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Stone Tape Theory: An Exploration

PSI's Dave Wood explores the origins and uses of the ‘stone tape theories’ and asks whether it has a place in today’s world of paranormal investigation.  The Stone Tape

The so-called “stone tape theory” is a term often used by paranormal enthusiasts and has a place in most paranormal investigator’s dictionary. Briefly the theory follows that a scene or event, often of a powerfully emotional or tragic nature, is somehow captured within the stonework of a location and replays – like a tape – events at certain times in a fixed location, to certain people or under certain circumstances. The resulting “ghosts” are said to be in no way sentient, they simply carry out a pre-defined set of actions.

This brief article asks the questions: where does ‘stone tape theory’ come from? Why do people ‘use’ the theory? Is stone tape theory a scientific theory? Is there any evidence for stone tape theory? Is there a place for stone tape theory in a paranormalist’s dictionary?

Where does the term ‘stone tape theory’ come from? It seems to be a generally accepted idea that the theory derives from the storyline of the 1972 BBC dramatisation of Kneale’s play ‘The Stone Tape’. The story follows scientists who theorise that a room’s fabric ‘stores’ the visual and auditory impression of a ghost that replays inside the heads of certain sensitive individuals. It would, however, be unfair to the proponents of the theory to suggest that it was a theory accepted wholesale as the result of a work of fiction. Early proponents also seem to have been inspired by Robin’s ‘Secret Language of Stone’, a non-fiction book which links psychic phenomena with the properties of stones such as quartz.

So why do paranormal theorists use the stone tape theory? Stone tape apparitions often appear in crude categorisations of the ‘types’ of ghost one may encounter along with poltergeist, crisis apparitions and apparitions of the living etc. Amongst some investigators the concept of ‘stone tape’ is often seen as interchangeable with related concepts such as ‘residual hauntings’ and ‘imprints’ (a form of North American version of stone tape). Most investigators, however, apply the concept ‘correctly’ – in a logical sense – as an explanation for the phenomena of ‘residual haunting’ itself rather than a description of it. This brings us to the probable reason for the popularity of the term; it is a shorthand explanation for established phenomena. These phenomena of ‘residual hauntings’ are certainly as established as they could be.  

A large proportion of traditional centuries-old hauntings can fall under the banner of residual: the lady in grey who is ‘still sometimes seen walking the path’, the headless horseman that appears at midnight or the apparition that appears on the anniversary of it’s death. The concept of ‘stone tape theory’ is a neat way of explaining these phenomena.

The primary problem of many researchers seems to be whether stone tape theory is a valid explanation, or whether it is a scientific theory? The problem often rests with the ‘method of recording’. Despite loose theoretical links between physic phenomena and stones there remains no evidence for the theory. It fails to be a scientific theory as the process is not properly explained and the theory is not testable. Under the scientific method the stone tape theory offers no explanation, merely a description. Any anecdotal evidence is superstitious at best and there is a constant debate about the finer points of the implications of the theory, which are beyond the scope of this short article.

The question remains as to whether stone tape theory has a place in the dictionary of a paranormal investigator. One’s beliefs, assumptions and method of investigating dictate the answer. Many paranormal investigators would self-define as a spiritualist and eschew science. For many such individuals the theory is a valid one. Spiritualism can be a faith and assumption driven way of life; if one has a faith-based assumption that there is a connection between psychic events and stones and crystals then stone tape theory is a natural progression and requires no scientific justification. Other investigators, however, self-define as scientific researchers. For such investigators stone tape theory has no sound theoretical or evidential basis and should be discarded from their dictionary of paranormal terminology.