A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Artificial Ghosts

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

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An artificial ghost is a ghost created though the collective imagination and energy of a group of people.

The Philip Experiment

In 1972 a parapsychology experiment was conducted to see if humans could create and communicate with a fictionalized ghost. The experiment occurred in Toronto, Canada and was led by several members of the Toronto Society for Physical Research. This group had a diverse set of backgrounds:

The experiment was conducted by the mathematician A. R. G. Owen and overseen by psychologist Dr. Joel Whitton. The test group consisted of A. R. G.’s wife Iris Owen, former chairperson of MENSA in Canada Margaret Sparrows, industrial designer Andy H., his wife Lorne, heating engineer Al Peacock, accountant Bernice M, bookkeeper Dorothy O’Donnel, and sociology student Sidney K. (Wikipedia)

None of these members had ever demonstrated psychic ability.

The group created a man named Philip and his life story:

  • “Philip Aylesford” was born in 1624.
  • He joined the military at age 15 and was knighted at age 16.
  • He was friends with Charles I.
  • He fought for the crown in the English Civil War.
  • He married a woman named Dorothea.
  • While married, he fell in love with a Gypsy girl. Dorothea found out and accused her of witchcraft. She was burned at the stake.
  • Philip committed suicide in 1654 (age 30).

Once the story was complete, the group met to meditate, visualize, and materialize him into existence. After having no success for months, the group turned to techniques used by Spiritualists: seance and table-tilting. Rosemary Ellen Guiley describes their first contact with Philip:

On the third or fourth table-tilting session, the group felt a vibration under the tabletop. The vibration became raps and knocks, and the table moved beneath their hands. When one member of the group wondered out loud if ‘Philip’ was responsible, a knock sounded in answer. Using a simple code of one rap for yes and two for no, the group communicated with the spirit, who claimed to be the very man they had created. Although the spirit was able to give historically correct answers concerning the events and persons–perhaps due to cryptomnesia or extra-sensory perception (ESP) among members of the group–it was unable to provide any information about itself which had not previously been manufactured as part of his life’s history. (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits 254)

People questioned the validity of the study, pointing to the unreliability of seance methods and the lack of solid controls (Wikipedia). Additional experiments were done with the characters “Lilith” and “Humphrey” with similar results. The Owens believed the study demonstrate that a group’s subconscious could created effects resembling a ghost or psychokinetic (PK) effect, what they termed “PK by committee” (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits 254).

A short video about the experiment:

Ghosts Created in Labs

Parapsychologists aren’t the only ones creating ghosts. According to mental_floss, scientists created their own ghostly sensations in the lab.

Olaf Blanke, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL), first had to find the scientific culprit for these strange sensations [the presence of an unseen entity]. He and his team analyzed brain scans of patients suffering from neurological disorders who experience the ghostly feeling. They found abnormalities in the areas controlling how the brain sees the body, or one’s own spatial self-awareness. These abnormalities “can sometimes create a second representation of one’s own body, which is no longer perceived as ‘me’ but as someone else, a ‘presence,’” says Giulio Rognini, who led the study.

Armed with an understanding of where the feeling of being haunted comes from, the researchers set out to recreate it in “healthy” people. A group of subjects—oblivious as to the experiment’s purpose—were blindfolded, their fingers connected to a robotic device. When the test subjects moved the device, a robotic arm behind them mimicked the movement, poking them in the back. Sounds pretty straightforward, but when researchers introduced a slight delay between the subject’s movement and the resulting poke, the subjects were spooked. They felt they were being touched by another presence. Some even reported sensing more than one “ghost.”

Both are interesting experiments which put forth the question: are ghosts real or something we create (whether through energies or through tricks of the brain)?

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