Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Can you recount a strange experience too often?

Airbourne dustWhen I recount a strange experiences in this blog it is always a fresh memory so I'm pretty confident that it is about as accurate as my memory will allow. Indeed, the first thing I tend to do after having an anomalous experience is write it down. It turns out that this is probably the best way to get an accurate record of an experience. Sadly, many witnesses do not do this. Instead, they may tell many other people about their odd experience before contacting a paranormal investigator. And that is not good for accurate recall of an event.

Scientific research has shown that human memory works in an unexpected way. Every time you recall a memory it is stored all over again - a process called reconsolidation. The problem with this is that during reconsolidation a memory can be modified or even erased. So every time a witness recalls a strange experience they may reconsolidate it slightly differently. This means that if they recount their experience many times, it could be altered quite significantly from the original memory. However, the witness will not be aware of this. To them, their current memory is the same one they formed when they first experienced the strange event. It probably explains why, when you visit somewhere you haven't been for a while, it often looks different. It's not just because the place has actually changed, which might be true. The chances are, so has your memory of the location. I had this experience recently when I barely recognized a town I used to live in!

So, if paranormal researchers are interviewing witnesses they need to get some idea of how many times the account they are recording has been retold. A witness might, for instance, have seen a UFO a month ago but never mentioned it to anyone until talking to a ufologist. But they may have seen the UFO just a day ago but have talked about it with dozens of people. The former account might actually be more accurate than the latter one, despite the bigger lapse of time since the event.

The problem is that when people have strange experiences it is natural that they want to talk about them. The 'best' witness would record everything they could in writing and then contact a paranormal researcher straight away. Sadly that seldom, if ever, happens! And, with the advent of online social media, the problem of memories changing is probably getting worse! I wonder if the best advice for witnesses might be not to think about their experiences too much!

In other news, my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) has been hearing extracts from original musical compositions again. If only MA was a musician this could be a really useful ability (see here for an earlier account). And the photo (above right)? It is bits of airborne dust illuminated by a strong light. They are in focus and appear as light trails because they are moving - the exposure time was quite slow at 1/5s. So when I come across a similar odd photo in future, I'll know what to suspect!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Best ghost in months!

Shingle with turnstoneI looked up and straight away noticed something alarming. I was at a railway station and I could see someone standing just a couple of metres from the track some 20m up the line. The person was not wearing a high visibility vest so I guessed they should not have been there. The person looked small, probably not even an adult. At least the figure was clearly visible, I thought, so there was little chance a train driver would fail to see them. But then something else struck me. The figure was standing still - absolutely motionless - in an unnatural way. I suspected a ghost.

Apart from not moving, the ghost was impressively real-looking. I could see its clothing, face, hair and that it was facing towards the railway track. If I walked a couple of metres from my initial sighting spot, the figure vanished. So, a ghost then! But when I returned to my original position the ghost reappeared! It was, of course, a misperception but a strikingly persistent one. Indeed, I was able to study the figure for a while to see how it was made up.

The 'figure' consisted of a sign post, a tree stump and a patch of light vegetation immediately behind. Only when the three lined up correctly was there a human figure visible. At any other angle there was nothing remarkable to be seen at all. It was sheer coincidence that I happened to see these objects lined up 'correctly' when I first noticed them. Had I looked at the scene from any other position I would never have seen the ghost. Interestingly, the light patch of vegetation fitted precisely between the sign post and tree stump so that the figure stood out well against the darker surrounding background.

This was certainly an impressive ghost. Even after I KNEW it was a misperception I could still see it and it was very life-like. It was also an impressive coincidence. The figure was only visible from one precise position - the one where I first saw it. The tree slump, sign and light vegetation were all many metres distant from each other but happened to be in the same direction from the place where I was standing. Anyone investigating a sighting of this ghost would have been unlikely to come up with the correct explanation for the figure. They would have had to find the exact spot where the witness saw the ghost and hope that the lighting (overcast) was similar and that the vegetation hadn't changed much since the time of the original sighting.

The trouble with coincidence is that it can be difficult to unravel after the event. My experiences over the years have led me to conclude that coincidence is a much bigger factor in causing reports of anomalous phenomena than most people realize. The reason such coincidences are rarely discovered is because the factors that caused them rarely persist for long.

And the photo (above right)? It's meant to illustrate how we can miss things even when they are in plain sight.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Fish in the sky?

SkyfishThe bright white object near the centre of this photo (right) looks to me like a fish. It appears to have tail fins on its right end which would mean it is swimming left. The only problem is that the 'fish' is clearly several metres above the ground. So, what's going on?

Could it be a flying fish? No, because it is nowhere near the sea and flying fish are a family of marine species. Could it be a fish-shaped balloon? That's entirely possible but it isn't the case. Luckily, though the photo is affected by camera shake and the object is overexposed, it is possible to identify the 'fish' by zooming in. The white object is actually a bird - a gull in fact - seen flying sideways on. The 'tail fin' at the back is formed by one of the bird's wings. The other wing is barely visible because it mostly blends in with the trees in the background.

I spotted the 'fish' straight away when I was reviewing some photos I'd taken recently. I didn't see a fish-shaped object at the time of exposure, of course. That's because I'd have seen a flying gull. It only resembles a fish because the still photo froze a moment in time when the gull happened to resemble a fish shape. There are many anomalous photos produced in this way.

It was only possible to unambiguously identify this photographic anomaly because the photo had a reasonably high resolution. Had the photo been low resolution it might have remained a mystery or been interpreted as something anomalous. Many anomalous photos that I've examined are low resolution making it often impossible to say exactly what they show.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Strange transparent object

Bird ghostI often take anomalous photos deliberately. That is, I take photos in such a way that a photographic artefact will appear which might be taken for a photo of an anomalous phenomenon. However, the photo here (right) was supposed to be a purely straightforward picture. So what is that strange transparent object dominating the upper part of the frame? Incidentally, this photo has not been edited apart from cropping.

The photo clearly shows the ground with twigs lying on it. The green section (top left) is a large branch, or possibly a tree root. The twigs in the foreground are sharp while those in the background are a little out of focus. The transparent 'object' is in the foreground. This is shown by the fact that it partly obscures some twigs that must be behind it. The 'object' is quite sharply defined so it is probably in focus itself. It consists of wispy transparent shapes and sharp lines. The most solid-looking part of the 'object' looks light brown in colour. The edge of the 'object' reaches the edge of the frame (top right). So what is this strange anomaly? Could it be a ghost?

Luckily, I know what I was trying to take a photo of at the time. It was a bird - a robin, in fact. The bird took off at the precise moment that I took the photo, resulting in motion blur. The bird might have been more recognisable were it not for the fact that I was using a rather slow shutter speed - 1/6s. Given that I never intended to take an anomalous photo, it shows just easily such photographic artefacts can arise accidentally. It also demonstrates how important it is to know all the circumstances of the taking of an anomalous photo.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A figure vanishes

Mound I turned to survey this scene (photo right) and a rather odd-looking person caught my attention immediately. They became even odder when they quickly vanished. All that remained was a low bush! So, a ghost then!

In case you can't see it, the 'ghost' is the bush about a quarter down the photo (right) near the left side of the frame. It was this bush that I misperceived as a human figure. The photo has obviously been cropped but apart from that is completely unedited.

In the photo the bush does not look much like a human (or ghost) figure. With photos, of course, the viewer has the advantage of being able to study objects for an extended period of time whereas I only saw the bush as a ghost for a few seconds in my initial view. Nevertheless, the bush is surely too small, isn't it?

At the time, the rather featureless landscape made it difficult to judge how far the ghost was away. If it had been a bit closer to the distant trees then it would have been a perfectly reasonable height for a human figure. There were several real people in the area for comparison and some distant ones were quite similar in dimensions to the bush.

As with most misperceptions, viewing conditions were not ideal. In this case, it was the short duration of my initial 'glimpse' that limited the visual information. I've noticed that misperception of all kinds often involves mistakes about scale and distances, as in this example.

A momentary glance at a scene can get all the scales and distances wrong. How? I think it is because the brain unconsciously 'recognises' one prominent object in the scene incorrectly. So, in this example, I think I noticed the bush first, seeing it as a human figure and mentally 'adjusting' the scene to fit that 'recognition'. But then I saw the distant trees, realised my mistake, and 'adjusted' the scene again towards reality (all unconsciously). This changed the 'distant figure' to a nearby low bush. I did not notice the change of scale, probably because I was concentrating on the ghost /bush.

This is similar to the mini-OBE experiences I've had (see here). In one such case the scene consisted entirely of regularly spaced bricks. These made it difficult to judge distance and scale. So I ended up apparently viewing the scene from a point in space much closer to the bricks than my real physical position. As you can see from the photo here, the scene of brown vegetation is rather featureless making it difficult to judge scale, especially if the distant trees weren't visible. That's why I cropped the photo the way I did to illustrate the problem.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Something really strange

Misperception in tree Things don't move in still photos. In the picture (right) I saw something unusual in the tree. I noticed what looked to me like a human head just above the point where the main branches start spreading out from the trunk. It was, I quickly concluded, a photographic misperception. The head looked 'real', in the sense that it was, to me, a wooden statue rather than an actual living person. But then I noticed something really strange.

As I gradually zoomed in on the 'head' it suddenly 'moved'! From a distant view the head was facing me but then, as I gradually zoomed in, it was suddenly sideways on, looking to my right. If I zoomed out, the head got smaller but continued to be sideways on. And if I zoomed in a lot the head disappeared altogether to be replaced by the tangle of branches it really is. If I wait for a while, without seeing the photo, I can repeat the whole sequence again starting with the head once again facing towards me from a distant view. The head looked to be the same one in both versions.

So what's going on? I think that as the level of detail changes, the misperception flips from one head to another one. Misperception depends crucially on how well an object is seen. By zooming in I see the object better and the misperception alters. Eventually, having zoomed in a lot, I can see so much detail that the misperception vanishes altogether as I see the real objects.

The fact that the sideways misperception persists even when I zoom out is not unexpected. Once a misperception is 'broken' (when you see what the object really is) you don't see it again. It appears that once the first 'face on' misperception is broken, I don't see it again. However, if I wait for a while I can see the first one again as I have forgotten the sideways version. With a memory as bad as mine, that doesn't take long!

What makes this really interesting is that it may well happen with non-photographic misperceptions too. So, if a witness sees a tree as a human figure, it might appear to change if they approach it. This is important because it will hugely reinforce the idea that they are looking at an animate object rather than something inanimate. So such a 'changing' misperception is more likely to be reported as a ghost because it appears to be a moving figure. And an inanimate object can no longer be discounted as the source of a ghostly misperception just because it appears to change shape or move a little.

I have just noticed that if I stare at the photo for a while, I can see the head turn back and forth! It actually appears to turn rather than just flip from one state to another. I guess the 'turning' is my brain trying to make sense of something that should be impossible.

I had thought that a misperception could just 'break' and that was all. But now, it seems, a misperception can change into another misperception as well. It can even appear to move! While this change occurred by zooming on a photo I imagine a change in lighting could have a similar effect in a real life scene. Misperceptions are a whole lot more complex than I ever imagined.

PS: As usual with misperception, whether you see a 'head' in this photo will depend on the display you are using as well as how easily you notice misperceptions.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Strange green and red glowing circles

Green and red circlesThis photo (right), taken recently, shows some mysterious glowing red and green circles in front of vegetation. These lights were not seen in the actual scene at the time of exposure. So what are these odd anomalies?

Here are some clues. Firstly, it is striking that the two groups of glowing circles are almost identical apart from colour. Secondly, though the circles were not visible in the physical scene at the time, they WERE seen in the camera viewfinder. Thirdly, outside this cropped area of a larger photo there is a bright light source, the sun shining through trees. From these clues it is easy to determine that the glowing circles are, in fact, lens flare.

Lens flare may be obvious to seasoned photographers but not necessarily so to other people who could interpret them as paranormal phenomena. For lens flare, the light source causing it does not need to be in the frame. And though the lens flare often consists of a line of transparent circles, it can come in many odd shapes and sizes, as this photo illustrates.