Ghosts, Magnetism and Infrasound

When I read an article in a Dutch newspaper (NRC, May 3rd) about Ghosts, I knew I had to write about it. But this topic has had me finding online material that is challenging to say the least. So instead of coming to conclusions, for now I’m just summarizing my understanding of the topic, and sharing the sources.

Ghosts? Yes, Ghosts. The research tells us that ghostly experiences can be recreated with complex (but light) magnetism or infrasound: sound that we cannot consciously hear (see note). In both cases it’s the complexity of the stuff people can’t sense that predicts whether or not they experience something special. That is: a single tone in infrasound is unlikely to cause people to see a ghost, but reprogrammed saying a word, and playing that in infrasound is far MORE likely to have that effect.

Scientists are saying: this is proof that it’s all in our head. Or rather, that it is very likely that it’s all in our head: literally, because they’re measuring what goes on in our heads at the same time. A whopping 45% of people will feel it when a house is haunted. Guess what… there’s usually a measurable anomaly in the electromagnetic field in those places. And it works the other way around as well: the places people have found in such houses where they CAN sleep have a far more normal magnetic profile.

For those of you prone to panics about this – the issue here is complex magnetic fields. In other words: it’s not the strength of the magnetic fields that’s at issue, but how much variety is in there. Again: compare it to the difference between a loud Bang (loud, but not complex) and a whispered conversation (soft, but complex enough to contain information). Reason enough perhaps to not have your cellphone or alarm clock too close to your head when sleeping, and to turn off your computer when you’re not using it – but not reason to panic.

But yes, some scientists are suggesting that in some cases alien abduction stories are caused by sleeping too close to an electric alarm clock. And yes, electromagnetic fields do seem to cause sleepless nights in some people, so if you have sleepless nights, turning off all near electrical appliances is worth a try. Because the fact is: many people do have a sort of sense about these things. Or in more objective terms: people are effected by these fields.

That was my summary. Here’s the sources.

Richard Wiseman is one of those people who uses the internet in his work. Not only does he have his own website on his official research, he has a blog full of games and updates on public appearances in the field and so on. Here’s what he has to say about haunted houses. They did some neat experiments with infrasound at concerts: it did not make people see ghosts, but it did make them feel weird. I have not fear of his work disappearing, so I’ll leave it at that.

The work of Michael Persinger is harder to keep track of. This article about ‘the God Helmet‘ may have a seemingly ridiculous title, but the content is far from funny. It’s hosted on geocities, and I’ve recently become aware that yahoo will stop that service sometime this year. So please, if you find the link not working, let me know – I’ve backed up the article and can publish it on my website if need be. The upshot of this helmet is: stimulating the brain can lead to religious experiences, but also to simply strange ones. Susan Blackmore for instance said: “get hold of my leg and pull it, distort it, and drag it up the wall… Totally out of the blue, but intensely and vividly, I suddenly felt anger… Later, it was replaced by an equally sudden attack of fear.”


Infrasound and ultrasound can both not be heard by the human ear. Infrasound has a frequency below 20 hertz. Ultrasound has a frequency above 18 kilohertz.

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