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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)


The Aradale Mental Asylum: Paranormal Investigations

Paul Kiritsis - Friday, February 28, 2014

As many intellectuals have implicated, the overcommercialised and sensationalist haunting investigations we see on shows like “Ghost Adventures” where instruments like tape recorders, radios, computers, and other electrical gadgets are used in the purported communication with denizens of the otherworld are a fashionable equivalent of the mediumistic demonstrations that swept through America in the mid-nineteenth century following infamous Hydesville rappings of Kate and Margaret Fox. While these insipient shows reflect subtle transformations of a counterculture at war against reductionism, scientific positivism, and in some cases atheism they also illuminate some less flattering aspects of the spiritualist movement, explicitly the notion that the empirical validity of survival and life after death are left to occult enthusiasts, amateurs, and dabblers with an inadequate understanding of scientific research. This gaping void in professional interest can probably be ascribed to the negative connotations attached to metaphysics by the contemporary sciences coupled with the “cultishness and sloppiness” of transcommunicative apparatuses and techniques in general. Together they have dismissed parapsychology from the laboratory, from the university, and from the world of critical inquiry, confining it to the superstitious cellars of the past, to explicit memories in books, and to haunted investigations in orphanages, hospitals, and abandoned mental institutions like the Aradale Mental Asylum. 

A brief look at individuals who gravitate towards ghost-hunting adventures verifies the above proposition. Some of the most mature of the group–the solemn, stern-faced, and stoic in appearance–are probably radicals hoping to have their eschatological beliefs in survival and an afterlife validated. A second but less inhibited proportion will be there to reconcile their intellectual assessment with intuitive aspects of being and an emotional understanding of the place that cannot be garnered from scholarly books, the internet, and official clinical transcripts from the state library or archives alone. Finally, there will always be a third group consisting mainly of immature minors that partake purely for entertainment purposes: some wish to garner amusement at the expense of the one officiating the investigation whilst others with understated sadistic qualities will enjoy watching the bejesus scared out of their friends or companions. The spectrum of multifarious motivations makes for a synergistic evolution that complacently satisfies some but annoys the hell out of others.

The importance of nocturnal quietude to supranormal manifestation means that the fun doesn’t usually commence until after sunset. Indeed, my companion and I were informed via webmail that we should meet our officiating guide near the asylum’s side entrance roughly 10-15 minutes before 9pm–atmosphere is everything! For me, the administrative procedure of counting participants made for a mellow introduction to the art of ghost hunting, an inhibition of the adrenalin metre that was subsequently reversed when I set my probing eyes upon a plastic container holding an assortment of transcommunicative goodies. These included a pair of night-vision goggles able to facilitate the detection of supranormal manifestations in the visual field; a K-II electromagnetic field (EMF) meter designed to scan electromagnetic frequencies between 30-20,000 Hz; a digital K-type thermometer to measure abnormal fluctuations in room temperatures; a digital voice recorder to record anomalous sounds of paranormal origins; and an interesting gadget called an Ovilus. Designed by engineer Bill Chappell the latter exploits environmental variances in temperature and the electromagnetic field for the sake of contriving phonemes or words. From a paranormal standpoint it allows would-be communicators from ethereal realms the unprecedented, innovative option of flashing up responses to questions posed by their human experimenters on a six-line text display. Entities are delimited to a cocktail of 512 stored words in conjunction with the affirmative ‘yes’ and negative ‘no’ function, revealing the limited scope of linguistic freedom that the device actually offers. All the same newer versions like the Ovilus III and the pocket-sized Ovilus M have improved greatly upon this shortcoming by extending the word database to more than 2,000 words, thus permitting the communicating ‘entity’ a richer and more comprehensive vocabulary.

Underlying the solicitation of transcommunicative electronic equipment is an archetypal model of knowledge linking the human soul or spirit, otherwise known as the vital life force, with the flow of electrical charges responsible for electromagnetism and the transference of energy via a thermal interaction known as heat. Nobody can dispute the reality that the human body is enlivened through an intangible force that transmogrifies electrochemical signals originating in cortical neurons into conscious awareness, into mentation and perception. Nor can anybody deny the greater significance of its latent expression through heat and movement. Inspected closely we see that its absence or withdrawal translates to the cessation of particle oscillation in animated matter which creates thermal energy and heat along with the decoupling of the spatiotemporal interface between consciousness and matter. The phenomenon in question could also be described as the termination of organic life, or death. Naturally the likeness and conceptual alignment between the properties of electromagnetism and the manifest qualities of this intangible life force lures us into a type of reasoning whereby the latter must be conceived in terms of electromagnetic quanta. If this spirit, soul, or vital life force can continue to subsist after psychoneural expiration, then atypical electromagnetic oscillations in the environment may represent one such way through which its subsequent movements may be quantified and studied, right? Here is where electronic and related contraptions come in handy; by amplifying and filtering electromagnetic bandwidths that subsist either on the frontiers or beyond those available to human hearing, transcommunicative equipment like computers, radios, telephones, and tape recorders could help in the discernment of authentic paranormal voices diffused on anomalous frequency ranges.

By far the most popular form of transcommunication deployed in haunting investigations has been sound recording onto tapes, phonographs, and digital apparatuses with sources later examined for the appearance of unusual vocalizations coming from deceased individuals. The standardised label for these is electronic voice phenomena (EVPs). Sarah Estep, the founder of the American Association for Electronic Voice Phenomenon (AAEVP) did some instrumental work with this form of instrumental transcommunication research; she introduced people to methodological variations in EVP transcription with comprehensive feedback loops, flame microphones, and both white and pink background noises, and pioneered a triune system of compartmentalizing EVPs according to their sound quality.[1] With “Class A” EVPs the decibel of the vocalization cannot be differentiated from that of normative human speech and there is consensual agreement between listeners as to the meaning of its content. Alternatively “Class B” EVPs encompass a much poorer quality, call for the assistance of electronic equipment like headphones, and will frequently elicit conflicting interpretations. Lastly, the vocalizations falling into the “Class C” category are tantamount to an audio Rorschach test with the enhanced message providing a conceptual springboard for disparate interpretations. Not all listeners may acknowledge the reception of a “Class C” EVP; some hear it while others don’t.

Over the last few decades professionals engaged with instrumental transcommunication research have identified a set of inimitable characteristics indigenous to “Class A” EVP utterances demonstrating beyond a shadow of doubt that some anomalous voices heard on audio payback cannot be explained away as auditory hallucinations, subvocalizations made by the experimenter or individuals present, rogue signals from electrical equipment, artefacts from the holding environment, or fraud.[2] For one the particular intonation of words falls outside the range typical of human speech, fostering the illusion that they’ve either been augmented or decelerated through digital manipulation. “Class A” EVPs seem to emanate in short standardized eruptions, with the volume dissipating significantly when utterances are protracted. This phenomenon entertains the notion of energy limitation and brings to mind the Hadean terrain of departed souls where the capacity and durability of the spoken word was enigmatically correlated with the proportion of ingested blood. Their robotic, mechanical, and hollow quality is uncanny, as if they were emanating from a transdimensional family of androids. Equally significant is the expression of a popping or clicking noise immediately before the “Class A” EVP vocalization, the precognitive bent of utterances in externalizing the immanent physical or mental states of the experimenter before they come to pass, and the intellectual inclination towards timely, apt, and personable responses. The conceptual worth of the latter two cannot be stressed enough for they imply that utterances are something more than ‘tape recordings’ impressed upon the electromagnetic field of the environment via the fervent efflux of anger or violence. In truth, the homogenous characteristics have cropped up so consistently across experimental trials of different epochs[3] that it would be ludicrous not to construe some “Class A” EVPs as by-products of transcommunication with disembodied entities, perhaps deceased individuals of the netherworld wishing to make contact with their loved ones in the realm of the living.  

A recent study exhuming promising results in support of the supranormal hypothesis was conducted by researcher Alexander MacRae. MacRae separated himself from the “cultishness and sloppiness” of prior research into transcommunication with a sound-proofed Faraday cage at the Noetic Sciences Institute which allowed for more stringent controls.[4] Forming an insurmountable insulation against radio and electromagnetic waves that might penetrate from without, the 8-foot by 8-foor space ensured that any result obtained could not be credited to the misapprehension of static for genuine vocalizations; to rogue conversations transmitted from radios and mobile phones; or to cognitive patterns seeking to make sense out of nonsense. A cross-examination and spectrogram analysis performed on “all Class A” EVP utterances obtained weeded out subtle differences in frequency range and ambience, supporting the contention that they were authentic artefacts. Subsequent investigations brought to light the inexplicable role of human cognition and anticipation on the interpretation of phenomena, our inability to be completely objective when it comes to perceiving sensory information from the environment; after protracted periods of echoing the same series of questions the dynamic of the EVP responses obtained seemed to shift from thematic diversity and association to limited themes and ambiguity in correlation. These observations implied that human cognition adheres to an unconscious expectancy pattern where perceptions are constantly cut from the conditioned fabric of mental meanings determined at some point in the past and superimposed onto external stimuli to make them pertinent to the needs of the organism. Evident here is that the human condition skews the objective quantification of experimental data, pandering to ego states in ways that compromise critical inquiry into the exact nature of an external phenomenon. MacRae noted that non-random interpretation at the behest of the feed-forward effect introduced further problems and ambiguities into the already problematic area of EVPs. In the end the experimental implications were bittersweet; yes, some of the “Class A” EVP utterances were authentic artefacts however there was simply no way, at least in terms of how we know and understand the mechanisms of the cosmos today, of differentiating between those created by the automatic imprinting of mental impressions onto tape (MMI) and those coming from supranormal origins.         

I frequently found myself wondering how much of a Rorschach test the haunting investigation at Aradale Mental Asylum actually was as we went from room to room, making our way through the surgery, the male wards, the administrative quarters which formerly housed the superintendent, nurses, and wardens, the resident hospital, and the student quarters. Proceedings involved posing a question or series or questions and then pausing as to give would-be denizens of the netherworld a chance at responding through the electronic equipment. There were many “oohs” and “aahs” when the vocalization of a question was immediately succeeded by changes in room temperature and the electromagnetic field, or when the timeliness of the responses allowed for inferential conversation between the one asking the question and the supposed ‘entity’.

Just like MacRae’s experiments which drew attention to the expectancy effect, the dubious theoretical framework underpinning the mechanism of instrumental transcommunication allows observers present to align the configuration of environmental readings received with the idiosyncratic belief systems at the root of their being. This makes for some very interesting perspectives. A religious zealot who has just lost a loved one will buy the paranormal concept wholesale and deduce that the readings express subtle interactions between the physical and invisible worlds. Then again a spiritual scientist with transpersonal views may understand the entire process as reflective of mind-matter interaction produced solely by human cognition. Finally an atheist or sceptic may acknowledge that the quasi-scientific methodology does indeed detect random changes in environmental conditions but that the latter has no qualitative connection to the eschatology their pioneers wished to experientially validate. Late in the evening it occurred to me that the haunted investigation I was on contained multiple and triple copies of each one of these psychological archetypes–the religious zealot, the spiritual scientist, and the sceptical atheist.   

For better or worse my visceral reaction to categorizing myself is to abscond; I’m generally not a fan of boxes, squares, quaternaries, and reckonings that remain squarely within four walls, lines, edges, sides, and generally anything defined by the number four (Four is the number of manifestation and thus compartmentalization.). Even the speculative subject of instrumental transcommunation where one is expected to assume a definitive stance fails to square me; I just can’t help flitting between the psychological archetypes of religious zealot and spiritual scientist. I’m somewhere, about, or between there but I don’t know exactly were, not yet anyway.

This question of theoretical position surfaced patently during an uncanny event that transpired in the female patient ward, the East Wing of the Aradale Mental Asylum, near midnight. To give some necessary background information it was determined near the beginning of the investigation that a deceased female patient named Jackie had been following us around the premises. When my friend Chris took hold of the Ovilus, Jackie proceeded to flash up a train of thematically grouped words on the display screen: words, meadow, author, story, pen, and Paul. I remember gawking at the screen in disbelief as they manifested, one after the other. Others in the group hadn’t the foggiest as to how these words may be qualitatively related but to me the meaning was clearer than a flash of light in the night sky. Jackie had made the connection between the writing profession and myself, she had realized that I was an author who was besotted with nature, carried pens, and used words to construct real and imagined stories (both fiction and non-fiction). In mulling it all over in my head I began to entertain the idea that she wanted me to write about her destitutions, passions, and undisclosed desires in the mental institution and publish in mass print so that she may live again. Because the greatest burden one can bear is the burden of an untold story it made sense to me that a desire to share it with the world would be the first thing off a deceased patient’s consciousness should transcommunication with the living become possible. Jackie simply wanted her story written!

Naturally the devil’s advocate inside my heads begs to differ; the whole thing could be nothing more than the false interpretation of randomly generated words. Or a murky phenomenon generated by my unconscious mind, or Chris’s. But neither of these explanations feels as wholesome or gratifying. Meaning and purpose are everything folks!

[1] Pamela Rae Health, Mind-Matter Interaction: A Review of Historical Reports, Theory and Research (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2011), pp. 122.

[2] Ibid, pp. 128-129.

[3] Ibid, pp. 123.

[4] Ibid, pp. 127.

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