This was another case that came to the Society for Psychical Research’s Spontaneous Cases Committee for investigation and as such I picked it up for review. As most of the investigation was during COVID times and as I am based in the UK; much of the case was put together by talking to the experiencer over email. Those exchanges are of course documented in the full case report submitted to the SPR achieves, but omitted from this account.
Whilst it is not often that we may find a potential apparitional case, I feel that this one certainly could be a potential candidate. It also includes some potential hallmarks of Tyrrell’s sense data by providing a description that outlines the feelings of the Experiencer above what they may have seen. This could possibly define the experience as being one that occurred within the mind rather than within the external environment. As the Experiencer’s attention equally appeared to play a key role here in determining whether the cyclist existed within their field of vision, disappearing the moment that attention was averted.
Equally, the experience lacks any additional witnesses, which could support this as being information transferred to the Experiencers mind as sense data providing the apparitional drama here. Rather than an event occurring in the physical environment as is believed.
However, these are only my assumptions based on the limited information provided on this case.
Description of Experience
The Experiencer observed a cyclist heading down the street towards him as he waited for his son’s school bus. The cyclist started quite a way down the street, but the Experiencer does not recall seeing the cyclist enter the street. The cyclist was also travelling kind of slowly, which appeared a little strange to the Experiencer. The person riding the bike appeared odd to the Experiencer. As the cyclist got closer the Experiencer looked down at his phone briefly for a second, but when he looked up the cyclist had vanished. At this point the cyclist was about to pass a small tree, so it seemed as if they never quite passed it by entirely. The experience itself really bothered the Experiencer as it was simply beyond normal. The fact that the cyclist was moving slowly seemed to be important here too. As does the fact that the cyclist appeared odd, something which the Experiencer believes relates to their face appearing expressionless.
As this was a singular occurrence during a task that the Experiencer has regularly done, at that same time each school day, I believe with the information available it’s fair to describe this as a one-off event. I believe that an investigation of the physical location itself would likely reveal little to support the experience. My reasoning being that the Experiencer has had no previous experiences of any kind at this location or indeed after the event itself.
The Experiencer has provided some interesting points in which relate to this experience. These are as follows.
- He never witnessed the cyclist enter the street, they just appeared to be there.
- The cyclist was lean, presumed to be male.
- The cyclist appeared odd to the Experiencer.
- The cyclist appeared to be moving particularly slowly for someone on a bike. This was one element of this experience that first caught the Experiencers attention.
- Interestingly the Experiencer cannot remember what kind of clothes the cyclist may have been wearing or describe the bike they were riding.
- The Experiencer also recalls that the cyclist face was expressionless; and did not offer any description here to what the cyclist may look like.
- The experience, although not threatening by its description; left the Experiencer feeling ‘unhinged’ and ‘spooked.’ For at least three days.
- The Experiencer references the cyclist as; ‘zipper out of time and space.’
- When the Experiencer averted their attention, and looked at their phone, the cyclist appeared to disappear when there was nowhere for them to go.
Obviously, we have two main potential questions here; 1) was the cyclist ever in the street; and 2) where did they go if they were in the street?
The first question is only answered by the fact that the Experiencer has contacted the SPR to share their experience with us. An experience only made odd by the points listed above, but primarily by the fact that the Experiencer did not witness the cyclist enter the street and because they failed to witness them leave the street.
Whilst we could assume that it may have been possible that the Experiencer simply missed the cyclist enter the street, as their attention was caught after point. Hence this may possibly be ruled out as being important but should still be considered relevant to the bigger picture.
Regarding the cyclist leaving the street or disappearing, this point is slightly more interesting. The only possible logical exit point is what looks like a driveway, but this is a little prior to the small tree they began to pass as described by the Experiencer. Equally looking at the photographs of the tree and street, this driveway would have been recognised by the Experiencer, from the information we have available. This because the Experiencer states that he looked down at his phone (changing his attention) at the point that the cyclist was about to pass the tree, which is situated on the street after the driveway.
Granted that the photographs provided, and location description are a little lacking after the tree, plus any request for the exact location of the street in Ontario were never answered, leaving us with an obvious gap in our information here. The point past the tree where the cyclist disappeared remains as much as a mystery as the experience itself. Whilst I have a rough idea where the street maybe located in Ontario; without the Experiencer providing the exact street name I am still attempting to locate a needle in a haystack. In fact, I did attempt to locate the street using Google maps, which provides a very useful street view, but this was unsuccessful. Even narrowing the search field down using the email address was not helpful enough to find the street in question. This was due to two points; 1) the email address related to the Experiencers work; and 2) the actual Experiencers location was shielded using a Corporate Virtual Private Network (VPN) by my understanding. To be clear here I was not interested in locating the Experiencers exact address, a search using the email header details and IP address would only provide a rough street area. Which may give me a neighbourhood to locate the street in the photographs. This was not to be the case though here, the use of the VPN prevented this.
Perhaps the Experiencer in time may be more open to sharing the actual location that this occurred, but currently even after an additional request for the location, the Experiencer has been quiet in his response.
As such analysing the local area where this all occurred becomes increasingly difficult. Which means we are effectively left with the experience detailed by our Experiencer and little additional information. The photographs provide an understanding of the path travelled by the cyclist whilst it caught the Experiencers attention, but do not provide us with a view of where they should have headed. Hence all we have is a small tree on the Experiencers side of the street and a fire hydrant and a telegraph pole on the other, which the cyclist managed to pass between and then disappear. None of which would have obscured the Experiencers view of the cyclist. This in my opinion is interesting, as it suggests that the cyclist was only present whilst the Experiencers attention was focussed on it. The moment our Experiencer averted their attention to observe their phone; the cyclist was gone. This is equally backed up by the points made by the Experiencer, which highlights aspects like the cyclist looking odd or moving particularly slowly or having an expressionless face; each drawing in the attention of the Experiencer so he became focussed on the cyclist. Attention he forced himself to break and look at his phone, so as not to appear as if he was staring at the cyclist. As soon as attention was moved from the cyclist to the Experiencers phone, the cyclist disappeared.
Obviously, it is hard, if not impossible to conclude on this case, as it lacks a lot of information. However, we can discuss several possibilities that this experience may point to, in my opinion. There may indeed be more, but then we could make a great many assumptions should we desire.
The first possibility here is that this is simply a case of imagination working overtime, presenting our Experiencer with the belief they saw an odd cyclist when he did not. Whilst possible and likely, I would say that it seems to me that this Experiencer would have reviewed their own experiences against probable imagination prior to highlighting it to the SPR. Of course, that’s inconclusive, as I have not met the Experiencer personally face to face or through a video call to establish a better rapport and understanding of the individual as a person. This would have helped to understand the experience better in my opinion.
A second possibility is that the cyclist was an apparition. This also fits the common understanding that during apparitional sightings, when attention is averted, the apparition disappears. It also fits those certain aspects were more dominant here, like the odd feeling, the expressionless face and the slow speed, rather than physical details like clothing and the bike type. Providing us with a possible situation where our Experiencer was in receipt of sense data telepathically that superimposed the cyclist in the Experiencers view. Whether the source of that sense data was internal or external is hard to ascertain, as again we lack information here. Sense data being related to Tyrrell’s explanation of apparitions .
Whilst it is possible that such apparitional sightings could naturally occur, personally I would prefer there to be a source of some kind. In this scenario there are many external possibilities, for example someone living in the street may have the information in their mind of when the cyclist made that same journey previously and our Experiencer could be picking up unbeknown to them on that information, which in turn creates the sense data and experience. That information exchange could happen at that point in time or perhaps another.
There is of course the possibility of this being a retrocognitive or precognitive event too. Where our Experiencer is witness to events as they have happened previously or will happen in the future. The problem being, is without a significant event to tie to this, connecting the experience becomes rather difficult.
As such we could equally consider this experience to be a time slip phenomenon, where a moment from the past has spontaneously intruded into the present for our Experiencer. However, on this occasion I believe we lack details again to link the event to something from the past. Again, the cyclists clothing and type of bike may have helped with this, but the Experiencers description states that this information is not something he remembers.
So, if we rule our fraud here and take the word of the Experiencer on merit; settle on this not being imagined by them as they would have likely recognised this; then it’s my assessment that this is most likely to be a good candidate for an apparitional sighting. This being based mainly on the context that the experience only appeared to occur whilst attention was focused on it and ended the moment it was not. Equally as it has been described more like a feeling than as a physical change. Although the Experiencer does mention the cyclist as; ‘zipper out of time and space,’ I think this does not necessarily provide enough information to make this a time slip event – I could be wrong though!
We often search for relevance in such situations, why a cyclist, why that road, why that time. However, without knowing which road it is hard to determine if there is a relevance. A classic being to associate such a sighting with a cyclist that may have had an accident on that street and possibly died. Hence creating the normal understanding of why such a quiet suburban street may be haunted. However, once again with this case we are reminded that our cyclist lacks details to help us determine a link between it and a potential road accident victim. It’s easy to make the leap, but often without evidence to support.
Which leaves us in my opinion with an experience where an apparitional cyclist may have been witnessed on a quiet street of Ontario. A brief experience only maintained through attention on the cyclist, and which was lost the moment attention was averted.
 G N M Tyrrell , Apparitions (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. , 1943).