Annoying Myths About The Paranormal

ghostmyths

I’m a bit of a ghost geek and after being a paranormal investigator for over a decade I like to think I know a thing or two about ghosts. That’s why I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Halloween because on one hand “yay spooky times”, but on the other hand, I watch, aghast, as people who know very little about spontaneous phenomena suddenly start telling us the reality of it while really just rehashing old myths.

So, here are four stubborn myths about ghosts that I wish we could finally put to rest.

1 – Ghosts/Spirits are human energy because energy doesn’t die

I’m just going to say it. The first law of thermodynamics does not prove that ghosts are real. Ghost hunters occasionally claim that it does because if energy cannot be destroyed or dissipate then the energy in our bodies when we die must go somewhere, therefore… ghosts. This makes absolutely no sense at all because our bodies don’t just disappear once we’re dead. Things happen to our corpse and the energy in our cells is used in the decomposition process. Everything that makes us mobile relies on exchanges of different energies within our bodies.

This is GCSE science and yet so many people fail to grasp this. Remember in science class how your teacher explained that the sandwich you ate at lunchtime becomes energy that you use to kick a ball? They were right. Remember how the same teacher didn’t talk about some spiritual energy surviving death? Yeah!

If you want to know exactly what happens to your dead, bloating body when you die I recommend reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. Be warned though, it isn’t pretty.

2 – Water attracts ghosts/causes hauntings because water has memory

Lots of so-called experts will tell you that houses with (or near) underground water sources are likely to be haunted and that bathrooms (where there’s lots of plumbing and water) are commonly haunted because of the water.

They are wrong.

The idea has its roots in the Stone Tape Theory that suggests a ghost or spirit can actually be a recording of a thing that happened a long time ago, the energy of which has been recorded in the fabric of the place the haunting is taking place in. In this instance, it would be a body of water or water source.

In fact, when I read John Fraser’s book ‘Ghost Hunting: A Survivor’s guide’ (you can read my review here),  I was shocked to discover that he suggested water had memory and it was this that could cause ghosts to be drawn to it. (Fraser, 2010)

Nope.

Fraser suggests there is circumstantial evidence for this but there isn’t, especially as his circumstantial evidence involves the unscientific method of dowsing. (Fraser, 2010)

Yes. Dowsing, which only works because of ideomotor responses (unconscious muscular movement) which stop when you introduce a double-blind control as Professor Chris French did in this experiment…

Many people base their claim that water has memory on research by Dr Jaques Benveniste but they fail to realise or mention that Benveniste didn’t use a double-blind control is his research which could have (and probably did) bias the conclusions being reached.

The paper by Benveniste was published in Nature in 1988 but one of the conditions for publication was that editor John Maddox and James Randi could supervise a repeat of the experiment. They did, and they found that the assessment of the two types of water involved in the experiment involved a subjective evaluation by a researcher who knew which samples were which. When the protocol was tightened to avoid this the results were not repeated.

Other research by a Dr Emoto suggested that water could remember good or bad things spoken to it and that this would affect the way in which the water froze. However, as Carrie Poppy reported for Skeptical Inquirer, the protocols for these experiments were so lacking that it’d be impossible to replicate them.

‘Apparently, Emoto’s experimental protocols are so lacking as to be unrepeatable, and even the most basic attempts at scientific controls are absent. Regular Skeptical Inquirer contributor Harriet Hall reviewed Emoto’s book about his experiments herself, giving it the honor of “the worst book I have ever read. It is about as scientific as Alice in Wonderland.”’ Carrie Poppy, Skeptical Inquirer, 2014

So, although the idea that events can be recorded and replayed sounds possible and would account for some anomalous reports there really is no supporting evidence for this claim.

3 – More ghosts are seen at Halloween than any other time of the year

I see this claim made so often in the media and by paranormal researchers, especially at this time of the year. There are so many people rushing out to take part in ghost hunting events as a result of this myth and it’s a shame because they could be at home, in the warm, watching their Ghostwatch DVD instead. 

Halloween traditions change depending on where they come from but for many, it was (or is) a time to remember and honour the dead. Others would (or still do) go house to house in costume for food and would carry lanterns with them that represented spirits, or to drive spirits away. 

It was traditionally Christmas or Easter and the Pentecost that was most associated with apparitions of the dead and not All Saints Day or Halloween which was more about keeping the dead away. (Davies, 2007)

According to Owen Davies, ‘Today, Halloween is, of course, most associated with the imitation of ghosts and noisy spirits rather than concerns over their actual appearance.’ (Davies, 2007)

The idea that the spirit realm is somehow closer to that of the living is a nice idea that certainly suits the theme of modern Halloween but, as with many of the myths discussed here, this idea simply doesn’t have any evidence to support it. 

You might be more aware of your strange, ghostly experiences at this time of year because Halloween is so widely commercialised but, in all reality, you’re just as likely to see a ghost in July as you are to see a ghost in October.

4 – The X-box Kinect can detect ghosts

Thanks to US ghost hunting TV show Ghost Adventures, Youtube and ghost hunting websites are full of footage of ghosts captured using Microsoft Kinect, the advanced motion-capture camera that you can use with your Xbox console. 

Unexplained figures that are picked up by the camera are explained away as ghosts but is that really the case? Can this camera detect what the human eye cannot see?

No. It cannot.

The Kinect is capable of near-instant recognition of someone entering its field of view. It can work in complete darkness and detect body heat, facial expressions and your heartbeat (Corriea, 2014).  Yet, the camera isn’t completely accurate as anyone who experienced the failure of the motion control part way through a game will attest to.

Many of these Kinect ghost videos are inevitably hoaxes but a lot of them are also caused by the system picking out familiar shapes and identifying them as human even though they’re probably just shadows, light glare on furniture, or even temperature changes within the room. A bit like thermal imaging cameras do.

If you use the Kinect and stand behind a piece of furniture it will freak out and start trying to find something that looks like your legs. Does this mean you suddenly have ghost legs?

No. It doesn’t.

There is no credible evidence that the Kinect can detect ghosts. These oddities are more likely to just be technological glitches and not other-worldly. Don’t believe the hype. 

 

References

Corriea, A. (2014) ‘Ghosts in the machine? Using the Kinect to hunt for spirits’, Polygon. Available at http://www.polygon.com/halloween/2014/10/30/7079943/kinect-ghost-hunting (Accessed 30 Oct 2016).

Davies, O. (2007) The Haunted, A Social History of Ghosts, Palgrave & Macmillan

Frasher, J (2010) Ghost Hunting: A Survivor’s Guide, The History Press

Mystery Hand Haunts Belfast Mill Workers

the mysterious hand close up

HuffPo have reported that during the creation of a historic gallery by Belfast Live it was noticed that a photo taken in 1900 of some Belfast mill workers shows a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of one of the women.

photo of mill workers
The Mysterious Hand

Sure enough, if you look at the woman seated on the right of the first row of four she has a hand resting upon her shoulder that appears to have no owner. So, is this a ghostly manifestation? Thing from The Addams Family dropping in to say hi? Or does she literally have a disembodied hand sitting there?

the mysterious hand close up
Close up of the hand

As a paranormal researcher of some experience I can tell you that when it comes to photographs nothing is ever what it seems. Many people believe that photo manipulation was born when the modern computer was created but it pre-dates Photoshop by a long, long time. In fact, as soon as the science of photography was perfected for general use people began to manipulate the photographs they were taking.

Usually this was to correct over-exposures and similar issues by fitting two photographic plates together to create one image, other times this would be for comedic or artistic effect. Photograph manipulation was particularly popular among advertising agencies and also, more controversially, for political propaganda – the most noted case of this being Stalin having opponents erased from or added into photos.

stalin photos
Naughty, naughty Stalin…

People also faked ghostly apparitions in their photographs by creating purposeful double exposures which would result in ghostly figures appearing in the photograph alongside the medium or the customer (who was often hoping to contact a deceased loved one.) American spirit photographer William Mumler is by far the most famous employer of this method of trickery, having been caught out and tried in court for fraud.

Mumler photos
Examples of the work of William Mumler

The mysterious hand in the photo of the Belfast mill workers is most likely the result of photo manipulation. I suspect there were other people in the photo who were edited out, with the hand accidentally being left in place – or proving too difficult to erase cleanly. Today we would call this sort of mistake a “photoshop fail” and there are whole web galleries devoted to left behind limbs. Here are some examples:

catalogue photo error
How many hands does this man have?
miley cyrus photo error
Miley Cyrus appears to have a third hand

 

basketball player photo
Extra hands would be useful in basketball, I guess…

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #14

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

This week on in the Weakly Ghost Bulletin I will be using The Hermione Granger Scale of Interesting to rate the stories I cover. You’re welcome.

Is This Video Shot At SS Great Britain Proof Ghosts Exist?

No. It is not.

Firstly, the video is from 2009 and is being reported in 2015 so we can’t rely on the information being reported. Secondly, in the video someone is filming an exhibit on the SS Great Britain which is now based in Bristol. At the start of the video we are told that the voice of a child can be heard saying “shut up” at the 18 second mark and we are told that no child is present at the time of recording. However, when the video starts you can hear what sounds like children talking in the background, as well as the sounds of people moving around the old ship. I can hear someone say something that sounds like “shut up” in a whisper-like voice but there’s nothing about it that sounds child-like to me. It’s probably just someone who was behind the camera speaking without those focussing on what is being filmed realising it.

On The Hermione Granger Scale of Interesting this story is: Boring.

Ghost In Photo Sparks Supernatural Mystery

supernatural mystery - ghost app

The Welwyn Hatfield Times reports that ‘Vicky Mills was lying on her sofa when her grandson took a picture of her on his phone last Friday. It was only when then looked at it that they noticed the figure. Standing in the doorway to the front room is the figure of what appears to be a woman.’

Oh yes. Another Smartphone Ghost hoax. Pretty unoriginal by now though, to be honest. But wait…

‘Vicky said: “It’s so clear, down to the hand on the arm of the sofa. “I know you can get apps to create these effects but the phone had nothing like that on it.”’

I’ll believe that when I see the exif data from the photo. Until then, if it looks like a smartphone hoax, smells like a smartphone hoax and barks like a smartphone hoax… know what I’m saying?

On The Hermione Granger Scale of Interesting this story is: tedious.

Woman Takes Creepy Photo Of A Ghostly Figure In A Bar

photo at spirit fair

According to the Daily Fail ‘A photographer has been left spooked after capturing a chilling image on her camera of what appeared to be a ghostly figure standing on an empty floor by a bar. And to make the image more eerie, Felicity Cole, from Tasmania, was working at a spiritual, wellbeing, and positive energy-themed event.’

Oh boy.

The photo looks like the camera was simply set on long exposure and someone walked through the room and that’s what we’re seeing. Only… ‘Ms Cole told Daily Mail Australia her camera was set to a slow shutter speed – on a slow exposure – but what she captured has left everyone baffled. ‘On a slow exposure, if a person walked in front of the camera, they would look streamlined and it would show the whole body,’ Ms Cole told Daily Mail Australia. ‘But you can only see what seems to be legs and no upper cut.”

Erm, that happens sometimes but it depends on the settings used. Long/time exposure photography involves a long-duration shutter speed which helps capture stationary elements clearly and sharply while blurring moving elements. If someone moved through a photo set-up quickly you’d should expect to see something like the photo above, whereas if the moving elements of the photo were constant (stars in the night sky or water running over rocks) they’d be more consistent while still being distorted in appearance.

On The Hermione Granger Scale of Interesting this story is: You tried.

 

Hope you enjoyed this week’s Bulletin. If you spot a rubbish paranormal news story why not send me a Tweet? Please also consider supporting the video series exploring the paranormal that I’m currently planning over on Indiegogo. Every donation will help!

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #10

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

Can you spot the ghost at the Galleries of Justice Museum?

notthingham ghost 1

Frankly? No. I can see what looks like a squished up face but years of watching Ghost Webcams as a teenager tells me that this is the pixellation of the photo causing an illusion. This is called the Pareidolia effect.

I really like the Galleries of Justice Museum in Nottingham. I visited years ago prior to delivering my first ever talk to Skeptics in the Pub in the city. I was one of two or three visitors in the whole museum (it was quite late in the day) and the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. It was a sombre experience and it’s easy to see how walking around the building in the dark would make you think any little noise or movement could be a ghost.

Galleries of Justice ghost sighting3In the article staff from the Museum say they receive up to ten photos a year from visitors who think they’ve captured a ghost. They include one taken just outside of the hanging exhibition (left) that looks like a figure, but it’s hard to tell what it could be. An exhbit or display? Another person? A shadow?

One thing I know for sure is that the hanging exhibition properly frightened me during my visit. I was completely alone and walked into the room just as a mannequin was noisily dropped from a mock gallows as a recreation of the hanging process. I can remember running out of the room because I hadn’t expected to see someone moving or the noise because I knew I was alone in that section. I suspected at the time that this was motion activated. It doesn’t surprise me that people take photos in this area or in this location and see ghosts or strange figures in them because I fully suspect that we, as visitors to such a sombre Museum, are primed to see such things here without realising it and both photos above are from this within this display. After my fright I was on edge for the rest of my time in the museum, so much so that when I crossed paths with another living human I got yet another fright.

Stupid instincts.

Spooky footage reveals GHOST wandering through 250-year-old former church

This “oddity” has apparently promoted the owner of this restaurant to call in ghost hunters but I’d like to be a bit more proactive about it and would like to suggest an alternative title for this news story above the video above:

Footage reveals insect crawling on lens of CCTV camera bizarrely pointed directly at light source

little mermaid facepalm gif

A Critical Look At The Black Eyed Child Of Cannock’s Chase

The Daily Star

The Birmingham Mail broke the news and the Daily Star followed up with a front page story: The Black-Eyed child ghost has returned to Cannock’s Chase, taking up residence once again with the Hell Hounds, a Werewolf, a Pig-man (human-pig hybrid), Bigfoot, Alien Big Cats, Aliens, and the plethora of phantoms and ghosts said to roam the area.

…excessive, don’t you think?

Lee Brickley is the investigator at the centre of this story because of a report he received from a member of the public who sighted what has been described as a black-eyed child. The woman wrote to Brickley

‘… I turned round and saw a girl stood behind me, no more than 10 years old, with her hands over her eyes, like she was waiting for a birthday cake. I asked if she was okay and if she had been the one screaming, she then put her arms down by her side and opened her eyes, which is when I saw they were completely black, no iris, no white, nothing. I jumped back and grabbed my daughter, when I looked again, the child was gone.’

website screenprint one

The report of the sighting was received by Brickley prior to July 17th 2013. Why the current coverage of it is appearing over a year later I don’t know. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with Halloween being around the corner and having a book about the weird side of Cannock’s Chase to sell. I’m sure that’s purely a coincidence.

The image at the top of the report on Brickley’s website reads ‘I Want Your Soul’ accompanied by an eerie picture of a little girl with black eyes and there is no critical evaluation of what he has been told. For me, this is an indication of just how seriously we should take Brickley as an investigator. In the ten-or-so years that I’ve been researching paranormal sightings I have come into contact with many people who somehow blur the line between fiction and reality and allow what they see in horror storeis to come off of the page and influence what conclusions they find in real life. It’s hearing cats fighting and claiming “it’s Pipes the poltergeist” when it’s just cats, it’s receiving word of a sighting of this nature and claiming “they’re heeeee-re” when they’re not…

The acceptance of one eye-witness testimony as evidence of something paranormal is another indicator of just how seriously we should take Brickley as an investigator. Eye-witness testimony counts for nothing when it comes to alleged paranormal activity. As a paranormal researcher myself I turn down case after case because there isn’t enough to go on – just word of mouth.

In the case of the Black-eyed child ghost there is the testimony from just one person and who knows what may have happened there. The most obvious explanation for what they reported is that they’re making it up, but it would be unfair of me to say that was definitely what happened here. If this case had been reported to me I would have chalked it up as interesting and would have left it at that. We could speculate until the cows come home, but there’s little point because there’s hardly anything to go on…

…that didn’t stop Brickley though, and I’m not surprised. I reviewed his book when it first came out after he sent me a request asking that I do so and I found it a bitterly disappointing read. In the review that I wrote I noted that ‘as soon as I began to read the book any excitement I’d held before turned into slight disappointment because throughout, the quality of the book is often let down by Brickley’s biased narrative and irrational leaps of logic.’

The leaps of logic in the book are infuriating and so I wasn’t surprised to discover Brickley once again waving around an eye-witness report as evidence that Cannock’s Chase is paranormally interesting. I am disappointed though, especially considering the fact that The Daily Star have tried to link up this eye-witness account with the murders of three children in the area that took place in the 1960’s.

The paper shows photos of the murdered children
The Daily Star

Their report states

‘In the late 1960’s, the remains of three young girls were found buried in woodland at Cannock Chase. Motor engineer Raymond Leslie Morris was found guilty of murdering Christina Ann Darby, seven, in 1969 and jailed for life. There was not enough evidence to convict him of the murder of Margaret Reynolds, six, and Diana Joy Tift, five.’

I like a good ghost story as much as the next person, but casually linking a sighting of this nature with the murders of children is crossing a line. It needlessly exploits a tragedy for the sake of making a story spookier and it creates the narrative that the souls of these children are not at rest which can be very distressing for surviving relates.

If anyone who knew the children that were killed should somehow discover this blog post I want to assure you that there is no good evidence that the supposed child ghost reported to Lee Brickley in the Cannock’s Chase area is anything to do with the girls. It is very unlikely that their spirits are wandering the area screaming, and I am sorry that people have suggested so. If you want to discuss this you can contact me and I am more than happy to talk.

There is little doubt that this news coverage will shift some books and attract legend-trippers to the Cannock’s Chase area, and good for them I say. Yet, there’s a tackiness about the stories that come out of the area that reek of a desperation to stay interesting. “Experts Baffled” cried the Daily Star, but I’m not quite sure they understand who qualifies as an expert in this subject. Perhaps if they’d actually read Brickley’s book they’d have reconsidered going to print?