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Accoustic Influence
Tuesday, 02 December 2003
Are the Psychological and Physiological Experiences in Certain “Haunted” Locations A Result of Acoustic Influences?
© Mostly Haunted 2003

Ian R Thompson

In some locations that are reportedly haunted, visitors experience phenomena that cannot be properly described. Some people may report that they felt a presence, or that something didn’t feel quite right. An apparition may not necessarily be seen at these locations, but the sensations felt are enough to convince people that a haunting is in process.

It could be argued then, that these sensations are not the result of paranormal activity but they are the result of other factors that can be explained scientifically. It is entirely possible that the sensations experienced in certain “haunted” locations are the result of acoustic influences.

Sound is very much like light. Both travel in waves, and both can be broken down to create a spectrum. With light, there exists white light that is visible to the naked eye. However, there are wavelengths of light that cannot be seen by the naked eye. There are the ultra violet and infrared wavelengths which exist outside the reception of the human eye. Sound also has a spectrum that can be heard. It is between 20Hz and 20,000Hz, and it also has sound beyond that spectrum. Not surprisingly these are infrasound (sub 20Hz) and ultrasound (beyond 20,000Hz). It is common knowledge that animals such as dogs can hear noise in the ultrasonic wavelength, but a human ear can also “hear” sounds beyond this spectrum. Infrasound, for instance, can cause a build up in pressure within the inner ear that is sufficient to disturb the sense of balance of the receiver, but it cannot be heard.

Inanimate objects can also be effected by sound waves. The classic example is that of the opera singer reaching such a high note and frequency that they can cause a glass to shatter. For centuries, noise has been used to unnerve people in the form of a war cry to the more recent playing of Twisted Sister continuously outside the Vatican Embassy in Panama by the Americans as they tried to oust General Noriega. In the animal world some creatures use infrasound to physically stun their prey, such as the sperm whale and tiger. Herodotus in his book of history made reference to a wind that made people turn mad. This wind was the Sirocco of the Sahara Desert, which was referred to in Lyall Watson’s book Heaven's Breath in 1984. Further research into infrasound conducted since the early 1960s by NASA showed that infrasound waves between 0Hz and 100Hz created, in humans, breathing irregularities, gagging, and headaches. Indeed, the range between 7Hz and 8Hz was found to be the most harmful to humans as it matched the resonant frequency of flesh. This could, in theory, create the same effect on a human being as the opera singer can cause on a glass. It was later found that people exposed to infrasound at 19Hz experienced distorted vision. This was due to the fact that at 19Hz the eyeballs began to vibrate.

Perhaps the best example of infrasound possibly being responsible for the psychological and physiological effects in a reportedly haunted location is some of the experiences found within the Edinburgh Vaults in Scotland. The Edinburgh Vaults were constructed between 1790 and 1820 underneath the city’s South Bridge. They were home to many families and tradesmen but, due to excessive damp, the vaults were rendered useless and filled in. They had a gruesome history, as they were the scene of many murders committed by Burke and Hare, the infamous “Bodysnatchers”, to supply medical students with fresh bodies to study anatomy. They were rediscovered in the 1980s and excavated. Now open to the public a significant number of visitors report a feeling of unease and even illness when they visit this place. This is often attributed to the energy left by the spirits of Burke and Hare, and their many victims. However, it is also important to note that the Edinburgh Vaults are situated beneath a busy flyover, namely the South Bridge that is subjected to a heavy flow of traffic. In research conducted by Dr Richard Wiseman on 4th April 2001, it was found that the larger the room within the Edinburgh vaults, the more likely it was to be regarded as haunted. It could be argued that the vibrations of this traffic cause infrasound within the frequency known to affect the human senses, creating a feeling of general unease and vision distortion. In a larger room these waves could become amplified and give the impression of a “greater presence”. These feelings, in conjunction with a heightened sense of suggestion brought on by knowledge of the location’s history, could be interpreted as a paranormal experience.

The theory that some psychological experiences in “haunted” locations are down to acoustic influences is too important to ignore. An objective investigator will always look for rational explanations for phenomena, and as such, investigation into the presence of infrasound at an alleged haunted location should also be conducted. This is not to say that all hauntings can be explained through infrasound merely that some of the psychological and physiological experiences may be a result of this phenomenon. The infrasound theory cannot explain certain physical experiences such as the feeling of being touched, smells, and the movement of physical objects, and these should still be investigated on their own merits. However, it is important to be open to rational explanations into reportedly paranormal incidents, and as such, the infrasound theory, if properly investigated, may go some way to explaining some “hauntings”.
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