What goes bump in our minds
|Marc Giai-Miniet @ My Mod Modern Met/|
Richard Wiseman on a theory of ghosts @ New Humanist.
There is an old joke about a university lecturer who asks his class, “Has anyone here ever seen a ghost?” Fifteen students put their hands in the air. Next, the lecturer says, “Well, who here has touched a ghost?” This time only five hands go up. Curious, the lecturer adds, “OK, has anyone actually kissed a ghost?” A young man sitting in middle of the lecture theatre slowly raises his hand, looks around nervously and then asks, “I’m sorry, did you say ghost or goat?”Thankfully, the results from national surveys have yielded more clear-cut findings. Opinion polls from the past 30 years or so have consistently shown that around 30 per cent of people believe in ghosts and that about 15 per cent claim to have actually experienced one. For well over a century scientists have attempted to explain these strange experiences, with much of the work focusing on the psychology of suggestion.In the late 1970s sensory scientist Michael O’Mahony from the University of California took the idea to new heights when he persuaded the BBC to undertake an ingenious version of the study during a live programme. O’Mahony constructed some mock scientific apparatus (think weird-looking large cone, masses of wires and several oscilloscopes), and managed to keep a straight face as he told viewers that this newly devised “taste trap” used “Raman Spectroscopy” to transmit smells via sound. He then proudly announced that the stimulus would be a country smell. Unfortunately, the studio audience interpreted his comments to mean “manure”, resulting in a significant amount of smutty laughter. After clarifying that they would not be broadcasting the smell of shit into people’s homes, the research team played a standard Dolby tuning tone for ten seconds. Just as the bottles in the more pedestrian versions of the study contained nothing but water, so the tone did not actually have the ability to induce smells.read more