PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Ghosts, Hauntings & Related Phenomena

Written by Jason Pettit

Predominantly people are brought up to believe that ghosts are caused by deceased people coming back to visit. Movies, ghost stories and popular folklore have made this a very popular view indeed. However, considering we’re dealing with the realm of the unknown here why limit ourselves to one cause? Consider another possibility, one in which the living are the cause. Imagine if our minds were capable of leaving emotions and records of significant events in our lives behind like graffiti on a wall, only to later manifest themselves in the physical world years after we are gone. The result would seem like a traditional haunting to us but in fact would be the product of our own brain and some unknown power of nature. This doesn’t sound very spiritual, and one might argue takes all of the fun out of ghosts. Science can do that but it can still leave us amazed nonetheless.

It has a few names….Residual Energy, Psychic Imprint, Stone Tape….and many others. Basically what it explains is that when something dramatic or traumatic happens to us our emotions can become so strong they can be embedded into the surrounding environment like shrapnel. Much like a record has grooves that have the potential to emit sounds under the right circumstances our minds too could make a recording that could be played back under exact conditions. Some sort of complex type of brainwave or maybe even the type of medium being imprinted upon must be present to produce the reaction.


The idea of emotional imprint was first introduced to a wider audience through a 1972 BBC 2 production entitled, “The Stone Tape”. In this Christmas special a group of scientists move into their new research centre which happens to be a haunted Victorian mansion. While investigating they discover the haunting is actually a recording of past events absorbed by the stone walls. This production was one of the influences for Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film Poltergeist. Before this, in 1961 Thomas Charles Lethbridge published Ghost and Ghoul dealing with this phenomenon. Although the above examples were written as works of fiction they still inspired many to rethink what a ghost really was. Such is the way with mass media and its influence on societal opinions, but sometimes it comes up with some interesting points.


The historical repeater has a place in embedded memory theory. Here, the apparition, or activity, is regular in its habits. It walks through the same area, moves the same way and does not interact with its surroundings…like a recording. Take also the accounts of phantom footsteps heard on stairs occurring with regularity. Using our imagination we could see a person who lived in the same house for many years and had very set routines. Every day they would come home at the same time and trudge up the stairs….over and over. If memory were strong enough even the absence of the body who made those steps might not stop the sound reverberating through the halls the way it always did. This would effectively carve a lasting groove similar to the worn treads on those same set of old stairs.


Perhaps a traumatic experience is required to create enough energy to imprint the moment on the environment…a murder or car crash. So what we are seeing or experiencing today may not be the ghost of the victim but the emotional energy which poured out of them at that time and is now slowly dissipating in the form of past echoes. This does beg the question though…why do high emotions imprint themselves in the first place? What’s the reason we are witnessing that soldier walk down the hallways of an old fort exactly the way he did 150 years ago? Maybe it’s a kind of distress beacon left behind by the deceased as a last ditch hope to help the living understand what happened.


Some believe that emotional imprint could be responsible for haunted objects…the rocking chair that rocks itself, or even ghost cars or ghost ships. During a lifetime people get very attached to some objects, pouring their love and affection into it, carrying it everywhere. Years of constant contact and exposure to emotions could have unknown effects on inanimate objects, residue that lingers after the host is long gone. One could easily imagine an object such as this gaining a bit of sentience.


On the theme of cherished objects this theory also proposes that it may play a part in accounts where a ghost is seen that is completely out of context with its surroundings. A pioneer in a high rise apartment seems completely absurd but what if a piece of antique furniture brought in by the tenant used to belong to the apparition? If this piece of furniture, or some other inanimate object was something near and dear to the deceased pioneer, then, as this theory explains, could part of him/her not have passed along to the object?


Unfortunately the theory is short on explanations as to how we are able to imprint these memories, other than it may have something to do with energy emitted from our own minds….brain waves. There really is quite a lot of electrical activity going on in the brain in the form of Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta waves. In regular circumstances it’s doubtful whether enough energy could be created to affect the physical world but under those exact circumstances hinted at by the theory, maybe a surge is possible…creating a different kind of energy with unique characteristics from those of other types of energy. The brain really is one of the last scientific frontiers, there’s so much going on in there that we don’t know about…a little disconcerting when you think that we go around each day with an extremely sophisticated biological machine of which we have seemingly little control over. The future to understanding many aspects of the unknown, including memory imprinting, may lie in brain research.


Psychics who claim to be able to pick up on past events and emotions may actually already have the tools needed to interpret embedded emotions. Even now one hears about the occasional police case where a psychic is called in to help. If this power could be understood and harnessed then it would be very beneficial to investigations into violent crime. Not to mention what we could learn about ourselves through the past.


This all seems to be something in the realm of science fiction but many things we take for granted today seemed far fetched years ago, so we never can tell what will be possible if given more time and experimentation.



Jason Pettit – April 2011



References and further reading