Examining the Mentor ghost child video

A news article out of Mentor, Ohio attracted my attention this past week. The article claimed that local residents were observing strange, “mysterious” incidents and reporting them on their neighborhood Facebook page. Then, on the night of March 10, someone called the police. The police report was real. The local news station obtained a copy of a front door camera recording that showed what appears at first glance to be a child-sized person running from a house towards a wooded area on the right side of the screen. The timestamp showed no date but a time of 10:16 PM. 

The article itself suggests that this thing in the video may be a ghost, which is the primary reason I came upon it. I don’t think you can capture a ghost on camera (or in any other way) but the video was interesting and the article was more intriguing than typically awful “ghosts caught on camera” for several other reasons.

First, here is the text of the article.* It’s important to note what information is and isn’t provided: 


The Haunting of Lake County? Mentor residents spot “ghosts” in security and doorbell footage

Whether you believe in ghosts and spirits or not, many people find the topic to be interesting and entertaining, especially in Mentor, Ohio.

Author: Kelly Matter, Hope Sloop

Published: 3:19 PM EDT March 22, 2021

MENTOR, Ohio — Do you believe in ghosts? 

It’s a question that many Lake County residents have found themselves asking over the past few weeks due to “supernatural haunts” caught on video. 

In recent weeks, members in Mentor, Ohio Facebook groups have posted videos and images of a “mysterious” object or person. This mysterious image appears to be all white and moving very quickly. WKYC was able to obtain some of those images and videos from residents.

3News spoke with officials from the Mentor Police Department and were even able to retrieve the police report based on information that was sent.

In the report, it states that police officers were dispatched on March 10 around 10:40 p.m., to the area of Bellflower Elementary in reference to a suspicious incident. 

The caller reported seeing a 7-year-old girl running northbound in the area. As one officer approached Wyatt’s Greenhouse, he spotted a child fitting the description from the caller. 

“I was surprised by what I saw, the person appeared to be a small child, running rather erect and too quickly for a child,” the report says. 

When the officer got out of the vehicle to try and catch the child, nobody was in the area. The officer continued along the building expecting to see a child crying, or scared, but still no signs of anyone.

Multiple other departments were searching the area and had no luck finding a child. After the search, the responding officer checked the dashcam video and found no child on the dashcam video, which was saved as an “investigative encounter.”

Shortly after trying to find the child on foot and the use of a K9, the drone team was deployed to search the responding area and did not locate anything suspicious.

Is it really ghosts? Could it just be young pranksters? Who knows!

This video clip did not have ads and repeats the section in question which is really helpful. I could not get a clear clip from WKYN piece to embed.

The article, or its content, was repeated on multiple websites with an emphasis on the paranormal aspect. I searched for other information but was not able to find more details. Let’s examine the article itself: it’s vague and somewhat confusing. Does the video relate to the police incident directly? We are given some local features but not precise details. Did the police question the neighbors on this night? What did they find? What about the other incidents and videos mentioned? These obvious questions go unanswered.

As I said, I don’t think this is a ghost, but it is a bit weird. The police incident occurred on a Wednesday night, after 10PM, which is an odd time for a child to be running around. There were reasonable grounds to take this report seriously. The video shows a figure with what appears to be bare legs – maybe the person was wearing shorts or a skirt/dress. Yet, the upper body is not distinguishable. Resolution is lost likely because the camera is far away and the subject is in low light conditions. Such devices are not meant to capture this kind of movement. Because of what are almost certainly artifacts from the recording process that distort the object, we can’t get the degree of detail needed to see what it really is. This lack of detail, and perhaps video compression distortion, will lead some people who are predisposed to believe in supernatural events to suggest it’s a ghost, not a corporeal being. Promotion of the supernatural angle made the clip go viral.

Weirdly, the upper body is not distinguishable.

People reading this story will typically assume this is all there is to it and make their conclusion based on what they are given in line with their preexisting worldview. So, some will say it’s a spooky video showing a ghost child (which is the trending view) and others say it’s just a person (so why is this news?). Yet others say it’s a moth, or a reflection, or something else mundane. After covering weird news for seven years on Doubtful News, I know very well that media outlets get things wrong or leave important facts out more often than not. Mostly, they don’t do any investigation at all but just report what they are told. In this case, at least they had a potentially related police report  – a bit of evidence that added credibility to the ghost idea but created more questions while providing no answers.

I was curious about what the video really showed and if these ubiquitous doorbell cameras often capture ambiguous events that can be interpreted as paranormal. (Yes, they do. Some also appear to be deliberately staged.) Also, what if it is a child in the video? It’s might be concerning that a child would be speeding through yards at this time of night. Ghost theories aside, I wanted to know what this was and why it looked strange.

If this was MY video, I would not be giving it to the news before I did some very obvious and basic tests. First, I’d find out if this was someone from that nearby house. If not, I would try to recreate the event at the same time of night by having a person run the same path and compare the two videos to see how the camera represented a person of known size and speed.

From the clues in the article, I was able to go on Google maps street view and actually located the site within about 5 minutes of searching. I was able to match up the mailbox, landscaping and driveway of the house and turned the view across the street. I don’t want to give the address here because, understandably, the residents would not want people poking around their street and properties. But here is the view from the street looking towards the area of the video. Unfortunately, these dudes in the Silverado passed by the Google cam.

Notice a few interesting things here. First, the sidewalk ends here. There is a worn area in the grass along the edge of the treeline where the figure in the video appeared. There is a clearing in the direction the object went. And, there is a rock-lined culvert nearby that is close to the road. The culvert appears to lead to a stream or wet area with nearby walking paths near the school. But there is no logical path that would lead to the side of the grey house. There is a logical path that comes out on a road past the culvert on the far right. So, if this figure is a person, he/she has cut close to this house from what looks like a public area. If this was a jogger, that would be odd to cut through a yard. And, it would be reasonable to think such a person (or another jogger) would have been caught on camera before doing a similar thing making it seem less weird. However, what I’m missing here is local context and photos more recent than 2 years ago. I’d bet that the answer is mundane so it’s unusual to see such a big deal made out of it.

I’m at a loss to find out more information for several reasons: I’m not local. I don’t have the time or inclination to contact the police for their report (it’s not readily available online), and I don’t have access, nor do I think I deserve access, to the private neighborhood Facebook group to see these other videos. So, I contacted the local paranormal society, gave them the address, and asked if they could check out the location. Maybe they could see if there was a reasonable explanation for someone to be running this way and if a jogger was to blame for the hubbub. Maybe they could do some measurements. It appeared they had not done anything with such a tasty case that had dropped right into their lap. They responded that they are checking it out. Sure, sure.

I’m posting this for two reasons. First, perhaps someone local might see it and provide the additional info I seek. As I said, the story is popular and the information is only from that single source. I’m interested in why these stories spread like they do. Second, no one seems to have thought about this incident in a more critical way. So, perhaps that might be appreciated. It took very little time to look up some basic facts. This might be a good reminder that when we are presented with sensational news stories, we should always be skeptical. Think about what’s been left out or what deliberate spin was put on it for what reason. These articles get clicks, and they normalize ideas about so-called paranormal events occurring around us. As usual, the evidence is poor and unchecked. It is extremely unlikely this is anything more unusual than a person running through the neighborhood.

Finally, what about the cop who said he saw a running child? I don’t think this is too weird. He was investigating a report of child. (Presumably he was, it’s not altogether clear)  Therefore, he may have seen something vague and interpreted it in that way as he was focused on that idea. He was motivated to observe something strange and so he fulfilled this intent in his own mind. It’s not so surprising that the claims were taken seriously enough to call out dogs, a drone, and other police departments. I hope this is a lesson to the police too who are not above reporting their personal interpretations instead of just the facts.

Mentor has their own local ghost lore. Several strange incidents seem to have been strung together into this haunt-themed narrative. Taken collectively, the situation shows that we very easily fall into traps of assuming certain things happened for definitive reasons when they actually are heavily dependent on our personal interpretations. Just like one commenter on the video certainly sees a ghost child but the next commenter chastises the gullible people who see something other than a running person, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Many people really really want it to be a ghost, so that’s as far as they will go to investigate. Time and repetition turn it into a legend. The truth is lost.

If you have additional information on this incident, please contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you. 

*I have copied the text because these pieces often disappear from the internet or go behind a pay wall. For purposes of examining the details presented, I needed to cite the entire piece.

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Ghost Studies and Lightforms: A review of two paranormal research books

Long ago, my interest in paranormal topics became jaded because popular books were repetitive, full of the same information and stories as the last one. For decades, books written on cryptozoology and ufology advanced no closer to definitively documenting or explaining these phenomena. Some advocates are persuaded that the many similar stories and imaginative speculation, often tenuously tied to scientific concepts, are sufficient to make remaining skeptics (those that have not been persuaded) or rejectors look absurd. I am not persuaded.

The history of serious ghost research spans even longer than cryptids and UFOs. Scientists have been trying to figure out ghostly experiences for centuries. Scientific-sounding concepts abound to attempt to explain ghosts.

One glaring problem with ghosts is that there are many definitions of ghosts/hauntings and various ideas about what they could be from spiritual to scientific (spirits of the dead, demons or other supernatural entities, psychic transmissions, trans-dimensional receptions, time-slips, environmental recording-playback). Where understanding of the natural world via science has advanced by incredible measure, ghost investigation has decidedly not. Therefore, I am justified in being skeptical of any book that claims to use “cutting edge research” and “new theories” to explain this eternal mysterious human experience. 

Older books about ghostly episodes (and hauntings and poltergeists, as well) were frequently much better. Maybe that was because it was more difficult to write a book before the 21st century. To contract a publisher, you had to have some credibility, experience, and substance. Today, you don’t need to impress anyone but yourself, so the field of the paranormal is polluted with unreadable, useless volumes from part-time or celebrity paranormal investigators. Some of these authors truly believe they are doing something new but have failed to examine what has already been done. Many attempt to do science when they have zero scientific background – these are the topic of my book Scientifical Americans. Then, there are those that do have some science background but are outside their wheelhouse. These authors use abundant scientific jargon, analogies, and experiments to push their ideas. They may publish in parapsychology-related or minor journals. Their work might be heavily referenced by others because it is positive and seemingly impressive. But it often does not get wider scientific acceptance because it is flawed and/or has failed to be reproduced. Or, it just has not proved useful in the real world because it doesn’t accurately predict anything. I recently finished two paranormal-themed books that cited one author that could fall into that category – Michael Persinger. Of note, I no longer take Persinger as seriously as I once did and now find his work relating to paranormal experiences lacking. His ideas about the effects of weak, complex electromagnetic fields may be valid but not to the extent they are promoted. And, the tectonic strain theory was very much a house of cards that could not withstand scrutiny.  Persinger is so frequently cited in scientifical paranormal books that he could be on a Ghost Hunters Bingo card. 

The first book I’ll talk about was advertised as using the latest scientific research and new theories to provide scientific explanations for ghostly episodes. Promises, promises…  Disappointingly, the research was tenuous or out of context, the ideas weren’t new (or logical), and the scope of ghostly episodes was ill-defined and narrow. Listen, everyone: you can’t revolutionize any field with a lightweight paperback for general readers. The Ghost Studies: New Perspectives on the Origins of Paranormal Experiences by Brandon Massullo landed far short of the mark. The author admitted this is a complex subject but then writes in a breezy, affected way with stories, much reiteration, and end-of-chapter summary paragraphs (which I personally find off-putting because it was only few pages and I just read it). 

Curiously, this book was written in 2017 and touches on a few topics (popular ghost theories and use of technology) that were also in my own book published the same year. I found some agreement and was hopeful, but the content was too sparse. The major turn in this book happened when the author describes his version of “ingredients for a ghostly experience”. That is, his “theory” is that the following are necessary for a ghost episode: psychological aspects, changes in internal energy, and external acquisition of information.

Depending on what is meant here, psychological aspects are a given for any ghost experience. With “changes in internal energy”, the pseudoscience flag goes flying. He describes how a ghostly experience requires the energy of a person to be involved – their electrical field, which is powered by emotions. The author puts forward the idea (based on dubious research) that our emotions cause bodily changes that alter our human electric field, which then affects the earth’s electromagnetic field allowing for the transmission of information. Finally, a receiver taps into that frequency and receives the information. None of that is supported by good evidence, logic, or math.

There is the typical misuse of the conservation of energy law that energy can’t be destroyed so something of us must live on after we die. As expected, the entire chapter on energy is overly simplistic and the concepts misapplied.

Other chapters cite work by not only Persinger, but Sheldrake. The author repeats that this is scientific research to give it credibility. Unfortunately, he accepts that this research is perfectly valid and ignores the mountains of criticism about it. Science works as a community effort over time, building on what is confirmed. Persinger’s and Sheldrake’s ideas about electromagnetic fields and morphic resonance, respectively, are not accepted as confirmed. Not even close. But they are convenient to use to promote the author’s imaginative idea and those who aren’t specialists are not going to know that. This is how many people get away with promoting pseudoscience in general as it is hard to check and sounds impressive.

This unconfirmed research constitutes the “studies” of the title and is presented as amazing new results to inform the author’s theory of ghosts. The book quickly became tedious to read as Massullo admits possible weaknesses in the explanations but then cites the few studies as confirmation that we now “know” these things are real/true. By page 51, Massullo tells the reader that they now have “a strong foundation regarding research and possible explanation for hauntings”. I cringe when those making quick and shallow arguments assume they have done a fine job of instructing the reader.

I had a problem with the narrow focus of ghostly episodes. As a parapsychologist, his view is that psi events are the cause of ghosts. This is very much “phantasms of the living” category of ghosts. But this type ignores the much broader range of experiences people consider “ghostly” around the world and through time. The huge span of ghost literature reveals that the concept of ghosts is diverse and culturally-influenced. So, this narrowness of situation is limiting. Additionally, I am not convinced by the evidence of psi as it has not gotten better over time and no reasonable mechanism has been put forward.

Throughout, he repeatedly states he “believes” this or that is happening. Science-based work has no place for “belief”. You either have demonstrated something to satisfaction or not. The author is highly intelligent and probably a fine therapist. However, the volume fails to take seriously the very real effects of social suggestion and exaggeration of experiences for storytelling purposes. People frequently feel what they are told to feel in places they view as haunted. And, those who experience the death of a loved one have unique personal responses that have nothing to do with “biological radio” transmitted via the earth’s electromagnetic field. Books are difficult to write, for sure. I support expressing opinions and concepts about mysterious things but I do not support dressing up suppositions with sciencey language. This is deceptive and confuses the lay reader into thinking the ideas have more merit than they really do.

The second book was Lightforms: Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena by Mark Fox. This second edition, published in 2016, has been retitled from the first. The author promotes the term “lightforms” as a description of these experiences of light. It is deliberate that it sounds like “lifeforms”. This book is also called a “study” suggesting it is original research. I enjoyed the intro and Chapter 1. It was well-written and entertaining as well as effectively framing the previous research for this topic. Fox’s work was to distill 400 personal accounts of experiences with unusual light phenomena collected by the Religious Experiences Research Centre. I was hoping the experiences and analysis would not be constrained by the religious aspects, but, unfortunately, they were. There was very little on what is called “earth lights” that I am interested in. And an argument could be made for a crossover with UFO experiences. Yet, the author did note that accounts where “angels” were mentioned, other than a reference to NDEs, were nonexistent. Since the database used included accounts that were 30 years old up to relatively recent (I assumed, it’s not clear), the cultural aspects are muddled.  

The accounts were categorized weirdly by some lesser characteristic: seen by many, seen alone, lights that embrace and fill, that illuminate landscapes or people, that penetrate (beams, rays, shafts), that invoke visionary experiences, brighter than the sun. I could not make any sense of this division. I quickly got bored with short account after account, chapter after chapter. As I noted at the start of this piece, that’s what turned me off to paranormal lit in general. I admit to skimming beginning around page 115 because the text was mostly anecdotes.

The author does very little with these accounts except to count them and call that a “statistical analysis”. Then he tries to be precise with this volume of highly imprecise anecdotal data by categorizing percentages of accounts that produced positive feelings, occurred during a personal “crisis”, those followed by positive “fruits” (outcomes) – a word the author overuses ad nauseam. Because the anecdotes do not follow a set structure, this is a flawed approach. He then presents a model of these experiences by mashing all of those most noted features together. There is no detailed analysis here. 

Then, the author explores some possible explanations from psychology and neurosciences. Along with a decent array of other researchers, here is where Persinger is invoked regarding his work on Temporal Lobe Transients. Again, I see the word “cutting-edge” appear to describe the research. But is it? It’s fringe, but is it expanding our understanding, pushing the limits? Is it predicting anything? Is it paving the way for more research? I’m not convinced it did any of that. Fox does not consider Persinger’s work as particularly enlightening toward an explanation he seeks because of the difference in response by experiencers – Fox’s respondents interpreted a more fulfilling experience. While the book leans fairly heavily towards a Christian version of God, Fox ultimately fails to arrive at a solid conclusion for lightforms. It remains a mystery, he says, but they are “proof that this world is not all there is”. Well, I agree that people can certainly imagine another world that isn’t this one but, again, stories and speculation alone aren’t going to get all of us on board. I finished the book a bit more knowledgeable about the variety of personal spiritual encounters with light, but that’s it.

Meanwhile, I’m always hoping the NEXT book will leave me pleasantly surprised. Am I too critical? I don’t think so. Writing a book is tough but I expect an author to write thoughtfully, logically, and to do a good job of laying out a decent argument. Those qualities seems difficult to come by. 

My three favorite vintage books on monsters and the paranormal

Every once in a while, I remember one of the books from my childhood that I recall with great fondness. Thanks to the Internet, I can usually find a blurb on what I had long discarded or gave away.

I have been trying for a while to locate a kids activity book about monsters that my grandmother bought me in the late 70s at a downtown department store when downtown stores with book departments were a real thing (and were really awesome). I’m not one for nostalgia at all but I recalled this book was my favorite and the information I learned from it was my first exposure to many monster ideas. It had sections on vampires and other movie monsters, but also the Yeti and Bigfoot. I even remembered the cover of the book was orange with purple. I swore it was named Monsters and was possibly one of the large Golden Books featuring puzzles and games.

I was trying every keyword I could think of, knowing if I saw the cover I would recognize it instantly. My searches turned up empty, until today. My results delivered a link to The Haunted Closet Blogspot site featuring vintage kids books, a site that began in 2008 but since 2011 only has a handful of posts per year. It didn’t show what I was looking for and there wasn’t all that much on there but it was fun to scroll through the entries.

I think I searched for “monsters” and, incredibly, there it was on the page. Monsters: Fiendish Facts, Quivery Quizzes and Other Grisly Goings-on was a Golden Book, part of the Family Funtime series. It was sold in 1977 for $0.79.

My favorite monster book (1977)

I was gleeful that there were several pictures of the pages included in the blog post, which reminded me that this was the book that introduced me to voodoo, showed me how to recognize people who were really werewolves, and the story of UFOs over the White House. There was also this neat drawing of a green devil head with instructions to stare at it for a long time and then look at a white wall whereby the afterimage that appeared would be red. It worked!

I’d love to hear from other people who remember this book as a kid in the 70s. (I was probably 8 years old when I got this gem.) They just don’t write quality kids content like this anymore. Two other books that I distinctly remember have also been fondly remembered by friends and paranormally-inclined acquaintances – Monsters of North America by Elwood Baumann that was my introduction to Bigfoot and his southern cousins, and Haunted Houses by Larry Kettlekamp that had classic photos such as the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall and stories that are still discussed today.

I have a copy of Baumann’s book. I noted Lyle Blackburn also referenced it in his latest book on Momo, the Missouri monster. Baumann was my first source of information on this classic small town monster. I also will pick up Kettlekamp’s book soon and am actively looking for a copy of the Monsters book at the top. Well, that was a spooky but joyous walk down memory lane. These books are treasures.

Believers are the majority: Paranormal acceptance in America is rising

The results of the 2018 Chapman University survey of American Fears have been released and they suggest that America (that is, even well-educated America) is even more accepting of the paranormal than in the past three years. You can view the entire survey here but let me highlight the major points as well as some possible explanations for the numbers and some problems with applying them.

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Legitimizing ghost research: Scientism, sensitives, and cultural authority

As I wrote yesterday, sociologists and ethnographers are paying greater attention to paranormal communities. I commented on Bader’s analysis of Bigfoot seeking groups and their mix of naturalistic and paranormalist views among participants. Perhaps separation rather than mix may be more apt. The observation of different camps within a paranormal field is not new but since Bigfoot as an area of study is newer than ghosts, it’s worth a remark to explain why some will ignore or denigrate others in the same community even though they have a fringe topic interest in common. In a new essay collection related to the Supernatural in Society conference I mentioned yesterday, Marc Eaton contributed a piece describing a similar split in the ghost hunting community [1]. Not only does this parallel the Bigfoot community in several ways but it was interesting because Eaton focuses on his interpretation of scientism as prevalent and investigators who work at “being sciencey” (my words, not his) as a way of legitimizing their work. Unfortunately, Eaton doesn’t cite my preceding work that overlaps a lot with his observations but I’ll see if I can reach him to introduce it. Meanwhile, I must reiterate a few of his observations and quibble with a few others.

Eaton begins his article titled “Paranormal Investigation: The Scientist and the Sensitive” in the compilation edited by himself and Waskul by suggesting that orthodox religious participation is dwindling, losing to the popularity of more democratic and personal spiritualism practices. This correlation seems well established and, I agree, a key component in the rise in paranormal topics in the media. He sees paranormal investigators (I use the umbrella term “ARIGs” – amateur research and investigation groups – to encompass cryptozoologists and ufologists) as located at the intersection of this individualized spirituality and the adoption of scientism.

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The Doubtful Witness: You don’t really know what you saw

How often have you heard someone say “I know what I saw”. Observations and remembrances of events are deeply flawed but we still rely on our memory to give us a true account and we believe reports of eyewitnesses. These accounts are the primary evidence put forward in support of paranormal reality. Those who believe in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, or anomalous phenomena are heavily influenced by seemingly legitimate and truthful tellings of strange events people say happened to them. They also contend that there are so many accounts that “there must be something to it” and “all these witnesses aren’t lying”. Investigators collect these reports and then derive ideas, theories, and conclusions from them. But if the reports are not accurate, the data is unreliable and misleading – garbage in, garbage out. Here is the second example of why we need to qualify eyewitness accounts as data. (See the first here.)Read More »

The Doubtful Witness: Masefield’s Montrose ghost story

The primary evidence put forward in support of paranormal reality are accounts of witnesses. Those who believe in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, or ghosts are heavily influenced by seemingly legitimate and truthful tellings of strange events people say happened to them. They also contend that there are so many accounts that “there must be something to it” and “all these witnesses aren’t lying”. Investigators collect these reports and then derive ideas, theories, and conclusions from them. Astounding accounts show up in the media, sometimes repeatedly, and those who hear paranormal-themed stories from TV and popular written accounts tend to accept that they are accurate. This is a deeply flawed assumption to make. I recently came across two sources that exemplify why we need to qualify eyewitness accounts as data. Here is the first. Read More »

A modern encyclopedia of popular ghostlore (Book Review)

Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend
June Michele Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca, Editors
Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, LLC 2016 403pp, Index.

This is an encyclopedia with alphabetical entries that explore mostly “tales and motifs” in popular culture from early writings to modern media. The entries are well researched and cross-referenced so the reader is able to see themes emerge throughout. I read it cover to cover as well as using it as a references for a paper reviewing paranormal trends over the past decade. While quite long, I read a few entries per day. – it’s a great bedside table book (if you don’t mind the red ghostly eye staring at you). The book intends to show the breadth and depth of ghostlore and its influences from society and other cultural influences.

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A rarity: An impressive and useful ghost guide (Book Review)

Steve Parsons appears to be on the same page as me about the poor understanding of ghost investigations by amateur investigators. He wrote a detailed and very readable book with the aim to show that this kind of sensationalized paranormal inquiry should not be confused with parapsychology or science: Ghostology: The Art of the Ghost Hunter (Steven T. Parsons, 2015,
White Crow Books, UK).

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Observing Paranormal Investigators: An ongoing research project at SFU

A recent piece published in University Affairs magazine (Canada) entitled “Making sense of the paranormal” was about the rise of academic interest in paranormal culture and the people who participate in it. Of course, this caught my attention, particularly, the work of Dr. Paul Kingsbury of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. which was described as follows:

Dr. Kingsbury is nearing completion of a four-year study funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant to observe paranormal investigators. He’s gone on a dozen ghost investigations, attended numerous UFO and sasquatch conferences, and driven around rural England to visit crop circles. He’s looking broadly at who gets involved, what motivates them and how they share their data.

I emailed Dr. Kingsbury to make sure he was aware of my newly-published results in this area. He was. He pointed me to a talk he gave in March 2017 on his preliminary results. I recommend having a watch of this worthwhile discussion. Dr. Kingsbury, a geographer, used the framework of psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s “university discourse” which is one of four discourses or social links he proposed. I need to read more on this. Essentially, it means that there is a social bond founded in language. Kingsbury is researching the ghost-, Bigfoot- and UFO investigation groups (which I called ARIGs) at a more personal level than I did by conducting interviews and directly participating in the events. Where my intent was to examine how these groups use science and then portray that to the public, Dr. Kingsbury is digging into why people get involved in paranormal investigation, who they are, and how the groups and conferences represent their work. So, it’s obvious there is considerable overlap, but each of our projects is complementary to the other in forming a larger social picture of 21st-century paranormal culture in North America (and Western Europe, we can safely extrapolate).Read More »

Errors in investigating: What you see is all there is

I received a personal message from a paranormal investigator who thought it was a shame I didn’t believe in the validity of spirit communication. He pointed me to a video he made that he said was the clearest responses he’s ever received in an EVP recording. I’m always looking to either be impressed or spot an obvious hoax so I checked it out. Upon noticing that he had included subtitles in the video, I quickly put my hand up to cover the lower portion of the screen while watching so I wouldn’t be primed to “hear” what (he interpreted) the spirit voice had said. I did hear the first sound he interpreted, a very rapid “What?” in response to his opening inquiry because I saw the subtitle signalling it. It was so soon after his question, it felt out of place and I think I would not have noticed it had he not pointed it out. For the rest of the video, without the priming, I could not hear any anomalous voice, just background noise of insects or wind outside the structure. When I told him I was not impressed, he seemed stunned. To him, these voices were crystal clear.

I would not have thought much about this exchange again except it served as a great real life example of the concepts put forward in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. As I was reading it today, the well-tested observations of human perception and thinking habits he explained applied directly to paranormalists and their methods of reinforcing their paranormal worldview. Here are some examples.

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Confessions about Confessions of Ghost Hunters

There are three books that are explicitly titled “Confessions of a Ghost Hunter” – from 1928, 1936 and 2002.

There is also one called “Confessions of a Reluctant Ghost Hunter” by Von Braschler (2014) that I confess I didn’t read. A defunct Facebook page and website also of the same name appears to be related. Several other media also nab this title in some form or another to the point where it’s getting stale, like just another ghost reality TV show. But I’m here to compare the three books.

I read them in order of popularity today: Price’s first which is also the most substantial and the superior of the lot. Then Taylor’s, who was (maybe still is) popular with the modern amateur ghost hunting community. Finally, O’Donnells, which is nearly forgotten or even unknown by today’s paranormal researchers.Read More »

The “Stone Tape Theory” of hauntings: A geological perspective

As with many cultural products, inspirations and influence for a widely-known idea originated from a variety of places and in alternative flavors. It’s unpredictable what bits and pieces will glom on to the original idea or which paths the notion (good or bad) will take that results in propelling it into mainstream popularity. Then, the idea can take on a life of its own whereby many people who later adopt it don’t know of its long history. This convoluted evolution of an idea applies to the “Stone Tape Theory” of hauntings often invoked by amateur paranormal investigators or mentioned on ghost hunting TV shows.

For years, I have heard of the “stone tape theory” as a potential explanation for residual hauntings but was not able to track it to an explicit source. It seemed to just exist in paranormal culture. The current premise of the stone tape concept is that crystalline rock (bedrock or building stone) at a time in the past captured emotional energy from a traumatic event. The preferred rock type is said to be quartz but limestone is mentioned nearly as frequently. The sound and visual representations of an event are “recorded” into the rock media in a process analogous to magnetic tape recording of data. At a much later time, a person sensitive to this stored recording can receive the “playback” or, the past event can be replayed when triggered by certain conditions. The recording/playback sequence has been used as an explanation for apparition sightings, hauntings and negative feelings associated with a location. Thus, the stone tape idea is the ultimate example of “spooky geology”.

The stone tape idea was actually the first idea I had for my Spooky Geology blog. (A condensed version of this post appears there for a different audience.) I have been seeking out references for a few years now. I found different information about the origin of the stone tape. For non-geologists, and, hopefully, the paranormal researchers, who are looking for additional information on the topic, this will be a good primer and provide a foundation for the further use (or not) of it as an explanation (or as a non-explanation). But geologists (or any scientist for that matter) will recognize the obvious flaws with this proposed mechanism to explain hauntings. Finally, I will explain why it’s still popular with ghost hunters today.

Assumptions

Initially, the stone tape theory (STT, since I’m going to be typing that a lot) requires the assumption that there is a real phenomenon where people repeatedly experience an anomalous event explicitly related to a certain location. The individual may perceive this event as a ghost encounter or haunting, a place-memory, a reaction to or sense about the location, or a feeling of time travel. Paranormal researchers who have assumed this location-specific phenomenon occurs look for an explanation. A popular modern explanation for this is the STT.

Let’s be clear about one more term: “theory”. A “theory” in science is not a guess or a supposition. It is a well-tested model to describe how something in nature works – evolution, gravity, relativity, etc. Therefore, the STT isn’t a scientific theory, it’s speculation and the word “theory” is used to connote “guess”. The following questions remain unanswered:

How do things get recorded?
What gets recorded and what doesn’t?
How does it get preserved?
How does it get played back?

Therefore, we have an incomplete concept far from being a worthwhile explanation. There are many psychological and physical explanations for perceptions of hauntings and a sense of spookiness that should rationally be applied before suggesting the STT. But my goal here is to drill down into the idea of the stone tape to see where it came from and its place in paranormal discussions.

Origin

Modern paranormal media frequently states the STT originated in the 1970s. The STT proper name did, but not the concept which goes back over a century before. Ideas of events or information imprinting on the environment for later retrieval has a long history. In fact, the concept that apparitions were created in or by the human mind was part of early scientific thinking about the subject.

To fully explore the evolution of the STT idea, we must take several leaps back in time. As I said, the name “Stone Tape” was first used in the 70’s. It was the title of a 1972 BBC drama by Nigel Kneale directed by Peter Sasdy. In the movie titled “The Stone Tape”, a team from an electronics company move into an old house to work on a new project. Renovations that include busting up the paneling reveal a very old stone stairway and strange phenomena occurs in the room. Not everyone can hear the screams or see the apparition of a young woman on the stairs. The physical equipment does not record it. The playback is dependent upon another human who has the ability to perceive it in their own brains. The story centers on the only woman on the team, Jill, who has this ability. The Wikipedia entry for this film describes the plot along with the previous and subsequent connections to other entertainment products.  The success of the movie popularized the idea that old stone blocks can store sounds and images that possibly could be the mechanism for hauntings.

The apparition on the stairs seen by Jill in The Stone Tape.

With the popularity of the concept, the STT name was retroactively imposed on the ideas of Thomas Charles Lethbridge, a controversial and colorful archaeologist who left academia for paranormal research. Lethbridge’s 1961 book, Ghost and Ghoul (1961) is also frequently cited by amateur paranormal investigators as the origin of the STT. Lethbridge, however, never referenced the term “stone tape” in this or subsequent books. He died in 1971 before the movie aired. So, it is incorrect to say he coined the term “stone tape”. In his book, though, Lethbridge hints that some memories may be connected with inanimate objects via “a sort of surrounding ether.” He also stated that all cells resonate and he uses examples related to psychometry to speculate that this vibration frequency could explain memory transferences. His often-repeated story about experiencing an apparition near a stream is repeated in his later book, Ghost and Divining Rod (1963). For this book, he develops this idea more thoroughly. Lethbridge does not contend that ghosts are supernatural but argues they are attributable to invisible fields that recorded an image of a person. He states these various fields of energy – around forests, mountains, and streams and even from the earth – are “scientific fact”. They aren’t, but Lethbridge was characteristically arrogant in his presentation of parapsychological speculation assuming that if he said they were solid, that would make them so. Lethbridge’s ideas were around during the time that Kneale was working. It’s almost certain that they influenced the plot device in The Stone Tape but I haven’t found any direct connection.

A confounding factor in the history of the STT concept is that plenty of other people had similar ideas and it’s difficult to trace if they borrowed from each other or came to such thinking independently. Lethbridge cites the work of H.H. Price on place-memories. Price was a professor of logic at the University of Oxford and a former President of the Society for Psychical Research. In his presidential address in volume 45 of the Proceedings of the SPR (1938-1939) titled Haunting and the “psychic ether” hypothesis, Price asserts that objects carry memory traces. If a suitably sensitive person come to the place or handles the object, these memory traces will cause him to have a retrospective experience. In this loose set of ideas, Price contends that “psychic ether” is an intermediate media between spirit and physical matter where images and memory traces were held. Credited to Raynor C. Johnson, Price connects it to hauntings saying ghosts (as people describe them) are not supernatural but that they are  “traces … [a] result of the emotions or other experiences of some person who formerly inhabited the room, much as finger-prints result automatically from our handling of a wine-glass or a poker.” They were like photographic negatives that would be “developed” by those who were endowed with the ability to perceive it. Jill, from the movie, was so (un)lucky.

The traces and the “psychic ether” are not independently observable, though, making them unmeasurable, a serious drawback for scientific acceptance. However, Price remarks that if these traces were real, “they must consist in some more or less permanent mode of arrangement of the molecules or atoms or infra-atomic particles, of which the walls, furniture, etc., are composed. And in that case, it ought to be possible to verify their existence by the ordinary methods of physical Science — by physical or chemical tests of some sort or other. But so far as we know, this cannot be done.”

This “residua of past experiences” was also explained by Price as a form of “deferred telepathy” as the impulse was stored (in some unknown way by an unknown method) until a person could experience the anima loci or place-memory. Lethbridge’s idea for this recording/playback was different. He rejected Price’s “psychic ether” mechanism for his own special “fields”. Lethbridge instead thought that the potential of these natural “fields” was high, and persons who had low personal “psyche-fields” of their own, would receive the existing imprints on the field because higher potential flowed naturally to a lower potential. This would explain why some could experience the imprints (those with this “sixth sense”) and others would not.

The concept of the environment or fields recording impressions from humans was elucidated even earlier by mathematician Charles Babbage in 1838. He believed that words made permanent impressions on the world and that “the air itself is a vast library, on whose pages are forever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered”.

In The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1838) he stated:

“The pulsations of the air, once set in motion by the human voice, cease not to exist with the sounds to which they gave rise. Strong and audible as they may be in the immediate neighbourhood of the speaker, and at the immediate moment of utterance, their quickly attenuated force soon becomes inaudible to human ears. The motions they have impressed on the particles of one portion of our atmosphere, are communicated to constantly increasing numbers, but the total quantity of motion measured in the same direction receives no addition.”

Babbage is called the “father of computing” as he conceived of the first concepts of a calculating machine, or computer. Curiously, in The Stone Tape movie, anomalies start coming in through the onsite computers.

The place-memory idea rolled around the early days of the SPR as a hypothesis to account for apparitions that seemed distinctly associated with a location. Eleanor Sidgwick suggested in 1888 that there was “something in the actual building itself”. Edmund Gurney, a few years later, also iterated that survival of an image, generated by the mind of a person, was later perceptible by certain other sensitive minds (also open to other anomalous mental communication). Frederic Myers and Oliver Lodge also expressed similar ideas (See Heath, 2005).

Mechanism

While all these suggestions sound superficially plausible, the crucial problem with the STT is that there has never been demonstrated a way to record, preserve or play events in natural environmental substances as proposed. There have been hoaxes and fictional accounts of it, however. (See the Popularity section below.) The mechanisms for the recording of these psychic imprints are diverse relating to invisible “fields”, molecular architecture of crystalline quartz, energy fields from dead organisms that make up limestone, resonant frequencies, encoded of iron oxide crystals, inductive electromagnetism, and quantum entanglement.

Unlike fossils, where a physical record is preserved as an impression in sediment, or sea-floor spreading ridges which freeze crystals in molten rock to reflect the prevailing magnetic declination of the earth, STT relies on emotional “energy”, which is non-material. Emotion is not physically recordable outside of the body because nothing related to emotion leaves the body. Emotional “energy” is a term specific to human experience of feelings. This scuttles the STT idea at square one. There is nothing to record. However, paranormalists invoke a handy trope to get around this problem – “quantum”. Paranormalists are quite fond of using Einstein’s view of “spooky action at a distance” which he used to describe quantum entanglement. They also assert (from laws of thermodynamics) that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. But the concept is grossly misapplied. I’ll refrain from delving into quantum physics here but will simply point out that there is no evidence that this concept is relatable to human events in the past being replayed in the present. Go ask your resident quantum physicist if he or she has explained ghosts.

The idea of memories captured in rock is older than the concepts of quanta and the invention of magnetic tape. As I described in my post about psychometry, it was a temporary fad to think that geology and archaeology would be revolutionized by psychically “reading” the impressions and memories of the objects. Psychometry is the kernel of the idea of STT.

As described above, Babbage thought that the particles in the atmosphere kept moving with sound forever. But as with natural substances, they don’t last forever. Molecules move away from a location or change, rocks erode, the wind blows, energy dissipates. Price relied on the psychic ether to hold the imprints later experienced as a hallucination by a lucky observer. Lethbridge assumed there were other specific fields that capture the memory. These fields were recharged by ions in the air and enhanced by additional imprints by a person’s own field (psyche-field). Lethbridge thought some places would accumulate these thoughts in sort of a snowball effect. Bad thoughts produced more bad thoughts which were then imprinted onto the field. After a while, “thought forms” would be produced at these notorious spots. Humid conditions enhanced conductance of the fields because of the benefit of conductance of water molecules. Because the imprint was on the “field” not on the individual molecules, the memories would remain at a place, even those around a flowing stream. Modern ghost hunters sometimes invoke a “water tape” idea where the water molecule retains the memory (they link this to unsupported ideas related to homeopathy). This is absurd since the water molecules in a stream flow away to be replaced by other molecules (presumably with their own memories). Rocks don’t have this problem to the same degree. Building stones can remain for hundreds, even thousands of years.

In Secret Language of Stone (1988), by Don Robins, a chemist, we find one of the most technical-sounding attempts to explain the capture and storage of memories in stone. Robins supposes that defects in the crystal lattice of minerals (the array of atoms that make up a mineral which is shaped by electrical forces) allow for reservoirs of energy. The crystal architecture creates a “vortex of energy at the heart of the crystal” where memory traces could be stored (he mainly focusing on sound). These traces could be accessed directly by the human brain later by producing a resonating sound wave or physical pressure such as walking on the ground. Robins also does not use the term “stone tape” but calls the energy network of stone a “macrochip” and associates this network with sacred places where paranormal events are said to occur.

Heath (2005) updated Price’s place-memory with a modern tech attitude by putting forth that passive place-memories were stored in the electron cloud or molecular structures. She did not cite Lethbridge even though she remarked on the importance of memories associated with water and even mentioned his early favored concept of resonance – vibration at the same frequency. However, “quantum” was applied. She stated when resonant frequencies are equivalent, then the objects can maximally absorb energy. Heath connected resonance to ESP (a commonly made connection). And, like in The Stone Tape movie, the traces can be erased, disrupted by heat or magnetic fields, or otherwise overwritten.

Persinger & Koren (2001) take the “field” ideas in a different direction by considering the earth as a photographic exposure plate. Matched inductance between geomagnetic activity and the local static field, they say, creates a representation recorded in the crystalline structure of the rock – a geologic hologram to be replayed directly to the brain when conditions are just right.

In the most extreme and metaphysical explanation for hauntings, a few parapsychologists or speculative paranormalists say that we create our own reality. Based on Roy Friedan’s (1998) invocation of the concept of “observer participancy” information can be imparted by just observing. That information can flow from one object to another.

The amateur paranormal investigator commonly cites the “recording” onto local materials such as quartz or limestone rock or building materials or rust on metal objects, like nails, screws, wires and structural components. It sounds superficially plausible that high emotion events, like violent death, can release emotional “energy” (akin to electricity) that gets recorded onto these mineral crystals or coatings as sound or images are recorded onto magnetic tape in a tape recorder. The idea of recording onto a magnetic wire (via Smith and Poulsen in 1888-9) became a usable technology with magnetic tape records around 1930.

This concept, like all the others, is severally flawed. Just because it sounds good does not mean that the proposed mechanisms are possible. There are specific technical components of these systems (like magnetic heads on recorders) that do not have a natural analog. The earth’s magnetic field may be strong enough to align the polarity of newly produced rock from mid-ocean ridges, but it is not strong enough or precise enough to imprint a distinct sound or image into random existing crystals in surrounding materials. Emotion is not an energy like electricity (a stream of charged particles we can measure.) Also, humans do not have a sophisticated response to magnetic fields (regardless of what alternative health gurus tell you), so how are we to “read” such tapes? Can we perceive the content of recording tape by running our fingers over it? Nope.

Popularity

It’s abundantly clear that this concept of environmental recording of human feelings, sounds, and images that can be stored and retrieved is useful in different contexts. It’s also obvious that there is no current reasonable mechanism to accomplish it. All the “theories” are imaginative speculation or suppositions. They have not been tested or confirmed to any degree. And those that have some basis in scientific theory have not been shown to be applicable to real-world situations or the claims of hauntings reported. But because the concepts sounds sciencey and plausible to those without scientific backgrounds, they have been popular.

I contacted Alan Murdie of the SPR, expert ghost historian, to ask him about the history and popularity of the STT. He confirmed that the “tape” recording idea came far later, spurred by the movie, but the general ideas predated the invention of magnetic tape. He confirmed Lethbridge was critical to reinforcing the popularizing the notion but his ideas “have got rather muddled in being recycled over the last 45 years through various authors”. Curiously, Murdie opines that Lethbridge might have been forgotten after his death, strange ideas and all, if not for popular paranormal writer Colin Wilson. Wilson reinjected Lethbridge’s ideas into popular discussion, particularly in his book Mysteries (1978) “where he linked dowsing with then fashionable ideas about ley lines supposedly flowing through prehistoric and haunted sites.” (Lethbridge invoked his special “fields” for all things paranormal.) Wilson’s books were immensely popular with paranormal enthusiasts from the 70s to the 2000s. Thus, Lethbridge’s poorly formed speculation about location-specific fields as an explanation for hauntings was discovered by a new generation who were not going to dig through the SPR archives to find the historical precursors to it.

Psychology professor Terence Hines messaged me with a personal story of his own regarding the pop culture influence of STT. From 1955 to 1957, a half-hour syndicated TV show called Science Fiction Theatre aired. Hines recalled specifically an episode titled “The Frozen Sound” (aired July 30, 1955). The plot concerned something called “sonic saturation” used by devious Communist spies to steal our research secrets.  A slow-hardening synthetic crystal recorded surrounding voices making for an elusive spying system. The story also included the discovery of an ancient piece of lava rock from Vesuvius that had recorded human voices when it hardened thousands of years previously. The opening sequence included a demonstration of the piezoelectrical properties of quartz and the emphasis on research into crystals. Thus, the idea for recording in stone and crystals was around decades before it was incorporated as a plot device in The Stone Tape.

Conclusion

The explosion of amateur ghost hunting groups around 2000 and continuing even today has placed the STT into the paranormal patois. It’s frequently noted on paranormal investigation websites as a “scientific” theory and one that has some evidentiary support. As I’ve documented here, it doesn’t have empirical support. Professional parapsychologists and the SPR (still considered to be the foremost investigation body of paranormal claims) do not rely on it and hardly even mention the term in their professional literature. Cornell (2002) reiterated that the STT still is unconfirmed with no plausible mechanism and the theory has not been developed any further. Murdie declared it was “a hypothesis yet to be tested”.  Even though we have been talking about this general concept for over a century, we are no closer to having it make sense and it remains an unsupported, but appealing and convenient, notion to apply in paranormal discussions with the public.

STT does not make sense in whichever context it is implemented. Not only do we still not have a reasonable mechanism to record, store, and retrieve traces but there remain many vexing questions about the idea: Why is just one event recorded and not a jumble of events? Why does the “recording” last for decades or centuries instead of getting overwritten? Why do only certain places have place memories? It’s disingenuous of paranormal researchers to utilize STT as an explanation, or even to suggest it because it sounds sciencey.

Even more egregious are those paranormalists who geologize without having suitable knowledge of what they speak about and promote a pseudoscientific foundation for it. You will find several people speaking authoritatively about the properties of limestone bedrock (they have assumed exists under a location) that triggers hauntings. And there are those who publish or relate to tourists that the “quartz” and “granite” at Gettysburg, the world-famous Civil War battlefield, is responsible for preserving the ghostly phenomena that people constantly report there. To shut the door on the STT at Gettysburg, the rock there is not granite. It is diabase, which is quartz-poor. This is not in dispute. The mudstone/siltstone rocks among the famous diabase dike ridges (Seminary and Cemetery) and exposed boulders (Devil’s Den and Little Round Top) have no special properties either, with many other minerals making up the bedrock that lacks any abundance of quartz (and no limestone at all). There are other empirical factors involved in why people say they perceive spooky things at Gettysburg but I’ll leave that for another time.

There you have it on the Stone Tape theory. It’s not a theory, it doesn’t make physical sense, and there is no known mechanism for how it works at all. It was simply a good fictional movie.

Tell your friends.

Note: A different and condensed version of this piece is available at SpookyGeology.com

Bibliography

Babbage, C.  The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1838)

Callis, N. “Stone Tapes”. The Bent Spoon No. 7. 2012.

Cornell, T. Investigating the Paranormal. 2002. p. 391.

Denton, W. The Soul of Things. 1863. 

Fleeger, G. Geology of the Gettysburg Mesozoic Basin and Military Geology of the Gettysburg Campaign. Guidebook for the 73rd Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists.

Heath, P.R. “A New Theory on Place Memory.” Austr J. of Parapsychology. 2005. 5:1:40-58.

Hines, Terrance. Personal Communication. May 2017.

Kneale, N. The Stone Tape [movie] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtvJWKaDI9s&t=2s

Lander, K. Stone Tape Theory – Light, magnetic fields and the mind? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xta__gsUpug

Lethbridge, T.C. Ghost and Ghoul. 1961.

Lethbridge, T.C. Ghost and Divining Rod. 1963.

Murdie, Alan. Personal Communication. April 2017.

Persinger, M. and S. Koren. “Predicting the Characteristics of Haunt Phenomena from Geomagnetic Factors and Brain Sensitivity: Evidence from Field and Experimental Studies” 2001. In Houran & Lange’s Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Multidisciplinary Perspective.

Price, H.H.  “Haunting and the “psychic ether” hypothesis; with some preliminary reflections on the present condition and possible future of psychical research” Proceedings of the SPR (1938-1939) Vol 45.

Robins, D. Secret Language of Stone. 1988.

Ventola, A. “Anomalous Experiences Primer: Theories and Perspectives on Apparitions”. 2010. http://publicparapsychology.blogspot.com/2010/01/anomalous-experiences-primer-theories.html.

Yohe, T. Limestone and Its Paranormal Properties: A Comprehensive Approach to the Possibilities. 2015.

Arrogant and confused, ghost and ghoul (Book Review)

I’m still doing research on the Stone Tape idea, as a paranormally-curious geologist does. I was interested in obtaining a book by T.C. Lethbridge because his name comes up repeatedly as a promoter of the concept. It’s been a tricky thing to trace the origin without having easy access to the literature in print. I’ll keep looking. Meanwhile, I was able to secure a copy of Ghost and Ghoul (1961) via intra-library loan from my local county library (to whom I donate financially every month because they are awesome). I’m glad I didn’t purchase it. It’s was absolutely worse than I anticipated. And, it had essentially no mention of the physical recording of ghosts. In fact, Lethbridge promotes the idea that ghosts and ghouls (not visible but “felt” usually as coldness and oppression) are mental manifestations. Back to that idea by and by. First, some additional information about Lethbridge gleaned from this volume. I’m sure there is far more about Lethbridge since he was apparently notable in his time and warranted references and biographies. But after this introduction, you may not wish to bother.

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Confusing speculative “language of stone” (Book Review)

I’m researching the history of the Stone Tape “theory” of haunting for my Spooky Geology site. It’s something I’ve been working on in bits and pieces for several years now. I’ve watched the movie The Stone Tape (thanks to mooching off Blake Smith’s Plex account) and have keyed into any mention of the idea from various paranormalists. One website mentioned that some paranormalists may have been influenced by a book by Don Robins called The Secret Language of Stone. From 1988, it obviously is later than the 1972 movie. But the write-up seemed interesting. With no luck finding a copy in a library, I picked up a used copy and read it in a week. By the time I was done, I was ready to punch Robins. It’s an annoying book. I don’t think it would have influenced many people who could have made it through the techno-babbling, tangents, and connecting of random threads to get to a frustrating end. Here’s another case of me reading a book so you don’t have to…Read More »

Well-worn paranormal paths go nowhere: When to give up

Gary Campbell is the keeper of the Official Sightings Register at Loch Ness. In an article today in the Daily Record, he says that even after 20 years of this project, sightings still continue.

Gary Campbell, keeper of the register, said the fascination of Nessie was showing no signs of abating.

He accepted five sightings for 2015 – the most in 13 years.

Hoaxes and those that can be explained are not logged. The mystery, he says, remains unsolved. It appears that any reported sighting that can’t be easily explained is logged as evidence of a bigger “mystery” and the “mystery” is subsequently turned into a singular mystery “creature”. Through mass media magic, an unknown phenomenon (or multiple phenomena) morphed into a plesiosaur-like monster living in the loch. Living plesiosaurs in Loch Ness is an absurd and unscientific conjecture. However, that the Loch has some strange surface phenomena is not in doubt. But, Campbell connects the phenomena reported at the Loch not only with Nessie, a real creature, but with a long historical record (since the story of Saint Columba).

“It’s 1450 years now since the first report of a monster in Loch Ness – it doesn’t look like Nessie’s going anywhere just yet.”

This is bogus reasoning. The Nessie mystery is long-solved. It’s not one neat and clean explanation but there is no monster.  He’s right in that she’s not going anywhere because tourism is too big of a hook for this area. Even though this would have to be an animal that does not breath air, doesn’t die, doesn’t have babies, and can live on sparse food supplies and avoid detection during thorough scans of the water body, it’s still “real” to some who can’t let go of that cherished belief. There’s nothing very harmful about myths and local legends but what about those for which this has become the basis for their life’s work?Read More »

A Guide to Ghost Hunting Guidebooks: NO MORE! Please!

This might come as a shock to the millions of ghost enthusiasts out there: The scientific consensus is that ghosts are NOT spirits, remnants of the dead, recordings of energy, or supernatural entities. Our existing knowledge about nature does not point to a conclusion that ghosts are a single definable thing, paranormal or normal, that you can find, observe, measure, or study. Yet, there are about 200 guides to “ghost hunting” in print or e-book form that lay out ways to obtain evidence of or make contact with ghosts. Therefore, we have a conundrum at step one of any attempt at ghost hunting – we can’t define what a ghost is, and we do not know its properties because we’ve never determined that they exist and measured them. No ghost handbook has ever led anyone to catch and identify ghosts, they can only lead you to interpret something as a ghost.

In that sense, all ghost hunting books are worthless. So why bother with them?

First, it’s an interesting cultural phenomena. Actively investigating reports of ghosts and paranormal activity is mainstream and a popular hobby and tourism draw. In 2010, there were over 1000 paranormal investigation groups in the US, the majority of which researched hauntings. (Hill, 2010) It’s not worthless to examine why people spend their time and money on this hobby and how they go about doing it.

Second, the idea of paranormal investigation contains important aspects of society’s attitudes towards finding out about the world, decided what is meaningful and true, using science to examine questions, cooperation and trust in a community, and taking part in a larger effort beyond one’s own small role in life.

I’m deeply interested in the second point. I’ve found that examining amateur paranormal group behaviors and output highlights concepts about science education and public discourse about belief and reality. This piece mentions 11 books on ghost hunting that I have examined. They have broad similarities and distinct differences.  In the main portion, I review 4 books on the basis of the following:

  1. Readability (language, errors, quality of writing)
  2. Credibility (sources, supported arguments vs speculation, factual correctness)
  3. Overall value as a cultural product (Buy it or not?)

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Media as ‘medium’: Review of Paranormal Media and the good and bad of ghost hunting

It’s not news that the paranormal is mainstream, which is ironic since we commonly understand the paranormal to be events that are NOT normal yet the discussion about it is an everyday occurrence. If you follow TV ghost hunters or paranormal researchers, “evidence” is all around us. So much for it being all that “extraordinary”.

51m9mZYRf4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Annette Hill (no relation) is a professor of media and communication in the U.K. Her book, Paranormal Media, provides support for the conclusion that the paranormal as a field of inquiry is variable, pliable, irreducibly complex, and dependent on context to the point that we have trouble even defining it for study.

The volume contains interesting ideas, particularly with regards to reality paranormal television and the role of skepticism. Her findings derive from a study she conducted of 70 interviewees (in the U.K.) regarding paranormal depiction in the media. Also included was a section on “magic” with some mixed feelings on Derren Brown, but my interest was in the revelation of a more nuanced meaning behind ghost hunting shows and the activities of amateur paranormal researchers.

In my previous work examining amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs), it was indisputable that their personal experiences were the impetus for their interest in the paranormal and prompted them to find out more. Also clear was the influence of paranormal television shows, whether they were expository or “reality” types. The importance placed on experiences was a strong theme throughout this book.

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