Haunt is a collaboration with Professor Chris French (Goldsmiths College Psychology Department). We would like to thank Rob Davis (Systems Developer, Goldsmiths College) and Rosie Bunton-Stasyshyn (Research Assisant, Goldsmiths College) for their enormous contributions to the project. We would also like to thank Vic Tandy, Dr Paul Stephens and Dr Jason Braithwaite for ongoing technical advice during development and design of the experiment. The project was made possible by a Sciart Engaging Science Research and Development Award from the Wellcome Trust.
Using humidity, temperatures and electromagnetic and sonic frequencies that parapsychologists have associated with haunted spaces, this project aims at building an environment that feels "haunted": a non-visual architecture.
A circular featureless chamber was built inside a standard row house apartment in North London, measuring approximately 3m x 3m, and 4m high. The temperature was approximately 18 degrees celcius and the light level was about 1 lux. A purpose built infrasound cabinet and two electromagnetic coils provided varying stimuli.
The objective of the experiment was to determine whether infrasonic frequencies and magnetic field fluctuations similar to those found in supposedly "haunted" spaces can elicit physiological or psychological effects similar to those experienced in "hauntings". During participation galvanic skin response of the participants was measured and they were required to note down any unusual phenomena they experienced, marking where these occured on a map of the room, and at what time. Each session lasted approximately 50 minutes. Participants were randomly placed in one of 4 groups though they were not informed of their group until the end of the experiment: those subjected to infrasound, those subjected to magnetic fields, those subjected to both and those subjected to neither.
Responses from participants included a "sense of presence", "chills on the spine", "uneasiness in a particular part of the room", "dizziness", "glowing ball" hallucinations, seeing flies in the chamber, auditory hallucination of somebody coughing in various parts of the chamber and sensations of mist; though it is not clear yet what the causal relationship is since some of these sensations were reported in the chamber when neither the infrasonic nor the magnetic field equipment was switched on. Statistics are currently being carried out on the data and will not be fully known until the end of November 2005. As expected, it appears that belief plays an important role in eliciting "haunt" sensations.
Original project description and overview
We have a feeling that something is "out there". Are our senses playing tricks on us? Or is the space that we exist in constructed by our senses? Parapsychologists have undertaken rigorous analysis of haunted spaces in order to measure empirical quantities of observable phenomena. Some do so in order to prove that there is something "otherworldly"; others do so in order to prove quite the opposite. What is not in question, however, is that people have sensations that lead them to believe that there are ethereal presences in the vicinity.
To talk about haunted spaces is to talk about two things that are explicitly psychological: the sensation of haunting, which is clearly subjective; and the sensation of space, which again depends on the perspective of the particular occupant of that space. Objective analysis of these perceptions always seems to give conflicting results. However, there are some observed spatial phenomena that tend to correlate with a haunted sensation in a space:
- infrasound: humans can hear sounds in the range of approximately 20 Hz to 20000 Hz. Infrasound (below the threshold of hearing) has featured in some apparently haunted spaces. Frequencies of 18 or 19Hz are just outside our ability to hear, however our bodies can feel these low rumbings subliminally. Such frequencies have been shown to elicit feelings of unease and to upset the sense of balance.
- humidity: air quality tends to be fairly consistent in most inhabited spaces -- if air is moist in one area then it tends to disperse throughout the space. However, in apparently haunted spaces, one often encounters wide fluctuations in humidity from bone dry to uncomfortably muggy.
- temperature: one would expect in most spaces for temperature to be fairly consistent throughout a space, given good air movement -- though there is quite a large change as one rises vertically through a space. Again, wide fluctuations in temperature, which can make hair stand on end, have been associated with apparently haunted spaces.
- air movement: as a substance that is fundamental to our existence and surrounds us yet cannot be seen, air is often regarded with a certain awe. One of the most spooky experiences arises when air moves across our skin without any apparent cause. Air movement (in and of itself, as well as in combination with temperature and humidity effects) is therefore key to a "haunted" sensation.
- electromagnetism: many studies have been undertaken to gauge the affects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on people's perceptions. Some have argued that electric fields from appliances, antennae or nearby power cables have created sensations of haunting. Others note cases where none exist nearby. However, it is clear that EMF affects perception, more in some people than in others. As a result of this, the gaussmeter (which measures levels of EMF) is one of the main tools employed by ghost hunters.
Other factors also affect the perception of hauntings: the psychology of the individual; the desire to believe that something is happening (also observed when people encounter simulated intelligence systems); the social environment in which the hauntings are observed.
There are naturally questions regarding whether these phenomena arise out of existing natural and manmade constructions: power stations, draughty windows, leaking pipes. The project proposed here does not attempt to explain how the phenomena arise, or even how they give rise to haunted perceptions. Rather, the project focuses on how the psychology of human perception gives rise to the construction of space.
Until now, most studies of parapsychology have concentrated on measuring existing phenomena and subject responses. In the project proposed here, we intend to collect together the results of some of these studies and actually synthesise a "haunted" space using infrasound, temperature, humidity, air movement and electromagnetic fields that have been associated with "haunted" environments.
- The first stage of the project will require rigorous background research of the studies that have already been undertaken in the field of parapsychology and perception.
- The second stage will consist of taking some of the results of previous studies and "replaying" them; for example, a short experiment might be to create a 19Hz subsonic frequency in a space and gauge the reaction of people entering the space.
- The third stage will bring together the various phenomena developed in stage 2 into one cohesive space.
Equipment used might include:
- infrasound: multichannel sound system with woofer speakers will create an intricate subsonic topography. Digital acoustic cancellation systems and anechoic materials might also be used to minimise other noise in the space.
- humidity, temperature and air control: a system already developed during the Scents of Space project to position smells in three-dimensional space will be converted to position areas of humidity, dryness and hot or cool air. It will also create very slow moving streams of air (approximately 0.2 m/s) that could be used to create the perception of invisible movement.
- electromagnetism: a simple variable radio frequency generator will be used to create undulating electromagnetic spaces in the relevant spectrum. These will of course conform to strict health and safety guidelines and will be similar to the electromagnetic waves emitted by household appliances.
The design of the space itself (i.e. its "hardware" as opposed to the sound, humidity, temperature and EMF that make up its "software") will be carefully designed to heighten the experience. Visually, nothing will move. However, by using varying (very low or very high) contrast of colours and light levels, and by employing other optical illusions in the space, it should be possible to provoke unsettling visual phenomena. The actual route towards and through the space will be crucial to the full experience of the haunting. It is likely that there will be a buffer zone before entering the space in which senses are dulled (for example, moving through a dark tunnel prior to entering a light space will allow the eyes to adjust to darkness). The environment will need access to good ventilation for the air control system.
The intention with this project is not to explain haunting phenomena or to debunk popular wisdom with regard to the paranormal. Rather, the intention is to demonstrate how the perceptions of space and objects in space are intricately affected by things we are not immediately conscious of. The work follows on from previous work we have undertaken to research the architecture of non-visual environments using sound, smell, electromagnetic and thermal phenomena.