The statistics behind ghosts

ghost statistics

The marvellous “Apparitions” by GNM Tyrrell is a book that has been a constant companion through my life as a ghost hunter/paranormal explorer. I believe it is essential reading, even if just to open your mind to various theories and an insight into the first ventures into physical research.  As much as I love this book, sadly I am not a statistician and couldn’t even repeat something as wonderful as this passage..

“A case is given in which a man came out of an upstairs room, in which he had been alone, on to the landing noting the time as he did so. He saw the apparition of an old lady, dressed like his mother, come out of another room on the same floor and descend the stairs.  As he watched the figure going down, his wife came up the stairs, and passed so close to the descending figure that she appeared to him to brush against it.  But she had neither seen nor felt it.  At precisely the same time the percipient’s mother dressed in outdoor clothes as the figure has been, died in another town…

Let us say that the percipient has had only 30 years of intelligent life, and that during those 30 years he has slept for 9 hours a day.  He has then had 15x30x365= 164,250 hours of waking, intelligent life.  Now, in this space of time, he has had one apparition, which resembled his mother and was within a few minutes of her death.  Now, if we say only that it was within a quarter of an hour in which death occurred, there are 164,250 hours = 657,000 quarter hours of life in which that apparition might come; so that the chance of its coming in the right quarter hour was 1/657,000.  But this is on the supposition that the only apparition which could possibly appear to him would be his mother’s, or at least one which resembled his mother.”

Tyrell continues in the chapter to work out the possible chances of witnessing the spectre of his mother exactly at the right time but he sums it up brilliantly, “The weakness of statistics when applied to spontaneous cases is that they unable to deal with the qualitatively complex events in any satisfactory manner.”

And here lies the problem when science approaches paranormal subjects, an experiment must be able to be replicated over and over again, but when dealing with something like the paranormal this simply is not achievable.  Although I wish it was possible to ‘test’ a psychic, I very much doubt that the conditions that Randi places on the psychic are conducive to obtain a psychic reading – but then we have to ask why?