‘Murdered’ British backpacker Grace Millane, 22, made a chilling final Instagram post – featuring a skull painting and a quote about death.

Grace, an advertising graduate and talented artist, is believed to have been killed between December 1 and 2, court documents show. A few weeks before her death, Grace, had uploaded her last post to her Instagram art page – a watercolour of a human skull.

Grace had captioned the image “Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead” – a quote from the theme song of the hit TV show, Pretty Little Liars, which follows the lives of four girls after their friend vanishes.

The talented 22-year-old posted this watercolour image of a skull on Instagram on October 23
The talented 22-year-old posted this watercolour image of a skull on Instagram on October 23 (Image: Instagram)


She captioned the post: "Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead"

She captioned the post: “Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead”
 (Image: Instagram).

Is this a chilling case of prophecy, or ‘just a coincidence’?

One person’s coincidence another person’s yawn?

I recently came across the late Michael Thalbourne‘s  ‘A BRIEF TREATISE ON COINCIDENCE’.  Fascinating!

Especially notable in Michael’s account is the huge  gap that exists between the impact of a coincidence on the experiencer and an outsider perspective on the very same event.

This fact is revealed in his own experiences of sharing coincidences and witnessing other people’s reactions. This observation has been confirmed in laboratory research suggesting that one person’s amazing coincidence can bring on a yawn.

Michael Thalbourne

Dr Michael Thalbourne (MT)  was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on March 24th 1955 and passed away on the 4th of May 2010. He was educated at the University of Adelaide and the University of Edinburgh. From 1980 until 1987 Thalbourne was employed at the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research at Washington University in St Louis Missouri, USA.  In 1992 he returned to his hometown of Adelaide where he served as the President of the Australian Institute for Parapsychological Research and was the editor of the Australian Journal of Parapsychology.

Survey of Beliefs about Coincidences

MT used a 10-item survey of attitudes towards, and experience of, coincidence with  24 people.  To  the statement “I have experienced truly astounding coincidences”, 25% reported “often”, 63% “now and again”, and 13% reported “rarely”; nobody reported “never”.

Another statement was:  “I experience many small coincidences which would probably not impress other people but which make life interesting for me”. 29% responded “strongly agree”, 58% said “agree”, while 8% were uncertain and 4% said “disagree”.

A third statement was “It takes a certain vigilance of mind to see subtle coincidences.” Sixty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed, 17% were uncertain, and the same percentage said “disagree”. Thus, the majority agreed with the statement.

The causation of coincidences was included in the survey. MT asked: “Coincidences may be expected to occur from time to time just by chance or pure luck, and they never signify anything important or meaningful.”  MT reports that no one said “strongly agree”,  33% said “agree”, 21% were uncertain, while 29% disagreed and 17% strongly disagreed.

Another statement was “People who report many coincidences must be reading meaning into events which are just random.” Eight percent strongly agreed, 25% agreed, 38% were uncertain, 21% disagreed, and 8% strongly disagreed.

What is quite interesting is the strong link between having a positive attitudes towards coincidences and being much more likely to believe in experiences of the paranormal (r = .72, p < .001).

Egocentricity – the ‘yawn’ factor

One problem in considering coincidences is the  “egocentricity” bias (Falk, 1989).  People consider their own coincidences to be surprising and worthy of note, but other people hearing those same coincidences tend to be dismissive of them, thinking they occurred purely by chance.

MT confesses that, following the Falk study, he became more reluctant to share his own personal coincidences with other people. As a person who recently shared a coincidence in print myself, I can well understand MT’s reaction.  But the large number of coincidences that he experienced seemed too great to be a chance effect, so he thought he’d carry on sharing them. I have also felt this way at times, and there is no fool-proof way of eliminating the paranormal hypothesis, as far as I am aware.

MT gives three detailed examples of what he took to be potentially ‘paranormal’ coincidences. I quote these here as part of a developing portfolio of published cases.

MT Case 1

Thursday April 21st, 2005…

MT states: “I was deeply immersed in Liddell and Scott’s (1889) An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. In particular I was studying the preposition ΠΡΟ (i.e., PRO) to see whether it could mean “on behalf of”. I scoured the two-thirds of a column devoted to this preposition, but could not find the meaning I wanted. I had to give up at that point, because at 6:30 I was to go out to a fast food restaurant with a friend, for dinner.

Less than half an hour later, when we were at the restaurant, there passed by our table a young lad in soccer gear: on his shirt were the words, in Greek, ΑΣΠΙΣ ΠΡΟΝΟΙΑ (ASPIS PRONOIA). I for my part was astonished that he should be wearing, in Greek, even though as part of a longer word, the preposition ΠΡΟ. I knew that ΠΡΟΝΟΙΑ was a compound word made up of that preposition ΠΡΟ plus ΝΟΙΑ (from NOEEIN, to perceive), meaning something like “forethought”. (However, I was unfamiliar with the word ΑΣΠΙΣ, and I asked the boy what it meant, but he didn’t know. When I got home, I looked it up and discovered that it meant “a body of soldiers”. So the soccer shirt meant something like “a body of soldiers with forethought.”)

It seemed to me that the coincidence of having two quite unrelated instances of the Greek word ΠΡΟ within half an hour of each other was highly unlikely to occur by chance.

I’d never seen the boy before, and have never seen him since, nor have I seen this Greek phrase (or any other Greek words) on another soccer shirt. However, those around me with whom I shared the coincidence dismissed it as chance (as perhaps the reader will too!) But the egocentric bias is strong for the experient of a coincidence as well as for the people to whom it is told. Thus, I continue to regard the coincidence (and many that I’ve experienced since) as being more than chance.”

MT Case 2

“Saturday, December 11th, 2004, my family and I were gathered at the flat of my youngest brother to celebrate his 42nd birthday. Two coincidences occurred to me that day. First of all, my brother possesses a CD of the composer Monteverdi which he himself never plays but which he good-heartedly loans to me now and again. I spoke aloud the name of the composer, Monteverdi. I was misheard, and was asked “Verdi”? I said, “No. Claudio Monteverdi.” But the question got me thinking, “What is Verdi’s first name? Is it Giuseppe?”

I resolved to check my Webster’s Biographical Dictionary when I got home. Yes, p. 1515reveals that his name was indeed Giuseppe. The coincidence occurred a little later when I was watching the evening news, and a man was interviewed whose first name was given at the bottom of the screen as Giueseppe. (I in fact wondered if the station had spelt the name Giuseppe incorrectly.)”

MT Case 3

“The …coincidence involved my father telling a joke about George W. Bush wanting to get into Heaven to talk with Moses. Bush tried several times, but on each occasion Moses told St. Peter to send him away. Finally, Moses said “The last time I talked with abush I ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years!” That evening, just after 8:30, I was watching a commercial station on which there was a movie called For Richer or Poorer with Tim Allen in it as an entrepreneur engaged in setting up theme parks. The character revealed his latest theme park inspiration, which he called “Holy Land”, and pointed out a bush “which bursts into flame every hour”. I know for a fact that my father was unacquainted with the movie and so he had no idea that the theme of the burning bush was to arise later that evening. It is interesting to me that when I told my father about what I’d seen and heard on TV that very night, sceptic that he was, his reaction was one of dogged silence, and certainly not the cry “How amazing!”, as he battled his cognitive dissonance. If he said nothing about the coincidence it would go away.”

MT’s conclusion

MT  dismisses skeptical explanations based on chance “as a bottomless pit, able to swallow up each and every coincidence that does not already have a normal explanation.”

On the other hand, MT wisely states that “we must be ever cautious about the coincidences that we do evaluate as paranormal.”

The fact is, however, there is no fool-proof method to say one way or the other. It comes down to one’s own subjective evaluation.

What do you think?  Is pure chance the only credible explanation, or  are there hidden causes, or is something paranormal going on?

The Strange Self-Motion Illusion

Anomalous experiences tend to jolt one out of one’s comfort zone, tell us interesting things about how the mind works.  A vivid déjà vu, strange coincidence, or unexpected illusion can all be automatic attention-grabbers.  Some of the oddest experiences are visual. When a large part of the visual field moves, the viewer can momentarily believe that they have moved in the opposite direction.

The most common example occurs when looking out of a stationary train window at a station, and a nearby train moves away, you erroneously perceive that your own (stationary) train is moving in the opposite direction. This experience can happen on the railway, the road, at sea or in space, and it can cause accidents (e.g. see

The other day, driving along a busy A3 towards London on ‘autopilot’ (Vatansever, Menon and Stamatakis, 2017), I reached a  set of traffic light. In the middle lane, my vehicle was boxed in all sides by other vehicles so that I could not myself see the traffic lights. Suddenly I felt as if my vehicle was being pulled backwards so that my car would impact the one behind, a potential disaster.  I immediately slammed my foot on the brake and felt a surge of adrenaline. Thankfully, my perceptual-motor system quickly snapped back to reality – I realized that I was stationary and that the surrounding vehicles were moving forwards.  Reset! In less than a second, my foot came off the brake and onto the accelerator.  I had experienced the ‘Self Motion Illusion’ (Riecke, 2010).

My brain had falsely concluded that my vehicle was moving backwards. This is the natural response of a perceptual system with a default setting that expects constancy (Day, 1972).  I wish to argue that perceptual constancy is based on a universal principle of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’ (Marks, 2018).  When my perceptual world went haywire at the traffic lights, a rapid correctional ‘reset’ brought me back to my senses.

The rapidity of the reset is required to prevent a potential accident. This fact may be evidence of a general reset principle which is operating to produce equilibrium at each and moment in a conscious being.  Alternatively the experience was reset by the fact that I saw the surrounding vehicles moving away around me. It is hard to say from a single uncontrolled experience.


Day, R. H. (1972). The basis of perceptual constancy and perceptual illusion. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science11(6), 525-532.

Marks, D. F. (2018). A General Theory of Behaviour. London: SAGE Publications.

Riecke, B. E. (2010). Compelling self-motion through virtual environments without actual self-motion–Using self-motion illusions (‘vection’) to improve VR user experience. Virtual reality. InTech.

Vatansever, D., Menon, D. K., & Stamatakis, E. A. (2017). Default mode contributions to automated information processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences114(48), 12821-12826.




Psychology and the Paranormal

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Thanks for the visit!

I approach this blog site with a sense of anticipation, wondering where it may lead…

I hope it might lead towards light, new treasure, in the form of new knowledge and theory.  

How can that be, you might well ask ?  Surely, a so-called ‘expert’ must already have an opinion one way or the other about the paranormal? Wrong!

The truth is that I have no fixed ideas about which direction the evidence will lead. 

One thing I do know – it is necessary to step beyond old assumptions, seek new objects of knowledge. 

If we already KNOW the answer, the TRUTH, why would we bother to read, write or even THINK for that matter, because the truth must already be determined, already out there, written by somebody, somewhere and all that would be left to do would be to pick up dead learning.

Believers vs. Disbelievers

It is quickly apparent to any observer that the paranormal field is heavily divided between two armies of believers (so-called ‘sheep’) and skeptics (so-called ‘goats’ who are actually dis-believers) battling it out with no holds barred.

The stakes are high. The fight is not about empirical studies, observations and anecdotes.  The very nature of science, life and reality are being contested.  

There are ‘dead bodies’ and ‘unexploded land mines’ all over the place and one would be lucky to leave the field in one piece. One can surmise that there can only be losers, never winners, in this futile type of war. In the end every soldier in the affray is a loser. It’s an intellectual version of World War I with permanent trenches and barbed wire fences that has been waging for over a century.  

I know this because I have been there on the battle field.  I entered the field and did several tours of duty. Then, battle-weary with the affray, I walked away.

Recently I returned to see if anything has changed.

As I stuck my head over the trench top waving a white flag of peace, a few warning shots were fired. The same old battle is raging but with the difference that many new foot soldiers have been recruited and there have been scores of  new studies over the last 20 years. These studies have been weaponised to provide increased power, precision and impact.

The army of non-believers now possesses a stockpile of findings consistent with scientific explanations of the paranormal. The believer army, meanwhile, has accrued an equally large stockpile supportive of paranormal interpretations.  

White Flag of Neutrality

Offering the white flag of peace and neutrality causes no small amount of trepidation.  Am I now to be a target for both sides – because, in the battle of the paranormal, nobody is permitted to be neutral?  It’s a ‘do or die’ scenario like no other in science.


The blog posts here are written from a dispassionate point of view. If I am passionate about anything, it is about the importance of neutrality. My purpose is to create a balanced and even-handed review based on the best contemporary evidence on paranormal claims in science and medicine.

I present here the evidence, both pro and con, explain the relevant psychological processes, present scientific arguments, and produce a final balance sheet at the end.


Out soon:

“Psychology and the Paranormal

Exploring Anomalous Experience”

June 2020 | 400 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd