Stone Tape

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For the 1972 British television play, see The Stone Tape.

The Stone Tape theory is a paranormal hypothesis that was proposed in the 1970s as a possible explanation for ghosts. It speculates that inanimate materials can absorb some form of energy from living beings; the hypothesis speculates that this "recording" happens especially during moments of high tension, such as murder, or during intense moments of someone's life. This stored energy can be released, resulting in a display of the recorded activity. According to this hypothesis, ghosts are not spirits but simply non-interactive recordings similar to a movie.[1] Paranormal investigators commonly consider such phenomena as residual hauntings.


An early psychical researcher Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick had claimed that objects such as furniture or buildings can absorb "psychic energy" or impressions which could be transmitted to people nearby. Another early researcher William Fletcher Barrett wrote:

In certain cases of hauntings and apparitions, some kind of local imprint, on material structures or places, has been left by some past events occurring to certain persons, who when on Earth, lived or were closely connected with that particular locality; an echo or phantom of these events becoming perceptible to those now living.[2]

The parapsychologist William G. Roll also agreed with the Stone Tape theory, he claimed that a person's mind can create an apparition from "psychic traces" left from the past.[3] According to Roll all objects and individuals have "psi fields" around them which are the carriers of psi information.[4] A related term is the concept invented by H. H. Price of place memories. Price proposed that hauntings could be explained by memories becoming lost from an individual's mind and then somehow attaching itself to the environment which could be picked up by others as hallucinations.[5][6]

Archie Roy wrote regarding the Stone Tape theory:

We have to postulate that some very emotional scene has somehow become registered on the environment, almost like a sort of psychic video has been created. Someone who comes along who is sensitive enough acts as a sort of psychic video player and will actually play that “tape” and see the figures or perhaps even hear the voices.[7]

Residual hauntings[edit]

In the terminology of ghost hunting, residual hauntings, also known as restligeists (German loan word from restlich meaning "residual" and geist meaning "ghost"), are repeated playbacks of auditory, visual, olfactory, and other sensory phenomena that are attributed to a traumatic event, life-altering event, or a routine event of a person or place, like an echo or a replay of a videotape of past events. Ghost hunters and related paranormal television programs say that a residual haunting, unlike an intelligent haunting, does not directly involve a spiritual entity aware of the living world and interacting with or responding to it.[8]

One of the first to promulgate the hypothesis of residual haunting was Thomas Charles Lethbridge in books such as Ghost and Ghoul, written in 1961.[9] The subject was explored in Peter Sasdy's 1972 television play The Stone Tape, written by Nigel Kneale. The explanation offered in the play is that light waves are recorded in the walls of a building when they interact with brain waves associated with fear, and the recorded images are reproduced when triggered by brain waves from a fearful observer. The popularity of the programme has led to residual haunting becoming known colloquially as the "Stone Tape theory."

Cyril Smith and Simon Best in their book Electromagnetic Man (1989) wrote:

At death, the whole entity of a person's 'acquired' information field must become separated from the body which is about to commence decay, if it is to retain any objective existence in the material world ... There is the possibility that information could be 'written' into environmental water, such as that retained in the stone or brick of a building. The necrotic radiation, if this is indeed an electromagnetic phenomenon, could be the origin of such memories in locations for events which happen there ... This information might also be holographic in nature and be interpreted as an actual presence at that point in space and time, that is the person might 'see a ghost'.[10]

Pottery Hoax[edit]

Belgian researchers claimed to have produced sound waves from the grooves of a piece of 6,500 year old pottery, much as sound is produced by the grooves of a phonograph record. The sounds allegedly included talking in ancient Latin, and laughter. The phenomenon was later revealed as a hoax. Independent scholar Richard G. Woodbridge analyzed the sounds and concluded that they were the humming of the pottery wheel (used to turn the pottery so that a stylus could produce the "recorded" sounds). An episode of The X-Files told a similar story, about a pottery bowl that had recorded the voice of Jesus. An episode of CSI involved a pot made by a mental patient that allegedly reproduced voices.[11]


The kind of energy that might be involved and how such "playbacks" are triggered are unknown, rendering the theory currently untestable. Some proponents argue that a specific state of brainwaves is necessary to experience a playback, while others claim that the "viewing" person needs some psychic ability.[1]

Scientific Explanations[edit]

Cultural Biases[edit]

Cultural biases and experience largely determine the individual’s perception. In Biangai culture, photos of the deceased are believed to have the ability to attract malevolent forces. A photo “takes your mind back” to the past. In a specific case, a guest worker took a photo in a garden. A man’s head appeared in the image. All the workers opined that the man was an ancestor of the garden’s owner, and were unconvinced when Halvaksz suggested a photographic error.[12]

Levels of Dopamine[edit]

High level of dopamine is suggested to improve the Signal-to-noise ratio, or the ability to transmit the signals to the brain and reduce the meaningless noise. An experiment was conducted to test how different levels of dopamine affects the perceptions of paranormal believers and skeptics. The subjects were divided into two groups, skeptics and believers. Within each of the two groups, half of the participants received levodopa, which increases the dopamine level, and the other half were the control group and received placebos. Each subject was required to respond to sound stimuli and respond whether there was any meaning or signals in the sound. The experiment yields that the baseline dopamine level may have an effect on whether a person is a believer or a skeptic. Medium to high doses of dopamine is correlated with a decline of cognitive performance. Low to medium doses is correlated with improvement of cognitive performances.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b A phonographic phony
  2. ^ Psychical Research , Sir W.F. Barrett FRS, Williams & Norgate, London. 1911.
  3. ^ Susan Bursell Haunted houses Lucent Books, 1994, p. 23
  4. ^ D. Scott Rogo Parapsychology: a century of inquiry Taplinger Pub. Co., 1975, p. 158
  5. ^ Price, H. H. (1940). Some philosophical questions about telepathy and clairvoyance. Philosophy, 15, 363–374.
  6. ^ Pamela Rae Heath A New Theory on Place Memory
  7. ^ Malcolm Day Ghosts (Amazing & Extraordinary Facts) Chapter Roman Centurian Pining for Princess David & Charles Ltd, 2011 ISBN 0715339095
  8. ^ Ghost Lab Glossary of Terms
  9. ^ Green, Nigel Kneale/Peter Sasdy: The Stone Tape.
  10. ^ Percy Seymour The Third Level of Reality: A Unified Theory of the Paranormal 2003, p. 150
  11. ^ Zimmer, Benjamin. "Phonographic Hoax". Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  12. ^ Smith, Benjamin; Vokes, Richard (2008). "Introduction: Haunting Images". Visual Anthropology 21 (4): 285. doi:10.1080/08949460802156292. 
  13. ^ Krummenacher, Peter (August 2010). "Dopamine, Paranormal Belief, and the Detection of Meaningful Stimuli.". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland). ISSN 0898-929X. 

Further reading

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