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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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.

A ruse by any other name still stinks

As one who runs a website about weird news, it’s been a crazy start to the year. A number of hoaxes proliferating around the media the first week of this year. They are passed on almost with the same respect as actual news. If you resolve to do anything this year, resolve to doubt the news when it sounds too outrageous or too weird to be true. Because it’s probably not.

There are too many urban legends and popular rumors going around to follow at any one time, but let’s take a quick look at some of the major hoaxes that recently created hype in the media.

Made for TV hoaxes

Not counting the Punk’d and Candid Camera-type practical joke setups that are humorous (if rather mean), several television programs aim their hoaxes at the public, making them realistic, and keeping the background a secret as the bizarre video goes viral across the web.

In July, in Whitstable, Kent, U.K, a video from a medicine shop’s closed circuit television showed a man surprised by a falling box. But before the fall, the camera captures the box defying gravity, levitating off the shelf, hanging there for a moment, then dropping.

Was this paranormal activity? (There were obvious signs that it was not.) It was such a fun video that it was passed around extensively. Finally, in December, it was revealed as a hoax for a TV show. The reveal happened on a broadcast that did not get good ratings. Most people may still assume the video was actual evidence for paranormal activity.

The case of the glowing squid-like mystery creature in Bristol harbor, also in the U.K., didn’t hang on quite as long. People in the harbor sounded amazed to see and film a bright, pulsating animal that did not look like a machine. It looked like something out of this world!

The prank was released on YouTube as part of a marketing stunt by UKTV’s entertainment channel, Watch, to launch the show “The Happenings”. I really wanted that bioluminescent beastie to be real.

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