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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Afterlife Dance Party

On June 25th, my research (and life) partner Mark Boccuzzi and I will be presenting "Empirically Addressing a Proposed Mechanism behind Orbic Photographic Artifacts" at the Research Day of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM) 2010 conference. I can't post the abstract or the results here yet, but I will say that most, if not all, orb images that have been presented as evidence of the "paranormal" can be reproduced under controlled conditions using conventional means. (And I don't have time to argue about the validity of that statement. See, for example, Storm, 2001; Schwartz & Creath, 2005.) That being said, there are aspects of the orb photographic phenomenon that may warrant further study (e.g., people feeling compelled to take photos that then contain orbs). Thus, while orbs are not photographs of actual entities, it may be worth entertaining the possibility that some type of interaction occurs---be it physical, mental, or electronic---that results in these images.

In our study, we addressed the hypothesis that the deceased can "move" ambient dust particles in the air into physical positions that will result in orbic artifacts when photographed. We asked the deceased to "push" dust particles in the air in a dark room into the path of the visible beam from a laser light source which was then photographed. This does not create orbs in the photos since no flash is used but the dust particles reflect the laser and create bright spots that can be quantified using image analysis software. Imagine dust highlighted in a sunbeam. (The dust in this study was generously provided by the Tucson landscape and our dog.)

Photo analysis data aside, some very interesting things happened during data collection for this study. I am not going to draw any conclusions or offer alternative explanations at this time; I'll just convey some facts.

We collected data a number of times and asked a Windbridge Certified Research Medium to report back to us what the deceased said about their experiences during the experiment. In this medium's (and others') opinion, there is a "committee" of deceased individuals aiding in Windbridge research from "the other side" and this committee is spear-headed by the late author, journalist, researcher, and medium Susy Smith. I never met Susy while she was alive, but I feel like I have a good sense of her personality. As Director of Research at Windbridge, I don't answer to any "boss," though I'm pretty sure if I messed up, I'd have to answer to Susy.

According to the medium, Susy gathers the appropriate individuals for the task at hand. My visual image of this involves an able-bodied Susy (who was confined to a wheelchair toward the end of her life), a clip-board, a hip-mounted walkie-talkie, and a coach's whistle. Want to make sure the right discarnate finds the right medium during a quintuple-blinded reading? Susy gets them there. Need to test whether the deceased can interact with an EMF meter? Susy finds some engineers. And, as we found out, need some dancers? Susy holds auditions.

On the first night of the study, I simply told the medium that we were going to ask the Committee to do something and requested that she check in with them about how they did afterward. She didn't know anything about what we were testing or what the task was. We laid out dark fabric on the floor of a hallway in our house, shot the laser down the hall, asked the Committee aloud to push dust into the beam, and took some long-exposure photos. (Don't ping me on the protocol; those are far from all of the details. Rest assured that we thought of, controlled for, and documented "that.")

When we checked in with the medium, she mentioned "a black sheet" (not a common research tool around here) and said she felt confident that the members of the Committee were able to do what we asked of them. I then briefly explained the study and asked if they had any input regarding further trials. She said that Susy was asking that we move the experiment somewhere else because "there wasn't enough room for them to move around." Our hallway is about 4 feet wide.

She also said they had "tipped something over or knocked something down" in the area of the experiment. There is nothing in that hallway but pictures on the walls and all the pictures were fine. However, the next morning, when I got in the shower that's in the bathroom off that hallway, the shower head was hanging at a wonky angle and an innocuous little piece of rubber that had been holding it upright had come off. It had never come off before and, once I put it back, it has not come off since.

The next time we collected data, we moved the set-up into a larger room. When we checked in with the medium, she said, "This time, we all decided to dance. Spirit and I figured the more of us that danced in the room, the more dust particles would fly into the air." Sounds reasonable.

For the third run, we aimed the laser into a small hole in a box to prevent excess light reflection from the laser bouncing off the far wall. This box was placed on a small table with a mosaic top of small (1 inch x 1 inch), square mirror tiles. For this run, the medium reported seeing "a clear glass filled with ice cubes but no liquid." There was no ice anywhere in the house (we don't waste valuable freezer space with frozen water; it leaves more room for sweet potato fries). I didn't have any idea what that might have referenced. Mark made the connection between the cubes and the mirror squares when he noted that the table was new to the set-up.

She also said that, "This time I used my hands to pound on the ground as a beat" for the discarnates to dance to. "As I was doing this I felt I was doing what Spirit was doing. It was their way to show me what they were doing." She then reported that, "I felt the urge to stop or pause between my beats. I would beat for awhile then a long pause. I didn't understand why I was doing this. All I knew was this is what Spirit is guiding me to do." Because of the long exposures, the camera shutter would be open while a photo was being taken and then there were pauses after each shot while the digital camera wrote that image data to the chip.

Several weeks later, I was acting as a blinded proxy sitter during a test phone reading a prospective Windbridge Certified Research Medium was performing. This second medium was not aware (by any normal means) that an orb study existed and the two mediums don't know each other. When asked "Does the discarnate have any comments, questions, requests, or messages for the sitter?" during the reading, the medium (as requested) reported many statements applicable to the absent sitter. She also mentioned that, "He says everybody is around you, Julie, helping you do this. And he's kind of jumping up and down and doing the happy dance."

This orb study is still on-going and we will report the results publicly when appropriate.

Storm, L. (2001). Photographic anomalies on the Internet. International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 195-204.
Schwartz, G. E. & Creath, K. Anomalous orbic ‘spirit' photographs? A conventional optical explanation. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 343-358.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Hello and welcome to my brand new blog. My mission here is to share news, helpful resources, and interesting links, but most of all I hope to share the little behind-the-scenes happenings that occur during our experiments and interviews with psychic mediums that don't make it into journal articles but are just as evidential and fascinating as thematic analyses, effect sizes, and p values, if not more so (especially if you could give a rat's patooti about p values). Enjoy!