't occurred to me before that the unusual behaviour in some of our local crows could actually be evolution itself in action. Pigeons have become adapted to life in close proximity to humans, forming a subspecies - the feral or street pigeon. So, are we witnessing the birth of a new subspecies of crow - the street crow? Will our city streets one day have as many crows as pigeons? If so, you read it here first! Well, maybe first ...

16 January: Scary ghost!

VigilCrossing a familiar room in low light, there was someone sitting on a seat nearby. I stopped, shocked! I knew I was definitely alone in the building! The 'someone' quickly resolved into some clothing left on the seat. So, a misperception ghost but that didn't stop it being unsettling for a few seconds.

As a serious paranormal researcher I am not usually scared of ghosts. Indeed, I willingly seek them out and really want to see them. The only reason this particular ghost shocked me was that it was so unexpected. When you know, for an absolute fact, that you are alone, it is disturbing to suddenly find someone else present!

Looking back at my various ghost sightings, all have come as a surprise though not usually an alarming one. In many cases, I was not even aware that I was seeing a ghost at first, so I didn't have any emotional reaction, good or bad. Looking at reports from other ghost witnesses, these sort of experiences are fairly typical.

Ghosts do, of course, have a reputation for being scary. This has never really affected me. I am more excited at the prospect of seeing a ghost than anxious about it. I do admit, however, that there was one occasion when I was alone in a haunted location and felt slightly uneasy. A team of us were packing up after a night-long ghost vigil in which, as usual, nothing much had happened.

I was, by chance, all alone in the most haunted room putting equipment away. I knew that ghosts typically show up, not during the formal vigil, but at breaks or the start or end of the event. So I wondered what might happen. Also, some people I knew as highly reliable witnesses had seen a ghost very clearly in that very room on a previous occasion not long before. I reasoned that if I was going to see a ghost at all, this was the time and place! I glanced around repeatedly while working. I really wanted to see the ghost but I was not sure how I'd react if I actually DID see it. In the event, the ghost did not show.

I think the scary reputation of ghosts probably derives, at least partly, from their habit of turning up unexpectedly. If you suddenly find yourself looking at someone who you know cannot, or should not, be there it can be unsettling. Another part of their scary reputation, no doubt, comes from the popular idea that they are spirits, despite the lack of any compelling evidence that they are. I am always pleased and excited to see ghosts but they do have a slightly disturbing habit of turning up when and where you least expect them.

14 January: Odd experiences on transport

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) with MWR (microsleep with REM) has noticed something interesting. A microsleep occurs when someone temporarily loses awareness for a few seconds. Many people experience this phenomenon occasionally. A tiny minority, usually those with a sleep disorder, go straight into a dream state. This MWR state can produce some experiences strongly resembling reported anomalous experiences. For instance, the experiencer might be suddenly (apparently) transported to a completely different place and situation. Or a single object, such as a human figure, may be 'added' to the real scene, like a hypnagogic experience. The latter could easily be reported as a ghost (see here, for an example).

MA experiences microsleep episodes without a dream state in addition to MWRs. Typical situations that produce microsleep for MA are reading quietly, watching TV or while riding form of transport, like a train. The majority of the MWR episodes occur on transport while most microsleep episodes WITHOUT an accompanying dream state occur when watching TV.

So what is it about riding transport that encourages microsleep to be accompanied by a dream state? It cannot be ambient sounds because TV appears to actually suppress MWR, for MA at least. It could possibly be the sensation of vibration produced by a moving vehicle. More examples are required to determine what is going on. It is, nevertheless, interesting that moving vehicles are associated so strongly with MWR, while TV watching seems to suppress it.

12 January: Beyond the strangeness threshold

CrowI was at a railway station recently when I heard an odd sound. It was like something tapping lightly, but insistently, on the metal roof over the platform. Furthermore, the tapping sounded as though it was moving around the roof! As it happens, it is possible to see the roof concerned from above from an adjacent bridge, so I soon discovered the cause of the mysterious noise.

What I found really odd, however, was that no one else on the platform appeared in the least bit interested in the loud and distinctly odd sound. Either they didn't notice it or, if they did, they didn't care. Of course, it's possible that they were fascinated by the strange sound but simply showed no sign on their faces. Somehow I doubt it.

I have a theory that people are less prone to noticing odd things in public spaces. I think this is because they are aware, albeit unconsciously, that there are many sounds and sights beyond their experience in such places. Thus, they reason, again unconsciously, that anything unusual experienced in a public space is probably quite normal. Of course, there is a limit to this mechanism. When things become sufficiently strange, people will start to notice them and wonder. Something tapping on a metal roof is below this threshold for most people, apparently.

Regular readers will know that I often notice strange things, when I'm out and about, that could easily be taken for paranormal. In almost every such case, no one else present appears to have noticed the odd thing that I saw or heard. Indeed, on the rare occasion when I have had a companion present who I could ask, they have confirmed that they hadn't noticed anything strange. I guess I have a much lower 'strangeness threshold' than most people.

The interesting thing about this 'strangeness threshold' is that when people DO finally notice something odd, they have little experience of xenonormal phenomena to compare it with. Indeed, this may explain why so many anomalous reports turn out, on investigation, to have natural causes. I notice xenonormal stuff all the time so, when something really weird comes along, I have many ideas about what could be causing it straight away. This general lack of awareness of the xenonormal means that witnesses generally have little or no idea what to look out for when they notice something strange. Which is a pity because such information would be extremely valuable to paranormal investigators.

And the moving tapping sound on the metal roof? It was the sound of crows walking across it, something the accompanying photo no doubt gave away.

9 January: Mysterious flashes in the sky

cloudsOne morning before dawn, recently, I noticed two bright flashes in the sky. Each lasted perhaps a second or two, with a gap of several seconds between them. There were no more. At first I thought nothing of it until I realized the duration of the flashes appeared too long for lightning and there were no other indications, like thunder or rain, of a storm. I have never noticed such flashes before. So what could be the cause?

The sky was overcast and the flashes both illuminated only one small portion of clouds. So whatever it was had to confined to a small area. I did not see the light grow or fade in intensity but it was over so quickly I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway.

There is one further important clue - the sound of low flying aircraft. The area has aircraft stacks, being near a major airport. If this sounds like an important clue, that I should have been mentioned earlier, it is lucky I even noticed it at all. In areas with stacks the sound of low flying planes is so pervasive that the locals rarely even notice it, so it is easily overlooked.

I have often seen aircraft flying slowly in low cloud at night. It resembles a car's headlights in thick fog. These flashes did no look that at all. However, it is easy to imagine how a plane might have traversed a gap in the cloud so that its lights briefly illuminated a thin layer of cloud below. This would appear as a 'flash' in the clouds viewed from the ground. Aircraft, therefore, seem the most likely explanation. Other possibilities, like silent lightning or even a very bright meteor, appear a lot less likely.

One interesting point that arises from this is that sound of aircraft, so pervasive that it is not likely to be noticed by locals, could easily not have formed part of this incident report at all. One wonders how many vital clues to the true identity of an anomalous incident may have been missed because they are so common in a particular area that the witnesses do not even register their presence. A visit to the site by an investigator might help with this problem.

5 January: Weird 'shiny string' in photo

Odd reflectionThis photo (right) shows a forked branch in the foreground with water in the background. But there is something weird too. In the top left, touching one of the branches, there is a string of bright shiny objects. In fact, the 'shiny string' is partly in front of the branch, showing that it is not something in the water. So what is it?

The 'shiny string' was visible in the camera at the time of exposure. It was not, however, visible to the naked eye. So, it must be a photographic artefact of some kind. It could be lens flare, though it would not be typical if it was. I studied the object carefully at the time and it appeared to be an image of the water behind. It looked like water waves caught in bright sunlight.

Unlike lens flare, it was a clear image of an object elsewhere in the frame. As such, the most likely cause was reflection. As a test, I temporarily removed a UV filter from the front of the camera lens (see here for information on photographic filters). I did this several times and, each time I removed the filter, the 'shiny string' vanished too! So, it appears that the reflection occurred because of the presence of the filter.

I have seen anomalous photos before containing 'objects' that looked like reflections of other things in the frame. Obviously, if you are taking photos through a glass window, reflections are always likely (see 'Light in the sky' for instance). But apparent reflections are much more puzzling when there is no intervening pane of glass. This photo shows that, in the right circumstances, photographic filters can cause reflected images too. It's certainly something to check for when such images are examined. The effect can be startling and, initially at least, not easy to explain.

2 January: Night UFO

Night UFOThis UFO photo (right) was taken recently but it is not a sky lantern, even though they are often seen around New Year (see here). Though it's not easy to see in this small version of the picture, the UFO is elliptical. The countryside scene was actually much darker than it appears here. So what is this silent twilight UFO?

The first point to note is that the object is not really elliptical at all. In another photo, taken within a second of this one, the object looks circular. The reason the object looks elliptical in one frame is camera shake. The camera was hand-held with a shutter speed was 1/8s. In fact, the object is not circular either. The reason it looks circular is that it is out of focus, as is everything in the photo. The object is a light on an aircraft. It might actually be physically circular for all I know but it is certainly not as big as it appears here. These points are worth bearing in mind when examining photos showing UFOs that were not noticed at the time of exposure.

The area where the photo was taken is interesting because there are lots of aircraft flying at a relatively low altitude. However, they are not usually at a low enough altitude to be heard. So there are often silent planes to be seen, which show up as mysterious lights at night. No doubt the locals are used to this but visitors might be surprised to see all those moving silent lights in the night sky. There are several airfields in the vicinity and one large airport a little further away.

It would be entirely possible to take this sort of photo without noticing the aircraft at the the time of exposure. In such low light conditions autofocus struggles and long exposures are highly likely. So, it is not difficult at all to end up with a saucer-like shaped UFO like this one. For more xenonormal UFO photos see here.

PS: The ASSAP website recorded 5,264,418 hits in 2014, compared to 3,907,796 in 2013 and 4,459,343 in 2012.

Last month's (December) website figures are an average of 15265 hits per day. This is down on the previous month's 18574 daily average.

© Maurice Townsend 2015

ASSAP

Previous blog pages ...

  • Dec 2014 (including lumpy horizon, green blob, strange lights, orbs, white floating thing)
  • Nov 2014 (including doors opening by themselves, haunting flashes, sense of presence, formant noise)
  • Oct 2014 (including animal ghosts, tricorn-hatted figure, seeing 0.23 celebrities monthly, dancing ghost)
  • Sep 2014 (including paper defying gravity, low flying UFOs, photographing ghosts, movonmg still photos)
  • Aug 2014 (including figure on a pillar, orbs still worth studying, ghost objects, shadow ghost)
  • July 2014 (including yellow orb, teleportation, ghostly whispers, owl, strange announcement)
  • June 2014 (including hand in a tree, blurry flying object, white alien, strange pattern on a dragonfly)
  • May 2014 (including single witness UFOs, ghosts vanishing, anomalies seen through gaps, rock face, creeping doppelgangers)
  • Apr 2014 (including unrecognized ghosts, odd UFO photo, do short-sighted people see ghosts, man with no face)
  • Mar 2014 (including unusual shaped UFO, ghost on a train, ghost presence, vampires, ghost calling)
  • Feb 2014 (including confusion, daylight orbs, haunted milk bottle, ghost on a bridge, too obvious explantations)
  • Jan 2014 (including colliding orbs, ball lightning, de-orbing, ghost mouse, mysterious flashes, ghost misidentification)
  • Dec 2013 (including popping orbs, new shadow ghost, ignoring a ghostly hand, dust turning into orbs videoed)
  • Nov 2013 (including hearing voices, blurry ghosts, mirrors and ghosts, coincidences, UFOs near airports)
  • Oct 2013 (including fairy photo, mist ghost, yeti, premonitions, orbs are NOT dust, how hauntings start)
  • 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