A Journalist Returns
Psi Encyclopedia Open for Business

The Season for Ghosts

By chance, back in September, I found myself watching the second Republican presidential candidates’ debate, and had nightmares for a week, so Halloween came early for me. But now here it is for real, and I’m on the lookout for ghost stories in the media.

Simon (X-Factor) Cowell is milking an alleged ghost sighting during filming in a house in France. Enough said.

A piece of more or less serious reporting is found in the New York Times, which says:

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion.

The article describes a haunting in the southern coastal town of Moss, in a travel agency, rather prosaically. The staff experienced inexplicable computer breakdowns, strange smells and noises that experts couldn’t trace the causes of. They also suffered constant headaches. The problems vanished when a clairvoyant came in to do some ‘cleansing’, so they inclined towards a supernatural explanation.

Some take a sternly rationalist approach. A humanist sceptic interviewed for the article insists that the interest in ghosts is caused by ‘charlatans playing on people’s fears’. Others came up with other rational sounding explanations. Moss apparently is quite a centre for ghosts, so perhaps there’s some collective suggestibility going on.

Elsewhere, Ben Radford speaks out for sceptics, and is also on hand to explain to puzzled journalists why people believe in ghosts.

Some claim to see a revival of interest in ghosts among fiction writers. The Guardian thinks vampires and the gory horror genre generally are in decline, and that the good old ghost story is back.

Just such a tale is described elsewhere, about a Chicago ghost called ‘Resurrection Mary’. A young man met a beautiful young woman at a dance, and after spending the evening with her offered to drive her home. She gave the address and they set off. But on the way she asked for a detour, and when they reached the local cemetery she got out and vanished. When he inquired at her home the next day, her mother said she’d been killed in a hit-and-run accident five years earlier and been buried in Resurrection Cemetery.

The Chester Chronicle lists a number of hotels that boast of being haunted, presumably because it attracts custom. Example: the Schooner Hotel, Northumberland, a 17th century coaching inn is ‘not for the faint-hearted. The Poltergeist Society has named it the Most Haunted Hotel in Great Britain twice, so don’t expect to get much sleep. There have been more than 3,000 reported spooky sightings over the last few years alone and over 60 individual spirits identified at the property.’


All this sort of thing makes titillating reading, and doesn’t amount to much. If I believe in ghosts, it’s certainly not because of location hauntings, which apart from the sheer number of alleged sightings have little to recommend them from an evidential point of view. We’ve included a few mentions of alleged haunts in the Psi Encyclopedia, but really only because they’re of interest to so many people that it might seem surprising if they were omitted.

I suppose it’s potentially interesting if visitors to a hotel, say, casually mention having seen an individual wearing nineteenth century dress, and want to know if a film is being made nearby, and similar statements are made by other guests on other occasions, which does happen, but these cases are hard to document to a convincing degree. And it’s easy to mock the earnest ghost-hunter, staking out a seventeenth-century house with piles of complicated gadgetry: fun to do, but is there is a single case of this kind that significantly advances our certainty about ghosts?

It’s when the fixed location is absent – a class generally termed ‘apparition’ in the research literature – that you start to find genuinely interestingly veridical elements. Perhaps the most important is the ‘crisis coincidence’ of the sighting occurring at the exact moment when the individual is in the process of dying somewhere else. But there are others: the apparition that is seen by two or more people simultaneously, the apparition that is identified in a photograph, and – a class I find particularly interesting, since it implies the possibility of generating evidence experimentally – the apparition that is deliberately projected by one person attempting to appear to another at a distance (of which there are a few well-documented examples).

Of course it’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that some of the hauntings that get brought out of the cupboard at Halloween actually do encompass convincing evidence of this nature. In which case, the problem has more to do with the lack of research and documentation, or of channels by which these might become known.

All this said, there is one haunting in the literature which by any standards is extraordinary, the so-called Cheltenham Ghost of the 1880s, described in an early issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. The main witness, Rosina Despard, first saw it when she was nineteen:

I had gone up to my room, but was not yet in bed, when I heard someone at the door, and went to it, thinking it might be my mother. On opening the door, I saw no one; but on going a few steps along the passage, I saw the figure of a tall lady, dressed in black, standing at the head of the stairs. After a few moments she descended the stairs, and I followed for a short distance, feeling curious what it could be. I had only a small piece of candle, and it suddenly burnt itself out; and being unable to see more, I went back to my room. The figure was that of a tall lady, dressed in black of a soft woollen material, judging from the slight sound in moving. The face was hidden in a handkerchief held in the right hand. This is all I noticed then; but on further occasions, when I was able to observe her more closely, I saw the upper part of the left side of the forehead, and a little of the hair above. Her left hand was nearly hidden by her sleeve and a fold of her dress. As she held it down a portion of a widow's cuff was visible on both wrists, so that the whole impression was that of a lady in widow's weeds. There was no cap on the head but a general effect of blackness suggests a bonnet, with long veil or a hood.

Despard was far from being the only witness. This is indeed something of an anomaly, an apparition that was seen and heard repeatedly by a number of people, and with a clarity and frequency that’s not easily explained away. So it could be dismissed as an ‘outlier’. I’ve attached the full report here, and if you want something stronger to celebrate Halloween with, it’s worth a look.

Download Cheltenham ghost jspr


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It is now obligatory on British comedy panel shows if ghosts are mentioned in any context for one or more of the participants to express flatly that it didn't happen as there are no such things as ghosts. It has become the same article of faith as "God doesn't exist"..that's to say it's a thing all intelligent people are expected to know and give no further time to.

One thing that strikes me whenever such a statement is made on TV is that, apart from all else, its clear they have a very specific one dimensional notion of what the term ghost implies. I suppose most people do. Apparitions are surely very much in the minority of the experiences people apply the word ghost to, but say 'ghost' and people very much think you mean a full bodied duplicate of a deceased person.

Which is by the by, I was going to tell you my own minor ghost themed experiences, such as they are, but instead will report an online conversation from July with an old friend. I'd made some facetious comment, in the context of spooky stories, about telling people about him and "that incident". I had absolutely no incident in mind, so when he said "that time we saw dopplegangers of ourselves?" I obviously sat up straight! He was convinced he must have told me it before, but he never had. Here is his tale in his own words:

"So. I used to work on a farm when I was a kid. The Pemberton farm in particular where they had a traditional stable courtyard. Large central cobbled square surrounding on 3 sides by stables. My friend Kelly and I would muck out the stables every Sunday. I was about 11. One morning I arrived to find Kelly standing in the middle of the courtyard looking a bit ashen. I walked over to her and asked her what was wrong. She flung her arms around me and started crying. Turns out her Gran was taken to hospital on the Friday night and had died on the Saturday. After a couple of minutes talking we started to muck out the stables and continued to talk about her Gran. I was shovelling when Kelly suddenly shouted 'GARY'! I looked up to where Kelly was looking with tears in her eyes and for a very brief moment I saw 2 figures standing in the centre of the yard. Hugging each other. And in a split second they had gone. Kelly said "Oh, sorry I thought I saw...." I said I thought I had too. We seemed to completely forget about it after that. We would bring it up on the odd occasion and then forget about it after a while. Of course it could be a jumbled memory with my vivid imagination filling in the blanks."

For clarity they appeared to see an apparition of their minutes earlier emotional hug in the place where it had occurred. Taking the experience as accurately recalled or recored either this represents a time anomaly or the stone tape theory brought to life.

He surmises and - within the context of these things - it makes sense that they caught just such a haunting. The two children were the first to see the ghosts of their emotional distress being played back...maybe many more have over the years and will in the future and wrongly imagine the spectral children to be long dead....

Good story, Lawrence – with thought provoking implications!

“It is now obligatory on British comedy panel shows if ghosts are mentioned in any context for one or more of the participants to express flatly that it didn't happen as there are no such things as ghosts”.

That might because there are an appreciable number of humourists who have sympathies with Skepticism these days: Dara Ó Briain, Steven Fry, David Baddiel (who was sued by Maurice Gross) , Robin Ince and others have all expressed Skeptical sympathies in one way or another as have Derren Brown, Brian Cox and quite a few others. Most of that lot are ubiquitous both on comedy panel shows (O’Briain and Fry both host one), and TV generally.

We have to face the fact that Skepticism has gained quite an impressive media presence over the last couple of decades or so. Few of these figures let an opportunity to take an unchallenged dig at the paranormal pass them by. Of course, the public at large have little clue that the militant Skeptic movements exists at all. For all most people know, these days (apart from trashy ghost hunting shows on freeview cable channels) it just seems that people on mainstream TV don’t believe in this sort of stuff. They’re not to know that these people are all members of the same, rather shouty, minority.

A few examples: -




You can therefore guarantee that if the number of Skeptics appearing on camera has increased, that Skepticism has a gained a similar footprint amongst production staff also. It’s been going on for quite a while as well. I think I still have, festering away amongst my files since the mid-1990's, an internal memo from a senior Channel 4 exec’ that rants on about challenging ‘pseudoscience’ in the usual, all too familiar stylised way. Ask yourself how long it’s been since the major UK channels had anything on at that was even vaguely sympathetic towards the paranormal.

@Steve: If I recall correctly, the late Colin Fry used to have a regular programme on one of the major channels. But admittedly that wasn't all that recent . . . . . and he is dead. :(

But I don't see that this really matters. Most of the general public do actually believe in the paranormal: Mediums are not exactly short of work - even the all-too-often shoddy ones that hold forth at the Spiritualist churches.

It's only among ambitious, stuffed-shirt, petty-minded academics and fundamentalist/dogmatic types that the subject is derided. (Did I get enough adjectives in there?) I do my best to be positive. :)

@Robert: Are you going to dazzle us regularly with your historic, encyclopedic knowledge of all things paranormal now that you are the librarian and custodian of the sacred SPR library? :)

Hi Julie - I expect to be doing a bit of dazzling now and then, but not more than usual :) Readers will soon be able to check out the encyclopedia themselves.

(In the remote possibility that the SPR librarian is reading this, I should point out that the job is hers, not mine. Right now, the books are in crates waiting to be unpacked in the SPR's new premises.)

Hi Julie

Colin's program was on Living TV - certainly at the start, anyway. I was talking more about programs like 'Strange But True', or the Paul McKenna show that used to be on BBC and ITV. And there were some critical, but balanced documentaries at one time. I remember a particularly good Horizon about parapsychology back in the early eighties.

You never get anything like that now. It's either people running around in the dark screaming at nowt (usually with a self-styled 'demonologist' in tow), or 'docudramas' where witnesses honestly recount their stories that are spiced up to the n'th degree by the production crew in their 'recreations'.

Do you remember 'The Twilight Zone' Steve? They were the days of innocence and wonder. . . . . my mother told me about them. :)

Even though I was barely more than a foetus, Julie, yes I do ;) Although it was fictional, so was Bill and Ben, so I wasn't that fussed.

Natural explanations have been proposed for the 'Cheltenham Ghost', see Lambert's paper in the SPR. There is nothing paranormal about this case.

Lambert, G. W. (1958). The Cheltenham Ghost: A Reinterpretation of the Evidence.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 39: 267-277.

I'll tell more personal ghost tales later, but going back briefly to the comedy sceptics thing... On an episode of QI a few years ago Stephen Fry in his usual patient with the idiots way explained, to much agreement from his fellow pannelists, that of course ghosts didn't exist and the logical proof was to simply ask where the ghosts of all the dead animals...cows, worms and dinosaurs.. were. If there were ghosts we'd be surrounded by these phantom creatures. (Only Bill Bailey, I seem to recall, raised the mild objection "How would you know" if a cow was a ghost, as it would hardly be wearing a victorian top hat)

They were all much impressed by Fry's impeccable logic and agreed heartily with each other. The idiocy of the arguement hardly needs pointing out here - even if you've never taken the slightest interest in the subject of ghosts you would be aware of headless horsemen, ghostly horse and carriages, spectral black dogs, and people's claims that the late fluffy or fido still clamber on the bed some nights. "ghosts" of animals, whatever a ghost may be, clearly exist. More importantly there is no notion in any culture that I'm aware of that all things that die become ghosts. Whoever claimed such a thing? In as much as motive is attributed to why *some* people linger on or return in phantom form, its either about conveying a message to someone they know, or a consequence of an emotional tragedy. Which of these is meant to apply to a medieval pigeon I can't imagine.

The willingness to accept such an ill thought out and easily dismantled argument as evidence against a taboo belief, is what's of greatest interest.

Some time later on a non paranormal themed website's forum when the subject arose one of the resident sceptics offered up the same ghosts of all the animals argument as his main reason for knowing ghosts don't exist..with no reference to having lifted it wholesale from QI.

'Natural explanations have been proposed for the 'Cheltenham Ghost', see Lambert's paper in the SPR. There is nothing paranormal about this case.

Lambert, G. W. (1958). The Cheltenham Ghost: A Reinterpretation of the Evidence.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 39: 267-277.'

Lambert's pet theory, that the true cause of ghosts and poltergeists is geophysical activity caused by underground streams, is one of the oddities of psychical research. His idea, as stated in this paper, is that the noises (of footsteps, etc) were more often experienced than visual sightings, which suggests 'very strongly' that the apparition was a result of the 'mystification' caused by the noises. The noises themselves were caused by a subterranean stream running under the east end of the house, where coincidentally most of the observations were made. Much of the paper is devoted to a detailed description of the surrounding layout, geology, etc. He claims: 'There is no doubt that phenomena, in the nature of noises and movements which are believed to be 'ghostly', can so work on the minds of witnesses that some individuals begin to 'see things'.

It's quite in order for Lambert to raise questions about the case, and his theory might have applications in some cases. But it's not the general 'solution' that he implies. Gauld and Cornell, both experienced and hard-headed investigators, clearly thought it was nonsense. They attacked it in a paper in a 1961 issue of the Journal, which the SPR catalogue describes as follows:

'A frontal attack on Lambert’s geophysical theory. The authors analyse the mechanics of typical effects to demonstrate that geophysical forces could not produce the kinds of phenomena reported. They say the theory lacks proper evidence; involves many factual errors; fails to eliminate alternative hypothesis; and rests on a circular argument, using the distribution of ghost cases to prove that geophysical forces can produce eerie noises.'

Nice try, Robert! But if you think our Bill has the slighted bit of analytic ability then you're onto a sticky wicket, old chap.

I recall reading David Fontana's report of his investigation of the Cardiff poltergeist. I can't see how geophysical activity would account for that.

The nearest I've come to believing there was a traditional ghost - as in an active but invisible entity of some kind - in the house was back in May.

I mentioned in the comments section of the last topic that I had experienced a very long and detailed saga of seeming communication. This sequence of incidents that follows was a small section of that saga, but I'll tell it in isolation.

My elderly mother, as I've mentioned a number of times, lives here and has dementia these days. One afternoon sitting in the living room she entered one of her increasingly less frequent but still not uncommon rambling conversations. Half the words are ommitted and its impossible to know what she's talking about, so you just nod agreeably. Only on this occasion she referred to "that man" while seeming to look quizzically at the back of the room, behind me.

Immediately this caught my attention. In the past when she'd had delirium she would "hallucinate" my dead father or her own mother. Was she seeing someone now? Maybe, I decided, she was referring to the man (one of my grandfathers) in one of the photographs on the small table. I had no evidence that she was but surmising it so I fetched it over to her and stood behind her shoulder holding it for her to coo over. I was wearing a hooded top at the time and I suddenly felt the distinct sensation of the top of my sleeve/shoulder being lightly tugged, forcing me to look around as if there were someone behind ME.

The coinciding of this odd sensation with my mother's reference to a possibly invisible to me man in the room obviously made me a little unnerved, and certainly thought it worth telling people afterwards as a spooky incident. But I rationalised it away. No doubt the hood of the jacket has shifted and tugged on me slightly. I don't remember feeling the sensation before and found it impossible to replicate but it seemed logical enough.

A few days later I'd left her asleep in her downstairs bedroom about 9.30, her tv volume turned down low, and went into the kitchen. I was thinking of this previous incident at the time, as someone had just told me of ghostly happenings in their life, so you can imagine my heart jumped out of my chest when suddenly there was an almighty clatter of voices. My brain almost instantly analysed the options..it was as if a change of scene on the tv show had caused a dramatic increase in volume.. but I'd left it turned low, so this couldn't be true. Perhaps she'd woken suddenly from sleep confused and frighted and was calling me...but when I got the few feet from where I was into the hallway outside her room, there was not a peep. Neitehr from her or the TV. I didn't go in...

It's impossible to recall the feelng from this distance but as a factual statement it spooked me out enormously and got me seriously pondering if we were being haunted.

The following week, about 9am, I'm on the upstairs landing, categorically not moving and absolutely not on this occassion thinking of anythng supernatural when once again I had the distinct sensation of the hood on the back of my jacket being lifted lightly up and away from my back. I immediately rolled onto my back on the floor calming myself down and trying to rationalise it away one more time. Half jokingly, though, I decided to address the possibility there was actually an invisible person here. "Is that you...M?" (name of the deceases person at the centre of the percieved communication saga). I swear the second, teh very second, I uttered his name a small red led light on the smoke detector above my head - a light I'd never noticed on before or since - blinked out. I went downstairs quick sharp!

This was not the end of the story - to tell that would involve having to tell the whole tale I keep alluding to, which would take too long. In the context of the greater story however I'm very much minded to believe this really was "M" behind this stuff. But "activity" in the house went no further, thankfully.

One interesting - to me at least - aside is that as frequent recorder of my own dreams I've previously had a number of dreams months apart all set convincingly at home and involving an invisible entity grabbing me from behind.

The 'why do ghosts wear clothes' question is another, similarly facetious, question cut from the same cloth, Lawrence.

I think there used to be a film of Tony Cornell debunking the geophysical vibration theory on YouTube. He did it by vibrating a condemned house practically to destruction...without obtaining any poltergeist type effects.

If we, the observer, play our part in creating reality, then perhaps the form that such entities take is under our influence?

I think I might have mentioned here before that I've see orbs and 'spirit lights' with the naked eye and that they have shown unmistakable evidence of possessing consciousness. Well, it occurs to me that those phenomena might be perceived differently by different observers.

Anyway, more importantly, what proof have you, Steve Hume, that Bill and Ben were fictional? No doubt you'll be saying the same of Little Weed next?

'Seen' not 'see'. :)

None, come to think of it, Julie. Just anecdotal evidence. I'm afraid I gullibly accepted what me mam told me.

Actually, now you mention it, the name Bill is cropping up rather a lot on this thread so far in various contexts - maybe Ben will be along in a minute too, with that bloody tortoise and Little Weed as well!

And perhaps the little house knows something about it too . . . . . . . . . :)

I think I need to go and have a lie down again. :(

"I think there used to be a film of Tony Cornell debunking the geophysical vibration theory on YouTube. He did it by vibrating a condemned house practically to destruction...without obtaining any poltergeist type effects. "

That reminds me of Vic Tandy and his subsonic vibrations from a faulty fan. It was seized on too as the explanation for ghost reports, and I remember wondering how exactly they applied such artefacts of modern technology to ancient Greece or Tudor England. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy caused by overhead power cables is another one.

I'm sure the phenomena exists in a different form among those desperate to hold on to a mystery, but still what I find really interesting psychologically speaking is the way in which any claim to have explained away paranormal experiences is seized on as hard scientific proof by people who had previously and with as much conviction asserted there was nothing to explain in the first place. Vibrations are used today to explain what yesterday it was confidently asserted you had made up. That Himalayan footprint has been proven to be a bear, according to people who a moment ago told us it was proven to be a hoax. NDEs are probably the most obvious example of shifting explanations being held with unshifting certainty.

The common theme appears to be the disbelief itself and all justification for it is endlessly flexible and quite secondary.

"what I find really interesting psychologically speaking is the way in which any claim to have explained away paranormal experiences is seized on as hard scientific proof by people who had previously and with as much conviction asserted there was nothing to explain in the first place."

- Lawrence

I see two options here: 1) perversity and 2) willful stupidity.

Trying to reason with such people is like trying to plait live eels in a bucket. But it can be entertaining to observe - like watching someone engage in earnest with a Jehovah's Witness.

Robert the problem that I see seems to be that you in most cases seem to be citing anything positive for parapsychology whilst downplaying anything negative. Even when you are given SPR members who find a natural explanation for these case you quickly search for a counter-rebuttal.

Gauld and Cornell may have dismissed Lambert's hypothesis but at least one other SPR member supported it. Andrew MacKenzie in his book (The Unexplained, 1966) thought that underground streams or sightings of water vapour may be an explanation for some of the reported phenomena in the Cheltenham case. Though Peter Underwood (another SPR member) dismissed this in his book (Hauntings, 1977).

So you see you have different SPR members saying different things. Who is right and who is wrong? The SPR holds no corporate opinions. This will be the problem with your online SPR Encyclopedia. Are you going to report all sides of the case and cite all these researchers and not just those who were believers?

You have individual modern day researchers writing these articles but in no way will they be balanced. They are written from a believer perspective, the entry for the Cheltenham case on your new Encyclopedia does probably not even mention Lambert or Mackenzie skeptical ideas. Of course I am not psychic so I have no way of knowing if I am right about that, but I think I am :)

And which perspective are you coming from, Bill? Over on Michael's blog you have, so far, been 100% certain of every tin pot theory you have espoused regarding Sir William Crookes' research into the phenomena produced by D.D. Home. The fact that you reveal yourself to be gullible enough to buy into every scrap of contrived and irrational pseude-sceptic nonsense you can find does not seem to embarrass you in the least. And then you have the gall to accuse others of bias? Have you no shame?

‘Robert the problem that I see seems to be that you in most cases seem to be citing anything positive for parapsychology whilst downplaying anything negative. Even when you are given SPR members who find a natural explanation for these case you quickly search for a counter-rebuttal.’

But isn’t this exactly what sceptics do? No point grumbling about other people’s biases, have to deal with them.

‘This will be the problem with your online SPR Encyclopedia. Are you going to report all sides of the case and cite all these researchers and not just those who were believers? You have individual modern day researchers writing these articles but in no way will they be balanced.’

Oh dear, how tiresome! Not like Wikipedia, then.

In fact I’ve been encouraging writers of articles to refer to sceptical arguments. Lambert’s theory will be mentioned wherever it is relevant. Eventually it will have an entry to itself. So readers will have plenty of opportunity to decide whether, as in this case, the existence of an underground stream can induce in human beings on the surface a persistent visual hallucination of a non-existent person.

I haven’t read MacKenzie on this, but in principle I could quite agree that geology might have caused ‘some of the phenomena’. But that’s not at all the same as saying that it caused all of them, or that it stands as a general explanation.

MacKenzie merely expresses an opinion. Gauld and Cornell (as I learn from the Psi Encyclopedia article on ‘Poltergeists’) carried out experimental research to try to verify Lambert’s theory that vibrations caused by underground streams could cause poltergeist effects (the violent displacement of objects). Even when heavy vibrations were created in the structure of the building, these effects failed to appear.

Apropos earlier comments here from Steve Hume about there being no current documentaries relating to the paranormal on the main TV channels, here below is what I just heard on TV while cooking dinner:

My Psychic Life, Ch 4 10pm (Wednesday, I think). :)

I am a recent discoverer of both this blog and that of Michael Prescott's, both of which I consider great finds: well-written, well-informed, and having an intelligent commentariat to boot (and seemingly little troubled by trollery).

I am intrigued by Bill's tenacious hold on a materialist worldview that I once shared but gradually shook off over a period of years of studying the evidence. I know there are different types of materialist. Those who are discomfited by the implications of survival and who prefer to remain in a sort of materialist mental sanctuary (my own wife, who I love dearly, is one such...I respect that and we simply skirt around the topic in our house!). Then there are those materialists who are far too sure of themselves and busy to waste their time looking at the evidence.

However, Bill, you are of a different species; you appear to have studied the canon of literature and yet still reject it. I appreciate that each individual case is open to some kind of doubt or objection. However, when one adds those individual cases up, the hundreds, the thousands of them, their cumulative weight, it seems to me, cannot be adequately explained away by fraud or delusion. I mean really? All of them? It only takes one white crow, as they say...I wonder if the pages of these blogs will ever "turn" you, Bill, and get you over to the winning side? There's hope for you yet!

It's called confirmation bias and is something to which we are all prey, to some degree or other. Except those of a fundamentalist mindset, like Bill, take it to extremes.

By the way, Adeimantus, how is Socrates doing these days? :)

Just a quick word about Tandy/infrasound…

Perhaps the best analysis, and most competent follow up research on this issue, has been by Steve Parsons. See here for Tandy’s original papers, and Parsons’ also (both from the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research), and further commentary. There’s also a fair bit else – from a sceptically balanced commentary on EVP research, to Barrie Colvin’s paper on the acoustic properties of ostensible paranormal sounds; and good advice on recording, acoustics, and sound analysis methods. All very competently done: -


For what it’s worth, I think it’s pretty well established that infrasound can induce some aspects of cognitive experience that people commonly associate with hauntings (feelings of unease, fear etc. maybe the odd hallucination). Whether or not that means infrasound ever constitutes the actual sole cause of the apparent psi effects commonly associated with hauntings and poltergeist activity, is another matter entirely. It could be, quite reasonably, argued that infrasound facilitates psi (depending on whether there is evidence of veridicality), just as much as it may facilitate ‘hallucinations’ etc.

For what it’s worth, some of the vibrational séance room phenomena associated with physical mediumship that I’ve witnessed certainly seemed to have the stamp of infrasound about them.

Aha, Julie Baxter, you have me pegged; yes, my sobriquet is indeed that elder brother of Plato who features quite a lot in Socratic dialogues :-)

I recorded the Channel 4 programme 'My Psychic Life' and have, so far, only watched about fifteen minutes footage. It appears to be an attempt to make a mockery of the entire concept and, if so, is succeeding.

Anyone else here seen it?

Isaw it, Julie. Tackiness abounds, eh? I didn't see anything resembling mediumship there. Still, they were no worse than most you see working in the churches these days. Impressive mediumship seems to be getting pretty rare these days.

Adeimantus I used to believe when I was a kid but you grow older and wake up to cold reality of the everyday world. There are no paranormal occurrences happening around us, there is no magic. There is just nature and a lot of suffering. When we die we are dead. There is irreversible cessation of brainstem at death. One minute you are there, the next gone. Anyone who believes otherwise has fooled themselves with magical thinking.

There is no life after death, well not the 'life' you would normally think of, your skin cells may stay alive for a few days. And the bacteria may survive in your digestive system until you are cremated. There may be a few spasms because even though your brain is dead parts of the nervous system may continue to work for a few days such as in the spinal cord. But the concept of 'you' or the illusionary 'self' as the person is very much gone forever. There is no survival of consciousness.

It is a cold fact we must accept but it is going to happen to all of us, no escape. There is no magical afterlife or Gods. I understand people have fooled themselves into thinking otherwise, but not me. I accept reality.

We invent our own little meanings of our lives and then we are gone. There is stuff dying in nature every second, bacteria, insects, plants. There is absolutely no evidence consciousness can exist without a brain.

What have the Society for Psychical Research done recently? Nothing. All proponents can do is cite old cases from over a hundred years ago from their backlog of journals but even all these cases have different opinions that contradict each other. I have indeed read hundreds of their journal papers (thanks for Robert for putting some of them online) and I remain unconvinced. When im dead im dead like all of us and I have no reason to believe I will be flying around on a dinosaur in some magical spirit land. Regards.

Robert as your encyclopedia is not free for everyone to edit and is only for the select few psychical researchers, is there any chance you can create a forum on the Psi Encyclopedia or at a minimum create a section or talk-page for skeptics such as myself to raise objections?

Or is this asking too much? If there was an open access forum connected to this encyclopedia it would be a good place to debate these old cases in depth. Have you ever thought of creating a forum for the SPR? Of course you could limit us evil skeptics to only a small part of the forum in the 'opposing' views section. Just an idea.

Bill writes, "Robert as your encyclopedia is not free for everyone to edit and is only for the select few psychical researchers, is there any chance you can create a forum on the Psi Encyclopedia or at a minimum create a section or talk-page for skeptics such as myself to raise objections?"

You mean another Wikipedia in progress? You sad, sad disenchanted man. I begin to think you are more to be pitied than condemned. :(

Julie the whole point in an online encyclopedia is that they are meant to be free for anyone to edit. Wikipedia is free. It does not matter who you are or what your beliefs are, anyone can edit it.

At a minimum this new Psi Encyclopedia if it is not going to be open access, should have an opposing view section or online forum where skeptics can post. Otherwise you are censoring views and this is not a good opinion as you are not getting the other side of the story.

But you have said nothing of any real value so far, either here on on Michael's blog, Bill. You're not a seeker of truth, you're a pseudo-sceptic naysayer. But what I don't understand is why anyone bothers to attempt to discuss/debate with you.

That aside, if you are truly convinced that psi phenomena are the province of fools and 'half wits' then why not just fix up your train set elsewhere? I'm at a loss as to what you hope to gain here.

Surely you can't be serious Bill?

The recent groundbreaking infrasound research papers I mentioned earlier, for example, were all published in JSPR. Therefore how you can ask ''What have the Society for Psychical Research done recently? Nothing' is slightly beyond me. You either have no idea what you're talking about, or you're being deliberately provocative.

The SPR is a respected academic Society that has had in its membership: five Nobel Laureates (one currently); many of the key founders of modern psychology; leading figures, past and present, from every scientific field; and (even) two British Prime Ministers. It currently provides funding for research and support for those seeking academic qualifications in psi research (no matter what their opinions about the nature of psi might be - unlike CSI), and publishes two peer refereed journals, and a more 'popular format' magazine.

It also welcomes informed commentary, of any shade of opinion, in its publications and lectures. Over the last year, for example, speakers at the lectures held in Kensington have ranged from Rupert Sheldrake to Susan Blackmore.

Indeed, the Society has had quite a few leading 'Skeptics' (including Blackmore, Wiseman and French) in its membership, and some have served on its Council. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that, from its inception, the SPR has done a huge amount to define balanced critical thinking about psi issues.

I'm at a loss to imagine why any such organisation would want to allow its online resources to be 'edited' (or vandalised?) by any ignoramus who has access to a computer and the internet - in the manner of Wikipedia. Why would it, when its own Wikipedia page has suffered such meddling in the past?

If you take the trouble to consult the Society's Facebook page, then you will find that links to online articles by Skeptics are, pretty much, a constant feature. If you think that the Society has a duty to provide you (I'm guessing you're not currently a member) with a forum to 'debate' these issues, then you're perfectly free to join in over there.

I suspect the problem that you have with the SPR and its online resource, though Bill, is that you know full well that the Society is unlikely to allow bias or factual inaccuracy to infect the articles therein. The phrase 'without prejudice' isn't part of the Society's mission statement for nothing, after all. I'm sure that the membership are capable of expressing any opinions they need to about the balance of the content, when it appears, to the powers that be internally.

However, I predict that there will probably be criticism from the more extreme elements on either side of the psi debate - to the effect that the SPR (or Rob, God help him) has biased the resource against their personal take on things. The Society has always had to live with that sort of flack from both sides.

"I'm at a loss to imagine why any such organisation would want to allow its online resources to be 'edited' (or vandalised?) by any ignoramus who has access to a computer and the internet - in the manner of Wikipedia. Why would it, when its own Wikipedia page has suffered such meddling in the past?"

Basically because it is censorship Steve. The point of an online encyclopedia is free knowledge that anyone can edit, no matter their beliefs. If you look at those involved in the this new psi encyclopedia they are all devout believers. The Good ol days of semi-rationalist SPR members like Eleanor Sidgwick, Frank Podmore, Simeon Edmunds or Guy Lambert have gone. That is why I no longer have time for siding with the SPR. I don't know of any skeptics in the SPR thesedays. Wiseman resigned.

As for Steve Parsons he is doing pseudoscience. White Crow Books published his book, no academic or scientific publishing house wants anything to do with him. EVP Orbs have a naturalistic not a paranormal explanation.

But the SPR encyclopaedia neither needs nor wants pseudo sceptics like you clogging up the works, Bill. Wikipedia is your venue since, clearly, you don't include what is presently going on in there, with regard to psi research, within your definition of censorship.

Engaging with people like you is like swatting flies - except that there's at least a purpose in swatting flies and it's considerably less tedious. Now why not toddle off to somewhere like the skeptico forum where you can unite and engage, to your heart's content, with others who, like yourself, are happy to place the war of words before the importance of the issues.

Off you go. There's a good chap. :)

'Basically because it is censorship Steve'

How you can accuse the SPR of 'censoring' the online encyclopaedia in advance of its publication, beats me Bill.

'The point of an online encyclopedia is free knowledge that anyone can edit, no matter their beliefs'

Who says so? Online encyclopedias of that type have a rather bad reputation with the education authorities, precisely BECAUSE anyone can edit them. I know that my kids' school cautions pupils against use of Wikipedia, and education authorities in general seem to have a problem with it (e.g. http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/wikipedia-in-the-classroom).

'If you look at those involved in the this [sic] new psi encyclopedia they are all devout believers'

Some examples please? And some other justification for that statement on your part, maybe?

'The Good ol days of semi-rationalist SPR members like Eleanor Sidgwick, Frank Podmore, Simeon Edmunds or Guy Lambert have gone'

Well, you're correct, at least, in the sense that those days are in the past and we don't have access to a time machine, and the figures you mention have gone - by virtue of the fact that they're dead. But could you define 'semi-rationalist' for me please? The phrase sounds somewhat oxymoronic and tends to detract from any otherwise coherent point that you might be trying to make. Sidgwick and Podmore were certainly 'sceptical' in a perfectly rational way, in my view. What on earth are you talking about here? I know of plenty of people in the SPR who have a similar reputation for scepticism - Donald West (current Council member) being one example.

'Wiseman resigned'

He certainly did - from the Council, at least. I wouldn't hazard a guess at his reasons. But, as you haven't done that either, and plenty of people have left the SPR over the years in a fit of pique over something, or for more mundane reasons, then I guess I'll just content myself with wondering what point it is that you're trying to make (again). Incidentally, Wiseman spoke at a relatively recent SPR Conference, so whatever his current membership status is, that hardly suggests that he looks askance on the Society. - or the Society on him.

'As for Steve Parsons he is doing pseudoscience'

Steve Parsons is one of the most rationally sceptical and experienced field researchers that I know personally. If you have any actual SCIENTIFIC justification for that insulting statement in relation to his work on infrasound, then I'd love to know what that is? You plainly know nothing about the man, or his work.

That leads me to your final points, which I feel truly demonstrate the Pythonesque level of ignorance of the assertions contained in your latest contribution to this thread.

' EVP Orbs [sic] have a naturalistic not a paranormal explanation.'

Parsons, in particular, has gone to huge lengths to promote the 'naturalistic' explanation for both phenomena ( e.g. http://www.parascience.org.uk/articles/orbkill.htm), he is particularly noted for it. Barrie Colvin (another contributor to the book) has written one of the best pieces I've seen debunking a paranormal photograph (Paranormal Review, April 2009), and is pretty sceptical in relation to EVPs (and a great deal else) also. And the book actually contains a superb chapter by Ann Winsper that expounds on 'normal' explanations relation to EVPs, practically to the exclusion to all else. All are SPR members. In addition, Ciaran O' Keeffe, who co-authored one of the pieces with Steve, is a noted sceptic who studied under Wiseman - although I suppose you'd tar him with the same brush by dint of association.

The book is about 'Sound and the Paranormal', by the way. Orbs aren't noted for being noisy, and that's why they don't figure in the book - although, I seem to remember, they are mentioned in passing. Could it be that you have not read the book, perhaps?

And, finally (cue drum roll, followed by a muted rasberry)…

' White Crow Books published his book, no academic or scientific publishing house wants anything to do with him'.

Much of the book's contents has already been published in an academic journal, so I don't think there's any need to say more about that. But, how do you justify the second part of your statement? Which academic or scientific publishing houses? Be careful here, Bill. Some might aver that, if you weren't hiding behind a pseudonym, that slur of yours could be actionable.

In sum, I see nothing more than bald, unsupported statements in your piece. I'm presuming that, if the SPR were to allow you (or your ilk) to 'edit' the online resource, then you'd be pushing your way towards the front of the queue to contribute? I'm afraid that, if this is the standard that the SPR could expect from you, then 'censorship', if that's what it really amounts to, would be quite desirable.

And I'm guessing that if you've actually made any contributions to Wikipedia, then that could explain an awful lot! As Julie says, I would try there, Bill - your contributions wouldn't be out of place.

Steve if you read his website or parts of his book that I had free access to he wants to test the claim that ghosts can be detected by electronic devices. This is a well-known pseudoscientific claim. I am not attacking him I am just pointing this out.

Ben Radford (who I have spoken to a few times about topics) writes that here:

"The supposed links between ghosts and electromagnetic fields, low temperatures, radiation, odd photographic images, and so on are based on nothing more than guesses, unproven theories, and wild conjecture. If a device could reliably determine the presence or absence of ghosts, then by definition, ghosts would be proven to exist. I own an EMF meter, but since it's useless for ghost investigations—it finds not spirits but red herrings—I use it in my lectures and seminars as an example of pseudoscience."


So it is pseudoscience Steve. Obviously on this blog by Robert you just get ad-hominem attacks (from Julie over and over) so I won't be posting here any further.

I did not come here to discuss the field of ghost-hunting. I was just pointing out many of these old cases have naturalistic explanations and it is mostly the skeptics who document this. The believers usually ignore the naturalistic explanations (I will exclude Robert from this because I have read his book and he has actually read a lot of the skeptic literature).

As for 'semi-rationalist', what I meant by this term is someone like Trevor H. Hall, Simeon Edmunds (author of Spiritualism: A Critical Survey) or Frank Podmore (author of The Newer Spiritualism), they were researchers from the SPR who searched for naturalistic explanations for many of the cases and were not impressed by the credulously of other SPR members.

I am in the process of emailing magic historians about the flaws in Crookes experiment with Daniel Dunglas Home so I will go back to that. Thanks for your comments. Good luck the new psi encyclopedia.

"Obviously on this blog by Robert you just get ad-- hominem attacks (from Julie over and over)".

I do my best, Bill. :)

Bye, bye. And watch the door doesn't hit you on the arse as you leave. ;)

'Steve if you read his website or parts of his book that I had free access to he wants to test the claim that ghosts can be detected by electronic devices. This is a well-known pseudoscientific claim. I am not attacking him I am just pointing this out.'

Say what?

Steve P practically 'wrote the book' on why 'electronic devices' are unproven methods of detecting 'ghosts', or 'pseudoscience', if you will. I would imagine that if he actually does want to test them, then it would be to test such claims, which is a profoundly scientific attitude to take. I notice that, predictably, you don't provide any evidence in support of YOUR claims about Parsons' views (a quote from the book, or a link, maybe?) about want he wants to test, or why.

Whatever. I think you're probably referring to: -

'Currently I am involved in developing methods that test the claims that ghosts and spirits are able to communicate and interact with investigators at haunted locations using electronic devices such as modified electromagnetic field (EMF) meters.'

(see http://theghosthunter.webs.com/research)

I know Steve, and I've spoken to him about this and kindred issues quite a few times. Naturally, I've also read the WHOLE of his book. But I've also got plenty of experience of yourself, and your weird habits of either twisting or ignoring pertinent information; or of simply not checking stuff out properly. So, rather than waste Mr P's time on a Sunday evening with your nonsense, I decided just to waste a few minutes of my own on his behalf. Just an couple of extra click on a link on the same site, and then another one (and a bit of scrolling), took me to….

'To date there is simply no evidence that ghosts or other forms of apparent paranormal activity can emit or give off an EMF. They also do not have any proven ability to use EMF from any man made or natural sources.'


The forgoing isn't specifically marked as being authored by Parsons, but it almost certainly is as it's on the Parascience site.

You're not only insulting Steve Parsons by misrepresenting his views (or by being too lazy to actually check out properly what those are, when you could have easily done so). You're also insulting the intelligence of anyone (whatever their take on these issues might be) who happens upon this thread.

I'm sure that Michael awaits your return to his blog with bated breath. I'm sure that you will encounter Julie there again too. But you already know that.

On the general subject of sonics and electro magnetism etc...

Early last year I joined a opento the public ghost hunt/paranormal investigation thing at a supposedly haunted pub. It was certainly interesting. That the alleged hauntings were sincerely reported were confirmed by the coincidence of my being recognised by one of the barmen as a friend of a friend who before it began told me all the stuff that had been going on there, apparitions included.

I won't tell the whole tale here, but I'll provide a link to my full account of it later. I'll just say nothing spectacular happened and there was much of psychological interest..different people interpreting the same thing different ways, people collectively referencing sounds or shadows I was completely oblivious to etc. But stuff did happen. The thing of interest here is that in summing it up afterwards it was clear to me that, whether it was cause or effect, the common link in most of the observed activity that night was the behaviour of electrical items.

A light bulb playing up, the phone ringing once, above all the various meters and gadgets spontaneously going off when there was nothing in theory present to trigger them. Something in short was either effecting or being effected by the electricity in that building. Both wired in and battery operated, in built and imported. Electricity was the common theme (the two remaining phenomena to which I can attest was the sound of a seemingly discarnate breath in an empty corridor and a metal door partially closing by itself. The fact it was metal may again relate to the electrical nature of the matter.)


I too have experienced extraordinary phenomena of a coincidental nature involving electrical activity, Lawrence.

As time goes by I'm conscious of the fact that I must find a place to document my psychic experiences. It's a matter of great importance that such accounts are available for others to read - and find, almost as if by coincidence.


Malfunction of electrical items is probably the most commonly reported phenomenon reported by field researchers. It's a shame that, unless I've missed something, there's been no coordinated effort put into documenting such by the more responsible investigation groups (ASSAP, SPR etc.)

It's normally freshly charged batteries in devices, such as camcorders etc. suddenly discharging for no apparent reason, which I've seen a couple of times. And the same devices seem to be perfectly ok, once they're taken out of that environment.

Years before I knew anything about this sort of thing, I was doing a recording session in an upstairs room in a shared house in Oxford. Various types of analogue tape devices were in use - a multi-track recorder, and two tape echo units – all quite new and in good condition. All of them failed in various ways - as did replacements that we managed to borrow; and two of them (rather expensive units) never really recovered – even though they started working again once we took them out of there. We ended up having to record on a mate's two-track reel to reel (he lived in the same house), and that remained OK. But the echo units, multi-tracks, and some other bits and pieces had nothing but problems. We’d take them home, and they’d recover. We took them back – problems of various sorts again.

We only found out afterwards that the room was supposed to be 'haunted' (our friend who’d lent us the recorder decided to tell us a few days after we’d given up). I can't remember why that was supposed to be the case, but we were told that some of the people in the house would not go in there.

I remember being rather displeased - we didn't feel anything odd about the place at all, and just ended up with lots of knackered gear, and a rubbish recording.

And my memory of the events turned out to be correct i.e. no post hoc rationalisations or memory embellishments. I visited the guy who lent us the one tape recorder that kept working a couple of years back. He still had the recording, and it was definitely crap ;)

The most astonishing experience that I remember with regard to psi and electricity occurred some years ago, one evening after a long, cold and very windy day in February at a point-to-point meeting. We had taken several horses, which meant we all had to be outside and un-sheltered in the cold all day as we prepared them for their races and tended them afterwards. To say the weather was bitter would be an understatement.

When we got home that evening, to a cold house, I was completely exhausted and simply could not get warm. The only thing to do was to go to bed - something that I did almost immediately. Ours is a country house with big rooms and a level of heating that doesn't entirely meet the requirements of the average town dweller - if you get my drift.

Anyway, there I was in bed, finally starting to get warm, when I realised that I'd left the overhead light on and that the switch was across the room, by the door. There was no way whatsoever that I was going to get out of bed again; for one thing I felt very weak and full of flu.

So I lay there hoping to hear someone's footsteps coming up the stairs or along the landing. I tried shouting but no one could hear me from the kitchen where the others were gathered and which is at the other end of the house. So I lay there desperately wishing that the bulb would somehow go out. Can you imagine my surprise when, suddenly, the bulb did go out? It popped and there I was, finally in darkness.

Perhaps bulbs often just pop at convenient moments? I don't know. For me, if they're going to pop, they only usually pop as I turn them on.

Like all such coincidental and uncanny experiences (of which I've had many) they are never forgotten, despite their on-the-surface triviality. The impact is just too strong.
And, like the incident described above, they tend to make me smile whenever I recall them.

I like that one Julie. I remember the night my grandfather died. I had just come home from my shift at the hospice where he was staying and as I entered the front door of my darkened house I heard some noise. When I went into my bedroom the television was on and one of the bedside lamps was brightly lit. ( I know they were both turned off when I left the house.) Within a few minutes, my uncle called me to say that my grandfather had died.

I used to have a microwave oven that would come on by itself, usually in the middle of the night and the timer would be set for several hours. I finally had to get rid of the microwave as it spooked me up too much. - AOD

That's interesting, Amos. I find it's the feeling of absurdity yet absolute certainty of a genuine anomaly that lodges forever in the memory.

While I haven't (yet) had a visit from someone on the point of death, I have had a postmortem visit from a horse. I kid you not. :)

"Readers will soon be able to check out the encyclopedia themselves"

will you be posting a link to the encyclopedia, Robert?

Posted by: Bill | November 08, 2015 at 03:43 PM
"The believers usually ignore the naturalistic explanations"

Of course on the other side of the argument you have dogmatic disbelievers that come up with all sorts of ad hoc naturalistic explanations and if that doesn't work; you resort to calling the person a fraud.

'will you be posting a link to the encyclopedia'

Yes, eventually.

And will you have the job of updating it regularly, Robert, to report new findings? :)

I hope that most writers of articles will keep them up to date, and there will eventually be other editors covering specialist areas who will have access. Dealing with requests for updates will be a time consuming business, and we'll need to find the best way.

It sounds absolutely GREAT, Robert - and much needed. Well done, old chap! :)

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