Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Odd UFO

UFOI took this photo of a strange object in the sky recently. It is NOT a cloud or a balloon but it is definitely flying in the sky. The photo is unedited except for some cropping to remove lots of white empty sky around the object. So what exactly is it?

The big clue is that the photo is overexposed. The sky was grey but not pure white as shown here. Another clue is that the shutter speed was very slow - 1/6s. At that shutter speed is was impossible to avoid overexposure given the brightness of the sky.

The object is, in fact, a helicopter, though you'd hardly know it. The strange shape is caused by the motion of the helicopter during the 1/6s exposure. The photo below is an aircraft taken in similar circumstances with UFOthe same exposure time of 1/6s. This time it has more of a classic flying saucer shape, though it is not quite symmetrical.

I haven't come across any UFO photos that resemble these. However, I think it it entirely possible that someone could take such a photo by accident and think it a UFO. Maybe they already have. With a different lens (one that can get down to a lower f-number) it might be possible to obtain a photo that is not so overexposed. The white 'fog' effect produced by overexposure hides details that might otherwise make it obvious what the object really is.

One important point to note is that, for these photos, the plane needed to be at quite a low altitude. A typical location for such a photo might therefore be near an airport. You might think the photographer would realise they were taking a photo of a nearby plane. However, if the plane was in the background of a photo it might not be noticed. And even the plane was noticed at the time of exposure, this might be forgotten when the photo is examined much later.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

More amplified hearing

Crows in a treeWhen an unlikely phenomenon happens just once you have to wonder if it could be a case of faulty memory or rare coincidence. So it was comforting for my acquaintance (MA) who gets MWRs to have a previously unique experience repeated several weeks later.

In the latest incident, MA was sitting at one end of a room while someone was eating a meal at the other. MA could hear the distant sound of crockery and utensils occasionally knocking together. Then, quite suddenly, the sound was much louder. MA was shocked, having not seen anyone approaching, with or without crockery!

It turned out that the person eating was still in the distance and the sound returned to its normal level as soon as MA came out of a MWR. So, clearly the louder sound was produced by the MWR. It parallels an earlier experience (described here). In that incident MA was suddenly able to hear every word of a conversation previously barely audible. So this appears to be another case of what I'm calling 'amplified hearing'.

Last time this happened I mentioned two possible explanations for the effect. One was that the MWR simply produced a fictitious version of the amplified noise, a mini-dream produced by MA's own brain. The second was that the MWR state might really amplify the actual sounds, perhaps by filtering out background noise. Unfortunately, the latest example does not resolve the issue. The cutlery sound might still have been real or fictitious. The latest incident does, however, suggest that the effect is a repeatable phenomenon, not just a one-off oddity.

Apart from appearing to be a paranormal phenomenon, despite having a natural explanation, the effect could have real life applications (assuming the second explanation above is true). If someone who gets MWRs needed to hear a faint sound, without any electronic equipment, maybe they could just go into a MWR. This brings up the question of whether it is possible to actually induce a MWR to order. It is not too difficult to create situations conducive to MWRs. Sitting quietly, reading is a good one, for instance. However, at present, the onset of any individual MWR appears unpredictable, to MA at least. And sometimes in such situations MA goes into an ordinary snooze instead, which is no use whatsoever.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Is witness testimony valuable?

ASSAPIn this month that marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of ASSAP's foundation I am, once again, musing on what has changed over the organization's lifetime. I am particularly interested in the role of witness testimony this time.

I cannot speak for other ASSAP members but I have seen my attitude towards witness testimony change hugely over ASSAP's lifetime. In the early days I initially took witness testimony on anomaly cases more or less at face value. However, research showed (see here for instance) that witness memory is a fragile and unreliable thing. It can be altered by such things as how someone is interviewed or the opinions of friends. Once such false memories are formed, they replace the originals forever.

So just how reliable are witness reports of anomalous phenomena? Taking ghosts as an example, they are remarkably consistent which is a point in their favour. And more importantly, they are consistently different to the talking, transparent ghosts of fiction and the movies. This suggests that some ghost reports, at least, are describing something real and not just the product of a collective cultural imagination.

Another factor in favour of the reliability of witness testimony is that independent witnesses often report the same ghosts at the same location on different occasions, despite being unaware of any previous reports. Then there are ghosts witnessed by multiple observers at the same time. In theses cases witnesses sometimes agree about what was seen and sometimes disagree, with some people seeing nothing unusual at all. Such multiple witness events imply a cause that is not strictly subjective. There is, of course, a xenonormal cause for some ghosts to be seen by independent and multiple witnesses - misperception - which certainly accounts for many such reports.

In recent years I've started to have my own regular strange experiences, most of which are documented in this blog. In my case, I have invariably tried to record and investigate, where possible, my own experiences immediately. Obviously this is important as the factors that may contribute towards a sighting of something unusual may quickly be lost. I have seen ghosts, people disappearing, UFOs, strange animals and other weird things. I have, in every case so far, found xenonormal causes for my sighting. However, without an immediate investigation, which few other witnesses would ever attempt, such causes could easily have been missed.

What struck me about my own experiences is this - they could have been taken as paranormal by many other witnesses had they seen the same thing. Had I reported these events as paranormal, they would have sounded no different to many other cases that investigators deal with all the time. My point is that just because a witness reports something extraordinary, we cannot assume they didn't experience exactly what they said they did! However, neither can assume that what they experienced was paranormal.

So, after thirty-five years my attitude towards witness testimony is that it IS useful but must be treated with caution.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Instruments on ghost vigils

ASSAPTwo days ago it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of ASSAP's foundation. Such days inevitably make me think of the 'old days'. For instance, ASSAP has always been enthusiastic about using instruments on ghost vigils. But we never envisaged how their use would become so extensive nor how they would used.

In the early days of ASSAP (I feel terribly old writing that) there were three main ideas about instrumenting ghost vigils. One was, obviously, to try to record ghosts and haunting phenomena. So cameras were a priority as well as such things as thermometers to capture possible 'cold spots'. A second use of instruments was to ensure controls were in place to avoid accidental human intervention, by investigators for instance. So motion detectors were a priority there.

The third use for instruments was rather different. Then, as now, there was no compelling evidence that ghosts are spirits. An idea quite widely accepted by researchers then was that of 'recording ghosts'. Briefly, this says that ghosts are actually 'recordings' of some past human activity somehow captured on the local environment and 'replayed' by witnesses. One of the reasons for the popularity of recording ghosts then was the existence of 'haunting hot spots'. A haunted building does not typically exhibit haunting phenomenon in all areas. Instead it is concentrated in particular rooms, or even parts of rooms, where the same phenomenon is recorded repeatedly, often by independent witnesses. This clearly fits in with the idea of something being recorded in those hot spots.

The 'third use' of instruments was therefore to see if there was anything 'different' about these haunting hot spots compared to other places nearby. The idea was to deploy a range of environmental monitoring instruments over a long period of time to see if any differences appeared. The range of instruments was limited only by what was available. Sadly the 'third use' was never really developed for many reasons, mainly practical.

As it turns out, there is another possible explanation for haunting hot spots besides recording ghosts. Misperception relies on certain objects, or a configuration of objects, that can be seen as human figures in the correct conditions. Many such objects, like trees for instance, are static so obviously the same ghost is going to be misperceived at the same place from time to time, usually to different witnesses.

There may be other causes of haunting hot spots. Certain magnetic fields may, for instance, cause hallucinations and these may be tied to a specific location. There has been some preliminary research in this area that has showed promise but lots more needs to be done to verify it. Until then I would say it is a possibility worth examining rather than a definite phenomenon.

Anyway, here ends the trip down memory lane ...

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Alternate reality and hauntings

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who gets MWRs (microsleep with REM) was watching TV recently and, having had enough, turned it off. Then, seconds later, the TV was back on again, apparently all by itself. What could have caused this weird phenomenon? Some hauntings involve electrical equipment behaving strangely.

A vital clue is that MA recognized the signs of coming out of a MWR just as the TV mysteriously switched itself on again. It became obvious that the TV had never been switched off at all. What had happened was a short MWR which replicated the real view exactly but then added in its own action - MA switching off the TV. This is similar to MA's 'alternate reality' version of MWRs reported recently here. There is a crucial difference, however. In the earlier example MA dropped a book, an involuntary action. In this latest version MA is apparently voluntarily switching off the TV! Anyone who gets MWRs but is not aware of their true nature could easily have interpreted this experience as a haunting phenomenon.

Then, a few days later, MA was riding on a train. Bizarrely MA flicked a bit of paper across the carriage. It was bizarre because MA has never, and would never, do anything like this in a public place. MA then came out of a MWR and realised, with some relief, that the paper incident never really happened. This was significantly different to the TV incident in that MA never had any intention, before the MWR, of flicking a bit of paper.

MA, who is used to MWRs, says this latest variant is disturbing. It is like a little chunk of alternate reality where something happens but then it turns out it didn't really. It feels disorientating. MA is starting to wonder if these MWR experiences are evolving in some way. The 'alternate reality' variation only appeared recently and has now happened several times. Meanwhile other older varieties still occur too. It's as if the MWRs are expanding their repertoire.

Why would MWRs change over time? Maybe there are many natural variants right from the start and MA is simply noticing them as they come along. Or maybe MWRs really do evolve over time. Either way, it suggests that MWRs may be responsible for some astonishing, and incredibly realistic, xenonormal effects.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Stick figure on roof!

Crows in a treeI see really strange things quite regularly these days. It has given me the chance to analyze my own reaction to such events. Generally, my first reaction is something like 'that's odd'. It is not shock but a mild acceptance that there is something strange on view. Take my most recent bizarre sighting - a stick figure standing on the roof of a house.

I was looking out a window at first floor level. I happened to notice something very odd some 50m or so away. It was a short dark stick figure, standing on the very top of the roof of a house. I could see no features as the figure was silhouetted against the bright sky behind.

The figure was too thin to be a real person. Instead it resembled the sort of stick figure you see on signs, like the 'green man' on a traffic light. My first thought was, how is that 'person' not falling over? It looked like an impossible position to maintain. A thought flickered briefly through my brain - alien!

Then, suddenly, the figure was gone. It didn't vanish. Instead it was 'swept away' (the best words I can think of to describe the motion) along the roof and out of sight behind a tree. The figure did not reappear. But something else did. I quickly realised what I was really seeing. The 'figure' was actually a branch of a tree hanging downwards. It was being blown around in a strong breeze. As the branch blew around it occasionally briefly took up a position which, from my point of view, made it look like a small stick figure standing on the roof. When I saw the object for the second time, blowing in the wind, I could see it was a branch. The figure was. of course, a misperception.

This particular misperception was also an example of coincidence causing a strange experience. It relied on me being in a particular position to see the branch. The branch also had to be blown into just the correct position so that it resembled a small figure on the roof and then stay there for a second or two while I looked at it. I've looked at the same branch on subsequent days and it already has more leaves on it so that the 'stick' figure effect no longer works. So the incident had to be take place at a very particular time of year too.

I was very calm throughout the experience, even when I considered the possibility of it being an alien. I don't know if this is my innate scientific curiosity winning out over a survival instinct but I'd be interested to know how others have reacted to seeing strange, unexpected things.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Thirty five years on!

ASSAPThis month marks the thirty-fifth year of ASSAP's existence. And what have we learned in those years? Well, other sciences have made considerable progress over that same period. In contrast, progress in our field of anomaly research has been glacial. I could speculate about why that is but, instead I'll ask, is there a better way forward?

One area that has change dramatically since ASSAP was formed is the study of ghosts. I'm sure there are more people actively examining ghosts now than there have ever been before in history. And yet, there remains little evidence for the existence of paranormal ghosts.

To unpack that last statement a little, we first need to consider what a ghost is. While many people would say a ghost is a spirit that is not a useful definition from the point of view of scientific research. Instead, I would say a ghost is "a human (sometimes animal) figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present". That definition is based on actual reports of ghosts as opposed to legend, tradition or fiction. Using this definition it becomes obvious that there can be no serious dispute that ghosts exist. Such human figures are reported continually. I've seen several myself! By contrast, there is still no compelling evidence that ghosts are spirits. While there is, perhaps, a little evidence that some ghosts are paranormal, most sightings are discovered, on careful investigation, to be caused by such things as misperception, hallucination and coincidence.

When ASSAP began, most ghost research was indirect. By that, I mean, it relied primarily on interviewing witnesses and examining the places where they saw apparitions. There was also a little 'direct' research, involving ghost vigils. These consisted on people hanging around at haunted locations hoping to witness something strange. In the vasty majority of cases, nothing unusual was recorded.

Nowadays most ghost investigation effort is of the 'direct' variety. However, the results are equivocal at best. Unfortunately, many such investigations are assumption-led making them of limited value in determining the true nature of ghosts,. The central assumption is usually that ghosts are spirits which, as I've said, has no compelling evidence to support it. But even those taking a more neutral approach have found little to support the idea of paranormal ghosts. So could there be a more fruitful way to approach the subject?

I've taken another path in recent years which has at least provided definite measurable progress. It is the xenonormal study approach. This method does not ask 'what are ghosts' so much as 'what causes people to experience ghosts'. By examining all the natural things that cause people to experience ghosts, it can reduce the number of 'apparently paranormal' or 'unexplained' cases drastically. This allows investigators to concentrate their efforts on the small number of cases without obvious xenonormal causes.

If looking for a paranormal ghost is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and experience suggests that it is, then xenonormal studies can reduce the size of the haystack. Well, that's what 35 years of effort has told me anyway.