Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 28: The London Underground

Image Source: sophieadamsdesign. Image (1 May 2011) © Sophie Adams. Reproduced with kind permission.

It's the witching hour again - a time when experts try to outwit, debunk and explain away disembodied and disturbed souls that witnesses claim are still tied to earth. For this installment in this Hallowe'en countdown, I'm turning to the London Underground (Hat tip: Ghostwatching). London's famous subway is the site of mortal crimes and accidents, and many suicides. To build the subway lines, crypts, graveyards and mass burial plague pits had to be excavated and the bodies removed. With this morbid history, it's no wonder that the Tube is reputed to be a frightening place, especially after hours. In a 2005 Channel Five UK television special, Tube workers testified to strange experiences, particularly in areas of the system that are closed to the public. And paranormal investigators have tried to account for these happenings. The late Vic Tandy from Coventry University assessed a deep, closed section of the Tube, and the results were hair-raising.

Tandy pioneered a theory that what we perceive as ghostly presences are in fact infrasound - sounds that exist outside our normal hearing range. He called the particular sound at 19 Hz, the 'Fear Frequency.'  The Wiki entry on infrasound states:
Infrasound has been known to cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. Since it is not consciously perceived, it can make people feel vaguely that supernatural events are taking place. The infrasound and low-frequency noise produced by some wind turbines is believed by some to cause "wind-turbine syndrome" (headaches, dizziness, nausea) in humans. ... On May 31, 2003, a team of UK researchers held a mass experiment where they exposed some 700 people to music laced with soft 17 Hz sine waves played at a level described as "near the edge of hearing", produced by an extra-long-stroke subwoofer mounted two-thirds of the way from the end of a seven-meter-long plastic sewer pipe. ... The participants were not told which pieces included the low-level 17 Hz near-infrasonic tone. The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest. In presenting the evidence to British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Richard Wiseman said, "These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound. Some scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost—our findings support these ideas."
In the 1980s, Kate Bush wrote a song called Experiment IV about the use of sonic weapons that could kill (a recent remix is here). There is something to this; the Wiki entry on sonic weapons is here, which notes that exposure to infrasonic frequencies for periods longer than fifteen minutes injures brain tissue. One can see how a site, say, a house, which for some reason has infrasonic sounds constantly emitted would cause people to be fearful. And if they remained there over time, they might actually experience brain injuries and possible associated hallucinations.

Vic Tandy tested his theory about infrasound in the scariest parts of the Underground. He believed the sound of 19 Hz (or below), does not just give us the creeps because it's a sound we can't hear. Sound waves cause vibrations. Specifically, according to NASA, a sound wave at 18 Hz is the resonant frequency of the human eye; in other words, we see things because that level of sound causes our eyeballs to start vibrating. From Wiki:
Research by Tandy, a lecturer at Coventry University, suggested that an infrasonic signal of 19 Hz might be responsible for some ghost sightings. Tandy was working late one night alone in a supposedly haunted laboratory at Warwick, when he felt very anxious and could detect a grey blob out of the corner of his eye. When Tandy turned to face the grey blob, there was nothing.

The following day, Tandy was working on his fencing foil, with the handle held in a vise. Although there was nothing touching it, the blade started to vibrate wildly. Further investigation led Tandy to discover that the extractor fan in the lab was emitting a frequency of 18.98 Hz, very close to the resonant frequency of the eye given as 18 Hz by NASA. This was why Tandy had seen a ghostly figure—it was an optical illusion caused by his eyeballs resonating. The room was exactly half a wavelength in length, and the desk was in the centre, thus causing a standing wave which caused the vibration of the foil.

Tandy investigated this phenomenon further and wrote a paper entitled The Ghost in the Machine. Tandy carried out a number of investigations at various sites believed to be haunted, including the basement of the Tourist Information Bureau next to Coventry Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle.

Tandy's research reminds me of a disturbing horror film from 2004, Creep, which was not about ghosts in the Tube, but monsters. The exposition in the opening scenes of this film certainly captured the mood in London at the time, and gave some dark hints about what could happen to you if you missed your last train and got trapped in a station after it closed. The movie's trailer is here.

And of course, John Landis, the director of the 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London recognized the Tube's innate creepiness late at night. Landis produced some memorable footage that needed no effects at all - based on terrifying camera work through long, echoing, white tunnels that ran up against empty, churning escalators. The film celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.

For a site on disused stations of the Underground, go here; also Abandoned Tube Stations, here.
For other posts on this series, see Phantoms and Monsters, here; Top Documentary Films, here.
The BBC has a list of ghosts in the London Underground, here.

See all my posts on Horror themes.

See all my posts on Ghosts.

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  1. I've been on two trips to London, used the Underground both times without any notion of it's ghastly history. Yeek. -J.

  2. Yes, it's awful - I think the fluffers, who walk between the stations at night in the dark and gather balls of hair that accumulate after flying off people's heads from the platforms, have the worst job in the Tube. Now add to that the fact that they walk through incredibly creepy lonely areas with histories of hundreds of suicides and accidental deaths.

  3. I don't know, sweets... infrasound, electromagnetic fields:
    (http://emf.mercola.com/sites/emf/emf-dangers.aspx), radio-frequency fields... it sounds as if the hounds of hell are upon us in the most insidious ways.

    Who needs a separate holiday when every day is Halloween? ;-)

  4. Thanks for making me literally laugh out loud, Dia. Yes, the thought had occurred to me that the scientific explanations for ghosts are actually scarier than the basic belief that there are a bunch of pissed off dead guys wandering around in old houses and freaked out dead women and children hiding under our beds and in our closets. In a sense, the latter are pretty straightforward tales about actions, consequences and the complexities of human nature when exposed to violence and suffering. The former - that we are surrounded by banal machines that we think of as happy helpful tools and are actually emitting waves of energy that are damaging our health and our psychology and we don't even get it - yes, that is Hallowe'en every day.

  5. Hey, if I'm not good for a laugh then I'm good for nothing! ;-)

    But, yeah, you've nailed it... scientific explanations for things that go bump in the night are far more creepier than our ghosties and our bogeymen. At least the ghosts intimate a possible survival after death... whereas scientifically we don't have a chance in hell to survive past tomorrow... Let's face it, we dance on the edge of doom... may as well eat some candy! ;-)

  6. That brings in the Steve Jobs angle, somehow, I think. Seriously, though, there are several things going on here. First the daily reality that Jobs helped create, while amazing, is in fact generating its own virtual/spiritual dimension. Secondly, tvs and cell phones and computers and gadgets are emitting radiation that possibly has an impact on the physical health of our bodies and our minds (I don't normally subscribe to way out theories on this stuff, but since we are talking about it, the health impact of computer generated EMF is something you brought up). Thirdly, the rise of digitial recorders and tools creates the illusion that we can debunk, rationalize and measure these things normally relegated to the realm of spiritual belief. That just moves the goalposts of spiritual belief and/or merges the capacities of said gadgets with our spiritual belief. In other words, we may trick ourselves into believing in something because we think we understand it or have explained or measured it, and we may even become addicted to, or believe in the tools that lead us to these semi-miraculous revelations. I think with digital measurements of the unknowable, there is always another boundary to cross, and that is taking us to further and further extremes of what we think we can rationally understand. Before we know it, rational understanding will be well into the region of pure faith.

  7. I agree... I'm under the impression that science has become the new religion for many people, if not, yet, the masses.... sort of a variation of a "brave new world". On the other hand, we have a rather large group of religious fundamentalists trying to maintain relevance and a "piece of the pie"... in other words, it's becoming increasingly distasteful in either direction one looks...

    So, let them eat chocolate!

  8. Yeah, I think the EMF EVP stuff will come up in a later post. 'Measuring ghosts' sounds like a 'seemed like a good idea at the time' thing. Next thing you know, they will be trying to measure angels, demons, gods ...