Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Psychology: Legend Tripping

Legend Tripping

(first published on the "Eidolon Blog" on

“Let’s go legend tripping!” doesn’t have the same impact as “let’s go ghost hunting!”, but for some ghost hunters, it is exactly what they are doing!

“Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Allen?" I hear you say.

What I am talking about is a thing called “ostension”, a term which is explained in the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary as “an act or process of showing, pointing out or exhibiting”. The word comes from the Latin word ‘ostendere’, which means ‘to show’.

Ostension is the act of making an action to explain a word without saying the word, such as “flippin’ the bird" to say…well you know what it means...

Way back last century, in 1983, an article was published titled “Does the word 'dog’ bite? Ostensive Action as a Means of Legend Telling” by folklorists, Linda Degh and Andrew Vazsonyi.

Basically this article laid out the foundations of what folklorists termed “legend tripping”, the act of engaging in “playacting” involving supernatural elements, of which ghost hunting is the most common, but also of which Bigfoot hunting, werewolf hunting and other aspects of the paranormal fall under.

In a book published this century, “Aliens, Ghosts and Cult: Legends We Live” by Bill Ellis. Mr Ellis, a folklorist delves further into the world ostension, pointing out that many ghost hunters take themselves quite seriously, and the ‘work’ they do and would never consider that they are, in fact,

There are numerous ghost hunting teams that venture out into the dark with their gadgets, try and confront supernatural beings or ghosts with an onslaught of questions, then return to the safety of their home, secure in the knowledge they have taken on the unknown, and won. There is no research into the locations history, how their equipment actually works, what it is used for in the real world, and its actual capabilities. There is no investigation into natural explanations, weather patterns, psychology or anything else for that matter – it is in essence, exactly what the folklorists state it is “play acting”.

Bill Ellis wrapped it up rather well in his previously mentioned book with this quote (ghost hunters) "venture out to challenge supernatural beings, confront them in consciously dramatized form, then return to safety. ... The stated purpose of such activities is not entertainment but a sincere effort to test and define boundaries of the 'real' world.' "

Back to the article by Degh and Vazsonyi. Essentially what the writers are trying to convey is that if a “legend” is widely known and exposed to a wide audience, some members of that audience will engage themselves in actualising or ‘living’ the ‘legend’ or parts of the narrative associated with it. In the paranormal industry, this would be the aspect of ghost hunting that involves persons who want to copy their favourite ghost hunting TV star and live out what they see on TV, for the thrill and for the status.

There is a distinct difference between the casual ghost hunter and the serious paranormal investigator, but at the end of the day, even the serious paranormal investigator can engage in “legend tripping”, and the casual ghost hunter can become a serious paranormal researcher and investigator, but at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves, are we getting involved in other people’s legends when we investigate the paranormal and living out their expectations of what will happen, or are we going in armed with research, knowledge and no expectations?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Perception & the Paranormal: Top Down Processing

Perception: Top Down Processing

At any given time whilst investigating the paranormal our senses are exposed to a limitless amount of sensations. Sounds, smells, sights, textures, light and darkness, touch, all flooding your central nervous system and brain which then must process all these events at once, to give you what you perceive as reality.
 We can break these systems down to two essential processes;

 Sensation; what we are feeling through our senses.

Perception; how our brain deals with the sensory input and then makes sense of the input information.

In general, these two terms, when put together, are referred to as Processing.

In psychology, there are generally two types of processing, Schema-Driven (Top Down Processing) and Data-Driven (Bottom Up Processing). In this article, we are looking only at Top Down Processing as a perception that may lead a paranormal investigator to perceive an anomalous event as “paranormal” when it is a natural event misinterpreted by pre-conceived notions or biases.
 Many paranormal events can be explained by various cognitive mechanisms such as fantasy. The way we analyse statistical probabilities and anecdotal evidence can also lead us to draw faulty conclusions when it comes to anomalous events.

An example of this is demonstrated live by Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychological Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In his demonstration, Professor French plays a recording of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”” in reverse.
 The recording makes no sense in reverse, and sounds like garbled words. It is not until Prof. French puts forward what other people think is being said within the reverse recording, that listeners begin to hear the same phrases that he has suggested.
 This is common in the paranormal community with EVP recordings – without the text suggesting the words in an EVP video, people will hear all kinds of different words or sounds, but once it has the context of words added, people will almost always hear the words suggested.

We often experienced a variation of on ghost tours we hosted. People would come to the tour hyped up (we referred to it as “hypersensitive”) expecting to see, feel, hear or be touched by a “ghost”. The slightest change in temperature, a creek of floorboard or something that is easily explainable, these people, through no fault of their own, other than the hype (and “legend Tripping”) would believe the interaction was paranormal in nature – when, clearly, to myself and my wife, it was not.
 This is an excellent example of a schema-driven process, the experiencer is processing information based on prior knowledge and influence, and making a fantasy inspired conclusion on a misperception.

Top Down Processing: The brain is at the top of the cognitive processes, therefore thought comes before perceptions, such as the senses like touch, sight etc. using contextual information in pattern recognition.
 An example of this is understanding difficult to read hand writing. It is easier to understand a complete sentence due to the context of the words around it, rather than the individual words with no context.

Bottom Up Processing: Simply put, this is the processing of information in the reverse of Top Down Processing.  The body reacts first, causing emotion, which triggers the brains cognitive process, engaging thought, then action. You may be a Bottom up processor if your understanding of concepts begins with the ideas behind a concept, then working your way up to the main idea of a concept.

The Necker Cube:

The ambiguity of perception is best explained with the example of The Necker Cube. When you stare at the crosses on the cube the orientation can suddenly change, or 'flip'.

It is argued that the object appears to ‘flip’ because the brain creates two plausible propositions for the objects orientation and cannot decided between the two.

There is no change in sensory input, therefore the perception of distance must be set downward by prevailing perceptual hypothesis of what is near and what is far – top down processing.  

The Stroop Effect, named after its discoverer, J. Ridley Stroop who discovered the phenomenon in the 1930’s, is a classic example of Top-Down Processing.

The Stroop Effect contains several colours written as words, but printed in a different colour than the word read. So, for instance, the word “blue” might be written in green text, the word “Pink” might be written in the colour yellow.

The idea here is to say the colour of the word, but not say the word itself – so for our previous examples, the correct answers would be “green” and “yellow”. When reaction times are calculated, people are much slower at saying the correct colour when the colour and word are different.

Want to test your skills with the Stroop Effect – go here: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/java/timesc.html

Written and researched by Allen Tiller © 2017


2017. Top-Down Processing: Examples & Definition - Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://study.com/academy/lesson/top-down-processing-examples-definition-quiz.html. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Bottom-Up Processing definition | Psychology Glossary | alleydog.com. 2017. Bottom-Up Processing definition | Psychology Glossary | alleydog.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Bottom-Up%20Processing. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Classics in the History of Psychology -- Stroop (1935). 2017. Classics in the History of Psychology -- Stroop (1935). [ONLINE] Available at: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Stroop/. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Cognitive Mechanisms. 2017. Cognitive Mechanisms. [ONLINE] Available at: http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/coping/cognitive_mechanisms.htm. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Neuroscience For Kids - stroop effect . 2017. Neuroscience For Kids - stroop effect . [ONLINE] Available at: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/words.html. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Sincero, SM, 2013. Top-Down VS Bottom-Up Processing. [ONLINE] Available at: https://explorable.com/top-down-vs-bottom-up-processing. [Accessed 22 February 2017].

Watt, Caroline; Wiseman, Richard. The Journal of Parapsychology; Durham66.4 (Dec 2002): 371-385.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Kapunda's First International Celebrity - Mickey Pynn

The Australian Tom Thumb – Mickey Pynn

 In 1870, traveling circus and sideshows were one of the main forms of entertainment for the citizens of the world, including those who lived in rural South Australia.
 We in South Australia would often gather together to watch the entertaining magic shows of Mr Vertelli, or a passing circus, but every so often we would be gifted with the presence of a international act, such as “General Tom Thumb” (real name: Charles Sherwood Stratton ) from the USA, who had just come from successful live shows in England.
 General Tom Thumb had achieved international stardom as a side show act for P.T. Barnum, Circus Pioneer throughout the US and Europe, and came to Australia to perform, including Kapunda.

 It was his exclusive trip and side show act in Kapunda that brought Kapunda local lad, Mickey Pynn to the forefront, and made him Kapunda's first international celebrity.

Mickey Pynn lived with his family just south of Kapunda, where the hill rises near the Greenock road turn off the House still stands
Mickey Pynn - SLSA: B57230
 A family member, or perhaps a family friend seeing an opportunity to make some money from Mickey's condition, held an “exhibition” of Mickey in The Miners Arms Hotel, owned by William Tremaine (My own Great-Great Grandfather).
 The exhibition caught the attention of General Tom thumb who asked to meet young Mickey and was astounded that he was almost a full two inches shorter than him.
 This led to Mickey being hired by the company that the U.S. Tom thumb had established (a very lucrative company, that would eventually bail out P.T. Barnum when financial strife almost collapsed his circus empire). Mickey would soon be travelling the world as a Circus midget and sometimes side show act under various names including “The Afghan Dwarf” and “The Australian Tom Thumb”, but this did not stop him from performing here in South Australia, nor in Kapunda.
In fact, “The Australian Tom Thumb” performed on occasion with his good friend John Morcom, better known as Magician “Vertelli”
 In an early career show that starred Mickey and Vertelli in The North Kapunda Hotel, it was written by a newspaper correspondent in the Kapunda Herald and Northern Intelligencer (March 3rd 1871) the following:

"The diminutive Tom Thumb is a pleasing simple little fellow, whose greatest feat is to scratch his head like a bear with his toes his knees being kept straight during this interesting operation. He is said to be 17 years of age, not deformed, rather of a serious turn of mind, and has a look of great gravity previous to turning a somersault. If the Signor could induce a beard and whisker to grow, be would be a decided hit, and might put."the General" into the shade—being some inches shorter."

 It is written elsewhere that Mickey's life contained many ups and downs over the years, but it would seem he often struggled with his inner demons, and took to drink, as attested in the following two stories in Sydney newspaper “The Evening News” in 1906, the stories being published only months apart:

Evening News: Sydney: Monday 3 September 1906

'What has he been, doing?' asked Mr. Smithers, S.M., at the Central Police Court this moraine. The magistrate's query had reference to Michael Pynn, 53, described on the sheet as an acrobatic dwarf. The offence against him was that of being drunk and disorderly on Saturday evening in George-street. 'He was running after women, and catching hold of them' said the sergeant, looking severely at the little man in the dock. 'He has been locked up^ since Saturday.' ''He was here on Saturday morning for being drunk,' said a policeman.
Solicitor: He should be let off with half the usual fine your Worship
 ' The dwarf, who stood a little over 3ft high, was fined 5s."

Evening News - Sydney Wednesday 31 October 1906

"The name of Michael Pynn was called at the Central Police Court this morning, and a man of 57 . years, but of diminutive stature, answered the call. He was so little that his head did not reach to within 2ft of the top of the dock rail.
 Pynn looked between the rail at the magistrate, and in a loud tone pleaded guilty to a charge of being drunk in Castlereagh street.
'He has been coming here frequently, lately, saw police prosecutor Davis. 'He goes about the street, and 'shapes' up -to men 6ft high, twice his own height. A short sojourn in gaol would do him good, and keep him from giving way entirely to drink.'  Pynn, it was ascertained, sometimes gives the police trouble, and on Tuesday it needed the united forces of Constables Lambert and Hardiman to convey, him to the lock-up. A fine of 20s, or 14 days, was imposed."

 In his later years, Mickey retired to Sydney where he saw out his last days, firstly in Lidcombe in a men’s home, where it was reported his “appetite is vigorous, though rheumatism affected his walk”.
 Soon he moved to a different home in Liverpool, one with immaculate gardens, and better conditions for this once sought after entertainer. Attendants of the Men's Home spoke well of Mickey saying “He was always ready to do what little he could about the place, and amuse the other inmates with his "double jointed" tricks”
 Kapunda's first international celebrity, Mickey “The Australian Tom Thumb” Pynn passed away on the 22 of June 1929 in Sydney NSW.