ASSAP: Paranormal Research
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Time displacement paranormal

In many cases witnesses only realise they've seen something anomalous after the event. For instance, someone might see a human figure in an office and think nothing of it until later, when they realise they were actually alone in a locked building. Then they start to think it was a ghost. It is only the 'impossibility' of the sighting that makes it apparently paranormal.

This is a 'time displaced' paranormal report because, at the time, nothing appeared wrong or unusual about what was seen. Lots of ghost reports are like this which is why apparitions are often reported as looking completely normal. By contrast, many UFO witnesses are aware at the time of their observation that they are seeing something weird.


Time displaced paranormal reports (TDPRs) can have the same range of possible explanations as those where witnesses realise they are experiencing something odd. Many may be misperception, for instance.

Impossible or improbable?

TDPRs are interesting because they rely mainly on factors other then the phenomenon itself. The figure in the office in example above is only a ghost if it is certain there was no one else present. Otherwise, they are just a real person. Even if no one else was present it could still be a misperception of a hat stand!

The problem for paranormal investigators then becomes deciding whether something really was impossible, improbable or a misperception (or hallucination). Often we have to rely on the witness's memory or on what 'must have happened'. This latter line of thought goes thus: a block of offices is always locked at 6pm so anyone seen there after that must be a ghost! Of course, such rules can always be broken. Unless there is some evidence, such as from a CCTV, that a building really was locked up and empty, it is difficult to take this as positive evidence of the presence of a ghost.

Evidence missed

A major problem with TDPRs is that, because the witness didn't know there was something odd going on, they won't have looked for any other evidence (either for or against the paranormal) or made a detailed observation. If you pass someone in a crowd in the street, you're unlikely to remember much about them. But that person could potentially have been a ghost! The same thing happens in TDPRs.

Multiple sightings

A one-off TDPR can be very frustrating and unlikely to produce positive evidence of the paranormal. If, however, the same thing is reported repeatedly from the same site, there might be something in it. However, if the later witnesses were aware of previous reports, psychological suggestion is always a distinct possibility. Given several reports by independent witness, however, there might well be something there worth investigating.

Why paranormal?

Why do people, when encountering an apparently 'impossible' occurrence, so readily consider the paranormal? There may be an explanation in ghost stories. Many ghost stories involve a 'twist in the tail' device whereby a hitherto seemingly normal situation is revealed as paranormal by an 'impossible' feature. For instance, someone has a chat with a stranger only to find out later that the person had died years before! It is possible that this literary device is seen by many people as an indicator of the paranormal. Real life lacks the emotionally appealing neat structure of ghost stories and many TDPR cases turn out to have natural explanations.

© Maurice Townsend 2009