Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Can really wanting to see a ghost allow you to see one?

VigilI've really wanted to see a ghost ever since I was a kid. I utterly failed in that ambition for many years, despite many long nights spent in haunted buildings. Then, a few years ago I saw my first. Since then I've seen a number and can't even remember much about the first one any more. The thing about these ghost sightings is that they were a lot less dramatic than the portrayal of such events in the movies. In most cases, I was unaware I was even seeing a ghost until it vanished! This experience tallies with many other ghost sightings I've looked into that have happened to other witnesses. My own sightings were, in most cases, caused by misperception.

As well as ghosts I also started to notice other misperceptions a few years ago. We all misperceive all the time but almost everybody fails to notice it almost all of the time. Our brains 'fill in' details of the parts of our visual field that are poorly seen with a best guess from visual memory (visual substitution). Most of my misperceptions could not be interpreted as paranormal which is why I don't mention them here.

These 'normal' misperceptions fall into two broad types. Firstly, there are visual substitutions that look 'right'. In other words, they are objects that might well be found in a particular situation but just don't happen to be physically present. Secondly, there are objects that look out of place, things that are unlikely to be present and, of course, are not. The one I see most of is the second type - 'wrong' out of place stuff. I guess this makes sense as I have a marked tendency to notice things that appear 'wrong' in some way.

But here's an odd thing - why should my brain's 'best guess' be something unlikely to be seen in a particular situation? Firstly, I suspect these 'wrong' guesses are vastly outnumbered by the 'right' ones. It's just I don't notice all the 'right' ones because they don't stand out. Secondly, misperceptions are not pure guesses - they are based on the actual visual shapes and colours visible. If these strongly suggest a 'wrong' object then that becomes the 'best guess'.

I am still not sure why I suddenly started to notice misperceptions. I have speculated that it might be that, after reading about research into perception, I gave myself unconscious 'permission' to see them. Or, more recently, I wondered if my birding made me more sensitive to anomalies in my visual environment that others might miss. I am still not convinced either way.

Given that noticing misperception shows no sign of going away, I can only assume that my brain is permanently working differently to the way it used to. Such neuroplasticity is, of course, a well known phenomenon. But why did it happen in my case? My latest idea is this. Having always yearned to see a ghost, perhaps, having seen my first I unconsciously 'remembered' my brain state at the time and managed to reproduce it. Yes, it could be that I see ghosts now because I've always really wanted to in the past! But I'm still not totally convinced.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A strange voice recognized!

WavesRegular readers will be aware of my acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. These are short part-dream, part-reality experiences that frequently feel paranormal, despite having natural causes. A small proportion of the population has such experiences, often those with certain sleep disorders.

One regular type of MWR that MA gets is voices. It is like a snatch of an overheard conversation, though only one voice is ever heard at any one time (except for a single occasion when there were two). The snatches are often bizarre: ('I have a glorious question going forward tonight', 'Newcastle politics 19', Screeches are off the agenda'). As recently discussed (here), MA has never been able to identify the speaker as a particular known person or even to a region or foreign country. Until now!

MA does not remember what this recent voice said. That's probably because MA was so surprised by the voice itself. It was unmistakably a person MA had heard before. It was a well-known male public figure with a distinctive voice. MA has never met the person but had heard him on TV just the previous evening. This seems unlikely to be a coincidence. It appears likely that MA's brain had used the distinctive voice having heard it recently.

If this is true then why are all the other voices MA had heard before been unrecognizable? The short answer is, I don't know. But if I were to speculate I'd say most were 'archetypal' voices, just as misperceived ghosts are often no one in particular, just an archetypal human figure. It would explain the lack of any regional or foreign accents. So why was this latest voice recognisable? Again, I don't know. The voice was particularly distinctive which may be a clue. Perhaps, for that reason, it was more memorable. We'll have to wait and see if a recognisable voice happens again. If it does, it may provide a further clue to what is going on.

If these voices can include recognizable people it may further encourage the idea of a paranormal origin in those who experience MWRs without realizing their real cause. If the voice heard during the MWR said anything other than words MA has heard that person say before, which is highly likely, it would be interesting. It would show MA's brain was effectively mimicking the famous person. Since people sometimes report meeting famous people in their dreams, I guess this would not be that surprising.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The disintegrating ghost!

ShadowI looked round to view the large man next to me only for the figure to disappear! So, a ghost then. I was at a rock gig, standing in near darkness at the back of the crowd. There was someone to my right, lots of people in front and this large man to my left. Or so I thought.

I had originally seen the man in peripheral vision. He was quite tall and well-built. He appeared to be wearing dark clothing but it was difficult to distinguish colour in the low lighting conditions. Though I was mainly watching the stage, I did occasionally look around at the audience. That's when I noticed the man. It was as I turned to look at him directly that he vanished. But he didn't fade away, instead he seemed to disintegrate bit by bit. All that was left after a couple of seconds was an empty space surrounded by people on three sides. I realised it had been a misperception all along. What I was misperceiving was not a solid object but a pattern of shadows.

I have seen many misperceptions. Usually they seem to blink out of existence in an instant. But this one was very different. Bits of the figure seemed to vanish one by one as I looked directly at them. I think reason it disintegrated, instead of simply vanishing, was that it was a particular strong misperception.

I had no inkling that it was a misperception at all until I turned to look. I was merely aware of the presence of a large man next to me. There are many references in the ghost literature to partial ghostly figures being seen by witnesses. Perhaps at least some of these sightings could actually have been misperceptions!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Light anomaly

Light anomalyI took this photo (right) recently. It shows a patch of moss with fallen leaves, as one might expect in autumn. However, in the middle there is something odd. It appears to be a slightly fuzzy orange elliptical translucent object. As it doesn't look very solid I would describe it loosely as a light anomaly. It is clearly in front of the moss so must either be lying on it or floating in the air above it. Incidentally, as the EXIF data confirms, no flash was used.

The answer to this puzzle is in the second photo (right) taken precisely 2 seconds earlier of the same scene. The 'light anomaly' is now in Hoverflyfocus and revealed to be a hoverfly. Notice how the moss is now well out of focus. The hoverfly was around 2m in front of the moss. I was trying to photograph the hoverfly but took the upper photo just after losing focus on the insect.

Had someone taken the picture above and not noticed the presence of the hoverfly, they would only have got the 'light anomaly' photo with no obvious explanation. They might well have concluded that it was some kind of anomalous phenomenon. As it happens, I wasn't deliberately trying to get a photographic anomaly, though I often do. In this case I just got lucky!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Ghostly leaf in focus to myopic witness!

Bird with out of focus background and foregroundI recently noticed something rather odd and completely unexpected. It was a white leaf which was not attached to a plant. Surprised, I looked more closely at the object and it quickly vanished. So, a ghost leaf then!

It became obvious that the sighting was a misperception. The object being misperceived was a patterned curtain illuminated from behind by the sun. The pattern did include some flowers in its design but they were stylized. The ghostly leaf, however, looked entirely natural.

Now here's the really strange bit. I am myopic (short-sighted) and did not have my glasses on at the time. Though the patterns in the curtain were fuzzy to me (I could not even recognise the stylized flowers), the 'leaf' was not - it was sharply in focus. In the past (here) I'd noted that I do not notice misperceptions when I'm not wearing glasses. Now it seems that is incorrect. I strongly suspect that seeing something in perfect focus (when it's at a distance where everything is out of focus), while not wearing glasses, is probably a sure sign that it is a misperception!

So how come I've never noticed this extraordinary effect before? Perhaps it is a rare effect. Or it could be because, when I'm not wearing my glasses, I don't look at things too closely - I'm usually only concerned with not bumping into anything. I think my visual memory holds images that are IN focus and does visual substitutions accordingly. This makes sense because I wear my glasses most of the time so I probably store all, or most, images in focus in my visual memory.

So, if a ghost witness is myopic and sees an apparition while not wearing glasses (while in bed, for instance), it would be interesting to know if the figure looked sharp or not. A sharp figure might well indicate a misperception. This might be a unique example of a myopic person seeing something in focus unaided, albeit an unreal object. Misperception just keeps springing surprises!

PS: The picture (above right) is just an illustration of a how a sharp object stands out against fuzzy background and foreground. The ghostly leaf stood out for that reason.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Long live orbs!

Dust into orbsOrbs, it seems, never quite go away. Despite many paranormal researchers deciding that they are photographic artefacts, there are always a few who demur. I view this situation as good!

In science all knowledge is provisional. Newtons's laws of gravitation were eventually superceded by general relativity. Newton's laws were excellent, as far as they went, but there were things they could not explain, like the anomalous precession of perihelion of Mercury (see here). And relativity itself is constantly subjected to new tests. So far it has passed all the tests, but one day it will fail one have to be replaced by a better theory. That is the way science progresses.

At present the Orb Zone Theory (OZT) explains how orbs are out of focus highlights in the 'orb zone'. From time to time people come up with examples of orbs that do not appear to be readily explained by the OZT. So far, I have not come across any that could not be explained by the OZT. Of course, I haven't seen all the orb photos out there so maybe one already exists. I list the current reported objections to OZT, and why they don't disprove it, here. So before anyone sends me an orb photo that 'disproves' the OZT, they should read that page first in case I've already covered it.

And when, one day, OZT IS shown to be inadequate, it will have to be replaced by another, better theory. There are two very important points that need to be considered by anyone proposing such a new theory. Firstly, the new theory will need to explain not only the anomaly that 'broke' OZT but everything that OZT currently explains AS WELL! Secondly, the theory must be testable so that it too, in turn, could be 'broken' by new evidence. An untestable (or unfalsifiable) theory is not scientific.

So I welcome evidence that appears to 'break' the OZT. Every time such evidence is produced that, it turns out, does not contradict OZT after all, it actually strengthens the theory.

In the meantime I still continue to examine the OZT. You can see the results, which include a video of dust particles turning into orbs as they enter the orb zone (see photo above right), here. For now, at least, the OZT seems to work well at explaining orbs. I actually rather like orbs. That's because, though I love a mystery, I prefer a solution.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Amplified hearing - yes it could be real!

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be aware of the strange 'amplified noise' phenomenon reported by MA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR). Briefly, MWRs produce experiences which could easily be reported as paranormal but are natural in origin. They affect a small percentage of the population, usually those with certain sleep disorders.

The 'amplified noise' phenomenon consists of sound apparently being heard more loudly than when fully awake during some MWR episodes. I have not, so far, been able to decide if the phenomenon actually amplifies real sounds heard at the time or is purely dream content produced by MA's brain. The latest evidence (see here) suggests that it might indeed by amplifying real sounds. But I've had trouble finding any other similar phenomena. Until now.

I recently recalled an incident I had once when I had my ears syringed to remove wax. After the procedure everything was very loud, painfully so. This extremely loud effect continued for a few hours but gradually my hearing returned to normal. This is clear evidence that the brain and/or ear are indeed able modify the sensitivity of our hearing. So it is entirely plausible that MA really is hearing real external sounds with the 'volume turned up' (by the brain/ear) during certain MWR episodes.

I was prompted to think about this by an article in this week's New Scientist. It described research which showed that people can process language when in REM sleep. Whether speech heard in REM sleep is amplified I've no idea. Nevertheless it raises the possibility of people gaining sound information from their environment when asleep.

Consider the following scenario. Someone (lets's call him X) falls asleep in front of the TV and eventually enters REM sleep. Suppose that, during this time, a documentary comes on about some obscure episode from history. When X wakes he remembers none of this. Then, weeks later X is watching a TV quiz when a question comes up about the very same obscure historical episode described in the documentary he slept through. X finds himself able to answer the question correctly, even though the panelists on TV cannot. X is utterly baffled because he cannot recall ever hearing about the historical episode before. X wonders if he might be psychic receiving a message from beyond!

I've often found myself answering obscure questions on TV quizzes despite having no idea how I knew the information. I've always assumed it was something I'd picked up somewhere in my life and I've simply forgotten when and where. That is most likely to be the answer, particularly with my terrible memory. But I now also have to consider the possibility that I don't remember how I know something because I only ever heard it when I was asleep!

One could describe a psychic as "someone who supplies information, on a particular subject, that they were not previously consciously aware they had" (see here). Some people may think they are psychic when actually they have a terrible memory for context or have heard stuff in their sleep!.