Archive for October 2011
So I conquered a castle. As you do. It felt like I did, or at least that a lot of energy was put into getting to the castle which I see as equal to conquering it – even though I wasn’t invading as such.
It was a 3 mile walk, okay? It took 1 hour and 15 minutes to get there and it was “enjoyable” (or so I’m told. I didn’t find that part enjoyable, but rather, painful due to a sore leg and heavy handbag.) I had been told by Ashley Pryce that there was a bus to the castle that we could jump on from the train station in North Berwick, but there wasn’t. Hmmph.
I was with Ash, Keir Liddle from Edinburgh Skeptics, and Adam Cuerdan whom I have often spoken to online, and although it was painful to walk the whole 3 miles along pavements, roads and grassy banks, it was pretty stunning to look out over the coast the whole way (except that bit where Keir took us on a detour around some tennis courts for some reason…). I also nearly wet myself at one point when Ash decided to leap into oncoming traffic to save his bottle of coca cola. That’s another story though.
We soon arrived at the castle and all was forgiven as we sat down for a cake break (you all have those, right?). Adam had provided the most delicious cakes and we used them to replenish our energy and moods before descending on the castle to see if we could recreate the famous Tantallon Castle Ghost photo.
For those who don’t know, the Tantallon ghost photo was taken by a visitor to the castle who caught something in one of the upper exposed doorways that he hadn’t remembered seeing at the time. Unsure of what it was he asked for other opinions and this soon snowballed into a ghost story.
Tantallon castle is stunning, with stunning views of the sea and surrounding coast. As we arrived at the castle there were strong winds and a hint of rain and a sky that was growing moodier by the second – it was the perfect weather for visiting a castle to investigate a ghost.
The picture certainly captured the imagination of many and Professor Richard Wiseman has written a great piece here about his exploration into the ghost. Richard was able to recreate the photo by kneeling next to the safety rail/grating up there, but many say that this wasn’t a perfect recreation as he was kneeling when the original ‘thing’ wasn’t.
One hypothesis is that it’s a person who was walking past the doorway at the time the photo was taken, and another is that it’s exposed brickwork causing an illusion as the sunlight shines onto it from another light source – perhaps from behind or to the side.
Having explored the area in which the ‘ghost’ was photographed I can see the possibility that it could be the light hitting the stone work. There are two doorways that lead into that little landing area, and the staircase carries on up to the next level, and half way up these stairs is a window.
I couldn’t work out which stones could cause the illusion though, but I know that’s the problem with such illusions – it’s hard to work out what is causing them sometimes.
Anyway, we decided to explore the other hypothesis too and Adam climbed up to the level the ‘ghost’ was photographed on, as the rest of us stayed on the ground floor. As Adam was wearing a dark coat and hat he soon faded into the shadows and it was easy to see how someone could be mistaken for something odd had you not known they were there. The picture below shows Adam, it is blurred as it is a still from the video further down – and although not in the exact position the ‘ghost’ was in, in the original photo, I think there is a likeness.
Ash Pryce filmed the recreation and you can watch it below. I am recording audio on my Iphone throughout, in case you wondered why I’m holding on to it so much – I’m not showing it off, honest!
When Professor Wiseman conducted his recreation he knelt on the floor and people claimed that it wasn’t a true recreation of the ‘apparition’ which suggested it being a person was maybe not as likely. However, with the recreation we conducted while at the castle I think that it is likely that it was a person walking past that area. Had Wiseman stood further back on the landing it would have created the same effect.
I am not convinced that the original photo contains anything paranormal – and it appears that those from the castle and nearby are of a similar opinion – interestingly, talking to those who have studied the photo previously to my visit there, the person who took the original photo didn’t think it was a ghost either.
The pareidolia hypothesis is still valid, in my opinion, and cannot be ruled out unless the landing area is observed in various weather conditions throughout the day to see the sort of light being cast against those stones. However, after seeing Adam up on the landing I do think it is more likely that a tourist was passing through the landing area and out through the door to the left of the window, that leads to an outside area of the castle.
If you get to visit Tantallon castle then you should do so. It’s certainly a beautiful place with stunning views. I miss it already.
Thank you to the Edinburgh Skeptics for making the visit possible.
*edit* My initial concerns over Sally Morgan not being given the chance to ‘design’ the test she was being asked to undertake have been addressed by Professor Chris French who has pointed out that although media coverage of the challenge didn’t lay emphasis on it, the test is adaptable with her input.
I apologize for being incorrect at the time of blogging. I still do no believe that such a challenge and the publicity that surrounds it is the best way to enable educational outreach, but I am glad that Chris could answer my other concerns.
Sally Morgan is currently getting a lot of attention, and I cannot help but feel it is the wrong sort of attention – the sort of attention that is giving people the wrong message about skepticism. The Merseyside Skeptics, Simon Singh, Chris French and the JREF have all issued Sally Morgan with a challenge that will take place on October 31st, Halloween, in Liverpool which is where Sally will be for one of her shows.
The challenge was issued to Sally at a time when there have been mentions of legal action being taken by people acting on behalf of her – when she is the least likely to respond to any criticism, and soldier on with her claims and shows.
In all reality it is at a time like this, when doubt has been cast on her abilities and honesty (something I hold no facts on, just personal opinion) that people wanting to promote critical thinking should be engaging with those attending the psychic stage shows. A look around online will show that some Sally Morgan fans are starting to doubt her abilities – there has been discussion on various Sally Morgan facebook groups that her shows have lots of empty seats, and people who are attending the shows are suddenly aware of the lack of hits Sally is making, with some fans describing her performances as poor or disappointing.
It is these people that skeptics can reach by engaging with them, which is what I created Project Barnum for – to help people not only find the information they’re looking for (about cold reading etc.) but also to provide resources for people to use to engage with others.
Unfortunately, Project Barnum isn’t headline grabbing stuff because it takes time and effort and isn’t overly showy. It’s just information waiting to be passed on – but let’s not forget it is information that makes the differences.
A publicity stunt in which a challenge is issued only reaches those who already have their minds made up one way or another – those who do not believe Sally Morgan is psychic will be in support of the challenge and use it as an “I told you so” tool, much like all of the other psychic challenges that have been issued in the past, especially where the psychics have failed. Those who believe in psychic ability will see it as another way “closed minded skeptics” are attacking psychics.
Sally will not be attending the challenge – we know that already – so it serves no real useful purpose other than to demonstrate, once again, that a psychic such as Morgan isn’t willing to talk to skeptics. We know that already, as she has often stated that she doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone who doubts her.
Not only this, but why would Sally Morgan take part in a challenge devised by people who haven’t spoken to her about her abilities and have only built up a picture of what she claims to be able to do from her website and television shows?
I know from experience that there is a lot more to the story when it comes to people who think they are psychic. It isn’t just a case of being able to talk to the dead, or being able to locate missing people, or being able to get messages from objects by holding them. Without actually talking to somebody about their claimed abilities, you can’t claim to know how to go about testing their abilities.
Patricia Putt, for example, was tested by the JREF (and failed) but detailed to Righteous Indignation in an interview how she had agreed to the test conditions in advance with those who were testing her. I think that by creating a test or challenge before even speaking to Morgan was the biggest mistake those involved in the Halloween challenge could have made, because it gave Morgan the perfect reason to not agree to the test.
Does Sally Morgan claim to be able to predict the names of seven out of ten deceased people by looking at their photos? I know she does some photo readings during her shows, but as someone who has watched her televisions shows as they’ve aired I don’t even know how many photos she reads from in one go. Do you?
Do not get me wrong – it is good and important to direct as much attention to potential psychic cheats as is possible, but at the same time we have to remember that it isn’t just the potential cheats who are gaining attention, it is also those generating that critical attention – and if not done correctly, then we all look like idiots and reinforce the stereotypes that surround skeptics.
I have a full list of numerous big name psychics, where they’ll be touring and when. I would implore any skeptical groups or organisations to get in touch because by talking to just a few people attending a psychic show about how they can work out for themselves if they’re being misled or not, you can make a difference.
I personally don’t care if Sally Morgan does or does not agree to be tested, what I care about is the person paying to go to a show without knowing how to spot a cheat. I honestly believe this is where the biggest difference can be made.
By arming people with information we’re not forcing our beliefs or opinions on others, but simply enabling them to think for themselves and if that’s the least we can do, then that’s marvelous.
Last week I visited Edinburgh to talk for the Edinburgh skeptics in the pub group and have a look around the ‘haunted city’. I have a blog post in the works about my trip so do check back for the details – it was an awesome few days.
However, what I wanted to write about was the talk I did for Cork Skeptics in the Pub (well, in the castle to be exact) while I was still in Scotland. It was all done via skype which is such a simple, effective yet overlooked idea that it blew my mind.
Patrick Fisher from the Victoria Skeptics (known as YYJ Skeptics as not to be confused with the other Victoria Skeptics…) was talking alongside myself and Ashley Pryce who helped form Edinburgh skeptics and writes for The 21st Floor.
We spoke about a variety of paranormal subjects between us for over an hour and then took questions from the audience who were in Cork.
It was a really fun experience, it was really well executed and planned and I wanted to write a brief blog to say thank you to Colm from Cork Skeptics, and all of those who worked alongside him (whose names I forget… sorry…) for making that talk happen.
I may be wrong, but it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ group using such a method to deliver a panel of speakers. I certainly hope it will not be the last.
Okay so I know Skype isn’t a new thing, and I’ve been aware of conference calls for a while… but this was so much more awesome!
p.s. read an interview I did for Ash Pryce for The 21st Floor here.
p.p.s check out the awesome artwork the Cork Skeptics have for their events! Jealous!
For the next month or so I will be ducking out of my Righteous Indignation duties, and I will no longer be as involved with Bath Skeptics in the Pub as I have been in the past. There isn’t anything wrong though, it’s simply because in the last week I have made the decision to change the direction my life is going in.
I’m giving up my full time job and looking for a couple of part time jobs to give myself a more flexible timetable so that I can start to study towards a Bachelors degree in Psychology with the Open University. I will also be embarking on smaller courses that wont help me with a degree, but will help with my education.
I spend so much of my free time working on various projects that I feel passionate about, but hardly any time working on my own life and future and I decided recently to change that. When all of my school friends were going to university I was recovering from a very nasty condition in my ear that was potentially life threatening. Once I was recovered I never really motivated myself to restart my education and just started moving from job to job.
There’s so much I want to learn and do, and I’ve decided that now is the time to do it. I will return to the podcast soon, and I may be able to help out more with Bath Skeptics once things are more settled, but I just wanted to blog about this so to stop people reading into anything.
It’s a scary jump to be making and as it currently stands there’s a lot of uncertainty involved and I’m a bit stressed(especially when it comes to having a job to replace the full time one in time for November – eek), but I’m pretty confident that it’ll all pay off.
So yes, that’s why I will be less involved in certain projects until I can get a better grasp on time management. Don’t panic.
*edit* I forgot to mention that I was inspired to write this as a response to the number of people who begged me not to stop RI because I “inspire them”. That was a bit of a shock, to be honest, and I want to thank you all. I didn’t realise I inspired anybody to do anything other than troll, and it means a lot. *sobs*
I get that you don’t need the $1million that the JREF offer anyone who can prove they have a paranormal ability. I get that the experiences your fans have at your shows and readings are enough proof for them personally, and that you consider this to be good enough for you.
I also understand that some people who doubt your claims are rude and nasty with the comment they make. I get that you might not trust why people want to test you when they offer large amounts of money. I get that you probably genuinely believe you have the abilities you claim to have and that you’re probably not intending to mislead anyone. I understand why you think you don’t owe your critics anything by way of proof to support your claims. I also don’t feel I owe those who criticise me anything!
I get that. I can understand all of that.
However, you DO owe it to your audiences to prove you can do what you say you can. Those people who simply accept that you have the abilities you claim to have are the people you owe it to, to devise and take a test in controlled conditions.
If you don’t need or want the $1million then don’t take it – do a test for free.
Don’t undergo a test to prove your critics wrong, take a test to prove your supporters are right.
Be a decent person.
Suddenly the countdown to Halloween is upon us and I’m vaguely aware of the fact that I’ve been planning for this month for a long time because of the various talks I have coming up. However this week is the week in which my first October talks take place and I’m all awash with excitement and pure terror.
I’ve planned for months to refresh my ‘skeptics in the pub’ talk to include newer content and to take feedback from past talks I’ve done and improve the whole thing. Yet, like always, I’ve left it to the last minute to actually implement the changes. I guess I must have known it would happen because I booked this whole week off of work so that I could ‘prep for halloween’ – it’s a good job my employers know about the paranormal research thing I do or they’d think I was a bit odd. Actually, they probably think that anyway but that’s swings and roundabouts…
On Wednesday I am travelling to Edinburgh as I am speaking for Edinburgh Skeptics in the Pub on Thursday – my talk is actually taking place inside the part of the vaults apparently, which has this ghost geek hugely excited. I’m then hanging around in Edinburgh until Saturday morning when I shall travel home again – there is a lot I want to see in the city and this is the perfect chance to do so.
While I am there though, I will be giving another talk on Friday, this time for the Cork Skeptics via the wonder of Skype. Along with Ashley Pryce and Patrick Fisher the talk will cover all sorts of weird and wonderful things that sit under the term ‘paranormal’. The coolest part though is that we’re doing it via Skype while the attendees are sitting in a castle. They have frickin ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ not in a pub but in a frickin castle! Also, check out the poster. Just…. just check it out >>
Then I’ll be back at work, but the Halloween fun doesn’t stop there – oh gosh no, gosh no indeed! For on the 27th I will be zooming across to Bristol to deliver a talk to the lovely Bristol Skeptics in the Pub people. It will be the second talk I’ve done for them. They were the second group I ever spoke for so I figure I do owe them a talk in which I actually make sense and don’t look like a deer caught in headlights…
Oddly enough, they’ve completely sold out of their tickets already which makes me wonder if there is another Hayley Stevens involved in paranormal research who they’re expecting. Awesomely, their talks take place in a theatre! A THEATRE!
Okay, I’m pretty sure it’s in the bar area or greenroom area or something, but still, a theatre… how haunted is that place going to be?!*
Someone will be live tweeting the event – I don’t know the hashtag yet, but if you check my twitter feed on October 27th I’ll be sure to tweet what the hashtag is so that you can follow it.
Then comes the talk that I am REALLY LOOKING FORWARDS TO which will be taking place in Westminster for Westminster Skeptics in the Pub on October 31st – the night of all nights for any self respecting ghost geek. There are people attending the talk who I am really looking forwards to meeting – in some cases for the first time, in other cases, for the second time.
I have been told that my talk may be made available online shortly after it is finished on the evening of Halloween. This includes my slides – so if you’re one of those lovely people I talk to who aren’t from the UK, or are but have never seen my talk and are always telling me to come and talk for you, this is a great chance to watch and hear my talk on Halloween! how fun is that?! The good thing is that my talk is always changing – the talk I did for Oxford Skeptics was different than the one I did for Birmingham Skeptics, which was different for Newcastle and so on… so even if you’ve seen my talk before, you might still find it interesting!**
I don’t know the technicalities of how that’s going to work, or even if it is definitely happening – but I was asked if it would be okay and I thought it was an awesome idea. When I do find out I will blog about the details.
So, yes. Today I have locked myself in my room and set myself the task of finishing off my slides and working out if I’m allowed to take the Ghostbox on a flight or not.
In other news, the winner of the first Free QED ticket was Alex Gray. The others winners will be drawn on October 31st.
*not very, I expect…
** or you could go to the pub
I shouldn’t be blogging because I’m all dopey and sleepy because I’m currently suffering with an ear infection and taking a whole lot of pain meds – but I’ve never let having a fuzzy mind stop me making a fool of myself before…
I honestly don’t consider myself to be a paranormal celebrity – I laugh at the idea. However, while in a goofy mood I took the following photo. It’s a mimic of the standard profile photo that any ‘paranormal celeb’ will have and must have to be considered a paranormal celebrity.
You should try making your own ‘paranormal celeb’ profile photo. Here’s a check list:
1 – deep look of concentration on your face
2 – looking into the camera with an air of interest and disgust all at the same time
3 – must be either in black or white, or you must be wearing black
4 – NO SMILING
5 – there must be an air of mystery (I cheated with the mysterious thing… sue me)