Disappearing Object Phenomenon: An Investigation, by Tony Jinks
Reviewed by Robert A. Charman
The author is a senior lecturer in psychology, Western Sydney University, Australia, and a consultant to the Australian Journal of Parapsychology. He has investigated some 385 personal accounts of small objects that have unexpectedly disappeared, reappeared, appeared for the first time or been replaced by another similar object. While ‘Disappearing Object Phenomenon’ is the title of his book, Jinks uses the terms coined by Mary Rose Barrington (1991, 2018) for this phenomenon, namely ‘jott’ as in the ‘Just One Of Those Things’ comment concerning such inexplicable experiences and ‘jottle’ and ‘jottling’ referring to their anomalous behaviour.
Here is his opening example (slightly abbreviated): One evening in August, 2008, Kate drove home after work to her small suburban house situated in a quiet residential street. With her car key on the same ring as all her other keys she selected her front door key and opened the door at the same moment that her telephone rang. Knowing who it would be she left the door open and dropped her bag to run down the hall to answer the phone. After the call she went back to take the ring of keys out of the door lock and pick up her bag. The bag was there with contents intact but the ring of keys was not there. She searched and searched in vain, eventually concluding that someone must have entered the porch and snatched the keys although the street was empty and there seemed to be no one about. Unable to find them she was faced with the inconvenient and expensive business of getting a new car key and changing the locks of her front door, back door, garage and mailbox and cutting a new key for her office. Within the year she moved to a new job in another city and bought and thoroughly renovated an apartment close to the city centre. One evening she returned home, placed her new set of keys in the hallway drawer as usual and then went into her bedroom only to see her old set of keys on the same ring on her pillow. As she said to Jinks she felt ‘nauseous and giddy’ with shock as no one else could have entered her apartment during her absence.
His second example is Mark who, sitting on the sofa with his large, black, tv remote control on a cushion beside him, rashly decided to switch television channels while Courtney, his partner, was in the kitchen preparing a snack during an advertisement break. On her return she was less than pleased and he hurriedly reached for his remote to switch back only to find it was not there. Assuming that it must have fallen between the sofa cushions or onto the floor they searched in vain, turning the sofa upside down and even crawling round the floor on their hands and knees. Unable to find it Mark bought another one, but a few weeks later while Courtney was out, he visited the bathroom and returned only to find this remote had also disappeared and remained disappeared despite frantic searching. Later that week he bought another remote, but a few months later that disappeared overnight leaving him completely baffled as he distinctly remembering that he had put it in its cradle before going to bed. He then decided that enough was enough and engaged in the heathy if inconvenient exercise of getting up from the sofa to change channels and volume via the television controls.
After years of personal investigation into these claims Jinks decided that these unexpected, inconvenient and unwanted object disappearances, reappearances and so on could not be attributed to forgetfulness, unaware misplacement, faulty memory, inattentional blindness or perceptual blindness while thinking of something else to an object in plain sight, hallucinatory error, deliberate deception by themselves or someone else, fugue states, altered states of consciousness and so on. What was being repeatedly and independently described seemed to be a genuine phenomenon despite being considered as completely impossible as far as science and everyday common sense is concerned.
With the prior research and classification of some 185 cases of the same phenomenon by Barrington as his guide (see my book review for details of her analysis and theoretical discussion). Jinks decided to submit his much larger database to a thorough statistical, tabled, analysis as to the objects most frequently involved such as jewellery items as in rings, brooches and necklaces, single food and beverage items, keys, items of clothing, small computer items such as USB sticks and ‘mice’; television remote controls, grooming items such as combs, brushes, hair clips and tweezers, kitchen utensils such as knives and forks, wristwatches, wallets, credit/debit cards, individual coins, stationery, small tools and so on. He found that in order of jott activity the most common behaviours were disappearance and later reappearance of that object, often in the same place but sometimes elsewhere in the house, the unfamiliar appearance of a new object that could not be accounted for, and unrecognised similar type of object replacement and sometimes disappearance for good.
As a general rule, the sooner an object has been recently handled and then noted as missing the quicker it returns, Kate’s and Mark’s experiences are exceptions. Jinks also classified jottled objects according to their monetary or personal value, and experients as to whether the experience was a one off, or repeated over months or years. Males and females seem roughly equally affected overall but this ratio varied according to type of object so women were affected more than men with regard to jewellery for example. The great majority of jott experients were adults from their twenties onwards, and as far as Jinks could judge they were ordinary members of the public who had little or no prior knowledge or interest in parapsychology, no beliefs or practice in magical phenomena, had no idea that this experience had happened to anyone else, and were baffled and often emotionally disturbed as to their own state of mind by their experience. No significant difference was found between levels of education or types of career or occupation and frequency of reported occurrence.
As for population prevalence of jott phenomena these 385 experients were obviously not random but self-selecting in that they were so unable to find a normal explanation for their experiences that they responded to requests for such accounts and eventually contacted Jinks or he contacted them. The same applies to the 185 cases reported to Barrington. When 80 people volunteered to take part in an anonymous survey without knowing the purpose of the study and were asked if they had ever experienced an incident such as a ‘strangely behaving object’ and, if so, what was the nature of their experience, the result was completely unexpected. It had been assumed that very few, if any, such cases would be reported but 42 participants (52%) reported having had a jottling experience (unpublished post graduate diploma in psychology dissertation). This implies that maybe at least half of the adult population have experienced an unexplainable object disappearance, reappearance, appearance or replacement, dismissed in baffled exasperation at the time as ‘just one of those things’ because there seemed no other explanation to hand, while sensing that something genuinely mysterious had occurred.
Analysis of jott behaviour has demonstrated that several characteristics apply to all objects. They were either there or they were not there in their entirety, and if they reappeared, they were exactly the same as when last seen. They did not fade in or out of existence. If a key had a patch of rust or was slightly bent before disappearance then that is how it was on its reappearance. They were never seen to disappear or reappear, or appear for the first time, or appear as an apparent substitute for the object that was lost. Suddenly they were just there in plain sight. Jott phenomena never seemed to be accompanied by any other paranormal phenomena such as poltergeist activity. Their appearance or disappearance was always noted by one person only and then, according to social circumstances, confirmed by others. Jott disappearance was never consciously willed although reappearance was emotionally sought with variable success. The appearance of a completely new object or similar replacement object was always a complete surprise. Jinks is careful to point out that these shared characteristics do not prove that jotts occur beyond all possible doubt because for proof you need replicable scientific observation and tests of all the claimed variables. What they demonstrate is after every conceivable ‘normal’ explanation has been eliminated as inadequate to explain these experiences (and Jinks as a conscientious psychologist systematically examines every possible explanation you can think of, and some) then something is occurring that should not occur, and apparently cannot occur, but despite this does occur.
This being so, we need to look for an explanation which cannot be found within our mainstream scientific understanding of the physical world because the claimed occurrence of jott is denied in principle, let alone in practice. So, if the existence of jott occurrence is accepted, an interpretation of what we know about our relationship between ourselves and the apparently separate nature of the physical world that includes the possibility of jott phenomena must be sought. So how does Jinks attempt to explain how what is claimed to occur can actually occur?
For all practical purposes including scientific investigation we assume that we observe the external world and everything that we can see in it as existing in its own three-dimensional domain completely independent of ourselves. It just is, and we find that we are in consensual agreement with other people. Classical physics is in complete agreement with this view, but quantum physics sees reality very differently. For quantum physics the essential nature of the universe is considered to exist in an unobservable superposition of probability states known as the wave function that is ‘collapsed’ into a physical phenomenon either as a wave or particle when it interacts with a measuring device such as in the single or double slit experiment. Jinks calls this quantum level of universal reality the ‘pre-physical substrate’. In his final chapter he proposes that our consciousness acts as the mental measuring device that collapses the ‘pre-physical substrate’ into the world we see around us with all its three-dimensional properties. Observers do not create matter from nothing but rather imagine the conformation of matter from a quantum soup of vital ingredients – a ‘pre-physical substrate’. Presumably, every species performs this conformation according to their type of consciousness.
Jinks speculates that some ‘deeply fundamental process’ determines ‘what the world should look like from these ingredients’ and conscious observers are ‘merely carrying out the final act of realization’. He suggests that the consensual public space and all its objects are held in a steady perpetuity of observation by the massed conscious observations of those past or present, so an object such as a dinner menu, or car, road or building is incredibly unlikely to disappear back to its pre-physical substrate when not observed by someone as it is sustained in its consensual ‘multisensory landscape’, but the possibility of it doing so increases when an object’s continued existence in conscious reality is dependent upon only one or two consciousnesses to sustain it. The interactional consciousness/pre-physical substrate collapse into observed physical continuity is then much weaker than when sustained by massed consciousness. Sometimes, for unknown reasons, possible through unconscious motivational levels, the conscious support that maintains a particular object in observational reality inexplicably weakens and an object disappears from our personal reality back into its pre-physical substrate, creating the subsequent jott experience. The jottled object has then disappeared from everyone’s observation - it hasn’t been teleported anywhere, it no longer is. Later psychological changes may reverse this and the object reappears to the owner again as it was. Sometimes objects disappear permanently as Mark’s tv remotes seem to have done, but maybe they re-appeared elsewhere.
Readers must be warned that this is only my understanding of Jinks’s theory, and they really do need to read his two final chapters for a full exposition. The Wikipedia entry for ‘the von Neumann chain’ will take you straight into the quantum/consciousness debate. In his final chapter Jinks also makes the unexpected revelation that he is subject to a jott experience every few months hence his interest in the subject after he realised that there was no normal explanation for their occurrences. He gives three examples, much abridged here:
Suffering from a rib injury he was determined to play cricket the following weekend and practice with a bat during the week, but he did not possess a bat as he always borrowed one from the team kit. Returning home at 3pm that Saturday afternoon after watching his team play, he remembered that he had a ‘junior bat’ somewhere in the garage under loads of unsorted junk but decided to look for it another time. At 5pm he locked the house and with his family went to join a friend for a meal, returning home by car at 9pm. He unlocked the door and was first in. When he switched on the lounge light, he saw the ‘junior bat’ leaning against the bookcase. It was certainly not there when he went out and his family had definitely not looked for it. This, he suggests, was an appearance jott occasioned by his intention to practice batting.
One Wednesday evening he noticed that his wallet was missing from where he usually put it in a drawer with his glasses and keys. Sometimes he put it on the kitchen counter, or the dresser, or in the front zip of his work bag, or besides the bed, but it was in none of these places and he searched the house in vain both then and during Thursday when he was working from home. He cancelled his credit/debit cards and on Friday drove into town to get a new driver’s licence. Friday night is sports night for his boys so as this can get rather tense, he was in the habit of chewing gum to relieve parental stress. Reaching up into an overhead cupboard he took out some gum packets and had turned to clear up the kitchen counter when he heard his wife utter a gasp of surprise. She had opened the cupboard door a few seconds later to take some gum packets as well and there, on the shelf above the gum container, was his wallet. He could not have missed seeing it when he looked in because it was a large, fat, black leather wallet and the cupboard was white. It must have reappeared back into human observation in the few second interval between the two openings of the cupboard (I must add here that his wife must have searched as well, and as I have learned by experience over very many years - mother, wife and daughter- if a woman cannot find something it is definitely not there).
Early one Saturday morning he was repairing his front fence, intending to replace a section with new wire netting after first attaching new straining wire between the posts for which he had bought two new rolls now on the ground ready for use. He knew he had a used half roll somewhere in the garage but had not bothered to look for it. During the task he stopped to chat to a neighbour, being only some ten steps away and in full view of the fencing area. On his return he found both the shiny new rolls and the somewhat rusty half roll alongside which he eventually found that he needed to complete the task. It was not there - then it was there.
For sceptics (and I am still struggling) Barrington’s 185 cases and Jinks’ 385 cases add up to 570 anomalous experiences that require an explanation. Why? Because none of the usual explanations can adequately account for what these experients say happened to them when they were apparently in the same ordinary, everyday state of mind as that of the reader. None of them expected it, and as far as a disappearance is concerned, none of them wanted it. Jinks’ account is fully referenced by chapter, plus a bibliography and a very useful page index for every case discussed. This phenomenon, including the 52% prevalence indication, requires much more research, and I do recommend both Barrington’s book and this book, because together they provide a treasure trove of jott experiences that seem to have been overlooked by almost all parapsychologists.
Now I don’t know what to think as of yesterday, Friday, 30th November (the detail is important). I have never had an ESP experience and have assumed that I am as psychic as a brick, but now? Apart from coming down to the kitchen for a mid morning mug of coffee I had spent the morning in my upstairs study working on this book review. At 1pm I decided to make a toasted cheese sandwich and, as usual, opened a kitchen drawer to take out my old fashioned and indispensable 11 inch long butter knife with its broad blade plus a shorter serrated knife to cut the cheese. I ate the sandwich (delicious, thank you) and drank my mug of tea while standing at the kitchen window looking at the garden and listening to the radio. I rinsed a plate and the two knives under the hot tap and put the knives back into the kitchen drawer. I went out during the afternoon and at about 6.30pm decided to do some roast potatoes with my dinner. I opened the knife drawer for the butter knife to take the beef dripping out of the jar, but although the serrated blade knife was there the butter knife was not. I searched the other kitchen drawers without success and, really exasperated, eventually had to use a spoon. While the potatoes were roasting, I did another thorough search of the kitchen and then went into the living room. My medium sized, oval dining table was, as usual, almost bare, having a newspaper on one leaf, my iPad on the other leaf, a box of tissues on a place mat in the middle and a couple of pens. All I added was a knife and fork, salt and pepper and dinner plate While eating my dinner seated at the middle of the table my iPad was about 18 inches to my left with nothing in between until I reached across the table with my left hand to pull the tissue box across. After my meal I cleared the table and moved the tissue box and place mat back together again.
During a 9pm commercial tv break I made a mug or tea and on my way back to my chair past the table I picked up the tissue box and at the same moment saw my butter knife roughly in the space that had been occupied by the tissue box during my meal. Before doing these two reviews I would just have wondered how the hell it had got there and how I could possibly have missed seeing it when it was so obvious. Now, I’m wondering if ...
Barrington, M. R. (1991). JOTT – Just One of Those Things. Psi Researcher 3, 5-6.
Barrington, M. R. (2018). JOTT. When Things Disappear... and Come Back or Relocate – and Why It
Really Happens. San Antonio, TX: Anomalist Books.
Robert A. Charman can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org