Some Books in Print





In 1968 and 1974 we made appeals for cases of apparitions, which we defined as generally as possible as "seeing something that was not really there". These appeals were made after our book based on an appeal for cases of out-of-the-body experiences, and our book based on a survey of such cases of lucid dreams as could be found. Neither of these had produced the funding to enable laboratory work to proceed, which we had hoped, in each case, would follow on a demonstration that there was a hitherto unrecognised but distinct type of phenomenon, which was thus a valid object of scientific research, with psychological and physiological characteristics available for investigation.


Still unable to undertake laboratory work, the only form of research which we could undertake within our very limited funding was another survey of case material, so with some reluctance we moved on to appealing for cases of apparitions. We had less interest in doing this than in making surveys of out of the body cases and lucid dreams, because apparitions had already received a good deal of attention. There was no doubt that experiences of seeing apparitions happened, but little hope that they would provide a suitable subject for laboratory work. Even if the experiences were of a distinct type or types, it did not appear that they could be made to happen to order, and there was little prospect of getting them to do so in laboratory conditions.


Also, there was the problem that they were associated with spiritualist beliefs about survival, which was the reason that they had attracted a good deal of attention previously. We did not wish to be supposed to be trying to "prove" that such experiences really happened, which was closely associated in people's minds with trying to "prove" that human personality survived death. So this appeal was very much a "faute de mieux", but it seemed better than appealing, say, for cases of "precognitive" dreams, which would have carried an even stronger presumption that we were "trying to prove" precognition by evaluating the unlikelihood of the correlations between the information contained in the dream and the events which it was supposed to foretell.


In the event, it was found easy to collect a considerable number of apparition reports from the population at large and, while they covered a range much wider than that which corresponded to any idea of a "ghostly" apparition, few of them suggested a spiritualistic interpretation. The human figures concerned were usually somewhat mechanical in appearance and did not give the impression of motivated and communicable personalities.


People like to associate such experiences (both apparitional and out of the body) with stress, which makes them appear abnormal and hence (to the modern academic mind) of no scientific interest for research purposes. However, many of our apparition cases occurred in particularly dull, everyday situations. An example of the prejudice associated with such experiences was provided by a psychiatrist who interviewed one of the authors, Dr. Charles McCreery, after a radio review of the book. "It is well known," he said authoritatively, "that such experiences are caused by stress". Charles replied that the results of the appeal provided no support for this idea, since only about a third of the experiences reported to us had taken place in situations that could be classified as in any way stressful. His reply was edited out of the broadcast version of the interview, while the authoritative statement by the psychiatrist which preceded it was left in.


The most interesting outcome of the appeals, from our point of view, was that it occurred to us, in the course of analysing the cases, that they probably provided another example of the continuum of metachoric, or completely hallucinatory, experiences. In some of them, although the experience was continuous with normal perceptual experience, the lighting changed so that clearly the whole field of view was hallucinatory. It had been clear that this was so in the case of out of the body experiences because, even if the subject's environment seemed to be unchanged, it was perceived from a different point of view from that of the physical body. So, in the case of apparitions (whether of human beings or not) it seemed likely that the whole field of view, and not just the extra figure or object, was hallucinatory throughout the experience.


Apparitions, paperback, price 9-95, published by Institute of Psychophysical Research (distributed by Book Systems Plus).