Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Dangers of Wishful Thinking.

By Rob Lea.

Ever since The Secret became a massive seller, the self-help market has been flooded with "mind-over matter" philosophy espousing books. These books claim to teach the reader how to receive gifts from a variety of mysterious forces, simply by wanting them enough.  

E^2 by Pam Grout is one such book which claims to contain experiments that allow the reader to "prove" that their mind shape shapes reality. Here is a list of principles given by Grout upon which this method is based.

"1. There is an invisible energy force or field of infinite possibilities.

2. You impact the field and draw from it according to your beliefs and expectations.

3. You, too, are a field of energy.

4. Whatever you focus on expands.

5. Your connection to the field provides accurate and unlimited guidance.

6. Your thoughts and consciousness impact matter.

7. Your thoughts and consciousness provide the scaffolding for your physical body.

8. You are connected to everything and everyone else in the universe.

9. The universe is limitless, abundant, and strangely accommodating.

Among other things, it teaches people how to drop poundage by doing nothing but changing the focus of their thoughts."- 

There is no suggestion here, or even a hint, of what mechanism is responsible for transferring ones thoughts to the matter which one desires to alter. Also notice the liberal use of the word "energy". Scientists have something very specific in mind when using the term "energy" it is in short, the capacity in a system to do work, it is a measurable feature of that system. There are many forms of energy, but the description above seems to conform with the New Age definition of energy, which is used as a place holder in lieu of explanation.

The concept that "thoughts and consciousness impact matter." is something I will address when I focus on the dangers of this way of thinking. But suffice to say until then this primacy of mind is quite easily disproved by the fact that physical influences on the brain alter the mind. Think of the effects that hallucinogens can have upon the mind, for instance. Experiments mapping neurological changes in the brain would also suggest that matter takes precedence over mind.

The following review, graded as most useful on,£ highlights some of the ways in which believers in such nonsense fail in their justifications for these principles and the ultimate cruelty of "mind over matter" beliefs. I understand that this is just one person's opinion, but it is quite demonstrative of the way people who support this kind of thinking justify their beliefs.

From the review it's clear to see that when the supposed "proofs" manifest they are quite mundane, such as receiving tickets for an event.  

"Experiment #1 The Dude Abides Principle: I got a ticket to see Eckhat Tolle and Deepak Chopra at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. How cool is that!!"

It maybe "cool", but it is not at all extraordinary if the said tickets were ordered and paid for! The reviewer fails to mention how apropos of nothing these tickets actually are. It seems like a case of making an everyday event extraordinary simply to suit purpose.

"Experiment #5 The Dear Abby: I asked God and my Angels for guidance on how to make my business more succesful, and what I got at the next morning was a bunch of creative ideas, and something made me yell YES!!"

The reviewer cites as further evidence coming up with ideas to improve their business, if this is an issue that has been on the reviewers mind, then it is likely they will eventually have some ideas which seem productive. Again there is no reason to imagine that some mysterious external force was responsible. Also we can't consider this extraordinary in anyway as we are not told if these ideas were actually successful or not.

"Experiment #7 The Jenny Craig: I lost 1 pound by just thinking every zip of water would clean my organism."

In this case the Jenny Craig is a diet, if the reviewer is already on a diet then it seems likely they are, at very least, making some effort to control what they eat. So how can we possibly attribute weight loss to be due to how one "thinks" about water.

"Experiment #8 The 101 Dalmatians: The friend I was thinking about and sending lots of blessings and happiness, rarely posts comments in Facebook, however at the second day of my experiment, she posted a picture of her beautiful growing vegetable garden and expressed how happy she was about it. That same night I was watching a movie and it turned out it was filmed in Verona,Italy; the city this friend is from."

Again, there's nothing here that can be attributed to anymore than coincidence. If the friends garden had somehow been destroyed and then miraculously recovered after the start of experiment... that would be more convincing. One can only assume that this friend spends a great deal of time on his/her garden, and the only help they receive from the heavens is purely natural in the form of rainwater. As for the city connection. A coincidence, not at all convincing and as below, would of probably gone unnoticed if the reviewer had not been looking for it.

Then there are instances in which the reviewer has to do some "reaching" to make an experiment appear as if a success.

"Experiment #2 The Volkswagen Jetta: I didn't see any sunset-beige cars, but I saw lots of yellow butterflies while watching Baby Einstein with my kids."

One could quite as easily said "well I didn't see any sunset-beige cars, but I did see lots of other cars" Also, let's say the reviewer had seen a sunset beige car. They would likely have no idea how many times they have seen a similar car, but simply never acknowledged the fact, because it simply hadn't been suggested to them that they should. 
And there are instances in which the reviewer blames themselves for the failure of these methods: 

"Experiment #4 The Abracadabra: What I learned from this experiment is that you have to be specific when asking for something to manifest. I focused on getting $ 5,000 but I didn't specify if I wanted them in cash of check, so what I got was a spam e-mail with a picture of lots of bills a huge sign " Win $ 5,000" in the bottom of the e-mail."

This highlights the cruelty of those who propose this way of thinking. Anything that the reviewer does not achieve is not evidence that this nonsense doesn't work. No. They didn't want it enough! They should of been more specific! 

OK, it maybe cruel, but is it dangerous? Well, without wanting to sound hyperbolic, I think this kind of thinking has the potential to do great harm. The people who tend to go in for this sort of thing are either looking for quick fixes for their problems or have problems which are beyond there capability to deal with. The employment of these methods may encourage those looking for a quick fix not to seek professional help for their problems. 

This is especially troubling in the case of serious medical conditions.

This book is being promoted on pages such as this (, on Facebook, in conjunction with accounts of how thinking such as this aided in the recovery of cancer. 

"When Louise Hay first heard that by changing your thinking your could change your life my life changed forever. This is the revelation she used to overcome cancer and to create the life she really wanted which was a total turn around from the life she had during the first 50 years of her life."

Now, I don't know if Louise Hay is a real person, or if she had cancer. But I would seriously doubt that if she recovered from cancer she did so purely through this method. To suggest this is the case is deeply irresponsible and, yes, dangerous. Oh and by the way if Louise had succumbed to her illness, according to the logic proposed by proponents of this method, it would of been her fault for not wanting it enough.

There is often no quick fix for our problems, all available evidence suggests that the universe doesn't bend to our wills, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A Response to Higgypop's "How To Take A Photo of a Ghost."...

Well apparently Higgypop is a comedian and I've made a complete fool of myself by failing to identify this post as satire. Yep. Complete failure to do my homework. I could take the post down but instead as Higgy completely nailed me I'll keep it up but moved out of the blog roll and use it to promote his very funny Youtube channel. Which you can find here. Sad thing is, I've actually seen a few of his potion videos before and really enjoyed them. I just didn't make the connection.

Go subscribe. 


I recently came across this article on a blog site called Higgypop, which aims to instruct ghost hunters and paranormal investigators how to take photographs of "ghosts". At first, I hoped the article was satire. Unfortunately, it's not. I'm going to refer to the author as HP here as there's no author named in the piece.

The first thing to note before we delve too deep into the article, there's hardly an issue with ghost hunters failing to capture images of spirits if social media and the tabloid press are to be believed. There are elements of the post which seem sensible enough. HP offers advice on effects that limit common attributions and flaws in photography, although he doesn't elaborate on prevention methods. What my issue with the post is, no amount of ghost photography will ever constitute useful data. There are simply too many possible sources of misattribution and controlling for these elements to a satisfactory level is near impossible. HP admits as much:
"A high percentage of ghost in photographs are caught unintentionally and although this might make for a great news story, the fact the photo hasn't been taken under controlled conditions makes it hard to determine whether a spirit is present in the photograph or not."
A high percentage? One hundred percent surely? Also, as we've never even determined ghosts exist there's simply no way of verifying in which images "spirits are present" it all seems rather arbitrary doesn't it? At the moment, sorry to be negative, but our total percentage of photos verified to contain a ghost stands at zero. But maybe HP can change my mind.

The article begins
"Spirit photography is a field of photography which aims to capture images of ghosts or apparitions in the shot, usually as part of ghost hunts or in haunted locations. The principles are very old, dating back to the 19th century and as cameras have to got better and more advanced, so have the photos of spirits. Even modern smartphones can be used to capture spirits."
I have to correct the author here. Ghost photography has indeed changed over the ages, but this hasn't been a result of photos advancing. The changes in ghost photography have reflected the particular flaws in photography of a particular generation of film. Changes have also reflected new methods of fakery. It's one one the most damning things about spirit photography that as we've moved from film to digital, full bodied apparitions as a result of double exposures and damage to film rolls caused by light leaks have been replaced by orbs and the full bodied apparitions provided by phone apps and digital manipulation.

Early spirit photography was mostly hoaxed, with the original examples credited to William Mumler, inspired by the rise in the spiritual movement created by the Fox sisters in 1848. The effect of spirits appearing behind sitters was achieved by Mumler placing previously used positive glass plates with unused glass plates producing the world's double exposure apparition photographs. PT Barnum exposed Mumler as a fraud by demonstrating how easy his technique actually was. The technique was widely adopted by other fraudsters even after Mumler was ruined. Would Mumler be proud of his legacy? Now any phone user can produce his or her own fake images at the click of a button. Would Mumler bemoan the lack of artistry I wonder?

Moving beyond outright fakery, we've seen misattribution of photographic artefacts change from people moving during extremely long exposures in the earliest examples of photography resulting in
their appearance as a ghost like after image (a stunning example of which is on the left.  The 1854 image shows the nurse maid of  Prince Arthur anxiously ensuring he does not fall off the box he is posed upon) to the effect of slow shutter speed on a moving object creating a ghostly blur (below), long exposure leading to light trails when found in conjunction with flashes and flying "rods" in the case of quickly moving objects (also below).

The fact that "ghosts" once appeared on photographic images full-figured but now appear as the ubiquitous "orb" should tell HP something, as should the fact that orbs were unphotographed virtually until the advent of digital photography. The evolution of the ghost image tracks perfectly alongside the evolution of photographic methods. Prime example. the return of the "full figured apparition" as a result of panoramic errors in digital photography (below).

Higgy goes on:
"A high percentage of ghost in photographs are caught unintentionally and although this might make for a great news story, the fact the photo hasn't been taken under controlled conditions makes it hard to determine whether a spirit is present in the photograph or not."

Hard? Try impossible. There is literally no way of determining if an image that appears in a photograph is "a ghost". We can certainly determine whether an image has been added at some later stage, we can stop digital manipulate if we examine the photo's EXIF data or even the image itself. But if there's no manipulation, and that object is there in the frame of view, there's no way of telling what that image is with certainty. There's an easy way of breaking down HP's statement here: the fact that they think it's "hard" to determine if a ghost is present in an image, that implies they also believe it's possible to make that determination: so show me one photo that has been determined to be that of a ghost. 

A big clue that you aren't going to be able to do this is the fact that ghosts haven't been shown exist!

Higgy continues:
"This is why, as paranormal investigators, you should take care to ensure your photos are taken with as little chance of capturing something that isn't really there. The simple steps below will help you take photos of spirits which can hopefully be corroborated by avoiding some of the mistakes that amateur ghost hunters make."
Helping control for mistakes is not a bad thing, it's a good idea. But it's difficult and also it won't corroborate a ghost image is genuine. If that were sufficient a measure, we'd have proven ghosts exist. 
The next section is comprised of some fairly handy tips about avoiding common photographic errors, it's useful I guess but extremely lightweight. I know very little about photography and I didn't feel like I'd learned anything from reading it I didn't already know. The section doesn't scream to me that the author particularly knows much about photography. If so, what positions them to be offering advice to ghost hunters or anyone else?

Could be a willingness to resort to utter bullshit.

"You're more likely to capture a ghost on camera if you let the spirits know you (sic) intention."
Again, sorry for repeating myself here: there's no way to assess the most successful way of capturing a ghost in a photo, as we can't ever be sure there's ever been a ghost captured on film! If I wrote a long article about the most successful method of trapping a Yot in a pot you'd think I was a bit stupid or crazy, certainly wasting your time, right?

Higgy continues that it's only polite to allow your intended spirit subject time to do their hair before you snap away. Apparently, ghosts are fussy sorts who like to appear presentable. Please enjoy Higgy's free form ramble on the subject:
"Let's say you walked into your living room at home, all of your family are sat on the sofa, you take out your camera and point it at the wall and say "smile." None of your family member had time to reluctantly drag themselves off of the sofa, stand against the wall and adopt and unnatural grin. If however you'd walked into the room, asked your family to pose for a photo, given them a chance to run their fingers through their hair and then get in line, you'd get a much better result and the same applies for the spirit world."
Uhhh... Yeah?

Moving on quickly. The next piece of "advice" is to take more selfies.
"You could also try taking selfies, if a spirit has attached itself to you or is following you then you might find that a selfie is the best way to capture a spirit which is lurking over your shoulder."
Seems like Higgy walking back all the advice he/she previously offered in the last section as selfies tend to be spontaneous things, taken on mobile devices which Higgy recommends are avoided. It's hard if not impossible to control for a spontaneous shot with a background you can't see apart from what's on the view finder. This eliminates the idea of controls somewhat surely?

"If you're lucky enough to have caught an apparition or spirit on camera that's great but a single photo doesn't tell you much and skeptics will instantly point out all of the factors which could have resulted in your spooky shot. So, always take multiple photos. Keep the camera still and take at least three photos as quickly as your camera will allow you too, some cameras have burst mode which is perfect for this. By taking multiple photos you go from having a still to a timeline of images. If an anomaly appears in just one of the three photos then it's most likely a piece of dust or other artefact. If however the object is in all three photos then there's no denying that you've caught somethings (sic) weird, you might even been (sic) to determine a direction it's travelling in, the objects size or the distance from the camera."
 Again this isn't bad advice, but it doesn't really demonstrate anything useful. Presumably, if your orb has moved it's just a case of Brownian motion pushing the dust particle around. Or even more likely, a different dust particle is highlighted in subsequent shots. Without a solid example of what kind of anomaly would show up and then disappear this section is pretty meaningless.

You know what could add meaning to this part of the post, and the blog in general? Some examples of ghost images, even some of the author's own perhaps. All we are given are some stock photos.

Where are the examples of ghost images? I suspect the author excluded them for one crucial reason. An attempt to include an actual ghost image would result in commentators pointing out the naturalistic explanation for said image, thus proving the whole post futile. There aren't any demonstrably genuine ghost images so any attempt to instruct or inform about how to obtain one is ultimately a pointless exercise.


Original article

History of spirit photography.

Modern photographic artefacts.