“Multi-event Sensor App (MESA 3.0)” – A Citizen Science Tool For Big-Data On Ghostly Episodes

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Brian Laythe1, James Houran2, & Mohamed Ali Boussoffara3 
1Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience (I.S.R.A.E.), Charlestown, IN, USA 
2Integrated Knowledge Systems, Dallas, TX, USA 
3FINAXYS, Mahdia, Tunisia 

Introduction: Instrumentation has been used inconsistently in studies of “ghostly episodes“ (Houran & Lange, 1998; Dagnall et al., 2020). Moreover, big data analytics are likely needed to describe the important interactions among attitudinal, normative, and environmental variables that likely mediate percipients’ reports. The growth of social, mobile, cloud, and multi-media computing can now support robust “citizen science” campaigns. Accordingly, we developed MESA 3.0 ― an android application that conducts site-specific mapping. This “app” is the next-gen version of early MESA systems (Harte et al., 1999; Houran et al., 1998) and was designed to document and quantify anomalous experiences in real-time for cross-correlation with time-synced environmental readings.  

Method: MESA 3.0 uses the sensors in mobile devices to measure GMF 3-axis, Lighting Levels, Temperature, Barometric Pressure, and Gravity/Acceleration. Data are collected at five samples per second creating mini-packets of 25 readings every five seconds. Environmental data, audio, and pictures are aggregated, logged, and displayed to users via descriptive statistics and automatically saved in shareable files which allow for uploading with a corresponding cloud-based data repository. The app further documents the installed sensor type, sensitivity, and resolution. Inclusion of the new Survey of Strange Events (SSE: Houran et al., 2019) also facilitates standardized comparisons of pericpients‘ reports across environmental settings. We field-tested MESA 3.0’s four functional modes (i.e., Baseline, Freestyle, Sentinel, and EVP-Knock) via an exercise with volunteers who collected (a) baseline readings of their residences, (b.) a baseline of a public area, and (c) baseline readings at a reputed “haunt.”  

Results: The app performed as designed — environmental data were easily retrieved, compared against photographs and SSE scores, as well as automatically stored and available to download for statistical analysis. We noted some variability across different mobile devices, but overall the environmental readings and investigation protocol were stable across users and hardware. Thus, the app was an effective method to obtain “environmental and experiential maps” of settings associated with anomalous experiences. 

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Fig. 1 Screen shot of MESA 3.0’s output of environmental readings. 

Discussion: MESA 3.0 is a user-friendly mobile lab that can be used in research designs involving citizen scientists. I.S.R.A.E will host and maintain the application’s platform and open-access data repository. Our intention is to engage several thousand enthusiasts to create the largest documented set of public data for “haunted, sacred or enchanted” locations to date. As such, we hope this effort can help to mend antagonistic relationships between parapsychologists and ghost-hunters (Hill et al., 2018, 2019; Houran, 2017) by introducing this tool to amateur paranormal groups for structured and productive future collaborations between the two camps. Collaboration for further application and refinement of MESA 3.0 is open and welcome. 

Dagnall, N., Drinkwater, K., O’Keeffe, C., Ventola, A., Laythe, B., Jawer, M. A., Massullo, B., Caputo, G. B., & Houran, J., (2020). Things that go bump in the literature: An environmental appraisal of “haunted houses.” Frontiers in Psychology, 11:1328. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01328  

Harte, T. M., Black, D. L., & Hollinshead, M. T. (1999). MESA: A new configuration for  measuring electromagnetic field fluctuations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers31, 680-683. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03200745 

Hill, S. A., Laythe, B., Dagnall, N., Drinkwater, K., O’Keeffe, C., Ventola, A., & Houran, J. (2019). “Meme-spirited”: II. Illustrations of the VAPUS model for ghost narratives. Australian Journal of Parapsychology19, 5-43. 

Hill, S. A., O’Keeffe, C., Laythe, B., Dagnall, N., Drinkwater, K., Ventola, A., & Houran, J. (2018). “Meme-spirited”: I. A VAPUS model for understanding the prevalence and potency of ghost narratives. Australian Journal of Parapsychology18, 117-152. 

Houran, J, (2017). “Sheet happens!” – Advancing ghost studies in the analytics age. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 18, 187206. 

Houran, J., & Lange, R. (1998). Rationale and application of a multi-energy sensor array in the investigation of haunting and poltergeist cases. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research62, 324-336. 

Houran, J., Lange, R., & Black, D. L. (1998). MESA: A portable multi-energy sensor array for low-frequency electromagnetic field fluctuations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers30, 411-415. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03200673 

Houran, J., Lange, R., Laythe, B., Dagnall, N., & Drinkwater, K., & O’Keeffe, C. (2019). Quantifying the phenomenology of ghostly episodes – Part II: A Rasch model of spontaneous accounts. Journal of Parapsychology83, 168-192. https://doi.org/10.30891/jopar.2019.01.03 

Jawer, M. A., Massullo, B., Laythe, B., & Houran, J. (2020). Environmental “Gestalt influences” pertinent to the study of haunted houses. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research84, 65-92. 

Lange, R., & Houran, J. (1997). Fortean phenomena on film: Evidence or artifact? Journal of Scientific Exploration11, 41-46. 


“Multi-event Sensor App (MESA 3.0)” – A Citizen Science Tool For Big-Data On Ghostly Episodes


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