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Monday, October 6, 2014

Debunking the Orb Debunkers, Part 3: The Faulty “Disproof”

Orbs are strange circular features that have been showing up in flash photographs around the world since the invention of the digital camera. Some people think that orbs are evidence of a paranormal phenomena (which might or might not involve spiritual entities, since there are simpler paranormal possibilities such as undiscovered energy effects and “mind over energy” effects). Other people have attempted to debunk such thinking by offering mundane natural explanations for orbs. 

moving orb
Orb photo giving the impression of a high-speed right-angle turn

The two main theories to naturally explain orbs are a reflection theory and an “orb zone” theory maintaining that orbs are caused by tiny specks of dust very near the camera. In Part 1 of this 3-part series, I showed why the reflection theory is not a suitable explanation for the more unusual orbs that have been photographed, and in Part 2 I explained why the “orb zone” theory is also not a workable explanation for such orbs.

There is still one matter to consider: an experiment done that some researchers claimed to be “definitive proof that orbs are not paranormal.” Of course, the very use of this term suggests that the experimenters were not really taking a scientific approach, as real scientists virtually never release experimental results and call them definitive proof for or against anything. A term such as “definitive proof” indicates that the experimenters were those with a strong experimental bias.

But nonetheless let's take a look at this supposedly “definitive proof.” The experiments in question were a series of photographs taken with a special camera called the Fujifilm W1 3D. The camera in question has two lenses that take pictures simultaneously. It is a camera for taking photo pairs that one can use with a stereoscopic viewer, to get a 3D effect when looking at photos. There is a camera option that allows you to get separate photos of the image taken with the left lens and the right lens. 

  The camera
  
Now the experiment in question is one that took orb photos using this camera. It seems that many of the orbs show up in one of the two pictures taken at the same time by the same camera, but not both of them. The experiments trumpet this as proof that orbs are really produced by dust. But is it really any such thing? No, it isn't (and may in fact be evidence that orbs actually are paranormal).

To back up this point, let us consider different paranormal possibilities for what may produce orbs in photographs:

Orb Theory 1: Paranormal orbs are produced by some unknown spiritual agents or energy agents that act on a “direct to device” basis, without actually producing flashes of light in the air. This theory is similar to the theory that EVP anomalies on tape recordings are produced by unknown intelligent agents that act on a “direct to device” basis, producing effects on tape recordings that you can't hear when tape recording.

Orb Theory 2: Paranormal orbs are produced by some unknown spiritual agents or energy agents that are attracted to humans, and hang around very close to people taking photographs. The orbs appear in some paranormal way as small flashes, pulses or reflections that appear very close to the camera.

Orb Theory 3: Paranormal orbs are produced by some unknown spiritual agents or energy agents that act several feet or meters away from humans, but send in a directional little pulse of light directly towards a camera lens, rather like someone might point a laser pointer directly at something.

Orb Theory 4: Paranormal orbs are produced by some “mind over energy” effect of the human mind, that act on a “direct to device” basis, without actually producing flashes of light in the air.

Orb Theory 5: Paranormal orbs are produced by some unknown spiritual agents or energy effects that cause something like a pulse, flash or reflection a few feet or meters away from the camera, but such a thing can only be seen where there is a particular angle between the camera lens and this pulse, flash or reflection. This is consistent with the fact that orb photos show up on such an irregular basis.

Orb Theory 6: Paranormal orbs are produced by some unknown spiritual agents or energy agents that typically cause a circular flash of light to appear several feet or meters away from humans, something that a camera will capture regardless of the distance and camera angle.

Now, how many of these are orb theories might seem to be damaged by the Fujifilm W1 3D experimental results? Only the last one (and as I will argue in a moment, even that is a misimpression). The first four paranormal orb theories are not at all discredited by these results. If orbs are produced on some paranormal “direct to device” basis (Orb Theory 1 and Orb Theory 4), we would not expect such an effect to work on more than one photograph when two photographs are taken simultaneously. If orbs are produced by agents very close to the camera (Orb Theory 2), we would not expect the Fujifilm W1 3D experimental results to be any different (in regard to whether orbs show up in both photographs) than they would be according to the “orb zone” theory postulating that orbs are caused by dust near the camera – because in both cases, the difference from the camera is about the same. If orbs are produced by a directional pulse of light (Orb Theory 3), there would be no particular reason for suspecting that such a directional pulse would go towards both lens in a double-lens camera. If Orb Theory 5 is true, it might be that no more than one of the two lens of the Fujifilm W1 3D camera would capture the orb, since there would be a different angle between each of the lenses and the flash, pulse or reflection.

So 5 out of 6 paranormal orb theories are clearly left standing after the Fujifilm W1 3D results. And even Orb Theory 6 is still compatible with the results. Why? Because the Fujifilm W1 3D results only involved about 1800 orb photographs, and it is possible that the photographers only photographed “dust orbs” which are some entirely different effect from paranormal orbs. (Similarly, one would not disprove the idea of volcanoes by taking photos of many mountain tops that are not emitting lava.) 

But let us ask: are these results even consistent with the “orb zone” theory, that orbs are mainly caused by dust? It is doubtful that they are.

Consider that theory. The theory holds that orbs are caused by dust particles only a few inches away from the camera, in front of the camera lens. So what should happen with a camera such as the Fujifilm W1 3D under the “orb zone” theory? The diagram below illustrates what should happen. The diagram shows the Fujifilm W1 3D from above. The blue units are the two different lenses. The yellow unit in the middle is the flash. The yellow lines are the light emitted from the flash. The gray blob is a speck of dust. The red lines are the light reflected from the dust.


It seems that in such a setup, if an orb is produced (by dust very near the lenses), then the orb should be seen in the images taken by both lenses. But that is apparently not what happens in most cases, according to the Fujifilm W1 3D results.

So far from being evidence that supports the “orb zone” theory that orbs are mainly caused by dust, the Fujifilm W1 3D results would seem to actually be incompatible with such a theory. The results, as have seen, are also compatible with 6 out of 6 theories assuming that orbs are paranormal. So to trumpet these results online as “definitive proof that orbs are not paranormal” is pure bunk. If anything, the results would seem to be in favor of the hypothesis that orbs are paranormal.

So based on what we have seen here (and in my previous two posts in this series, Part 1 and Part 2), we are left with no good mundane explanation for the more interesting anomalous-seeming orbs that have shown up in so many flash photographs. It may well be time to consider extraordinary possibilities. That does not mean we have to leap inevitably to some “spirit emanation” hypothesis (although such a hypothesis still seems viable). It could be that orbs are simply some anomalous form of energy that scientists simply don't understand yet. Another possibility is that orbs are actually produced by the photographer himself, through some type of anomalous “mind over energy” effect. The long-running Global Consciousness Project that originated at Princeton University has accumulated evidence that humans have an anomalous effect on random number generators. If such a thing is possible, then it seems quite possible that humans can have an anomalous effect on flash photographs. But that is just an interesting possibility. At this time the long-standing phenomenon of orbs showing up in flash photographs must simply be regarded as an unsolved mystery. The glib explanations of the orb debunkers have not stood up to scrutiny.