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The Magnetic Anomaly Detection System (MADS)

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Opinion Editorial

by Noah Voss

"Are certain reports of hauntings caused by magnetically-induced hallucinations? That is the question MADS is designed to answer."  That's right off of the MADS (Magnetic Anomaly Detection System) website.  We've got a basic hypotheses including a posed question along with the scientific equipment to experimentally investigate reports of hauntings.  This will then be used to substantiate the the hypotheses, change the hypotheses, or prove the hypotheses wrong.  This folks is science.  According to those working with MADS, "Early results have already provided promising evidence of suitable magnetic fields at a haunted location.

The MADS was primarily developed by Dr. Jason Braithwaite a cognitive psychologist and Maurice Townsend a long time paranormal researcher, physics student and IT professional.  This system consists in part of two high-speed digital fluxgate magnetometers attached to separate laptop computers.  It was designed specifically to test real world environments for similar electromagnetic field scenarios as Dr. Persinger's lab (for more background on Dr. Persinger's work read EMF Meters 103).  So what exactly does the MADS do? 

Let's answer that with another quote directly from their website, "It provides the investigator with a detailed real-time representation of the magnetic environment being studied."  As discussed in my opinion editorial EMF Meters 103, Dr. Persinger's work is key to this system.  Dr. Persinger introduced electromagnetic fields to the brains of over 900 subjects creating numerous "paranormal" experiences for participants.  This was not in a haunted house, but rather a controlled scientific laboratory.  The MADS website references Dr. Persinger's work, "Growing evidence from laboratory research suggests that the application of weak, complex, low-frequency magnetic fields to the human brain can induce sympathetic shifts neural activity and have consequences for cognition and awareness...The net effect of this interaction can be a magnetically induced altered-state of awareness often resulting in complex hallucinations."  Not everyone who stepped into Dr. Persinger's lab had the similar paranormal effect, spotlighting "The likelihood of this occurring is improved if individuals show an increased degree of neural instability (i.e., brain damaged patients, Epilepsy patients, Migraine patients) that is the result of a dysfunction in inhibitory brain processing.

So does Dr. Persinger or the folks behind MADS believe that every paranormal experience can be explained by this electromagnetic field interference?   From my interpretation of published documents, no.  Dr. Persinger feels that this could explain some experiences reported as paranormal, but not all.  Those at the MADS website say, "Applied to the natural setting, what this suggests is that some spontaneous reports of apparitions and haunt-type phenomena may indeed be a naturally occurring magnetically induced delusion or hallucination."  Indeed the MADS website goes onto quite thoroughly discuss other possible explanations or variables, "Other neurological and psychological factors including, (i) belief systems, (ii) prior suggestion, (iii) expectation, anticipation and demand characteristics, (iv) experiential context and suggestive surroundings, (v) attentional biases, (vi) interpreting signals from noise and ambiguity, (vii) semantic associative processing, (viii) neural disinhibitory processes (partial complex seizures in Epilepsy, Migraine with aura, etc), - to name but a few, could also be crucial. In addition, other environmental and contextual factors such as, (i) lighting levels (ii) temperature / drafts (iii) acoustics, (iv) room / area size and layout, have also been known to impact on perceptions and feelings (Wiseman, Watt, Greening, Stevens, & O'Keeffe, 2002; Wiseman, Watt, Stevens, Greening, & O'Keeffe, 2003)."

Great, so now we are getting somewhere.  What many "ghost hunters" ask me is, what number on their EMF meter means there is a ghost present?  The finer misgivings I have with that question are better suited for a different op ed.  Could we use an electromagnetic field meter to watch for a specific number that would indicate similar environments created in the lab by Dr. Persinger?  No...well not exactly say the folks at MADS, "Although there are unlikely to be any hard and fast rules here (due to the fact that such fields interact with other complex neuronal properties and other environmental factors that can also vary greatly), exactly how magnetic fields go from the experientially benign to potentially having stimulatory properties is not clear."  The MADS project has come to the same conclusion as Dr. Persinger regarding the electromagnetic field.  It seems likely that the electromagnetic field be "both spatially and temporally inhomogeneous so that a brain cannot habituate to a uniformed constant background variation."  Basically this means we as paranormal investigators can not watch for one simple number on even our nicer three axis electromagnetic field meters.  If we are going to find an electromagnetic field responsible for perceived paranormal happenings it is going to be a combination of many environmental variables occurring at varying and possibly numerous different magnitudes at once.  For a more technical response compare your electromagnetic field meter specifications to that of the MADS equipment; "It consists of two, high-speed digital fluxgate magnetometers that are directly interfaced to separate laptop PCs. They measure both AC and DC components of the magnetic field and can do so 250 times a second, in 3 orthogonal directions simultaneously. Individual readings are also provided for each direction. MADS covers a frequency range from DC – 125Hz and an amplitude range of + / - 1000mG (100,000nT). It is incredibly sensitive (down to 0.5nT) and can measure weak fields even in the presence of a large static field."  What they are basically saying is this electromagnetic field meter takes a similar reading to that of the popular TriField three axis electromagnetic field meter in the sum setting, as well as separate readings of each individual axis (something the TriField cannot do).  The capabilities don't end there.  To come close to the MADS equipment you would also have to take the also popular TriField Natural EM meter that monitors DC (Direct Currents) again in the sum setting as well as separate readings on each axis, which the TriField Natural EM is also not capable of doing.  To boot the MADS equipment has a sampling rate of 250 times each second and is capable of monitoring ranges higher and lower than the TriField.  Now, I'm not picking on the TriField as it is still in the top 5 electromagnetic field meters in my opinion with the best bang for the buck.  So far removed is the technological capability of the even more popular single axis digital electromagnetic field meter that the comparison simply wouldn't of been practical.    

"The magnetic fields hypothesis is only one potential account for these experiences, under certain circumstances, and is certainly not responsible for all experiences."  Where I feel this MADS project was the next proper step from Dr. Persinger's findings, there is still room for new and additional information to be discovered in regards to the paranormal fields.  Let's not breeze over this too lightly. 

In my opinion Dr. Persinger's findings are potentially the most important discovery to the paranormal field of study to occur in the 20th century.  The MADS project was the next logical step from the Dr's findings and was another gigantic step forward for the field of study as a whole.  I would speculate that it could be the most important step forward in the 21st century, though it is still early.      

So far MADS has had two published investigations using the technology in its new application.  For further reading I would highly recommend Maurice Townsend's "Magnetic Hallucinations"   and Jason J. Braithwaite and Maurice Townsend published investigation of an English castle using the MADS system in the "European Journal of Parapsychology" Volume 20.1, pages 65-78 ISSN: 0168-7263, titled "Research Note: Sleeping With the Entity – A Quantitative Magnetic Investigation of an English Castle’s Reputedly ‘Haunted’ Bedroom."  


*ElectroMagnetic Field Meters.  No accidental typos here, I have continually written it this way on purpose.  With the hopes of this visual connection of EMF equaling "ElectroMagnetic Field" I aim to make the learning less confusing.  In normal scientific journal settings you will see the word written correctly as "electromagnetic field."


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