Science and Ghosts

Science and Ghosts

“Science itself does not always know why a thing is so.” – God’s World: A Treatise on Spiritualism (T. W. Stead. 1919)

So Mote It Be

Ghosts, they’re everywhere! From the pages of the Bible to the old building down the street, people have been reporting hauntings for thousands of years. Every family has a ghost story or two, as does every town. They’ve even spawned a multimillion-dollar industry in the form of books, movies and television. Whether we see them as a fantastical source of entertainment, or as dark messengers from an unseen world, one thing’s entirely certain: ghosts are here to stay.

If you’ve ever made even a cursory visit to any of those online ghost sites, however, you would’ve noticed that there’s an even darker side to the stories of hauntings: Trolls! Hundreds of people – maybe even thousands – have taken it upon themselves to declare – because they claim they’ve never seen or experienced anything “paranormal” themselves – that the rest of us are just plain, bat-shit crazy.

Continue reading “Science and Ghosts”

The Skippy Experiment

Skippy Experiment

The Philip Experiment, discussed last week, has since been replicated several times. The most successful of these efforts, to date, has been the Skippy Experiment, which has also been referred to as the “Sydney Experiment.” This study took place in Sydney, Australia and is often said to be ongoing.

From the start, the Australian team focused on a fictitious character named Skippy Cartman. Skippy was a 14-year-old girl who had been murdered by an older man. According to the story, Skippy had been having an affair with her Catholic schoolteacher, Brother Monk. When the beautiful girl became pregnant, she went to this man – who she loved – for direction and advice. Fearing discovery by the church or other schoolchildren’s parents, however, Brother Monk murdered her by strangling her. He then buried Skippy in a shallow grave. This grave was beneath the floorboards of a work shed on her parent’s property. When the body was discovered, it had already suffered a year of exposure to earthly elements and decomposition. As a result, investigators were unable to determine that the young girl had been pregnant at the time of death. Also, Brother Monk had since moved to another community and did not fall under suspicion. His crimes against Skippy were never discovered.

With the fictitious story in hand, the six participants in the Skippy Experiment claimed to make headway in the creation of their own “ghost.” According to one source, the experimenters met with success only after they changed the type of table they were seated around during the experiment:

“The group met once a week for five months but saw no results. Frustrated, they dispensed with the agency Skippy and began sitting around a light, three-leg card table. Success! The first night, they heard a light tapping noise from somewhere inside the table. The second sitting brought startling results, as well. After 15 minutes, the table began to move seemingly of its own accord. Soon, it was spinning around, balanced on one leg, dragging participants behind it.”

This was a fantastical claim, and it could only be supported by hard evidence. The group – under the leadership of veteran paranormal researcher Michael Williams – reported a great deal of continued success including unexplained knocking and scratching sounds. As late as 2007, there were claims that experimenters would soon capture audio or visual evidence of these manifestations and share these with the public. No evidence from the Skippy Experiment, however, has ever been shared. We can only assume, after so many years, that all attempts to capture this evidence has failed.


Mathews, Rupert. Poltergeists and Other Hauntings. 2009.


The Philip Experiment

Philip Experiment
Séance conducted by John Beattie, Bristol, England, 1872

The Philip Experiment

“A poltergeist will usually claim to be whatever its human observers believe it to be” – Poltergeists & Other Hauntings (Rupert Mathews. 2009)

In 1972, Canadian Dr. G. Owen conducted the Philip Experiment. This was a study that would test his theory that, “Ghosts have an objective reality, but they are created out of the minds of those who see them.” A ghost, he proposed, was basically a hallucination created by those who believed in it.

In the Philip Experiment a group of individuals met regularly and began to focus on a fictitious character with the aim of creating a ghost. This “spirit” was named Philip and was given a complete life biography including a tragic end. According to the group, Philip’s wife had murdered Philip’s real love by having her tortured and burnt at the stake for being a witch. The man had then fallen into a deep depression before eventually killing himself.

For a period of time nothing happened to the experimenters. The group then decided to add the 19th century practice of table turning, which was used by earlier experimenters to produce some interesting phenomena. All of the participants, it was agreed upon, needed to believe in the paranormal but not feel responsible for creating any phenomena themselves. If something unusual did occur, they all agreed that it would be met with a lighthearted acceptance.

After about a month into the Philip Experiment the table actually began to tremor. In the weeks that followed, the table then began to rock back and forth dramatically. Finally, a knocking sound was heard while they were seated around it.

The experimenters told the “ghost” to knock once for “yes” and twice for “no” and began to ask it questions. They always addressed this entity as Philip. Through the knocking communication, Philip gave a biography of himself that matched the fabricated story. This was complete to the smallest detail. Philip, however, continued to add unmentioned smaller details to the stories that had not been created by the group. When these details were checked, however, it would be determined that they were not always historically accurate.

The table itself then began to demonstrate some very strange behaviors. All of the participants were frisked and the environment was controlled. The table began to move even when no one was touching it. At one point, it even became stuck in the doorway as it attempted to leave the room. When this entity, Philip, was asked to manipulate the lights he would do so and they would flicker.

The volunteers’ knocks were recorded and compared with the knocks produced by Philip. There were distinct differences, however, as Philip’s knocks did not vibrate as long.

This activity was recorded and later captured on film. The table was moved to various locations but the activity continued. At a later period of time, the experiment was replicated by a new group of participants.

Many have noted the similarities between Philip’s abilities and those of the poltergeist. These experimenters had tried to create a physical manifestation of a ghost, but instead were rewarded with a different type of haunting altogether: the Poltergeist.

There have been those who’ve claimed that the original results from the experiment were hoaxed, but this has never been confirmed. The usual criticism is that the experiment lacked the control factors, which would have made it scientific. Attempts by other groups to replicate the Philip Experiment have usually, but not always, failed. The most successful – though not as powerful – replication has been the Sydney or “Skippy” Experiment.

Interestingly, the Philip Experiment is often quoted as being the inspiration for the upcoming movie the Quiet Ones, which Hammer Films says is a “follow-up” to Woman in Black. The movie’s scheduled for release on April 25th, 2014.

The first Quiet Ones trailer was released on October 31, 2013.

So Mote It Be

Philip Experiment documentary with actual footage (7:40, 9:40, etc.).

Mathews, Rupert. Poltergeists and Other Hauntings. Arcturus. 2009.

Owen, Iris. Sparrow, Margaret. Conjuring up Philip. Harper and Row. 1976.

Schill, Brian. Stalking Darkness. IPRF. 2008.


error: Content is protected !!