On the Possible Mechanism of Ball Lightning, and Other Luminous Effects

Ball_lightning

If one were to take to a trip in the darkening autumn months to North Carolina, USA, and park up at Brown Mountain Overlook, somewhere between Morganton and Linville on Highway 181, one would have a good chance of witnessing the ‘Brown Mountain Lights’, a series of glowing orange spheres that hover just above the horizon.

Legend has it that these lights have appeared since the earliest days of the thirteenth century, although the first record that appears in print is from September 1913, in an article that appeared in the Charlotte Daily Observer. This article details the account of a local fisherman who witnessed these mysterious orbs appear several times over the space of a month.

Reports of these lights continued, prompting a formal US Geological Study in 1922. This study determined that the Brown Mountain Lights were nothing more mysterious than the misidentified lights of automobiles or trains.

So far, so mundane.

But, not long after the study was completed, an enormous deluge struck the area, completely flooding all the local roads and tracks, cutting off power and halting all traffic.

And yet, the lights continued. If anything, they grew more frequent.

They are still spotted to this day.

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So, just what are the Brown Mountain Lights? One theory postulates that they are examples of a phenomenon known as ball lightning.

Ball lightning is often, but not exclusively, witnessed during a thunderstorm. Unlike the split second flash of traditional lightning bolts, ball lightning manifests as a spherical, luminous orb ranging from the size of a pea to several metres in diameter. These orbs hover, pass through solid objects, burning or melting as they go, before exploding violently or fading away, leaving a lingering smell of sulfur behind.

Owing to the unpredictability and infrequency of the phenomenon, actual scientific data remains scarce. Its existence is almost entirely predicated on witness reports throughout history.

A few examples:

In July of 1852, during a particularly fierce storm, a tailor living in Paris witnessed a ball the size of a human head appear in the fireplace. This ball proceeded to travel around the room at waist height, before returning to the fireplace, floating up the chimney stack and exploding. The top of the stack was blown apart.

In April of 1925, in the town of Bischofswerda, Germany, multiple witnesses saw a large glowing orb land near a postman. This orb travelled along a telephone wire to a school, knocked a teacher who happened to be using a telephone to her feet, and bored several perfectly round tennis ball-sized holes through a glass pane. Over 200 metres of wire were melted that day, and numerous telephone poles destroyed.

In August of 1970, in the town of Sidmouth, UK, a large, sizzling red-lit ball appeared over the area during a violent thunderstorm. The ball exploded, knocking out nearly 2,000 television sets.

There are many more of these incidents scattered throughout history.

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In 2002, one Associate Professor John Abrahamson, a chemical engineer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, presented a theory to the Physics World Digest. This theory states that ball lightning is no more than a chemical reaction of silicon particles burning in the air.

First, a bolt of lightning strikes the ground. The tremendous energy present in the strike vaporises the ground, forcing a puff of hot silicon vapour to expand upward (silicon being the most common element in the ground).

This vapour then condenses into tiny particles, and electrical charges pull these particles into tiny threads. These threads are hot, very hot, and they begin to burn with the oxygen present in the air, forming a ball. The weight of the silicon is enough to counter the upward buoyancy, so the ball floats, as opposed to flying upwards.

Once all the silicon has been burned through, the ball either explodes or dies out.

Whilst Associate Professor Abrahamson’s theory is certainly interesting, it is worth noting that, for all his experiments, he has been unable to actually create an incidence of ball lightning under laboratory conditions.

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In 1936, a small team of investigators from the newly formed Psychical Research and Investigation Society travelled to the city of Ural’sk (now Oral) in the Kazakh region of the Soviet Union, to investigate an elderly medium known locally as Madame Sokolov.

According to the investigator’s notes, over the course of several sessions, Madame Sokolov was able to manifest small orbs of coloured light. She was able to control these orbs to a certain degree, making them rise to the ceiling and drop to the floor, and change in size and luminosity.

Astounded by this, the Society paid a not inconsiderable amount of money to have the medium brought to their Laboratory in London for extensive testing.

It is also worth noting here that, for all the Society’s experiments, they and Madame Solokov were unable to create any orbs of lights under laboratory conditions.

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In conclusion, ball lightning appears to be like so many incidents of paranormal phenomenon; ephemeral and difficult to pin down, existing only as eyewitness accounts and indistinct images, ghost lights and will-o’-the-wisps.

Once again, without someone willing to invest the time, money and resources into an extensive investigation, I fear the answer to the creation of ball lightning will remain a mystery.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

More info on the Brown Mountain Lights can be found here – C.R. 

The CIA, Remote Viewing and Project Stargate

This entry is from the collection of water damaged pages I found in the files. Once again, the first part is almost illegible, but from what I gather it’s Dr Gotobed’s thoughts on something called ‘remote viewing’. The following is all I could salvage – C.R. 

Cia-lobby-seal

… in 1991 when the CIA rolled these various disparate programmes into one: Project Stargate.

The work that took place at Fort Meade, Maryland was primarily concerned with ‘remote viewing’, the apparent ability to ‘view’ sites and events, gathering information from a great distance using extrasensory perception.

Very little verifiable data was collected, and Project Stargate closed in 1995. Indeed, it is now considered to be yet another of the US governments attempts at spreading disinformation during the Cold War and beyond. After all, it is no bad thing if your enemies are under the impression that ‘psychic spies’ are watching their every move.

However, as is often the case with such things, there is evidence to suggest that the CIA had some success with their remote viewing experiments, beyond mere propaganda.

The following are excerpts taken from official CIA records*. The subject was one Joseph McMoneagle, a former NCO, also known as ‘Remote Viewer No.1’.

McMoneagle was led to a shielded room, handed a sealed envelope and only told that it contained a time period and a general location.

He was told not to open this envelope until the conclusion of the experiment. He was also told that he would be given more specific geographical coordinates during the session.

The identity of the monitor was not recorded.

File1

TRANSCRIPT

MON: (ROJ for 5/22 (May 22nd), time 10.09am.)

MON: All right now, using the information in the envelope I’ve provided, exclusively focusing your attention now… focus on 40.89 degrees north, 9.55 degrees west.

SUB: … I want to say it looks like ah… I don’t know, it sort of looks… I kind of got an oblique view of a ah… pyramid or pyramid form. It’s very high… it’s yellowish. Ocher coloured. 

MON: All right. Move in time to the time indicated in the envelope I’ve provided you and describe what’s happening. 

SUB: I’m tracking severe, severe clouds, more like dust storm, ah… it’s a geologic problem. Seems to be like a ah… Just a minute, I’ve got to iron this out. It’s really weird. 

MON: Just report your raw perceptions at this time, you’re still early in the session. 

SUB: I’m looking at, at a… after effect of a major geologic problem. 

MON: Go back to the time before the geologic problem. 

###

SUB: …I’m seeing ah… It’s like a perception of a shadow of people, very tall.. thin, it’s only a shadow. It’s as if they were there and they’re not, not there anymore. 

MON: Go back to a period of time where they are there. 

SUB: … Um … [mumbling] It’s like I get a lot of static on a line and everything, it’s breaking up all the time, very fragmentary pieces. 

MON: Just report the raw data, don’t try to put things together, just report the raw data. 

SUB: I just keep seeing very large people. They appear thin and tall, but they’re very large. Ah… wearing some kind of strange clothes. 

###

SUB: … Deep inside of a cavern, not a cavern, more like canyon. Um, I’m looking up, up the sides of a steep wall that seems to go on forever. And there’s like ah… a structure with a… it’s like the wall of the canyon itself has been carved. Again, I’m getting a very large structures, no… ah… no intricacies, huge sections of smooth stone. 

MON: Do the structures have insides and outsides? 

SUB: … Yes, they’re very, it’s like a rabbit warren, corners of rooms, they’re really huge, I don’t, feel like I’m standing in one it’s just really huge. Perception is that the ceiling is very high, walls very wide. 

###

SUB: They have a ah… marker thing that’s very large, keep getting Washington Monument overlay, it’s like an… obelisk. 

###

SUB: It’s filtered from storms or something. 

MON: Say that again, SUB. 

SUB: They’re like shelters from storms. 

MON: These structures you’re seeing? 

SUB: Yes, they’re designed for that. 

MON: All right. Go inside one of these and find some activity to tell me about. 

SUB: Different chambers… but they’re almost stripped of any kind of… furnishings or anything, it’s like ah… strictly functional place for sleeping or that’s not a good word, hibernations, some form, I can’t, I get real raw inputs, storms, savage storm, and sleeping through storms. 

MON: Tell me about the ones who sleep through the storms. 

SUB: …Ah… very… tall again, very large… people, but they’re thin, they look thin because of their height and they dress like in, oh hell, it’s like a real light silk, but it’s not flowing type of clothing, it’s like cut to fit. 

MON: Move close to one of them and ask them to tell you about themselves. 

SUB: They’re ancient people. They’re ah… they’re dying, it’s past their time or age. 

MON: Tell me about this. 

SUB: They’re very philosophic about it. They’re looking for ah… a way to survive and they just can’t. 

###

MON: All right, now before you leave this individual, ask him if there is any way that you, ask him if he knows who you are and is there any way you can help him in his present predicament? 

SUB: … All I get is that they must just wait. Doesn’t know who I am. Think he perceives I’m a hallucination or something. 

Mars

The megalithic architecture and strange, shadow-like beings are, of themselves, curious enough. But the real twist in the tale occurred when McMoneagle opened the sealed envelope given to him at the start of the experiment.

The location he was asked to remotely view was the planet Mars. The time period: one million years BC.

One finds oneself questioning the CIA’s logic of sending ‘Remote Viewer No.1’ (via psychic projection or otherwise) all the way to the Red Planet, and so far back in time. None of what McMoneagle saw is verifiable, and it is very difficult to see how what he experienced has any practical application, especially during the Cold War.

Further files relating to the Stargate Project were released at the same time as the one I have detailed above. They mostly detail the minutiae of failed experiments, and the ones that hold the promise of something more interesting are, once again, heavily redacted.

How I have come to loathe those solid black bars that almost seem to revel in obscuring the truth.

*I found the full transcript of the experiment here, on the official CIA website. It’s even more batshit when read in its complete form. 

From what I can gather, the next few pages are about ‘astral projection’. A friend of mine has agreed to have a go at restoring them, so , fingers crossed, I’ll be able to present them to you at some point in the future – C.R.

Thoughts on Place Memory and Residual Hauntings

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In 1890, the parapsychologist Edmund Gurney put forth an idea that he coined place memory. At its most basic level, place memory postulates that certain locations are capable of ‘recording’ emotions, sights, and sounds, particularly during times of extreme stress and trauma. If the conditions are right, these recordings can be played back, creating what can be called a ‘residual’ haunting.

These replays are strictly that: a facsimile of an event passed. Nothing more, nothing less. They will not, indeed, they cannot, interact with observers (unlike apparent poltergeist activity).

They also appear to be limited to the environment as it was when the initial event occurred. This may explain why these replays sometimes appear to travel through solid walls where a doorway may once have stood, or partially below ground level, perhaps treading where an original floor may have existed.

If such a thing as place memory can occur, it may well explain the scores of accounts I have collected of people witnessing such residual hauntings. Accounts such as that shared by one Harry Martindale*.

From the York Echo, dated 25th October 2014:

Harry Martindale was an 18-year-old plumber’s apprentice in 1953 when he saw at least 20 Roman soldiers, visible only from the knees up, marching through the cellar of the Treasurer’s House.

Harry, who went on to become a policeman for some 25 years, claimed he saw a soldier wearing a helmet emerge from a wall, followed by a cart horse and twenty other soldiers. Scared witless, he fell from his ladder and stumbled into a corner.

He was so terrified by what he saw that he took two weeks off work with shock. Friends laughed at his story, so he kept quiet about his spooky sighting until the 1970s, when he was interviewed by a group of academics for television, and York’s most famous ghostly tale was born.

It emerged that an old Roman road ran through the garrison where the Treasurer’s House was later built, and was about 15 inches lower than the cellar floor. The story also gained legitimacy after Harry described several aspects of the Roman soldiers’ clothing that he would not have known at the time.

His son Andrew said Harry was interviewed by various TV stations as the story blew up but, because he worked for the police, he never made any money out of his experiences.

 

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Now, I believe I should address the metaphorical elephant in the room: there is no record of a residual haunting ever being replicated under strict scientific conditions.

I believe there is a very simple explanation for this.

None of it can be replicated under these conditions.

It is the very nature of the scientific method that removes the factors required for the replay to occur. Even the placing of equipment with which to attempt the observation, measurement and recording of a residual haunting is enough to pollute the location with electromagnetic fields, amongst other things (see the observer effect), that are not conducive to activating the replay. There are simply far too many variables at play, variables that are, at best, difficult to predict, let alone control.

Further to this, if emotion is a key factor in the initial recording and playback of these events, how does one go about measuring it? By its very nature, emotion is subjective: there is no equipment to objectively record fear or love, jealousy or sadness.

To create the perfect conditions required to satisfy the scientific method, an event traumatic enough to create a residual haunting would actually need to have occurred inside a laboratory, under controlled and replicable conditions. With the exception of a pair of highly controversial and sadistic ‘experiments’ that took place at Unit 731 during World War 2, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no record of such an event having ever taken place.

Place memory (more commonly referred to nowadays as stone tape theory, after the BBC play broadcast in 1972) is disregarded by mainstream science, and understandably so. By its very nature, it is vague, unquantifiable, and untestable.

And yet mankind’s history is littered with tales of residual hauntings. And why is it that certain locations such as hospitals, prisons, and mental asylums can provoke an intangible sense of dread, as if the very buildings themselves were trying to share with us memories of past misdeeds that have taken place within their grounds?

If only old walls could speak. What tales they might tell.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

More information on the late Harry Martindale’s experience can be found here, and what he witnessed is certainly intriguing. My head tells me that ‘place memory’ can’t be a real thing, but, as the good doctor says, even I’ve walked into certain houses and instantly felt that ‘nope’ feeling – C.R.

On the Possible Mechanism of Poltergeist Activity

This is an excerpt from a much larger file. Sadly, a dozen or so of the pages are water damaged beyond repair and only the following section remains legible – C.R. 

Mechanism1

A key part of the varied palette of recorded phenomena associated with poltergeist activity is the manipulation of solid matter: a much-loved trinket disappearing, only to re-emerge sometime later in a place that had previously been searched thoroughly, a shower of stones apparently falling from the ceiling, a toy building brick thrown through the air by ostensibly invisible hands, mugs and other kitchenware traversing the surface of a table under their own steam.

I could go on.

Here I would like to propose a theory as to the possible mechanism of these phenomena.

First, a thought experiment.

Alan1

This cheerful fellow is Alan. Imagine, if you will, that Alan is a living person, like you and I, except for one crucial difference; Alan exists on this piece of paper in two dimensions, and two dimensions only. He perceives the world in terms of length and width, but he has no concept of height.

If we hover a finger over to the paper, a little to his left, he has no knowledge of it. If we place that finger down, he perceives a flesh-coloured line next to him.

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If we draw an unbroken line next to him, Alan cannot cross this line. He has no way to ‘step over’ it, so to speak.

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By drawing further lines around Alan, we can trap him in a square. His only way out is if we are kind enough to erase a segment of one line and create a door for him to come and go. So Alan is free to carry on with his two-dimensional life as he pleases.

And now we can really start to mess with his world.

Alan4

If we were to take an object, in this case a coin, and place it outside the door, Alan can see it. But if we pick up the coin and place it inside his small room, all Alan can see (remembering that he can only perceive in two dimensions) is the coin disappearing and then reappearing next to him.

If we were to take the coin off the paper and place it in our pocket, as far as Alan knows, that coin has vanished forever.

If we were to blow across Alan, slightly from above, he would see not our pursed lips, but only feel a breeze brush by him in the horizontal plane.

Now, let us extrapolate Alan’s world into three dimensions, bringing his reality into line with our own. What if there were beings that exist ‘above’ Alan and ourselves in a hypothetical fourth dimension? Following our little experiment through to its logical conclusion, would it not be possible for said beings to ‘pick up’ objects from our limited reality and place them in another location, all unperceived by ourselves? And what other little tricks could they play upon us, toying with us in the same way we have been toying with Alan, poking at our reality with hypothetical fingers.

But what purpose would this serve?

SymbolMechanism

I would like to propose another thought experiment. Consider, if you will, a colony of ants living by the side of a footpath. The various member of the colony all have their jobs, and for the most part will go about their business, unconcerned with and untroubled by the lives of the people that stroll by them every day.

But what if one afternoon a small child bends down and prods the ants with a stick? What would these tiny creatures make of such an occurrence? How would such an event fit into their frame of reference?

I am aware of the limitations of this comparison. Ants are not humans; our motivations, our fears and desires, even our very existence, to us appears considerably more complex. But what if there are things outside of our frame of reference, things that are as different from us as we are from insects?

Indeed, prod a line of ants with a stick and they will do their best to minimise the disruption and carry on with their business.

In my experience, most people, when confronted by something far out of their range of comprehension, tend to do the same.

 

From what I can gather, the next section goes on to detail the good doctor’s ideas as to why teenagers are more susceptible to being harassed by poltergeist phenomenon, and that’s about all I can glean from the ruined pages. It’s a real shame that more of this file hasn’t survived – C.R.

Pennies (and Other Objects) From Heaven

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Throughout history there have been cases of strange things raining from the sky, as if some unseen celestial prankster is making merry at our expense.

In Gorsky, Russia, 1940, thousands of silver coins tumble to the earth, much to the delight of the local peasants.

In Kendarington, England, 1989, a couple in a churchyard witness a shower of coins. The coins themselves are dated between 1902 and 1953, ‘old money’ in the UK, and therefore of no real value to anyone.

In Columbus, Ohio, the United States, 1991, thousands of dollar bills descend to the streets. Upstanding citizens hand over $500 to the authorities. One can only presume that the rest of the money is ‘absorbed’ into the local economy.

But it is not always currency that assails us from above.

In Queensland, Australia, 1989, thousands of dead sardines fall from the heavens ‘like a sheet of silver rain’ about the house of Mr and Mrs Degen. The Degen’s fill a bowlful of the fish for their cat, Winksy, and keep a couple for themselves as souvenirs. The police report from that day details that the fall of fish is confined to an area of two acres around the Degen property, and no more. The remaining sardines are quickly snaffled up by the local wildlife, no doubt to Winksy’s dismay.

In Stroud, England, 1987, a two day bout of torrential rain brings with it thousands of tiny striped frogs that bounce off umbrellas and land on pavements, hopping away to nearby lakes and streams. The frogs are of the species Allobates olfersiodes or the Rio Rocket, native to the forests of Eastern Brazil. Two days later, a similar downpour in Cheltenham brings more of these amphibious travellers.

As previously stated, these events are not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, deep within the pages of The History of the Northern Peoples, by the Swedish writer Olaus Magnus, is a woodcut depicting a fall of fish over his homeland. The book in question was published in 1555.

Modern science attempts to explain these showers as the product of waterspouts or tornadoes, whereby objects or creatures are collected up by powerful winds and then deposited elsewhere. Whilst I concede that this is a possibility, it fails to explain why only a certain species of frog fell in Stroud, or only silver pennies in Gorsky. Science will counter this by stating that, during a tornado, the circular winds will separate whatever it picks up according to specific gravity, rather like a centrifuge. But if this is the case, what happens to the rest of the detritus that said tornado must have also gathered up? Surely we should see further showers of a singular species or denomination further along the storm’s path?

As this appears not to be the case, what are the origins of these flurries of animals and objects? Even I find it difficult to believe that matter, living or otherwise, can be spontaneously created. So it stands to reason that these mysterious sky-borne tourists must have started life somewhere.

KoiBW

On the 4th of March 2002, I received a call from a distressed individual in Hereford, requesting my assistance with one such occurrence. I duly travelled west and was greeted by a local farmer, who regaled me with a tale of several hundred large fish following from the sky the previous night. The fish had landed only on his house and a neighbouring field, and they were very much alive when this occurred. The majority of them had suffocated out of water, but the farmer had managed to save a couple, placing them in a large water butt.

I was a little surprised upon viewing the survivors: they were a pair of mature Koi carp.

I took the fish with the farmer’s blessing and gifted them to a local aquarium, where, to the best of my knowledge, they still reside.

I was at a loss to explain this and, I must concede, it was not long before other, more pressing cases began to occupy my time.

A few months later, a colleague of mine based in Japan sent me a translation of a local newspaper cutting. The article details a Koi farm in the Aichi Prefecture that managed to misplace its entire stock of fish overnight. There were no signs of a break-in, and one suspects the stealing of two hundred-odd examples of valuable carp from a locked building would not only attract some attention, but also be terribly time consuming.

The date this piscatorial heist took place? The 3rd of March, 2002.

Whilst it is definitely possible to draw a correlation between these two events, if some type of a transference did take place, the actual mechanics are, at best, an enigma.

Perhaps it is the work of some unseen celestial prankster after all.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

Notes on the Practice of Seancés

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“Dr Gotobed, my friends/colleagues/associates and I are planning to hold a séance, what guidance can you offer us?” 

In my line of work, this is the question I receive the most, from thrill seekers, the recently bereaved, and the occasional member of law enforcement. I have one simple piece of advice that I tell everyone who asks me this question:

Don’t do it.

The potential risk far outweighs any giddy rush of excitement or snippet of verifiable information that maybe gleaned from attempting to commune with the spirit world. Even if initial contact is successful, there is no guarantee that further sessions will elicit the same results. Indeed, once a door is opened to the other side, it is often very difficult to close.

I have rarely spoken of this, but many moons ago, when I was attending university and not yet a doctor, some friends and I gained possession of an Ouija board. Being young and fearless we decided one night to hold a makeshift sitting. Four of us sneaked into an abandoned and derelict farmhouse, rightly or wrongly believing it to be the appropriate setting for a spiritual adventure. We sat in a circle around our new board, each placed a finger upon the planchette, and began to ask questions of those that dwell in the ether.

Suffice to say, our initial probings were of the mundane variety: the names of first pets, the occupations of long dead grandparents, etc. Much to our surprise, all of our questions were answered correctly. So our interrogation took a darker hue. Spurred on by our success, we began to enquire of things that had yet to pass, and then to challenge whoever or whatever it was that we were communicating with to perform certain acts for us, acts that would prove its existence as a sentient being.

But our hubris was almost our undoing.

I will not share the events of the rest of that fateful evening. All I will say is this; one does not expect to encounter a pale and haggard version of one’s self in a dilapidated farmhouse on a windy night in the East Midlands.

Whatever we contacted that night followed us back to our halls of residence and tormented my friends and I for the next fortnight. Only with the assistance of one of our more open-minded tutors did we manage to shut whatever door we had opened. Of the four of us involved in that ill-fated attempt to contact the ‘other side’, two dropped out of university to return home, starting their studies anew the next year at a different location. The third resides a gibbering wreck in a secure psychiatric hospital.

As for me, this is the incident that set me on the path I currently walk now.

So, to reiterate: my advice to those that are planning to hold a séance? Don’t, for you know not what you meddle with.

Please do not mistake my desire to deter would-be spiritualists or amateur ghost hunters for fear. My only wish is that others do not have to experience the same things I have. Even now, a veritable lifetime later, the sound of a cold wind blowing through a broken window on a dark night still causes me to shudder.

Dr Thomas Gotobed