Not all orbs are caused by flash hitting dust or droplets. This beauty was captured at Inverlochy Art School last Saturday, while I was photographing a wedding.
Given the haunted reputation of Inverlochy House, it would be easy to attribute this to a spiritual presence. It even looks a little like the green 'Slimer' ghost in Ghostbusters - Wikia article
But this orb is definitely caused by lens flare. The sun was shining from around the corner of the building, directly into my camera lens. The lens was stopped down to f5.6, and you can see the hint of the hexagonal shape formed by the lens aperture blades.
Still, it's possible that some orbs in photos have a paranormal reason for being. It would seem more likely that you'd be able to see those ones with your own eyes, not just in a photograph. But there is much we still have to learn. Take nothing for granted!
Orb page on Strange Occurrences site
Lens flare examples on Strange Occurrences site
The Haunting of Inverlochy - video
A tour through Wellington's haunted house - TV3 news story
Lens flare causing false-positives in paranormal investigation
I may get into this topic in greater depth in future, but I thought it important to post a few notes on it now. In advance, please pardon me for not mincing my words. I do not intend to offend anybody, just provoke thought; and this criticism is aimed at myself as much as anyone else.
I have a limited education in science, having taken science subjects up to first-year university level. I have a bachelor's degree (not a B.Sc) and consider myself somewhat informed on a range of science-related topics; yet in my communications with professional scientists I sometimes feel that I'm being talked down to. Judging by my observations, and discussions with other non-scientists, this feeling is not uncommon. There are of course many exceptions, but I feel that scientists are sometimes poor ambassadors for their vocation.
Still, this is not a reason to shy away from dialogue with science and scientists. Speaking as a member of the paranormal community (meaning, the loose affiliation of those interested in studying any or all categories of what is termed 'the paranormal') we need scientists! They don't need us, but we need them. So, beware of taking on science as an adversary. Even if venting about science and skeptics (critical thinkers) makes you feel temporarliy better about yourself, it will ultimately be counterproductive.
There is a developing schism between scientific thought and some sectors of the public. A disturbing anti-science attitude is developing especially strongly in fundamentalist Christian (and some other relgion-based) societial groups. This is most notable in the so called Bible Belt of the US, where (for example) there is a growing resistance to the teaching of Evolution in schools, as it is perceived as being counter to the word of God. 'Intelligent design' is taught in some schools instead of Evolution theory, which is banned. This is of great concern to many.
Perhaps as an offshoot, or because it's becoming the zeitgeist (scary as that may seem), this anti-science schism is also developing in the paranormal community. At the root of this attitude is ignorance of science. What follows is the demonising of science. (Demonising things or people is something we humans do when we lack understanding and we perceive something as different from or counter to our culture and way of thinking. Demonising a perceived enemy is essential if you want to declare war on them. Nazi Germany's actions against the Jews is one extreme example.)
Science is not perfect. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made; but we have science to thank, largely, for the lifestyle we enjoy today, which is arguably far better than at any other time in human history. Taking an anti-science stance is ultimately destructive and just wrong.
And, as I stated above, we in the paranormal community need science and scientists. Alienating them further is going to lower the probabilty of any kind of advancement in the field, any chance of finding answers to those massive questions that drew us to the paranormal in the first place.
In our general attitude and in our communications, in person and online though our websites, blogs and social media presence, it is important to not fan the anti-science fire. Isolation is bad. We're not going to crack any of it by ourselves. If we think we are, we're kidding ourselves.
To be frank, we in the paranormal community simply do not have the skills, professional training, time and resources, working methods or sheer intelligence needed to find the answers to the huge questions. Questions like 'Why do people experience ghosts?', 'Do ghosts exist in an objective sense, or are they just the result of subjective experience?, What is the nature of and reason for reported Near Death Experience?', 'Does intelligent life, or any life at all, exist elsewhere in the universe?', 'Is telepathy an actual or imagined phenomenon, and if real, how does it work?' The list could go on, but my point is that amateur paranormal enthusiasts have been spectacularly unsuccessful at answering any of these questions. The accumulation of evidence and the interpretation of it has been, so far, only sufficient to reinforce the beliefs of those who already believe. Optimistic agnostics (like me) are still unconvinced of the reality of any of it, and the scientists and skeptics remain scathing in their dismissal of everything paranormal, and of the people who believe in it.
What is needed, I think, is for a few things to happen:
(1) Paranormalists need to stop being antagonistic towards scientists and other skeptics. Lead by example. Become better informed; learn about critical thinking and scientific method; try to understand things from the rational perspective of the scientist. (I'm not for one moment suggesting you abandon your personal belief, your quest for truth, knowledge and understanding, or your spiritual vision; just maybe try to learn to look at things from more than one perspective.)
(2) Stop making ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims. Claims of being abucted by aliens, seeing Bigfoot, seeing a full-body apparition, etc, are ludicrous if not backed up by hard evidence. And this evidence must come from credible, reliable sources, not from people perceived as attention-seeking whackos. Ridiculous claims of paranormal events are the laughing stock of thinking people and besmirch the entire field of paranormal study and everybody concerned with it.
(3) Build credibilty, and gather and present good evidence. Eventually, the scientists will pay attention and think that maybe there is something here worth studying.
If we don't have the humility to appreciate that these great questions we seek answers for have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years (or longer, in some cases) and have defeated far more powerful intellects than our own, we will get nowhere. We need to work together with science, not against it.
Addenda: 24th Feb '15: Hence, this sort of thing is cropping up more often: http://time.com/7809/1-in-4-americans-thinks-sun-orbits-earth/
It may surprise you to know that the the famous Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1882 by some of the great minds of that age, still exists, and it has a website. I came across this nice list of guidlines for paranormal investigations in Dr Leo Ruickbie's recent book 'A brief guide to ghost hunting', which he sourced from the SPR:
INVESTIGATION GUIDELINES from the SPR:
1. Do not go by yourself.
2. Keep your relations with the experients/witnesses as brief and relaxed as possible.
3. keep an open mind.
4. be tactful, or even reticent, in expressing your views.
5. Do not play the amateur psychiatrist.
6. Respect the confidentiality of the case.
7. Take particular care where children are involved.
8. Avoid publicity.
9. Learn from one's mistakes.
This seems to me like an excellent list of guidelines, given more impact (for me) by the knowledge that I have sometimes gone against some of this advice.
I also recently purchased and read Dr Ruickbie's book (Book Depository link above) and also his 'A brief guide to the supernatural'. Both books are excellent reading, highly informative, and will make excellent reference sources if I ever manage to travel to the UK again.
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.