29 December 2009

Some less random thoughts on the paranormal

...which is not to say that they aren't pretty random.

Way back when I first started blogging, I had a quick set of suggestions on some things that could be done to help deal with tracking down paranormal activity. There have been a few television series dealing with this topic since that time and I will deal with the latest incarnation of these programs, which is Ghost Lab from the Discovery Channel. The series deals with Everyday Paranormal, a group started up by the Klinge brothers, Brad and Barry, and is based in Texas. The show's basic format is to set up two situations with reported paranormal activity, have some background on the site and activity given by the current owners or other people who have experienced it, and then the Everyday Paranormal team sets up voice recorders, cameras and other equipment throughout the place they will be looking at and then do two night's worth of investigative work.

While the Klinge brothers do haul a lot of equipment around with them, some of it pretty sophisticated, the concept of their organization is to use science to investigate the afterlife, or at least the paranormal. Technical investigative tools does not a scientific investigation make, however. There are three main tools we see in the Ghost Lab series and each of them has strengths and weaknesses depending on how they are employed.

First is the EMF detector which measures variance in the Electro-Magnetic Field in milligauss. Carl Friedrich Gauss developed the equations that from Gauss's law on the electric flux through any closed surface as proportional to the enclosed electric charge. As electricity and magnetism are different manifestations of the same thing, that is electromagnetism, there is also a Gauss's law for magnetism. The gauss is then the measurement of the magnetic field which is 1 maxwell per square centimeter. As a reference the Earth's magnetic field is approximately 0.6 gauss and the variations being measured in the program are in the milligauss range or 0.001 gauss, so when we hear 0.1 milligauss we are getting 0.0001 gauss, as a difference from the surrounding field which is understood to be the Earth's at 600 milligauss. In other words a variation of 1 part in 6,000. While going from, say, 0.5 milligauss to 17 milligauss is a strong variation, that is still a less than 1% change in the Earth's magnetic field locally. Also as these are point recorders, not field or linear recorders, they have a fall-off rate due to the inverse-square phenomena and are most accurate at the point of measurement. As the Earth, itself, can experience variations in the magnetic field there needs to be data review taking this into consideration not only for local, terrestrial effects, but other effects due to the solar output. To get an idea of the strength of a gauss field, a strong permanent magnet made of iron that would be the size of your fist would be 100 gauss according to wisegeek. So a slightly magnetized iron or steel belt buckle could hit in the range that is looked at with EMF fields.

In addition the EMF detector has problems with electronics in the vicinity, beyond just local field variations due to the supernatural, the presence or absence of other equipment such as cell-phones, walkie-talkies, and even such things as electrical photographic equipment and sound measuring equipment all put out EMF from their circuitry. The Klinge brothers do try to get around this by placing isolated EMF detectors with equipment in static use mode so as to get a baseline set of readings, but any other equipment in the region can create EMF and walking around with one while sporadically using a cellphone, Wi-Fi equipment, walkie-talkies, other recorders, etc. means that EMF readings for those recorders are not of the highest value. Ones set up in static environments, with known operating equipment and time to register those equipment outputs, and then introducing a person with NO additional equipment can yield data with better value. With that said the variations are so minor as to be influenced by such things as cosmic rays, local intermittent underground sources (such as cable tv lines, power lines, even electrical sensors with gas lines), and other sporadic effects, that only a full 24-48 hour use of such detectors across normal highs and lows of equipment usage for that locale can give any assurance that an investigation can identify such sources and timing in their investigations. In particular a hard radiation meter with the EMF meter would help to get rid of high speed particles and some radioactivity noise by identifying such noise and when they happen. While the EMF detector can help individuals find equipment with noisy EMF output, its use beyond that is questionable without a better backing for the meters, themselves, and augmenting them with field meters, not just point source meters.



Second are normal visual to light enhanced cameras, fast flash cameras and other oddments in the visual range, which would include the cameras recording the episodes. Here the technology has gone up by leaps and bounds for everything from single frame to super-slow motion photography coming within the realm of the middle class. What we see of the normal cameras are single overview cameras in a room, usually put up on a tripod or otherwise stationed to get a broad view of a room (on a bookcase, say) but only in the smallest of spaces do we see overlapping use of these devices - the video cameras set up per room. Many of these are light intensifying cameras, which is all to the good in low lighting conditions, but that comes with the recognition that you are into grayscale imagery. Along with those are normal visual range (color) video cameras that only see limited daytime use or use in well lit areas. Finally there is the variety of hand-held cameras from fast flash color cameras to light intensifying cameras (still and video), and even such things as cell phone cameras. Of these pieces of equipment in the normal to light intensified range, the stationary video cameras are the ones suffering from lack of blanket coverage and overlap, which should be their highest utility. Cost considerations for all this equipment is paramount, of course, but there are some questions about why much lower cost USB or other cameras are not deployed to gain a more thorough coverage. I had this problem in my original post for IR (which falls in its own venue) where $70 Logitech Web Cams from circa 2004 were demonstrated to be good near-IR cameras once you removed their lens. Each camera would not give good focus, of course, but an array covering a room volume would allow for placement of volumes within a room even without good focus. While the aim of high resolution is to be admired for normal/LI cameras, the lack of good depth cues and volumetric analysis means that anything seen on an individual camera that does NOT have good spatial visualization is then open to question as to placement, size and duration.

The handheld units, while offering the ability to capture before/after pictures for events, are limited in time duration. The use of saturation panoramic coverage is wonderful... the lack of putting those into a panoramic image via software means that you don't get the full volumetric effect of such images. Here the problem is lack of software, which is cheap, and should be used for a 3-D spatial capture of a room that would include all of its contents so that a full before/after review could be performed.

A step up from that is the panoramic camera with parabolic mirror and unwrapping software that gets you that in one shot. That sort of camera arrangement backed by individual overlays from handheld units plus regular fixed cameras to cover areas blocked by furniture and such, would allow for a greater review of what is going on inside of rooms at any given time. Indeed if you hooked up an EMF recorder with a panoramic still recorder and stationary video you could set EMF flux densities over a certain point to trigger panoramic still shots as the EMF spike is recorded. For the cost of a good still camera with panoramic viewing, a tripping system between an EMF recorder and the camera, and a 3-D array of low cost video cameras, an entire room and its contents can be captured in not only LI but full color flash photography (an upwards pointing parabolic source above the camera would do this, but even set piece single flashes would also serve this purpose.

IR cameras, as mentioned above, are used in the hand held FLIR systems which are great on definition (in full video) but useless for volumetric information. High resolution has its uses, of that there is no question. Its utility for a hand mounted platform without image stabilization is questionable. Lesser devices giving ambient room temperature readings are, again, point source devices which are wonderful for those point readings but not so good for linear or volumetric readings. Between them are the other hand held IR devices which we have seen often give reddish/warm to sudden blue/cold phenomena that cannot, unfortunately, be tracked due to the transient nature of the effect, the slowness of the human response system and lack of broad overview IR cameras. In at least one episode there have been events happening down hallways or within rooms that a stationary IR camera would have caught, but the human carried FLIR has only gotten by near accident. At that point the human platform recorders are a PROBLEM not a SOLUTION.

Volumetric IR would be telling for any spot that varies in temperature as it would then delimit the energy available from that volume: find heat change over a volume and you yield net energy change (positive or negative).  That amount of energy then places limits on other phenomena due to that amount of energy having a limit.



Third is sound recording, which has finally progressed from reel-to-reel tape recorders and into the venue of digital, handheld voice recorders with long battery life and continuous operation. In theory, at least. What we get are standard handheld units of limited capture range and sensitivity plus the ubiquitous actual handheld use of same. Of simple parabolic microphones none are to be seen. Nor are directional microphones, ever so handy for pointing down long hallways or down stairwells with open airspace in them between the stair flights. Just like their visual counter-parts, these devices could be used for room saturation coverage with parabolic and/or directional microphones at permanent placements so that any sound above background noise (and there is a lot of that) can then be found and placed by strength of that sound to get distance at a given time for a given place. In this case sensitivity is extremely important, but not for a high end unit, per se, but for its microphone: while a wide area microphone gives better coverage it also collects much more noise across that coverage while parabolic and directional microphones get better depth of coverage and the noise is delimited by spatial sizing and can be REMOVED by noise comparison between multiple devices.

For handheld units, either with or without parabolic/directional capability, a single microphone to feed into a noise cancellation system that is worn close to the person's mouth allows for that noise to be removed on the fly. That might be beyond the state of the art: to remove specific wave forms and leave the noise. I doubt that, however, as it is a technically far more simple task to accomplish.

Motion sensors also fall into this realm, although they are either air or visual space sensors. Their recording phenomena is motion, not sound per se, but an ex post facto of 'something moved here'. That really could be attached to a camera system to cover the area in question, too.

If the team is going to be running cables all over the place, why not multiplex multiple sensors per cable position and then overlay them to get a full LI, IR and audio room overview? I do know that equipment cost is a major factor in this, but for the cost of some single pieces, like the handheld FLIR, a complete full-room array of IR could be purchased and attached to currently owned tripods and other fixtures. Similarly linear EMF, audio and video systems for hallways and other long spaces would yield better total coverage than a lot of point units. What has been striking is that for large areas, like the theater and dance hall/bar the team has been to, which allows for a high amount of overlapping coverage, that the equipment was not deployed in that mode.

There is a large value to be had in multi-spectral/multi-modal recording of volumetric information. I am still waiting for a team to do that.



Some items not seen?

Force meters for doors moving. A very simple device to measure the amount of force being applied to an object via the use of a detachable tension system (such as a spring with magnet).

Air pressure gauges. Very rudimentary and yet if there are changes in atmospherics on the local level then getting an idea of that would be a great help.

Humidity gauges. Temperature, pressure and humidity can tell of passing phenomena in the atmosphere that may have other effects (such as low pressure system increasing the amount of static electricity in an area). More than just what is on the K-2 hand sensors, but something to go with any other piece of equipment and integrated into the readings suite.  Does humidity go up with sudden 'cold spots' or down with 'warm spots'?  Standard work with atmospherics indicate they should, yet if these events have no change in humidity, then something else is going on.

Even the old Kung-Fu bit of a roll of wide rice paper spread down a hallway and having just enough tension on it to show footprints or other imprints would be handy for those stairs and hallways with paranormal phenomena going on... so long as team members walked along the edges, of course. One quick photo and you see if ANYTHING on it has been disturbed. Plastic sheeting and litter pearls could have the same effect, or just about any loose packed yet easy to clean up material on plastic sheeting.



That is equipment, next is methodology.

As has been examined for equipment, the concept of baseline readings over a given period is essential to non-periodic phenomena recording. Anything that has a variation that is irregular, at best, needs large time windows for data capture that must include standard use of facility space so that the activity within a facility can be examined to see how it impinges on recorder use. Anything that is recorded during baseline periods can then be compared per position and for the entire suite of equipment for any given period of time to see if any of the phenomena happen during regular facility use hours and compared to just what is being used at a facility at that period of time. Such baseline recordings must be both before and after any investigation to ensure that deviations to the baseline are recorded, also. This would require more than a standard two-day investigation window, however, which might limit the number of sites covered per month. The payback, however, is a much thorough volumetric examination of any paranormal activity cross-compared with normal activity over a given timeframe. It also allows for a repeatable system of equipment use so that any non-standard use of equipment is thoroughly documented and recorded and that all attempts to handle any situation for recording in the exact, same way are then adhered to for consistency of data capture.

Thus there are no 'special circumstances' and 'trying things out' performed for equipment deployment and usage: standardized, documented and regularized procedures are set down and all deviations, no matter how minor, are recorded. Good scientific data requires that standardization on methodology be performed and adhered to so you do NOT get variation of results AND equipment simultaneously. If the team wishes to postulate about 'energy sources' then capture of those must also be recorded continuously, not on a one time basis but thoroughly from equipment set up to tear down. And as those would ALSO be part of the standardized procedure, there would be deployment of equivalent equipment for those areas, as well. Coincidence of sudden EMF readings with other events is not, of necessity, causation unless the volume between proposed source and destination can show that such a reading is continuous between the two for that given period of time.

Data review by another person or group unfamiliar or unaffiliated with Everyday Paranormal. Pro bono review time is damned hard to get in this world, and only a limited number of subject experts or personal friends and family can do some work and they are biased. Getting wider subject matter experts or even just field experts is something that is lacking in the program and we only see them a few times, like in the Booth episode or with the FLIR anomaly episode. In particular getting sound expertise to enhance background sounds out of noise seems to be at a premium, and as Electronic Voice Phenomena make up the bulk of the program's interesting evidence, it is here that a group of sound experts is needed. Unfortunately the amount being recorded is vast. Between experts and what is with Everyday Paranormal is the realm of software enhancement and identification of sounds.

Because of limited pro bono professional time being available, and there being plenty of those with amateur skills with interest in such phenomena, perhaps an Army of Davids approach can be used, instead. This is also the open source/'many eyes makes good code' way of doing things in which those with interest, skills and time to do the work pick it up on their own. What this would require would be open sourcing the data gathered and then posting resultant data with the exact methods used to get it: document software, hardware and what was done at each step of the way not only for audio, but video and still photography. To do this requires the cost of a server, maintaining it, ensuring that all participants file documents on what they did along with results from any given data source. Here individual expertise is outweighed by multiple skilled amateurs examining the same data sources and deriving their own conclusions. At some point this becomes necessary for all paranormal research to be taken seriously and allow for not only the fans but critics to have their hands on the exact, same information. Being able to reproduce results and understand variations in results is as important, if not more important, than the results, themselves and should lead to better methodology over time.



There has been great criticism of the Klinge brothers, especially Brad, in his rather loud and confrontational attitude towards things.

Well, he is from Texas, after all.

If you are going after phenomena trying to make their presence known, however, and we are not considering them to be omniscient, then making it known that if you do anything within the limits of our recording technology that your actual presence will be understood to be there, then louder just may be better. The 'spooky' way of people looking at each other nervously is great for atmospherics, but has it really gotten the point across? Besides if you TELL whatever is out there you are from Texas, this should be expected...

Still, a point can be taken on that and over a two night period different forms of methodology can be used: the quiet and 'go lightly' form to see if just minor changes in personnel and interrogation get results away from the baseline, and then a louder, more confrontational stance the second night, to cross-compare techniques. That also means detaching emotions from the work, itself, which Barry seems to do quite well. You do not want to bring a biased viewpoint with you when being loud as that will skew what you expect from the results. If there is value in one way or another for doing this sort of work, then part of the evidence will BE the evidence itself. Perhaps all that timid tip-toeing around has led to a lack of results due to that methodology.

This finally points to what is being looked at: the paranormal.

While the show is about 'the dead' and what happens after life, there appears to be different categories that the Klinge brothers, themselves, use for categorization. This makes for an interesting time as they don't treat the categories in a way that would explore them more deeply.

In the realm of the dead we have a few basic phenomena that are reviewed:

1 - The dead as 'spirits' or conscious beings. This comes out in a few places where what is seen and purported has reactivity not only to the presence of people but to their actions. By going through a person's name, what they did in their life and so one, the attempt to see if this is a fully conscious being is performed, yet the times when such responses are garnered have been limited. Rarely have there been actual responses in a novel fashion to interrogation, which would be a keystone requirement for this sort of phenomena.

2 - Partial beings or phenomena. These are those things that do not show a conscious response, of necessity, but do things in a pre-set pattern. Finding tasks left unfinished in a completed state aboard the USS Lexington is a prime example of this and while not pointing to a fully conscious being it can point to a non-conscious routinized system of doing things captured in some form or another. In this are non-topical EVP recordings during interrogations, which points to an environmental response, non-conscious response or conscious response without ability to vary beyond actual past vocalizations. The voice response following the female team member at Alcatraz fits this pretty well, and following of that vocalization may not be a fully conscious response or only a limited capability of thought patterns that continues onwards.

3 - Environmental response or the feeling of recorded events. From all the programs this seems to be the largest amount of responses to the paranormal and is referred to as 'impressions' left in the environment. This category blurs into the previous, but is one that has sentences with their own intonations unrelated to anything current going on: thus the feeling they are recorded by the environment by some mechanism. How this might happen requires further examination, but seems to be a basis for a pretty large swath of the paranormal. In this category would also be 'haunted objects' which may have a higher phenomena involved, but be limited to a certain object and its surroundings.

4 - Other. The grab bag of everything not in 1- 3.



Why are these categories important?

The concept of people leaving 'impressions' behind them has been a long held part of mysticism, the occult and paranormal, and yet it has some decidedly interesting proofs that can be placed against them. The major one is the concept that when dying an individual, particularly in a traumatic state, leaves such an impression behind them. Although lesser states may also be recorded, it is this that opens up the venue to near death experiences from which an individual recovers. If the concept is that an impression is left due to trauma, then there is an opportunity to find the impression of the living individual left elsewhere and recording that phenomena. This is not the average venue for the paranormal, that of someone living having left such an impression behind them, but the conclusion by the line of reasoning is inescapable and would serve as a touchstone for understanding other phenomena. With a near death happening and then that individual recovering and being no where nearby when investigations happen, such things as voice, intonation or even visual phenomena can be compared against the living subject. This is not something I have ever heard about happening, but the logic of it is inescapable.

For such to happen on a large scale is seen at battlefields and there should be far, far more reports or hauntings of at battlefields, ancient and modern, than we currently have. Be it at Alesia, Malta, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Dresden, Tobruk, or the fields of Kursk, these battles of agony and death should be packed with haunting reports of all three major types. And yet that isn't the case, even with some recordings showing this the intensity and amount of trauma should leave far more than has been recorded to date.

What do we hear at the site of the Twin Towers in NYC? Any directional microphones aimed in that region of the air where they once stood? It is hard to get a haunting report from 86 stories up in empty air...



One does not need to 'believe' to keep an open mind and yet cast a skeptical eye: doing that yielded skepticism from me when I first heard about Anthropogenic Global Warming. Keep an open mind, but don't let your brain fall out.

The paranormal spans a wide variety of phenomena, including such things as UFO chasing, save that the Army of Davids is collecting evidence of them far faster than of ghosts and other phenomena. Individual reports can be faked, individual reports can be made up, but when so many of the same phenomena captured by unrelated people, believers, skeptics and non-believers, starts to pile up due to the ubiquity of recording hardware, then the volume of the unexplained tells you something about it. While ghosts and other paranormal of the less UFO sort have always had a deeply committed following, that ubiquity of recording capacity isn't yielding the same amount of results although there are more of them due to it. Even if all of this is explainable by human interpretation, even that tells us something about ourselves. But that is not the case: when you remove the fakes, hoaxes, and those things explained by normal phenomena, the residue left is no longer scanty due to the amount being recorded.

Thus, like AGW, it comes down to the basics: show me the data.

What did you get, how did you get it, and what other processing was involved?

No conjectures or hypotheses, although they may serve as a basis for recording data, the data, itself, will speak for itself.

Capture it in large amounts that do not have easy explanations and you just might have something there.

I don't need to 'believe' if I have enough data to demonstrate the phenomena and how it works.

The UFO folks could use a bit more of the high tech data capture and perseverance of the paranormal folks, and the paranormal folks could use a bit more of the ubiquitous data like the UFO folks are getting. They might even be the same phenomena.

The data will tell the tale.

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