Interview with Professor Richard Wiseman about his new book “Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there”

Professor Richard Wiseman

Professor Richard Wiseman

Recently on Strange Frequencies Radio, Korbus and I had the privilege of speaking with Professor Richard Wiseman about his new book “Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there”.  The interview was amazing and it can be heard here: (right click and save as)

One thing Professor Wiseman told us during the interview was that he was having problems releasing this book in the US.  He went on to explain, that for whatever reason publishers are very reluctant to release a book this skeptical. 

On Professor Wiseman’s blog he wrote:  

“The book has done well in the UK and has been bought by publishers in lots of other countries. However, the major American publishers were reluctant to support a skeptical book, with some suggesting that I re-write it to suggest that ghosts were real and psychic powers actually existed! We didn’t get any serious offers and so it looked like the American public (around 75% of whom believe in the paranormal) wouldn’t get the opportunity to read about skepticism.”

This is a crying shame.  Wiseman openly admits, as he did on SFR, this book isn’t intended for people who already truly believe.  It is more for the people on the fence about paranormal phenomena.  I guess I don’t understand how people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens can be published without being asked to change their opinion on the view of God.  Could you imagine what “The God Delusion” would have been like if Dawkins said at the end “though I am an atheist there is definitely strong evidence to support the existence of God.” 

The fact that the publishers asked Professor Wiseman to re-write that ghosts and psychics exist very insulting, not only to Wiseman but to anyone who has an open mind.  It’s like making Hitchens say “religion is evil, but God is great!” 

Anyway the book is available by going to pick it up, you won’t be sorry.

A Phone Call with a Parapsychologist -Part 1

At one point in time, I was mentored by Dr. William Roll on the basics of parapsychology.  I spent many Saturday mornings in deep conversations and listened intently in hopes that one day I too could become a parapsychologist. 

Please understand that Dr. William Roll doesn’t speak English very well and it was a bit difficult to transcribe but I think it will be an interesting read.  This is the first of many phone calls with Dr. William Roll.

Dr. Bill Roll: William Roll speaking.

Bobby Nelson: Hi Dr. Roll this is Bobby Nelson.

Dr. Bill Roll: Hey.

Bobby Nelson: How are you sir?

Dr. Bill Roll: Good.

Bobby Nelson: I was calling you today to talk about the proper investigative techniques when it comes to the paranormal. 

Dr. Bill Roll: One little thing before we start, I don’t think there is such a thing as the paranormal.  By that I simply mean that I am convinced that all these things can be explained in terms of natural causes and processes, E.S.P., telepathy, psychokinesis, etc, etc.  And before we get started I feel this understanding is very important.

Bobby Nelson: Interesting.  Now I did write an article a while back, which I believe you told me you read, on the topic of people using E.M.F. meters.

Dr. Bill Roll: Using what?

Bobby Nelson:  Electromagnetic field meters.

Dr. Bill Roll: Yes, yes ok.

Bobby Nelson: And how people think they are detecting ghosts when they are really not. 

Dr. Bill Roll: Yea.  I think beginning in 99, well I investigated so called haunts long before that, but in 99 I think it was, I got a grant that enabled me to get an electro-magnetometer and a meter that allowed me to measure magnetic current from the earth, you know from streams and stuff like that.  So I investigated a few of those occasions, I guess not that many I suppose, 5 or 6 or something like that.  Some investigations were done here, some done in Sweden and Denmark.  After seeing the response I got from these gadgets, it told me the occurrences were associated with anomalous electromagnetic and geomagnetic disturbances.  It is known that these types of disturbances can affect the brain and you can see ghosts and have all sort of exciting experiences, this process is quite normal. 

Bobby Nelson: Do you think it’s possible that anyone can have these types of experiences if they are exposed to the right amount of electromagnetic fields?

Dr. Bill Roll: Yes I’m sure, there is nothing peculiar to that, none.

Bobby Nelson: Then would it be possible for two people to experience the same phenomena?  For instance if someone in California went to some house in Florida, in which the owner experienced a “ghost-like” apparition, would it be possible due to E.M.F. for the person from California to experience the same “ghost-like” apparition?

Dr. Bill Roll:  Well they wouldn’t be exactly the same I don’t think, because people’s brains are different.  But these ghosts, strange sounds and feelings of a presence, the feeling of a presence is very typical, these things would be different for different people because we are made up differently.  Yet the individuals in my opinion would very likely have similar experiences in the same places of the site.  By the way animals also respond to these things.  In one case I investigated 2 animals that actually seemed to be killed by whatever it was, one of them just keeled over.  I think the owner had 2 hunting dogs and one of the dogs just keeled over.  The other dog was found hanging on a spiked fence that was on the property, the dog was found suffocated, and this is why they called me.  Well we went out and found anomalous electro-magnetic fields, which we thought possibly explained this stuff.  I didn’t have much money at this time and got in touch television companies and got 8 cases with Unsolved Mysteries and some other cases on a television show called Sightings on the History channel I think it was.  Through this they provided me the funding where I could go out there and of course they would tag along and film me and my assistant activities. 

Bobby Nelson:  Now you said that when you investigated the claims of those animals which may have died by E.M.F., were you called because they thought this was paranormal related or they just didn’t know why these dogs were acting crazy?

Dr. Bill Roll:  All these people assume its ghosts, because there is nothing visible, and they think why should these things happen if it wasn’t a ghost.  By the way there is one respect that is not due to me but due to Michael Persinger.  What he said was that these fields may kill a person and once the person has died the phenomena may continue.  So when this person dies the phenomena is haunting the place.

Bobby Nelson:  Dr. Persinger is the one that created the God Helmet, which is a device that pumps low levels of E.M.F. into the brain, correct?

Dr. Bill Roll: Yes.

Bobby Nelson: And the effects of this produced a haunting or God like experience? 

Dr. Bill Roll: No, not really, this experiment was designed for other purposes that dealt with his line of work in neuropsychology.  He also investigated with a guy, this newspaper guy, I think his name was Hunt and he would report experiencing a ghost.  So he came to Persingers lab, this is all described in one of his articles, so he came to Persingers lab and Persinger exposed him to electromagnetic fields, perhaps using the helmet, I don’t remember.  However this man Hunt saw exactly the same ghost and was equally scared when it was produced in Persingers lab.  This is the only case of a ghost being created in a lab as far as I know.

Bobby Nelson:  So what about when you worked on that case in Georgia, why do you think it is that some people that may be exposed to these levels of electromagnetic fields can experience visual hallucinations of people that really existed at one time. 

Dr. Bill Roll: Now that is the most interesting question obviously.  These people, like this girl Heidi from Georgia, seemed to be psychic.  But there was something else. She apparently became psychic because at birth her face was covered by the placenta, by a veil as it’s called.  When this happens it is thought to make people psychic.  This is quite possible, because when the placenta covers the mouth and nose and one can’t breathe, someone will experience lack of breathing hypoxia I think it’s called.  This can lead to hallucinations of various kinds.  Now it is uncertain if the placenta did in face cover her nose and mouth, but what is certain is that the umbilical cord circled her neck twice and almost killed her.  And this is certainly a cause which could have brought on this hypoxia, thereby brought on various kinds of psychological and perhaps also, you know near death experiences are apparently associated with E.S.P.  People seem to be more psychic or even become psychic after having a near death experience and that would probably be more of this hypoxia, as far as I can make out. 

Bobby Nelson: Well in regards to this case, to me this kind of sounds more like a form of schizophrenia.  I mean the girl is interacting with audible and visual hallucinations.

Dr. Bill Roll: Yea, but in this case of course the hallucinations reflected the people who existed there, at least her 2 major hallucinations. These hallucinations are called veridical hallucinations and these 2 veridical hallucinations seemed to reflect 2 individuals who seemed to have lived in the area.  While I was present, by the way this was also on Unsolved Mysteries, while I was present she picked up, she was given a stack of photographs and picked out the 2 photos of the 2 people she had seen.  But there were also some scary hallucinations which probably didn’t reflect real people.  They probably arose because of the girl having psychological problems, these problems probably came about when her younger sister was about to be born and when she had been born. So again the explanation would be psychological.  Now these bad apparitions or these negative apparitions probably had never lived, they just arose because of the girls jealousy basically.

Bobby Nelson:  Now I am familiar with this case and I know the father of Heidi claims to have been scratched and physically harmed by this negative apparition, how is it that hallucinations can interact with people, leaving scratches on the body?

Dr. Bill Roll: Well I think the scratches were different.  There is no indication that the scratches were done, in other words, the girl experienced scratches and she came in one morning crying and the mother discovered 2 scratches on her face and then later on the father experienced the same type of scratches on his back, on 2 occasions on think.  Now all this is very speculative but we know that there is something that is called psychosomatic symptoms or psychosomatic occurrences that can be induced by E.S.P. So my speculation was that the girl was angry, Heidi was angry at her father for paying so much attention to the new comer whose name was Jordan.  So Heidi herself was sort of pushed into the background, I mean all this with Heidi is speculative and at a certain point it can’t come to anything else.  So the scratches on herself I interpreted as her being punished for having these bad feelings of jealousy.  The scratches on her father I interpreted as a sort of psychosomatic quote unquote attack on her part on the father. 

Bobby Nelson: So would you consider this “poltergeist” activity?

Dr. Bill Roll: Hmm…Yes, it could be, except poltergeists usually means movements of objects.  But I have investigated many cases of poltergeists.  All poltergeist cases, we all have a fancy term for it, but all these poltergeist cases arise in family tension.  The agent, the people who seem to generate this stuff is angry at somebody else in the family. So then the outcome is that the person the agent is angry about that the belongings of that individual are disturbed or destroyed.  In this single case there wasn’t destruction of belongings of the other person.  There was a case of a grown woman and her mother, who lived in the same home, I think the first incident was the mothers coffee cup being flung by unseen hands crashing against the wall.  Then later on, there were unexplained pin pricks on the mother, they were very painful, she would scream out.  People, myself included would notice clusters of pin pricks on her body, particularly her arms and chest.  So this case might be the same type of activity that was happening around Heidi.

Bobby Nelson: Going back to E.M.F., I was just curious as to what can cause high fluctuations?

Dr. Bill Roll: Well it has to be a strong anomalous field to start this kind of stuff.  It’s a question of how high your readings are and they have to be considerably above average.  Then you can very often identify the source, like if there are indications of an underground stream or something like that. 

Bobby Nelson: So you’re saying that there may be validity that these haunting like experiences maybe around homes that have underground streams or wells?

Dr. Bill Roll: Well in a couple of cases, yes that is what we have found.  It can also be due to mineral deposits and other things.  By the way we have also found that the onsets of, I am going to use the word we use, RSPK which is the same as poltergeist activity; the onset of RSPK tends to be around an upswing in geomagnetic disturbances.  This comes from space, particularly from the sun, where they notice sun spots, that is one factor.  Following the onset of RSPK there will be small occurrences and these do not seem to be associated with continuous disturbances, geomagnetic disturbances from space.  So there are a couple of these things that play in, but long lasting local haunting type things seem to be associated with local geomagnetic or electromagnetic fields.  Local electromagnetic fields would probably be due, in one case it certainly was due to peculiar anomalous in house currents.  So the more you dig into these things the more you will likely find a normal explanation.  There are a few cases of haunts where there are also physical occurrences; these are very few and far between.  The physical occurrences are a poltergeist type of onset.  My guess is this is due to the tension and anxiety built up because of the other haunting occurrences.  My feeling is it’s that tension that may trigger these few poltergeist occurrences seen in haunts.

Bobby Nelson: I know that you have a background in regular psychology as well as parapsychology.  I was wondering about the psychology of belief and the role it plays in haunting.  For instance I know if someone believes they have a ghost, everything becomes that ghost.  So why do you think some have to associate floor creaking or the house settling as ghostly mischief? 

Dr. Bill Roll: Well, that’s the human mind.  That is also one of the problems with the human mind.  This is more of a question for neuropsychology.

Bobby Nelson: It just fascinates me that people associate everything with ghosts if they think they have one.  I was just wondering if there is something in the brain that has to associate something we can’t explain with the unknown.

Dr. Bill Roll: Basically our brain has to make sense of its experiences and if there isn’t any obvious sense or rational sense then we reach for the non rational, we reach for the occult basically.  So anyway you have to be patient with these people, you know, they are just doing what the brain does. 

Bobby Nelson: What about people who believe they are being attacked by demons?

Dr. Bill Roll: Most of that are probably people suffering from psychotic tendencies.

Bobby Nelson: Either that or lying, people trying to get attention.  Anyway I don’t want to keep you on the phone much longer, I do have one more question, what got you interested in the field of parapsychology?

Dr. Bill Roll: Well it began in my teens, I had a so called out of body experience.  This experience was very real to me and it made me thing that when I die I would be up wondering around outside of my body.  Then many many years later, when I was actually doing experiments with these things at Duke, I had another out of body experience that was very very clear.  I was asleep at night, I got up, out of bed out of body I started walking down a very long hallway.  The hallway lead up to a door which lead to a very large living room we had.  I noticed the moonlight was shining in through this large window and it was casting shadows, again this was all very very clear.  As I was standing there in the door way, I started to get frustrated that I was having another out of body experience I couldn’t really check up on.  Then I noticed that the moonlight was casting a shadow from this round table we had and the shadow hit the rug on the floor, such that part of the shadow from the moonlight came from…I went down on hand and knee, to measure the shadow.  It was one palm, from one corner of the rug, it was also a palms length to the other corner of the rug.  With this precious information I got back into my body, woke up and with my body I went to go check this shadow.  When I came into the room, the room was black, no shadows, no moonlight and I concluded that even if there had been moonlight, the shadow couldn’t have appeared the way I saw it.  So I had to conclude that this out of body experience and others are probably some type of hallucination or lucid dream.  But the point is my O.B.E. didn’t have anything to do with physical reality. 

Bobby Nelson: So is the basic premise of parapsychology that these “paranormal” occurrences are actually natural phenomena and you are just trying to find out what causes the experiences?  

Dr. Bill Roll: That is my opinion, but however it isn’t shared by some of my colleagues.

Bobby Nelson: Well thank you Dr. Roll, we will continue our talk next week. 

Dr. Bill Roll: Yes, bye.   

Though I have become a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal, only relying on empirical evidence (something unfortunately the paranormal has yet to provide), I would like to thank Dr. Roll for spending many hours speaking with me about his passion and lifelong work in the field of parapsychology.

I would also like to make it clear, that although Dr. Roll mentions that he doesn’t believe in the paranormal and that things such as E.S.P., telepathy and psychokinesis are natural phenomena, there is no evidence that these abilities do exist.