06/15/14

The Research Phenomenon

If history has taught us anything, it’s that being wrong is normal but also that anyone who stubbornly holds on to a particular concept without the willingness to change stands a fair chance of growing obsolete as the rest of the ‘thinking’ world moves forward. The study of anomalous phenomena is certainly no exception to that rule, but unfortunately when you’re dealing with the unknown, what’s right and what’s wrong isn’t always so clearly defined and that’s where the quality and diversity of your own research is vital to justifying your theoretical position.

When I started my research nearly a decade ago I, like most people adopted the rationale of the popular perception. I was inexperienced and uneducated to what had become a  monumental task at hand and so, initially, I followed the path I was shown. “Ghost Hunters” had just hit it big on television and the world exploded with thousands of paranormal team’s armed with gear and concepts, that for the most part, they didn’t really understand.  Still, they carried on hell bent on capturing that elusive golden flag – proof – and possibly scoring an element of popularity (maybe even a television appearance) in the process.

The caveat to that endeavor is that in the non-conventional science realm “proof” is sort of a dirty word. The truth is, unless you can get the activity to repeat on demand for all to see, the best you can ever hope for is “supporting evidence”. The preponderance of that evidence is the big vat from which so many people draw their conclusions, but proof has yet to be found.

My first exposure to the paranormal research world came a midst my research for a documentary film I was making at the time called “14 Degrees”. The dozens of investigation teams and individuals I encountered during that time painted a fairly clear picture of the current “state of the union” and as inexperienced as I was, what I saw was quite a disappointment.

Nearly everyone I encountered seemed to be mimicking what they saw on television. They used the same equipment, had the same theories, and used the same techniques. All in homage to their Sci-Fi television leaders, one group even carried around a plunger in tribute to Jason & Grant (the founders of our proverbial feast).  I couldn’t help but think “How could any discoveries be made under these conditions?”  Nobody was breaking any new ground. No one was really trying anything different or thinking outside what was clearly a very defined and restricting box.

It  was clear to me that what I was witnessing were not researchers, but thrill seekers who were simply there for the experience. Even worse was the foundation (or lack thereof) of their pseudo “research”. Hardly anyone could tell me anything about the history behind the principles and claims that they not only followed but would publicly TEACH at seminars and conventions.

I admit I was disillusioned and disappointed by the experience. I had always thought there was so much more to being a researcher than just copying what you see on television… and as it turns out…I was right.

In the world of paranormal research there is a clear divide between the serious and supercilious and the most important qualification is understanding.  Not an understanding of the legendary hokum handed down through generations, not an understanding of the popular concepts of what makes up a “haunting”, not an understanding of demons, ghosts, angels, poltergeists or which hyped up divining gadget works best, but a good thorough, unbiased understanding of the real world (not your perception of the world), the physics behind it and above all the fallible, inaccurate, emotional beast that is the human element.

Over the next month (June) I will be publishing a 4 part series on the tangible scientific elements of paranormal research.

In the coming weeks I will present the following:

  • A history of study – Some of the popular and productive experiments and studies of the 20th century.
  • Elements of human perception and how understanding the behavioral processes of human mind can adversely affect the outcome of your research.
  • The various aspects of the technological approach as applied to field research & why most modern equipment just isn’t good enough.
  • The application of critical thinking and identifying the potential for misconception.

Stay tuned…

04/26/14

The Philip Experiment – Can You Create Your Own Haunting?

Disclaimer:  The article shown here is for information purposes only. Para-Boston does not specifically recommend or condone the use of séances as a tool for investigative research.

Some paranormal researchers theorize that some ghostly manifestations and poltergeist activity (footsteps, door slams, moving objects) are products of the human mind.  In the early 1970s, a Canadian-based group set out to test the theory by conducting a fascinating experiment. The Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) wanted to see if they could create a ghost.  They wanted to get a core group together to concoct a fictional character and then conduct séances to see if they could contact him and receive messages from him. They theorized if they were really lucky maybe they’d see an apparition.

They “invented” a spirit named Philip.  Would you believe Philip actually made contact with them through a series of possible psychokinetic phenomena? Read on…

Dr. A.R.G. Owen, the leader of this study group in the TSPR, gathered eight people from their membership. All claimed to not be pychics. This group, often called the Owen Group, were comprised of the good doctor’s wife, an accountant, a designer, a housewife, a bookkeeper and a sociology student. Also there was a psychologist, Dr. Joel Whitton, in attendance as an observer.

To create the fictional “Philip Aylesford”, as a group they began Phase One: Creating Philip’s Life. They wrote a short biography about him. He was an English aristocrat who lived in the mid-1600s. He was a supporter of the King, and was a Catholic. He married the Dorothea, daughter of a neighboring nobleman. She was a beautiful, but cold and frigid wife.

One day Philip was riding on the boundaries of his estates and he came across a gypsy encampment and saw Margo. She was a beautiful dark-eyed gypsy girl who he fell instantly in love with. He brought her back to his land, secretly, to live in the gatehouse near the stables of his family home -Diddington Manor.

He managed to keep this a secret from Dorothea for awhile, but eventually she figured out he was keeping someone in there, she found Margo and Dorothea accused her of Witchcraft. She also accused her of stealing her husband. Philip was afraid of losing his reputation, his wealth and possessions if he protested, so Margo went to trial and she was convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake.

Talk about guilt. Philip was overwhelmed with remorse that he never spoke up to defend Margo. He used to pace the battlements of Diddington in utter despair. Then one morning his body was found at the bottom of the battlements. It was assumed that he threw himself in after a fit of agony and remorse. He died at 30 years old.

The Owen group called upon one of their members with artistic talents to sketch a portrait of Philip. Now the Owen Group was ready. They had an image and a detailed background which was firmly set in their minds to focus on and they were ready for Phase Two of their experiment – Making Contact With Philip.

In September 1972, the group began their “sittings”. These were informal meetings in which they would discuss Philip and his life, they would meditate on him and focus to try to visualize their “collective hallucination” in greater detail. These sittings were conducted in a fully lit room and went on for about a year. Nothing happened. Some group members would occasionally claim they felt a presence in the room, but it was just a personal experience and there was no result they could consider any kind of communication from Philip.

Then they changed their strategy and began conducting classic spiritualistic séances. They lowered the room’s lights, sat around a table, sang songs and surrounded themselves with objects from Philip’s time period, pictures of the type of castle they imagined he would have lived in, etc.

That worked! One evening, during a séance, the group received its first communication from Philip in the form of a distinct knock on the table. Soon Philip was answering questions asked by the group – one knock for yes, two for no. They assumed the communication came from Philip because, they were attempting to communicate with only him.

The sessions escalated and produced a range of phenomena that couldn’t be explained scientifically. The group was able to learn more details about Philip’s life through the table-knocking communication. It appeared as if he had a personality and he conveyed his likes and dislikes and his point-of-view on various topics. This was deduced by how quick and enthusiastic, or plain, his knocking responses were. They joked with Philip, teased him, even flirted with him.  When Philip was asked if Dorothea, his wife, didn’t want children, the group heard scratching sounds coming from the walls. One member asked if the question was too personal and one loud rap was heard (a strong Yes!) His “spirit” was eventually able to move the table and slide it from side (even though it was on a carpeted floor). Sometimes the table would “dance” on one leg.

Philip was a creation of the group’s collective imagination and had his limitations. He accurately answered questions about events and people of his time period, but it did not appear to be information that the group was unaware of: meaning Philip’s responses were coming from the group’s subconscious – their own minds. At some point some members thought they heard whispers in response to certain questions, but no whisper was ever caught on their audio recordings. Dr. Owen later stated that if the entire team were in agreement to the answer to a question, the responses would come very quickly but if one or more people were uncertain in the answer then Philip’s responses would be hesitant, taking some time to reply.

There was no explanation for Philip’s amazing psychokinetic powers. If the group asked Philip to dim the lights, they would instantly dim. When asked to brighten back the lights they would brighten instantly as well. The table that the group sat around was quite often the focal point of odd phenomena. They felt a cool breeze blow across the table and asked Philip if he could make it to start and stop. Yes he could and he did so. The group observed that the feel of the table was different to the touch whenever Philip was in their presence — it felt electric or “alive”. There were a few times when a fine mist formed over the center of the table. Quite unbelievably the group claimed that the table would sometimes be so animated that it would quickly slide over to meet latecomers to the session, and sometimes even “trap” members in the corner of the room!

The climax of the Philip Experiment was a séance conducted before a live audience of 50 people. This session was also filmed as part of a television documentary. Philip performed above expectations. There were table knockings, odd noises in the room, lights blinking off and on, and the table became fully levitated. It only rose a half inch above the floor, but this incredible feat was witnessed by the group and the film crew. Because the lighting was dim at this point – the levitation was not caught on film.

In a later session during an especially active night, one of the members jokingly told Philip that he could be sent away and replaced. After that, Philip’s activity began to decrease until it stopped altogether and the experiment was stopped.

The Philip Experiment was a success in all ways but one – the spirit of Philip never materialized into an apparition.

Because the Philip Experiment was such a success, the Toronto organization decided to try it again with a completely different group of people and a new fictional character. After just five weeks, this new group established “contact” with their new “spirit,” Lilith, a French-Canadian spy. Other similar experiments conjured up such entities as a medieval alchemist named Sebastian, and a man from the future named Axel. All were completely fictional, yet all produced unexplained communication through their unique knockings.

A group in Sydney Australia attempted a similar test with “the Skippy Experiment.” Six members created the story of Skippy Cartman, a 14-year-old Australian girl. The group reports that Skippy communicated with them through knockings and scratching sounds.

Conclusion

What the heck does one conclude about these experiments? A hoax? Real communication with a made up character? Real communication with another spirit posing as the character?  There is no such thing as hauntings – just a psychokinetic manifestations of our minds? One thing is for certain – the experiment did not and can not prove that there are no ghosts.

In any case, the what the experiments did prove is that paranormal phenomena are quite real. These experiments leave us with more questions than answers about the world in we live in.

Want to try and create your own experimental ghost? British psychologist Kenneth Batcheldor and engineer Colin Brookes-Smith, back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, developed a methodology for educating psychokinesis as a group-skill, to provide phenomena for their research on the physical operating-mechanisms of psychokinesis. The key parts of their methodology was published in the Journal of the (British) Society for Psychical Research, Vol.47, No.756

Below from the June 1973 pages 69-89 are notes adapted from Batcheldor’s “List of Rules for Sitters”.

1. At least three but not more than six sitters 
2. Only those capable of friendly co-operation 
3. No extreme sceptics seeking convincing evidence 
4. No inflexible Spiritualists or scientists 
5. Both sexes, no age limit 
6. Agree to meet once a week at the same place and time 
7. Use a comfortable living room with familiar surroundings 
8. Sit in any preferred order 
9. Use the dimmest possible light tolerable without discomfort (unless extremely confident of success in stronger light) 
10. Use total darkness for advanced phenomena (unless unusually confident of success in dim light) 
11. Hands on table – not necessarily touching each other 
12. Never change conditions even slightly, unless this is essential to relieve tension or increase expectancy 
13. Avoid arguments – sense and resolve even covert disagreements about procedure 
14. Avoid immobility of posture – move freely, behave naturally 
15. Don’t worry about accidentally imparting movement to the table 
16. Be relaxed – engage in light-hearted talk, jokes and laughter 
17. Smoke initially or during breaks if you wish 
18. Avoid long silences and boredom 
19. Be patient, just wait calmly and cheerfully without irritation 
20. Don’t comment on the time, weather or topical news 
21. Don’t become too interested in any particular conversation 
22. Don’t say or think anything that implies doubt 
23. Don’t do anything that implies or arouses doubt 
24. Don’t perform tests or impose controls in half-hearted belief 
25. Don’t try to ‘will’ the phenomena 
26. Cultivate an attitude of serene confidence 
27. Avoid all thoughts of any particular experiment ‘failing’ 
28. Avoid both long-term skepticism and ‘instant’ doubt 
29. Don’t explain away every little happening 
30. Don’t express (surprise or) astonishment at any PK display 
31. Don’t concentrate your gaze – even in the dark – where PK is imminent 
32. Don’t focus your thoughts analytically on specific phenomena 
33. Encourage a generalized idea or image of the experimental task 
34. Don’t apply critical analysis during or after a PK display 
35. Keep your mind in ‘neutral’ – be an uncritical observer 
36. ‘Pigeon-hole’ your observations for future consideration 
37. Let the spokesman give all the commands 
38. Use wording unambiguous in its intention 
39. Use a tone of voice implying unquestioned obedience 
40. Don’t comment on or distract attention from specific commands 
41. Start with what seems easy and plausible 
42. Grade the tasks commanded 
43. Maintain plausibility throughout the experiments 
44. Practice each step sufficiently – but don’t let it become tedious 
45. Don’t hurry the steps – wait for each response 
46. Go back one step if no response is forthcoming 
47. Don’t repeatedly call for something not forthcoming 
48. Revive interest and excitement by some free uncommanded action 
49. Call ‘STOP’ if free activity ignores commands, then regain obedience 
50. Briefly express approval for successfully performed tasks 
51. Don’t consult ‘the table’ on procedure or theories 
52. Don’t ask for spiritistic messages 
53.A void being led astray by the offer of prizes 

[The above table is copyright ©1970 Kenneth Batcheldor.] 

Happy haunting!

03/25/14

Trigger Objects

Sometimes in paranormal investigating, the use of trigger objects are thought to be useful. A trigger object is an object either owned by the deceased person in question or something of their time period. The theory is that it may illicit activity, communication or perhaps the trigger object may move. It is also referred to as the Singapore Theory. The theory is based on familiarization and if the spirits occupying the location are familiar with the object or music, etc – they will be more drawn to it and possibly become more “active”. The ultimate goal is that this process is so effective and stimulating – that the end result is an apparition.

We have brought an orange to an old Colonial house in Coventry CT both because the homeowners thought an orange they had in the house kept showing up in odd places and because an orange was a rarity, like a gift, back in the Colonial times.

We have used a family Bible, a toy ball, stuffed animals, an old Sanitarium bedsheet, we have played various period music, and tried many experiments using many trigger objects.

There are many ghost hunting techniques out there and we use a multitude of approaches custom-fit to each and every investigation.

Objects already found on the location of the paranormal investigation which the homeowner’s state have already moved on their own are  ideal trigger objects. Of course there is no guarantee, but it is one of the best situations to test the theory. Also ideal is if the object belonged to, or held some significance to the spirit when alive.

It is often thought that getting the personal item of the spirit that has been known to move in the past is the goal. Don’t limit yourself to just that. There may be other personal items on-site that belonged to the spirit when alive: jewelry, coins, clothes, books, furniture, toys (avoid battery, activated or computer chip toys that can react on their own and be incorrectly thought to react because of a spirit), photos, religious items, war memorabilia, etc.  Some theorize that metal objects (coins, jewelry etc) may store and conduct energy. I have never run across this – but there are many stories of movement of human vices like tobacco, drinks, cigars, pipes.

No one knows if the spirits are a residual haunting (they don’t know you are there, but they or their energy are caught in time) or if they are intelligent (they know you are there and can communicate).

When using trigger objects keep in mind the environment. Is it somewhere sturdy? Will it get bumped? Is the floor slanted so the ball will roll? Is there an open window, an air vent or draft? Put the trigger object on a piece of paper and draw an outline around it and videotape the entire process. You may think something moved but it hasn’t or maybe the homeowner’s unsocial pet bumped it while you were out of the room. We’ve used devices that detect a floor’s vibration to rule out various situations (nearby trains, construction, etc) that may cause slight movement.

There are many theories and they are largely operating on hypothetical principles about what “ghosts” are and how they can operate in our physical realm.  Whatever the case, all we can do is try to illicit activity in as controlled environment as possible and as scientifically as possible. Happy hunting and let me know what types of trigger objects you have used and what happened! I’d love to hear about it.

03/13/14

Studying Human Energy Transference: A Paranormal Analysis

qi gongSince 2004, the New England Center for the Advancement of Paranormal Studies (NECAPS) has been  involved with a multitude of studies including: Phonetic Pattern Calculations in Electronic Voice Phenomena, Electro-magnetic Transference, Electromagnetic Effects on Human Perceptions, Exploring Claims of Psychic Abilities, Understanding Human Misperceptions as well as claims of paranormal activity and human abilities.

As investigators with the New England Center for the Advancement of Paranormal Science (NECAPS), we are often contacted by individuals who would like a location investigated for paranormal activity. We approach self-proclaimed “psychics” and request their participation with our testing of their “abilities, but not surprisingly, none have elected to to be tested – to date. Imagine our excitement when we were contacted in late 2013 by an individual who claimed to have the power to transfer his energy to another human being.

“Fei” a 31 year old student from China studying in Boston, Massachusetts was eager to have his “power” tested and was willing to undergo any amount of examination and scrutiny. He wanted testing performed to both validate his claims of “Qi” energy transference and to determine if he possesses the ability to “heal”, or reduce pain symptoms in another person.

Qi, or biomagnetism, is thought to be a bioelectric current, or life energy field, measured in biophotons running through our nerves which send signals back and forth to our brains.

After researching similar claims of “energy healing”, we determined that Qigong, purportedly an energy flow one uses through non-contact to guide their body’s energy force into the body of another person, is the closest “energy transference” practice as that of Fei.

On November 16, 2013, we had our second meeting with Fei and we interviewed him further.  we also performed a series of energy flow experiments with him on that day. In an effort to prevent a placebo effect, several systems were put into place to lower the possibility of bias in the results.

We used a variety of equipment to measure EEG (electroencephalogram), respiratory rate, heart rate, galvanic skin response and blood pressure on three test volunteers. Additionally, we used blindfolds, ear plugs, thermal photography, a video camera and a control subject . Each of the three blindfolded and soundproofed volunteers had baseline readings performed before, during and after each test. There was a noticeable change concerning the galvanic skin response and thermal photos in two of the three test subjects. Skin conductivity decreased from 320KOhms to 440KOhms and the series of thermal photos appear to show a different heat response between Fei, Michael (the Control Subject), as well as two of the three volunteers.

Reports of feeling “tingling”, “static” and “heaviness” in the hand and fingertips were the most common descriptive terms used to describe the sensation during this non-skin contact testing from the two test volunteers..

There were periods of not feeling anything, including when Michael, our Control Subject, mimicked what Fei was doing. Also reported was a slight residual tingling sensation that continued for approximately 30 minutes after the testing was completed.

Upon the conclusion of the testing, thermal imaging photographic evidence was reviewed and a preliminary analysis seems to corroborate the instances that a sensation was felt during the instances that Fei was conducting his “energy transference”. The thermal images of his hands and the test subject’s hands before, during and after the sessions showed this correlation. These pictures appear to show that two of the test subject’s hands were cool, then got hotter when Fei conducted his energy transference, then got cooler after he was done, and stayed cooler when Michael did his placebo energy transference. Also interesting to note is that the third test subject felt nothing and her hands thermal images did not change during or after both Fei’s testing and Michael our Control Subject’s testing.

Though this November trial showed changes in skin conductivity and heat response, no definitive conclusions could yet be reached.

Meta-analysis shows that evidence for the effectiveness of external qigong is encouraging, though further studies are warranted due to the small number of studies and participants involved which precluded any firm conclusions about the specific effects of qigong on pain.

In addition, vast amounts of quantitative data, as well as qualitative data collected on studies demonstrate impressive effects of this life energy in: accelerating bone repair, controlling seizures, stimulating nerve regeneration, suppressing inflammation and promoting healing of wounds, and elimination of infections, warts, tumors, lesions, and other diseased tissue.

Another session is being scheduled to carry out a stricter experiment where we intend on testing Fei’s ability to detect pain areas on test subjects as well as testing Fei’s claims of his healing abilities.