Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Paranormal' Category

Eerie footage of “ghost” captured by schoolboy?

The video above has been seen by hundreds of thousands of Netizens in the past few days, despite not being that scary nor interesting, and coming straight from The Sun, not your most credible news source.

Captured by 12-year-old Reece Pitman, the British tabloid informs us that:

“It came days after his nine-year-old sister complained that someone was mysteriously finishing her jigsaws at night. The lad showed the amazing footage — which must be seen to be believed — to mum Tonia, 38. She said: “Reece looked scared witless. In the clip a white shadow appears from my bedroom followed by the dark image of a man. It crosses the landing and disappears when it reaches the banisters.” Tonia, of Solihull, Birmingham, said she consulted a psychic who told her the ghost could be friendly. Sales assistant Tonia said: “I’ve had a tough time recently as my husband left me. I didn’t believe in ghosts — but I’m thinking of the spectre as my guardian angel.” Julian Banks of the British Paranormal Society said the film was “potentially the best image of a ghost in years”.
[The Sun: Ghostbanisters]

Actually, the video shows some artifacts that strongly hint it was crudely hoaxed.

The unfocused aspect of the ghost can be accomplished by placing anything immediately in front of he camera. And, the telltale sign, are a series of light reflections that seem to go along the apparition.

In the video below, we reproduced the ghost video by trying two different methods: first using a transparent sheet of plastic with a black figure glued to it; then simply hanging a black lace string in front of the camera:

Our reproduction is clearly far from being perfect, but it hopefully demonstrates the effects and ideas involved, especially the light reflections that show up when you place a transparent sheet in front of a camera without much care. The drawing fixed to the sheet should have been slimmer, perhaps even translucid, but I didn’t bother to try that.

A British chap seems to have achieved better results also with a transparent sheet. Pay attention to his electronically modified kid-voice.

Reproducing the original video (assuming you consider these as reproductions) doesn’t prove it was a hoax. It is, however, hopefully a healthy and informative exercise and context to evaluate the evidence.

After all, why should a real ghost show the same reflections that a transparent sheet of plastic would show up? Believe it… or not.

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UPDATE: Yeah, yeah, my reproduction is VERY far from being perfect. And Brian Parsons in the comments below suggested why the reflection of the lights was right, but the ghost not quite so:

“The trick is to use a clear reflective surface near the camera with enough space between it and the lens to have something reflect back between the plastic and the lens. It’s an easy trick and is responsible for numerous fake videos dating back several years (does anyone remember the Oklahoma junk yard video?).”

In fact, upon reviewing the video, I suspect the ghost may be indeed nothing more than a reflection in the clear reflective surface that was put near the camera… of the cell phone itself. That is, not solid piece of paper, no semi-transparent image fixed to the sheet of clear plastic or glass.

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Was the ghost just the cell phone? Believe it.. or not.

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The second-best pareidolia… a hoax?

“Out of this World” did a good take on the Wem Town Hall “ghost” that we mentioned as an impressive example of pareidolia. They present videos of the actual fire, present the case and myth, and the latest information I had that analysis by Vernon Harrison on the negatives didn’t find any evidence of tampering. Thus, it seemed it was either a real ghost or a simulacrum.

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But they went further and had the negative examined at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford. Keep reading to watch the second part and their surprising finds.

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Old Man Winter and a creepy ghost pareidolia

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Another impressive example of pareidolia, found by Jeremy Olden in his house at Lake Stevens, Seattle. Keep reading for the full image and a slightly creepy video showing our brain’s pattern-recognition machine – or something supernatural, you decide.

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The Magonia website is back!

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Magonia is one of Britain’s oldest established magazines in the fields of ufology, Forteana and contemporary beliefs, running from 1966. Headed by John Rimmer, with John Harney and Peter Rogerson on the team, publishing illuminating articles by mostly all the luminaries in the field, it was the original Magonia website that deeply influenced the humble Pelicanist that writes here.

The old website is no longer available, though it can still be seen in parts in the Internet Archive. But that’s no longer a problem, since Magonia is back online!

With more than a hundred classic old articles already available, and some newer, never before seen in the Internet texts published, this is surely a holiday blessing.

Be sure to check the new Magonia blog too.

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My brain… It’s full of stars

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My God… It’s full of stars”, said astronaut Bowman while he was being absorbed by the black Monolith in “2001”. A succession of psychedelic imagery (created with slit-scan photography) then followed, representing the contact with the Divine, or whatever it was, as Kubrick never made clear what for Sirius sake that ending actually meant. But it was something big, mystical, even religious.

Spiral images and tunnels of light often emerge in experiences with hallucinogenic drugs, and perhaps not by mere coincidence, in religious iconography referring to “visions”, such as eastern mandalas, Islamic art or even Christian cathedrals. Not only that, it also shows up in near-death experiences, synaesthesic hallucinations, migraines, epilepsy, psychotic disturbances, sleep disturbances, advanced syphilis and even in ancient rock art thousands of years old.

This universality of the theme seems to suggest something literally Higher, perhaps a contact with higher planes, even though migraines, advanced syphilis or psychosis are kind of out of place in this interpretation. Neuroscience offers an alternative explanation that seems to fit them all.

In the 1920s, German neurologist Heinrich Klüver dedicated himself to study the effects of mescaline (peyote) and noticed that some geometrical patterns were repeatedly and consistently reported by different subjects (including himself). The patterns were then classified by him into what he called “form constants”, of four types: (I) tunnels, (II) spirals, (III) lattices and (IV) cobwebs.

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All very interesting, but this is just description. Recent studies however, combining discoveries on the workings of the visual cortex with models of the workings of neurons suggest that such patterns could be the result of something akin to a short-circuit in the brain. Simple disturbances in the visual cortex, when mapped to what patterns would be perceived by the subject show a striking similarity with psychedelic imagery.

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On the left, the representation of the visions of someone quite high. On the right, the simulation of the perception generated from a simple disturbance in the visual cortex. Simple as that. No god, no spiritual plane, just an artifact of how our visual cortex process images and how it then reacts to anomalies in its workings. “It’s full of stars”, but they may all be inside your brain.

Well, perhaps things are not so simple, I must note. Those damn scientists, they keep insisting on having solid evidence and naming speculation and hypothesis as just speculation and hypothesis. So this oversimplified description of their work must not be taken as gospel, and I have to say that in their papers they make clear that this is just a work-in-progress, and that even the comparison above involves some fiddling with the model.

And as believers would say – as they said in response to a first Portuguese version of this text – who are to say the “disturbances” that create the imagery are not somehow “holy” in themselves?

To which I answered that this is missing the whole point here, that such seemingly complex and universal images are product of our brains, even if there could be countless root causes for the simple planar disturbances that may cause them. Including some kind of brain fiddling god. Fact is, our brain would do most of the work.

Amazingly, even to this day, many people still have doubts about that. Funny ape brains.

For a more rigorous and accurate description of these findings check:

Physics Makes a Toy of the Brain (Science after Sunclipse);
– "What Geometric Visual Hallucinations Tell Us about the Visual Cortex" (PDF) Neural Computation 14 (2002):473–491.

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