Things That Go Bump 2014, Issue #1: Mad Science, Ganzfeld Edition

Can you spot the armored mammal in this photo?

Welcome, boys and girls, to another edition of Things That Go Bump. 

I hadn't actually planned to offer another installment of my amateur supernatural sleuthing today, but a chance visit to a local cemetery resulted in the capture of what I consider to be my best EVP recording yet. I'm really excited about this recording, for a couple of reasons.

First, the vocalization is unique in that it extends over my own soft laughter. Which means it wasn't some weird unintentional grunt or burp, because I'm not a ventriloquist.

Next, it's pretty clear. Clear that it's a voice, and a voice not my own, and clear in what it seems to be saying.

Finally, because it was fairly loud. I didn't hear a thing at the time of recording. Nothing. But my good Zoom H1 mic caught it, and now you can hear it too!

First, a bit of backstory.

Karen and I drove up to the old Midway Cemetery in Lafayette County, Mississippi, after visiting my dad today. It's a sunny day, and warm compared to the weather of late, so we thought we'd go kick around up there for a bit. I took my new SL1000 camera and my trusty Zoom mic with windscreen.

We stayed at the graveyard for about 22 minutes. We weren't alone, though, as Karen, who had the camera, quickly discovered. This little fellow was there first.

Yes, that's an armadillo, and he got within about 3 inches of Karen's shoe before they became aware of each other.

Why is the image black and white? Because I'm going through my Ansel Adams phase and it was in B&W mode when I handed it to Karen. So that's my fault, not hers, but I love the pics anyway.

We watched the armadillo, whom Karen dubbed Armor-All, roam and root throughout the place, oblivious to our presence. I believe he might have been deaf.

They're actually cute, up close. I had no idea they had so much hair on their body armor.

We did switch to color, and here's what he looks like:

It was during our observations of the little guy that I captured the EVP.

The phenomena occurs at about 14:25 in on the full recording. I haven't said anything for several minutes. I'm standing alone, watching Karen take pics of Armor-All and chuckling aloud to myself because the critter was so cute and so unafraid. There was no conversation, no questions asked, no comments made by me.

I've isolated the EVP voice and my laugh in the short clip below. Please listen, and see what you think.

Midway EVP word

That sample has been amplified just a tad so you can listen without headphones. Here's the raw sample, unmodified:

Midway EVP Word, raw

Finally, here's the full 20-plus minute session, in case you care to listen. I didn't hear any other voices.

Full visit sound file

Let me reiterate -- I did not hear the voice until I listened to the recording. No one was close to me. I hear, quite clearly, a whispered or airy voice say the single word 'goodbye.' Which is apropos of nothing, as they say, since that doesn't fit into any conversational context at that time.

But it is a word, and it is a voice, and it came seemingly from thin air.

I have no explanation.

Weird Science: The Ganzfeld Effect

Way back in the 1930s, it was observed that placing goggles which presented a blank, uniform visual field to subjects resulted in hallucinations and changes to the brain's electrical activity. 

In the 1930s, this was considered rare good fun, so scientists ran with it. The phenomena came to be known as the Ganzfeld Effect (Ganzfeld is German for 'complete field'). After adding headphones playing white noise to the blank white visual field, test subjects reported seeing the kinds of things LSD enthusiasts would also report thirty years later.

The Ganzfeld Effect eventually came into play as a technique used by parapsychologists and ESP researchers. It was thought subjects undergoing a Ganzfeld environment showed increased psychic abilities. There are rumors the CIA tried using the Ganzfeld Effect in its own infamous remote-viewing experiments in the 1960s.

So. We have 30s-era mad scientists with their wild hair and side-buttoning lab coats in one corner. In the other, we have shadowy spy agency types glaring at grinning, tripping hippies.

Anything that attracts all these sorts has got to be fun, so count me in.

You can replicate the Ganzfeld Effect for yourself easily enough. Here's what you need:

1) A pack of ping-pong balls (two at least).
2) A razor knife.
3) 300 grit sandpaper.
4) Headphones, and a device to drive them.
5) A white noise source. I got a free white noise generator from iTunes, and played it on my phone.
6) A comfy chair.
7) A lamp.

Look at the picture below. Yes, I know it's painful, but look anyway. Covering my eyes are a pair of halved ping-pong balls. With a little work, you can trim them so that they fit over your eyes perfectly, rendering your entire visual field a blank white expanse.

That's where the razor knife and the sandpaper come in. Cut the balls to fit, then sand the edges smooth. The edges of the balls, not your eyes. Keep the sandpaper away from your eyes. 

Cut the ball in half. Trim each to fit your eye socket. Easy peasy. The CIA probably paid some government contractor half a million 1965 dollars just for that.

Load up your white noise, don your stylish and comfortable headphones, and put the Ganzfeld goggles over your eyes. Lay back. Face your lamp. Hit play.

And, according to the literature, prepare to be transported to an amazing new dimension of hallucinatory delight.

The Ganzfeld Effect is said to work because your brain, my brain, even the brain downstairs I keep alive in a jar is constantly looking for patterns in chaos. That's why we see faces in wood-grain doors, sometimes, or animals in clouds. 

So, by presenting your brain with a blank, uniform visual field via the eyes and random white noise via your ears, you set the stage for a kind of visual/auditory feedback loop, fueled by imagination and hallucinations. People report seeing loved ones, pastoral scenes, vivid colors, moving landscapes, you name it. The CIA even thought people might see inside naughty Russian missile bases, or sneaky submarines.

Look, if all it takes to hack my brain into being amusing for a change is a pair of ping-pong balls and a free white noise app, I say let's do this thing.

So do this thing I did, yesterday afternoon.

Below is the log of my experiences with the Ganzfeld Effect.

Ganzfeld Session 1
Saturday, February 15, 2014
1435 hours

White noise, 12 minutes. White light source.

Visual Hallucinations: None.
Auditory hallucinations: None.
General Impressions: Boring. The improvised 'goggles' worked well enough, in that they provided a uniform white visual field. The white noise generator paired with my good headphones was effective at blocking out all background noise. So I was presented with a blank white field of vision and my hearing was limited to pure white noise -- both of which were simply boring. At no point did I begin to 'see' anything but white. At no point did my surroundings fade or change. In a word, boring.
Mystical Impressions Received: I think this experiment would be a lot more fun if I replace the white noise with the Beatles and their Magical Mystery Tour album. But I won't, because this is Science.

Ganzfeld Session 2
Saturday, February 15, 2014
1517 hours

White noise, 12 minutes. White light source, rendered brighter than the source in Session 1 because I placed the lamp on my chest and aimed it at my face.

Visual Hallucinations: None.
Auditory hallucinations: None.
General Impressions: Seriously, were the people who reported visual hallucinations with this set-up enhancing their research with a little, shall we say, herb of the field? You know what I did gain a profound awareness of? I became profoundly aware that I was sitting in my chair with ping-pong balls over my eyes and a lamp on my chest. Now, this is hardly the strangest thing I've ever done, but in the other instances (yeah, especially the beach-balls and the ostrich) I could at least point towards an empty cooler and say 'beer.' This is just silly.
Mystical Impressions Received: After witnessing this display, my dogs are seriously considering appointing a new pack alpha.

Ganzfeld Session 3
Saturday, February 15, 2014
1601 hours

White noise, 12 minutes. White light source, rendered brighter than the source in Sessions 1 and 2 because I added an extra lamp to the rig.

Visual Hallucinations: None. What a shock.
Auditory Hallucinations: I believe I heard a voice from above spaketh the words 'Wow, what a wanker.'
General Impressions: See sessions 1 and 2. What a waste of time and white noise. I suppose it's possible that some people do experience visual hallucinations this way, but I'm obviously not one of them. I am annoyed, which probably isn't significant because I can achieve that mental state quite easily without sticking Mole Man goggles over my eyes.
Mystical Impressions Received: Ping-pong balls and loud static are NOT the gateway to another universe no matter what happened on that episode of Fringe.

Not a single Russian launch site did I view. I am very disappointed.

But at least I have some neat new goggles, suitable for Halloween or any formal occasion.

Mug and Meralda news

Work on the new book speeds along! I am now on page 59 of the new book. Not too shabby!

No, that's not the new book cover. It's the first book in the series, All the Paths of Shadow. Click the link! Leave a review! Buy a copy! Sorry. The brain in the jar downstairs needs a fresh supply of expensive nutrients.

Hey, how's this get in here? It's the cover for Brown River Queen.  A review? Please, guv'nor, it would mean ever so much to Tiny Tim...

And I'm out. 

Please, please comment on what you think the EVP voice said. I'm really stunned with this one.

By the way, not sure this is relevant, but I have a number of relatives buried there. People I knew well, and loved well. It's a peaceful place, with no spooky atmosphere that I can detect. 

Anyway, take care all!  See you next week!