Dark Matters: The Search for Supernature
What is a poltergeist, and can physics hold the answer?
Early one morning (about 1 am) in January 2008, I was sitting up reading in bed when it began to rock from side to side. At first, I thought that it was my imagination working overtime, but soon realised that it was for real.
Who is there? I asked, aloud.
I was scared, but also excited. At last, I was about to come face to face with a denizen of the Great Beyond. The gentle rocking of the bed gave way to a frenzied, perpendicular jiggling, then stopped forever. It was no ghost, of course, but the faintest ripples of the Great Quake of 2008 that centred over the English midlands. My search for the supernatural has continued through the pages of books, and hours spent watching television. Very recently, I sat through several episodes of Paranormal Witness on Really TV. The series features ordinary people recounting extraordinary happenings, including hauntings. There was a young man who had to undergo an exorcism, numerous house hauntings and yes, that cliché, a haunted child.
These were people who had no agenda to play, nothing to gain at all from television posturing. Indeed, more than one family was devastated financially by the unexplained happenings in their homes. As the series unfolded, I realised that the hauntings, though different in detail, had a number of parallels running through them. One common occurrence in a haunting is where the occupants of a house experience a “close” feeling in a room, as if the air has gone or is going. Sometimes, the air just goes very cold. Occupants also experience smells that though normal – like perfume and tobacco – have no apparent source.
More frightening for the occupants is seeing household objects moving, defying gravity and all known laws of physics. Occupants have also seen strange substances oozing from walls and floors, have seen lights flicker on and off, and television and other electrical equipment interfered with. There are also people who have felt the touch of someone – or something – that is not there. In certain instances, the haunting seems to centre on one person, usually a young man or woman. By this, I mean that the unexplained occurrences only happened when that person was around. In most cases, the behaviour of the subject was “normal” in that he or she didn’t seem to have any involvement with the events, except just being present when they happened.
In one instance, the haunted subject began to find injuries all over his body. Then, his family heard him talk in a deep and garrulous voice that was definitely not his own. He also developed the eerie ability to project water towards anyone that he was in contention with. It was at this point that his family sent for an exorcist – and the exorcism worked. A number of the documented hauntings were quite gentle; whispers, shadows and that sort of thing. Indeed, a number of families learned to live with their ghosts. But many more were violent to the point of family members having to flee for their lives. People have been pushed down stairs, held down by unseen forces, and one nasty poltergeist tried to set fire to a beautiful house.
Just what is a poltergeist, and can they be explained scientifically? Up to about the 1700s, the majority of people believed in ghosts and witches. The last witch trial in England took place as recently as 1712. As scientific discovery gathered momentum, the Age of Enlightenment dawned. By the late 1700s, learned men believed that they could explain every visible phenomenon through science. Quite possibly, but over two hundred years later, we are only beginning to uncover the nature of the forces that have brought this world together. In short, we seem to have entered a new Dark Ages.
Recently, scientists have projected that 84% of the universe is made of an unexplained force that they have named dark matter. In my book, that is a lot of matter. This figure puts into context the rarity of the “stuff” that we are made of. It is this rarity that makes this planet and all of the life upon it the special place that it is. Furthermore, our ears can only hear and our eyes can only see within a very narrow range of wavelengths and frequencies. Is it conceivable that, by means which we don’t yet understand, a modicum of this dark matter has crept through cosmic cracks and crevices, and can manifest in ways that we have dubbed as poltergeist activity? That this matter mostly manifests as energy is no surprise. Thanks to Einstein and his famous equation, we know that matter and energy are just different manifestations of the same force. It is also unsurprising that dark matter manifests in witty and intelligible, though frightening ways.
In one haunting, a couple heard their (non music-playing) baby monitor play a subverted version of Twinkle, Twinkle. They fled to their nursery and pulled their tiny baby to safety. In another instance, a group of people enjoying a Christmas party were unsettled (to say the least) by toy cars and other playthings coming to life under a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, the family infant was soundly asleep in his cot. Humans are matter/energy systems with the ability to absorb enough information to behave in predictable ways. It is possible that dark matter has the same ability to absorb information and mimic, parrot fashion, human behaviour.
This ability to mimic human sound and shape could account for the phenomenon known as EVP, whereby operators capture what sounds like human speech on magnetic tape. Electronic equipment is undoubtedly more sensitive to dark matter than the human eye and ear. In addition to EVP, numerous cameras have captured unexplained lights and shadows – do not forget the poltergeist peccadillo for playing with electric lights and television sets. Another interesting observation is that, judging by the number of successful exorcisms, these “presences” do respond to ritual, whether Christian or pagan. Of course, most poltergeist activity just fades away without any negotiation or intervention. All forms of matter/energy are destined to degrade and fall apart, at some point. I have more, much more to think about, including exploring why children and young people seem particularly susceptible to haunting. My enquiry into the supernatural and the super normal continues.
Paranormal Witness, as broadcast on Really TV. In the UK, a new series of Paranormal Wittness begins on Thurdsay, November 8, at 9 pm