From seeing shapes in clouds to hearing Bing Crosby in a blizzard of static, we’re all prone to finding things that aren’t there. And there’s a name for it: apophenia
The Latvian psychologist Konstanins Raudive spent the summer of 1965 trying to contact the dead. Every day, with careful precision, he would take a new reel of recording tape from its box, thread the tape through the rollers of the recorder and set up the microphone next to a mistuned radio. The static hush was saved on to the recorder and he would spend hours reviewing the audio, listening for the quiet whisper of the deceased.
But the dead were frustratingly shy. Despite his technical skills and linguistic abilities he heard nothing except the fuzz and pop of the radio for months on end. But slowly, with time and attention, words began to form. “It takes at least three months for the ear to adjust itself,” Raudive wrote later. “To begin with, though [the ear] may hear speech-like noises, it cannot differentiate the words, let alone understand what they mean.”
He amplified and re-recorded his samples to help him find meaningful sounds and gradually the spirits seemed more present. When Raudive summoned an old girlfriend from Scotland who had since passed away, she seemed to reply: “All sait dein, Aileen” using a single word from English, French and German to say: “Your Aileen knows all” (except, it would seem, the consistent use of grammar). Even stranger was that the spirits often spoke in languages they had never known in life. Raudive’s mother, a firmly Latvian woman by all accounts, seemed to speak in mixed Spanish, Italian, Swedish, German, standard Latvian and her own dialect.
Although baffling to many of his scientific peers, Raudive eventually published his discoveries in a book that appeared in English as Breakthrough. It was a massive success and the media lined up to listen to the “electronic voice phenomena“. The results were somewhat mixed. When the BBC science programme Tomorrow’s World turned up to film Raudive in action, only the odd indistinct word could be made out. They left, unimpressed.
A Cambridge parapsychologist, David Ellis, studied Raudive’s attempts to contact the dead but all the evidence pointed to the impressions having been formed by the listeners. Later, psychologist Imants Barušs attempted to listen for ghostly words using Raudive’s methods under laboratory conditions but few could be found and, when they were, every listener seemed to hear something different.
Rather than discovering a form of communication with the dead, Raudive had inadvertently rediscovered the remarkable human talent for perceiving meaning where there is none. Known as apophenia or pareidolia, it is something we all experience to some degree. We see faces in the clouds and animals in rock formations. We mishear our name being called in crowds and think our mobile phones are vibrating when it turns out to be nothing but the normal sensations of our own movement.
- 10 Astounding Examples of Pareidolia In Outer Space (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- 31 Inanimate Objects With Secret Inner Lives – Pareidolia (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- 50 Things That Look Like Faces – Pareidolia (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Pareidolia: Seeing Faces in Unusual Places (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Ghost Box: Pareidolia Through White Noise (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- ‘Mars Rat’ Takes Internet by Storm (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- The Face on Mars (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- The Lurking Pornographer: Why Your Brain Turns Bubbles Into Nude Bodies (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Apophenia (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Neurologist Examines The “Ghost Box” (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Why we can ‘see’ the house that looks like Hitler (theguardian.com)
- Why we see things (southofheaven.typepad.com)
- Study claims EVPs Persist, Even in Controlled Environments (mysteriousuniverse.org)
- Listening for the voices of the dead (mindhacks.com)
- Supernatural skeptics don’t know what they’re missing (washingtonpost.com)
Via The Bent Spoon
Once upon a time, there was a wannabe ghost hunter. She watched TV shows featuring paranormal investigators going into haunted locations and capturing real ghost voices on their recorders. Finding this incredibly cool, she visited websites where ghost hunters from all over uploaded creepy recordings of spirit voices. She bought a recorder like the ones she saw on TV and did her own EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) experiments. She lived in a house where a previous owner died on the dining room floor. Lights went on and off by themselves, faint disembodied voices and footsteps were heard and unexplained shadows were glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. So obviously, it had to be haunted. She wanted to prove to others that the ghosts were actually there, and she also wanted to hear what they had to say. Why were they there? Were they “stuck” from unfinished business? Were they attached to the house or something in it? So, just like the investigators on TV, she held her inexpensive recorder and asked questions. On playback, she was excited to hear responses. It was hard to make out the words, but as some ghost hunting experts will explain, sometimes the spirits just don’t have enough “energy” to speak clearly. One night, she got a reply which sounded more like a snarl. It scared her, and after stinking up the house with burning sage, she stopped doing sessions in her own home.
Yep, that was me several years ago. Back before I took the time to learn about recorders, recording techniques, what environmental factors can affect recorders, and what physiological and psychological factors affect how a person can misinterpret sounds. Luckily, I can laugh at myself now. But what isn’t funny is the fact that there are paranormal investigators going into people’s homes or businesses and, because they are making the same mistakes I once made, presenting frightened clients with false positives and calling them ghost voices. As I mentioned in my article “The Evocative EVP” (http://carolynscreepycorner.blogspot.com/2012/06/evocative-evp.html) while more ghost hunting groups are finally acknowledging that there are natural explanations for orb photos, many of these same people are still clinging to their EVPs with a death grip. I believe this might be because listening is more subjective; you can easily see how orbs are recreated, but replicating false positive EVPs may be more complicated due to various factors. There have been reliable scientific studies showing that people hear things that are not there. One study, discussed in Mary Roach’s book Spook, illustrates this and is relevant to EVP review. Subjects were asked to transcribe a poorly recorded lecture. Many were able to hear words and even complete phrases. However, in reality, the recording was nothing but white noise. Ambient sounds can easily be misinterpreted as voices especially with priming, and when they are within certain frequencies and rhythms causing the brain to automatically switch to speech mode. Personally, I’ve participated in many audio reviews where people swore they heard a meaningful response when all I heard was something akin to “Glarmpht”. So even if something sounds like a voice or a phrase, it doesn’t mean that it is. And even if it is, you still have are left with the task of proving that it belongs to a ghost.
Priming and expectation influence what we hear. If we expect (or really want to) hear a voice or certain response, it is likely we will, because our brains are wired to make random information fit into patterns. Understanding speech is much more involved than just our ears hearing what sounds are being produced by vocal cords. We perceive speech by using other senses and the brain processing the combined sensory information, as well as drawing from our memory. One interesting example of how other senses can influence hearing is the McGurk Effect. Subjects watch a video of a person saying one phoneme while the audio is playing another. Subjects see the person say, “Fa fa fa”, and they hear, “Fa fa fa.” However, the audio is actually playing “Ba Ba Ba.” When the subjects close their eyes, they hear “Ba ba ba”, but interestingly, when some open their eyes again and watch the video, they again hear “Fa fa fa” even though they now know that’s not correct.
Bobby Nelson, co-founder and contributing writer for The Bent Spoon Magazine, has conducted experiments demonstrating how priming and expectation influences what we hear. In one experiment . . .
- Report: Things Get Spooky While Ghost Hunting at The William Heath Davis House in San Diego (dreadcentral.com)
- Paranormal Corner: Do you believe in ghosts? (nj.com)
- Spirit Bilocation: Is it possible? (bigseance.com)
- Paranormal group reports signs of ghosts (newsnet5.com)
- Thoughts on Ghost Hunting the Crawl Space (phergoph.wordpress.com)
- The people who think they tune into dead voices (sott.net)
- EVP – Speaking With Dead (vineoflife.net)
- Back to the Basics – How to Record EVP (thehauntedvoice.wordpress.com)
by Dr. Karen Stollznow via randi.org
A fellow Twitter user recently asked me for my impressions of the The Dead Files. The Travel Channel show first aired back in September, 2011, and is now into its third season. Here is the network’s glowing blurb:
The Dead Files team approaches every case from their two specific areas of expertise: Steve DiSchiavi is a Homicide Detective and Amy Allan is a Physical Medium. They are a paranormal team like no other, combining their unique, eclectic and often-conflicting skills to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America.
Across the internet viewers rave that The Dead Files isn’t like other ghost hunting shows in that they don’t use EMF readers or record EVPs. Of course, this show is more comparable to The Long Island Medium in that regard, and showcases Amy’s alleged skills as a psychic medium, sensitive and empath. Her bio claims that, “Her abilities have been studied and tested by leading parapsychologists.” She claims to have been “mentored” by the late William Roll, a parapsychologist and big believer in mediumship. Amy appears to hold a BA in psychology and other qualifications in business. However, she was working as a massage therapist in Denver before she got her TV gig.
Her bio also states that she has “worked with many private investigators and police agencies.” There is no proof offered to back up these claims. As we know, there are very few documented cases where psychics have assisted law enforcement agencies and ever fewer where the police thought they were of any use. Even then, their help is never proven to be psychic. A Denver cold case detective once said to local investigators Bryan & Baxter, “I wish we had a phone line that was specifically for psychics to call and leave their tips; and then we’d never answer it.” He added, “If someone contacted us with information that led us to a body then that person would become a suspect.”
In The Dead Files, Amy and Steve travel to a “haunted” location and conduct an investigation – independently. “Each investigator’s methods and findings remain hidden from the other team member to preserve the integrity of their findings.” Before Amy visits the premises, cameraman Matthew Anderson performs a “cleaning” of the premises to remove any pieces of “leading information” that could influence Amy’s reading. Of course, removing photographs and collectibles doesn’t prevent a cold reader from gleaning information. In every episode I spotted overlooked clues, including a cross on the wall. At any rate, she is there because the place is allegedly haunted, and not to read the occupants, as such. Each place is invariably found to be “haunted”.
Amy does a walk through of the premises and Matthew films her commentary. In every episode I have watched she asserts immediately, “There’s something here”. Her repertoire of “feelings” is recycled, and in every show she claims to experience a “choking sensation”, and reports the presence of “shadow figures” and “demons” lurking everywhere. Her melodramatic visions are of typical situations that underpin alleged “hauntings”, including physical abuse, family arguments, illness and death. Amy ends the investigations by having a sketch artist draw a picture of one of the “ghosts” she saw on the premises. Alternatively, she draws an image of something she saw or felt.
All in all, Amy is a cold reader.
MORE . . .
- A review of the top paranormal events of 2012 (illuminutti.com)
- 2012 Failed and Forgotten Psychic Predictions (illuminutti.com)
- Dead Wrong: Travel Channel’s The Dead Files (randi.org)
- Paranormal Weekend Haunts Crescent Hotel (arkansasmatters.com)
- Haunting Tales: Texas Poltergeist Ranch (newsfromthespiritworld.com)