Long term readers of this blog will recall that I have mentioned a few times Becky Smith’s PhD research (based at Coventry Uni) in to anomalous experiences – ghosts, poltergeists, hallucinations, hauntings, call them what you will. Well she has started the main data collection phase now, and is trying to get as many accounts as possible from people who would answer positively to this main question
Have you ever (when fully awake and unaffected by illness, alcohol or drugs) had an experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there was no ordinary cause for it that you could find?
If alternatively you would answer positively to
Have you ever witnessed unexplained movement of objects, or other disturbances in a house or building?
Then she would also like to hear from you! Even if you took part in a previous study, do go fill in the questionnaire, which can be found at www.strangesurvey.com
Also, if you can assist in publicizing the study, by passing on the details to friends who you know have had an experience of this type, or by sharing it with a random selection of acquaintances on Facebook or similar, please do. Don’t spam your mailing lists though, unless it’s directly on-topic!
Thanks for your assistance, and if you have any questions I’ll pass them on to Becky The important thing is to try and get as large a response as possible.
I’m sure many of you will recognise the question as a variant of that used in the 1894 SPR Census of Hallucinations, and DJ West’s classic studies.
Sorry chaps, owing to a slight sniffle and being generally run down I have missed April Fool’s day this year! Last year of course was my spoof on James Randi’s silly nonsense about Nazareth never existed – but this year I was just too tired and ill and stayed in bed till just after twelve! I have been busy though: last weekend i went home to Suffolk for my father’s birthday celebration, where Becky and I tried our hand at betting on Greyhound racing – yes I finally went to the dogs – and i was delighted to see adverts and places to donate to Greyhound Rescue Charities everywhere. Oh and we won a little, which was nice, better than my awful attempts at betting on horse races….
Glad to report my parents in good health, and all my family OK except poor little Charlie who continues his ongoing medical struggles (my great nephew). Particularly good to catch up with Per again and meet his new girlfriend Julia, and to see Charlotte and Kirsten. They are all growed up: I suppose now I have hit forty I should expect that!
I have been keeping myself very busy – the new blog POLTERWOTSIT now contains accounts from the Cork, York and Stockport poltergeists reported in the last few days in the press.
Anyway this is very much an interim post before we return to my usual musings, I have resisted the urge to talk about the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail on public sector pensions, and have not ranted about anything for once. I have a stack of game reviews to post (I may offer them to rpg.net though) and will be writing more after Easter, but for now have a wonderful Eastertime, and don’t eat too many chocolate eggs or you will start to look like me!
OK, firstly a huge vote of thanks to all the readers of this my personal blog. The blog is not going anywhere: it will continue with exactly the same kind of articles as before, including the parapsychology and ghost ones. However, after much thought I have decided to launch a second blog, POLTERWOTSIT. Whereas this blog is entirely CJ (except an essay on poltergeist by Becky!) the new blog which will be covering current events in paranormal research, parapsychology, ghosthunting and especially poltergeist and ghost related stories will have many authors represented, though under the watchful eye of myself, Baldrick69 and Becky. I’m hoping to persuade a few others to join our merry band (Tom R, are you reading?) but we will see!
So far I have not even had time to sort out the links, or to get it properly set up. Eventually I may migrate a few of the more interesting articles from this blog (like the one about the SPR) across to the new blog, but at the moment i am going to start slow, and we are calling for reader’s own accounts t share ont he blog. If you have an interesting real life experience of a ghost or poltergeist type nature, or something to say on the subject, do email me or comment!
Anyway I’d best wrap up there for now. Hope you enjoy the new blog!
I wrote this update for Facebook fans of my little ghost research group, GSUK. I thought I may as well share it on my blog as well!
We maintain a quiet but social forum, and are always delighted to welcome new members. You can sign up here –
and it is the first place we announce new research or forthcoming events. Once you have signed up Becky or I have to approve you, so please do include an email – this is simply because we used to be besieged by SPAMbots who put some, er, interesting, links all over the forum!
If you have forgotten your password, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll sort you out
or visit their website at http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/
Becky completed the MSc course in Parapsychology at Coventry University – http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=MSc+Parapsychology&init=quick#!/pages/Coventry/Coventry-University-MSc-Parapsychology/109629113877?ref=search&sid=642030568.4198790475..1 – highly recommded if you have the time and money.
She is now working on a PhD in anomalous experiences based on looking at peoples strange happenning and so forth. Last summer she and I conducted a trial piece of research, which we are currently coding, with one very interesting result straight off — http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/charting-the-unknown-ghosts-memory-the-progress-of-time/
I have been busy writing reviews for The SPR (one is in the current issue of the Paranormal Review actually: Tricia Robertson on psychic surgery, a most fascinating talk) and i’m keeping up to date on the latest in parapsychology.
Becky and i are now officially an item – we still have not moved in together, so we are commuting between Derby and Cheltenham at weekends, so things are a bit hectic.
The Next Event
No dates yet, as i’m still trying to sort out the best location, and what exctly we want to try. Our ghost nights are always a bit “different”, but I’ll keep you updated!
Please note all this is a work in progress: little more than a series of memo’s in which Becky and I are developing ideas we want to explore…
OK last night I posted on a topic that interested me, and seemed to suggest that we forget anomalous experiences quite quickly. Andrew has raised the possibility that the more recent experiences may simply be made up: I admit that is possible, but wonder why people would claim the fictional experience was situated in the last twelve months, rather than long ago, or just today?
This morning I am going to look at the data again, but this time look at age at time of the experience rather than time elapsed between the experience and the report. The first chart shows the ages of our respondents – by category, as we do not possess precise ages for most respondents, and many said things like “when I was living with my parents” or “twelve years ago”.
Table 1. Age of Persons Who Responded
As you can see, they cluster around the 30′s - unsurprising given the method of collection, as most of the people who viewed the question were in that age category! However the age of percipients does set an upper limit for both how long ago an experience can have occurred, obviously enough (people can not have anomalous experiences before they were born), so I have reproduced the data here. It is a shame we did not ask for more precise ages!
Perhaps more interesting is the following chart, which shows how old people were when the claimed anomalous experience took place.
Table 2. Number of INCIDENTS reported by age category
The sharp decline after 30′s is simply owing to the age of our respondents as shown in the first chart, os it is not safe to assume any falling off in experience as we grow older, and the data set is really too small to allow for any meaningful statistical analysis (which is why the study used Grounded Theory methodology). The 1894 Census saw a peak around the age of 21: however there were methodological problems in that Census which may account for this. The Census of Hallucinations (1894) discounted experiences below the age of ten years – we have reported on them and included them in our dataset.
Bear in mind these are experiences, not people. As we shall see in future reports, some people reported many incidents of allegedly anomalous experiences. Also note that continuing and ongoing experiences were not included in these figures. 42 incidents could be placed at a certain age in the percipient’s life from the accounts submitted.
However, some experiences (mainly those in childhood) were placed at a precise age: so here are the break downs for the under 20′s…
Table 3. Incidents in the Under-20′s
The number of experiences at age 18 to 19 appears comparatively high: not quite sure why that should be. Maybe moving away from home?
Anyway these figures are not as interesting as the last set to my mind, but if anyone has comment or thoughts on all this we would love to hear them!
OK something mildly interesting tonight – very much a preliminary set of thoughts on something Becky and I are still working on. Before she started her PhD we undertook some simple research on reports of “paranormal experiences” together, using a novel new methodology which is actually quite close to that used by the SPR in the 1894 Census of Hallucinations. And something has already come up that I find fascinating!
I don’t know yet if Becky is going to develop said methodology for her PhD, so I won’t talk about it here, but the important thing is with the help of a number of friends, including but not limited to Yvette Nicole-Hall, Axel Johnston, Rupert Scott-Ward, Miranda Cardew, Lynn Cinderey, Emma and Paul Tudor, Thomas Nowell and others (the full list will appear in the final paper if we ever finish writing this up: please drop me a line if you took part and I have missed you off the list!) we collected sixty “paranormal” type experiences. We then coded them, using a Grounded Theory approach, and I’m still looking at the data.
The question that was posed in our “accidental census” (Becky developed the methodology quite by chance) was
“Have you ever – when believing yourself to be fully awake and unaffected by illness, drink or drugs — had a vivid experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there is nothing there and no ordinary cause you can find?”
or one of three other minor variations of the same, as we were playing around with the wording, experimenting with the original SPR form, DJ West’s, the MAss Observation Survey question and finally Becky’s own version (above). The only difference noted was in number of responses,
So what did we find? Well one thing I mentioned the other day leapt out at me immediately. Remember I said in the piece on Thetford Priory and my own ghost experience that I thought experiences diminished rather the grew in the telling, and that many events that seemed quite “paranormal” at the time are quickly forgotten? Well sixty cases is not a lot to base anything on, but here is a quick chart I just knocked up in Open Office Calc.
Bit blurry as I’m not good with the Export function. Anyway at first glance, it seems to show pretty much what we might expect in terms of a fairly even distribution of our experiences. Ah I hear you cry – there are only 49 percipients (people who experienced the event) listed here. Yep, in some cases it was impossible to work out exactly WHEN the event occurred from the narratives we received, and we also omitted repeated phenomena (as in “this happens to me every day” and continuing phenomena, as in “and it’s still happening…”) from this chart. If they were included the effect would be stronger I think…
So what is puzzling me? The garishly (and with no regard to red/green colour blindness: I should have checked how to change the colours) bars do not represent equal periods of time. Two people reported their event the day it happened, the first bar. The second bar is those who told us of something in the last week, the third the last month. The first 5 bars represent events that were experienced in the last year… But as we get further down the chart, well the fifth bar is four years (from 12 months to 5 years), then we go up in 5 year blocks, then ten years.
Here is the important bit: in the last twelve months, twelve people claim to have had an experience of the type we are interested in – including witnessing an apparition, seeing an object move in what appears to be a “paranormal” fashion, hearing voices, being touched by invisible presences, etc, while well and not under the influence of drugs or drink. So lets assume that people are more likely to recall and report accurately events in the last twelve months. Using that 12 months as a baseline; if that rate was the average (assuming that Dave Williams was wrong earlier tonight when he joked “it looks like Zuul is coming to the West Midlands!) then we would expect sixty reports in each of the 5 year blocks; the mean is actually 4.6 reports per five years. So where are the missing 275+ reports?
Well the age of the population reporting is obviously crucial. We only asked by decade of age, and though I have some precise ages, for most people I only know if they were say in their thirties or forties. I created a chart to show the distribution here. With the limited data I have I would estimate the average age is somewhere around 33. It is hardly surprising then that many people do not report events forty years ago — they were not born.
This leave three main hypotheses to consider to account for the issue
1. The one the SPR Report On the Census of Hallucinations put forward in 1894, and I mentioned to Wiseman & Watt at the Science of Ghosts event in Edinburgh last April, which seemed to surprise them – – people rapidly forget anomalous experiences in the main.
2. People are reporting the most spectacular events they can think of they have experienced, and ignoring minor recent experiences that would meet the Census question.
3. People are making up their experiences, and claiming these false experiences happened recently. I rather doubt this one for various reasons, not least the mode of collection for the data, and the fact the same pattern is found in Sidgwick (1894) – and I suspect in Donald West’s three studies.
I will return to this issue tomorrow, and talk more about the preliminary findings. For the moment I welcome any comment, in particular suggestion of appropriate statistical measures to employ on the quantitative data as Becky has returned to Derby to work, and I’m fairly rubbish at this sort of thing.
As usual I am utterly broke, so the exciting new feature this week on the blog is – a DONATE button! It’s OK, don’t feel obliged, and I can’t imagine anyone will really want to financially support my blog (or me) but it’s always nice to give people the option, just in case. So if you cribbed your entire essay off my site for a homework assignment, then feel free to express your appreciation! In fact if one in a thousand visitors gave a pound, I’d have thirty quid now and be very happy indeed instead of deeply worried about how I’m going to eat next week!
So what goes on in my world? I’m actually quite busy – Becky is down to visit for a few days tonight, and I am very glad as an unexpected bank charge, just as mysterious as the last set, has cleared me out and i am now flat broke. I will get to the bottom of it and as before get it refunded, but it’s deeply frustrating as you can imagine.
On a happier note (which is not to say that Becky’s visit is not a happy note!) the new Rationalskepticism.org forum appears to be going well — I have stepped down as a moderator now that it is established, simply because of time pressures — and Richard Dawkins has apologised for the forum meltdown and a further update has been published by his admins.
All is well that ends well, I guess.
Despite having no money I have had quite a good week, and expect I will find time to write some more soon. I have been quite busy with various SPR related activities, and a friend has asked me to conduct some experiments on a psychometry claimant – should be interesting!
Sorry to have little to report: the old financial blues mean i have to spend even more time seeking paid employment, and less messing about on the internet. Still I’ll get there!
all the best