Photo: The Quiet Ones / Lionsgate

The Philip Experiment Is One Of The Most Famous Paranormal Studies Ever Conducted

People have been obsessed with what happens after we die ever since the dawn of time, and many even believe in ghosts or apparitions. However, some paranormal and psychical researchers hypothesize that the appearance of ghosts is merely the product of extreme belief in their existence, bringing something that doesn't exist to life through sheer mind power.

The Philip Experiment set out to see if a group of people could create and then materialize and converse with a completely made-up spirit. What happened during the experiment was interesting enough to inspire at least two horror films more than 30 years later.

Photo: The Quiet Ones / Lionsgate

  • In 1972, The Toronto Society For Psychical Research (TSPR) Wanted To See If They Could Create A Ghost

    Working with the theory that poltergeists and other ghostly occurrences are creations of the human mind, the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) set out to manifest a fake apparition in 1972. Under the guidance of Dr. A.R.G. Owen, the group of eight people created a fictional man who lived a relatively short life full of despair before dying by suicide. The TSPR then worked to bring this false ghost into our world through their shared belief in him.

    The group wanted to prove that all of the hallmarks of a ghost encounter - knocks, moving objects, a feeling of electricity in the air - were self-delusions brought about by like-minded individuals willing such things into being.

  • A Group Of Eight People, Without Psychic Gifts, Were Tasked With Setting Up A Seance

    The group of people involved with the experiment included TSPR head Dr. Owen, a parapsychologist, and his wife, Iris. Iris was a nurse and volunteered in social work but had no psychic gifts or background.

    The remaining unnamed participants included a woman who formally chaired MENSA, a bookkeeper, a sociology student, a housewife, an accountant, and an industrial designer. Rounding out the group was psychologist Dr. Joel Whitton, who merely sat in and observed the experiment.

  • Together, The Group Created A Fictional Historical Character

    The TSPR created Philip Aylesford and set his created life in the mid-1600s. In Aylesford's false life, he was an aristocrat in England married to an icy and cruel woman named Dorothea. He was an ally of the king and fought in the English Civil War before eventually falling in love with a young traveler girl named Margo whom he kept in a home on his property.

    When Dorothea found out about the affair, she accused Margo of witchcraft and had her burned at the stake. Aylesford became unmoored by the loss of his love and died by suicide in 1654 at the age of 30.

    A member of the group also sketched a portrait of Aylesford with the assistance of all participants.

  • The Next Phase Of The Experiment Was To Make Contact With Aylesford

    In September 1972, the TSPR began meeting and attempting to draw Aylesford's "ghost" out of the ether. For about a year, these meetings took place under conditions in direct opposition to most ghostly encounters. The group discussed Aylesford and his life in a well-lit room without the usual accouterments of a Ouija board, candles, or darkness - components often found in retellings of ghostly interactions.

    Although some of the participants claimed they felt the presence of Aylesford during their attempts at summoning him, there was no proof of this. Dr. Owen decided it was time to change tactics.

  • The Group Decided To Change Tactics And Create A Traditional Seance Environment

    Taking on the 19th-century practice of table-turning and the seances depicted in books and movies, the lights were dimmed, all of the participants sat around a table with palms flat on its surface, and photographs of Aylesford's likely castle home were placed around the room with artifacts from his time period. 

    Everyone at the table agreed to focus on Aylesford and the supernatural while not feeling as though they willed anything to happen on their own. Another rule was to accept any happenings with an unfrightened and open mind.

  • The Seance Group Finally Seemed To Make Contact With Aylesford

    After the appropriate changes were made to the atmosphere, the group claimed that one night they were rewarded for their calls to Aylesford with a knock on their table. Using the standard "one knock for yes and two knocks for no," the group asked questions of the supposed apparition in their midst and received responses from it. 

    Participants claimed they felt breezes in the room and across the table during the seances. They swore the table moved and tilted. They also claim it once even attempted to leave the room and became stuck in the doorway. This table slid easily over the thickly carpeted floor and allegedly balanced itself on one leg.

    Even though the group was supposedly checked for contraband that could be used to fake responses from Aylesford, people heard voices and felt vibrations during the seances. Furthermore, the lights would flicker on command and stop when requested, baffling some.