Hi Ciaran, Thank you for doing this interview for Silent voices
You are a parapsychologist, what is the difference to this and a Sceptic ?
There is no difference. A sceptic is someone who is truly open-minded but is always questioning. It is, therefore, possible to be a parapsychologist AND a sceptic. In fact, scepticism should be the de facto position (or philosophy) for any scientists (and hence parapsychologists).
Some of your research is based on pyshokenesis, (ESP) Extra-Sensory Perception (PK), Psycho Kinesis, Can you explain this to us ?
Parapsychology is traditionally defined as the scientific study of ESP and PK. ESP covers 3 areas – telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition. Telepathy is mind-to-mind interaction, clairvoyance is mind-object/event interaction and precognition is mind-to-future action/event interaction. PK is the process of being able to move objects with your mind (e.g. spoon-bending). In addition to having been involved in telepathy experiments as part of my parapsychology studies I’m also currently running a longitudinal study on precognition – this is an attempt to test claims made by psychics that they can predict future events when giving readings for people. Surprisingly this has never been tested over a long-term period where clients who receive such readings from psychics are followed up years later (and the evidence of the original taped reading is available). So if there’s anyone out there who has a taped reading from a psychic in the past…contact me on email@example.com
What equipment would you you recommend people take when on investigations? And what is your favourite piece of equipment ?
My answer may surprise you. A notepad and pen! The thousands and thousands of eyewitness accounts come from members of the public going about their business in their homes or visiting public locations. Simply sitting in an allegedly haunted location and recording your experiences and feelings is already a good first step to an haunting investigation.
If there are those out there who are begging for a gadget fix then I’d have to recommend a digital camera (preferably with movie record too) and a laser thermometer with a thermocouple probe attached. This allows you to measure surface temperature and air temperature – the ideal gadget for the spooky “cold spot”!
My favourite piece of equipment, however, is something generally unaffordable and really unnecessary in a genuine haunting investigation – the thermal imager. It gives an instant accurate picture of relative temperature but also allows you to see in the dark, and also detect fraud…and it looks cool!
In your many years investigating alleged haunted locations, has there been anything that has left you baffled for an explanation ?
The unexplained opening of fire exit doors at Hex Nightclub in Birkenhead still leaves me perplexed. I was invited to investigate the place by Steve Parsons and Para.Science and I also took Yvette Fielding along so she could observe a different approach to “ghost-hunting”. The opening of the fire exit doors had been captured on grainy CCTV but we witnessed it first-hand on one of a series of investigations. To date I’ve been unable to satisfactorily explain it. Its these head-scratching moments that keep me researching and testing natural explanations…ultimately trying to find the truth that’s out there somewhere…!
Over the last 100 years do you think investigating has changed/altered? Are we trying new experiments or just altered versions of old ones ?
Investigation methods have definitely changed. Current methods involving incorrectly used gadgets, a general lack of understanding of psychology, and a reliance on more “spiritual” led investigations are methods that, in my opinion, are the least fruitful of the last century. Harry Price’s approach to haunting investigations over 50 years ago should be required reading for any aspiring “ghosthunter”. In addition, people need to recognise that the structure of vigils on a timetabled basis is nothing new. So, in effect, modern ghosthunting is very much rehashing older versions but the added confusion of modern technology. Saying that, there are some attempts worldwide to try new experiments or test some explanations in the field, and that’s a good thing.
In your view what would you say are the positives and negatives of the increased media exposure to spiritualism/ghosthunting etc ... and do you think the media portray the correct message and knowledge ?
The positives include the fact that without increased media exposure this interview may not be happening, “Silent Voices” may not be happening, and we would not be in a position to openly discuss our interests, research and ultimately access some of the locations we now do. The flipside of this is the increase in ghost groups and the rise of “ghost tourism”. Places of interest are often charging, sometimes extortionate amounts, for groups to spend the night investigating and this has a knock-on effect of groups having to recoup costs and charge members or the public. In addition the number of groups now operating in the UK has given rise to an extremely unethical field where genuine harm (of a mostly psychological nature) is being done to members of the public.
There is a different sort of motivation from media companies with regards to portrayal of ghost investigations compared to the actual groups themselves. There is a definite “entertainment” quality to many programmes or articles on the subject and this promotes a misconception of the field.
You have travelled to many places world wide with your work, what place in the world have you enjoyed the most that left a lasting impression on you ?
Many of the locations I’ve visited in the USA have been fantastic. Americans, stereotypically, always like to do things bigger and many of their best haunted locations are bigger than anything we have here. West Virginia and Eastern State Penitentiaries are prime examples. Stanley Hotel another. Saying that, with all the world travelling (and places I’d love to investigate, e.g. in Cambodia) one of my favourite places is still Hampton Court Palace – less than 30 minute bus ride from where I live!
Is there anywhere in the world you would like to investigate and why ?
I’d love to go to Cambodia. There’s a location there that used in the filming of one of my favourite ghost movies: R-Point, a cross between Predator and the scary bits of Blair Witch. The place, and its history are to die for!
What’s has been the most memorable experience in your work ?
When I first arrived at the Institute of Parapsychology in the early 90s I was like a kid in a toy shop. Here was a place I had read about for years and dreamt of visiting one day and now the doors had been opened and I was free to delve into their library and chat endlessly with all the research staff, parapsychologists whose reputation preceded them and who were kind of celebrities in my world. I know friend and collaborator, Steve Parsons wouldn’t let me answer that question without mentioning my appearance on “Ready, Steady, Cook”! That was memorable!
What has been the your most favourite ghost hunt location?
As I mentioned earlier I’ve visited some amazing places in the US which rank up their amongst my favourites. Also there are a number of castles in the South West of France with a turbulent Cathar history which are fascinating. My ultimate favourite is still Hampton Court Palace however. It is not creepy to look at but it has some fascinating eyewitness accounts going back well over a hundred years.
You run the course ‘So you wanna be a Ghost Hunter; How did this start, and what does the course entail ?
“So you wanna be a Ghosthunter?” is a training day jointly run by Steve Parsons from Para.Science. The day normally runs from midday to midnight and includes interview training, a summary of the history of ghosthunting, a brief on equipment including a detailed document on the subject and a discussion of our favoured method of ghosthunting. The students are then able to put what they’ve learnt into practice as they conduct their own investigation of the haunted property where the course takes place. Training days are run all over the country, Portsmouth, Tutbury, Edinburgh and now Manchester (at Foxdenton Hall on September 12th). You can find out more detail on www.theschoolofparapsychology.org/SCOP
You’re In America at the moment, what will you be doing there ?
For the next 2 weeks I’ll be in New England taking part in paranormal study groups, ghost investigations of some fantastic properties, a cruise past haunted lighthouses and various workshops including one on Paranormal CSI. People can find out more on www.neghostproject.com
You are also working with the Keith Bennett Appeal, Apart from the many Events you do to raise funds, what are your other postions/or interests in the appeal ?
In addition to being qualified in Parapsychology I also have an Msc in Investigative Psychology. This is the application of psychology to criminal investigations including things like interviewing, psychological and geographic profiling, assessing police decision making etc. Basically any place where psychology could be used to assist in a criminal investigation. So for this reason, my interest, and involvement, in the Search for Keith Bennett goes beyond fund raising and into the investigative and search aspect.
Apart from meeting me, lol what has been your best and worst ‘WOW’ or ‘knowing’ moment ?
My first “Wow” moment was arriving at the doors of the Institute of Parapsychology in North Carolina – its where parapsychology is considered to have begun. “Star- wow” moments happened on the 2 occasions I met Clive Barker face-to-face. He is my favourite horror writer and a true inspiration. Also, having been a X-Files fan from the start it was a “wow” moment to meet and work with Jane Goldman who aside from being a celebrity in her own right, wrote the official guides to the X-files. Worst “wow” moment was meeting an actress from Eastenders in a bar and not knowing who she was.
Work and personally, what would you like for the future ?
I’d like the opportunity to mould my own documentary on the paranormal, truly covering the history, paying respects to often overlooked researchers and presenting the current research normally confined to academic institutions. In addition I’d love to write more, finding the time is the difficult part. I have a number of books that have been on the back-burner including an accessible work on parapsychology, the upsetting side to psychic criminology, various popular psychology ideas, and Christian Parapsychology. Although I hold a Research Associate position at a French university I’d love to get back to UK academia, with my own office and bookshelves groaning under the weight of my paranormal book collection! Also, a dream for the future would be to get a cameo role in the upcoming Ghostbusters III. “Trust me, I’m a Doctor!”
Thank you Ciaran, we at Silent voices wish you good luck and best wishes for the future
Interview conducted by Sharon Barr for Silent Voices © Sharon Barr 2011