Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Towards a theory of Precognition

Precognition, the alleged ability to see the future, perhaps spontaneously and uncontrollably, is a form of anomalous perception and anomalous cognition (AC). Perception of the present is clairvoyance, perception of the past includes psychometry, time slips and hypnotic regression and Perception of the future is known as precognition (PC).

Precognition may be conscious or unconscious, spontaneous or induced in a number of ways. Spontaneous conscious PC cases may be explained in terms of selection bias – people remember only dreams that came true, misinterpretation, unconscious adjustment of memories or a form of cryptomnesia where the witness had information that could have been used to predict the future event but had forgotten it and then created a dream or vision that was interpreted as a premonition. Some PC skeptics will try to explain PC in terms of clairvoyance or telepathy – explaining one anomaly in terms of another possibly less mysterious.

Spontaneous unconscious PC may manifest itself in impulse behaviour that avoids a bad outcome or results in a good outcome. Or it may result in presentiment, a feeling that prompts a change in behaviour. It may also result in short term changes in, for example, heart beats or the electrical conductivity of the skin. Laboratory experiments have come to rely more on physiological changes and less on reports the participants make when testing for PC ability. Typically these experiments involve monitoring body changes in response to a random stimulus at a future time and seeing whether there is a response to the stimulus before the stimulus is administered. These experiments are similar to experiments in normal cognition but need extra care in design, for example ensuring that the random number generators used are truly unpredictable – typically they involve detecting radioactive decay products which are taken as truly random, an assumption that depends on Bell’s Theorem which rules out hidden variables at the quantum level that might be accessible to the subject’s unconscious mind.

The evidence from experiment suggests a real but weak effect which cannot, at this time, be improved by training but the evidence is not sufficiently compelling to convince skeptics who may also reject Precognition because it raises questions about the nature of time, free will and causality – it is normally considered that an effect cannot precede its cause – and because no mechanism for it is proposed.

Physicists and others have been developing theories of how PC might work, the main focus being on quantum mechanics where the description of nature is symmetric with respect to time at least on the smallest time scales.

The Multiphase Model Of Precognition (MMPC) [1]

Researchers at the Laboratory for Fundamental Research in Palo Alto have developed an interesting model of PC that separates Physics, Neurobiology and Cognition and identify and try to address the problems in each domain. The laboratory president and founder was previously a scientist working with the CIA Star Gate program. Despite a cloud over his role in the project which led to suspicions about the data gathered (2,3) the review that recommended termination of the project admitted a statistically significant effect had been found but noted that the information received, which was to do with remote viewing rather than PC was vague and ambiguous and not good enough for intelligence purposes.

The MMPC is, despite the concerns in the paragraph above, plausibly constructed and references other investigators who appeared to have no conflict of interest and seem to be reliable. The pleasing feature of the theory is its decoupling of the various domains and hence disciplines involved, while the concerns above should prompt a more critical reading of their suggestions.

The authors of the model theorise that entropy gradients, for example those associated with an explosion, are related to how well PC gifted individuals perform on laboratory tests, that there is a “transducer” that maps signals carried from a future time to the time of the experiment into signals within the central nervous system, that cortical processing of the received signal within the central nervous system requires, or at least involves cross modal sensory processing of the sort seen for example in synaesthesia where sounds may be perceived as colours or vice versa and that the cognitive processing of the signals in the cortex uses the same processes as for normal perception. This last assumption means that it will not be possible to distinguish between PC cognitive processing and normal cognitive processing by looking at the behaviour of the brain.

In this model the low incidence of PC ability in the general population is explained by variations in individual sensitivity and efficiency of the presumed transducer and the low incidence of individuals with massive cross modal processing, for example synaesthetes. The last factor is used to explain why PC seems to resist training for excellence.

The MMPC model does not supply a candidate for the signal carrying the information from the future to the past, though they cite other researchers as ruling out electromagnetic waves, or any suggestions concerning the transducer mapping from the Physics domain to the Neural domain. If information is transmitted backwards in time it is impossible to tell when it was received: it could have been received years before the participant entered the laboratory.

The model is rudimentary with few concrete predictions but asserts that PC gifted people may be good at visualisation that those who are good at converting implicit information into awareness may be PC gifted and that PC gifted people may exhibit synaesthesia and vice versa. The search for the transducer is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack and the other predictions may be hard to test because of the low incidence of synaesthetes, PC capable people and good visualisers in the population. If validated the authors claim it would unite all ESP processes under one model.

Consciousness Induced Restoration Of Time Symmetry [5]

Bierman has produced a model which he claims will unite all ESP processes under one framework.

The problem precognition raises is that while almost all formalisms in physics (excpet possibly thermodynamics) are time symmetric in that any solution of the equations as a function of time holds for negative times as well as positive times. This implies paranormal phenomena are natural and to be expected. But our experience says otherwise. We seem to live in a world where time flows in one direction, the past is inaccessible and the future is not yet created. The cause of this asymmetry is unknown. Simply assuming that the advanced solutions are forbidden is a counsel of despair.

Bierman assumes that when sustaining consciousness the brain partly restores symmetry allowing the advanced solutions, which correspond to negative time with respect to the observer, occur. He does not propose a mechanism for this. By assuming that if a stimulus is presented to a subject at a time t then their physical response, say skin conductance, will show only the standard solution S(t) say but if the stimulus is consciously observed then the physical response will have a contribution from the future (forward wave) solution S(-t).

S = S(t) + A*S(-t)

Where A is defined in terms of coherence as measured from EEG studies and the fraction of the brain involved as measured by fMRI [6]. By assuming A is roughly constant he is able to predict the expected response and generate a simple if cryptic rule: What happens after happens before which can be taken to mean that the past and future mirror each other. He then argues that the advanced part mimics the retarded part, thus if the signal peaks four seconds after the stimulus then the retarded art should peak about four seconds before the stimulus. He cites an unpublished study that showed no presentiment of the stimulus when the subject could not report the content of the stimulus, suggesting that consciousness is crucial for presentiment to occur. He then postulates that the peak is symmetric about the moment of conscious experience, which is about 400Ms after the stimulus with the part of the stimulus that is not consciously experienced not being reflected back in time.

His theory does not allow the past to be changed but allows the future to influence the present. Thus a dream of a house catching fire because of a lighted candle that causes all candles to be removed prevents the fire and so there will be no signal from the future. This in itself seems a paradox and seems to clash with the findings by Cox [7,8] who showed that trains which crashed were less populated than usual and the carriages worst affected were even less populated than usual and attributed that to an unconscious premonition.

Bierman’s model puts consciousness in a primary role in PC, which is in line with increasing popularity of the view that consciousness is intrinsic to reality in Philosophy, Neuroscience and even Physics (see references cited in [7]) It is also sympathetic to a dualist conception of consciousness which is in turn more compatible with the notion of a timeless block universe than with Temporal Realism.

Comparison Of MMPC And CIRTS

MMPC is an aesthetically pleasing model that separates the concerns of Physics, Neurobiology and Cognition. In essence it asserts that information is carried from the future to the past by an unknown carrier. A transducer converts this signal into regular central nervous system signal which are then processed by the cortex and enter consciousness and are then processed in the normal way. Consciousness plays no role in the PC process. The low incidence of PC gifted people in the general population results from differences between subjects in transducer efficiencies and in cortical processing. The authors do not mention the possibility that the transducer, if it exists, is a distributed function of the whole brain rather than a discrete organ, which might align it to the hypothesis that the brain is merely a receiver and filter for a universal consciousness.

CIRTS puts consciousness at the centre of the PC process by restoring symmetry which allows the brain to receive advanced waves. These are then registered by the brain with an efficiency that depends on measurable brain properties.

Both models assert time is real and that it is possible for the future to affect the present but not for the present to affect the past. These results appear to contradict those found by Cox [7,8] and a replication of Cox’s work, or alternatively a demonstration that disasters in urban areas tend to be accompanied by fewer than normal people entering the area of the disaster.

While MMPC is neatly formulated it has two big unknowns: The nature of the transducer and the carrier of the information from the future. As Bierman points out what we see is correlations and, I suggest, unless we can detect the carrier, its existence is merely inferred.

CIRTS appears more sympathetic to a dualist or panpsychic interpretation of the mind body problem which is my instinctive preference.


  1. Rethinking Extrasensory Perception: Toward a Multiphasic Model of Precognition: Sonali Bhatt Marwaha and Edwin C. May
  2. Consciousness induced restoration of time symmetry (CIRTS): a psychophysical theoretical perspective, Bierman, D.J, The journal of parapsychology Volume 74 Issue 2 Pages 273-299
  3. Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) is a functional neuroimaging procedure using MRI technology that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. This technique relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled.
  4. SUBLIMINAL PRECOGNITION” A MODERN CRITICAL REVIEW OF “PRECOGNITION – AN ANALYSIS” BY W.E COX (1956). ADRIAN DAVID NELSON (2013) A review of The original work by Cox since the original was unavailable.
  5. Cox, W.E. (1956). Precognition: An Analysis, II. The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 50(3), 99-109. The original paper by Cox
About The Author
Trained as a mathematician and physicist the author was a contract software developer for many years working in a number of countries. He is now writing a book on Time which will cover a number of aspects of Time. As a result he is constantly short of time.

When not writing the Author plays Capoeira, takes photographs and administers the family run Bed and Breakfast in Edinburgh, Scotland

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Jurassic Plant Brought Back To Life After 200 Million Years: and the rest !!!!

The following URL
Jurassic Plant Brought Back To Life After 200 Million Years

seems to have been taken up by a number of sites. However

1)  The researchers named in the article do not seem to exist
2) looks very much like a spoof site.

While there have been cases of  revivals of spores and plants  of extreme antiquity this is almost certainly not one of them

Dont take my word for it. Do some digging

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Pagan Origins of Christmas

Fundamentalist Christians, especially protestant ones, hate Christmas. Some claim it, like Halloween, is a pagan festival and nothing to do with Christianity. And they are right. Realising this Pagans have sought to reclaim “Their” midwinter festival, ignoring the widespread celebration of the mid winter solstice around this time that means Christmas does not belong to any one group, tribe or religion.

Anti Christmas
Father Christmas riding a goat
In 1652 British Puritans made Christmas Illegal for eight years. They hated the pagan parts for being pagan, the christian parts for being catholic and hated any festival because people enjoyed themselves [1] (around this time they also made smiling an offence). In America at about the same time puritans passed a law levying a fine on anyone celebrating Christmas.

In 1989 a Japanese department store made a huge Father Christmas, but made one mistake: Thy put him on the roof and Crucified him. In 1969 an Editorial in L' Oservatore Romano described Father Christmas as a representing a monstrous substition for the Christ Child and offending the faith.

Around 1988 the Truth Tabernacle in Burlington, North Carolina, considered Christmas the work of the devil and talked of Satan Claus, being an impostor. As with most religious nutters they lacked both the education to know that Santa Claus evolved from St Nicholas, and the sense of humour that would have let them call him “old Nick”. They, like the original Calvinists, allowed no Christmas Presents or trees, and an elder of the church noted that 25th December was the birthday of a pagan god, Tammuz, and claimed Jesus was born in September [2]. Had he claimed Jesus was born on September 11th this would have been a powerful synchronicity. His claim would also have surprised early Christians who celebrated the birth in March [1]. In truth if Jesus ever existed there is no indication anywhere of his birthday.

The stalwart religionists held a mock trial accusing Santa of Child Abuse, by urging parents to buy alcohol not clothes, of falsely claiming to be St Nicholas, maing ministers lie about Christ's Birthday, and making churches practice Baal Religion unknowingly. After this kangaroo court had found him, guilty they hung an eight foot dummy in a Santa suit from a tree.

The Significance of the End of the Year.

Calendar endpoints are psychologically significant. There was a panic in 2000 about the millennium bug, and in 2012 about the alleged end of the Mayan calendar. In AD 1000 there was widespread expectation of the second coming of Christ.

Times of change have also been appropriated by non-christians, as anyone who recalls the hype over the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” can testify. There are at least three times of change in the western year, the Spring and Winter Solstice and New Year. The last two have greater cultural impact and for most people the Winter Solstice is more meaningful (Why the new year is not celebrated on the Winter Solstice is another question).

The Winter solstice, in the Norther Hemisphere, is the time when the days stop getting shorter. After that they get longer. It is when Ullr, god of Winter loses his annual battle with Odin and hos power begins to weaken till midsummer. It is a “weird Space” that has become a time of carnival when normal rules are relaxed in order to reinforce them when normality returns on Plough Monday. And is a very good excuse to forget work, perhaps impossible because of the weather and enjoy life for a while.

Festivals of Light

Pennick [1] notes that in the West December 25th has been celebrated as the birthday of divinities of light, citing the Babylonian Queen of Heaven, Oriris from Egypt, Dionysus and Adonis from Greece and from Scandinavia Baldur, ironically killed by Mistletoe. December 25th is the birthday of Mithra, the Persian solar god[5] originally a servant to Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god of goodness [4].

Mithraism, a mystic cult that developed in Armenia from a local late surviving version of Mazdaysnian, blended Mithra, originally an Indo-Iranian god of contracts and broad pastures with the Babylonian sun god, Shamash and god of seasonal regeneration, Tammuz.

After his introduction to Rome this mixed Mithra, and perhaps his December 25 date of celebration, were again blended with Solis indigeni (a Roman sun god derived from the Pelasgean titan of light - Helios. This resulted in a composite being Solis invicta, the invincible sun. Mithra, the god of the regenerating sun was annually reborn on December 25th.

Aurelian eventually proclaimed Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in A.D. 274 and Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Invincible Sun) became an official holiday. This coincided with the Roman Saturnalia, which flanked the weird space of the solstice, when normal social rules were relaxed and gifts of candles, symbolising lights, were exchanged. There is evidence that a lighting ceremony commemorating the return of light and heat at the winter solstice was transferred to the festival of Mithras.

Christianity took over the Celebrations around the winter solstice, a tactic later to be used in Britain when the incoming missionaries took over pagan temples and places of worship rededicating them to their own religion.

The Wild Hunt
Further north St Nicholas and Odin became confused. Odin is the leader of the Wild Hunt, who travel the autumn skies taking away anyone who gets in their way. Odin is a god with shamanic aspects, riding his horse between worlds. Santa Claus is depicted in a shamanic costume, an animal's hide blooded skin outside and fur inside. Just as Odin leads the wild hunt so Santa drives a reindeer sleigh through the sky. Just as Odin is, in one aspect, the traveller between worlds, Santa is associated with the “weird space” between the worlds of summer and winter just after the solstice.

Of course it is highly unlikely that the people who created the image of Santa Claus for motives ranging from politics to commerce [6] were consciously aware of these correspondences but folk memory lasts a long time and eventually its characters and events border on the archetypal. The Wild Hunt, Odin and the rebirth of the sun in Winter are powerful things, which may have roots going back to the birth of agriculture and beyond. Burned into the collective unconscious these may have surfaced again as Santa Claus.

The Wrap
Christmas as we know it is based on pre-christian traditions from various parts of the world, and these traditions themselves may have been birthed from older traditions and from archetypes of personalities and events in the collective unconscious and collective memory of at least western humanity.


  1. Wierd Space: Pagan Rites of Christmas, Nigel Pennick, Fortean Times 60 December 1991 p.24
  2. Ho Ho Ho A seasonal Portrait: Paul Sieveking, Fortean Times 56, Winter 1990 P.42
  3. Stations of the Sun: Ronald Hutton, +
  4. In search of Zarathustra: Paul Kriwaczek, Weidenfeld and Nocolson 2002
  5. http:// Anerican Christmas Origins
  6. The Politics of Christmas: Coca Cola, Capitalism and Collective Memory

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Anomalous artefacts

When archaeologists find something that looks humanly made they naturally want to know how old it is and usually combine a number of ways to estimate its age. The methods basically fall into two categories, absolute and relative. Neither is totally accurate. Absolute methods include Radio Carbon dating, thermoluminescence and Tree Ring dating. Relative methods include looking at the depth an object was found and provisionally assuming it is older than an object found above it and younger than one found below it. A third category might be called comparative, comparing an object with similar objects found elsewhere.

Sometimes an object does not fit. One or more of these methods suggests the object is older than it should be or is somewhere it should not be, if current theories are correct. Such an object is normally called an OOPART standing for Out Of Place Artefact, though the term can also be used for non-manufactured articles, since OOPOBJ is not as easy to say.

A lot of apparent OOPARTs have been found, but most can be explained without assuming they came from Atlantis or an extraterrestrial spacecraft. There are however a small number that pose a problem to conventional theories and are generally ignored because any archaeologist who investigates them is likely to suffer career damage. Even if this is not the case an academic archaeologist will generally have little time to research anomalies. As a result these objects have been appropriated by religious groups and other fringe elements as proof of their pet theories, without real investigation and ignoring the fact that weakening opposing theories does not mean their theory is right.

Ancient Machinery found in Russia
Recently there were claims of an ancient machine part being found in Russia generally [3] being lumped together with other OOPARTs, some of which may be fossils. One geologist considers it is either a natural crystal of Iron Pyrites or, since it was not discovered in the mine itself, a something that had broken off mining machinery. The argument they make that the fact it was not published in a peer reviewed journal is however weak: No journal would publish it until it was verified, and no mainstream scientist will try to verify it until it is published. This is a weak case and can safely be discarded.

The Crystal Skulls

There are a number of model human skulls carved in quartz alleged to be from pre-columbian South America. On investigation the problems with this interpretation seem to multiply. Not one of these skulls has been proven to be pre-columbian, and the best evidence seems to indicate they were carved in the 19th century in Europe. The most famous skull, the Mitchell-Hedges skull was purchased by Mitchell-Hedges from a London Art dealer in 1944, though his daughter claimed have found it during an excavation. The skull seems most likely to be a copy of a 19th century skull in the British Museum. Whether or not they are ancient they are remarkable sculptures doubtless attractive to those who are attracted to skulls.

Regardless of scientific evidence many paranormal claims have been made for the 13 or so known skulls which can kill at a distance or cure cancer. Claims of skull-lore and mythology seem not to have existed in Ancient South America and any ancient South American myths seem to have been spread initially by Mitchell-Hedges and taken up by New-Age writers who considered them as relics of Atlantis.

The fact that the skulls are 19th century does not preclude the possibility they now have some paranormal attributes for belief can do remarkable things.

Criteria for real OOPARTs

William Corliss gave several criteria for an OOPART, as stated on Bad Archeology [1]

    It must :
  • have an unexpected age (too old or too young),
  • be in the wrong place (Roman artefacts from Mexican sites),
  • have an unknown or contested use,
  • be of anomalous size or scale,
  • have a composition impossible with current understanding of ancient technology (aluminium in ancient China),
  • possess a sophistication not commensurate with those models (electric cells in ancient Parthia),
  • or have unexpected possible associations (mylodon bones from Argentinean caves suggestive of domestication by humans).

When evaluating a possible OOPART you should ask at least one question for each criterion, for example

Is the date reliable?
Could it have got their through trade or been moved down by earthworms or earthquakes?
Can you see a possible use for it consistent with the known level of technology?
Could the giant/miniature object have been something else or used for rituals?
Is its composition really anomalous?
Was it really found with the other articles mentioned?
One final criteria not on Corliss' list is:

The trail should not go cold
The object should exist and be potentially open to further study. If it has vanished then the assessment must be made on circumstantial evidence. The fact an object has vanished does not mean it never existed: museums tend to put anomalous objects first in storage then in the rubbish. Even if not deliberately discarded accidents happen. An example where the trail is almost cold is the Dashka Stone [2] which is apparently on exhibition in a museum, but where the original discoverer , who gained points for being a respected physicist, seems first to have become an uncritical believer in ET intervention, then vanished from the face of the earth. A cold trail is a warning sign not an indication the object is not anomalous.

The Wrap

OOPARTS are a fascinating minefield for the explorer of anomalies. The field is riddled with self deception and erroneous interpretations but some mysteries, like the discovery of a stuffed alligator during investigation of a prehistoric site seem destined to remain unresolved for ever. At the same time there is some evidence that the beginnings of human technology stretch further back than generally accepted.

Unfortunately almost all alleged OOPARTS seem either to vanish or be unable to withstand investigation.

[1] Bad Archaeology

[2] The Dashka Stone

[3] Ancient Machinery found in Russia?

[4] Skeptical take on the Ancient Machinery found in Russia

[5] Lost Civilisations of the Stone Age: Richard Rudgley. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Who was St Juttemis?

St Juttemis in Breda
The city of Breda, Netherlands in 2007 when I came statue of St. Juttemis. I was intrigued by the statue and found the local tourist office, just 200 metres away knew nothing about the saint.

Most of the information Mr Google, revealed about him is in Dutch and that he was a fictional saint. To say something would happen on St. Juttemis' day meant it would never happen.

Apparently the saint had been adopted (as a patron?) by the carnival community who descend on Breda every year. It is not clear why the carnival crowd would adopted a fictional saint and why his day was associated with “never”.

Oncyclopedia gives a story of his life that should be true, even though it is probably not.

St Juttemis was a Jutlander, married to a farmer's daughter called Jut, one day he saw a vision of Sophia, who showed him the world was absurd and only made God laugh. Since people had forgotten this fundamental absurdity the was ordered to go forth and spread the word.

His message was received with ridicule and scorn. Especially since he had a sullen and irritable character and could not appreciate a joke. One day be came to a fair and began to rant and rage and destroy with a heavy hammer, that someone had left there. But he fell and got the hammer on his head so that he died. At the same time a bell sounded and all fair goers converted to Sophiasme. They saw their wicked ways and devoted their lives to furthering foolishness. As a tribute every fairground now has a device, which strikes a bell with a hammer to announce the Jutmis.

In 1009 Jutter Hypocritus XVI was canonized by Pope, and one day (February 30) of the year was dedicated to him. On this day the St. Jutte Fair was the main attraction.

In the course of time, however, St. Jutte became so popular that the most extreme forms Sophia Sten threatened the Catholic Church and so Pope III Paedofilius moved his feast to February 29 So so it was only once in four years. When that did not to help it was moved to February 30, which, as everyone knows occurs once every 70 years, and then only if the pigs have wings and the sky is falling, so we all wear blue hats.

With St. Juttemis

all people pay their debts,
politicians do what they promised,
teachers are reasonable,
Industrialists do something for the environment.

More prosaically Wikipedia states that Jutte is a short form of Judith and that saint has her day on August 17th and that St Juttemis is mentioned in the Kroniek van Roermond. This appears to be a real series of Chronicles but I have not been able to find the original quote in the chronicle via Google, though there are plenty of references to it. The full form apparently is

“met sint-juttemis, als de kalveren op het ijs dansen”
“on the day of st Juttemis when calves dance on the ice”

Moving Northwards to Scandinavia we find four such saintsaccording to

Juttemis may or may not have existed and may or may not have been female. I have not found any good reason why his (for simplicity) day should be associated with “never” or why the carnival commnity have adopted him. The only story I found that explains everything about him is on Oncyclopedia, a site that declares itself content free and so the story could be made up. I am left with a statue that definitely exists, a load of articles in Dutch citing a real chronicle but have found no transcription of the original citation and know no one in the carnival community.

Perhaps Juttemis' story is an urban legend that took root in Dutch culture like Father Christmas (the Medieval one, who, unlike Santa Claus seems to have been the model for Dickens' Christmas

Saturday, 3 August 2013

A theory on how ghosts are created

Phantoms and poltergeists have appeared throughout history if not before. Skeptics say the reports are all due to mundane causes, self-deception or fraud, and skeptics have a valuable role in filtering out those cases where there seems to be something odd going on. Phantoms and poltergeists seem to be points on a spectrum of paranormal activity ranging from sensing an “atmosphere” to grand pianos dancing in mid air (perhaps the most frustrating poltergeists are those who rain pennies into an empty room: I want to meet one that rains gold sovereigns, guineas, rare stamps and high value bearer bonds, not these cheapskates).

Typically hauntings, which include poltergeists, have a start and a finish. Most poltergeist cases last a few years and vanish. Hauntings tend to last longer and involve recognisably human apparitions. Poltergeist infestations where people are harmed appear to be uncommon but far from unknown. The history of some hauntings suggests that the phenomena are created by the observers and some of these then seem to develop a life of their own. This does not explain everything of course and a unified theory may not be possible. Here are a few cases this hypothesis may fit.

The Mackenzie Poltergeist

In December 1998 a homeless man slipped into the Black Mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. He smashed some coffins and fell into an undiscovered mass grave containing the bodies of plague victims. At this point he ran out as fast as possible, and ran into a security guard and their dog who naturally also ran. Since then there have been reports of something malevolent, christened the Mackenzie Poltergeist, in the churchyard. The next day a woman peering through the grill of the Mausoleum was reportedly knocked down by a cold blast and another was found lying nearby with bruises round her neck. She claimed invisible hands tried to to strangle her.

Edinburgh Council first locked the vault and tried to ignore it. Then they gave a local author permission to run controlled tours to the Mausoleum. Paranormal activity has escalated since then and now the poltergeist attacks two to 4 people a month. Dead animals tend to be found near the vault, electrical equipment tends to malfunction there and victims tend to get home before they realise they have been injured. Occasionally the phenomena follow them home.

The most likely theories are

  • Some form of hysteria that led to people interpreting mundane phenomena as paranormal.
  • The homeless man released a malevolent spirit trapped in the vault.
  • The Man's fear created a malevolent spirit that grew stronger and stronger as the attacks continued.

The first theory seems unlikely, since attacks started the day after the man fell into the pit. The second theory sounds plausible but does not say how the spirit got into the pit and there are no tales of a spirit being trapped there. The third theory again sounds plausible but seems no more likely than the second and both would be anathema to most skeptics. The third theory would have pleased Stan Gooch who believed all spirit phenomena were the result of unusual human powers.

We can discard the notion that the phenomena were fraudulently produced by (say) the tour operators. On its own the Mackenzie Poltergeist seems to be more like a malevolent spirit ( or perhaps a spirit created as a guardian of the pit) than a poltergeist and could have been created at some point.

Edinburgh Vaults
The Niddry Street Vaults are a series of tenements built into the arches of Edinburgh's South Bridge. Poor construction led first to their abandonment, then to population by refugees from the Irish Potato Famine (created because farmers preferred to export potatoes, as they got a higher price abroad than at home) and several generations lived and did in the vaults before they were sealed off in the early 20th century.

The vaults were rediscovered in the 1980s and eventually a company started to offer ours to the vaults. After a while visitors began reporting ghostly experiences and their tales had enough common features to indicate something strange was happening. Visitors have experienced bruises and minor injuries especially when entering a stone circle in which a Wiccan claimed to have trapped an evil presence. Skeptics put all this down to the effects of traffic vibrations and expectation by visitors. These explanations fail to cover the injuries to visitors and the lights apparently being switched off by one ghost.

Again likely theories include the Malevolent Spirit theory and that the spirits were created by visitor expectations perhaps from a feeling the place SHOULD be haunted. If the Wiccan did manage to trap the spirit inside a stone circle the spirit is unlikely to be the Mackenzie Poltergeist, though this possibility cannot be excluded.

Mary Kings Close

Mary Kings Close is a number of former streets of Edinburgh, rat runs between tenements that were effectively sealed off when the tenements there were partially demolished and the Royal Exchange building built on top of them. The tale that the close was sealed off in 1645 when plague hit Edinburgh appears to be an ancient Urban Legend but may have created expectations that led to the notion the close was haunted. Some paranormal phenomena here can be attributed to Marsh Gas from Edinburgh's Nor Loch, and these seem to have been used by a 17th century religious lunatic and scientist who seems to have invented the hauntings in order to further his religious campaign.

The haunting in the close is not malevolent but there seems no historical evidence to support the most famous ghost, a little girl named as Annie. Here the idea that the hauntings resulted from creation of spirits by human expectations seems more plausible than the idea of spirits being around for centuries and not noticed till the close was reopened, though the evidence for a genuine haunting is largely anecdotal and not supported – or disproved- by psychic investigations.

The Philip Experiment

So far we have seen some weak evidence for the spontaneous creation of spirits. Some investigators have gone a step further and tried to create spirits. Perhaps the most famous case was an experiment in Toronto where investigators created a fictional biography of someone who never existed and held seances to try and contact the person. Eventually he came through and started volunteering details of events not in the biography. The investigators wondered whether they had psychically accessed details of a real person but found no evidence such a person ever existed.

Here it seems a deliberate effort to create a spirit succeeded, or almost succeeded, since there is no indication the spirit ever manifested to other circles or outside the séance context. Interestingly the creation of the spirit involved repetitive actions reminiscent of magical rituals and the attempted creation of a god by a group of chaos magicians, possibly used by Frank Herbert in his book The God Makers. The use of ritual and repetition ( for example the repetitive tramping of visitors through Greyfriars Kirk) may be important in this context.

Kenneth Bacheldor
Kenneth Bacheldor was a retired engineer who attempted to recreate the table tipping phenomena of Victorian seances: and seems to have succeeded. He established protocols to prevent cheating, and, to prevent the notion that “it cannot happen” allowed one person to be a “joker” who was allowed to cheat. After a while tables began to move, some of which were hard for two people to move normally. And the phenomenon began to respond to requests from the sitters. Overall the phenomena reported seem hard to explain as fakery, self deception or unconscious muscular action: making a 60 pound table dance on two legs is hard to do unconsciously. Again the procedure had to be repeated and ritualised. Perhaps significantly the sitters only had success when they moved away from trying hard and started relaxing and joking,

Summoning Ghosts of the Civil War

An intriguing experiment involving the reenactment of events from the battle of Antietam resulted in recording of anomalous sounds and some investigators felt they were being gently touched. The results were suggestive of the presence of spirits but are perhaps more consistent with the idea that a spirit was almost created. The experimenters preferred to explain the results in terms of Morphic Resonance, an equally controversial concept.

Alexandra David-Neel
Alexandra David Neel was an intrepid explorer who experimented with creating a thought form, an artificial spirit, using techniques learned from Tibetan Lamas. She initially decided to create a jolly friendly monk and succeeded. But then the monk took on a life of its own and started to change to something more malevolent. When other people began to see it. She decided it was time to reabsorb it. And the thought form resisted. It was harder to absorb it than to create it. The episode is described in her book With mystics and magicians in Tibet along with other strange experiences.

This seems to be the most successful recorded effort at creating a spirit. The entity was seen by others and began to act independently. The lesson the Lamas learned from such experiments is that the world is illusion. It would seem however it is, like time, a very persistent illusion

The Wrap

The examples shown here suggest that some hauntings can be created by percipient expectations, and that a major component of the creation process is repetition of certain actions, for example telling stories to tourists, reenacting events from the Civil War, or holding seances. Prior experiences resulting from mundane causes such as Marsh Gas could serve as trigger events which later expectations could transform first into genuine paranormal phenomena and then into newly created spirits.

Although strictly out of scope here, the anomalous experiences John Keel described as The Phenomenon, and waves of Phantom Clowns could also be explained by this process.

And this theory could explain why the Spirit world bothers with us. We are their nursery, their womb, the place baby spirits are created and grow to maturity.

Further Reading

 The Mackenzie Poltergeist.

The Niddry St Vaults

Mary Kings Close

Soundscape and the Culture of War on an American Civil War Battlefield: An Ethnography of Communication with Past Presences John G. Sabol Paranthropology Volume 3 Number 2 April 2012

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Reincarnation reconsidered skeptically


Many culture have believed in reincarnation. In the East India, China: probably under Indian Influence and Tibet. In the West some Ancient Greeks embraced the idea, The Celts tended to believe in reincarnation with examples in some of their myths, as did the Vikings who believed one would be reincarnated in the same family. I read that early Christianity included a belief in reincarnation, and a verse in the Gospel of John can be read as supporting the reincarnation hypothesis. The value of this evidence can be put into perspective by looking at the medieval belief the world was flat, and the Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic of the late 1980s which recycled anti Jewish myths and atrocity tales originally directed against Christians.

There is some evidence suggestive of reincarnation, mostly from India (assessed by Stevenson) where belief is strongest and evidence most likely to be corrupted by wishful thinking. Evidence from hypnotic regression must be treated with extreme caution, especially when dealing with a reincarnated Cleopatra: it seems unlikely any regression will ever turn up Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot but such a case would be at first glance merit investigation

I recall reading that group of researchers into the spirit world asked a guiding spirit about this and were told reincarnation happens but is uncommon.

And as always I want to know why? If even one person is reincarnated even once that is a paradigm shaking event. The reason why could be a second.

Why Reincarnate?

There are two main schools of thought about the purpose of reincarnation. One school says it is to let us learn and the other says it is to repay “Karmic Debts”.

Imagine your child fail their school exams one year. So you send them back to do the year again. But first you block their memories of that year. But just before you block the memories you say
“I want you to do better this time, if not you will keep going back till you succeed” . Imagine what any child care official or Director of Education would say if you proposed that as a way to educate your child. You would be in prison faster than you can say “care order”. Believers note that spirits tell them remembering past lives would hinder progress in this one. Believe that as you will.

Imagine someone commits a crime. You send them to prison and say “ If you do it again you go back to jail: then block their memories of the crime. Not an effective way of giving feedback. In any case most if not all injustices can be settled with an apology and a drink in the Afterlife

“Sorry I had you castrated and sent to the mines, let me buy you a double whiskey”

“OK, I can laugh about it now, make it a treble”

Of course the education hypothesis may be true, in which case reincarnated souls may be smarter, not necessarily academically: A successful gangster is never stupid, even though they cannot tell you the cube root of 79 ( not even to four and bit), and politicians are very clever, at least at looking after themselves, in a world devoid even of the ethics a gangster needs to survive (skimming the take on a protection racket or sleeping with another gangster's woman tends to result in death: in politics, skilfully done it can result in promotion). If you doubt this note that they tend to retire on full salary.

The Education Hypothesis is thus basically flawed, which means either no one is reincarnated or everyone is or some people are reincarnated. But the reason why remains unclear. Perhaps we are just here to amuse a bored god or set of gods. In which case the least we can do is be amusing no solemn.

Who Reincarnates?

Either nobody is reincarnated, some people are reincarnated, or everyone is reincarnated. The first , given the increase in human population since prehistoric times, suggests a continuous creation of souls to inhabit bodies or that the body is an incubator in which souls develop. For most of human history the time spent in a body was short: up to the 19th century few lived more than 12 months and if nobody is reincarnated there would be lot of undeveloped souls in the afterlife.

The last possibility suggests our consciousness (spirit) needs a body, possibly to be able to experience more keenly, possibly because it cannot survive long without a body: how long can a bodiless spirit survive and why does it need a body. It also indicates that somewhere is a reincarnated Buddha and a reincarnated Jesus (Now who else can I offend?).

In The Journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 411–420, 2000, Bishai contrasts the linear model in which no soul reincarnates with a cyclic model in which each soul spends some time in an afterlife and then reincarnates and shows that the time in the afterlife shortens, as the population grows, from 57,000 years in 50,000 BC to about 106 years in 2000AD assuming a total stock of 10 Billion souls, and from 571,400 years to 712 years for a stock of 100 Billion souls. This may explain why infant mortality was high for so long: new bodies were needed for short term tenancies and had to be vacated because resources like food were scarce, Every infant that died could spend time in the after life and be sure of a body in time to survive.
If as some cultures think, one can be reincarnated as an animal, the pressure would be reduced further. It is of course unclear in this model whether the human state was regarded as superior or inferior, though population growth might suggest the former.

The middle hypothesis, that some people reincarnate, is the most intriguing of all. Why would people reincarnate given a choice? One British academic said he hoped reincarnation was false since having drawn an eel from a barrel of snakes he was unwilling to put his hand in the barrel again. Perhaps those who reincarnate have a mission to fulfil, or are just masochistic.

The Wrap

No one knows for sure if Reincarnation occurs. If it does no one knows why. If it occurs no one knows how it is decided who reincarnates and as what. That is a whole load of ignorance to investigate. And if it turns out reincarnation is impossible the question of what produced the evidence we have becomes important in the study of mass deception.

Right now I favour the idea that life on earth is a tourist trip with a lot of dodgy operators who put you up in a resort with half finished hotels and salmonella ridden food, with some offering misery trips, like a survival holiday or the theme camp in Eastern Europe that recreated the experience of a concentration camp. Add in a few secret agents on a mission, some independent travellers and a few misfits in the after life and the world begins to look like fun instead of all the grimly serious puritanism the religions of the book ( and others) try to foist on us.

I remain convinced however that all the theories above may be partly or wholly wrong. The world is never that simple.