So what can I say about the Science of Ghosts event?
Well I have been at the Edinburgh Science Festival, and I sort of wish I was there today. I was in a planning meeting last night though for our own Festival, so keep watching this space! Anyway, the opening event was The Science of Ghosts, which attracted a great deal of media attention, and I think I can say that it was an excellent day, and you should have been there! (Unless you are Becky, in which case you were there!)
Becky drove up – it’s a terribly long way, the train is bad enough and we spent the night before trying to find the venue. There were no directions on the website, and finding accommodation and the venue were major hassles – and Richard Wiseman never replied to my enquiry email – next time I shall try Caroline. Even the Science Festival staff who were first rate overall were unable to help us as we walked around Edinburgh in a fog on friday night, seeking where we were going the next day. If I had not been able to call Laura Nelson and get her to perform net searches we would probably never have found the venue. Next problem was parking – this is central Edinburgh, and all the parking we could find was a) extortionate and b) maximum four hours. We asked at the uni – the sat nav had taken us to the wrong uni campus, and Edinburgh as two universities as well just to add to the fun — and no one could help. We also spoke to a nursing student, who was really friendly and helpful, but had absolutely no idea where the Anatomy Lecture theatre was!
Walking round Edinburgh in the fog is quite eerie – beautiful city, but chilly and with deep mist like something from a Jack the Ripper film. At a students suggestion we ate at Monster Mash, a little restaurant that does sausage, gravy and mash in various varieties – not much change from twenty quid, which makes me think if this is how Edinburgh students live no wonder they have huge debts, but really good service and great food. Highly recommended! It’s off Teviot Place I think.
On Saturday morning up soon after daybreak to get the bus for the seven miles from the nearest affordable accommodation – a Travelodge in Dreghorn, in to Central Edinburgh. The Travelodge was fine, with exceptionally friendly staff and superb service – and bus pretty good as well. I must say Scots do seem very friendly, even to those of us with English accents.
So we got to the venue, and the excellent Festival staff in their orange shirts were very welcoming. I wish I had taken names to email praise to their bosses – but thanks to all of you! About 200 people attended the session — I was hoping to meet a chap off the JREF forum, and spent a whole day clutching a PSPR (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research) – The Scole Report actually – to give to him. Never found him, so gave it to laura in the end, and she can pass it on when she has finished with it!
First event was Richard Wiseman on Investigating ‘haunted’ locations: A scientific approach. This was on quantitative approaches to spontaneous case investigation, and to be honest I don’t think anyone who knows me would have found it particularly new. I have after all being banging on about Gertrude Schmeidler’s approach since the early 1990′s, and as Parasoc, the later CPRG and GSUK have all used various forms of quantitative assessment based on my various methodological designs, well nowt new here.
What is it? It’s when you use people recording impressions and marking them on a map and compare that data against existing witness sightings, in essence.
It is however still a minority approach in ghost investigation among parapsychologists I think (mainly because parapsychologists always strike me as woefully ignorant of the literature and the papers describing the idea were published in American parapsychological journals from the 1960s to 1983 I think, not the PSRP or JSPR - hence little known in this country.
Those interested can check out Quantitative investigation of a “haunted house”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1966, 60, 137-149 was the paper which inspired me to try it initially, and Quantitative investigation of a “haunted house” with sensitives and a control group. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1968, 62, 399-410 and Quantitative investigation of a recurrent phenomenon. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1975, 69, 341-352. I’m sure there is a 1983 paper, but I forget it! Gertrude Schmeidler is one of the true giants of modern parapsychology, and I hope one day to meet her if she ever lectures in Britain. Google will find my own comments on experiments with these – I may try and get the data from the GSUK experiment at Tamworth Castle last summer written up properly soon, if Becky is interested in doing that. Those interested on my musings on this approach ot investigation can find it on google easily enough, on the JREF Forum, or even on some earlier posts on this blog.
Anyway Richard Wiseman did a presentation on the research he was part of at Hampton Court Palace and Edinburgh Vaults. I’m guessing a lot of readers of my blog have already read the papers – but you can read about this and learn much more on www.richardwiseman.com Furthermore you can download three of the papers by Wiseman et al on the research which are really very interesting reading, if a bit dry and technical. Have a look!
Criticisms? I was rather surprised at the emphasis placed on the infrasound hypothesis of Tandy’s – I spoke to both Ian Hume and Tony Lawrence last year about it and both felt it had been taken further than Vic intended, and given the debunking work of Braithwaite published in I think the EJP last year (yes Jason Braithwaite and i agree on very few things – this is one of them though!), and the ubiquity of low frequency sound in nature, I’m extremely sceptical. I saw Ciaran’s Silent Sound experiment referenced – but I have not read the paper so I’ll reserve comment for now. I’ll just not that I think from the papers that other environmental stimuli were far more important? Um… not convinced!
Generally though Richard Wiseman’s talk was a plea for environmental theories of haunting to be taken seriously by sceptics I think. Whats that?
I’ll give an example. A few years ago Becky raised the idea that some of the phenomena associated with the Station Hotel, Dudley may be linked to seismic activity. We know that ten days before Dudley Castle featured on the Most Haunted Live show, there was a major earthquake in the vicinity. It seems likely that the underground activity may have been responsible for, and may still be responsible for, some reports of odd phenomena in the district. This is a classic environmental theory of haunting – no ghost, but something in the place making people perceive “ghosts”. So an environmental theory is one that postulates some natural but not easily detected force is acting in ways which cause apparent ‘hauntings’.
Such ideas are currently very fashionable in parapsychology, and this has led to research like that of Wiseman et al at Edinburgh Vaults, looking for factors which may cause apparent “hauntings” seemingly with some success.
In the 1950′s the President of the Society for Psychical Research (henceforth SPR) G.W. Lambert put forward his UNDERGROUND WATER HYPOTHESIS. He argued that in fact many “hauntings” were caused by underground water, such as streams flowing underground, and that these hidden water courses could cause all manner of odd vibrations, sounds and other phenomena which were interpreted by witnesses as ghostly. He attempted to demonstrate this with particular reference to the famous Morton Case, or Cheltenham Ghost. His theory here was that the Despard family hallucinated the “lady in black” after hearing and feeling sensations caused by periods of heavy rainfall.
It would be fascinating to objectively research this against 19th century rainfall figures for Cheltenham, if such can be found, but the only “proof” he offered was that the hauntings apparently ceased following the opening of the Dowdeswell Reservoir in 1888. In fact this argument is flawed in three ways – a) the ghost was continued to be seen well in to the late twentieth century b) maps of the water table do not suggest any underground watercourse beneath the house at least in the last few decades,and it is relatively unlikely as the house (called St. Anne’s today) stands on a slight ridge between the Chelt and another river valley (Wyman’s Brook) and c) the Reservoir, while still extant, was decommisioned in the 1990′s without any noticeable effect to the water table in the area in question. Further research with Severn Trent would of course be worthwhile.
Of course the archaeologist and occultist T.C.Lethbridge had already suggested underground water may act as a battery or necessary power source for paranormal entities – his ideas were developed through his interest in dowsing. Lambert may have been providing a rationalist answer to this apparent link. What might be interesting is to bring the resources of modern geology to bear on a dozen or so “strongly haunted” spots, hunting for underground water courses.
In the early 1970′s a rival theory developed, linking paranormal activity with fault lines. The earliest version I have seen were a series of articles in the early Fortean Times (then The News) looking at possible links between UFOs and seismic activity in Leicestershire and Staffordshire. Paul Devereaux in particular looked at “earthlights”, lights that seem to appear around areas of seismic stress. It has been suggested that quartz under pressure may produce light effects, or electrical fields which may have some effect on the human brain (see the work of Dr Serena Roney-Dougal.) The problem with this theory is that Britain has mainly tiny faults in the west of the country – yet East Anglia for instance appears very haunted, at least to a casual observer! I did some research on this in the 1990s, which was discussed on a TV show, which suggested that South Gloucestershire haunts did indeed cluster around fault likes, or junctures of fault lines. This was suggestive, but further research is desperately needed before we can draw any conclusions.
Devereaux also drew attention to the fact that most megalithic tumuli and henges seem to cluster around fault lines. I have a sneaky suspicion this may have more to do with geology though and natural reasons than Earth Mysteries – the west of England,where such things are found, is fairly hilly and I suspect that most tumuli and henges in the East where ploughing and arable farming weremore lucrative have long since been destroyed by intensive agriculture, whereas in sheep and cattle farming areas the have survived. As near surface faulting is more common in hilly and rocky areas, we might therefore expect to find a correlation between tumuli and faulting, but not a mystical or paranormal one!
So the question remains – can earthquakes, tremors and seismic activity cause apparent “haunting” phenomena? I believe the answer is yes, probably – earthquakes seem to have an effect on animals and therefore probably on humans, but I do not think we need worry about much more than vibration and shaking occurring – the electrical and earthlight ideas are interesting, but tremors felt unconsciously as Becky has suggested may well be enough. There is, however, still one piece of experimental evidence against the theory to be considered.
The major physical movement of objects has long since been noted as a feature of Poltergeist (RSPK) cases. In the 1970′s SPR veteran researcher Tony Cornell decided to test this hypothesis, in association with I believe a Cambridgeshire council. He arranged for access to a council house which was about to be demolished, placed articles in several rooms, and then had the house literally shaken to pieces by large industrial machinery/ He remained inside as long as it was safe to do so, observing, and then had cameras which filmed until the house actually collapsed. The footage was shown on Anglia TV – I’d love to see it again, as am recollecting from memory of an event many years ago.
Now what the experiment seemed to demonstrate is that vibration caused major cracks in walls etc before any objects flew as they do in poltergeist cases. The vibration would be extremely obvious to a human observer long before any apparently paranormal motion was detected!
Now I know bugger all about geology or earthquakes, but I will raise three quick replies to this problem…
1. The vibration in the experiment was as I recall provided horizontally, by a belt or chain around the structure. In a tremor, he pressure would be vertical – the actual source of movement deep underground.
2. Objects did of course move under vibration. the moved slowly, over a period of time – just as the object at the Station Hotel on the infamous Most Haunted footage did.
3. I suspect the higher up a building you might be, the more you would feel the effects. Room 214 is on the second (3rd US) floor, high above the road, and at the bottom of a major hill, built in to the slope. While I believe it is too high for traffic to cause th motion see on the footage, it does strike me as entirely possible the movement of the chair could be caused by underground activity.
Anyway this should mean you are up to speed on what is meant by an environmental theory of ghosts – and apart from a strong doubt on my part about the idea of confabulation and “paranormal experience” narratives growing with time, which I queried at the end of the day briefly – more research needed, and I think it would make a fascinating PhD if i can find funding, as probably outside the scope of Becky’s — anyway that takes us to the end of the first session, and 10am. Er, given there are seven more sessions to describe I think I shall take a break and return to this shortly with a Part Two!
I managed to find this on the Waybackwhen internet archive, and as I frequently cite it, and thought it might be of interest, I’ll reproduce it here. The title is taken from a very famous ghost story, but seemed appropriate! This piece was originally written in 1994, and revised in 1995 and 1997. [[XXXX]] indicates 2006 edits when I put it on my ghost group’s forum.
I note the revision history, but the position stated is very much that I held in 1994 – it has changed in many ways since then, but I think it was one of the first pleas to take an approach that looked at what we might find if both psi and the spirit hypothesis held some truth, or were partially true, but more importantly now is that I had realized the potential of experimental work with psychics even back then. Little did I realize that Most Haunted would happen within a decade, and unfortunately every one would experiment in this direction!
Anyway, as people keep coming here looking for the Edinburgh Science of Ghosts event (and one more time –
) which I will be attending as a punter like you, well I may as well publish one of my articles on the topic. Please note I am in no way at all connected with said event — I just thought it looked fun and advertised it on my blog after it was first mentioned on the parapsychology mailing lists!
The Haunted or The Haunters;
The House and The Brain
(from copy dated July 18th, 1997)
When investigating a “haunting” there are two main schools of thought in the [[group]].
The first takes the ‘common sense’ view that the disturbances we look at are caused by external agencies, such as ghosts, spirits and the like.
This could be called the haunted school for it believes that paranormal events do occur and are something like an affliction, or at least little to do with the witnesses.
The second school is that of the haunters, those who believe that the occurrences are primarily the responsibility of the witnesses themselves.
This could be further subdivided into those who do not believe in the paranormal except as hallucination or delusion (the sceptic’s camp), and the position I intend to consider, that which holds that paranormal events do have an objective existence but originate within ourselves [as a result of unknown psychical powers.]
It is quite a remarkable claim. Imagine Mr. Jones has called us in to investigate mysterious goings on in his home. The last thing he expects to hear in reply to his worried question “What’s haunting my home?” is the answer “You are, Mr. Jones.”
Now of course for many years parapsychologists have postulated the idea that poltergeist phenomena are created by PKE or psycho-kinetic energy; that is that a human being is responsible for the haunting. Unfortunately popular works on parapsychology have created a popular conception of haunting as either by ghosts (apparitions appear, chains clank, doors open and close, etc.) or by poltergeists (an emotionally repressed and deeply frustrated youngster lets off steam by throwing furniture about psychically and generally having a nervous breakdown outside of their head).
This is the basis for the concept of the person-centered versus place-centered haunting; the former “poltergeist”, the latter a “ghost”.
Could it be the distinction is false? One of the great strengths of the [[my group then]] is that the investigators tend to make repeated visits to a property and spend several hundred hours at any site, and hence come to analyse cases thoroughly. Most of our investigations have included both traditional ‘ghost’ effects such as apparitions and a history of disturbance through several tenants, and traditional ‘poltergeist’ phenomena such as objects moving and in many cases S.O.D.
(Author’s note: SOD is an acronymn for small object displacement. A good example is a craft knife which vanished while repairs were underway at The Bell in Dursley, and reappeared a few minutes later on a table where it certainly was not a moment before. SOD is easy to explain away as misperception but I am personally convinced by the fact this phenomena has been mentioned to me on almost every case I have investigated without leading questions, yet it is not considered part of the traditional repertoire of a haunt. SOD is easy to remember; indeed rarely has a technical term been so appropriate. The mnemonic to recall this is “Where’s the sodding ghost put my car keys/cufflinks/whatever?!”)
So how then does one set about haunting oneself? Well according to most proponents of the RSPK [Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinesis - Star Trek style technobabble at its finest that I have critiques elsewhere] or poltergeist theory the human agent who creates the disturbance is unaware of their actions, at least on a conscious level. After suffering a set of paranormal events such as SOD and object displacement what is more natural than to start seeing ghosts?
In the 1950′s the then President of the S.P.R., G.W. Lambert devised his much maligned geophysical explanation for haunting resulting from underground water. His theory was in essence that an underground water course may flow under the ‘haunted’ house and that after heavy rainfall the stream results in subsidence of the property or other structural movement, possibly causing the house to vibrate and knock objects flying simulating ‘poltergeistery.’ He took the theory one stage further, stating that these odd noises could the be psychologically ‘rationalized’ by the percipients minds creating a ‘ghost’ to account for them, and then seeing the imaginary ‘ghost.’
In essence I think Lambert may have been on to something. Environmental cues such as the ‘Corridor’ and ‘occulted space’ things I found in my work with Curtin and Lay, as well as a variety of other stimuli, may lead a sucession of tenants to the same conclusion, namely that their house is haunted, even if no knowledgeable local tells them so.
Once the belief is there, or even the vaguest shadow of a doubt, it must surely become that much easier for the mind to generate micro-PK (or minor poltergeist) phenomena. It has been repeatedly claimed that believers score higher than sceptics on ESP tests, and there is some reason to believe that motivational factors should also be considered. Once the idea of a haunting is broached, do the family then begin to generate the haunting?
What follows? As the Psi/haunting builds up more and more people within the family become convinced, and their scepticism breaks down. Thus the haunting becomes increasingly severe. Members of the family then begin to explain the events by reference to a guilty third party or ‘ghost’ and may in line with Lambert’s theory begin to see or hallucinate apparitions. It may only be at this stage that they consciously begin to consider themselves “haunted”, the build-up having been largely ignored by the conscious mind. Then again a sighting of a ‘ghost’ with its origin in misperception, temporal lobe epilepsy or other stimuli may actually initiate the sequence.
If the hallucinatory nature of the apparitions seen seems unlikely, as in a case where two witnesses see an apparition simultaneously, it is still hard to rule out the possibility of one telepathically transmitting the image to the other. More problematic is the situation where two witnesses, many years distant in time and with no knowledge of the earlier experience both see an identical figure. This could be rather unconvincingly explained by recourse to archetypal or locationally suggested visions (a monk in a church for instance) or possibly by evoking the idea of Super-ESP which is sometimes used in discussions of mediumship.
Why does it end? Well if the initial PKE disturbance is occasioned by psychological forces then we may expect those feelings to eventually be alleviated as the chief instigator or focuses circumstances change. Often all that is needed to cure such a ‘haunt’ is the intervention of someone with counseling skills who is able to pay a little attention to the frustrated person. Of course it is significantly better if the person who ‘cures’ the situation has an air of authority and possibly even some hi-tech gadgetry to wave around. Simply announcing ‘the ghost’s gone’ may sadly stop the exteriorization of the internal complex and lead to the eventual breakdown of the agent if they can not find a better way of ‘letting off steam.’
What of ‘exorcism’, ‘deliverance’ or ‘moving on’? If the exorcist has less than full confidence in their own abilities or the focus has developed a dislike for the would-be helper then we might expect a violent reaction; the ejection of the exorcist or the worsening of the haunt. This is not a game for idiots or fools, but requires a mature sensible person who is likable and possesses certain counseling skills.
It is with the matter of exorcism however that we find the greatest problem with this theory. Practical experience, not as yet backed by any theorectical or experimental basis, has shown that haunting tends to reoccur some three months after exorcism. Unless there is some compatible pattern in the fields of psychotherapy, counselling or psychoanalysis I find it hard to see why this should occur. The second outbreak is rarely as severe as the first and is usually not a source of worry to anyone involved.
A word of apology and a disclaimer. This article has been hard to develop and reflects my own developing ideas. Although I am a [[group]] member this article is in no way representative of the ideas of the group. The group holds no corporate religious or philosophical beliefs, and all views are those of individual members. I certainly do not intend to denigrate the psychics, especially Miss M. A——, who is just as vital if these ideas are true, for she is the best ‘cure’ I know of for ‘psychic disturbances’. I therefore offer a brief word on the psychic, haunter and the haunted.
I have never rejected psychism as a belief system. This is a constant source of amusement to my more sceptical colleagues, but I see no conflict in my position. If poltergeists are caused by the mind of a human agent we do not necessarily have to give a psychosomatic explanation for their ‘exorcism’. The psychics energies may well be one and the same as those which are causing the haunt; that is the agent is in fact a latent psychic who simply does not know how to control the energy they are generating. The problem for me is that against my wishes I am being led further and further towards an epiphenomenalist rather than dualist position, and hence am rather inclined to see ‘spirits’ as exteriorized fragments or sub-personalities of the human agent or psychic, a convenient label or mental device to perform the task. I am however willing to be proved wrong, and end by stating that if anyone has any doubts about a psychic’s talent then they should meet a good one, and listen. The results are edifying. [[Obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of the reality of psychic powers!]]