Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ghosts, ouija boards, and some idiots motor effect.

When I was a child, say about 8 years old, my brother and I would spend our Sunday nights eating toast, drinking hot chocolate and watching a TV show known as “strange but true” you might of heard of it. It’s an old TV show from the early nineties, which gave eyewitness accounts, and reconstructions of paranormal experiences. We both believed firmly in ghost, U.F.O’s and the loch ness monster, so did our mom. They both still believe in ghosts now, I have managed to educate my brother a bit, so he doesn’t believe the U.F.O thing anymore. During the break of the show, we would let our poodle into the garden to do his usual business, leave him there for fifteen minutes or so until show finished. Then we would go back out to let him in (we lived in a flat and had to go into the main corridor to get to the gardens).

On one particular day, the second half of the show told a story of a haunting on a motorway. You see, the motorway was built over a site where there was once a monastery; a monk had ended his life there because he had disgraced the church by falling in love with a local woman, and was found out. His tormented spirit roamed the road trying to find his way back to the monastery so he could rest eternally. This scared the shit out of both of us, we, under no circumstances would go near that back door, to get the dog back. Funny now, but back then we couldn’t sleep for days.

Both my brother and mother claim to have had ghostly encounters. One of my favourite stories is of my mothers Ouija board experience, she had told it to me many times when I was a kid, but doesn’t tell me any more, ill explain. It goes a little like this:

One dark stormy night, my mom, dad, granddad, aunty, and two uncles felt a little bored, a discussion sparked up about contacting the dead. My great grandmother on my dad’s side had recently died, and they thought it would be entertaining to contact her via a Ouija board. My granddad wanted no part in this, he thought contacting the dead was a ridiculous idea and went to the pub round the corner for a drink, leaving them to construct the board, by placing paper letters around a round table.

Once it was completed, and they had a means to contact the after life, they sat down and placed there fingers upon the rim of an upturned glass. After some giggles and a bit of joking around, my dad asked the Ouija, in a spooky voice of course, “is there anybody there that would like to speak to us”. They waited and nothing happened, so he repeated “is there anybody there that would like to speak to us”. This time the glass started to move and slowly made its way across the table, to the piece of paper with the word “yes” written on it. Shocked and slightly terrified he continued, in a more serious tone “who is speaking?” faster now, the glass moved, first to the letter d, then to the letter e, then faster to the letter v. everyone in the room knew what came next, and watched as it completed the word “devil“. Out of nowhere the was a number of bangs on the living room door, the door had a patterned glass panel which was see through, and as everyone turned to see what the bang was, they were horrified. They saw a tall figure of a man, with a green face and long grey hair. He wore a long black cloak, and Wellington boots up to his knee. This figure moved its arm up and scratched on the door with its boney green fingers and sharp yellow nails.

Of course, being believers, they thought it was the devil, coming to get them for messing with his telephone line (he must have been expecting a call). They screamed and ran around the room, with my dad shouting “these are good women, take me, take me”. Then just as quick as it was there, it had gone.

Awesome story, I loved it. I loved it so much one day when I went to visit my granddad I told him the story, and what he missed out on that night. He laughed, for a long time, and then he turned to me and said “yes I remember that one, I pretended to leave, closed the door and made my way quietly upstairs. Once I was up there I put a Halloween mask on, it had a grey wig attached. I also put on my fishing coat, and boots. (He didn’t explain the hand thing). Once I was ready I quietly made my way back downstairs to the living room door, I knocked it real hard three times and they ran round like headless chicken. I used the panic and confusion to escape to the pub. I never told her.”

I found this hilarious, I asked him if it was ok to tell her what really happened, and he said it was alright. You would have loved to see the look on her face when I told her. Classic.

You see now there are parts to that story that don’t add up, for instance why did the Ouija spell “devil”, it moved on its own accord right?

This is where a little thing called the idiomotor effect. Basically, everyone is concentrating on this glass, wanting it to move. Somebody thinks they feel a slight pull in a certain direction, so they try following it. This causes others to feel a slight push, or pull, and they also follow it, moving the glass themselves without even realising it. Just a small movement at the start and it’s off. The letters are picked out subconsciously by one of the participants touching the glass, until they’re near the end of the word and the other participants can guess what the rest of the letters are and where to push the glass too. This is why you see the glass speed up towards the end of a word.

Now doesn’t that sound so much more reasonable then, a ghosts presence pushed the glass around the table, using its physical energy to move this glass, trying to get its message across…. But not using a pen and paper, or even a computer, surely its easier to press a key then to move a glass!

Some other things up for debate is the word that was spelt out, and the hands of the figure they saw. You see what happens with paranormal experiences, or any story for that matter, is it gets distorted over time. Every time you tell the story, you’re bringing it out of the memory banks, reprocessing the information, and sometimes you might just add a little something to make it more interesting. Just a little something like, the shape of the hands, then the next time you tell it, the colour of them. The next time you mention long nails, the time after that you might feel it necessary to add the colour of the finger nails, without even realising the changes made in previous times you have told the story. There will be small incremental changes, slowly adding a little more spark to the story. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling anyone a liar. This is a natural thing we all do, humans like telling each other good stories, it comes from the cave man days when we told hunting stories over the fire, and hyped them up a little to impress the cave ladies.

There are many things you have to watch out for when you hear stories of paranormal encounters from people you know. Would you believe it from a stranger? Is there a more rational explanation?

There is a skeptical tool which can be used a lot to debunk paranormal claims, this is know as “occums razor”. Imagine you have a little bonsai tree, and on this bonsai tree is a certain amount of branches, each branch is assigned to a different possible explanation for whatever you are being told. Using a razor (occums razor) you cut of each branch (explanation) which you think is least likely, for instance, another one of my mother ghostly encounter is that of a sock being thrown at her whilst she was cleaning her toilet. She was in the house alone and it landed right on her shoulder. She always wants me to explain how it got there for a debate about ghost so I say “what do you think is more likely, one; the sock was left there from earlier in the day when you got the washing out of the washing machine, and only just noticed it. Two; it was hanging on the door, fell off and landed on your shoulder, three; it has been there since you got dressed this morning. Or four; a ghost came back from “the other side” and the only thing it wanted to do is to throw a sock at you”.

She always tells me it is our granddad playing tricks, I disagree. You see imagine a bonsai tree with four branches, one for each explanation. Take away the least likely until your left with one, now we know it is unlikely to be a ghost so that’s gone, it is unlikely that a sock got one top of the door (especially as my mom is like 4 ft 10), So that’s gone. Now the next two are a bit harder, we need more info. I Asked her when it happened and she told me around two in the afternoon, it is unlikely she went all day with out noticing it, so let’s shift that one as well. You are left with one branch, the one associated with the washing machine explanation. Even with the Ouija story you could have done the same thing, and I bet the only branch left standing, is the one where my granddad comes back from the pub, to dress up and scare every one.

Thanks for reading, now next time you here a bang upstairs while your at home alone, and your hair stands up on the back of your neck because your afraid it is a ghost, use occums razor, and you’ll realise its probably pipes, or the stuff your smoking in one.