The Infrasound Ghost

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The definition of ‘infrasound’ is sound frequencies that below the normal hearing range of human. In other words, low end sounds (bass frequencies) that are inaudible to humans. However, many scientific studies have revealed that the human ear is actually capable of detecting these low end frequencies, just not on a conscious level.

The following research is primarily founded on a case study of infrasound which was carried out by Richard Wiseman, based on the experience from Vic Tandy, for the Journal of the Society of Psychical Research in 1998.

Vic Tandy’s is of engineering designer background and had been working for a company that manufactured medical equipment during this studied incident. And it was by pure chance that this particular incident had occurred, as he had investigated and discovered what it was that was haunting his workplace.

Tandy had paid no attention and been brushing off various reports from his colleagues of growing discomfort when working in a specific room within the building, of strange experiences and general consensus of the place being haunted. He had simply applied his own logic into the explanation of the reported experiences due to the equipment from within the lab. As these machines are known to emit weird and strange noises, this logic of Tandy seems reasonable as they worked in a company that was in the design of anaesthetic or intensive-care, life support machine. Another element Tandy thought that it could be a contributing factor was the substance the laboratory used, as oxygen and carbon dioxide tanks can cause “problems” when handled appropriately. In time, Tandy gradually started to experience the very same feeling of discomfort as his colleagues; “feeling of depression and occasionally a cold shiver.” He had recalled “one occasion a colleague sitting at the desk turned to say something to V.T. (Tandy) thinking he was by his side. The colleague was surprised when V.T. was found to be at the other end of the room.” In fact, Tandy recalls that he had this very experience during one night, when he was working late by himself when he suddenly had this feeling and felt as though someone or something was watching him in the corner. He continues by stating “a figure slowly emerged to his left. It was indistinct and on the periphery of his vision but moved as V.T. would expect a person to. The Apparition was grey and made no sound. The hair was standing up on V.T.’s neck and there was a distinct chill in the room”. This apparition left his peripheral vision when evenly summoned enough courage to face the supposed entity. Tandy recalls the experience as “it would not be unreasonable to suggest I was terrified.”

This particular incident that inspired Tandy to investigate this paranormal experience within his workplace occurred during one morning, when he had gone into his work to use the laboratory’s workshop to modify his blade as he had entered a fencing competition that following day. He had briefly left his blade within the engineer’s bench vice, only to returned to his blade frantically vibrating in an up and down motion. As sound is vibration, Tandy had figured something was vibrating his blade which was varying in the intensity at a rate equal to the resonant frequency. This frequency is of course the infrasound; frequency the human ear cannot physically hear. Tandy had done a calculation and had figured that the frequency at which his blade was vibrating at was 18.98 Hz or cycles per second.

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Simultaneously, Tandy had not only has discovered the frequency is that of infrasound, but actually discovered that it was pertaining to a standing wave. This was directly due to the layout of the building as the building was “about 10ft wide by 30ft in length. One end was closed off by doors normally kept closed and the other end had a window.” The way that a standing wave works is frequency that have folded back on itself from the reflecting back by the walls at each end, therefore reinforcing the peak energy in the centre of the room – where the paranormal experiences occur.

At this moment, the vibrating blade had presented itself with two questions that needed to be resolved. First question was where was the frequency source coming from and second, how does 19 Hz of infrasound actually affect human. The first riddle was solved fairly quickly as he had found out that a new fan in the extraction system for cleaning the room at the end of the lab was indeed the corporate and when the system was turned off, the standing wave disappeared.

The second question is answered below from the work of Richard Wiseman (1998):

“On page 107 the book lists symptoms caused by frequencies in the range 15-20 Hz. V.T. had no idea of the amount of energy (spl) the infrasound had because we had nothing to measure it with. These effects are quoted by Tempest at a spl range of 125137.5 dB which would be very damaging to hearing if the frequency were in the audible range. It is a considerable amount of power but is not thought of as unreasonable by those V.T. has talked to considering that the energy was originated by a one metre diameter extractor fan driven by something like a 1 kW electric motor. In any case, the symptoms listed by Temple (1976) for low frequency sound waves are; Severe middle ear pain (not experienced), persistent eye watering, and respiratory difficulties, sensations of fear including excessive perspiration and shivering.

Table IV on page 212 of this book shows frequencies causing disturbance to the eyes and vision to be within the band 12 to 27 Hz. A more recent book by Kroemer (1994) describes the effects of low frequency vibration as follows;

“Vibration of the body mostly affects the principal input ports, the eyes, and principal output means, hands and mouth.”(p. 287).

“Exposure to vibration often results in short-lived changes in various physiological parameters such as heart rate…At the onset of vibration exposure, increased muscle tension and initial hyperventilation have been observed.” (p. 280).

Tables 5-12 of Kroemer (1994) on p. 288, indicate that the resonant frequencies of body parts are; Head (2-20 Hz causing general discomfort), Eyeballs (1-100Hz mostly above 8 Hz and strongly 20-70Hz effect difficulty in seeing). However, different sources give different resonant frequencies for the eye itself. The resonant frequency is the natural frequency of an object, the one at which it needs the minimum input of energy to vibrate. As you can see from above, any frequency above 8 Hz will have an effect and some sources quote 40Hz. Most interestingly, a NASA technical report mentions a resonant frequency for the eye as 18 Hz (NASA Technical Report 19770013810). If this were the case then the eyeball would be vibrating which would cause a serious “smearing”of vision. It would not seem unreasonable to see dark

shadowy forms caused by something as innocent as the corner of V.T.’s spectacles. V.T. would not normally be aware of this but its size would be much greater if the image was spread over a larger part of his retina.

Another NASA report (NASA Technical Report 19870046176) mentions hyperventilation as a symptom of whole body vibration. Hyperventilation is characterised by quick shallow breathing and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide retained in the lungs. Note that Tempest (1976) also mentions respiratory difficulties caused by frequencies in our range. Hyperventilation can have profound physiological effects. For example, Flenley (1990) describes the symptoms of hyperventilation as “breathlessness usually at rest, often accompanied by light-headedness, muscle cramps, fear of sudden death and a feeling of difficulty in breathing in”. Fried (1987) describes a panic attack as “a synergistic interaction between hyperventilation and anxiety.” and suggests that as the carbon dioxide is expired physiological changes cause the body to respond by feeling fear. This feeling of fear activates the sympathetic nervous system which increases the respiration rate making the hyperventilation worse. The panic attack will therefore feed itself and increase in intensity. This would seem consistent with V.T.’s experience of fear and panic when the “ghost” appeared. V.T. knows from the experiment with the foil blade that the peak energy, known as an anti-node, was in line with the centre of the desk. As V.T. sat up and turned to look at the object he moved from this zone of peak energy to a zone of slightly lesser energy and the ghost disappeared!”

Conclusion

The concept of introducing this type of infrasound to the soundscape phase has definitely intrigued my curiosity but not I am unsure whether this would fall under Abertay’s ethics regulations. This is something I will need to look into at the start of our second semester. Another problem with using this kind of infrasound is that of trying to locate a suitable space within Abertay to conduct this kind of experiment, where calculations and measurements will need to be scrutinised in order for the intended effect. In addition, a subwoofer will also be needed to be obtained to carry out this experiment. In any case, the use of infrasound will be implemented within my soundscape as it will be layered with the elevator ambient track – given that I am setting the elevator as the location of my soundscape. A combination of using both types of infrasound will need further research.

Reference

NASA Technical Report 19770013810.

NASA Technical Report 19870046176.

Wiseman, R. 1998. The Ghost in the Machine. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 16(851): pp.1-7.

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