Monday, 1 September 2014

Paranormal signatures

No duckWhat 'signature' would a strange incident need to have to be considered paranormal? I would say it should appear to defy the currently known laws of science. I think most people would probably agree with that. People don't actually talk about 'paranormal signatures' so I had to think of a term to describe the concept, making it easier to discuss.

I think we all have an idea of what the paranormal looks like, probably based largely on media representations. Certain 'paranormal signatures' appear to have become generally recognized without anyone ever defining them. For instance, something that appears in a photograph which was not seen by the photographer at the time of exposure. While this could be a sign of something paranormal going on it also happens to be a key characteristic of photographic artefacts. Of the many thousands of anomalous photos I've personally examined, the overwhelming majority were, as far as I could determine, photographic artefacts. That being the case, this particular signature would appear to be rather unreliable as an indicator of the paranormal.

DuckAnother paranormal signature that appears to be commonly accepted is the one concerning multiply witnessed ghosts. If a whole group of witnesses all describe seeing the same ghost it certainly can't be a hallucination. However, it could be a real person in a place where no expects them to be! But what about cases where some people in a group of witnesses see the ghost while others don't? That still rules out hallucinations, if two or more people describe seeing the same thing. And if the remaining witnesses see nothing unusual, that pretty much rules out a normal person too! So it must be paranormal, right?

In fact, some witnesses seeing something unusual while others do not is also a signature of misperception. That's because people vary a lot in whether they notice misperceptions or not. In a group of witnesses it is likely that some people may see a human figure (and agree on its features) while others will see only a tree! So, again, we have a signature that, while commonly recognised, may not be a reliable way of detecting the paranormal after all.

What about seemingly completely obvious signatures such as an object observed flying through the air in a poltergeist case? Well, in many cases the witness did not see the object take off, so it is possible that it fell or was thrown. It turns out that many of these widely accepted paranormal signatures actually have significant flaws. It seems that, just because you see something that apparently defies the laws of science, it isn't necessarily paranormal after all.

PS: The photos? Well, if you saw one of these scenes with your naked eye but your camera recorded the other, that would seem like a possible indication of the paranormal at work. In fact, the upper photo took mere seconds to edit from from lower one!

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