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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Beyond Stone Tape :: Re-evaluating the theories behind Residual Hauntings

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"We have to postulate that some very emotional scene has somehow become registered on the environment, almost like a sort of psychic video has been created. Someone who comes along who is sensitive enough acts as a sort of psychic video player and will actually play that “tape” and see the figures or perhaps even hear the voices." - Archie Roy, 'Roman Centurian Pining for Princess' in Malcolm Day, Ghosts (Amazing & Extraordinary Facts) , 2011

There's a general consensus within the paranormal community that hauntings can be separated into two overarching categories.
On one hand, there are the intelligent hauntings, considered the least common of the two and which tend to involve a certain degree of interaction, recognition and communication on the part of the "ghost" with its living counterparts.

On the other there is the more common haunting: The residual. Residual hauntings are believed to be non-spirit hauntings. That is, no ghost or spirit is responsible for the haunting per se, but rather, they come about as a result of an embedded memory or event being repeated via some kind of ethereal loop.
Residual hauntings are so common, it would seem, that the reasoning for their occurrence (and re-occurrence) is fairly well undisputed - and therefore, not investigated. Residual hauntings are said to be caused by the remnants of past events and/or memories, the energy from which having somehow been absorbed by the surroundings and then, when the conditions are right, released and replayed in the present.

It's not a new hypothesis. In fact, the idea that inanimate objects can absorb psychic energy or impressions goes as far back as the 19th Century, and to the early days of the Society for Psychical Research. Its founding member, Sir William Barrett, claimed that "some kind of local imprint, on material structures or places, has been left by some past events...[A]n echo or phantom of these events becoming perceptible to those now living".
The idea of a "local imprint" of a past event is commonly used today by paranormal investigators to explain the so-called residual haunting. It is also the principle idea behind what has become known as the Stone Tape Theory, wherein a location effectively "records" an event and then replays it inside the heads of certain, sensitive individuals. The theory itself is based on Nigel Kneale's work of fiction, The Stone Tape, a play that was adapted by the BBC in 1972.

It seems to be that most paranormal researchers and investigators refer to residual hauntings and the Stone Tape Theory interchangeably, with the latter quite often used as an explanation for the existence of the former. It would appear that Stone Tape has become accepted as a plausible conclusion, even though the theory itself remains entirely untested.
So, is there a scientific basis to the Stone Tape Theory?

The Law of Conservation of Energy stipulates that energy cannot be created nor destroyed; it can only be transferred, and it can only transfer from one type of energy to another; for example, from chemical energy to kinetic energy. But the energy in use here is physical energy, whilst residual hauntings and the Stone Tape Theory revolve around a concept of psychic or emotional energy, which isn't so neatly defined by the laws of science. For the theory to work, psychic energy would need to be transferred from a person to a location or object.
The problem with the unchallenged use of the Stone Tape Theory by paranormal investigators and researchers as an explanation for residual hauntings is that it creates an acceptance around a theory that is currently untestable. In particular:
  • The existence of psychic and/or emotional energy and how they actually work is unknown. Therefore, the means by which it can be transferred from person to place is also unknown.
  • What factors need to be present in a particular location for it to be able to "record" or store an impression of an event or memory is also open to debate. As the name Stone Tape suggests, is may be the presence of certain types of stone, whilst others suggest that metals, electro-magnetic fields, or water vapour may also be necessary factors. However, there is currently no way in which to investigate how an event or memory may be captured and stored, and then later released by using these (or other) elements.
  • Exactly what is required for an event or memory to be released or "replayed" as either auditory or visual phenomena, or both, is unknown. The elusive, random nature of residual hauntings means that capturing evidence through repeated experiments is practically impossible.
  • And finally, why is it that some people experience this phenomena whilst others do not? What qualities must a person possess in order to see the stored event when it is released? As there is no understanding of how an event, location and individual interact in order to create the residual haunt phenomena, there is no way to successfully investigate, and therefore categorically prove (or disprove) the theory.
Whilst there are hints of some kind of scientific basis to certain theories behind residual hauntings, as things currently stand, the Stone Tape Theory is not one of them. It has no "testable" parameters, making its validity as an explanation for the phenomena highly questionable. There's nothing that annoys me more than a paranormal investigator claiming that paranormal phenomena is "residual" and therefore "nothing to worry about". Without undertaking the research required to prove the theory, should its use within paranormal circles continue to be acceptable?

Note: Depending on whether one identifies as a "spiritual" or "scientific" paranormal investigator tends to determine how one understands, and therefore applies, the theories behind residual hauntings. Here are some prime examples:

What is a Residual Haunting?
Four basic types of haunting or Ghost
Stone Tape Theory
The Stone Tape Theory: Principles & Possibilities
Stone Tape Theory: An Exploration
Parascience: Some Musings on things Paranormal
Possible Explanation for some Residual Hauntings


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