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Stone Tape Theory: If Walls Could Talk 

What is “residual haunting”?

black and white photo of an abandoned building
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  • Photo Credit: Erik Müller / Unsplash

There are many rules of “what not to do” if you ever find yourself sucked into a horror film, such as never going into the basement alone, remembering to turn on every light, and whatever you do, don’t disturb the ancient burial ground! 

There is a long-standing myth that disturbing grounds such as tombs, grave sites or even haunted buildings can release an ancient curse or evil spirit trapped within the mortar; but is this nothing more than a fabricated plot device for scary movies?

Maybe not, as the idea of spirits being trapped in inanimate objects has existed for centuries… 

What is Stone Tape Theory? 

The Stone Tape Theory posits that certain types of stone, including quartz and limestone, can preserve the memory of past events within their materials—as such, they can be likened to recording devices that playback these events. 

Let's dig a bit deeper.

A Christmas Ghost Story of Residual Haunting 

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  • Photo Credit: Nigel Kneale

On Christmas day, 1972, BBC Two broadcasted their annual ghost story, “The Stone Tape” by Nigel Kneale—a supernatural movie about researchers from an electrical company who set up a new facility within an ancient Victorian mansion.

Within the mansion, one room is supposedly so haunted that builders working on renovating the mansion refuse to enter, but it becomes the grim subject of interest when researchers hear footsteps and the blood-curdling scream of a woman from that very room. 

The researchers proceed to dig through old records of the mansion, and find an account of a woman who died a violent death at the mansion—leading them to surmise that the actual stone of the walls is acting as some kind of recording device, playing the event back to them, much like a tape recorder; hence the film's title, “The Stone Tape”. 

However, the film isn’t just a gothic tale of supernatural phenomena, it also popularized the theory of residual hauntings. 

Residual hauntings, according to parapsychology, are described as an "energy transference" from a traumatic or stressful event into the surrounding area of the incident.

This phenomenon can reportedly occur in various objects, such as the building blocks of a structure or even in a child's porcelain doll, like in the case of Okiko; a doll whose original owner passed away from a terrible fever, and is believed to have absorbed the ill child's energy to such an extent that the family began to hear disembodied voices and flickering lights, and the doll is said to have even started to grow human hair. 

According to many paranormal investigators, residual energy is left behind after many events, particularly negative ones, and the negative energy is then dispersed into the surrounding environment or objects. 

Parapsychology argues that this particular type of haunting is not “intelligent” or “conscious”, like with the wandering spirit of a deceased person trying to communicate with the living, but is instead an “imprint” left behind that can replay back to us—much like Stone Tape Theory.  

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  • Photo Credit: photosfrompasttofuture / Unsplash

These types of hauntings are believed to be the most common type that people experience, whether you are a seasoned ghost hunter, or have inadvertently found yourself staying in a haunted hotel.

Instances of staying in haunted locations, such as castles or old hotels, are often followed by accounts of hearing footsteps, bangs and even voices being heard on several occasions through the same night, or at the same time on different nights—the repeated action of these alleged hauntings fit perfectly into this theory of residual hauntings or Stone Tape Theory.

Hauntings that cannot be interacted with, and will supposedly never contribute anything new to the investigation due to the hauntings being mere “playbacks” of an event. 

Although the idea of “Stone Tape Theory” was naturally born of the beliefs of those interested in the paranormal, it has also garnered a fair bit of interest from academics over the years… 

Can Science Explain Stone Tape Theory? 

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  • Charles Babbage

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Babbage was an English Polymath, mathematician, and inventor of the first mechanical and programmable computer.

Babbage, known as the “computer pioneer” presented the idea that all human speech is captured in the atmosphere, on an atomic level, for all eternity, and with the right calculations and machinery, it could be possible to retrieve these spoken words. 

“The air itself is one vast library on whose pages are forever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered”

— Charles Babbage, 1837  

The idea that Babbage proposed was included in one of his many, if lesser-known books, “The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise” written by Babbage in 1837.

In this book, his theory of “rewinding the movement of particles” is explored as a concept to merge the scientific findings with the Old Testament and Christian scripture.

However, Charles Babbage wasn’t the only scholar to tread down this paranormal rabbit hole. 

Place Memory vs Stone Tape Theory 

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  • Photo Credit: Yle Archives / Unsplash

There have been many attempts by scholars and philosophers alike to explain this “supernatural phenomenon”, one such theory is that of “Place Memory”—a theory that is somewhat similar to Stone Tape Theory. 

Place Memory is primarily an American term and concept, associated with the American Psychologist and Parapsychologist William G. Roll.

Roll suggests that locations can absorb traumatic or violent events, and the emotions that go with them; Roll then argued that certain individuals could pick up on those emotions, or sense the negative energy that resides within the space. 

Stone Tape Theory originated in the UK, and was first explored by Edmund Gurney, an English Psychologist and Parapsychologist, and Eleanor Sidgwick, a physics researcher and leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research—The Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1882, aims to understand psychic and paranormal phenomena.

It was the first society to conduct organized scholarly research into human experiences that “challenge contemporary scientific models”. 

Those who believe in Stone Tape Theory, or those who hypothesize, share the idea that building materials, such as stone, can act as a “tape recorder” for past events, and argue that those “recordings” can manifest themselves as apparitions or sounds “replaying” the memories that have been stored within the walls. 

Stone Tape Theory: In Conclusion

Residual energy may come in many forms, such as Stone Tape Theory and Place Memory, but both theories focus on a similar theme—residual hauntings.  

Place Memory focuses more so on an “emotional connection” between an individual who is emotionally perceiving the location or environment, picking up on energy and sensations that may have been left behind, whereas Stone Tape Theory implies a connection between physical materials, such as stone, to paranormal phenomena, such as apparitions and ghostly sounds. 

Place Memory could be harder to prove, especially if the individual is aware of the events before visiting the area, as it could lead them to feel a sense of foreboding or nervousness that could be interpreted as “picking up” negative residual energy.  

Stone Tape Theory is equally difficult to study, as entering buildings constructed of old stone are probably likely to emit groans and bangs regularly, making it hard to decipher if it is “playback” or just aged materials—however, if you were to see a ghostly apparition in said building, drawing a connection to the stone walls would perhaps also be difficult. 

Either way, if you are a believer of both theories or are not yet convinced, it is probably best to err on the side of caution when it comes to digging up that cool-looking tomb you stumbled across on one of your late-night jaunts… 

Featured images: Erik Müller / Unsplash, photosfrompasttofuture / Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons, Yle Archives / Unsplash