Posted: Jun 05, 2010 10:55 pm
by campermon
Condender's #3 post: 2969 words. -LIFE

Many thanks for your last post Jerome. It has challenged me once again to research into topics which I would not normally delve into! Although I will complain that you’re not giving me anything on the scientific evidence front to really get my teeth into! ;)

For the first part of this post I will join you in assuming “for a moment a universe where "ghosts" are hallucinatory experiences, generated entirely within the brain.” and add some commentary in support of my stance. For the second part I will be more ‘holistic’ (once again), a smorgasborg,if you will, of the general themes at debate here. But I will also challenge you on some specifics and also highlight a case where a paranormal investigator has possibly ‘snatched defeat from the jaws of victory’! ;)

“Let’s assume for a moment a universe where……”

“The theoretical properties of these hallucinations are --

i) They will only appear to one witness at a time – though a misperception (where there is something there, it just fools the senses, as in an optical illusion – misperceptions are not hallucination technically) could theoretically be shared by many. If a stick in the water looks like Nessie, it is possible that hundreds of observers could simultaneously see it and reach the erroneous conclusion it is a lake monster. ( I don't think Campermon has invoked misperceptions yet, but it seems a fair extension of his position, and a sensible one, to allow for it?)”

First of all I must apologize for my ambiguous use of the word ‘hallucination’. As Jerome has correctly inferred, hallucination occurs without the action of any external stimulus whereas I have used the term rather loosely to mean ‘seeing stuff that ain’t real’! So, quite rightly, if ghosts were strictly down to hallucination we would only have cases of individual sightings and we know that this is not so.. However, Jerome throws a lifeline to the rationalist ( ;) ), by referring us to the phenomena of ‘misperceptions’. In my previous post I did briefly hint at the ‘input greediness’ of the brain and its habit of filling in the gaps, . What the science of ‘misperception’ shows us is that our brains share many commonalities in how they misperceive certain stimuli. I will urge the reader to peruse this article; ‘Nonveridical Perception’ ( ... _2009b.pdf ) from which we learn that;

“Sensory misperceptions are phenomena in which the subjective perception of a stimulus does not match the physical reality.”

So we have here a mechanism which could allow multiple witnesses to subjectively experience the same ghostly sighting. To quote myself ( ;) ), such ghosts would be “purely manifestations of the brain that do not represent objects in objective reality.”

I will leave the reader with a nice example of misperception. I will ask you to post in the peanut gallery (paranormal/peanut-gallery-existence-of-ghosts-apparitions-t6933.html ) what it is that you see in this picture;


( ... ption.html )

Let’s move onto;

“ii) They will convey no information to the percipient not known to them at the time.”

In response to this I thank you for the anecdote and ask the question; Is there any clear, unambiguous evidence to suggest that any such information has been imparted in any ghost case? I cannot really comment any further in the absence of any robust data that would show the contrary. ;)

Onward we go...

“iii) They will not objectively cause physical 'real world' effects – no opening doors, moving objects, or otherwise impinging upon physical reality. Being mental constructs they can't – if physical effects are ascribed to a ghost, then they must be misattributed.”

Yes, any physical effects ascribed to ghosts must be misattributed. That leads me to the conclusion that witnesses to such phenomena are either a) lying or b) being deluded / tricked in some way or maybe even both!

One of my main complaints about the poltergeist cases brought to this debate was that the ‘evidence’ of physical effects was largely anecdotal and therefore not acceptable for the purposes of forming a scientific hypothesis. Let’s revisit my objections and this time look at the ‘Cardiff Responsive Case’ from which these events were recorded;

“1. Small stones, coins or bolts impacting on the walls or floor and occasionally hitting someone (harmlessly—though Jim had discussed possible customer injury with his insurance agent). No-one had seen the projectiles actually thrown, but only as they landed or (less frequently) when they were in mid-air.
2. A paint scraper which had 'gone missing', and then suddenly re-appeared, as hot to the touch 'as if it had been heated for some minutes with a blowlamp'.
3. The mysterious arrival of objects, usually dropped onto the floor, for example a pen which fell beside Jim when he had spoken of writing down the incidents, followed by a piece of headed notepaper which on investigation turned out to have come, by unknown means, from the office premises on the floor above. Also coins, most of which appeared to originate from a collection of pennies and halfpennies kept in the office. When Paul had asked out loud for a sovereign, aJubilee crown (which appeared to have come from a drawer in Jim and Ann's house) had dropped beside him.”

Discounting the paranormal, I’m sure that we can all come up with explanations for the above. For example, let’s look at the paint scraper incident. Is it not reasonable to hypothesize that somebody actually did take the paint scraper and heat it up with a blowtorch before replacing it? I guess some people would think that to be a neat practical joke. Also worth noting is the fact that the premises is described as a ‘small light-engineering workshop’. Would it be unusual to find a blow torch (even one of those little ‘camping gaz’ ones) in such a premises? In addition to my previously recorded ‘beer mat physics’ experiment ( :mrgreen: physics/beer-mat-physics-the-sun-t8056.html ) I tried out a quick experiment to replicate the paint scraper incident. As is often in beer mat physics experiments I had to make some substitutions; I didn’t have a paint scraper or a blow torch so I replaced them with a butter knife and a gas cigarette lighter. I found that by heating the middle of the butter knife blade with the lighter for just 15 seconds the blade remained too hot to touch for about 50 seconds after heating. It is not unreasonable to predict that had the blade been heated with something more substantial then it would have remained too hot to touch for a much longer time. So we can see that it would take very little time to set up such a trick. I would suspect that either ‘Jim’ or ‘Paul’ fabricated this incident in the manner (or similar way) I suggested in order to trick the other into believing a paranormal event had taken place. Or, that the incident was just made up for the benefit of the investigator. Let’s remind ourselves of what the author of this report, Professor David Fontana, said;

“Although a frequent observer of the consequences of the disturbances detailed above, I did not see any of them actually taking place

As I mentioned in my last post, accepting anecdote as evidence leads the parapsychologist towards the dead end of pseudoscientific hypothesizing. In the instance of the hot paint scraper, if the Professor concludes that it can spontaneously get hot via some as yet unknown mechanism then he has the second law ( ... modynamics ) to deal with. As Seth Lloyd once wrote; “Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics.”

Could it be that the Prof and the ‘victims’ of this case have got into some sort of ‘folie à deux’ where both parties are feeding and strengthening each others delusions? Or has the Prof actually found evidence that contravenes the 2nd Law? If it’s the latter, he should look forward to collecting his Nobel.

So, where did the Prof go so disastrously wrong? The clue can be found in his consideration of the reliability of the eye witness accounts;

“In any context other than that of the paranormal, their testimony would be accepted without question, and in my view deliberate fraud by any or all of them is a virtually untenable explanation”

He may be right about the victims not perpetrating a ‘deliberate fraud’, after all they may have deluded themselves into believing the phenomena were paranormal in nature. However, he is wrong about eyewitness accounts being ‘accepted without question’ in other fields. A quick search on the subject of eyewitness accounts highlights many concerns over the reliability of such evidence;

“A considerable amount of research has established that exposure to leading or misleading suggestions can dramatically influence the accuracy of eyewitness reports. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as the “misinformation effect,” has been well documented in the literature and has implications for legal systems worldwide, which depend upon the reliability of eyewitness testimony in their search for justice (Rattner, 1988).”


We can also see that uncritically accepting eyewitness accounts does have rather serious consequences;

“An eyewitness who has no motive to lie is a powerful form of evidence for jurors, especially if the eyewitness appears to be highly confident about his or her recollection. In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, the eyewitness’s account is generally accepted by police, prosecutors, judges, and juries. However, the faith the legal system places in eyewitnesses has been shaken recently by the advent of forensic DNA testing. Given the right set of circumstances, forensic DNA testing can prove that a person who was convicted of a crime is, in fact, innocent. Analyses of DNA exoneration cases since 1992 reveal that mistaken eyewitness identification was involved in the vast majority of these convictions, accounting for more convictions of innocent people than all other factors combined.”

(Eyewitness Evidence Improving Its Probative Value ... 5B1%5D.pdf )

It appears that the uncritical use of eyewitness evidence to support poltergeist activity is a recurrent theme in the cases I have studied. Hence my requests for evidence of the reliable scientific kind. ;)

I’ll return to the area of ‘physical effects’ before the end, but for now let’s move on.

“iv) They will not reappear in the same place over time to different witnesses This requires a little explanation – if it is known that an Oxford courtyard is purportedly haunted by a shot Civil War general, we should not be surprised if others purport to see "the ghost". If however over a period of many years many people witness an apparition, and agree on certain characteristics, independently and without foreknowledge of the purported haunt – then we may be justified in doubting the hallucination explanation.”

Yes. I agree that hallucination, in the strictest sense of its meaning, would not explain this phenomena. However, could we not argue that ‘misperception’ adequately explains this? It may be that a particular set of factors in an environment could possibly lead to the induction of a common misperception. Simpler common misperceptions have been well studied and documented (see previous references). I would argue that it is reasonable to suggest that there may be more complex scenarios (for example your haunted churchyard) which may contain the right ‘mix’ of variables that will induce a shared misperception. I will follow with interest research into this area. Indeed, it appears that ‘serious’ paranormal investigators are beginning to take this phenomena into account when investigating. The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) discusses this very issue;

“Misperception probably accounts for more paranormal reports than any other single cause. It is therefore very important to eliminate it satisfactorily in any paranormal research. This article outlines theoretical methods for testing if misperception could be involved in a paranormal report.” ... ption.html


So where are we at the moment? We appear to agree that the majority of paranormal phenomena can be explained rationally by hallucinatory and ‘hallucinatory like’ experiences (misperception for instance) and our main area of disagreement appears to be related to the alleged physical effects of ghosts.

Taking a step back for a moment I ask myself, as I asked Jerome before!, ‘Why should this be?’.

Well, the areas that we agree on are well confirmed by scientific evidence. I can only conclude from this that you too value scientific evidence (as I do), but a mystery remains; without scientific evidence to support your position on poltergeists how do you propose to support it? How can I tempt you back from the ‘dark side of the force’ Jerome? ;)

Enough reflection. Next.

On a first scan of your last post, I immediately alighted upon a couple of avenues worth a look at. The first being;

“However smashed items, weird electrical disturbances, peculiar flight and impact characteristics (and as Dr Barrie Colvin has recently discovered, highly unusual acoustic properties in percussive raps associated with poltergeist phenomena) seem to be consistent across many of these poltergeist cases.”

Eagerly, and in vain as it turned out, I scoured the web for references of the research the Dr carried out. However, all I could turn up was a blog about the Dr’s lecture (http://nuncperspeculumaenigmate.blogspo ... geist.html);

“I was fortunate enough to attend the SPR's study day…”

The blogger goes onto tell us about the Dr’s work into ‘rappings’ and their acoustic properties;

“Dr Colvin demonstrated that some of these sounds display unusual acoustic properties, and that the term 'rap' is somewhat misleading. If you tap on a table or wall, the sound will have a distinctive, percussive, signiature; there will be a sudden peak followed by a trailing off. However, the sounds analysed by Dr Colvin in relation to poltergeist cases and table-tipping experiments (of which more below) displayed what could be described as a 'seismic' signature; there is a gradual, albeit rapid, rise to a peak followed by the trailing off. This would be consistent with a build up of tension within the material being suddenly released rather than the sudden contact of one thing against another.

Such sounds, of course, are not at all uncommon; think about the sounds your home makes when it 'settles'. However, when such sounds occur in response to a request (as is frequently reported in poltergeist cases) and display signs of being directed by an intelligent agency, the unusual acoustic signature Dr Colvin has revealed constitutes strong evidence of the phenomena being something other than a misattributed bump or fraud.”

So, like the phone in the ‘South Shields Case’, we potentially have some tangible evidence in support of paranormal phenomena. But once again, search as I may I can find no reference to this research being recorded in the scientific media. Why hasn’t Dr Colvin submitted his work to a respected physics journal so that it may be scrutinized by others who specialize in the field of acoustics? Why can’t I find it at ? Indeed, why can I not find any of his work published in the scientific media? On this forum, I would openly challenge Dr Colvin to share this research so that we might see if we concur with his conclusions! (if anyone knows him, please pass this challenge on! :mrgreen: ).

I can only surmise that we will find little evidence here.

The second item that caught my eye was;

“It is possible as British parapsychologist Paul Stevens recently explained to build a model for telepathy where no complex information transfer is required – instead, the only signal require is one where I end a simple signal when you coincidentally think of my target image, in this case a blue gorilla.”

A quick google revealed to me that Paul may have something interesting to say. From his profile at ... evens.html we learn that Paul has;

B.Sc, Astronomy, 1992, University College London
Ph.D, Psychology, 1997, Edinburgh
Previous Appointments:
1997-2007: Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh
1995: Research Fellow, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Membership of Professional Organisations/External Bodies:
Member of British Psychological Society (BPS)
Member of the Bioelectromagnetics
Society member of the Association for Psychological Science (APS)
Council member for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)”

Although intriguing as the ‘blue gorilla’ example is, it still relies on some mechanism to transmit a signal from brain to brain. Even though, in this hypothesis, the signal is simple, it would still require large amounts of energy to be expended if it were to be transmitted over any reasonable distance. I will refer you to my previous post were I discuss TMS induced by multiple lightening strikes and I would personally challenge Paul on this point! ;) . Unfortunately, I was unable to access any of the papers that Paul has published. If anyone has copies they wish to share, I would be very grateful!

To finish up I would respectfully ask Jerome, again, to provide the forum with the scientific evidence required to support his position. To summarize our positions as I see it; it appears that Jerome and I both agree that most ghostly sightings / paranormal experiences can be explained with the application of science. Where we diverge is on the point of ‘physical effects’. It is clear from the cases presented by Jerome that looking for evidence of physical effects in ‘the field’ is a strategy filled with pitfalls! Quite simply, there are too many variables involved and too much scope for being tricked! If, as Jerome contends, paranormal physical events can be caused by the mind, corporeal or otherwise, then it is to the lab where he must go.

Once again, I sincerely look forward to reading the scientific evidence that Jerome will, no doubt, present to the forum.