Five hard to swallow facts about Paranormal Research

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1 Audio, Video or Photos will NEVER serve as conclusive proof of “paranormal” phenomena 

Oh I know that statement is bound to launch a thousand debates (and a few more hate mails), but let’s be honest here… media is not only easily misunderstood, it’s easily manipulated. Everything that is submitted as evidence on media carries with it a silent requirement to “trust” the source (a.k.a. the person who submitted it) and therein lies the problem.  If you present me with an incredible video of a ghostly being traversing the stairs of some old home,  my acceptance of this as evidence now presents me with an obligation to believe you didn’t fake it, misinterpret it or misrepresent it. I have to believe you that the conditions were as you say they were when it was captured and that everything else you present me with in support of that video is ALSO legitimate (i.e. photos, meter readings, experiences etc.).

That’s a lot of trust… Slow down, we hardly know each other. 

It’s this unstable variable that prevents any media based evidence from being considered conclusive (or even in some cases suggestive). So what DOES constitute conclusive proof?  I’m glad you asked. There is only one factor that will ever conclusively prove the existence of any unusual phenomenon and that is “demonstrability”.  Yep, you need to be able to demonstrate or repeat it to a degree that it can be studied with some element of reliability under strict controls.

You see the scientific method suggests that a concept or idea is more credible when it can be repeated. Even if only through long and tedious means. Repetition and control are key. If it’s a phenomena (and not just an event), it will or can be repeated.

 2 No matter how “in control and grounded” you claim to be, your brain can and DOES continue to fool you… you are not immune.

Oh people say it all the time. “I’m not crazy.”, “I know what I saw”, “I wasn’t hallucinating”, “I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”, “She told me she was 18”. Well maybe not the last one, but the point is people are exceedingly hard to convince when it comes to doubting their own perceptions. We all want to believe that our senses are relatively infallible, that our brains are not easily fooled and that our rationalization skills are in great working order. But the truth is utterly disappointing.

For decades numerous scientists and researchers around the world have documented the astounding fallibility of our perceptive process. Television shows, games, carnival attractions and even art have been created that specifically take advantage of the holes in our cognitive faculties. We are ALL born suckers and there’s really nothing we can do about it other than understand that the condition exists and honestly consider these shortcomings in our analysis of unusual events.

3  Your shining credibility does not make your experience more believable.

Groucho Marx once said, “There’s one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him. If he says yes, then you know he is crooked.”  – That statement was  only funny because it’s true.

Everyone – you, me, your spouse, children, siblings, co-workers, best friends, teachers, employers and even your sweet old grandmother have told lies. By age four, 90% of children have grasped the concept of lying (Osmols 2011), and it just goes downhill from there. According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of all adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without telling a lie at least once (UMASS 2002). and according to the study those folks who did lie actually told an average of 3 lies during their short discussion with the researchers.

I know you’re sitting there right now insisting that you would be part of the 40% that didn’t lie but that’s what the liars in the study thought, too. When they reviewed their own conversations, they were flabbergasted at how many lies they had actually told.

Unsurprisingly, we also sometimes lie about important aspects. According to one estimate, 40% of people lie on their resumes (Forbes 2006).  A shocking 90% of people looking for a date online lie in their profile. (Scientific American 2007)   So no matter how honest you believe you are, no matter how accurate your rendition of a paranormal event is (even if it truly happened to you), the majority of the world will never simply “accept” what you are claiming with complete certainty… They just won’t.

Any equipment that requires the “interpretation” of non-repeatable results is complete bullshit.

Yep , I went there….bullshit.  In fact pretty much all of the marketed devices used in “ghost hunting” today  require a personal interpretation of the results in order to determine the significance of their output.  (Yes I’m looking at you spirit box, Ovilus, Paranormal Puck, Vortex Dome, Para-Scope, V-Pod, Rem Pod, Ghost Ark, Dowsing Rods, Pendulums, Ouija Boards, KII Meters, Geo-Pods and yes…EMF Meters)

So what’s wrong with personal interpretation you say?  I will explain…

Scenario 1-  In a hospital, a doctor uses a heart monitor to determine if someone is having  heart trouble. He / She interprets the readings of the heart monitor to make or assist in a diagnosis.

Scenario 2 – In an old home a paranormal investigator uses a specialized device (choose any from the list above) to determine if the home is haunted. He/ She interprets the readout/response of the equipment to make a determination.

So what is the difference between Scenario 1 and 2? They seem relatively the same right? Well not really.

In scenario 1 the doctor is measuring a tangible object – the human heart. It’s proper function has been well documented and how a healthy one should appear on a heart monitor is academic as is the comparison between the live readings and the expected readings used to help  indicate a problem. The interpretation the doctor makes is based on known and “demonstrated” information.

In scenario 2 the investigator is simply looking for any unusual reaction, especially one that ties into his / her expectations or the context of the location or perhaps even one that correlates with other experiences. This is done because he/she doesn’t know with any certainty what a paranormal experience “should” read. There is no documented historical data for a paranormal occurrence. So responsible comparisons cannot be made and interpretations are based entirely on subjective opinion. Hardly factual.

“Nobody has EVER linked EMF to actual localized paranormal occurrences in any reliable or predictable fashion….EVER.”

Question: So if that’s the case how can manufacturers of paranormal gadgetry even begin to design a device that works?

Answer: They can’t.

 (They are all bullshit in my opinion):

5 There has never been any credible, demonstrable research to even suggest the plausibility of life beyond death.

Sure there have been “sciency” people in history who have attempted to prove the existence of a soul, others who tried to establish communications with those who have passed and still others who have insisted they have been to the other side and back, but in spite of the numerous attempts and claims that flood the internet, we are not any closer to officially proving life after death than we were 5000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, who wouldn’t love the idea of a second chance?  To see your departed loved ones again, to be free of the mortal bonds that plague our existence, to have learned from a lifetime of experience, free of illness, free of strife, free of pain. It sure is a comforting thought, but unfortunately, right now, it’s only that… a thought.  The fact is that the research conducted over the past two centuries in the hopes of proving “life after death” have chalked up a big fat zilch in terms of results. If it’s there, we haven’t proven it yet…  no one has.

So for those in search of human souls, ghosts and spirits… to officially claim that you have contacted the dear departed, you must first establish with complete certainty (not just with opinion) that life does go on beyond this mortal veil. That there are dis-incarnate “beings” there to contact. Do this and the rest will go down the scientific gullet like a candy coated gumdrop. Until then… well… you know.


So here we have it five hard to swallow facts about Paranormal Research. I’ll finish by saying that this in no way proclaims that unusual, undiscovered phenomena doesn’t exists. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it does, but once again that’s just my opinion, and you know what they say about those.

No one ever said it was going to be easy.

Resources:

http://www.emaxhealth.com/6705/when-children-lie-they-are-simply-reaching-developmental-milestone

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/uoma-urf061002.php

http://www.forbes.com/2006/05/20/resume-lies-work_cx_kdt_06work_0523lies.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/C1597486-E7F2-99DF-310BFD76D5647B1D/

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Paranormal Technology: Failure 101

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Over a decade ago, when I first began my foray into the enigmatic and often entropic world of paranormal research, I found myself in the unfortunate (but common) situation of being reliant on the knowledge of those who came before me.  During this time I recall hearing a lot of mixed messages from various groups and investigators about the proper way to conduct a paranormal investigation. A few of those messages turned out to be good advice, some were highly questionable and others (most) were just outright outrageous. But like many inquisitive people who start out in this research, I would ultimately have to learn the truth (or at least a portion of it) for myself.

I too was once excited by photo orbs, enthralled by the pareidolic effects of white noise and easily taken in by every creak, bang and footstep I would hear in the darkened rooms of numerous “haunted” locations. I once believed that “ghosts” were intelligent, energy hungry electro-magnetic beings that could be discovered with the proper application of time, cameras and a good EMF meter. Yea I was in the dark alright (in more ways than one).

However, For me, what I have learned in the past ten years is not so much about what has been “discovered” through field investigation but more so about what has been “revealed” through proper research. I have found that much of the information that is often professed by multiple researchers as standardized knowledge is typically based on speculation, misinformation or basic belief.  A great example of this can be seen with the application technology in research.  

For example, devices such as EMF meters have been historically touted for their usefulness in detecting “spirit presence” through the identification of anomalous electro-magnetic activity. However, aside from the obvious logistical holes in that concept, a little research will reveal that the meter itself is riddled with limitations that render it a very poor choice for scientific exploration. The non-frequency specific design presents an inherent inability to properly identify a true signal source leaving researchers to speculate or falsely identify anomalous phenomena as the cause of the unusual readings (and that’s just not good science). 

Additionally the concept of measuring EMF to identify or locate anomalous beings or activity is scientifically unfounded. To date there has been no significant published research to support the concept that fluctuating electromagnetic signals are indicators of an undiscovered phenomena, let alone a dis-incarnate being (which is in itself unproven). However, there is supporting research to suggest that these electro-magnetic fields may play another role in the “haunting” experience.

The modern practice of measuring EMF signals in “haunted” environments became highly popularized following research conducted by Dr. Michael Persinger at Canada’s Laurentian College during the early 1980’s. Persinger’s research demonstrated that electro-magnetic fields could be responsible for perceived paranormal phenomena (Persinger 2001) and so paranormal researchers began measuring the intensity of these fields on location for the purpose of identifying natural causes to unusual claims. (i.e. if the fields are excessive in a home perhaps they are causing induced delusions)

While the specific signals that Persinger used to induce these delusions were never officially identified as the source of paranormal experiences in a home environment,  the purpose of searching for fluctuating EMF signals got lost to history and eventually researchers simply began to associate high EMF readings with paranormal experiences. 


FACT: In the world of physics the acronym ‘EMF’ represents Electro-Motive Force not Electro-Magnetic Fields. Two very different things. An EMF Meter is more correctly identified as an Electro-Magnetometer or Magnetic Flux Density Meter.


The adoption, misrepresentation, misuse and failure of electronics devices in paranormal research certainly doesn’t begin and end with EMF meters. Over the past 50 years alone researches have attempted to employ a large variety of pre-made, non-paranormal devices for paranormal research purposes. Gadgets such as thermometers,  polygraph machines, cameras Barometers,   multi-meters,  baby monitors, radio receivers, televisions, telephones,  tape recorders, computers, oscilloscopes, motion detectors and even flashlights were (and are) used by groups proclaiming a scientific methodology  to find evidence of a ghostly presence, all with the same level of applied conjecture and anticlimactic results.

But what about original equipment? When I first started out in this area of study the popular research community consensus was that  “no equipment exists that was specifically designed for the purpose of paranormal research”. In fact I heard this statement many times at several conventions I visited in 2007. Of course a little research shed some much needed light on the subject and, not surprisingly the information was simply not true.

The fact is many people through-out the 20th century had created equipment with a specific paranormal purpose in mind. In the early 1920’s the American Psychic Institute claimed to have over one hundred specialized scientific instruments many of which were purported to measure the intangible “soul force” or “psychic energy.”


Here are just a few of the mystifying devices:

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Dynamistograph

The “psychic ululometer (or howler)” –  A highly sensitive coil of 3000 finely tuned copper wires that were intended to reveal the presence of any energy, living or disembodied that comes within six feet of the coil. (Appleton [WI] Post-Crescent 28 March 1922: p. 4 – http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/76243876/)

The “dynamistograph” – A device created to measure departed personalities and communicate with the spirit world. (The Walther League Messenger, Vol. 38, 1929. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403801485.html)

The “lastrometer” – An apparatus containing a zinc sulfide screen, which glows when a person approaches. The glow varies according to the psychic energy of the person, and it is reasoned that a spirit or dis-incarnate being might reveal its presence through this glow. (Pittsburgh [PA] Press 23 April 1922 http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/76243876/)


Of course while none of these devices were ever successful in officially registering the presence of the dead, those seeking contact through this type of technology (a method known as Instrumental Trans-Communication –  ITC) were certainly not discouraged by the accumulated failures. In fact every generation has had its brand of “inventors” hoping to break the universal code and unlock the door to the other side. Many, though misguided, are sincere in their efforts while others are simply in search of  fame, fortune or both.

The 21st Century Research

With advances in semi-conductor technology and lower component costs, one might expect the twenty first century to play host to the most progressive attempts at spirit communication technology to date. However reality paints quite a different picture.  A good portion of the modern technology used for anomalous investigation relies heavily on an age old form of spirit communication known as divining (i.e. to perceive by intuition or insight)Much like the Ouija Board, rune stones, tarot cards and pendulums the results produced by these devices manifest large amounts of conjecture and present pathways for numerous cognitive biases and misconceptions that can impair the users ability to process information objectively.

Ghost in the Box

Leading the way in modern divining technology is a highly controversial device known as a Spirit Box (also known as Frank’s Box, Ghost Box or Shack Hack). The basic principle behind this device is to automatically scan radio frequencies within the AM and FM band. This is done with the hope that ethereal beings will communicate messages over the barrage of scanned signals.

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As fascinating as it may sound there are some fundamental issues concerning the logic behind the spirit box functionality and these concerns lie within the principles of radio broadcast and the design of the radio itself. I will explain…


 

How Radio Works:

The frequencies that make up music and human speech are simply not powerful enough to travel great distances on their own and the amplification of these low frequencies would require tremendous power at a great expense, two things that are not very appealing to the broadcast industry. Additionally, broadcasting primary frequencies this way would also allow for unwanted interference from other radio like devices and that means unhappy listeners.

To overcome these obstacles radio broadcasters developed a method of packaging the signal with a much higher and more easily transmitted frequency to broadcast their messages.  To accomplish this they simply combine the voice or music signal they want to send (called an input signal) with a much higher frequency (called a carrier signal).  This process is called modulation and the result is an easily transmitted hybrid of the two signals (see image below).

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The new modulated signal is then broadcast through the air and picked up by a radio receiver (i.e. a spirit box). Once it is received, the higher carrier frequency is then filtered out and we are left with only the original voice or music we were intended to hear. The process of removing the carrier frequency is called “demodulation” and because the radio or spirit box demodulates every signal it receives,  stray radio waves are not heard.  That includes the purported ghost of aunt Sally or even Robin Williams.


For stray radio waves to be heard on a radio (spirit box or otherwise) they would need to be part of a modulated signal carried by man-made frequencies that were chosen specifically by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Because the Spirit Box scans a new frequency every second  or so (depending upon the settings) the communication by a dis-incarnate being would need to change the modulating frequency for every portion of the ghostly statement it’s trying to convey. A feat that would not only need to coincide with the frequency limits of the AM or FM radio band but also with the scanning speed of the Spirit Box (as set by the user). An exceedingly unlikely scenario.

While all of this seems pretty damning in terms of logistical support for such a device, proponents of the Spirit Box argue that the vast unknowns about the spirit world may place these exceedingly unlikely scenarios (and many others) within a realm of possibility. Supporters also contend that it’s not uncommon to receive intelligible, relevant communication when the using a spirit box and argue that traditional logic may not apply when researching such an unknown subject.

Still, in spite of the unrelenting support of believers, no reliable research has ever been presented (controversial or otherwise) to support the idea that a spirit box can foster communication with any world beyond our own. According to research conducted by Dr. Lynne Nygaard, professor of psychology at Emory University, the concept of extracting what appears to be intelligent communication from random speech segments (such as those produced by a spirit box) is not uncommon. In fact the experience can be attributed a cognitive function of our brain that processes speech information from the top level down (Nygaard 2005).

In other words, our brain first works to listen for the sounds of words as a whole without paying specific attention to the vowels, consonants or syllables that may be missing. When the fragmented speech contains enough frequencies to closely resemble a word (or wordswe then anticipate any missing segments using a variety of biases to adapt the communication to the context of the current conversation or environment. Essentially, what this all means is that the identification of non contextual speech is based largely on anticipation and personal cognitive biases (belief).

In Conclusion

It’s no surprise that the approach to such a broad, widely intangible subject requires the incumbency of an open mind. After all, history has demonstrated time and time again that limited thinking or the resistance of new ideas plays poorly with the concept of discovery. But it seems that far too often researchers find themselves misguided by the practice of nonrestrictive thinking so much so that they tend to often ignore the apparent boundaries of the very tangible, logical, real world elements that can present a viable practical answer to most questions.

Sometimes the most enlightening discoveries are the ones that prove us wrong.

References:

Nygaard, L.C., Pisoni, D.B. (1995). “Speech Perception: New Directions in Research and Theory”. In J.L. Miller, P.D. Eimas.Handbook of Perception and Cognition: Speech, Language, and Communication. San Diego: Academic Press.

Nygaard, L.C., Cook, A.E., & Namy, L.L.  (2009).  Sound to meaning correspondences facilitate word learning.  Cognition, 112, 181-186.

Persinger MA: The Paranormal. Part I: Patterns. New York, MSS 16. Long T, O’Donovan C, Cabe C, et al: Relationship of daily geo- Information, 1974 magnetic activity to the occurrence of temporal lobe seizures 

Persinger MA: Psi phenomena and temporal lobe activity: the an epilepsy monitoring unit (abstract). Epilepsia 1996; 36:94 geomagnetic factor, in Research in Parapsychology 1988, edited 17. 

A Paranormal Expert? Karma may run over your Dogma.

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If there’s one thing the paranormal community has no shortage of, it’s self-proclaimed experts. Many have suffered under the long winded, unsupported meandering claims of these “Para-Con artists” (See what I did there?).  Their  hastily co-written self-published books, t-shirts, television shows, convention appearances, quack gadgetry and promotional photos represent them to a naive crowd of adoring fans while their unwillingness or ability to offer peer reviewed support for their fantastic (and often absurd) claims clearly defines them to the true thinkers of the community.

Over Claiming

In June  of 2015 research published in Psychological Science  a journal of the Association for Psychological Science revealed that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts. This is a phenomenon known as “over-claiming.”  Part of the experimentation contained in the study involved testing whether individuals who perceived themselves to be experts in personal finance for example would be more likely to claim knowledge of fake financial terms. One hundred participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance, as well as their knowledge of 15 specific finance terms. Most of the terms on the list were real (i.e. Roth IRA, inflation, home equity), but the researchers also included three made-up terms such as (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, annualized credit). The participants who saw themselves as financial experts were most likely to claim knowledge of the bogus finance terms (even when they were warned about them). The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography. (Atir, S 2015)

While the study did not include paranormal research (for obvious reasons) it’s not hard to imagine the effect “over-claiming” has on those professing knowledge in this community. The world of paranormal investigation and research is filled with broad claims and ideas that have exceedingly little to no demonstrable support and those with a tendency to magically adopt expertise on these ideas can fill in the blanks and sell with confidence whatever conclusions make the most sense to them… and they certainly do.

Year after year thousands of people pay outrageous prices to fill the seats of convention halls and theaters, eager to  listen to the latest and greatest players in the paranormal field.   Unfortunately, quite often, the information they receive contains little to no substance in terms of research quality. Statements such as “Spirits can attach themselves to an object” or “Some spirits don’t like their photos to be taken.” are presented as fact with the presenter offering little to no research to support the claim.

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I remember several years ago, sitting in an audience listening to a well-respected (and quite famous) demonologist/investigator. During the presentation the presenter told a story about a woman who was plagued by tremendous activity in her home. He went on to say that the woman had fallen into a deep depression and plainly stated “This malevolent spirit had attached itself to her and was slowly draining her energy, trying to take control”.  I was astounded by what I was hearing. When the presentation was over the floor was opened up for questions and that was my opportunity to better understand.

I promptly raised my hand and spoke “I was wondering what research has been done to suggest that not only spirits exist, but that they can  attach themselves to people and drain their energy?”  without missing a beat the presenter replied “There have been a lot of documented cases  over the years showing this, but unfortunately the scientists don’t want to take the time to learn for themselves.”  Sensing a bit of agitation and an opportunity for clarity I countered “Well can you recommend a few published, peer reviewed cases that I could read?” Thinking for a moment, the presenter replied. “Well there are a few in my book. The case I spoke about today is a classic example.” It was clear that this “professional” researcher had no idea what published, peer reviewed research actually was. Realizing the futility of the conversation,  I asked one final question. “How do you know that a spirit was causing that woman’s depression and not some other issue?” Unfortunately the reply I got was shocking, but not surprising. “We had already ruled out every other issue before coming to this conclusion. Psychologists gave her a clean bill of health… What else could it be?”  And there it was… the smoking gun response “I don’t know what it is so it must be a demon”.  How any psychologist worth his salt could give a woman with depression a clean bill of health beyond me, but then I wasn’t there and there is no properly documented record of the case.

The Earned Dogmatic Effect

What astounded me the most about this experience was that the audience was undeterred. After the questions were through, dozens of people lined up to buy his books and have their photos taken with this legendary investigator who’s self-proclaimed expertise has misguided people for decades. I can think of no other domain where such a fast path to notoriety is possible based on such an insubstantial foundation.  However, many supporters of paranormal experts like the one mentioned find it easy to forgive a lack of scientific foundation in their claims. Many people approach paranormal study from a decidedly spiritual perspective and tend to seek experiences more than a foundation of knowledge claiming that hard Science often lacks an open mind.

Anyone would think that those with expertise (self-proclaimed or otherwise) in an area of study that deals with so many unknowns would at the very least offer the  presence of an open mind, but a recent study presented in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology tells quite a different perspective.

The research conducted at Loyola University in Chicago suggests that being an “expert” in anything can actually make you more closed-minded. The study found that people who perceive themselves to be experts tend to be less open to new ideas and alternative viewpoints. A character trait that does not sit well with a vocation in paranormal study (or the scientific community).

According to the study, social norms entitle experts to be more dogmatic. This Earned Dogmatism Effect was observed in five experiments. It emerged when using success (high expertise) and failure (low expertise) manipulations of test performance both within and outside the political domain. It also emerged when comparing participants who occupy a “high expertise social role”. (Ottati,V 2015)

In Conclusion

It seems that in our society, we tolerate more forceful and dogmatic expressions of opinion when the speaker is an expert as opposed to a novice. Therefore when the situation makes us feel like we are an ‘expert,’ it activates these role expectations in our mind, and we feel more entitled to think in a dogmatic manner – in other words, we feel more entitled to dismiss, ignore, or disparage opinions and viewpoints that differ from our own opinion.

I have no doubt that we all have experienced (from both sides of the fence at one time or another) the effects of over claiming and earned dogmatic behavior. We are after all human. However, going forward as we continue our search of the unknown, either as teacher or student, it might not be a bad idea for  everyone –especially these self-proclaimed kings of esoteric knowledge — to read up on what it means to show intellectual humility.

Sources:

Atir, S., Rosenzweig, E., & Dunning, D. (2015). When knowledge knows no bounds : Self-perceived expertise predicts claims of impossible knowledge. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/07/14/0956797615588195.abstract

Ottati, V., Price, E., Wilson, C., & Sumaktoyo, N. (2015). When self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition: The earned dogmatism effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 131-138. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103115001006

The Ghostwatch Hysteria

In October 1992  BBC Television aired a program called Ghostwatch, which it claimed to be a live investigation into supernatural activity at a private home in London. What started out as a normal episode turned frightful when a malevolent spirit attacked the investigators and manifested  in the BBC television studio. A terrified reporter went on air and warned that by airing the investigation on live television they have created a “massive seance,” which unleashed the spirit onto the whole of the UK. There was a tremendous reaction by the viewing audience. Many viewers phoned the police in panic. But alas there was no ghost on the loose. In fact the program wasn’t even live. It had been recorded months before it aired.

Here is the show that aired on Halloween night 1992

Read more here: http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/ghostwatch

Visions and Voices – Paranormal or Psychotic?

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by  Michael J. Baker

A belief in the existence of paranormal phenomena is quite common these days. It’s certainly not difficult to find television shows, movies or books touting some sort of paranormal theme nor is it hard to find alleged witnesses to these strange  occurrences. However some paranormal beliefs share a distinct similarity to symptoms of psychosis. For example, mediumistic communication with the dead is starkly similar to hallucinatory symptoms found in patients with acute Schizophrenia. For those experiencing this psychosis, communication with beings not seen by their peers  can be a common occurrence. These beings can appear as one personality or many. They may appear intermittently or continuous. They may manifest as a constant whispering or they may converse directly. All of these traits have not only been historically described by patients suffering from Schizophrenia, but also by mediums in their descriptions of their esoteric communications. This begs the question; Are paranormal witnesses simply suffering from some form of psychosis? or is there an element that adequately differentiates the mediumistic experience from the psychotic?

In the public eye, religious or non religious, there seems to be a greater tendency  to process fortean claims without an implied psychological label. A larger segment of the population  in general has historically been more accepting of astonishing claims when presented in a spiritual context as opposed to secular. But why?  What separates the hallucination and delusions of a psychotic experience from the visions and experiences that are described by those claiming to witness paranormal phenomena; and are the two related?

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggested that paranormal believers may not only have cognitive biases similar to those observed in psychotic patients but also problems related to thinking clarity (Lawrence & Peters, 2004; Yorulmaz, Inozu, & Gültepe, 2011). Reasoning abnormalities appear to play a causal role in the formation of unusual beliefs. Additionally cognitive bias, which is our tendency to deviate from rational thinking in support of our beliefs, may represent soft signs of a neurological defect known as the schizoid taxon (Meehl, 1962, 1989) and those biases may in-fact be preliminary indicators of a psychotic risk.  While these findings may outwardly suggest that a paranormal experience is an early indicator of a potential psychosis it should be noted that some authors are suggesting that the mere presence of paranormal belief should not be considered a reliable indicator. In other words, having a paranormal experience doesn’t “necessarily” imply an underlying psychosis.

Dr. J.T. Wigman from the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of Utrecht, believes that claims of paranormal experiences are typically associated with much lower levels of psychological distress and may be independent of psychosis. (Wigman et al., 2011)   He suggests that a possible way to improve the predictive value of unusual beliefs and experiences for psychosis risk may involve the consideration of associated cognitive features, idiosyncratic thinking styles, the role of belief appraisal, and the associated distress  (Cella, Cooper, Dymond, & Reed, 2008; Garety & Hemsley, 1994; Preti & Cella, 2010 a).

While a definitive causal link between psychosis and claims of paranormal phenomena may remain elusive it’s important to understand that the sources of anomalous phenomena may still potentially be psychological in nature.  Numerous cognitive biases can have adverse effects on how the human mind processes experiences and these “thinking errors” can prevent individuals from accurately understanding reality even when presented with sufficient data and evidence to form an accurate view. Various mood disorders and medications can also affect our interpretation of the outside world and unfortunately, just knowing about these obstacles doesn’t necessarily free us from their effects.

Sources

Lawrence, E., & Peters, E. R. (2004). Reasoning in believers in the paranormal. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 192, 727 e 733

Yorulmaz, O., Inozu, M., & Gültepe, B. (2011). The role of magical thinking in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms and cognitions in an analogue sample. Journal of Behavioural Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42,198 e 203

Meehl, P. E. (1962). Schizotaxia, schizotypy, schizophrenia. American Psychologist, 17, 827 e 838.

Wigman, J. T., Vollebergh, W. A., Raaijmakers, Q. A., Iedema, J., van Dorsselaer, S., Ormel, J., et al. (2011). The structure of the extended psychosis phenotype in early adolescence d A cross-sample replication.

Schizophrenia Bullettin, 37, 850 e 860

Cella, M., Cooper, A., Dymond, S. O., & Reed, P. (2008). The relationship between dysphoria and proneness to hallucination and delusions among young adults. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 49,544 e 550

Garety, P. A., & Hemsley, D. R. (1994). Delusions: Investigations into the psychology of delusional reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Preti, A., & Cella, M. (2010b). Randomized controlled trials in people at ultra high risk of psychosis: a review of treatment effectiveness. Schizophrenia Research, 123,30 e 36

(n.d.). Symptoms of schizophrenia. Retrieved from Living with Schizophrenia website: http://www.livingwithschizophreniauk.org/symptoms-of-schizophrenia/

The Logic Paradox: Hostages of Belief

In recent years the primary focus of my research has been on human perception.  After all our perceptions are key, not only to the way we interpret the world around us, but also to the decisions we make and the things we believe.  Understanding the fallibility and  strengths of the way humans ‘digest’ their experiences is vital to my research in mysterious phenomena.

Part of the basic process in understanding human perception is simply observing.  Watching how individuals interpret various conditions or events and then comparing those observations with published research results from respected and accomplished scientists.  That basic process alone can be fascinating.   Over time it’s easy to become engulfed  in the subject and recognize the incredible power of bias and the limiting input of a singular perspective.  No one, including myself, is free from the power of this unyielding variable, however it does seem to affect some more than others.

Throughout my years of research, I have noticed a pattern. It’s nothing new really, but it seems as though people (mostly those of a spiritual nature)  tend to adopt concepts that seem “logical” based on their own personal experience rather than what seems “illogical” based on factual information.  It’s not really that difficult to understand why, after all if you’ve  “heard” voices in your bedroom, it seems like an easy assumption that someone or something is/was there speaking.

But very often the human mind is lazy, unwilling to invest its time in considering options that go beyond easily explainable occurrences.  If the simpler explanations (i.e. Another person in the room, Radio on, Television on, person outside) can be ruled out, they will accept their initial analysis and ignore other more elaborate possibilities such as psychological issues, neurological issues or even simple misinterpretations.

It’s easier for us as humans to believe our first impressions and so we tend to “accentuate the positive”, confirming our experiences even if it goes against the majority of demonstrated research or even if it seems too wild to be true.

It seems to me there’s a blinding element to this biased human perception process that seems to hinder a person’s ability to reason.  They are in essence a hostage of their own beliefs and some tend to be trapped into ideas that resemble the erratic rantings of psychotic behavior.

In 2008 I spoke to a woman in Western Massachusetts who claimed she was being tormented by demons. She claimed to hear them walking in her attic and was adamant that they were watching her at all hours of the night, waiting for the right time to kill her.  The woman’s husband was concerned and while he was not as sold on the idea of a spiritual entity he often humored her by attempting rituals to “scare” the beings away.

Later that same year I spoke to a woman who was subsequently diagnosed with a mental disorder called paranoid schizophrenia. She claimed that the police were building missiles on the hill in her home town and that all of her neighbors were breaking into her house every night to watch her sleep. She claimed that they were planning to do something awful to her.

Both women were adamant about their claims. These were sincere people who truly felt these things were happening in spite of the real world logic that discounted such fantastic claims. Other than the component of demons vs humans, what difference is there between these two claims?  Why is the highly irrational fear of stalking humans with bad intentions considered eligible for psycho-analysis but the equally irrational fear of attacking demons less concerning?

It is my opinion that the answer lies with the nature of each claim and the public perception of them.  The element of spirituality is often regarded as a type of religious belief and to suggest psychotic behavior in response to spirit based perspective would be both insulting and politically incorrect (imagine the religious consequences if this were accepted), so the subject becomes taboo and the experiences continue.

Of course this is not to suggest that all paranormal experiences are the result of a mental illness, but it does seem as though there are elements within our own psychological processes that maintain and foster our beliefs, even in the face of opposing logic. This restrictive behavior acts as a barricade, hindering our ability to logically process any new information that opposes our beliefs.

Perhaps discovery is best served not by finding new things, but by removing old ones.

Supporting research:

First Impressions Matter: A Model of Confirmatory Bias*
Confirmation Bias in Complex Analyses

How psychotic-like are paranormal beliefs?

The survival of consciousness: Junk science or visionary inspiration

Anyone who dabbles or dives into the research of paranormal phenomena understands the impact that finding hard evidence of life after death can have, not only to the paranormal community, but to life on this planet in general.  For better or worse it would have a profound effect on our concept of existence.  It may alter or support some theological perspectives and even ding the hard shell of a few Atheists. However, much to the detriment of the after-life supporters there have been zero discoveries that have put us any closer to a conclusive answer on the elusive subject.

Purveyors of this fascinating concept often quote (but rarely understand) the fundamental principles maintained by the law of conservation of energy. The most popular quote is “Energy can neither be created, nor destroyed, but transforms from one form to another.” Ironically, one consequence of this “law” is that no system without an external energy supply can deliver an unlimited amount of energy to its surroundings. A paradox that some believe fails to support the very claim this “law quote” is used to endorse.  We can not exist without a source of energy. From the point of conception our biological structure is “jump started” into life from our direct connection to another living being (our mother). When our bodies maintain a stable foundation and can supply the needed energy on their own we are separated (born) and continue to live until the energy source (our bodies) deteriorates and ultimately dies, thus ending the life process.

Spiritualists maintain that our life begins with the creation of a “vehicle” (our body) to house a separate consciousness that existed before our conception and will exist after we die. Of course this goes against the fundamental principles of the conservation of energy law, since the “soul” would have no direct energy source prior to conception or following death. If it did, what would be the purpose of introducing a second, age limited energy supply (our bodies) capable of deterioration? To me, there are significant holes in this logic.

Recently I came across an article (shown below) entitled: “Scientists Claim That Quantum Theory Proves Consciousness Moves To Another Universe At Death.”  It was an intriguing title for sure, although it contained a significant error. You see a “Theory” will never “Prove” a concept since a theory is unproven itself. Regardless I thought it might be an interesting read.

The article speaks about the work of scientist Dr. Robert Lanza and quotes the “beliefs” of many scientists (key word there) including that of Dr. Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose.  Since I do not accept someone credibility purely based upon their title, I decided to conduct some research of my own. One of the interesting things I found was a book written in 2002 by Dr. Penrose called “The Emperors New Mind”.  The premise of the book is that human consciousness is not simply a product of complex algorithms but rather a process that can not be measured by the current scientific model. Many of the arguments he makes in support of his claims are purely philosophical in nature and unfortunately most of his conclusions are based on his own observations (hardly conclusive science), Those observations are then used to reason out larger principles.

His references to actual scientific experimentation are scarce. An online review of his work seemed to say it best:

Even when he does make an appeal to actual experimentation, he often comes to bizarre conclusions. For example, an experiment wherein an electrode is placed into a person’s brain which causes them to not be aware that their skin was touched when the electrode is activated within a quarter of a second after someone touched them leads Penrose to conclude that the effect of the electrode is traveling backwards in time.” – Bizarre and unfounded.

The lack of scientific methodology is indeed disheartening since Penrose is a tremendously respected, award winning scientist in the world of physics. Unfortunately those accolades do not by default make his “opinions” correct, especially in a field of research that has little solid surface to stand on.

My investigation into the work of the other scientists quoted in this article produced similar results (in-fact several of them work together). It seems the position of all these brilliant men is to refute the claims of those researchers in artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience who claim that the mind is a product of algorithmic processes. They feel that human consciousness is far more diverse than a set of mathematical calculations. Which is fine of course, but as seen in this article, the problem remains that they simply skipped all the fantastic reality there is to modern physics, and substituted speculation to arrive at an end result that is in support of their belief…. not good science.

In my opinion, articles such as this one are dangerous. To those who simply read and fail to research, the large amount of PhD’s referenced in this text presents a facade of credibility. Let me state very clearly for everyone’s benefit: An acclaimed group of physicists “belief” in an unproven and un-testable concept does not increase the concepts plausibility. Do your own research. Question everything.

Note: Beware of blogs making scientific claims that only site Wikipedia and other blogs as their source of information.


Here is the article I promised:

Scientists Claim That Quantum Theory Proves Consciousness Moves To Another Universe At Death

A book titled “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe“ has stirred up the Internet, because it contained a notion that life does not end when the body dies, and it can last forever. The author of this publication, scientist Dr. Robert Lanza who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the NY Times, has no doubts that this is possible.

Beyond time and space

Lanza is an expert in regenerative medicine and scientific director of Advanced Cell Technology Company. Before he has been known for his extensive research which dealt with stem cells, he was also famous for several successful experiments on cloning endangered animal species.

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