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Old 8th November 2012, 01:53 PM   #1
robpowers
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Seeking Possible Causes for Unexplained Sound of Footsteps on Floor

My mother has been telling me for several years now that she believes her house is haunted. One of the several evidences she offers is that there are frequently unexplained sounds of what she interprets to be footsteps in the upstairs hallway. My father, who is the only other person living in the house thinks she is crazy. He doesn't believe in anything paranormal at all but is also not a curious person and has no interest in "entertaining her paranoia". My sister and her husband also claim to hear the same noises when they stay over for a day or two on holiday.

I don't give much credibility to the paranormal but as a scientific professional, I am willing to accept the possibility of anything supported by evidence. For this reason I humor her by listening to the stories and offering more mundane alternative explanations.

Anyway. Since my home was flooded during hurricane Sandy, my family moved into my parent's house. A few nights ago I awoke late at night to what "SOUNDED LIKE" boots walking back and forth in the upstairs hallway. With my mothers observations in mind I jumped out of bed and ran upstairs to look. When I got to top of stairs I didn't hear it anymore. I opened the doors where my children and parents slept and no one was out of bed. The following night I made the same observation but when I got to the top of the stairs I quickly placed my ear to the wood floor while covering the other.
I was able to make some observation about the sound, which last approximately 10 more seconds. The sound appeared to be coming from the subfloor and also near the top of the Pergo floor. Also, more interesting, the sound produced a doppler effect. This occurred in two consecutive cycles. All of this providing an experience that one could easily interpret as boots pacing back and forth across the floor.

All of my friends that I have confided in about this question why I would try to find an explanation for something that there is an obvious explanation for but I am offended by that as a scientist. I am not looking to see if there is a ghost in the house but I want to provide a root cause for the observation.

To reduce the uneccessary verbage that I am prone to providing, I am listing what I consider the relevant facts below

Construction
Home is 2 story colonial built in 1973.
The upstairs bedrooms are carpeted and the hallway is a floating Pergo wood venere floor (approx. 5 feet wide by 20 feet long) resting on a rubber mat approx 1/8 inch thick. The subfloor is, of course, sheets of 8x10 plywood
Heating is hydronic baseboard.
Stairway is wood with carpet runner.
All piping is on exterior walls and only penetrates into 1 upstairs and 2 downstairs bathrooms.
All ceilings and walls are sheet-rock.

Biases
My mother is prone to believe in paranormal phenomenon and does not attempt to seek ordinary explanations.
I am a non-religious Roman Catholic although I do believe,with significant doubts, that humans have an eternal soul. I do not believe that the soul interacts with the world after it dies.
I especially cannot imagine how it would even be possible for a incorporeal entity to produce a physical effect such as moving an object or creating a "footstep". Since this would require mass, it seems unimaginable even if there were such thing as a "ghost".
I lived in the house for 23 years total without having any remarkable experiences in line with people describe as a haunting.
I was primed to interpret the sound as footsteps based on others accounts.

There are more things I can think of but I am at work and want to go home.
I thank you in advance for your input.
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Old 8th November 2012, 02:05 PM   #2
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Also a few more facts to consider.

The door to an unoccupied bedroom that sits directly across from the bathroom with tiled floors sounded like it creaked open as I approached the stairway. After considering this I thought that one possible explanation was that as the bedroom began heating it created a convection current that went across the cold wood floor to the even colder tile floor. Being that the wood floor is floating on padding, I don't know how the deeper sounds would be produced but it may explain contraction of the wood floor surface following the flow of the hot air current. I did't notice that when I put my ear to the floor.

The following day I tried to test that theory by starting with all rooms and hallway flooring cold (opening windows). I then cracked the bedroom door open and cranked up the heat. I did notice that the bedroom which the door opened the night before heated more quickly. I placed a piece of tissue paper at door crack and did observe a slight deflection from air flow. I listened with ear to the floor for approx. 5-10 minutes and didn't notice anything unusual.
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Old 8th November 2012, 02:07 PM   #3
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Heat can make popping sounds going through the system that when echoing will sound like someone walking.

Found this link for ya.

http://www.insweb.com/news-features/...your-home.html
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Old 8th November 2012, 02:15 PM   #4
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Raccoons, noise carried from elsewhere, settling wood, are three possibilities.

Our brains add interpretation to both adio and visual input. That's why some ventriloquists are so very good. It would be great if you could record the sounds and listen to them without the setting. The sounds might be very different.
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Old 8th November 2012, 02:47 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
Raccoons, noise carried from elsewhere, settling wood, are three possibilities.

Our brains add interpretation to both adio and visual input. That's why some ventriloquists are so very good. It would be great if you could record the sounds and listen to them without the setting. The sounds might be very different.
This is an excellent point, as the OP mentioned, he was primed to hear footsteps.

Back during the '08 primaries, Clinton was accused of using a racial epitaph based on a sound clip. When I listened to the clip, it was clear as day she HAD indeed used it. However, when I played the clip out of context to people who weren't aware of what she was supposed to be saying, the couldn't tell what she was saying. My brain was primed to hear a word, and so it tried to interpret the sounds I was hearing that way.

The same thing happens to me all the time with music. For instance, I am a big fan of Modest Mouse, but Isaac Brock's lyrics can be hard to make out. So I'll go to a lyric site, and read the lyrics while listening to the music. Suddenly, I can hear the lyrics clearly where I couldn't before.

It is really quite amazing how little you can actually trust your senses. By the time you are aware of sensing something, your brain has already messed with the raw input a lot.
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Old 8th November 2012, 04:14 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Fizil View Post
.....

It is really quite amazing how little you can actually trust your senses. By the time you are aware of sensing something, your brain has already messed with the raw input a lot.
I've been fascinated with this particular aspect of our brains for a long time. What I highlighted is exactly right, we don't perceive raw data (with some exceptions), rather we perceive consciously the data after it has been interpreted. But without an extra effort, we aren't aware we are perceiving the interpretation, not the straight data.

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Old 9th November 2012, 12:36 AM   #7
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robpowers

Is the house built on a hillside or the flat. If it's on the flat, I doubt that it could be "settling" but on a hillside it could be ground movement. I'm doubting it because repeat movement is unlikely over a period of time. The sound would happen for period of time (days, weeks months) then change or stop


IMO, this has all the hallmarks of a temperature change, a conclusion that you seem to be on your way to arriving at yourself.

Let me tell you about an experience we had in our current house. We used to get something which we called, "The Tock"; it was sound that we would hear from time to time near our front door.

Our house has a "vestibule", a small area just inside the front door. It has doors leading to four other rooms.

Late at night, or in the small hours of the morning we would sometimes hear a clear and loud sound. It was similar to the "tock" part of the "tick-tock" sound made by a grandfather clock (hence our name for it). The sound repeated at about ˝ second intervals.... "tock - tock - tock - tock - tock". IMO, it could easily be misinterpreted as footprints. The sound only repeated a few times; maybe between 4 and 8 "tocks". The frustrating thing was that with only a few "tocks" I could only ever get to the vestibule as the tocking stopped, never in enough time to pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from.

Eventually, I tracked down the cause, but it was purely by accident. We had a number of visitors around for dinner one night and as they were leaving, there were several people in the vestibule together. One of them stepped very close to the wall near one of the door architraves (not a place one would normally step). There was a single loud "tock", but, unlike a squeaky floorboard, there was no sound as the person stepped off. It was an "Aha!" moment. I tried stepping on the same place, and it made the same sound.

Next day, I pulled up the carpet in that area to expose the floorboards, and found the cause; there was a join in one floorboard about 1" out from the wall, The end of the floorboard in the vestibule was protruding up about 2-3mm above the one that ran under the wall, but the nails were recessed, and when you pushed down on the board, it would go down and make the noise i.e. the nails were not pulling out of the joists, they were firm, the board was lifting up off the nails.

I fixed it by grabbing a CS floorboard screw (square drive type) and screwing the floorboard firmly down into the joist.

"The Tock" hasn't been heard ever since... about 18 months.
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Old 9th November 2012, 12:52 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Fizil View Post
The same thing happens to me all the time with music. For instance, I am a big fan of Modest Mouse, but Isaac Brock's lyrics can be hard to make out. So I'll go to a lyric site, and read the lyrics while listening to the music. Suddenly, I can hear the lyrics clearly where I couldn't before.
This happens a lot to me and its always somewhat amazing that I can clearly hear lyric X and then when I read what its actually meant to be then lyric Y is quite obvious and I can't imagine how I ever heard X in the first place.

I think its also why languages seem so easy in the classroom but I can't manage even a basic conversation in the real world - cos I don't know what to expect to hear.
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Old 9th November 2012, 12:53 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
robpowers

Is the house built on a hillside or the flat. If it's on the flat, I doubt that it could be "settling" but on a hillside it could be ground movement. I'm doubting it because repeat movement is unlikely over a period of time. The sound would happen for period of time (days, weeks months) then change or stop


IMO, this has all the hallmarks of a temperature change, a conclusion that you seem to be on your way to arriving at yourself.....
Flat ground can still subside. Look at the giant sinkholes that appear from time to time.

My hardwood floors sometimes make a very loud 'crack' or 'snap' sound. The noise would be a single event that repeated on an irregular schedule, but there would be days I'd hear the 'crack' a number of times. For a while it happened a lot and then it stopped and I've not heard the noise for years. I know it was something happening with the hardwood but I don't know if it was settling or temperature changes that caused it.
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Old 9th November 2012, 01:06 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
I've been fascinated with this particular aspect of our brains for a long time. What I highlighted is exactly right, we don't perceive raw data (with some exceptions), rather we perceive consciously the data after it has been interpreted. But without an extra effort, we aren't aware we are perceiving the interpretation, not the straight data.

And another welcome from me, too.

Quote:
But without an extra effort, we aren't aware we are perceiving the interpretation, not the straight data.
That's why digital sound works so well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_audio
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Old 9th November 2012, 09:33 AM   #11
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I used to work alone on Saturdays in the back room of a small-town manufacturing place which wasn't really open to the public on weekends, but the custom was to leave the front door unlocked and when you heard someone come in, maybe once a day if that, go out front to wait on them.

There was an annoying sound on some days, that sounded exactly like someone walking into the boss's empty office, one room away from the front door. I'd hurry out front, only to find no one there.

What I assumed it was, but not sure how you'd prove this: The cement floor in the boss's office had an old subfloor on it, that was slightly loose. As the temperature or humidity changed, the first panel, closest to the front door so it got the weather first, expanded or contracted. This allowed the next panel to do the same, and so on, in a domino effect. It probably happened during the week too, but there was too much noise and activity to notice.

I wonder if other subfloors could do the same thing, either making a noise themselves or pushing floor joists slightly one by one.
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Old 9th November 2012, 09:54 AM   #12
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I have heard footsteps walk down the corridor of a house I lived in. They were so clear I could have sworn my wife was about to appear in front of me, but I had not heard the door of the room she was sleeping in open. I looked out the room I was in and heard the footsteps walk past into the adjacent room and stop.

The odd thing was it only happened once, so unless there was some unique instance of environmental factors acting on the carpeted floorboards of the corridor, I am completely stumped as to what happened.

From that brilliantly spooky stories are made
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Old 9th November 2012, 09:57 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by robpowers View Post
Heating is hydronic baseboard.
Baseboard hot water heating often produces a regular thumping sound that could easily sound like boots on wooden floor.

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Old 9th November 2012, 10:08 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Nessie View Post
I have heard footsteps walk down the corridor of a house I lived in. They were so clear I could have sworn my wife was about to appear in front of me, but I had not heard the door of the room she was sleeping in open. I looked out the room I was in and heard the footsteps walk past into the adjacent room and stop.

The odd thing was it only happened once, so unless there was some unique instance of environmental factors acting on the carpeted floorboards of the corridor, I am completely stumped as to what happened.

From that brilliantly spooky stories are made
I rather sheepishly discovered that a certain door when slammed caused a hammer on a hook in the garage to tap against an adjoining wall, sounding like eerie footsteps upstairs.

"Who's up there?" I'd ask when no one was home.

That lasted for about a month before discovery.
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Old 9th November 2012, 11:01 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Nessie View Post
I have heard footsteps walk down the corridor of a house I lived in. They were so clear I could have sworn my wife was about to appear in front of me, but I had not heard the door of the room she was sleeping in open. I looked out the room I was in and heard the footsteps walk past into the adjacent room and stop.

The odd thing was it only happened once, so unless there was some unique instance of environmental factors acting on the carpeted floorboards of the corridor, I am completely stumped as to what happened.

From that brilliantly spooky stories are made
I suggest it could have been a noise from outside and your brain interpreted it as being in your hallway. That happened to me just a few days ago. Both my neighbor and I were chatting over the fence and we heard a whimpering coming from her backyard. We both thought that's where the noise was coming from. Then we heard it again and it turned out to be a dog barking from some distant place. Your brain tells you what it thinks it hears and you believe it.
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Old 9th November 2012, 11:07 AM   #16
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Seems like it there's an idea for a thread there - spooky occurrences which you attribute to natural causes. Probably would need a snappier title.
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Old 9th November 2012, 11:09 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
I suggest it could have been a noise from outside and your brain interpreted it as being in your hallway. That happened to me just a few days ago. Both my neighbor and I were chatting over the fence and we heard a whimpering coming from her backyard. We both thought that's where the noise was coming from. Then we heard it again and it turned out to be a dog barking from some distant place. Your brain tells you what it thinks it hears and you believe it.
That would work because behind me was the driveway running parallel to the hallway and then at the back room grass. So if someone walked down the driveway I would hear their footsteps coming towards me until they walked onto the grass.

Though it is odd my mind would would have played such a trick on me. It had no reason to do so.
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Old 9th November 2012, 06:01 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Nessie View Post
That would work because behind me was the driveway running parallel to the hallway and then at the back room grass. So if someone walked down the driveway I would hear their footsteps coming towards me until they walked onto the grass.

Though it is odd my mind would would have played such a trick on me. It had no reason to do so.
The reason is how your consciousness deals with neural input. We think we consciously assess neural input. In reality, it is assessed a fraction of a second before it reaches our consciousness.

The easiest example to understand this is the tiny blind spot on the retina where the optic nerve exits the eyeball. Your brain simply fills in the missing data and you don't see the blind spot without a special technique to detect it. There is no 'reason' for your brain to fill in that blank spot except it makes assumptions that the data is missing.

It's weird to think of your brain as having a mind of its own and I suppose that's a gross oversimplification. What researchers are finding instead is that only a small amount of what the brain is actually doing at any one time passes through our conscious thoughts.

People with specific visual deficits are fascinating examples. Some of them can't see form, like the angle of a slot in a wall. But they can put their hand in the slot. The part of the brain that processes the hand movement can 'see' the slot, but the part of the brain that processes conscious visual aspect of the slot cannot.

So your subconscious brain processes visual and auditory stimuli and sends an already interpreted version to your consciousness center.
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Old 9th November 2012, 06:30 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by IXP View Post
Baseboard hot water heating often produces a regular thumping sound that could easily sound like boots on wooden floor.

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My thoughts exactly.
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Old 10th November 2012, 12:31 AM   #20
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Low frequency vibration can have a surprisingly distant source. In my childhood home, trucks going over a pothole in the road about 100 metres away caused a rumbling effect that resonated in upstairs floorboards. It only lasted a second or so, but several vehicles could trigger repeats that really did sound like someone moving around upstairs. I recall (aged about 14) figuring this out while alone in the house - it was an early triumph of scepticism.
So to the OP, I'd suggest widening your scan for the source of vibrations- it may be outside the house by some distance. Hang in there. You will get to the bottom of it.
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Old 10th November 2012, 02:31 AM   #21
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Whenever water is run in the bathroom in my house, just after the tap is turned off or the toilet cistern is refilled there is a rhythmic ticking noise. It's too fast for footsteps but it sounds just like tap shoes on a sprung wooden floor. We can hear it in the kitchen and sitting room (not in the bathroom itself) and we assume it's something to do with the cold water tank refilling. We don't get the same noise when water is run in the kitchen, but the cold water in there comes from the rising main, so if it is to do with the tank that would explain it. If the sound was slower it would sound exactly like footsteps.

On spooky noises in general, the doorbell here sometimes rings when there is nobody there. It's very annoying! At first I thought it was someone playing tricks so got a CCTV camera to cover the doors and the drive, but as that picked up nothing I think it's a loose wire in the system somewhere. Since it's a rented house I'm not investigating further at the moment.
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Old 10th November 2012, 02:38 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
People with specific visual deficits are fascinating examples. Some of them can't see form, like the angle of a slot in a wall. But they can put their hand in the slot. The part of the brain that processes the hand movement can 'see' the slot, but the part of the brain that processes conscious visual aspect of the slot cannot.
Phantoms In The Brain by V. S. Ramachandran? Interesting book.
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Old 10th November 2012, 03:25 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Squeegee Beckenheim View Post
Phantoms In The Brain by V. S. Ramachandran? Interesting book.
If the question mark is asking if this is where I got my info, no. But looking at the book info on Amazon, clearly it covers the same material. I'll have to see if the library has a copy.
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Old 10th November 2012, 03:31 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
If the question mark is asking if this is where I got my info, no. But looking at the book info on Amazon, clearly it covers the same material. I'll have to see if the library has a copy.
It was asking, yeah. It's just that the specific case I highlighted was a patient of Dr. Ramachandran. IIRC (although it's been a while since I read it), it was his discovery that although people with this condition couldn't consciously determine the form or angle of a slot, they could still post a letter through it effortlessly.
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