Friday, 21 April 2017

Embarrassing ghost!

Sun behind treeI can't believe I've never had an experience like this before! I was walking along a country road when I noticed a dark figure in a nearby field. Nothing odd about that until the human figure changed into something else when I looked at it more closely. So, a ghost then! However, to my acute embarrassment it turned out to be a cow!

Yes it was a misperception and counts as a ghost (where a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present)! But even so - a cow! So what can I say in my defence? Well, I've misperceived several trees and bushes as human figures so a cow isn't so weird. In addition, this cow was facing me, head down, eating grass. So it gave the overall impression of a human figure in size and shape. Its legs were even positioned just as they would be for a human figure. Three of them overlapped visually with the lowered cow's head giving the impression of one narrow and one wide leg! At a glance the whole thing looked remarkably like a human figure bending over towards the witness.

So, in fact, I'd say the cow looked more like a human figure than some of the bushes and trees I've misperceived in the past. So much so that I'm surprised I've never misperceived an animal as a human figure before. Certain large animals can, therefore, clearly be a credible source of ghost misperception. So, on reflection, I'm don't think I should be embarrassed at misperceiving a cow as a human figure after all. Except, I don't know, it's still a cow. I couldn't even bring myself to put up a photo of a cow here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mysterious figure and fame month

Sun behind treeI'd already noticed something odd about the person before they vanished (so a ghost then). I mention this because generally the ghosts I see look like perfectly normal figures, at first anyway. I couldn't say exactly what was 'wrong' with the figure because it vanished before I could get a good look.

The 'ghostly figure' was a typical misperception and I soon saw what it really was. The 'body' consisted of a light coloured sign. It was partially concealed behind a dark fence post. It gave the impression of someone wearing light coloured clothes emerging from behind the fence. The 'face' was another light coloured sign behind the 'body' one. The two were aligned from my position to resemble a human figure. It is surprising how little is required to suggest a human figure! The fact that the sign posts were about the size of a typical human certainly helped. So this was, once again, a coincidence caused by a chance alignment of two signs and a fence post.

I think the fact that the 'figure' was partially concealed by a fence post was crucial to forming the misperception. It was, thus, a 'partial view' type misperception (see here). I think this is a particularly powerful type of misperception, as suggested by the fact that the materials here (signage!) was unpromising. It suggests that a partial view of an object is a powerful way of tricking human visual perception.

In other news, April is fame month once again! Briefly, I had noticed my tendency to see more famous people than I thought was 'normal' - an average of 0.23 per month. I do not seek out celebrities, I just see them during my normal everyday activities. What is really weird is that, recently, I appear to have been seeing them at regular intervals, every four months. Random events should not occur at regular intervals! The latest was due this month! For more on all this, see here. Anyway, a few days ago I saw someone famous - a well-known author. So this strange phenomenon continues!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A rare photo

SnipeHow many snipe are there in the picture here (right)? I know how many I see but it turns out that I'm wrong! It is a rare example of a photographed misperception. Generally, when you photograph a misperception all that appears in the photo is the object that was misperceived. But just occasionally the object is still misperceived in the photograph, to some viewers at least.

OK, I see 4 snipe in a line stretching into the distance from around the centre of the frame. The problem is that there are only 3 snipe actually present. The 'snipe' at the far end of the line isn't a bird at all. You may well only see 3 snipe because misperception varies from person to person. In a zoomed version of the photo (below right) the furthest 'snipe' is revealed as some vegetation that resembles the colouration of the real birds. This is not a coincidence, of course. Snipe have cryptic plumage, meaning they blend in well with their habitat which makes them difficult to spot.

What does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, it demonstrates that ghosts, and other anomalous phenomena, can definitely be photographed - where those sightings caused my misperception anyway. It has sometimes been suggested that ghosts cannot actually be photographed. This is the latest in my very small collection of photographed misperceptions.

snipe (detail)There are many photographs about where someone finds what appears to be a ghost in a photo where they saw nothing unusual at the time of exposure. The examples of those that I've personally examined were all photographic artefacts. There are also plenty of examples of people seeing ghosts but not photographing them. In such cases it is difficult to determine if the ghost was subjective or objective. There are few cases, in my experience, where someone saw a ghost and actually photographed it. And in such cases, what appears in the photo afterwards is often not what the witness described seeing. So my snipe photo is a rare example of seeing something, photographing it and the subsequent photo also showing it, despite it never actually having been there. If it had been a human figure, I would have happily called it a ghost!

Despite the ubiquitous mobile phone, few witnesses take photos of ghosts they see. And so the number of 'seen and photographed' ghost sightings remains extremely small. See here for a previous discussion of photographing ghosts.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

No glasses, no ghosts?

Sun behind treeRegular readers will be aware that I notice misperceptions frequently. Such misperceptions sometimes take the form of ghostly figures or other anomalous phenomena. However, I've noted that I don't usually notice misperceptions when not wearing my glasses (I'm short-sighted). Given that misperceptions usually happen when an object is not seen well, this appears paradoxical. I suspect that, when not wearing glasses, I don't look at things too closely - I'm usually only concerned with not bumping into anything.

There was one unusual incident once where I had an obvious misperception while wearing no glasses - reported here. Interestingly, the misperception was IN focus! It suggests that my visual memory holds images that are IN focus and does visual substitutions accordingly. But that does also suggest that visual substitution seen while wearing no glasses should stand out. So why is that the only example I've noticed?

Recently, I decided to do an experiment. I went outside for a walk wearing no glasses, something I never do normally. I looked around a lot to see if there were any misperceptions. There were not. I could easily see well enough to get around without problem though everything was fuzzy and out of focus. I saw nothing unusual and nothing in focus. Of course, there is a problem with this method. If you deliberately look for misperception you tend not to notice it.

This clearly implies that though perception is essentially an unconscious process, there is a conscious element to it too. Such priming is well-known in neuroscience. It means that if you deliberately look for a ghost, one caused by misperception at least, you will almost certainly not see it. It is also the reason why once a misperceived object has been seen for what it really is, it is not usually misperceived again. I'll need to think of some different way of doing my 'not wearing glasses' experiment. Experiments involving perception are tricky! But the evidence so far certainly suggests misperception is rarely noticed when not wearing glasses. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has seen a ghost while not wearing glasses that they normally wear all the time.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Amorphous white glowing shape or ghost?

White shapeI would hesitate to describe this photo (right) as showing a possible ghost. That's because ghosts are usually reported as looking just like normal human figures. Often the only reason a witness knows they are looking at a ghost is because such a person could not have been physically present. Or it may do something impossible, like disappear. The white shape here does, at least, have white 'appendages' on either side near the top, reminiscent of arms!

In popular culture ghosts are sometimes depicted as white and/or misty. So when people take a photo like the one here, an amorphous white glowing shape, they may interpret it as depicting a ghost. I'd simply describe it as a white anomaly. Anyway, what exactly is it?

I do know what the anomaly is because I took the photo deliberately, as I often do, to reproduce a type of anomalous photo. There are some clues in the photo itself. Firstly, the 'ghost' is entirely in front of the trees which means it could be out of focus. Secondly, there are several obvious white circles within the overall 'ghost' shape. These are typical of out of focus highlights, confirming the focus idea. Thirdly, there is, just below the main white anomaly, a faint transparent pale band going leftward to the edge of the frame. It is, of course, the stem of a plant. The object is an out of focus reed. It is bright because it is strongly illuminated by the sun.

White shapeHere (right) is exactly the same scene, taken at the same time, but with the reed in focus and the trees now out of focus. The reeds are not quite the same shape, overall, as the 'ghost' in the original photo. That's because there was a stiff wind at the time and the reeds were constantly moving, forming different 'ghost' shapes all the time.

It's difficult to say where the idea that ghosts are white or misty originated. It may have come from an artistic convention used to differentiate between ghosts and real people in paintings or movies. Or maybe it was simply because people thought there 'ought' to be some visual difference between ghosts and people. I honestly don't know where such ideas actually come from but I'm pretty sure it isn't from real life cases. Indeed, I suspect that many of the supposed attributes of ghosts in popular culture come from the widespread idea that ghosts are spirits, despite the lack of evidence to support that view (see here) from real life cases.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Was I a ghost?

BuzzardIt was at the end of a concert I attended recently. I was walking slowly towards the exit when I noticed a woman staring at me. Slightly surprised, I looked away, walked on a little and then looked back. She was still staring at me intently. I turned, walked on and looked back again. She was still staring at me. I walked on once again and turned back. But this time the woman had gone.

So why might this woman have been staring at me so intently? It was difficult to make out her expression, which might have given a clue, as the venue was fairly dark as such places often are. My best guess is that she thought she recognized me. I certainly didn't recognise her so she would have been mistaken. So why didn't she approach me or say hello? Perhaps because, if I was who she thought I was, I couldn't have been there! And by the definition of a ghost used here ("a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present") I would be a ghost!

I've made a lot of assumptions to suggest that I was a ghost on this occasion. So I may well have got it all wrong. But it still raises an important point. A ghost sighting could be easily caused by someone seeing a person's double. And if the person the witness thought it was could not have been physically present, the incident could easily be reported as a ghost sighting. I can think of one or two examples of apparently good ghost sightings I've come across that could be explained this way.

But surely doubles are very rare, aren't they? I don't know the figures (or even if any such statistics exist) but I do know I've met mine. I was introduced to my double by someone who'd seen us both separately. I wasn't convinced he was my exact double myself but I'm probably not the best judge of my own appearance. I remember the man was similar enough for me to get an odd feeling meeting him.

I'll never know why that woman was staring at me. I don't think it was my appearance or clothing as she only looked at my face. Maybe I was indeed a ghost, to her. But next time I come across a ghost sighting of a witness seeing someone they knew who could not possibly be physically present, I'll certainly consider a double as a possible explanation.

And the photo (above right)? Well, I thought about a picture of me and decided the buzzard would be more interesting.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Another source of 'presence'?

Sun behind treeMy acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences, which resemble paranormal phenomena, was on a train recently, idly looking out of the window. Without looking round, MA was aware that someone sat down in the adjacent vacant seat. Then, suddenly, MA had the feeling characteristic of emerging from a MWR. Looking round, there was no one in the adjacent seat!

MWRs usually last for no more than a second or two and there was no one in the adjacent seat before or afterwards. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the feeling of a 'presence' in the adjacent seat was entirely a product of the MWR. MA has not had this particular kind of MWR before. Previously ghostly figures have been plainly visible (see here for instance).

I have noted in the past that sound can induce a ghostly sense of presence, in me at least (see here and here for instance). Now it seems MWRs can also cause such feelings. Lab experiments have induced a sense of presence using the sense of touch. I suspect therefore that, like ghostly figure and UFO sightings, the sense of presence can have any one of a number of different causes.

MA also reports that MWRs appear to come of a particular type for several days running and then change to another type for the next few days. This pattern repeats endlessly. So, for instance, MA's recent MWRs have all consisted of bizarrely surreal scenes. Before that there were musical MWRs. Interestingly, the 'surreal' type MWRs corresponded to MA attending a concert. The MWRs appeared during certain songs, like a sort of pop video. Being surreal in content it was difficult to say if they were inspired by the music!

Without talking to other people who get MWRs, I can't know if having particular types of MWR for several days in a row is typical or unusual. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation on this sort of phenomena. It also explains why few anomaly researchers consider the idea that MWRs occurring to a witness unaware of their true cause might explain some strange phenomena reports.