Smoking Guns: #1 – Night Fog – Possible Conclusion

Posted on April 12, 2012


[The following is a possible explanation (of sorts) to the events described in my last post, Smoking Guns: #1 – Night Fog. I want to stress that this isn’t really an explanation, just a suggested possibility — a suggested possibility that, itself, relies upon the paranormal.]

Philip Aylesford as drawn by one of the group members.

In 1972, the Toronto Society of Psychical Research embarked upon an experiment to see if they could conjure up a ghost.

Let me be clear about this — their aim was not to contact a ghost, but to conjure one up out of their imaginations. The idea was to see if the various phenomena associated with spiritualism could be attributed to the mind alone.

To this end, they assembled a group of people who neither claimed nor showed any special psychic abilities. Led by Dr. A.R.G Owen, whose day job was with the Department For Preventative Medicine and Biostatistics at the University of Toronto, but who also investigated purported cases of poltergeist activity, the group then set about creating a fictitious background for their ghost. “It was essential to their purpose,” said Dr. Owen, “that Philip be a totally fictitious character. Not merely a figment of the imagination but clearly and obviously so, with a biography full of historical errors.”

The result was Philip Aylesford, an aristocrat married to a cold, unloving wife. When he fell in love with a beautiful gypsy, his wife had her accused of witchcraft and she was burned at the stake. Shortly thereafter, Philip committed suicide out of remorse. One of the group members drew a portrait, so that they could envision their creation better.

For several months the group got together on a weekly basis and conducted “séances” to contact the spirit of Philip. Eventually they convinced themselves they could feel a “vibration” in the table around which they sat. Shortly afterwards they started hearing knocks, which they used as a “yes” and “no” code for questions and answers.

And then the table started moving.

There were several filmings of their experiment, including one for the CBC, at which 50 spectators were also present. A book was written about the experiment, Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis, which details the events. About ten years ago I managed to contact the main cameraman, who graciously gave me a video of his footage.

It was both astounding, and disappointing.

The astounding part was the amount of activity. The table didn’t just rise up — it tilted, swerved, and scooted across the room.

The disappointing aspect came from looking at it with a magician’s eyes. There isn’t a single frame in which the entire table can be seen while in motion. There are too many camera cuts. The angles are often irritating, in that they allow people and objects to block the view.

None of which is to say that it was faked. After all, there was a crowd of people watching the CBC demonstration, and even though you couldn’t always see the entire table when you want to, the camera does move around and you can see parts of the table that were hidden a moment earlier. It’s difficult to conceive how such a phenomenon could be faked, but then, it’s difficult to conceive how anyone could place an English penny and a dollar coin in his hand, close it, and without any other movement, open up his hand again it to reveal nothing but the dollar coin, which is then passed around for inspection. Yet I’ve done that myself on numerous occasions.

"Father Christmas" is often synonymo...

The “Philip” experiment was conducted by two other groups who created their own fictional ghosts and reported that they experienced similar results. At a social gathering at which various members from the groups got together, someone jokingly called out, “Is anyone there,” and received a loud knock on the wall. They asked if it was Father Christmas, and then proceeded to have a discussion with Santa Claus.

I presume by now you can see where I’m going with this.

If, and it’s a mighty big “if,” it’s possible for a group of people to conjure up a fictional ghost, is it possible that Val and I conjured up the “spirit” in our apartment? Our first “encounter’ with it would be completely unremarkable from an objective viewpoint, since not only was the experience completely subjective, but we had admittedly smoked some very nice weed prior to it. Perhaps we imagined it at first, but then somehow caused our imagined entity to take on a kind of life of its own. There was certainly nothing from the apartment’s past to suggest that anything of note had ever happened there, and the area we lived was about as normal as you could get. No secret Indian graveyards, no buildings that had once housed the criminally insane. Just a second floor apartment built sometime in the 1930s or ’40s in a small town. Furthermore, for such a sinister presence (and we can all swear to the palpable fear it inspired), it was surprisingly cooperative about leaving. One quick ceremony from a book, and it was gone.

If I have a theory concerning this incident, it would have to be that we had unwittingly created our own “Philip.” A lousy theory, I admit, since I’m not entirely convinced that the Philip phenomena were authentic.

Still, it’s the best I’ve got.