Friday, 22 May 2015

Mystery flash

VigilThe results of ghost vigils often rest on a small number of unexplained incidents recorded during the session. It is generally understood that 'unexplained' implies possibly, or even probably, paranormal. But could more of these intriguing incidents actually be explained?

This question was not on my mind when I was leaning over to pick something up and saw an orange flash. I was puzzled because I could think of no reason for such a flash. A close examination of the area where the flash came from, a bookcase, revealed nothing that might account for it. The scene was well-lit so I examined every object n the area closely but there was nothing that could conceivably flash, orange or any other colour. It was distinctly odd.

So I tried leaning over again - several times. Nothing happened, at first, but then finally I got the flash again. It was only then that I noticed a steady orange light, a neon power indicator light, in the opposite direction to the flash (from my position). It was clearly the source of the flash. Experiments revealed that the neon was reflecting in the plastic cover of a clock on a bookshelf. Due to the relative positions of objects in the room, the reflection only occurred when my head was in one specific tiny area of space. And moving my head through that precise position made the light appear as a single flash. Mysterious flashes are sometimes reported in ghost vigils.

So the effect was a coincidence, relying on the exact position of the neon, the clock and my head. If any of these things changed, even slightly, the flash effect would never have occurred. In my experience, coincidences are behind many reports of anomalous phenomena. It can be difficult to reproduce exactly the conditions of such events. Not only may it rely on exact positioning but, even worse, on factors that are temporary which may no longer be present when you attempt to reproduce the effect. Suppose, for instance, that the power indicator was on an automated piece of equipment which turned off just after my initial observation. It would then have been very difficult to work out where the light had come from.

So what can be done to improve the chances of explaining strange incidents? In the case of ghost vigils, I think you need to have continuous high quality video recording, ideally from multiple angles, of everything going on. If my 'neon' incident had been recorded, a video might have caught the indicator light even if it turned off before I had a chance to reproduce the incident. Video cameras can also, of course, pick up odd sounds. And if someone reported seeing something that should have been visible to the video camera but was not, it might indicate that the experience was subjective.

Of course, continuous video recording is not an option for the strange incidents we come across in every day life. But maybe it will be in future (see here). In the meantime, it might still be possible to explain strange incidents, even without video cameras, by guessing at, and then testing for, missing temporary factors. In the current example, if the light had gone off I would not have noticed it. But I might, on a careful examination of the area, have deduced that reflection was a possibility and shone a light at the clock, in the dark, to see what it illuminated. I tried this and, yes, when the torch was where my head had been the reflected light picked out the neon indicator!

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