Hayley is a Ghost

Posts Tagged ‘conference

There is a  lot to be said for people who will pay to visit the beautiful city of Zurich and spend most of their time sitting in a darkened hall geeking out on science – however one word would be sufficient to sum them up, and that word is diverse.

It took me a while to think of that word; a word that would do the last four days justice, as what I experienced at Denkfest in Zurich was beyond anything I’ve really experienced before. I could have said awesome, fun, interesting, friendly… but ‘diverse’ works.

Perhaps, before I continue I should start at the beginning so that you can understand.

I write words, inspired by the world around me. I write them on this blog and I also speak them on the podcast I co-host. When it comes to the promotion of critical thinking, science, education and skepticism I consider myself very low down on the impact scale.

Yet, somehow the organisers of the conference (who deserve a huge pat on the back) felt that the words I write and speak meant I was worthy of being on the science/skepticism blogging panel that opened Denkfest on Thursday evening. When I was asked to, I was a bit confused but Andreas Kyriacou convinced me they had invited me on purpose and so I went.

Then, on the days that followed the blogging panel I sat and listened to some of the most inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure to be in the same room with – let alone on the same speakers bill as.

Blogging Panel - credit: Martin Steiger http://bit.ly/pr5IB6

I didn’t take notes during the talks as I saw many other people were doing so (I will link to any summaries of the conference I find here on my blog). However, the talks that stood out the most for me were those by Max Coltheart (whose discussion of delusions had my chin practically on the floor), Kathryn Schulz (whose talk about being wrong made me feel less stupid and more normal), Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Samantha Stein and Lawrence Krauss (who blew my mind, as well as everybody else’s, with his easy-to-follow-yet-not-dumbed-down talk on the universe.)

There were also other memorable talks, like the one on Chi (by Holm Gero Hummler) and Brain Gym (Barbro Walker) that were insightful and interesting. Not to mention the fact that Luigi Garlaschelli and his unveiling of his Turin Shroud was a great start to Saturday (especially when followed by Sanal Edamaruku whose work I’m sure we all know of – but if not, watch here).

Actually, I could just list all the speakers whose talks on various topics made the conference what it was. Sure, there were talks I couldn’t follow that well like Ueli Straumann’s talk about the LHC, and Melody Swartz’s talk about immunobioengineering – both of which made me a bit crossed eyed with all the technical terms. However, there is nothing wrong with a bit of heavy science, and I know there were those who understood those talks, and making such science accessible to the audience was important.

As a speaker I stayed in one of the two hotels reserved for speakers (there were over 40 of us…) and there was a tram ride to and from the hotel. The hotel was situated in the old city and right on one of the main streets that was always bustling with tourists and locals checking out the variety of shops, restaurants and bars which really brought to life the social aspect of the conference.

Skeptics in the bar! credit: Samantha Stein

The Gala dinner also rocked, especially Science Slam (which is basically science communication in the form of a poetry slam, without poetry) that was hosted by Julia Offe; four researchers took to the stage to do a ten minute presentation each, to convince us that their research was the most interesting. Each table then had to rate them to see who scored highest.

Although two spoke German it was still enjoyable. Good food, good wine, good company and science. It was the best Saturday I’ve had in a long time.

I have returned from Zurich with friendships I didn’t have when I left for Zurich. The social aspect of the conference was really wonderful. It was great to see all of the speakers (from amateur bloggers all the way up to arse-kicking science communicators and scientists) rubbing shoulders with everyone and each other.

It’s not every day you can say “I was discussing astrology over breakfast with Eugenie Scott, Chris French and Rose Shapiro”, whilst also being as equally excited about the fact that you met two Romanian skeptics who host a podcast and do admirable work in their country for rational thinking and deserve applause for it.

The important lesson I took from Denkfest is this – we are human and it is okay to make mistakes. Eugenie Scott told us ‘being wrong does not mean you are unscientific’, telling people they’re delusional might make them hostile and (with my fellow panelists) we agreed that it’s important to make correct information available even if not everyone agrees with it. I realised from numerous talks that there are things that even the most intelligent people do not know – and that’s okay. Progress is always being made in the way we (the human race) learn about the world and universe around us.

I also realised that skepticism has never looked so diverse.

I was very proud to be a part of Denkfest and if there should be another then I will happily be purchasing a ticket. See you there!

Check out:
Camp Quest UK
The Skeptic (UK) 
The Denkfest website
The Sixth World Skeptics Congress in Berlin (I am SO going!)
Science Slam 

p.s. thanks to all of those I met at Denkfest for being so lovely and nice. It was a pleasure to meet you, and I’m sorry if my German was terrible.


Are you sitting comfortably?  We’re about to travel through time and it can make you feel a little bit ill, but we’re not going far so you should be okay. Does anyone have any questions? Yes, you at the back.

What baby? Oh, that’s Patrick, he’s the pilot of this craft. What? No, this isn’t just a cardboard box! It’s a cardboard box that travels through time thank you very much.

Now, I’m just going to adjust this dial here to 2004… there we go, now, our journey shall begin. Oh, and before we actually set off – please don’t be alarmed by my hair – I was 17 and though it was cool.

Right, Take it away Patrick!

2004 – There I am, sitting on one sofa – my mum is on the other one, and we’re watching ‘Haunted Homes’ with that psychic Mia Dolan who goes into peoples homes and clears out the ghost.

It’s quite remarkable really because Most Haunted only goes into the big fancy locations that have ghosts but this show goes into peoples homes.

They have a resident skeptic by the name of Chris French, he’s the one who says it’s all “nonsense” and tries to come up with other theories about what has been witnessed.

“You can’t explain away full body apparitions!” I say as Professor French does his piece to camera, my mum nods wisely, and then silence descends once again as we’re thrown back into the investigation with Mia and her fancy latin chanting.

Look, I know we’re not meant to do anything that inteferes with our past selves, but I deserved that slap on the back of the head. Look! See! I’m putting it down to a passing ghost. It’s fine.

Right, now, is everybody in their seats? Good. I’m just setting the dial to 2005… and here we go…

2005 – An 18 year old me is sitting on the sofa, my mum is sitting on the other sofa and we’re watching another episode of Most Haunted. The curtains are drawn across because it’s midday and the beautiful sunshine coming through the window doesn’t really help to set the scene.

Yvette Fielding is on the screen (or a portion of her head is, anyway) and she is screaming. The room is silent as the ‘investigation’ unfolds on the screen in front of us.

It would be a little bit spooky if Derek Acorah hadn’t recently been posessed by the spirit of Kreed Kafer – a South African Jailer who didn’t actually exist.

See Kreed Kafer is an anagram of ‘Derek Faker’, it was a set up by the shows parapsychologist Ciarán O Keefe in an attempt to show that Derek might not be as truthful as he made out.

We are watching the newest DVD we have just bought for about £20 from ASDA. We have them all, and right now, as the 18 year old me is watching this episode, the Kreed Kafer incident is playing out in the back of my mind. Did you see that frown? Yep, that’s the doubt.

Right now the younger me is thinking ‘What else had this show lied to us about? Why had we so readily accepted their clarifications that everything on the show was legit?‘  I have started to realise that we have been really stupid.

In about a month or so I’m going to create WPR, or as it was named back then H.U.G.S (Have U got spooks?) – I was 18, don’t blame me. The team is then renamed Twelfth Hour Paranormal Investigations a year or so later.

Right, everyone back into the time machine. Just get in there! Okay, setting the dial to 2007. Patrick, start her up!

2007 – We’re standing in the function room of The Old Bell in Warminster. It’s a pub slash hotel and we’re doing a paranormal investigation. There are quite a few team members here as we recently recruited a load of new people. We didn’t really think things through and most of the people we let onto the team are what most skeptics would call “woo”.

You can see me over there in the corner, yes, the one who is sneering a bit. Yes. If you watch closely the penny is about to drop.

Keep watching… keep watching…

any minute…

There! See! I shook my head. I shook my head in dismay but the others didn’t see it as they’re standing in a circle, holding hands and going “ommmm ommm”, but it happened and you saw it. I’ve just turned a corner.

In about three hours the Twenty year old me that is sat there sneering, frowning and generally about to kick off will write an email that basically rips the ‘Twelfth Hour Team’ into two. Three members will be left in the team and a wave of hateful backlash will be poured in our direction online by the “woo” members who left and started their own team.

In a few weeks I will meet a skeptic paranormal researcher called Trystan Swale who lives in Gloucestershire who I will start to talk to in emails and on a forum called Weird Wiltshire (where most of the hateful stuff about me is posted by ex-team members). In two years Trystan will ask me to co-host a podcast with him.

Anyway, after the split and the hate etc. Wiltshire Phenomena Research will be born. You see that tall woman over there leading the Ommm-ing session? She’ll take all the “woo” members and make her own team called “White Horse Paranormal” and attempt to spread that my team has disbanded. Only in a few months it will be her team that has disbanded and my team that has carried on until our current reality of 2011-

What? Yes I KNOW we’re in 2007, I mean the reality we come from. What? No I wasn’t born in 2011, I mean- look, just get back in the bloody time machine will you? I’m turning the dial to 2011.

2011 – It’s currently just under 28 days until I will be sitting on a panel at the QED conference being held in Manchester. I will be sitting alongside Professor Chris French, Dr Ciarán O Keefe and Trystan Swale.

My point is, it feels rather odd that in just over five years I have gone from being someone who sat on the sofa watching paranormal shows and drinking in all the lies as truths, to sitting on a panel besides the people who used to be on those shows who made me doubt the things I believed in. People who made me see the error of my ways and become more rational.

I will be sitting besides them and talking to a room of skeptics about ghost investigations today.

It’s incredible what can happen when you have a truly open mind and put your mind to something.

You can leave now, and don’t tell anyone about the time machine, okay?

…and five or six people were stood in front of me, holding hands and going “ommmmmmm ommmmmmm ommmmmm”.

I was talking for the Merseyside Skeptics Society and I had started with a demo to make people understand the things I had experienced in the past that had turned me to skepticism – this time I had chosen to use the chanting séance demo and, to my surprise, people had actually volunteered to be ridiculed to help me make a point.

It was pretty awesome.

It was the fourth talk I have done for a ‘skeptics in the pub’ group and I am happy to tell you that it was the best group I have ever spoken for.

If you run a ‘skeptics in the pub’ group, or if you are thinking of setting one up I think you should go to Liverpool and attend one their talks or social events because what they do is almost magical and unlike any ‘skeptics in the pub’  I have attended or spoken at before.

The organisers had to deal with a huge mess up with the room they normally use, (it was double booked), and it was out of their control, but as I stood at the edge of the room I was going to have to talk in instead and watched them set everything up it was clear to see they were in control of the situation (or at least made it seem that way).

The talk itself was a joy to deliver because the audience were so friendly and chatty and they actually smiled. SMILED. There is nothing worse that looking out into a sea of blank faces.

Not only that but the people there were willing to get involved when I handed pieces of ghost equipment around – normally people seem a bit reluctant to touch the ouija board, but there were the Mersey skeptics, communicating with someone called ‘Treb3’ through the ouija board. It was fab.

They even laughed at my jokes and stuff.

The thing that also stood out for me was the time after the talk had finished. It was brilliant! Normally after a talk for a skeptics group everyone heads off to do their own thing and I’m on my way home by 10pm, but that wasn’t the case this time.

There was lots of good, fun chatter, someone brought out a very faulty wallet, I learnt about AJ’s obsession, I got to see Joe Nickell’s wooden nickel business card WHICH WAS AWESOME! There was also terrible humor (as expected), and lots of people coming up and saying hi. Basically, the evening felt as though my talk was a small part of a bigger social event and that is exactly what I think ‘skeptics in the pub’ events should be like. People felt at home there, that much was clear, and because of that I felt at home too.

There was no awkward ‘I’m the speaker’ feeling that is often obvious at such events. It was great (even learning about AJ’s obsession despite the fact that it got more and more disturbing…)

Basically, I can’t wait until the QED conference because the people who are behind the Merseyside Skeptics Society are also behind QED (as are the Manchester skeptics too) and, if last night was anything to go by, QED is going to be amazing.

Thank you to everyone who came along to my talk last night. Thank you for laughing and for joining in and for asking honest questions – I only hope I gave you the answers that you needed.

Thank you to the person wearing the ghost busters T-shirt. I saw it, I just didn’t get a chance to say so.

Thank you Marsh, Mike, AJ and Colin for making a talk so much fun.

Next year my talk is going to be going nearly bloody everywhere – check out the ‘talks and stuff’ page on this blog for information on where and when I’ll be talking. It could be a pub near you!

Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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