Posted: May 02, 2012 6:50 pm
by jerome
Firstly, I apologize for being a little late in my response to Campermon (about 15 months i think) If Croc and LionIRC had not started another debate, I may well have forgotten to ever reply! It is hard to respond adequately
to Campermon's beautiful poetic history of everything: I will however, because after we met up a few weeks ago I
promised I would. This is my penultimate post of the debate - and what a ride it has been. If you were not paying attention, well I think you might enjoy reading what went before, which had some real rational scepticism applied.

In Campermon's last post "Life the Universe and Campermon" he gave a really cool, informed and poetic account of the mechanisms by which the universe arose, life arose, and Campermon arose. We agree on the mechanics: it is the meaning of these things, and my belief that the problem of consciousness is far from resolved (I'm a neutral monist philosophically) that differentiates our perspective on those mechanisms: I'm theist, Campermon atheist. Neither really has any bearing on the question of life after death -- I debated that on the old RD forum as a few of you may recall (and the existence of God too if I remember correctly).

Spooks can be fully consistent with an atheist worldview - indeed we could be dealing with entities more like something from Doctor Who than the smiling departed grannies reported by cheap psychic shysters to bereaved clients. I don't claim to know what causes these experiences, but it to my mind appears like an intelligence. I could be wrong - the purpose might be a result of our anthropomorphizing utterly senseless events, but I'm pretty sure something deeply weird is going on. I don't actually find that a very comforting thought -- I have no emotional desire to believe in "things" toying with us...

Except I'm probably the only person on this forum mad enough to even consider the possibility, or have immersed myself in the evidence. I knew this would be a hard case to argue, but hey I'm going to have a go...

So, let's start with where Campermon left off

campermon wrote:

With mysteries such as these, do we really need to bother ourselves investigating the clearly man-made ones such
as ghosts and ghoulies?



Well, I don't think they are clearly man made, in the normal sense of being cultural artifacts. I have been
experimenting, as you might have guessed and researching, and one thing that has been clear to me is that actually
the ghost and the poltergeist experience does seem to stand somewhat independent of culture and geography: while
the folklore of nations is wildly variable, a poltergeist case or apparitional sighting in 19th century Poona is
much the same as one in 20th century Berlin or 15th century England.

That may tell us something about the nature of the experience - an underlying shared pathology, something inherent
to humans, a psychological condition that makes them hallucinate figures, hear voices and see things being chucked
about, or rocks falling through ceilings. We might speculate the mechanism is the same as that which leads to
sightings of faieries, or faeries in modern garb in those Pesky UFO cases, or the Marian Apparitions, or Sasquatch
claims. Thes ethings don't seem to reside in the physical universe, so maybe they are all weird beasticles of the
psyche, bubbling up from the reptile brain and irrupting in to every day life as phantasmal symbols serving who
knows what purpose?

I gave early on my reason for thinking not all ghosts are hallucinations. I could well be wrong, but I still think
the case I made is strong. I don't think the spooks are man made: if they are, I don't think they are all emergiong
from our cultural and fictional preconceptions, sympathetic as I am to psycho-social explanations in the Magonian
style. I'll give one simple reason why, though I could cite many many more -- my girlfriend is currently
researching for her Ph.D. the apparitional experience, and she ran a very short test survey before she began the Ph.D.
(which I will not have the results of till she submits for data confidentiality reasons), that I do have the data
from. I have similar data from earlier research - here is a list of British studies. I have never seen the data
from Wiseman & Watt - it was presented at conference, but never published but I have seen the others --

    1894 The SPR’s Census of Hallucinations

    1948 D.J West’s Mass Observation Survey

    1974 McCreeley & Green

    1990’s D.J. West’s Pilot Survey

    2002 Dr Hilary Evans Seeing Ghosts

    2008 Wiseman and Watt Online study

    2008 Dave Wood (ASSAP Chair)

    2009 Romer & Smith: The Accidental Census


Now given that these are all British studies, that deal with people who believe they have experienced apparitions,
what might we expect to find drawing from our knowledge of ghost fiction? Transparent spooks! Rooms that go icy
cold! Terrible mind shattering fear in the witness!

And do we? Nope. These staples of horror movies occur quite rarely in the cases. Let's take temperature drops --
something I think generally associated with ghosties in popular imagination. Or icy chills in the witness at least? Well from 1894 when the idea was well established, to 2009, these occur in less than 1% of cases reported. There are many other similar oddities I noted over my reading, but we appear to have a consistent pattern of phenomena that are not given much attention in campfire ghost stories like the SOD (small object displacement) discussed earlier, and a consistent body of phenomena that we might expect - like cold spots - which while much loved by ghosthunters of the "Most Haunted" type, don't actually show up in these reports from people who had their experience while not looking for it. Other oddities: old houses, ruined castles and graveyards are no more likely to be "haunted" than modern places as mundane as offices, flats and shopping malls. Ghosts seem to appear irrespective of time of day, with a roughly even distribution between night and day once you remove probable sleep paralysis cases from the data set. The witness is nearly always engaged in day to day activities: and claims the experience is unexpected.

An analysis of phenomena recorded by Smith (2008) among groups "ghosthunting", and the records of people experiencing spontaneous ghost experiences reveal the two set of phenomena to be almost completely disparate. The first set deals with liminal ambigous stimuli - a single rap, a rustling crisp packet,a shadowy figure - the second set are far more dramatic, and far more "normal" in terms of sensory observations. Whatever most ghost hunters are finding, it does not seem to be the same as what those who have the experiences uncalled for are reporting - and they report large numbers of drops in temperature, transparent misty or shadowy figures and so forth - absent from the "spontaneous" witness reports.

I could go on, but I would bore you. For these reasons I don't think the mystery is down to people telling tall tales though, and indeed Robin Wooffitt's excellent book on Conversation Analysis in these matters, Telling Tales
of the Unexpected
, while showing that supernatural experiences are reported in certain linguistic ways as one might
expect, seems to me to offer scope for examining the truth content of the reports - something Wooffitt is not himself interested in as I understand it, being instead concerned wit the structure of the narratives not the veridicality of the underlying experiences.

So my position has not moved an inch. I still think that somehow there is some external intelligence involved, be it the human mind operating at a distance, or some other discarnate intelligence. I have incidentally over the last year completed a few theoretical essays and some research, and have totally dropped the traditional distinction between apparitions and poltergeists -- they appear to fall upon a spectrum, with physical effects almost ubiquitous even in what are classified as apparitional cases, and I suspect the distinction arose for theoretical reasons in the early history of parapsychology/psychical research, but is not borne out by the evidence. (I have discussed this in detail elsewhere).

Now I have dug out the paper on Psychomanteum research that seemed to show a correlation between apparitional experience periods and unusual environmental conditions (see post 8) I won't invoke it here though, cos I want Campermon to have a chance to read the full paper, so I will pass it on. I'm not convinced that pirates and global warming explains it away, but with the full data Campermon might be able to think of another reasonable cause. So moving on, last time I promised to invoke the Great Richard Wiseman and use his research to argue for my "ghosts". (This is a bit like using Dawkins to argue for Catholicism in most peoples eyes...)

I cited at the end of post 8 three papers by Wiseman et al,and invited people to read them. The full texts are
available here --

http://www.richardwiseman.com/research/ghosts.html
http://www.richardwiseman.com/research/ghosts2.html
http://www.richardwiseman.com/research/ghosts3.htm


Now let's be fair: most people probably don't have the time, but you can at least check what I am saying, and be certain there is no jiggery pokery or quote mining going down from me here. Now the first one links to some famous papers, including Vic Tandy on infrasound, but I feel that subsequent research has pretty firmly debunked much that has been written about that as a cause for hauntings. Variable magnetic fields seem popular too; the point is that there may well be some environmental stimuli that causes people to have this experience. I'm guessing without reading back I covered this in depth earlier in the debate: if not I'm happy to get involved in the peanut thread, but I spent much of the 1990's looking for a naturalistic environmental cause for the "ghost" experience. I ruled out a lot of options, that is true, and while those more technically proficient than me have taken it much further, I like to think I did some useful work in reducing the hypotheses that remain viable. I never experimented with recording infrasound or gauss levels, because the equipment and calibration required is expensive and time recording, but that is what Wiseman et al did. So page one introduce major themes - oh and links to McCues paper which I like cos it cites me :)

Anyway let's move on: page 2 links to something rather more interesting, Wiseman et al's research at Hampton Court Palace. Now the technical set up they employed has been critiqued as somewhat inadequate, but overall the research is sound. Let's quote a bit to save you having to leave this page

The study involved over 600 members of the public walking through certain areas of the Palace and noting down their
location whenever they experienced any unusual phenomena. At night, a wide range of monitoring equipment (including
thermal imagers and electromagnetic sensors) were placed in these locations to monitor the environment.

Results revealed that:

- people consistently experienced unusual sensations in certain locations

- people who believed in the existence of ghosts reported more experiences than disbelievers

- some of these experiences were caused by natural phenomena, such as subtle draughts and changes in air
temperature.

- there was some tentative evidence linking the locations in which participants reported their experiences with
certain types of geomagnetic activity.


Now I recommend downloading the papers. Here is the BJP one.
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources ... ntings.pdf

Now let's look at the Journal of Parapsychology one
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources/hampton.pdf

Let's assume you have lives: just read the last paragraph of each for now. It is a write up of the same data, the same experiment, by the same authors, but the first was published in a mainstream psychology journal, the second in a peer reviewed parapsychology journal. I don't know if you can detect any subtle differences in tone, but one thing is interesting: suggestibility does not explain the fact that people consistently selected the same "haunted" spots, without knowing where they are supposed to be. Yet no consistent environmental cues were detected: and while Braithwaite has critiqued the monitoring equipment, no strong evidence for magnetic fields or other environmental factors was discovered.

So as Wiseman says, people could tell where the ghost were supposed to be in a double blind experiment: this is proof there are no ghosts, but unknown environmental factors are at work. :scratch: :D Er, yeah quite. The experiment can't prove or disprove spooks, but it does seem to suggest the environmental variables usually invoked are in fact NOT the cause of the ghosthunters" weird sensations. I would put it down to suggestibility: the paper denies that. The fact that more people who believe in ghost than do not believe in ghosts report sensations strikes me as trivial and non-interesting: it is exactly in line with any other influence of perception by a priori expectation result surely? People who don't believe in ghosts are less likely to report ghost experiences. ;)

Interested? If so join Campermon in reading through the two papers and looking for what they have missed. Or have Wiseman et all really found evidence for the spooks of Hampton Palace after all?

OK Let's move on to the Edinburgh Vaults and page 3. (http://www.richardwiseman.com/research/ghosts3.htm ) Have a look at the link above to get the background: then read the full paper which is here...

http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources ... ntings.pdf

The question is, have the authors really moved us forward in identifying the environmental variables involved? I don't think they have really: the evidence is at best suggestive, but to my mind weak. It could just as well be that what the people were detecting was the presence of spooks. :D Now actually I don't think that likely, because the "ghosthunt" produced ghosthunting style phenomena, not those of the spontaneous cases, and as I stated above the two are quite distinct. Still as many people are likely to invoke these experiments to explain both disparate types of experience, I think it is worth reading through the papers, and the sy seem to suggest something is going on, something that can quite easily be measured by humans, but which is currently evading simple explanation.

Anyway, this is a long enough post. I'll leave it there, and in my final post I'll sum up, and make a case for why I think all this matters, and try and convince you all of the reality of the spooks. My question to Campermon – how do you account for the findings of Wiseman et al? :)

j x