Posted: Jun 26, 2010 2:27 pm
by jerome
OK, I'm in a playful mood. Last week I ended with a promise – that we would create a "ghost" in the lab, or our own homes, and experiment with it. And that, dear reader, is exactly what we are going to do today… if you want to! I will skip the philosophical stuff, and the discussion of the cases I referenced last time for now – Campermon wants science, and while I think we have been doing science from the start let’s play with something empirical. Let's see a ghost!

Now the obvious caveat – calling up ghosts is technically necromancy. The term is not fashionable these days – since Derek Acorah styled himself a "psychic medium" that seems to be the preferred parlance, though I sometimes called him Derek the Necromancer, which at least conjures up amusing visions of him in a track suit leading a shuffling army of bewildered zombies…. Anyway, necromancy is possibly illegal (please check before proceeding for your country), generally considered immoral and definitely frowned upon by most sensible religions. I take no responsibility as to the results -- "Noli evocare quod reprimere non potes" as Charles Dexter Ward sagely reminded us, and if Yog Sothoth eats your soul you have no one to blame but yourself. Ah but you are atheists, so you don't have souls – fine carry on then!

I would also note this practice may be emotionally harmful, and I guess spiritually dangerous. Some people have claimed the same about reading the works of Richard Dawkins though, so providing you are sensible adults and tell a friend what you are up to I guess it will be OK. I am completely serious in my warnings though, and if you are disturbed by the experiment do feel free to contact me and chat. I'm pretty level headed and have a lot of experience of dealing with freaked out "psychonauts". If you are concerned about your emotional stability or mental health I would advise you to stick to theory, and see how others get on??? I accept no responsibility for what happens to you, though I doubt it will upset you lot!

I suppose I could set this out formally, as a proper experiment, or I could write it as a recipe. I won't do either – this is Punk Science – I'll just make some notes on the basic idea, and let you play with the variables, refine the controls and think of ways to do something useful with your "ghost".


A small dark room, with as little light pollution as possible.
A mirror – a full length one works best.
A table and candle – please don't burn your house down
A chair
A black sheet or bin bags taped to wall.

That’s it for the basics.


I would recommend a small space, such as a short corridor. Your basic set up is as follows – you black out one wall with your sheet or bin bags, and place the mirror in front of it, facing down the room. You place your chair near the other end, in front of the table. You put the candle on the table, so when it is lit it's behind your body, and only dimly casts flickering light down to the mirror.

The mirror should be positioned not more than a few feet in front of you, at a level so you can see your face fully reflected in it – so if a small mirror you will want to hang it at eye level. You sit on the chair, light the candle, and turn out all the lights. (If you have access to lots of black cloth drape all the walls, and build a small dark chamber for the experiment.)

What you have produced is a very basic "psychomanteum", or as it was known in the classical world, a "necromanteum". Dr Raymond Moody, the chap who started most of the modern interest in Near Death Experiences named it the "psychomanteum", and describes his pioneering work with the technique in his book Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones, Little, Brown and Co., 1993, ISBN 978-0679425700., Since the mid-1990's parapsychologists, psychologists and neurologists have been experimenting with the technique, which I assume (though I do not have the research in front of me as I write) works by generating some kind of feedback loop. What it definitely does do a repeated trials have shown, is allow one to experience something at least very similar to the "ghost experience."

Remember that from the beginning of the debate I conceded that many ghost experiences are simply hallucinations? Well, this experiment allows you to hallucinate. As Tim Leary used to say "set and setting" define much – your set up and your expectations – but even hard core sceptics of my acquaintance have been startled by the power of this very simple set up to invoke powerful hallucinatory experiences. You may wish to experiment with playing classical music – or do as I did for my trials, and use a pink noise or white noise generator and put headphones on your subject.

Dr Moody's approach was to use the psychomanteum or apparitional chamber in grief therapy, to allow the bereaved to have a visionary encounter with a deceased loved one. I can see vast potential for psychological damage if this was tried without proper therapeutic support – we will be more modest, and simply aim to see a "ghost" of someone, anyone. Expectation undoubtedly plays a huge part in the process, as demonstrated in Terhune, D. B., & Smith, M. D. (2006) 'The induction of anomalous experiences in a mirror-gazing facility: Suggestion, cognitive perceptual personality traits and phenomenological state effects'. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194, 415 – 421, so if you do try this with multiple subjects (which I hope you will) then make sure they KNOW exactly what it is supposed to do.

OK, so try it. I think the minimum length for sitting gazing at the mirror should realistically be thirty minutes, though fifty minutes to an hour would be better. I think this set up is basic enough that you can explore your capacity for visual hallucination, and see your own ghost, sometime this week, and of course discuss your results in the commentary thread. Hopefully you can find a few interested friends to participate.

Now what I have described is an incredibly basic set up – if you want to see the full lab research version of the apparatus I refer you to Lange, R., & Houran, J. (1997). 'Context-induced paranormal experiences: Support for Houran and Lange's model of haunting phenomena.' Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 1455 – 1458 and Radin, D. I., & Rebman, J. M. (1996). 'Are phantasms fact or fantasy? A preliminary investigation of apparitions evoked in the laboratory' Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 61, 65 – 87, though the best description of the methodology and a decent set up is probably Dean I. Radin (2001). "Seeking Spirits in the Laboratory" in James Houran and Rense Lange. Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. McFarland & Company. pp. 165–174. ISBN 0786409843. There is a great short essay on the web in the form of Ventola, Wison & Williams (2009) -- ... er_23.html -- which will give you a detailed overview of the research to date. (There is also some superb research that was recently conducted under Dr Ian Hume at Coventry University, but that is not presented or published yet, though I believe it will be this summer at the PA conference?)

So why have I proposed this experiment? Well it's empirical: it shows you something about the brain and the capacity to hallucinate; it's rather interesting; and theoretically if we get enough data we can use qualitative analysis to compare the "apparitions" seen in this set up with "spontaneous cases" – apparitions reported in "real life", and see how these artificially induced ghosties compare with the classic apparitions reported by Tyrell, Sidgwick et al.

However, I can imagine Campermon reclining in his deck chair, discarding a stack of marking and a pile of beer mats covered in equations, and dancing a little jig of delight. Surely I have shot myself in the foot here? After all, I am defending the claim ""Some Ghost cases may represent discarnate consciousness or the remote operation of a living human consciousness". It is surely immensely stupid of me to concede that one can mimic the nature of "ghost sightings" by hallucination? Yet I have as we all know concede this point from the very beginning. So a stronger argument might be my experiment is an irrelevance – it shows us what we already know to be true???

Yet no, I can actually cite these experiments in support of my hypothesis. Yes, really – because study of the environmental variables during the sessions has produced a most unusual and intriguing result. Unfortunately my copy of Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives has been borrowed by a friend, so rather than try to summarise inaccurately, I shall wait for her to return it, or for my girlfriend to pick up her copy when she returns home tomorrow. In my next post I'll describe the interesting aspects which imply some form of relationship between consciousness and the environment, or perhaps even suggest these apparitions possess some kind of independent existence. For now it is best that I do not discuss these anyway – as we have already seen expectation plays a huge part in the experience – so let us do some simple "beermat parapsychology" experiments with this very uncontrolled set up, and then later if anyone is interested we can refine it. I strongly suspect that both Campermon and Twistor (at least) have access to the equipment we will need to allow to test all this further. And most importantly, you can now go and see a ghost!

Just in case anyone is confused – there is nothing "psychic", "mystical" or "spiritualist" about this experiment. There is a considerable literature – I have not cited for example Simon Sherwood's excellent paper on hypnagogic imagery and the psychomanteum, and several others – but I don't think any discussion of the academic literature can take the place of actual practical experimentation. I hope at least a few of you will run some trials and see what you experience, and preferable use a Dictaphone or write it up immediately afterwards so that we can discuss the experiences in the commentary thread.
OK, I have some words left for once! However today I'm immensely pushed for time – my girlfriend goes back tomorrow, so I want to spend a little time with her, and I'm sure me wittering on will only bore. So instead I encourage you to go try the experiment, well after nightfall if you find darkness hard to achieve in your home on this glorious June day.

Campermon likes theories I know, so I'll use the rest of the word count on some proposed models for psi -- well, this is a useful overview of the physical models proposed from 1993 from the Koestler Parapsychological Unit at Edinburgh University - bit heavy going in places, but useful nonetheless and gives you some article to look up and read---

Theories on the Physical Basis of Psi - KPU 1993

The following are summaries of some of the attempts to look for theories which might help explain how psi operates. These are written for a non-technical audience. Interested parties should look at the references provided for a better idea of the specifics.

1 - Teleological Model (TM) of Psi

Helmudt Schmidt proposed a teleological (goal-seeking) model that postulated psi as representing a modification of the probabilities for different world histories. That is, the psi agent need concentrate only on the desired outcome of an event. Psi would act to skew the probability of that event happening or having happened in the case of retrospective psychokinesis (retro-PK).

As such, this theory was not a theory of a psi mechanism but rather one which looked at the way psi was experienced by the psi agent. It was one of the first parapsychological theories to include a unified psi. PK, ESP, precognition -- all were aspects of one common psi principle wherein reality was altered to match expectation. This theory also meant that psi would be independent of space and time as when-and-where in the world history psi occurred would be irrelevant. And that psi is independent of task complexity as the psi agent aims only for the desired end-point.

As most human actions are essentially teleological (i.e., when we want to pick something up, we do not consider in detail which muscles we wish to move, and so on), this brought psi more into the realms of human experience. Feedback was considered to be vital. The psi agent can have an effect only if it is coupled to its environment in such a way that it may receive a stimulus.

There was also what was called a "divergence problem". That is, all Future psi agents could so have an effect on the Present world history. In effect, this meant that for any experiment, the psi agent was not only the experimental participant but also all Future readers of the experimental paper!

● Schmidt, H. (1975). "Towards a Mathematical Theory of Psi". The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 69(4): 301-320

2 - Quantum Mechanical Theory of Psi (QMTP)

Evan Harris Walker identified consciousness with quantum-mechanical hidden variables. In Quantum Theory, any system may be described in terms of a wave-function. It is a complex superposition of waves, the squared amplitude of each being related to the probability of an individual event occurring. The complete wave-function describes all possible outcomes of that system. Thus the wave-function of a coin-toss will describe the outcomes of heads-or-tails, with the amplitude of each being equal to the square-root of the 50% probability of getting a head or a tail.

The problem is that this wave-function describes all the outcomes at once, whereas conscious experience tells us that we will observe only one outcome. This naturally led to the idea that conscious observation somehow affects the system, causing the wave-function to "collapse" (decohere) into one specific state (i.e., the one we experience. If this is indeed the case, then perhaps the consciousness can actually choose (to some extent) which outcome actually occurs -- a process which sounds very much like the concept of psychokinesis.

Walker developed this theory by pointing out that the brain itself is also a physical system. And so it too develops probabilistically into a number of superposed potential states. That is, the collapse doesn’t take place due to the physical act of observation but is linked to an act of mind (consciousness taking on the role of a "hidden variable" of the wave-function which describes the physical system). Schmidt also explicitly stated that PK was related to the collapse of the wave-function in an extension to his original teleological model.

An important feature of this theory is the unity of psi. PK, ESP, and precognition are all aspects of the observation process. In fact, the basic process may be seen as similar to the idea of retro-psychokinesis in that the observation of the system would appear to affect the outcome of the system, no matter at what time that outcome would be said to have been determined in a classical sense. For example, the collection of random number data at time t=0 could be "affected" at any subsequent time as long as it was not observed at t=0. ESP then becomes the selection of the system to correspond to the prediction.

Psi is also seen as being independent of space and time. A requirement of hidden variables is that they must (according to a well-known tenet of Quantum theory called Bell's Theorem) be non-local in nature. In real-terms, this would mean that the space-time location of the system to be affected is not important -- only the feedback to the observer is.

Psi is also independent of task complexity. Again, the important feature is the act of observation, so it is only the feedback which is important. This does mean that some form of true feedback to the observer is vital. However, this again brings up the divergence problem. Although in this model, while Future psi agents can also have an effect, it is argued that they can act only to increase the variance of experimental results rather than change what has already been observed.

● Walker, E. H. (1975). "Foundations of Paraphysical and Parapsychological Phenomena". In L. Oteri (Ed.) Quantum Physics and Parapsychology, Parapsychology Foundation

● Walker, E. H. (1984). "A Review of Criticisms of the Quantum Mechanical Theory of Psi Phenomena", Journal of Parapsychology 48: 277-332

● Schmidt, H. (1984). "Comparison of a Teleological Model with a Quantum Collapse Model of Psi", Journal of Parapsychology 48(4): 261-276

Thermal Fluctuation Model

Richard Mattuck presents an interesting variation of the QMTP based on the idea that the mind somehow utilizes the thermal energy of molecules to alter the outcome of an event.

It is well known that there is an degree of uncertainty associated with any measurement with the actual measured values showing small fluctuations around a mean value. These fluctuations are partially due to the agitation of the measured system by the random thermal energies of particles in the system (Remember that an atom at a given temperature is equivalent to that atom having a certain kinetic energy in a random direction. The hotter the material, the more its atoms are "jiggling" about). They have been shown to be related to the Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Theory.

Mattuck relates a PK effect to the processing of information at a certain rate. He offers a detailed analysis of the rate of information change associated with a theoretical PK effect on various components of an example target system.

● Mattuck, R. D (1982). "Some Possible Thermal Quantum Fluctuation Models for Psychokinetic Influence on Light". Psychoenergetics 4: 211-225.