The Tale of the Haunted Laboratory
An infrasound ghost story
A retelling (with some creative license) of the “Ghost in the Machine”
Published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 62, No 851 April 1998 by Vic Tandy and Tony R Lawrence of Coventry University.
Not too long ago, in a lab not too far away there was a haunting. This lab was a spacious playground for engineers, and housed many odd contraptions. But this isn’t a story about what work went on in the lab, this is a story about the haunting of this lab.
One morning an engineer arrived early to find a distressed cleaner. When he talked to the cleaner she admitted that she was shaken up due to having felt a presence in the lab. Not only that, she claimed to have seen something. Our engineer does not believe in ghost or supernatural things and just shrugged the incident off.
However, soon he, too, was noticing things. He sensed an odd dark mood in the room, almost depressing. Occasionally he had a cold shiver, or a feeling that someone was standing right beside him, but the closest person was across the room. These observations were made by all three regular inhabitants of this lab.
A feeling of unease and discomfort about this particular lab began to grow, and then to spread. However the workers were very busy people and tried their best to ignore it.
our engineer was working late
Even though he was sweating he began to feel cold, he felt depressed, groans and creaks from the empty factory that housed the lab only added to his growing discomfort. But there was also something else. He kept feeling that there was someone in the room, but that was impossible. There was no way for anyone to enter or exit the lab without walking past his desk.
And yet…the feeling was there.
This being a lab, there were all sorts of gasses and chemicals around that if inhaled could cause all sorts of problems. He began to check everything in lab to make sure nothing was leaking. Everything was fine, everything looked normal. Annoyed with himself he went and got a cup of coffee, tried to laugh it off and went back to work.
He began to feel like he was being watched…
AND THEN HE SAW SOMETHING!
To his left a figure emerged! It was faint and on the periphery of his vision but it moved, and it moved JUST LIKE A PERSON! It was gray and made no sound but there it was, moving towards him. The hairs on his neck were standing straight up, and he was terrified! Slowly, he worked up the courage to face this apparition. As he slowly turned his head the figure vanished, leaving no evidence of its existence.
Badly shaken from this experience, he quickly called it a night and went home.
Now our story could end there with the mysterious ghost apparition in the lab, appearing late at night when you are working alone, and vanishing when you look at it. But that is not the end of our story, no, for he IS an engineer and the very next day he was back in the lab.
Now he was entering a fencing competition and had some work to do on his blade. He didn’t have to do this in the lab, but decided there was plenty of room and all the tools he needed, so he decided to bring his supplies into the lab to do this work. He placed the blade in a vise on a table in the middle of the lab and left it to go look for something else he needed in order to finish this work.
… something ...
When he returned, the free end of the blade was violently vibrating! Given the events of the previous night he was understandably terrified! However, this being daylight hours and being an engineer, he took a deep breath and composed himself and curiosity took over. What was making the blade move? The blade had to be receiving energy from somewhere in order for it to move in such a manner! This energy had to have a varying intensity at a rate that was precisely that of the resonant frequency of the blade. This type of energy is known as sound. He took stock of the sounds he could hear in the room. A lab can be a very noisy place, but an engineer also knows that there is sound we can’t hear, frequencies too low for humans to resolve. He starts to experiment with the hypothesis that what is causing his blade to move is this low frequency sound known as infrasound.
He moved the blade around the room noticing the amplitude of the vibrations and found that in the center of the lab it was the largest, and that the vibrations in the blade stopped all together at the far end of the lab. Curious! Then it hit him! A low frequency standing wave! He did some quick calculations to see what frequency this wave would be given the size of the lab (see actual paper). This quick calculation resulted in a wave of approximately 18.89 Hz or 18.89 cycles per second which is below the lower end of human hearing at 20 Hz.
“So…” he thought “we are sharing the lab with a 19Hz wave. But where is it coming from and what do these sorts of waves do to people?”
Our engineer quickly found the source of this wave. A quick round of questions revealed that a new fan had recently been installed at one end of the lab. When this was switched off the vibrations in his blade vanished. That problem solved he began to research what sort of effects these waves have on humans. This involved a bit of research.
There was a report of workers in a factory reporting that a specific bay made them feel uneasy. This was explained by a higher level of low frequency sound in that area of the factory due to a fan in the AC system. There was also a report of a group of workers at a university who all reported the same uneasy feeling and dizziness when a specific fan was turned on. These cases were explained by low frequency sound in the 15-20Hz range.
But what about the apparition that appeared? Further research produced a resonance frequency of the human eyeball in a NASA report! 18Hz causes the eyeball to vibrate and created a smearing of vision.
He had identified his ghost. It was a standing wave caused by a new fan in the lab.
Now for the exorcism! A modification was made to the mounting of the fan and the standing wave, ghost, uneasy feeling, and chills vanished from the lab!
So next time you think you see a ghost, remember it might just be infrasound!
(This story was a retelling of the excellent paper written by our hero Vic Tandy and Tony R Lawrence about an experience that V. Tandy had while working in the lab mentioned in this story. Their paper “Ghost in the Machine” is an excellent read, and one of my favorite infrasound stories. I decided it could use a Halloween spin! I hope you enjoyed this little ghost story!)