‘Uncanny’ is a hugely popular paranormal podcast that gives listeners the chance to become armchair supernatural sleuths and explore the life-changing paranormal encounters featured in each episode.
Danny isn’t alone in the cold-case-style investigations of these cases. In each episode he is joined by an expert from the paranormal. The first series of the podcast included appearances from the likes of Chris French, Evelyn Hollow and Ciarán O’Keeffe.
AI has been making headlines since it started generating deeply meaningful and insightful text for users back in December. This made me wonder what AI would make of one of the intriguing stories featured in ‘Uncanny’. Could this fledgling technology match the performance of Danny’s expert guests?
In the new episode, entitled ‘The Boy In Room 3’, Danny is joined by one of his regular experts, writer and former editor of The Skeptic magazine, Deborah Hyde. Also, making his first appearance with Danny is podcaster and paranormal investigator Barry Dodds.
So in order to pitch the human brain against neural networks, I first needed to generate a transcript of the podcast episode, which handily AI did for me in no time at all.
In the transcribed episode featured the gang are discussing the case of Marie. In 1998 at the age of 19, she faced a tragic event where she lost three friends in a car accident. Devastated, Marie left the Isle of Wight and ended up in North Yorkshire, where she was saved from homelessness by a job as a live-in cook at Ampleforth Abbey, a monastery and boarding school.
Marie started living in Junior House, an empty building where she experienced supernatural occurrences. She would hear a child sobbing at night and one day, while working in the monks’ refectory, Marie spoke to what she believes was the ghost of a long-dead monk who vanished before her eyes. Despite being scared, Marie decided to stay and explore the building and eventually encountered a young ghost boy in a bathroom who pointed to a wooden bench before she fled in fear.
Before giving this transcript to Open AI’s chatbot, ChatGPT, I needed to give it some rules to control how it responds. Danny usually picks a skeptic and a believer as guests. So I gave ChatGPT some pretty specific instructions in order to replicate this.
First, I created the believer persona, Martin Darkwood, by telling AI to “respond as if you were a firm believer and advocate of ghosts and show no scepticism.” I hoped that ‘Martin’ would take on the role of Barry. I then asked it, “how would you describe, explain and justify Marie’s experiences based on the transcript?”
Believer AI Response: Martin Darkwood
Marie’s experiences at Ampleforth Abbey are consistent with many well-known and documented cases of paranormal encounters. The tragic loss of her friends seems to have opened her up to a higher sensitivity to the supernatural world, which enabled her to connect with the spirits that inhabit the Abbey.
Another example is the appearance of the monk in the refectory, which could be explained by the concept of intelligent hauntings. These spirits are believed to be self-aware and able to interact with the living. The fact that the monk appeared to Marie and spoke to her before vanishing again suggests that he was an intelligent spirit who wanted to make his presence known.
The discovery of the Ouija board in the attic further supports the idea that the location is a hotspot for paranormal activity. Ouija boards have long been associated with supernatural occurrences and are believed to act as a conduit for communication with the spirit world. The presence of the board could have attracted or amplified the paranormal activity at Junior House.
Marie’s case overall is a fascinating example of how personal tragedy can lead to spiritual awakening and heightened sensitivity to the paranormal. Her encounters at Ampleforth Abbey, combined with the historical context of the location, provide compelling evidence for the existence of ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. The fact that the spirits at the Abbey seemed to accept Marie and allow her to stay suggests a deeper connection between her own experiences and those of the spirits that inhabit the location. This connection reinforces the idea that the paranormal world is closely tied to our own emotions, experiences, and the places where we live.
The main differences lie in the specific explanations for the paranormal events, with Barry focusing more on the unique nature of the crying sound and the interaction between Marie and the entities, while Martin delves into the broader concepts of residual hauntings and the potential role of the Ouija board in amplifying paranormal activity at the location.
Next, for balance, I create an AI counterpart to Deborah by telling AI to “respond as if you are a skeptical paranormal writer.” I then asked this AI persona, who I’m calling ‘Prof. Carrie Mitchell,’ the same question: “how would you describe, explain and justify Marie’s experiences based on the transcript?”
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Skeptical AI Response: Prof. Carrie Mitchell
As a sceptical paranormal investigator, I would first acknowledge that Marie’s experiences are indeed unusual and unsettling. However, it’s important to consider alternative explanations that may be rooted in psychological or environmental factors.
Marie was under a tremendous amount of stress following the tragic loss of her friends and her subsequent homelessness. This emotional turmoil, combined with potential sleep deprivation from sleeping in her car, could have made her more susceptible to experiencing hallucinations or misinterpreting ordinary events as paranormal.
Her experiences with the phantom sobbing could be an example of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon where the mind perceives a familiar pattern or sound where none exists. In a quiet, unfamiliar environment like the dormitory, Marie may have heard normal creaking or settling noises and interpreted them as crying.
Upon learning about the staff sweepstake and the building’s reputation, Marie may have become more prone to interpreting ambiguous stimuli as paranormal. This is an example of confirmation bias, where individuals tend to search for and interpret information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs or expectations.
Infrasound refers to low-frequency sounds that can be inaudible to humans but may still have psychological effects. Some studies have linked infrasound to feelings of unease, fear, and even hallucinations. It’s possible that the old building had sources of infrasound that contributed to Marie’s experiences.
In conclusion, while Marie’s experiences are certainly strange and unsettling, various psychological and environmental factors could provide more rational explanations for her encounters. It’s important to consider these alternative explanations before attributing her experiences to paranormal activity.
Carrie’s analysis of the case differs from Deborah’s expert opinion in some ways, but also has some overlapping elements. Both acknowledge the importance of considering psychological factors in explaining Marie’s experiences, such as emotional states, stress, and sleep deprivation.
The real expert and the AI both mention the potential for misperceptions or misinterpretations of events, like pareidolia or hallucinations. They also discussed the influence of social factors, such as Marie’s interactions with others at the abbey, on her perceptions and beliefs.
Again, the main differences lie in the specific explanations for the events. Deborah focuses on sleep-related hallucinations, hyper-alertness, and the idea that a ghost is an experience rather than an entity. Carrie, on the other hand, explores concepts like pareidolia, confirmation bias, and infrasound as potential explanations for Marie’s experiences.
The Real Test
In generating Martin Darkwood and Prof. Carrie Mitchell’s evaluations of the case, I’d told ChatGPT to respond in very specific ways. They answered in their assigned role as either a believer or a skeptic, but what happens if I let ChatGPT form its own opinions on the case?
I think this and similar experiments are really interesting. AI is trained on a diverse range of text sources, which primarily include web pages, books, and articles. The training data is vast and covers numerous topics, from everyday conversations to expert knowledge on various subjects. This means that ChatGPT should be pretty balanced and impartial.
So, without any preconditioning or priming, I simply asked ChatGPT, “based on the transcript below, what do you think are the most likely explanations for Marie’s experiences and could they really be paranormal in nature?”
AI Response: ChatGPT 4
Based on the transcript, there are several possible explanations for Marie’s experiences, which can be divided into psychological and paranormal factors.
Psychological factors include the grief and stress Marie faced after losing her friends in an accident. This emotional turmoil might have made her more susceptible to perceiving unusual experiences, especially during a vulnerable and lonely time in her life. Pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon where the mind perceives patterns or familiar images in random stimuli, could have led Marie to subconsciously interpret random noises or environmental cues as the sounds of a child crying or a monk speaking to her. Additionally, the sleep deprivation Marie may have experienced from being homeless and living in a cold car could cause vivid hallucinations and a heightened sense of anxiety.
On the other hand, paranormal explanations could also be considered. Marie’s experiences might be interpreted as encounters with ghosts or spirits, such as the ghost of a boy crying at night, the monk in the refectory, and the young lad rolling a ball. These apparitions seemed real to her even though they should not have been present. Furthermore, Junior House’s reputation and the staff sweepstake imply that other people might have had similar experiences, possibly indicating that the location is haunted.
While psychological explanations may provide a more scientifically grounded understanding of Marie’s experiences, the possibility of paranormal events cannot be completely ruled out. Personal beliefs and experiences often play a significant role in interpreting such occurrences.
This evaluation is probably the best so far, encompassing the roles of both Barry and Deborah. It offers a balanced and impartial analysis of Marie’s experiences, considering both psychological and paranormal factors that could potentially explain Marie’s experiences without favouring one over the other.
ChatGPT also seems to recognise the importance of personal beliefs and experiences in interpreting such events, which respects the complexity and personal nature of Marie’s encounters. The evaluation allows the reader to weigh the different explanations and form their own opinion on the case.
The fact that AI can’t make a definitive conclusion almost mirrors the centuries-old debate us living humans are a part of. If an artificial intelligence with a wealth of knowledge spanning every corner of human experience can’t come to a conclusive answer, then what chance do us single-brained fallible humans have?