Reality Check.

How real is your reality?

This paranormal investigation thingy that I’m involved with is absolutely fascinating. Not so much because of the interesting things that happen on investigations, because it’s an unusual investigation where something really ‘paranormal’ actually occurs while the team is there and loaded with electronic equipment to record the evidence for posterity. But more because of all the interesting people that I encounter both actually and remotely.

It’s almost as if ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, likes to play with us in a way that lets us all know that it actually exists, while at the same time remaining so elusive, always fluttering just a little out of the reach of our net, so that there’s no way we can stick a pin in it and add it to our butterfly collection.

What is referred to as paranormal appears to encompass several paradigms – both individually and as a sort of group consciousness. I’ll use orbs just as an example of this.

I’ve been a photographer for all of my adult life and I know what airborne particles look like when they’re caught by a flash. I also know what flare spots caused by bright light sources look like, and I know what really slow shutter speeds do to bright objects. So to me ‘orbs’ on photographs just mean loads of work in Photoshop cleaning them up. ‘Orbs’ to many people in the ‘Paranormal Investigation’ world are manifestations of spirits/ghosts/entities. And the Paranormal world seems to be pretty split down the middle on this one – despite the fact that the creation of orbs can be demonstrated quickly and easily with a compact digital camera and an old duster.

Can you see the face?

Do you see a Jesus type face in this image? It clearly wasn’t present when the image was taken because it is so much bigger than the other two heads. But more on this later.

Other photographic anomalies abound simply because some people are either not interested or don’t know about the mechanics of a camera that sets a slow shutter speed and still fires a burst of flash causing all sorts of light trails and ghostly apparitions to appear and to be taken as a manifestation of Uncle Jim or Auntie Mary. A trawl through the internet will turn up a plethora of sites dedicated to the paranormal by apparently serious and dedicated researchers who illustrate their expertise with such photographs.

No wonder it’s difficult to be taken seriously.

But to me none of this is important. What piques my interest is the need to find evidence and the willingness to assume that anything that is unfamiliar within your own experience must be paranormal. There seems to be this laughable idea that if it’s on a photograph it must be real (especially in these days of digital imaging where you can build a photograph up from individual pixels with inexpensive photo editing software). I am emphasising photographs here because they are the medium that is most used, and most easily abused, for providing evidence of paranormal activity.

19th Century Battleground. The soldier's shadow wasn't present when I took the picture

And if I told you the story of how I visited this place that was an old battleground and I was just taking souvenir pictures, but when I got home this mysterious shadow of what appears to be a soldier was present in this frame but not on the ones either side of it and some experts had had a look at it and they had no explanation for this; then if this wasn’t in the middle of an article and following shortly after another image for which there was no explanation I’d probably have some of you thinking that this was a genuine paranormal photo.

It isn’t. I created it in Photoshop to demonstrate how an image could be altered and leave no evidence in the exif file information – where you can find information about the image and whether or not it’s been near any photo editing software.

But that’s not to say that there is no valid photographic evidence of paranormal activity, but my paradigm is ‘if you didn’t see it with your eyes at the time you took the photograph, then it probably isn’t what you think it is’. That’s not to say I’m right, I’m merely illustrating that we all have these belief systems, these reality constructs, and we use them as filters to observe and make sense of our reality. And there lies the nub. We need to make sense of our reality. Our brains are hard-wired to make sense of our senses (more on that later). We can only make sense of our reality if the things that happen within it fit into our conceptual framework. If things don’t fit into our conceptual framework then we do one of two things, we ignore them, or we distort them so that they do fit. The ‘all orbs on photographs are spirit presences’ conceptual framework means that if you see an orb on a photograph then for you that will be a manifestation of a spirit and nothing I can say will alter that for you.

Why is that?

Because if you accept my paradigm that orbs are created by the optical system of the camera and don’t exist outside the reality of the camera itself, then you will have to completely abandon a part of your conceptual framework, and that may weaken the whole structure of your reality.

Now who would willingly do that?

Let’s have a closer look at this reality thing I keep mentioning.

You have five senses, unless your conceptual framework suggests you have more, and personally I’m quite happy to acknowledge I have at least six senses because that is my experience. However, you cannot trust experience because all experience is only experienced after it has passed through your perceptual filters.

Sight, hearing, smell, taste touch – traditionally, and my intuitive sense if you want to include it. These are the traditional senses. Now let’s explore the one that for most of us is our primary sense – sight. Most of us in school where shown diagrams of an eye sliced in two and shown how it was like a camera with a retina (film) at the back, an iris (aperture) at the front and a lens in the middle. The eye doesn’t have a shutter, but that’s because it’s working all the time. It even has a lens cap (eyelids) for when we get tired of using it. Then we were told the story of how the lens forms an image on the retina and the optic nerve transmits this image to the back of the brain which is where the ‘seeing’ takes place. What was never explained was, if all this is taking place inside my head, why does what I see appear to be ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’.

Then there was also the upside down bit, do you recall that your eye has a simple convex lens which inverts the image so the world on the retina is upside down, yet we ‘see’ it right way up. Our really clever brain, apparently pops it right way round for us. I remember reading about an experiment where they made a group of volunteers wear glasses that inverted the image presented to the eye so they actually did see an upside down world. In a very short space of time their brains corrected this anomaly and put the world right way round again – even though they were still wearing upside down glasses. And when they removed the glasses the world went upside down again.

Let’s have a look at what is really happening.

Quanta of visible light frequency appear to pass through various densities of gelatinous substances, which in the same size universe as quanta will be pretty much empty space. They are absorbed by retinal cells. As a consequence the retinal cells change in such a way that a bio-electrical signal is passed along the optic nerve to some neurons hidden in the skull somewhere. There is no projector in the back of your head creating this image. All that is going on is some stimulation of nerve cells. Lumps of greyish gloup stimulate each other – that’s all that happens when you see. There is no light in your head. There is no image in your head. All that there is in your head is a brain made of cells and some blood and some nerve tissue.

Yet you see.

This is absolutely incredible. The only measurable thing going on inside your head is some electromagnetic activity and yet you see an amazing world of colour and form and shape OUT THERE.

This is truly weird.

There is only one explanation for it.

You are making it all up.

Somewhere in your mind you are imagining all that you see. It has to be that way because your eye/brain is not a camera.

This explains so much.

I won’t go into the same detail regarding all of your other senses, but the same is true of them also. Your external world is something you make up. It has to be because all that your brain gets is some bio-electrical signals and it interprets them and then it imagines a ‘reality’ for you that is consistent with these signals. This is why we have all experienced noticing something in the distance and seeing one thing and then as you get closer seeing something else. Your brain does a pattern match looking for a fit from all the patterns it has stored within it. And it will match with the closest fit, whether it is correct or not, and you will see what it decides you will see – not necessarily what is actually there.

This is not an animated image - yet you can see it move and even though it is no deeper than the surface of your monitor it appears otherwise.

It is important that you seriously entertain the idea that you are making everything up, if you are seriously interested in researching and investigating paranormal activity. Because when you know your own mind, as suggested by the words ‘Know Thyself’ written on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (same place as the Oracle lived) then you are in a position to interpret what other minds believe they might have experienced.

I think it’s fair to say that we all dream. Certainly the evidence suggests that this is so, even though we don’t all remember our dreams. I have certainly experienced dreams that seemed very real to me while I was dreaming them. I’ve even had dreams that slipped into the part of my memory that stores actual waking experiences and thought that something I dreamt was real, until something external to me caused me to realise the error and re-file the experience. But all that this demonstrates is that our minds can fool us into thinking that what is clearly a fantasy experience during sleep is very real. The only thing that changes a dream from a reality into a dream is waking up and remembering it. If you didn’t wake up, then you would experience a dream world as your reality forever.

Ahh! But dreams are often weird and waking reality is amazingly consistent and predictable.

I have to agree with that, but I’m still making it up. There is no way to demonstrate absolutely that your external physical reality actually exists.

Now some of my readers will hear me stating that I’m saying that your external reality does not exist, but that is just an example of this reality filtering mechanism I spoke about earlier. What I am saying is that you cannot tell if your external reality exists because you make everything up. You might make stuff up that is an accurate match for what appears to be ‘out there’ and you might not. What I am suggesting is that there is no way you can tell. In finding my way around my own ‘dream’ I find it much easier to behave is if there is an ‘out there’ reality consistent with my dream, because otherwise I would just be another nutter.

But this is a point of self-awareness to be reminded of when confronted with experiences that fall into the category of paranormal; especially when on a paranormal investigation. On a paranormal investigation the paranormal reality filters could be on full power and create in invisible shift in your personal reality experience where almost anything can become paranormal. Also there is a strong desire for something ‘paranormal’ to happen. You don’t want to spend all night somewhere cold and otherwise unexciting and go to work the next day and tell all your mates that you just sat in this cold boring old building all night watching a monitor showing an image of an empty room. I mean who in their right mind would want to do that. No kudos in that kind of a story. Far better that something unexplained happened. That makes for much more interesting social encounters.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that Paranormal investigators deliberately make things up or mislead. What I’m saying is that filters get switched on and they colour everything you experience so that you actually experience what you think you experienced. But someone else in that same place at that same time, with a different filter in operation would have experienced nothing untoward.

I remember quite a few years ago I visited Littlecote House. I had no idea this place was reputed to be seriously haunted. We went on a guided tour and on emerging from one room the person I was with mentioned how cold it was in that room compared to outside in the corridor. I noticed no difference in temperature. It turned out later that the person I was with knew the place was haunted before we entered it. I have no doubt that they experienced a real drop in temperature. I have no doubt that I didn’t. Yet it was the same place at the same time.

Scientists do this too, regularly rejecting even well-structured, statistically significant results from carefully designed paranormal experiments simply because they are investigating the paranormal – which every self-respecting scientist knows doesn’t exist.

Having said all that, I am really looking forward to our next investigation on Friday, at which we will have a lot of fun, while at the same time engaged in serious science – whatever happens.

Oh and that face I showed you in the picture earlier. Have another look.

A bit of colouring reveals the truth - a young child sitting on dad's lap.

Michael Hadfield


~ by eximiusparanormal on February 1, 2010.

One Response to “Reality Check.”

  1. Brilliant Article Michael, well done.

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