Sidgwick’s 1885 seed of an idea

I’m currently working on a piece for Spooky Geology. Such topics typically involve diversions, tangents, sidebars and rabbit holes. What I think is going to be a direct list of references and ideas to answer a question about where some concept came from never turns out to be that. Instead, I find incomplete leads from various places and have to go run them down. Sometimes you find connections that you didn’t expect. But I guess that’s the joy of research: discovery.

One of my favorite people in parapsychology was Eleanor Sidgwick who was there at the beginning of psychical research with the Society for Psychical Research. Very early on (1885), she had an inkling of an idea that would much later become a well-worn explanation for hauntings in the modern age of TV and Internet ghost hunters – the “Stone Tape” theory. She said that perhaps “something in the actual building itself” was producing an effect on the brain perceived as an apparition. When I searched for attribution for this quote, I came across a site called “Public Parapsychology” that had an excellent essay on theories about apparitions that included Mrs. Sidgwick’s idea. But there was no writer of the blog post readily visible on the post. So I checked out some additional posts and realized it is the site of Annalisa Ventola, the executive secretary of the Parapsychological Association in Ohio. I sat next to Ms. Ventola at a conference in Gettysburg a few years ago.


It’s going to take me a while longer to hammer out (haha) the ideas for the Spooky Geology post on the Stone Tape. SPR’s Alan Murdie was also kind enough to give me his thoughts on the matter as well. The result should be a new, comprehensive look at the idea beyond what is now available online. That’s not a big accomplishment because there is basically nothing of value to be found if you Google the concept. As is typical of pop paranormal topics, keyword searches give you little except the same copied and pasted stuff that gets recycled on websites by people who have no idea what they are talking about. It’s a concept that sounds sciencey so they use it.

Here’s a fun trick to test ghost hunters who claim to be “experts” and “professionals.” Ask them how they think the work of the SPR influenced today’s paranormal investigators. Or, how they use this information in their current work. It’s an excellent way of exposing the fakers who are playing pretend scholar. They usually have no clue.

Incidentally, I am missing the SPR study day this Saturday in the UK. It’s about this exact topic: New Approaches to Ghost Hunting. I hope to be able to get the recordings of the sessions because I’m very interested in the views of the SPR. (I’m not at all interested in the views of TV ghost chasers, though).

While waiting for my next SpookyGeo post, check out my podcast, 15 Credibility Street! I’m off to bug my library for more IntraLibrary Loans to follow some more leads.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.

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