Friday, September 28, 2007

The voices told me to write this.

No they didn't. The voices rarely say anything of note.

I'm not cracking up. I'm talking about the ghostly voices recorded on tape and referred to as EVP's (electronic voice phenomena). They're called that because it sounds serious and scientific, and because those who strive to appear serious and scientific think they'll sound like amateurs if they call them what they really are. The voices of the dead. Making up a scientific name doesn't change the nature of something. A biologist might say 'Nereis diversicolor' while the rest of us call it a 'ragworm'. It's the same thing. Don't be scared to say what you're really studying.

These recordings are second only to photographs as solid evidence of spirit activity. In fact, nothing beyond sound and vision will convince any sceptic.

Now, the problem has always been that if the voice is clear on the tape, why did nobody hear it at the time? It's hard to give credence to the idea that spirits somehow 'write' their speech directly onto the tape, so we're left with a recording that shouldn't be. A voice that the tape heard but nobody else did. A highly directional sound source aimed straight at the microphone. So directional that even if someone held the microphone straight out in front of them, none of that sound would pass it by and reach their ears.

Now, who couldn't pick huge holes in an idea like that?

Yet the voices get recorded. So where do they come from?

New Scientist, 22nd September issue, had an interesting article on how the brain processes information from the ears, eyes, etc. It seems we don't get as much information about the world as we think.

Ears aren't perfect at hearing. Fortunately the brain is pretty good at filling in the gaps. The impulses it gets might be full of errors but the error-correction neurons are good at their jobs. That's why when someone's talking against a loud background noise, you can make out what they're saying even though parts of their speech are drowned out. The brain fills the gaps.

However, if you record a sentence, then replace parts of it with silence, nobody can make it out. There's no background noise, so the brain has no reason to try to work out the missing parts.

Play that same sentence against a white-noise background and you can understand it. Now, the brain assumes the noise is interfering and fills the gaps.

Where's this leading? Well, suppose you hear something in a silent room. A few whispered sounds. No sentence structure, nothing to interpret, it could be a fly-buzz or a creaking board. A breeze through a badly-fitted window.

Or it could just be a faint and broken voice, forcing itself through the barriers of our senses. Trying to be heard, but not getting through sufficiently to be interpreted as a voice.

The recorder picks that up. When you play it back, you have to turn up the volume to hear anything because these voices are very low. Any recorder will hiss at high volume. A tape will hiss so hard you might not hear a thing, but sometimes, just sometimes, that white-noise background will trigger your brain's error-correction and you'll hear that voice.

The voices are there. You did hear them. Your brain didn't recognise it as a voice, and dismissed it. Add in some white noise and there it is.

If, by some quirk of genetics, your brain's error-correction works all the time without needing a background noise, then you'll hear the voices yourself.

Of course, if you ever admit to that, you'd better get used to life in a rubber room. Modern society isn't all that tolerant of mutants.


ThatGreenyFlower said...

Ok, I'm somewhat dubious of the whole "dead-people-on-tape" idea (go on, pick holes in my thinking about this's ok), but if it does happen, that's got to be WHY and HOW.

I just love thinking about this idea! Why should the dead speak the way the living speak, anyway? Their plane of being is light years away from ours (in idea if not in actual practice).

I've only communicated with one dead person that I know of. She was reading my mind and I was listening to her tap on a wall. I don't even know who she was, but she seemed friendly enough.

Romulus Crowe said...

Everyone should be dubious about all paranormal results all of the time. It's the only way to sort out the few real scraps of evidence from the masses of mistaken identities, lens flares, dust, out-of-focus camera straps, breath photos and so on (and on and on). And that's without considering the deliberate fakes.

Ghosts have trouble making sounds - they have no physical form so they have no vocal chords. Somehow they sometimes manage to make a tapping sound, or a bit of broken-up speech. I don't know how.

Trouble is, if you play around with white noise your mind will try to find patterns in it. If you stare at a fuzzy TV screen for long enough you'll see something because your brain will manage to find an image that near-enough fits the fuzz. You can get the same effect by listening to white noise. The interesting things happen when several people hear the same voice saying the same thing in that noise.

It's important not to say anything - once one person says 'I think it sounds like "get out"' then everyone else is listening for those words. You need people to hear the same thing without being prompted. That rarely happens, and prompting ruins the control of the experiment. It's then easily dismissed as wrong.

I have to ask - did you ever find out who you were speaking to?

ThatGreenyFlower said...

Well, I presume she was dead because everyone else in the house was asleep at the time. I presume it was a "she" because...I don't know why. Felt like a "she" I guess.

The morning after, I asked the owner of the house if it had any history of a ghost or haunting. He said it had, that sometimes people had glimpsed things in mirrors. He was excited that I might have, too. I couldn't really explain that I was playing number guessing games with a tapping ghost, so I just told him that no, I hadn't seen anything in a mirror.

I haven't actually talked about this very much to anyone, and it happened about 16 or 17 years ago. I've kept it as one of my more undercover no one would think I was mad, I suppose. It's nice to talk about it. If you think I'm mad, no harm/no foul--you live across a great ocean and will never know me. =)

Romulus Crowe said...

Why would I think you're mad? Your experiences are fascinating and the fact that you haven't bragged/tried to capitalise/tried to get on TV with them makes them much more credible to me.

Mirrors... there's a whole 'thing' with mirrors that I'll have to cover on a post. Ghosts appear either on this side of the mirror or the other side but not both... no, it's too much to put in a comment.

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