Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Researchers crowd-source funds to back Ouija board science project

Scientists at a University of British Columbia lab examining human unconsciousness using Ouija boards are taking to the Internet to look for research funds.

Docky Duncan, a research assistant with UBC’s Visual Cognition Lab, said in an interview Tuesday that the project is “off the beaten track” and there has been “incredible difficulty” getting even the modest $2,000 in funding it needs.
“The research methodology is so strange, using the Ouija board and all, that it might be a little too controversial for most grant organizations,” he said.
Without an obvious organization to back the project, Mr. Duncan said researchers had to look to crowd-sourcing as an alternative.
“Grant organizations do great things for a lot of projects, but they definitely have a certain view of what a psychology project should be, and you throw Ouija boards into the mix and a lot of people either think they’re possessed or they’re a total sham and that they have no place in science,” Mr. Duncan said.
Using crowd funding for an academic endeavour isn’t unique: There are websites dedicated specifically to crowd funding science research, such as Experiment (formerly known as Microryza). And UBC is currently working on a UBC-specific crowd-funding tool.
The Ouija project previously launched a six-week funding campaign on Microryza that fell short of its goal. This time, though, Mr. Duncan is hoping the campaign, to be launched at the end of this month, will achieve its desired $2,000 mark.

A Ouija board – a parlour game popular in the early 1900s – was said to magically answer the questions of a circle of participants who all placed their hands on a tear-drop-shaped planchette with their eyes closed. The answers were said to have been channelled from the spirit world. In Canada, its most famous practitioner was William Lyon Mackenzie King, prime minister during the Second World War.

In the UBC experiment, participants are given a series of questions that they first must answer on a computer and are then asked to answer using the Ouija board. During the Ouija board segment, participants are assigned a partner and are blindfolded. Eventually, one of the pair is told to withdraw, leaving the other participant to play alone without knowing it.
The experiment has found participants who cannot answer some of the questions on the computer, can sometimes answer them correctly using the Ouija board, despite being blindfolded. Mr. Duncan said the remaining participant is told at the end that they were moving the board alone.
“Usually they don’t believe us at first,” he said. “When we tell them they were the only ones moving it … usually they think that the deception was that we were just moving it around.”
Ashwin Krishnamurthi, a second-year computer science student at UBC, was a participant in the Ouija experiment and was “amazed” when he found out he was the only one moving the board piece.
“I thought that the other participant was also playing along with me. I felt that the other person was trying to move the piece, but he wasn’t. It was just me,” Mr. Krishnamurthi said.
Mr. Duncan said the researchers believe the experiment shows that there are important unanswered questions about the human mind.

“There’s still a lot that we don’t know about how our brains work and about how our subconscious is organized,” he said. “There are still a lot of questions that we can’t answer and, using this sort of usually-frowned-upon unusual methodology, we can actually start answering some of these really interesting and unanswered questions.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Sea Hag of Bell Island

A supernatural Sea-Hag haunts a Bell Island's Dobbin's Gardens marsh.

Newfoundland's Bell Island is a place steeped in mysteries and legends. These are legends not merely passed down through the generations, but encountered first hand. They mainly revolve around Dobbin's Garden and the nearby marshes. They are stories of an Irish legend, the Banshee, a female spirit appointed to inform families of impending death. She comes in two forms: a beautiful woman in white, and a deformed old hag. Most encounters circle around the latter. Men have been known to walk through the small marshes, only to come out days later, not knowing where they are, or where they had been. They can only remember a putrid smell, and a grotesque old woman, in ragged clothes, crawling towards them from the bushes, forcing them to the ground with the smell of death.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Brief History Of The Ouija Board

As a method of supposed communication with the spirit world, the Ouija board has terrified countless slumber partying children and served as a plot vehicle in a number of Hollywood films. Here’s where it came from.


Ouija boards have their roots in Spiritualism, which began in the United States in the late 1840s. (Claims that ancient Ouija boards existed are unfounded.) The new movement was led by mediums, who claimed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead.
There were a number of ways mediums made followers believe that they were communicating messages from those who had passed. One, table turning, involved the table moving or knocking on the floor in response to letters called out from the alphabet. Another method used planchettes, heart-shaped devices with two wheels at one end and a pencil at the point; users would place their fingers on the device, which would then be guided by spirits who would “write” messages.
Both methods were problematic. Table turning took too long, and planchette writing was hard to decipher. According to the Museum of Talking Boards, some mediums got rid of these methods altogether, preferring to channel while in a trance, while others built complicated tables, dials, and tables painted with letters that required people to use a planchette as a pointer. This method became the most popular—and paved the way for the Ouija board.


In 1886, the New York Daily Tribune reported on a new talking board being used in Ohio. It was 18 by 20 inches and featured the alphabet, numbers, and the words yes, no, good evening, and goodnight; the only other necessary object was a “little table three or four inches high … with four legs” that the spirits could use to identify letters. The brilliance of the board was that anyone could make it—the tools suggested in the article are “a jack-knife and a marking brush."
Operating the board was similarly easy:
You take the board in your lap, another person sitting down with you. You each grasp the little table with the thumb and forefinger at each corner next to you. Then the question is asked, ‘Are there any communications?’ Pretty soon you think the other person is pushing the table. He thinks you are doing the same. But the table moves around to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Then you go on asking question and the answers are spelled out by the legs on the table resting on the letters one after the other.
(Of course, any messages generated probably weren't from spirits; instead, they were likely a result of the Ideomotor effect. This psychological phenomenon was first described in 1852 by William Benjamin Carpenter who, in a scientific paper analyzing how talking boards worked, theorized that muscular movement can be independent of conscious desires.)


These types of talking boards became very popular, and in 1890, Elijah Bond, Charles Kennard and William H.A. Maupin had the idea to turn the board into a toy. They filed the first patent for a game they called the Ouija board, which looked and operated much like the talking boards in Ohio; the patent was granted in 1891. The name, according to Kennard, came from using the board, and was an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” The Kennard Novelty Company manufactured the boards, which were made of five pieces of wood across the face braced by two vertical slats on the back; they retailed for $1.50.
Kennard left the company in 1891, and the Kennard Novelty Company became the Ouija Novelty Company.William Fuld, an employee there, eventually took over production of the boards; in 1901, he began making his own boards under the name Ouija, which Fuld said came from a combination of the French and German words for “yes”—the etymology that is accepted today.
Fuld would go on to design many different versions of the board (he holds more Ouija patents and copyrights than anyone else in history—a grand total of 21 registrations in three countries—including the design for the modern planchette). Because of the board’s huge success, a number of competitors to tried their hands at creating their own Ouija-like devices. Fuld sued many of those copycats, right up until his death in 1927.
In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the family business—which included more than just Ouija boards—to Parker Brothers, which manufactured the modern boards as we know them today. In 1991, Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro, which now holds all the Ouija rights and patents (and might even make a movie based on the game).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Haunted Objects - Robert the Doll

Robert is a doll that was once owned by Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto. The doll is alleged to be possessed by evil spirits and has a terrifying reputation.

The doll, which is allegedly cursed, has become a fixture of ghost tours in the Key West area since it was inducted into the Fort East Martello Museum. Aesthetically, Robert resembles an early 20th-century American Naval officer. Contrary to popular belief, however, the doll's hair is not made of human hair, but rather, it consists of a synthetic material resembling wool yarn.

Eugene was given the doll in 1906 by a Bahamian servant who was skilled in black magic and voodoo and was displeased with the family. Soon afterward, it became clear that there was something eerie about the doll. Eugene's parents said they often heard him talking to the doll and that the doll appeared to be talking back. Although at first they assumed that Eugene was simply answering himself in a changed voice, they later believed that the doll was actually speaking.

Neighbors claimed to see the doll moving from window to window when the family was out. The Otto family swore that sometimes the doll would emit a terrifying giggle and that they caught glimpses of it running from room to room. In the night Eugene would scream, and when his parents ran to the room, they would find furniture knocked over and Eugene in bed, looking incredibly scared, telling them that "Robert did it!". In addition, guests swore that they saw Robert's expression change before their eyes.

When Eugene died in 1974, the doll was left in the attic until the house was bought again. The new family included a ten-year old girl, who became Robert's new owner. It was not long before the girl began screaming out in the night, claiming that Robert moved about the room and even attempted to attack her on multiple occasions. More than thirty years later, she still tells interviewers that the doll was alive and wanted to kill her.

For individuals who visit Robert in the Fort East Martello Museum and wish to take a picture of him, according to legend, the person must ask the doll politely. If he does not agree (by tipping his head to one side), and the individual takes a picture anyway, the doll will curse the person and their family.