Tag Archives: SPR

The SPR & ASSAP: time to merge?


IntroductionASSAP FB logo

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) was founded in 1981 as the result of dissatisfaction felt by a few members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).  This is ancient history and it is not the present intention to rehearse the issues which created that rupture.  Suffice it to say that the two organisations have existed in parallel for over thirty years, attracting different, though frequently overlapping, memberships but generally standing aloof from one other.  Now that aloofness is dissolving, with each promoting the other’s activities on social media, and there is more interaction than has been the case in the past.  With this improvement in relations, the time has come to ask: why not merge to form a single body?spr_logolowres

The first response might be to wonder why they should merge when they have such strong individual identities and do well on their own.  The answer is that they have strengths which are complementary, rather than antagonistic, so that both sets of members would gain from unification.  Another question is that if some members were dissatisfied with the SPR in 1981, could the same happen in the future, leading to yet more friction and possibly a fresh split?  The answer to that is that the current SPR is a long way from its 1981 incarnation, and fully aware of how traumatic such a rupture is in the life of an organisation.

The following sections attempt to answer some more of the questions that will naturally occur in a discussion of the merits of bringing ASSAP and the SPR together.  It is to be hoped that these will generate debate, which may produce further questions.

What are be the benefits of a merger?

The obvious one is a bigger combined membership, with economies of scale and greater resources.  A larger size should increase its punch and authority, both within the field and among the wider public.

The SPR has dedicated premises and a paid full-time administrator which would improve the ad-hoc administration experienced by ASSAP members.  The volunteers who run the latter do a tremendous job, but a dedicated office function has to be more efficient.  ASSAP members would have access to the range of benefits already enjoyed by SPR members.  These include four numbers of both the magazine Paranormal Review and the peer-reviewed Journal (and occasional Proceedings); free access to London lectures, reduced rates to bi-annual study days and the annual conference; a permanent library, archives of international significance, and free access to an online library of publications back to 1882.  ASSAP officers could be brought into the SPR Council structure by means of co-optation.

In terms of research, ASSAP has an energetic and enthusiastic membership, and this injection of energy would be welcome in the SPR.  ASSAP’s spontaneous case network would reinforce the existing SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee and its emphasis on training would be useful in stimulating interest in investigation among SPR members.  A larger combined membership, and therefore increased income, would enable an expansion of the amount given to fund research activities.

Education, a core function for both the SPR and ASSAP, would be improved as well.  Integrating the libraries and archives would provide an enhanced resource (the new SPR premises, bigger than the previous rented accommodation, providing the required space for ASSAP’s books), and ASSAP’s records would find a permanent home.  A single set of periodicals, with a larger circulation than either achieves singly, would attract a wider range of writers.

There would also be benefits in geographical reach: the SPR is often seen as London-centric, whereas ASSAP is successful regionally.  With a combined membership around the country there would be motivation for regional activities, enabling members outside London to participate in their localities.  This is an opportunity to decentralise some of the SPR’s functions, with more grassroots involvement.

What about differences in scope?

The subject-matter of the two organisations is not identical, that of ASSAP covering a wider area than that of the SPR.  ASSAP members might legitimately complain that a merger is likely to squeeze out particular interests, such as ufology, earth mysteries and folklore.  This is not necessarily an impediment, even though such topics in general fall outside the scope of the SPR.   In these days of easy electronic communication it is straightforward for sub-groups to pursue their interests.  The new SPR website will make it possible for members to keep in contact with each other easily, so that even though say ufology is not a significant element of psychical research, those with such an interest can still interact, while enjoying the benefits of their SPR membership.

Membership fees

A stumbling block is that ASSAP’s fees have always been significantly less than the SPR’s.  The standard membership rates are noticeably different, with ASSAP’s being a quarter of that charged by the SPR.  This reflects the different set-ups of the organisations, ASSAP’s lower volunteer-based costs compared to the SPR’s permanent paid staff and building expenses.  ASSAP members would hopefully consider the broader range of benefits enough to justify an increase, but perhaps there could be a transitional arrangement, with incremental rises over several years for existing ASSAP members to bring the two sets into line.  The SPR membership rates are very reasonable, and ASSAP members would hopefully see that the increase was justified.  It is most unlikely that there could be any reduction in the SPR rates to bring them closer to ASSAP’s.

Events

On the other hand, ASSAP members would undoubtedly baulk at the costs of the SPR conference and study days (as do some SPR members).  With ASSAP’s expertise in mounting economically priced study days (notably the extremely popular ‘Seriously…’ series), there is no reason why these could not continue, augmented by the presence of SPR members who had never attended an ASSAP event before.  The status of some of these, such as conferences on vampires and witchcraft, would be problematic under the SPR banner but these could be run in collaboration with other organisations, such as the London Fortean Society; the SPR has participated in joint events with the Scientific and Medical Network so there is precedent for such an approach.

A concern which has to be acknowledged is that the desire to organise events might diminish, with those who had previously volunteered for ASSAP not wanting to make the effort on the grounds that conferences of all kinds should be arranged at the centre.  It is doubtful that the SPR office would be willing to shoulder the extra administrative load.

What about the name?

The name could be a sticking point for ASSAP members.  There is no easy way that the names SPR and ASSAP could be combined, and there would be overwhelming resistance within the SPR to altering an internationally-recognised name that has been in existence since 1882.  The most likely outcome is that the SPR would retain its name, but with ‘incorporating The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena’ on its literature – something that might not appeal to ASSAP members whose first loyalty is to that organisation.  This could be a major obstacle, but one that might be overcome if ASSAP members were convinced that the advantages outweighed the loss.

Mechanisms for reaching an agreement

This article has set out some of the pros and cons of a merger.  Bringing the two together would not be quick as there are a number of steps before that could happen.  In addition to a general debate among both sets of members there would have to be an initial discussion by the officers within the two organisations; a formal process of consultation with members; meetings between the two sets of officers to resolve any contentious issues; then there would have to be a vote, with a criterion for a yes vote agreed in advance.

Conclusion

This long after the event, most of those interested in our subject are not bothered about why ASSAP came into being.  What they want to see is a thriving organisation or organisations that can deliver the means necessary for them to pursue that interest.  Many join both with no sense of conflict, and a number of those who established ASSAP continued to take part in the SPR’s activities, clearly seeing no contradiction in belonging to both.  There is no doctrinal reason why the respective memberships should not combine and work together, and the practical difficulties could surely be overcome with goodwill on both sides.  In delivering their services the two organisations are capable of existing independently, but their combination would strengthen the voice for psychical research.  If that is our aim, then the case for coming together to our mutual benefit, and that of the field, is a strong one.

This article is being published jointly on the authors’ blogs, and publicised on social media, in the hope that it will generate a constructive exchange of views.  The authors are both members of the two organisations, but are not writing in any official capacity.  They welcome feedback of all types, which should be sent to tom.ruffles[at]yahoo.co.uk, in order to gauge levels of support for and opposition to the proposal.  This has to be a bottom-up process, with all opinions aired.

Tom Ruffles and C J Romer

10 October 2015

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

Knocking away the poltergeist evidence? A follow up on Dr. Colvin’s JSPR paper


It’s been a long time since JG posted comments on the piece I wrote on Dr Colvin’s JSPR paper that started me thinking about running some tests to attempt to falsify the hypothesis offered in that interesting article. I emailed Dr Colvin who very kindly sent me a selection of .wav files so I could look at them. My earlier piece examines Dr Colvin’s paper in detail; however essentially he postulates based on recordings from a number of purported poltergeist cases that the waveform characteristics of sounds made by poltergeists are unusual, with a slow attack and slow decline. Have a look at my earlier post if you don’t follow, and all should become clear. In this post I describe a simple test we did on this idea, and the results…

I had become intensely interested in the issue while debating Campermon over at Rational Skepticism forum. He raised an interesting possibility – if the sound were in fact anomalous, the sustained attack/delayed decline might be due to them not being raps at all, but two surfaces rubbing together – abrasion. As he pointed out, that would produce a waveform similar to that we were looking for, similar to recordings of seismic activity which are after all abrasion on a vast scale.  So I downloaded a 30 day trial of Adobe Audition (I don’t have the money to purchase a full copy, so don’t expect much more from me on this!) and started experimenting…

As you can see, this looks a lot like the waveform we are looking for – Campermon’s scratching hypothesis was vindicated. However there was a problem — it sounded wrong, nothing like a “rap”, and nothing like the recordings I had been sent.

So then we started experimenting in earnest. I made a number of control files, simply by banging furniture in my basement: one was Lisa jumping on the floor above, and one was the abrasion of a coffee mug along the desk. Then with 12 wav files total, including the anomalous ones, I submitted them to Campermon, GrahamH and Twistor59. I wish I could use their real rather than forum names but I would have to ask their permission  (and what they actually are)  so they can reveal themselves if they want).

The Test Files

All of the waveforms for these twelve files can be viewed here on Campermon’s site. I may as well reproduce them here!

waveform from experiment

CJ1

waveform

CJ2

waveform

CJ3

waveform

CJ4

waveform

CJ5

waveform

CJ6

waveform

CJ7

waveform

CJ8

waveform

CJ9

waveform

CJ10

waveform

CJ11

waveform

CJ12

Can you spot the four “genuine poltergeist raps” from the files???  We couldn’t. Well I could, because I created the other eight and prepared the blind test, but the others were not so sure.

Interpreting the Results

The problem was that several of the waveforms created by banging furniture by me look like the supposedly anomalous waveforms. Number 6 is just me scraping a coffee mug on the desk – we removed that from most of our analysis, as it sounded so different.   Just for the record the “genuine poltergeist”  files (in that they were recorded at poltergeist cases) are 1,4, 9 and 12. We decided the only way forward was a less subjective numerical analysis of the data.

A problem now arose, in how one measures what constitutes a slow attack, which Dr Colvin does not mention in his paper. Twistor59 suggested “time from first instance of 10% max amplitude to first instance of max amplitude”. Assuming sample rate = 44.1kHz for all files, we then measured these – well Twistor did.   I then noticed something – the attack is always a ratio of the total length of sound, or so it appeared to me. Twistor then recorded the length of each sound, and Campermon tabulated it thus —
The test results:table showing duration and attack time

I had proposed that the percentage of total duration of sound in the attack was the important factor. Campermon however found a more useful way to graph this —

As Campermon suggests, there are too few data points and our sample size is too small for this to be meaningful, but our very informal tests show no striking confirmation of the hypotheses that the poltergeist raps have unique or indeed particularly unusual characteristics.  We would like to see larger tests done, with more poltergeist samples included, but remain very grateful to Dr Colvin for his assistance in supplying the wav files these tests.

So what causes the odd waveform?

Campermon in the debate raises some interesting questions —

“One thing that has nagged me from the Colvin paper was this statement from the abstract;

‘Differences in low-frequency wave properties between the two classes of sounds have been noted.’

OK, this has bugged me because in the body of the paper he doesn’t mention much about this. He doesn’t explain in any detail how he treated the recordings, for example, did he filter out the low frequencies only for his analysis? If so, what band of frequencies? Colvin does not make it at all clear, which is one of my original criticisms of the paper.

One explanation for any anomalous low frequency waves observed on the poltergeist recordings may lie in the fact that they were originally recorded on analogue gear and then digitized. Colvin states that he did digitize some himself, but other, digitized sources, were provided by others. Perhaps these recordings suffered from ‘aliasing’? Aliasing occurs in the digitization of a signal when the input signal frequency is higher than the sampling rate. It results in the addition of low frequency signals appearing on the digitized copy. More here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliasing”

Yesterday I hazarded some thoughts on the subject. What was interesting is that all my original experiments had produced, as you can see from my earlier piece and the debate, the characteristic “normal rap” waveform.  However when I recorded my controls, I found some fairly “polt-like” characteristics.

I think two factors are involved, a) the presence of blank wall space that ‘reflects’ the sounds, creating a sustained rise – but I cant be sure that is a factor, I just think it possible b) the transmission of the sounds through two mediums (as demonstrated by the wav file of Lisa bouncing above me through the floor). In most cases my final success in replicating the noises came from hitting an object some distance from the mc stand which rested on my desk – I suspect but do not know that the varying rates of propagation of the sound waves through two different mediums (the air and the desk) led to attenuation of the sound and the waveform characteristic displayed.

This morning just as I was writing this up JG wrote to me describing his experiments on the subject. I am not sure if he intends a more formal publication, but I would very much like to post them on this forum. I have emailed him with details of what we have been up to, and look forward to hearing his thoughts.

Final Thoughts

Assuming I do not have a poltergeist in my basement, or did not use mysterious PK power to alter my recordings 😉 I am afraid that at the moment our attempts to test the hypothesis poltergeist raps are in some way anomalous has proven only that they do not appear in a very small sample to stand out: I suspect the raps are perfectly normal sounds, which is NOT to say they are not caused by a poltergeist. Dr Colvin’s hypothesis they are internally generated in the structure of a substance is supported by the recordings; unfortunately they could just as well be an artefact of large bare walls, recording sounds from the other side of a wall, or many other quite normal factors?  Sadly we do not know enough about the conditions in which they were recorded to judge – but further research is clearly required on this fascinating line of inquiry.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank firstly and most of all Dr. Barrie Colvin who has offered a quantifiable and fascinating hypothesis, and supplied the four sound files we used; my colleagues in “beer mat parapsychology” and “beer mat physics” Campermon, GrahamH, Twistor59, and everyone who has commented from RationalSkepticism.org, JG for his invaluable comments on this blog, and Becky Smith and Lisa Langood for their tolerance of my loud thumping in the basement and helpful suggestions, and finally Anthony McCann for his hilarious poltergeist rap he composed and recorded to amuse Wendy Cousins and myself!

cj x

7 Comments

Filed under Poltergeist Research

Poltergeist Breakthrough? JSPR publishes Dr Barrie Colvin’s research


Firstly, what can one say but sorry it has been so long. Becky was made redundant, and is now shuttling between Cheltenham and Derby, and I am ridiculously busy — something which should ease up about mid to late August.  I will of course be trying to catch up on what has been happening in the world of spooks in the meantime, and hope to keep the blog interesting.

However, readers will recall that in my previous comments on this or my personal blog I referenced the fascinating work of Dr. Barrie Colvin. At that time the work was unpublished — and even in my Paranormal Review review of the SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists: Then and Now I refused to reveal any details of the hypothesis  until the journal article was out. Well now it is, in the April 2010 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and I want to briefly discuss it here.

I’m involved in an internet debate on a Dawkins successor forum, http://www.rationalskepticism.org (Richard Dawkins closed his own forum back in February, and this is one of the communities set up by emigres from there) where I had briefly mentioned Dr Colvin’s work in passing. Once the JSPR piece was published i wanted to discuss it more fully — and owing to tiredness and time pressures I may have made a hash of it, but I wrote a brief precis of key themes, which I thought may interest readers of this blog. However really you should read the original article, because it may be the single most important thing written on the poltergeist phenomena so far this century, in fact it probably is.  It is ‘ The Acoustic Properties of Unexplained Rapping Sounds’ in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research [2010] Vol 73.2 Number 899 pp 65-93.”

At the time I last brought up Dr.Colvin’s research it was unpublished: now fortuitously it is in print, and we can discuss it in a little more depth.
Remember, this is not a lab experiment. Even if it was, we would want a plethora of different microphones to rule out the possibility that the equipment, not the sound itself, was causing the unusual acoustic characteristics. Instead we are looking at ten recordings from ‘the field’, from cases in which Dr Colvin was for the most part not involved – Andover (1981) being the exception. The other cases which provided recordings were

Sauchie, Scotland (1960) – from Broadcasting House, from the BBC recordings taken at the time.

http://www.p-e-g.co.uk/Web/Articles/ART … icle23.htm

has more on the case for those not familiar with it – Owen, A.R.G. Can We Explain the Poltergeist? New York: Helix Press / Garrett Publications, 1964 gives a full account by the principle investigator.

Thun, near Bern, Switzerland (1967) The recordings were taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Schleswig , Switzerland, (1967) taken from a CD.

http://www.last.fm/music/Okkulte+Stimme … iale+Musik

Pursruck, Germany (1971) – from a recording by Prof. Hans Bender (16-bit stereo, 44100Hz)

Ipiranga, Brazil (1973) – recording by Guy Lyon Playfair taken during the IBPP investigation. More on the case can be found in Playfair’s 1975 book The Flying Cow.

La Machine, France (1973) – recording by Dr Alfred Krantz.

Enfield, England (1977) – from original reel to reel tapes, which was running “at the rather slow speed of 15/16 of inch per second” (Colvin 2010); recording taken by SPR investigator Maurice Grosse. A recent Channel 4 documentary on the case well worth watching can be seen here —

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/inte … oltergeist

– you can see the equipment used and context.

Andover, England (1981) – investigated by Dr Colvin.

Santa Rosa, Brazil (1988) – taken from a recording made of a television broadcast (by TV Globo) on the case.

Euston Square, England (2000) This case has recordings by both Maurice Grosse and Mary Rose Barrington available.

Ten cases, none recent, because recordings of acoustic phenomena associated with poltergeists are by their nature difficult to collect: one need a poltergeist after all! The two Swiss cases are from a digital CD recording commercially available of recordings of parapsychological phenomena – it is impossible to say to what extent they have been edited and processed, so I would say they were VERY weak evidence. The Brazilian cases rely on recordings taken by Guy Lyon Playfair at the time, and by him off the TV, and he was present at Enfield – yet fraud seems unthinkable, given the dates, unless he somehow had access to very high end studio equipment and knowledge of acoustics in a pre-digital sound age. Therefore, I think that so long as we trust Dr Colvin’s acoustic analysis, the sound signatures he claims to detect in his varied collection of poltergeist sounds are authentic. Colvin’s claims are checkable — at least some of these recordings – the Enfield sounds and the two from the CD, and possibly if you are willing to approach the BBC Sauchie – are available in their original form to interested independent parties wishing to check the results. I suspect someone with appropriate acoustics knowledge could acquire copies of all the recordings by request to the SPR. (http://www.spr.ac.uk)

Adobe Audition http://www.adobe.com/products/audition/ was used for the analysis, in case anyone fancies trying a replication. I do favour a hands on approach as you all know by now!

So what does Colvin claim to have found? Well let’s start with a normal waveform. It follows a characteristic pattern – a wave form showing a sharp rise in amplitude or immediately to maximum amplitude, followed by a gradual decrease to zero. Adobe Audition has a free trial, but there is plenty of freeware on the web you can download which allows you to experiment with banging various substances yourself. I did so, analysing some sounds submitted by Wayne Morris from his paranormal investigation at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe last year, and found that the banging noises there followed the same type of acoustic signature I could get by kicking the wall or banging my desk – the above pattern, suggesting a normal explanation for those (non-poltergeist) sounds. Simple experimentation with a large number of substances demonstrated that the pattern is consistent, and that Colvin’s comment on this is completely correct. I encourage everyone reading to try this for themselves, to familiarise themselves with the standard way the amplitude and frequency can be analysed and the common pattern one sees.

Colvin gives a couple examples of frequency ranges in mundane sounds – a hammer hitting an oak desk gives a frequency band of mainly 50Hz to 300Hz – a teaspoon on a crystal glass 300Hz to 3000Hz, with a decay of amplitude lasting three seconds. What one might expect in short. However, once again I strongly suggest a few minutes experimentation at home, and posting the results??? Really, do try!

So how do the acoustic properties of the raps in the ten cases in question vary? They show a consistently odd rise in amplitude, a waveform that slowly rises rather building to a sudden peak and then falling away. One can test this on the knocks from the Channel 4 shows recordings from Enfield I guess, or armed with some money, order the CD Colvin took the Swiss cases from: I have too date done neither. Given the fact the JSPR article is clearly copyright, I shall simply reproduce just two of the figures here, showing a knock deliberately made by Grosse at Enfield as he tried to replicate the noises,and one of the anomalous raps…

Image

So why do the waveforms show these unusual characteristics? Colvin thought of a possibility, which shows his critical thinking and thoroughness —

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR[/i] 73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
One of the possible normal explanations put forward to explain the results is that certain types of microphones may give rise to the anomalous results because of their inherent qualities and mode of operation. A microphone is simply a sensor that converts sound in to an electrical signal. The most common types consist of a thin membrane that vibrates in response to sound pressure.

I actually did not know much about how microphones work. This was helpful!

Dr. Barrie Colvin, [i]JSPR [/i]73.2, Number 899, April 2010 wrote:
This movement is subsequently translated in to an electrical signal using one of several techniques. Most examples use electromagnetic induction, capacitance change, piezoelectric generation or light modulation to convert the mechanical vibration of the signal to an electrical signal. The question that arises is relation to a short impulse such as a rap is whether or not there could a be a delay between production of the sound and vibration of the membrane. Could the inertia of the membrane, particularly with microphones dating back to the 1970’s, lead to a relatively slow increase to maximum amplitude when subjected to a short burst of acoustic energy?

This is why I suggested in a lab set up we would require several microphones, of different makes, models and manufacture. Colvin experimented making raps with a number of microphones dating from 1959 (including the Phillips EL3549A & the EL3782 with impedance 583 ohms) to present day microphones, looking at the waveforms, to falsify this hypothesis. Again, with old microphones common in attics if my house is anything to go by, I suggest interested parties can do at home…

However there is another reason to believe the results are not an artefact of the microphones. Three of the recordings include the investigators making their own raps. These investigator produced raps possess the normal waveform, not the slow rise in amplitude associated with the “poltergeist knockings”. As such, we have an inadvertent control, which demonstrates the microphone was NOT the source of the unusual waveforms.

Colvin has managed to find similar acoustic waveforms to those recorded in these ten cases – in recordings of seismic activity. His paper gives two examples – a recording of an earthquake at Ascension Island in 2007, and a British Geological Survey recording of a seismic event at Folkestone in 2009, described as being “like an explosion”. Colvin theorises that the sound signatures associated with the poltergeist events imply they are caused by a sudden release of tension or alteration in the substance of an object, not with as one would assume a rapping of one thing on another. An intriguing suggestion, but clearly one that requires further high quality recordings to test adequately.

It’s a fascinating article, one of the best I have read in a long while. I want to experiment now, and above all to try and collect more recordings from cases to give to Dr Colvin. I strongly suggest all reader of this blog try to lay their hands upon the latest JSPR to read the article as soon as possible…

cj x

29 Comments

Filed under Poltergeist Research

Cheshire Poltergeist in Picture Pose?


Poltergeists are like buses — You wait ages for them, then they all turn up at once; or so it would seem. Well of course I have not been waiting ages — this blog is only a couple of weeks old, and already we have looked at Cork (last week) and York (earlier today). I am slightly annoyed with the paranormal-powers-that-be that they have no provided another case, published just two hours ago in a Cheshire newspaper.  Any of my readers in the Stockport area?

OK, I will try and give this one the love and attention it deserves, but a chap can only comment on so many cases in once day! It seems ironic I signed off my last piece on the York poltergeist just an hour or two ago saying people ask “where are the poltergeists today?” and stating that the answer was no one was looking — well I think this proves my point. I shall certainly send a message to the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee drawing attention to this blog, and then they can proceed as they see fit with each of these cases. Becky and I would love to follow them up — but I simply do not have the money to do so (Indeed I  simply do not have any money at all, as readers of my personal blog will appreciate!).

Ghostbusters called in to pub after party pic terror

March 31, 2010

A landlady has called in a team of ghostbusters after things went bump in the night at her pub.

The ghostly happenings came to a head when Janice Wright held her 45th birthday party at the Stock Dove in Romiley.

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Now she has called in paranormal researchers Club Zero Ghost Group to investigate.

Mrs Wright said: “I could not believe it when I saw the pictures – it is really freaky. We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

So immediately this one is different: the emphasis is very clearly on a traditional “ghost” interpretation, and the landlady has chosen to call in a local group (never heard of Club Zero Ghost Group but nice website,  but will have to get in touch with them, I’m friends with a bewildering number of paranormal groups!), but in this case the ghost appears to have been photographed. Best take this  bit at a time…

An unidentified figure appeared in photos taken at the bash, held on Saturday, March 20.

Sadly the photo is not reproduced anywhere in the article, which is a puzzling oversight. One wonders if the mystery guest might just be a gatecrasher? I’d be curious to see it, but obviously with photos with extra people in them like this the usual explanation is that someone else was present, and simply not identifiable by the photographer afterwards. I must say I have seen photos of me in which I am unrecognisable to me! I will make some enquiries, but I am really unsure what to say about this until I have actually seen the images.  However Mrs Wright is unnerved by the photo – but could that be because of the other phenomena?

We seem to have a resident ghost. We have heard whistling, screaming and crying and been tapped on the shoulder. My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

There is an awful lot of phenomena packed in to that short sentence. What is interesting is the differences to what we saw reported at York and Cork.  “Whistling, screaming, crying”… The whistling sets an icy tingle down my spine, not least because the motif is used in William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural fiction,  but because whistling has been a feature of a number of cases. Screaming and crying? One wonders when this will resolve in to voices — and if a voice does emerge, I really want to know more. I am not going to speculate further here on this simply because I am making predictions about what would happen and the nature of the voice if that did occur — I’m hoping for something more like the Rougham Poltergeist in Suffolk in the 1980’s than the questionable voices of Enfield.

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

Janice Wright (c) Stockport News 2010

I’m Always Touched by Your Presence, Dear…

Now Becky is about to do a major study (well she has started) for her Ph.D on apparitional experiences, funded by the SPR and supervised by Dr Ian Hume at Coventry University. Before she began Becky and I conducted a piece of research we call the Accidental Census of Hallucinations, which we hope to publish an article based upon in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.  Drawing on the work of the SPR in the 1880’s and 1890’s and Dr Donald West’s fascinating studies later, the details are not important here but we closely analysed (using a methodology called Grounded Theory) sixty accounts of unusual experiences. (I’m sure we will write much more on this topic in the future, so I’m passing quickly over it here.)

In that sample 21.3% reported a tactile hallucination, that is a  feeling of being touched, as Ian did. 53.8% of those who did reported other phenomena: in 46.2% it was the sole experience reported.  In 69.2% of those who claimed tactile hallucinations it only happened once: the remainder had multiple experiences of this sort.  In only one case  it is  an ongoing experience, that happens semi-regularly. There was nothing unusual about the gender or age of the people having the experience compared with other anomalous experiences (such as say seeing apparitions) – two thirds of those reporting the experience were female. 32% of the reports mention specifically being touched on the shoulder.

So what does this tell us? Actually, not much, apart from the fact one can have the distinct impression of being touched with out any other “ghostly” experiences. I therefore make the following suggestion: the sense of being touched may be a relatively common physiological or neurological phenomenon – a somatosensory hallucination. In fact it may be about as common as hearing someone call your name, but there not being anyone there. Now the account is not clear how many times this has happened, or to whom, but if it has only happened once or twice then it may just be a coincidence of a trivial but not uncommon experience, and maybe then suggestion.

The problem with my hypothesis is that in about half the cases Becky and I found the experience of being touched was linked to other phenomena. While my idea is that these cases are recalled precisely BECAUSE of the other phenomena, I am not convinced that can necessarily account for such a high correlation. I have tried a little experiment on Facebook, and asked

If you read this can you answer yes or NO (and I do want negative replies) as a comment, please! I’m trying to do a really quick rough and ready straw poll. The question is “have you in the last month had the feeling of being touched by an invisible person?” Don’t worry it does not mean you are mad or ill – I’m just …curious about this fairly common experience…

I received over a day 37 responses: 12 positive.  I think this strongly supports my hypothesis the experience is extremely common, but under normal circumstances simply ignored and forgotten?

The Usual…

Moving on we get to the really interesting (to me) bit —

“My 19-year-old son Philip moved out of his bedroom after the furniture moved.”

Bedrooms again, furniture moving again (these poltergeists should get in to the Removals business: might need someone to drive the truck though!) Are we seeing a pattern yet folks? Now of course it could just be that everyone from York to Stockport to Cork reports similar experiences because actually they are all drawing on the same films, TV, or popular culture motifs. Yet somehow, I find this unlikely — the experiences seem (to me anyway) rather trivial compared with the ones you see on the TV.

The Stock Dove

The Stock Dove - cliick for the pub website

Wayne from the Bury St Edmund’s research group messaged me earlier and said he was wondering when we would see another Enfield poltergeist but you know what? I suspect that any of these cases could be as big, if the SPR got hold of them and sent Guy Lyon Playfair and Mary Rose Barrington  or Tom Ruffles or whoever over.  Enfield just got a blaze of press attention (did the story break in the August “silly season” when news is slow  by any chance?), and has had much discussion, writing and books on it. Most of these little cases I am chronicling here strike me as having very bit as much interest — but I doubt in 20 years time people will be referencing them…

There is another curious parallel with the Cork case – the timings —

Janice reopened the pub with her business partner last August after it had been closed for 11 months.

Now thinking back to Cork, the family moved in last August, after the house had been empty for a while. I can not see any reason to think this is more than coincidence, but I think we should watch out just in case any patterns emerge, and we can find hypotheses we can test.  As I said in the Cork case, one would expect people to mistake ordinary noises and house settling, pipes etc,  for something weird in the first weeks after moving in. Here as in Cork the family had settled in for maybe eight months.

Janice Wright seems to take a very level headed view of the phenomena —

She said: “I think we must have disturbed the ghost. I have been told stories by some of the customers about how a girl came for a stay here when it was a coach house and was murdered, and it is thought she is moving things in my son’s room as that is where it happened. I can’t wait for Club Zero to come in to see what they can find out.”

So once again a dead guy – or in this case a dead gal – is to blame? Was the Stock Dove ever a coaching inn? I have no idea, but if I saw the building I could probably make a good guess. No for the story to make sense the murder must have been discovered, and most murders leave written records, so perhaps some local historian will be able to confirm the truth of this one.  It sounds like folklore to me, or people inventing explanations, but I wonder — I have been wrong on this before, most notably on the Old Bell, Dursley Case. I will keep an open mind for now.

The rest of the article simply deals with the impending visit of Club Zero –

Club Zero Ghost Group was founded in Stockport by Chris Andrews in 2003. It will visit the pub in April. Carole Webster, 56, the club’s events manager, said: “We are looking forward to going in to do an investigation. We will take along our equipment including EMS, an infrared system and a video camera. We will then put together a report and a DVD. There will also be a medium present.” For more information see clubzero.co.uk .

I assume EMF meter is intended by EMS, but I could be wrong – this look like a journalistic typo, and I wonder if a DVD is standard for ghost groups now. Seems sensible to keep a record fo the investigation anyway. Well I will do some digging and see what I find out, but for now I’ll call it a day.

cj x

9 Comments

Filed under Poltergeist Cases

Disturbances in York


Well no news from Cork, and indeed no replies from any of the individuals I emailed trying to follow up the story. Visits to this blog have tailed off to almost nothing, and I am tempted to abandon the project, owing to almost complete lack of interest. I’ll give it a month though and see if things pick up?  Still from Cork, Eire, let us turn our attention to York, England, and a much more low key story from The Press, a local York paper…

“York family plagued by ghostly goings-on

10:01am Saturday 27th March 2010

A MOTHER has called in a vicar to bless her York home after she and her daughter were spooked by what they say are ghostly noises and apparitions.

Tracey Glen and her daughter Tasha Kennedy, 14, told yesterday how their home in [road name removed for usual reasons], Clifton, had been hit by a series of bizarre incidents over the past four years. They have been told by a local resident that there was a death in the house many years ago.”

Again, purported ghostly goings on are immediately linked with a death of a former resident. Something I don’t think I ever mentioned in my previous commentary on the Cork case was that one intelligent commentator on an Irish web forum answered one of my questions about the clairvoyants information there. You may recall that in my commentary on that case I pondered if the alleged suicide of a young man said to be responsible for the hauntings necessarily took place in the house? Well the answer is apparently no: presumably in the radio coverage, the clairvoyant said he died elsewhere. This renders the claim pretty much unfalsifiable: if one can die anywhere and go haunting, then I guess most girls college dorms are haunted by randy teenage male spooks who travel there from the site of their demise – guess that explains Phantom hitch-hikers? 🙂

Now in this case we have a local resident saying there was a death in the house years ago. That would not really surprise me: I guess most old houses have seen at least one death, and probably many, though I expect post-1948 a lot more people die in or on their way to hospital. A quick search reveals that only 20% of Americans die at home, and 50% die in hospital, and if anything I think the figures will be much higher for hospital/care home deaths here in the UK, though that is pure guesswork. (We have a National Health Service, and a high rate of the elderly entering care homes, so that is my underlying thinking, not that the NHS kills people off!)

Still one other interesting fact emerges from the opening of Mike Laycock’s story — the disturbances have been going on for four years. My received wisdom on the matter suggests that poltergeists are short and sharp, lasting normally no more than a few months, and usually only a few weeks. However I do wonder: it could be the period when disturbances are regular and violent, the climax of the activity might meet that description – from my own and Becky’s work we are seeing a pattern emerge of low key activity that seems to last for decades in many instances. This particularly fascinates me: the time scale of the so-called poltergeist needs real work, and hey if no one else is going to gather the data and try, I guess I will…

Let’s move on with the story —

Tracey said the incidents included twice being woken in the middle of the night by a loud bang downstairs. On the first occasion, they rushed downstairs and found a mug tree lying on its side on a work surface, with mugs scattered all around it.

“There was no animal in the house or any draught that could have caused that to happen,” she said.

Interesting that she rules out animals. I frequently hear loud bands in the middle of the night: the cat knocking something over. Feline grace seems to be missing in every mog I share my home with. Still loud bangs in themselves seem to be a VERY weak evidence for alleged paranormal activity, there being probably hundreds of better explanations than “the ghost did it”.  Still, all too easy to be cynical – I spot a possible pattern, well little more than a hunch. Remember in the Cork case there was movement of furniture upstairs? So the loud bangs always emanate from somewhere where the witnesses aren’t. Logic suggests

i) it could well be that if the witnesses were present when the door slammed, or the car backfired, or whatever, they would identify the cause. Therefore alleged paranormal noises will follow this pattern

or

ii) poltergeists are shy, and prefer to bang on stuff out of sight. If the bangs really are paranormal then this seems to argue against a living agent (Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis – RSPK) – as following  Roll and others one would expect objects to move in the vicinity of the poltergeist agent. It would however be possible with Colin Wilson’s battery theory I guess.

Still, in the incidents we have an actual cause – the mug tree laying on its side, mugs scattered around. We need to know far more though to know if their could be down to some normal cause (was it top heavy somehow, or badly designed so having mugs on one side made it fall? How far had it moved? Was the surface it stood on wet?, etc) – but I would not have thought it would make a very loud band if it just toppled over. So this does interest me – readers of the Cork analysis will recall that I suspect that the noise made by these “movements” does not reflect the usual acoustic properties one would associate with an object of this weight and size falling, but instead slight movements can generate much louder noises? Perhaps that happened in this case?

Last year Becky and I attended SPR Study Day No.58 on Poltergeists, where Dr. Barrie Colvin talked on the acoustic properties of anomalous percussive rapping in this kind of case.   I know some of the details now of the purported “signature” of a poltergeist related noise — I would dearly love a recording of the sound events to send to Dr. Colvin for analysis, and I would  myself be able to check it with fairly simple software. Unfortunately I only know half of Dr Colvin’s research ( I don’t know the associated frequencies and I am not going to share what I do now on a public forum, as that would simply make it too easy for people to manufacture fake “paranormal” noises with these attributes. Anyone who really wants to know can buy a recording of the Poltergeist Study Day from the SPR for a very reasonable price!

The second bang again appears to emanate from the haunted mug tree (one wonders where they acquired it from?)

The next time they ran downstairs to find the mug tree still upright, but one of the mugs on the kitchen floor, standing upright.

OK,  that’s pretty much classic polt type activity.  Again it’s frustrating to not know how far the mug had moved, etc, etc.  Again, I don’t know if a mug landing on the floor unbroken can really be expected to cause a “loud bang” likely to make someone run down stairs to investigate, so logically

i) I am right and the noise is not proportionate to the likely forces involved if the mug moved naturally

or

ii) the noise and the mugs are unrelated. I think this entirely possible. Imagine a tired CJ drinks his coffee, and in a typical CJ manner knocks over the mug tree. He goes to bed, not noticing he has toppled it over. In the night there is a loud bang – maybe a neighbour slamming a garage door. Being of  nervous disposition I run downstairs, find the mug tree, and put two and two together. We can not necessarily assume that the movement of the objects and the noise are related. I keep trying to teach people this on investigations, because it is a dangerous, but perfectly natural assumption…

So is there any strong evidence for paranormality? So far the case s very suggestive, but now things get a bit more interesting…

She said other strange happenings included:

*A drawer in a bedroom cupboard flying open for no reason, when people were in the room

A drawer? Interesting. I would bounce like a heffalump all over the floorboards seeing if I could cause this to happen somehow, and with a wardrobe door might expect to succeed, but a drawer sounds unlikely. The mention of other witnesses – people present – is interesting – who were they? Who was present when it happened? What was going on? The psychological background may well be key, whether a poltergeist is involved or not, but journalist can’t really pry in to these things I guess. Still I’d like to see actual witness testimony. Again bedroom furniture is involved – one case I researched many years ago involved a toilet seat slamming up and down and a bed head board smashing in to a wall –poltergeists are very prosaic and domestic in their choice of objects to play with it seems. (Interesting that in the Cork case we had “holy pictures” and strong religious overtones – this polt seems to lack any religious or anti-religious enthusiasm, maybe reflecting the religious indifferentism of much of England compared to Eire?)

*The entry hatch to the loft mysteriously opening up, with the board left cracked and a strange piece of pipe left on the floor below

I know events are supposed to have been going on for four years, but I really wish we had some kind of timetable, and especially a date  for this  incident.  I wonder if it happened towards the end of 2009? I also wonder if Tasha, maybe with her friend Sammy, went to see the film Paranormal Activity? ( I review the film from my own unusual perspective here  on my blog.)  One atmospheric sequence in that film involves the couple plagued by the beastie having to explore the loft, which proves an important plot development; an old photograph is found within, which links back to an earlier outbreak in this (fictional) narrative.  Of course lofts feature in plenty of real cases – they are classic “occulted spaces”, an idea I developed in an essay entitled Corridors: their role in purported hauntings – back in the early 90’s, and in the Roman Road case of  1995 I crawled in to a loft (and as Matt will doubtless comment came shooting out again pretty quick!) I seem to recall that Alan Gauld and Tony Cornell spent a lot of time in aloft in the Abbey House (I think) case, and Mary Rose Barrington related a loft related incident at the aforementioned SPR Study Day, from the strangely titled Case of the Flying Thermometer. Just because a popular film happens to include a loft sequence should not really raise any eyebrows, but I note it, just in case relevant.

A strange piece of pipe? Well maybe it is a paranormally delivered object (an apport) but it might just as well have fallen. I am now thinking of Peter Underwood’s explanation of the Morton Case (The Cheltenham Ghost) – could a real person have been concealed in the house, or have hidden in the attic? A real physical person present on the property, with or without the connivance of some of the residents, but unknown to others,  could have easily caused the mug incidents, the loud bangs (and could the loud bangs have been someone dropping the attic trapdoor in to place as they slipped back in to their hidey hole?), but does not explain the drawer incident – unless that claim was invented to cover up the presence of a real person? Again it would seem vital to know exactly who saw what and when.

Now if the people involved are reading this they are doubtless cursing me and calling me every name and the sun, and thinking I am some dire sceptic who would rather come up with far fetched and insulting silly ideas than accept the beastie and their story at face value. Far from it: I actually do believe them, I just like to logically explore every single possibility I can think of. If the incidents took place over four years the idea of someone hiding in the attic (I assume the attic does not directly open up in to the neighbours attics as in a few British terraced houses) becomes utterly ludicrous. Still I try to look at all possible explanations.

Either way, assuming the “mysterious” pipe was household plumbing or similar, rather than a piece of a pipe one puts tobacco in, the most likely scenario appears that it came from the attic, and like the not replaced board this strongly suggests some perfectly physical person entered the attic, perhaps to fetch something. (Burglars do not to the best of my knowledge ransack attics generally, so we would have to look for a more mundane explanation, like someone in the family or a relative going up to look for something?)

One more word of caution though – I have lived in this house for a couple of years now, and the other day I noticed that the attic trapdoor in my bedroom was no longer on straight, as if someone had entered the loft. They haven’t – you would need a step ladder at least, and no one has been in or out of their since I moved in.  I found it spooky and unsettling at the time, but the most likely explanation is that it has been exactly like that since the day I moved in. I wonder if likewise the attic board had been like this for  long while in this case, but the discovery of the piece of pipe on the floor simply attracted attention to it? All odd, I admit, but not necessarily spooky! Before I end the discussion of the loft incident I have to remind readers of the children’s show Rentaghost, whose full theme included the lyrics —

Heavy footsteps in your attic means a spectre telepathic
 is descending just to spirit you away (Yay!). :)

(you can click here to hear the Phantom of the Opera sing a haunting melody!)

OK, back to the phenomena…

*Knocking noises on a wall between the bathroom and bedroom.

Obviously one immediately thinks of the water pipes, though this is classic poltergeist activity. Still without some degree of investigation or further information it’s hard to judge how sound that hypothesis is.

And then it all gets really interesting! Tasha reports seeing an apparition. Now classic modern poltergeist theory tends to separate apparitional experiences and poltergeists; poltergeists and hauntings are seen as two conceptually different categories. From personal investigative experience (Offchurch, Coates and Gloucester cases) I know that poltergeists can actually quite often include apparitional encounters — a category I call “polterghosts”. These cases, the third category with features of both hauntings and poltergeists discussed in Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 classic Poltergeists are often cited as evidence for the “poltergeist as the dead” hypothesis, as opposed to RSPK (  a living  agent causes the events by uncontrolled psychic energy). I often a mixed model in my JSPR article The Poverty of Theory: Some Notes on the investigation of Spontaneous Cases (1996), where I suggest that believing a house to be haunted could in theory generate psi-de effects : the belief enables RSPK by allowing the ghost to be blamed for the disturbance, overcoming psi-inhibition.

Anyway, back to the article —

*Tasha seeing the apparition of a woman with long straggly hair and a limp

The obvious thing here is the apparition is grotesque, like a traditional picture of a witch (not the wiccan goth chick type, the old crone of stereotype). Straggly hair? That might mean “scary” today; a limp is a physical imperfection that somehow is supposed to be sinister I think — yes I know this is horrible stigmatising of the afflicted, and I certainly don’t mean it’s right – but have you ever noticed how ghosts in folklore are often either described as “stunningly beautiful” or in some way stereotypically deformed or grotesque? I am interested in this — but it is just as possible this is actually a description of a (once) real person, physical imperfections being normal in real people after all?

I will wrap up with a description of how ye olde ghost was laid. From The Press article

Tracey said: “It’s really been spooking Tasha out so we decided to ask the vicar to help.

“We like living here, but would like all this to stop.”

Understandable, and that is in itself interesting. One wonders what the mothers attitude to it all was? She does not admit to being personally worried at all. I would love to interview her. The Church were called upon, probably the Church of England –

She said the Reverend David Casswell, the vicar of Clifton, went to the house on Wednesday and said a prayer, and then blessed the bedroom and also the garden. Since then, they had not seen or heard any more strange happenings.

Mr Casswell said vicars and priests were sometimes asked to go and pray in houses where there had been “disturbances” to bring peace to the home.

“We don’t make a great song and dance about it, but say quiet, gentle prayers for the houses to be blessed.”

The Rev. Casswell’s comments reflect my understanding of the deliverance ministry of the CofE. Interestingly in this case all sees well, unlike Cork where the Church intervention did not help,  though this leads to another question. If the blessing was on the Wednesday, and this article appeared on the Saturday, then presumably barring some other factor events must have increased in frequency to the extent that the absence of activity from Wednesday to Saturday is marked enough to note? This just goes to highlight the desperate need we have here for a detailed timeline of events to understand the case. There are certainly academics active in parapsychology at York Uni: if any of them are interested in doing some follow up enquiries, as York is a very long way from me (and actually quite a distance from Becky, surprisingly enough) I would be happy to talk them through what I think might be useful.

Still, one question one often hears nowadays is “where have all the poltergeist cases gone?” Unless March 2010 was somehow anomalous, they haven’t gone anywhere. The press have reported on two this month, Cork and York,and I am sure many more are being dealt with by local ghost groups, mediums, the churches, or the family just move, and no one gets to hear of them. I think this highlights the importance of my little blog project — someone needs to be looking at this, as it is just not reaching the ears of the parapsychological establishment. Becky, Balders, and we will do our best to find cases and provide some kind of comment…

cj x

4 Comments

Filed under Poltergeist Cases