I have been meaning to mention this for a very long time! Back in 1981 a new UK parapsychology group, ASSAP, was founded. ASSAP stands for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, and they today describe themselves as a “paranormal education and research charity”, and are very active. I was a member for a while in the 1990′s and am rejoining after a long period of poverty enforced my absence, and I hope to get more involved in ASSAP matters.
Anyway from 1981 to 2011 is thirty years, and ASSAP are putting together what looks to be a truly fantastic conference to be held this year at the University of Bath, on the 10-11th September. The anniversary conference is entitled Seriously Strange, and looks perfect for both the really hard-core paranormal research types who are interested in Ganzfeld experiments & Bem’s precognitive habituation, through the most ardent ghosthunter, and certainly given ASSAP’s always critical and sceptical approach Sceptics. Forteans will love it too, from what I can see of the line up.
So where is Bath, and how do I get there?
It’s in the Southwest UK, but within easy reach of London, Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and the South Coast, and only an hour from Birmingham. If you are further north then it may be a long drive, but certainly worth it! Travel details on conference site here. All contact details are here, but you can book online or by calling 0845 652 1648
However note that the SPR’s 35th International Psychical Research Conference is in Edinburgh the weekend before ( I may well blog on this when I have more details) and if you are in North America Atlantic University is hosting a Parapsychology & Consciousness conference in October.
So how much does Seriously Strange cost?
Always my first question! For non-ASSAP members it is £15 for the whole weekend, which is an amazing bargain. If you happen to be a member, it is still possible you might get a free ticket, if you act fast. So a good reason to join ASSAP? There is also some rather nice accommodation very reasonably priced for Bath at the venue – click here for details…
Who is giving talks?
Well 19 of the most respected researchers in the field, and one less respected, namely me! Here is the line up from the web page…
What is the BIG announcement that will change the future of Paranormal Research in the UK forever?
I don’t actually know what this announcement that is due to be made at the conference involves, but I do know it will be big, and potentially effect all ghost groups and paranormal investigators in the UK. Us poor speakers won’t be told till anyone else! Shall I speculate? Why not!
I doubt that Dave Woods and Nicky Sewell have caught a ghost in a bottle, or have managed to set up an ITC channel to the Other Side and we will have a live discussion with the ghosts of Elvis and Einstein. I don’t think this is a scientific breakthrough, or I think we would be awaiting a journal publication. So what is it? My guess would be something regarding the ethics and “best practice” of UK paranormal investigation. ASSAP have for many years run a training course for would be paranormal investigators, and grant a type of “kitemark” standard to those who pass it who become Accredited Investigators. I suspect something seriously big along those lines?
Or it could be something organizational like a merger with the SPR I guess; that would certainly be huge, as I think it was fair to say that ASSAP was a split off from the SPR at a time when the latter organization was more focused on experimental lab psi research and less on spontaneous cases. Perhaps a cooperative programme to set up research units across the country? Who knows!
Finally I can only think of either a new Parapsychology undergrad degree (the first in UK since Edinburgh shut theirs in 1981), or some kind of national reporting system like the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee, which processes appeals for help from the public.
The truth is, I don’t know, but if you are in to “ghost culture” and live in the UK you will probably want to be there to voice your opinions of whatever it is and react!
Hope to see you all there!
Well we come at last to my final review of the 2011 Cheltenham Science Festival, Richard Wiseman’s Seance at the Playhouse Theatre. Professor Wiseman was of course up to his old tricks — a despicable performance in which he tortured kittens, sacrificed goats to Dawkinsabub and then hypnotised the audience who compliantly became his slaves as he indoctrinated them against all that is good and holy — oh, sorry, no, that was my Paranormality review. Actually he was fantastic, and this was probably my favourite event of the week, though of course after over half a lifetime in psychical research I’m rather biased. Not many people can say this was there second (or actually fourth or fifth) séance they have observed this year at the Playhouse!
So what is Wiseman’s Seance? It’s a look at the phenomena of the Victorian physical mediumship scene (though of course such phenomena continues to be reported to this day, though less commonly – the Noah’s Ark Society produced some physical mediums I believe, and the Scole Group are the outstanding late twentieth century example). I doubt many in the audience today would know what I was on about it here, but it does not matter, as Wiseman provides a self contained, entertaining and actually rather informative narrative/experiment. Put aside your prejudices for a moment, and consider what Professor Wiseman has to teach us. I’m going to assume you know who Richard Wiseman is, because let’s face it apart from a few tribes living in the most impenetrable jungles of E17 who have never seen a Guardian readers face everyone knows who Richard Wiseman is, and if this week was anything to go by, regards him as a dear and bosom pal, have done several shows with him, and have taken deep personal offence to my Paranormality review (despite me giving it 5 stars on Amazon…) If you don’t know, flip back through my blog – he is the guy who gets mentioned more than my girlfriend, which has to be unhealthy!
So, to start with Richard shows a large picture of Houdini and asks the audience who it was. I was so tempted to shout Ehrich Weiss! (Houdini’s name, well actually that is the Anglicized spelling he adopted later, but close enough). Before I got the chance someone answered correctly. So how did I know? Well because I happen to be a fan of Mr Weiss/Houdini, and have a few biographies, and this may surprise many of you, a number of books on conjuring and magic. I think it was the influence of another psychical researcher and very young magician, Mike Rose (UK), who I knew in Bury St Edmunds when he was still a young but very talented boy that led me to get interested. I’m good at the patter, but lack the practice, practice, practice that makes one a magician — but I genuinely enjoy my amateur conjuring exploits . I hate card tricks as it happens, but mind reading tricks delight me. I’m rubbish, but I do also love the history of magic, and read what I can, and yes I’m well aware of Houdini’s crusade against the spirits and the Scientific American committee controversy over Margery (Mina Crandon). All this is pretty much by the by, for Richard gave a very brief but highly amusing history of physical mediumship, and Houdini acted as a framing device.
Before I actually stop digressing and start reviewing, two quick things. An excellent biography of Houdini which I found very readable if that of Kalush and Sloman — but if you are interested in the psychical research aspect and the infamous Houdini codes then try to find a copy of Rinn, which I do not own. For the history of magic I always recommend Hiding the Elephant, a great book by Jim Steinmeyer. Secondly, and even more of an aside, sceptics are fond of telling me that James Randi has clearly shown that all psychical research is flawed by trained magicians not being involved — which shows a colossal ignorance of the pioneers of psychical research, a surprising number of whom were actually talented amateur magicians, yes even Harry Price who had a wonderful collection of rare magic books, now part of the University of London’s Harry Price Collection. One day I plan to write an essay on psychic researchers and magic, but to be honest Richard Wiseman could do it a hundred times better. Anyway, before you quote Project Alpha at me, or mention Randi and conjurers being needed in the investigation of mediums or spooks, please, please take out life insurance, and/or check your facts. Rant over.
OK, OK, the review! Richard Wiseman is a genuinely funny guy, and his presentation was both factually accurate and hilarious as he did a rather iconoclastic (by inference) blast through Daniel Dunglas Hume, the Fox Sisters, Katie King, in fact all the usual suspects for a quick presentation on physical mediumship. Only Agnes Guppy and Eusapia Palladino deserved a name check and failed to appear, possibly because they are too funny even for Richard’s wicked wit. Still, I nodded approvingly – Richard had a fairly neutral tone I thought, given his well known beliefs, but he was setting the scene for what was to come.
Which was,as the name suggests, a séance. Now Derren Brown did a show called Seance, which I rather suspect Richard was involved with somehow, though I do not know that. That was as far as I recall about “mental mediumship”, that is talking to the dead, Derek Acorah/Colin Fry style. This was about physical mediumship, which I could easily spend the next couple of hours discussing, but for the sake of this review it will suffice to say that it involves the spirits doing physical stuff, that is, moving objects around, physically manifesting (usually but not always out of a substance called “ectoplasm”) and otherwise physically interacting with the world.
He then asked for ten volunteers from the audience; people were allowed to opt out by raising their hands, and I did so immediately, as I had read his write ups of his earlier seances using the same model, and let’s face it I have a bit of experience in investigating seances (I have sat in well over a hundred now despite my religious objections and general distaste for them, as an observer rather than a participant). So I definitely DID NOT want to spoil the fun. Anyway I was sneakily taking photos of the side of the theatre, for reasons I’ll mention later in this review.
A quick test for suggestibility, ten audience members were selected and taken off to the séance room. Now you could see Wiseman the psychologist coming through; he performed a process of open disclosure and informed consent which would pass any Research Ethics committee, and commendably so. They all knew what they were letting themselves in for, and commendably so! They were taken off to another room – the panelled room just to the right of the Stage door near the Playhouse Bar as it happens, and then with a melodramatic patter that would embarrass any TV medium with it’s gleeful over the top-ness, they sat in the Victorian style séance room in total darkness, holding hands and controlling the medium (Wiseman) by holding his hands. For us still in the auditorium, it was all rather fun — for the poor volunteers it may well have been spine chilling!
And we could see just fine, as a Night Vision camera (active IR I’m guessing?) gave us a wonderful look at EXACTLY what was going on inside the room. The objects on the table were marked with phosphorescent tape, so the sitters could see them move, and move they did! A wicker ball rose in the air, castanets rattled, and so forth. In fact the table even lifted up in the air and moved violently. And the method used? Exactly the same as that used by my fake seances in my freeform live action roleplaying game Last Flight of the Albatross, which a few of you may have played in! So what was the method?
Um. I’m not going to say.
I’m not a magician, I’m not bound by that brotherhood’s code of secrecy. That it was faked you know, and faked by methods that require no real conjuring skill by the fact you know I have done it in the past for tw runs of the aforementioned game – right down to the table rattling. In fact because my “sitters” were playing in character, and because the séance in my game lasted rather longer, it was I think arguably more effective than Richard’s, what with all the screaming. So why not say? Well because to do so spoils the fun here: it was not by any method that any sensible psychical researcher would not immediately spot. If you want to know, look up Richard’s JSPR article on the Fielding Report on the Naples sitting with Eusapia Palladino – because no one ever hits the donate button on this blog (this may count as an unsubtle hint!) I can not afford to rejoin the SPR yet and my LEXSCIEN account has lapsed, but if you look up the terms I just mentioned in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research you will find the article, and just assume it was a rather simpler version of that, requiring no carpentry!
The idea for the series of experiments was created by Richard with the wonderful Andy Nyman who did the West End show Ghost Stories, and like that is simple but remarkably effective. I thought it worked really well, and the audience (and I among them) loved it, but honestly, the science festival attendees while clearly nervous were just not primed to lose it half as much as people did during the real seances Ross Andrews ran at the Playhouse during the Paranormal Festival earlier in the year. No trickery was used there, and any phenomena were real, and heck, did people scream, shout, freak out and have intense emotional experiences — all real.
And here is my first critique. In all my hundred plus séance experiences/observations, at Derby Gaol, a couple of dozen other places, and here in the Playhouse Theatre, I never faked anything. Stuff happened, people freaked out, people were convinced. But it was real – which is not to say it was necessarily paranormal, indeed many times I am absolutely convinced it was not, but people had very intense experiences. Here the volunteers did not seem to come close, and the reason was Richard was working against the almost impossible problem they knew it was faked, and they were at a Wiseman show. Not completely impossible to overcome as I shall explain in part 2 of this review, but certainly difficult. For now I need a rest so part 2 will follow tomorrow…
I have a lot more to say,and most of it good!
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.
Over at http://www.rationalskepticism.org I’m debating the poster known as Campermon, an excellent chap. So far we are just really getting started, but I thought I’d share one of my posts, just in case anyone interested…
“My sincere thanks to Campermon for his excellent response, which clear took a great deal of work, and has done much to move the debate forward. What strikes me immediately is how much we agree on. I will take a temporary halt from my catalogue of marvels – or “ghost stories” as many have termed them – to discuss what we have so far established. Firstly Campermon stakes out his position on ghosts clearly; “that they are purely manifestations of the brain that do not represent objects in objective reality.” He writes with considerable accuracy and verve on hallucinations, and hypnagogia: fields I have written extensively upon in the past, and where I feel well qualified to comment. And I will comment – I agree absolutely with Campermon here. As I wrote in my opening post
CJ wrote: I would imagine every reader of this debate has hallucinated – if not through drugs, fever or exhaustion, then in that most wonderful yet familiar of things, our nightly dreams. That our brains can conjure up convincing people, exotic landscapes, or whole dramas as if we are really there I think anyone who has ever had a dream will admit.
If ghosts were confined to sightings by a single individual at a time, then I would be forced to immediately concede the debate. That complicated multi-sensory hallucinations that can draw us in and seem utterly real, along with simple misperceptions and errors of memory, and still rather mysterious sleep phenomena – sleep paralysis, night terrors, ‘old hag’, hypnogogia and lucid dreams – can occur, that I accept without question. Yet I still hold to the argument I am debating for: and here is why…
Let us assume for a moment a universe where “ghosts” are hallucinatory experiences, generated entirely within the brain. This is a simple and entirely sensible position – in fact I think it’s pretty much what the 18th and 19th century consensus of scholars was – ghosts are just imagination, or mental aberrations, or straight misperception of normal (or unusual) events or objects. All of this is perfectly reasonable and doubtless accounts for a very large number of “ghost” experiences. As I have stated from the beginning, we all know we can hallucinate, even if our only experience of hallucination is the weird and wonderful world of dreams. Such “ghosts” will share certain properties, being the product of a “disordered” brain.
The theoretical properties of these hallucinations are –
i) They will only appear to one witness at a time – though a misperception (where there is something there, it just fools the senses, as in an optical illusion – misperceptions are not hallucination technically) could theoretically be shared by many. If a stick in the water looks like Nessie, it is possible that hundreds of observers could simultaneously see it and reach the erroneous conclusion it is a lake monster. ( I don’t think Campermon has invoked misperceptions yet, but it seems a fair extension of his position, and a sensible one, to allow for it?)
ii) They will convey no information to the percipient not known to them at the time. Again a caveat – if a ghostly monk now appears tonight to Campermon, and tells him the winner of the Grand National, we would all be impressed, not least Campermon I suspect. If it subsequently turns out to be incorrect, we might wonder if Campermon dreamt the whole affair. Yet even if Campermon was right, that could still be the explanation. The conveying of veridical information adds weight to the apparition being an external “thing”, not a hallucination, but does not alone substantiate it.
iii) They will not objectively cause physical ‘real world’ effects – no opening doors, moving objects, or otherwise impinging upon physical reality. Being mental constructs they can’t – if physical effects are ascribed to a ghost, then they must be misattributed.
iv) They will not reappear in the same place over time to different witnesses This requires a little explanation – if it is known that an Oxford courtyard is purportedly haunted by a shot Civil War general, we should not be surprised if others purport to see “the ghost”. If however over a period of many years many people witness an apparition, and agree on certain characteristics, independently and without foreknowledge of the purported haunt – then we may be justified in doubting the hallucination explanation.
So how well do ghost accounts meet these criteria? On point i) seen by a single witness, we know this is commonly not the case. About 10% of SPR cases were seen simultaneously by multiple percipients – the experience which got me interested in all this was of that type, shared with four other witnesses. We can invoke misperception as I have already stated – human perception is notoriously fallible, and a whole theatre of people can be wowed by a magicians trick.
Furthermore, in many cases there is communication between the parties – “do you see the monk?” etc, and even where there is no verbal communication there is the possibility of non-verbal prompting. In his classic analysis of the SPR Census cases Tyrell noted that in many multi-percipient cases witnesses saw the apparition from their perspective – a very clever trick for a hallucination. So if I was in front of the ghostly Dawkins, I would see his face – if you were behind, his tailcoats.
Yet I would not want to make too much of this (certainly less than Tyrell et al did) – for we have the problem that by the time testimony is recorded there has often been conferring among witnesses, which I suspect does much to shape the memory of the experience. In my own experience (at Thetford Priory, Norfolk, 1987) one of the other percipients (David Aukett) forbade us to discus the experience till we had committed it to paper – and on comparing we found that our descriptions of the apparitional figure were sharply divergent. (We did however all agree on the movements and the staircase which we saw, which did not exist in reality). I am fairly certain (given that none of us can now recall what happened that night with any degree of confidence at all) that the staircase was mentioned in the verbal exchange during the sighting – presumably why we agree on this detail – once someone mentioned it, we all “saw” it.
So i) is in fact, I freely admit, questionable evidence against the hallucination theory, but clearly it must be taken in to account.
Let’s move on to ii) where the ghosty tells us something we did not know. A quick anecdote here – because I am feeling self indulgent, at this late hour! Many years ago a group of munchkins, er sorry students, came to my room in college halls and announced they intended to do a Ouija board. I was amused and a bit concerned – I had seen people scare themselves silly by such things, but they wanted me to play as I had a reputation as knowing about such things. I refused, but said they could do it in my room if they wished, and I would observe and banish any horrors they called up from beyond the grave
They messed about for a while, the Ouija giving seemingly (seemingly?!!!) nonsensical answers. Finally I was bored, and said I would join in after all. And I cheated – I pushed the glass, and we soon had a message from a chap who was terribly burned, needed help, and I even made up a street address. They freaked out, someone fetched a map, and yes the street existed – well I may have seen it, I had been in to town, and dredged it out of my unconscious. I’d certainly seen maps of Cheltenham. And then to my amusement, they insisted on going and tracking down the house address, expecting to find the chap perished in the flames. I barely dissuaded them from calling the fire brigade! But hey, it was near the Kentucky Fried Chicken, so I tagged along. (I was a vegetarian in theory at the time, prone to late night lapses).
We went to the street, and there was no house at the address – perhaps luckily – but a gap in to a small row called Jenner Walk. “Perhaps it’s down there” someone said – and we walked down to find ourselves in a small burial ground. The name on a tombstone corresponded to the name I had invented for my “ghost” – it was a common name I think – but from that moment on they were convinced. I told them I had pushed the glass, and the whole message was made up by me, and it was just coincidence – but they did not believe me. I was a bit puzzled, but more amused than anything. Then one of them said “of course you were pushing the glass how else could it have moved? The message came from the spirit though.” Er, actually in poltergeist cases “spirits” seem to move things quite well on there own, but yes he had a point – the medium is not the message after all. Had I telepathically received a message? Actually I don’t think so – I think it was just an amusing and slightly freaky coincidence – but there is a theory that ghosts may represent an externalisation (or hallucination) of an ESP (telepathic or clairvoyant) impulse. Campermon has given an excellent explanation of the problems of the “mental radio” model of telepathy – I will address it in my next post in detail, as I think that will take us forward, but the purpose of my anecdote is to illustrate that simply because information is seemingly conveyed there is no need to invoke dead souls or telepathy – it could all be chance.
Now a little on the history of psychical research. The SPR back in the 1890′s was pretty much a mixed bag of believers and sceptics as today, but the people who worked on theories of apparitions – Myers and Gurney in particular – were I suspect strongly opposed to a “spiritualist” explanation of spooks.
They believed, from what today appear rather simple experiments, that they had found evidence of telepathy – mind to mind contact. (And again I must say I will return to Campermon’s objections to this concept in a future post, as they have considerable weight and good scientific sense behind them). These SPR theorists instead were of the opinion that spooks WERE hallucinations – but hallucinations that were “seeded” by an ESP message. (Well Myers thought this of some cases, but not all). And unsurprisingly their findings seemed to bear out this hypothesis – in the great Census of Hallucinations, they found many examples of what they termed Crisis Apparitions – where the hallucinated ghosty represented a person who at that time (with 12 hours either side allowable) was having a dramatic crisis or dying. I forget the exact number of such cases – one in 48 I think – but it was sufficient for them to decide that there telepathic theories were on the right lines.
They performed some very dodgy statistical calculations on the number of persons dying at any time, and felt they could rule out chance, and got copies of death certificates, sworn testimony from others who were told of these apparitions before the bad news arrived, etc, etc. They ruled out any where the person was known to be ill, or one might reasonably anticipate the events. The “purpose” of these hallucinations was to their mind to give form to a telepathic impulse. Such crisis apparitions are still reported today – but recent studies (including my own 2009 one) have shown them to be nowhere near as prevalent as in 1894. One could argue that with improved communications the news of a death almost always arrives before the ghost – but I suspect there is something else going on. Somehow the phenomena seemed to meet the expectations of the researchers – yet the actual question asked by the Collectors (not the theorists) in the Census
Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice; which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause? (Sidgwick et al, 1894)
In no way seems to me biased towards such results, and similar questions were used on later studies which provided fewer crisis reports. I would suspect folklore stories were providing the explanation – but the collection of independent corroborative testimony and death certificates suggest this was not so. The incidents were believed to have occurred. It is a minor mystery, but an intriguing one…
So why have I dwelt upon this issue? Because the Census question actually ruled out iii) – physical effects, barring the common and I suspect very normal somatosensory hallucination of being touched. The SPR theorists did not ask about objects moving, or ghosts physically effecting objects – because they had decided they were telepathically induced hallucinations, and such clearly ridiculous phenomena were quite evidently incompatible with this theory. In fact Myers theories included an explanation for iv) ghosts seen in a location independently by different witnesses over the decades – he thought a telepathic impulse could somehow be caught in the environment, and then be replayed years later to a suitably sensitive percipient. So if John has just expired laughing at my arguments, his ghost may be seen in the future by later generations – but it is just a recording of the past events. In fact this “recording hypothesis” is one of the most popular lay theories of ghosts today – but it rules out any kind of physical phenomena.
And yet – in a huge number of cases, apparitions appear to correspond with actual physical effects. Objects move, doors open and close, and stuff gets thrown about, etc, etc. Last post I dealt with poltergeists in depth, for this very reason. Parapsychologists usually differentiate between “haunts” (where an apparition is seen in a building many times by different witnesses) and “poltergeists” (where physical effects occur), but there is an overlap. And if ghosties are effecting physical objects, they are clearly not hallucinations, right? Hence my opening gambit – poltergeist cases.
Now it could be that these physical effects are in fact hallucinations, or misperception in themselves. Film exists of Rosenheim where the lights swing, and there are a few other pieces of alleged poltergeist footage – I was once part of a team who videod a toilet seat banging up and down – but the evidence is hardly overwhelming. However smashed items, weird electrical disturbances, peculiar flight and impact characteristics (and as Dr Barrie Colvin has recently discovered, highly unusual acoustic properties in percussive raps associated with poltergeist phenomena) seem to be consistent across many of these poltergeist cases. Why? Physical phenomena are an embarrassment to many psychical researchers – but we find them so often I have to concede they have some basis in fact. The same kind of things have been reported for 2,600 years, across many cultures. What the hell is going on here?
So I pose a challenge to the great people who read this debate, and comment in the peanut gallery. It’s in two parts. Firstly, I have no idea where any of you live, but find your local newspapers – a couple will suffice – and type “ghost” and “poltergeist” in to the search engine. Look at what turns up, and identify any purported cases of spooks, and link them in the discussion thread. Are there physical phenomena reported? Do they meet the kind of thing I discuss in my previous thread? I think it will prove interesting, and I can not be accused of selecting cases to meet my theories. You can choose a newspaper somewhere else in the world if you like.
Secondly, can each interested observer, regardless of your personal convictions, ask ten of your acquaintances, at random or selected for convenience, if they have ever experienced a ghost or other weird phenomena, and if so, if you might anonymously give their story? I will be genuinely interested in what comes up – because I predict that when you interview them these pesky physical effects will form part of the narrative. I have a few ideas which might explain why this is so in normal terms – but I am not convinced that hallucinations can explain it.
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 email@example.com 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!