Monday, 14 August 2017

Identifiable ghosts

Sun behind treeHere is an imagined scene: "Witness A is visiting a stately home. He sits in the deserted garden to rest briefly on a hot summer's day. He notices someone walking across the lawn towards him. The person appears vaguely familiar. Then, astonishingly, the figure instantly vanishes! Witness A is shocked. He walks back into the main house that he has looked around already. He makes his way to the Great North Hall. He scans the portraits of former owners of the house along the wall. Just as he suspected there, between Edgar the Envious and Unwin the Unwavering is the man he saw on the lawn - Simon the Steady! So, a ghost then!"

And what is the point of this entirely fictional account? Well, it concerns a recent experience of MA (my acquaintance) who experiences MWRs (regular readers please accept usual lack of apology passim). In this particular MWR, MA was apparently 'transported' to a completely different scene. There, MA saw a rather animated man talking and pacing around restlessly. MA could not make out exactly what the man was saying. Then something unprecedented in MA's experience happened. The man froze to immobility and the surrounding scene faded away. Suddenly all MA could see of the man was his head. This then changed from looking normal and perfectly real into what looked like a painted portrait. Done in pastel shades, it was a good likeness but not photographic accuracy. It was, without doubt, as painting. Finally the image vanished and MA came out of the MWR. This MWR was unusually intense and felt very real, despite its surreal content.

This rather bizarre MWR got me thinking. Does this process also go the the other way? Do paintings of people we've never met get animated into realistic walking, taking recognisable people by our brains in MWRs? If a witness saw a portrait of someone said to haunt the area could it lead to an experience like the fictional one at the start of this post? It might explain some sightings of ghosts identified only from paintings!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Fame month again!

UFOAnd now a confession! It's 'fame month' (see here for explanation) once again. Unlike previous fame months I actually remembered it was coming this time. That might explain how I caught myself deliberately looking around at people in a restaurant recently. Yes, I was looking just in case there was anyone famous there. There wasn't! I hadn't done it consciously, at least not to start with. Once I realised what I was doing, I stopped.

It felt like cheating, but was it? My only rule is that I should not do anything that I would not normally do. I don't actually have a rule against looking all around, just in case. Such a rule would normally be superfluous as most of the time I forget it's even fame month. But it would appear that the unconscious part of my brain may be remembering for me, on occasion. But will it really bias the results?

Although looking for celebrities will obviously reduce the odds of seeing one, I think the effect would be tiny. That's because there still has to be a celebrity physically present to spot. And that is still highly unlikely, given that I don't deliberately visit places where celebrities are likely to be seen, like stage doors. So, do I think that my unconsciously being on the look out for celebrities during 'fame month' will explain the phenomenon? No I don't. None seen so far, by the way.

And the photo (above right)? I took it recently and when I first saw it displayed on a screen it appeared to show a UFO against a gloomy sky. It's the dark blob half way up, just right of centre. There was no UFO obvious visible at the time of exposure. It is, in fact, a cable car. You might be able to make out the cable if you look carefully, depending on the display you're using.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A psychic message?

Sun behind treeOnce again, I'm not going to apologize for discussing more fascinating experiences from MA (my acquaintance) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR). A recent experience marks yet another first and a highly significant one. It was a 'voice MWR'. This means MA heard a voice, even though there was no one else around, while still seeing the actual physical scene ahead normally. MA has had countless such voice MWRs but it was what this one said that so interesting.

Generally such voice MWRs sound like a snatch of an overheard conversation, from an unknown speaker, which is not apparently directed at MA. But on this occasion the few words included MA's name! What is more, the voice was one familiar to MA, someone who could not possibly have been present!

Unlike the previous 'voice MWRs', this sounded like a personal message from someone known to MA. As such, it had an emotional resonance. It is easy to see how, to someone unaware of the true nature of MWRs, this voice could easily have been interpreted as a personal psychic message, maybe telepathy.

MWRs are basically very short dreams. MWRs frequently mix real life sensory input with dreams, showing that the brain is only partially asleep. This 'partial sleep' is probably why MWR content is more easily recalled than normal sleeping dreams being a lighter sleep state. Research has revealed that dreaming uses the same brain areas as those used while awake to access episodic memory. In other words, dreams use memories of things that have happened to you. This agrees with the findings of dream researcher Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys (see here for more on this). Research also shows that the most vivid and bizarre dreams are also associated with activity in the amygdala and hippocampus. Both these brain areas are associated with memory formation with the amygdala important for emotional content.

Given this research, this latest 'name' MWR is easy to understand as it involves a memory of a particular person known to MA, someone who would have spoken MA's name many times. What is odd is the fact that the vast majority of voice MWRs are apparently random phrases (see here for examples), as if from casually overheard conversations, by people unknown to MWR. These presumably come from MA's memory but they sound unfamiliar.

One possibility is that they consist of various bits of real memories combined randomly together in an unfamiliar way. The Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys concluded that dreams are just that - our own recollections rearranged and presented back to us in an unfamiliar and often bizarre way. But does that really apply on such a small scale as a spoken phrase or short sentence? Maybe it does. If not, then MA must have heard those actual phrases at some time but cannot recall them consciously. This is perfectly possible. Think of all the TV we watch these days. There are a great many words spoken but the exact phrases are generally forgotten almost instantly. But perhaps some, at least, remain in the unconscious brain only accessible through things like dreams or MWRs. There is some support for this idea in a previous experience when MA recognised a voice heard as a a well-known male public figure (see here for account)! Maybe MA actually heard the person say it on TV. And maybe some of the other voice MWRs are snatches of conversations casually overheard in the street, for instance! It may be a case of cryptomnesia, in fact.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Like time standing still!

ClockMA heard a song, an original song, while reading. The song did not come from any electronic device or a human singer. It was just there. MA hears such original songs quite often these days. It is just a pity MA is not musical otherwise the tunes could be written down as original compositions! Whether these mysterious tunes are actually any good is quite another question*.

But something different happened this time. MA was reading but became stuck on the same sentence for the duration of the music. Only when it was finished did the reading continue. Nothinmg like this has ever happened before. So what does it mean? And what has it to do with the paranormal?

Regular readers will know that MA is 'my acquaintance' who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. These are microsleeps that go straight into a dream state. MA's MWRs fall into two broad categories - voices and visual. The 'visual' phenomenon are totally immersive, like virtual reality. MA is sometimes 'transported' to somewhere completely different. There is also a variation where the scene is the same as the one where MA actually is but with some significant differences (like the train ghost). The 'voices' phenomenon is not immersive and MA continues to see what is going on in the real world.

This latest experience was of the 'voices' type. Some of these experiences are in the form of songs, original ones, never heard by MA before. What made this latest experience unique was that MA stopped reading during the song. It was not a voluntary act. MA simply could not read while the song was being heard, even though the words on the page remained plainly visible throughout. So what's going on?

There are a number of possible explanations for this experience. It could be that MA was distracted by the song and stopped reading. MA insists, however, that it did not feel like that. A second possibility is that MA was unable to concentrate on both reading and listening to music and so could not read while the song was heard. MA doesn't think it felt like that either.

Then there's the possibility that the MWR completely 'took over' MA's brain, like an ordinary sleeping dream. In this scenario, MA's brain was no longer processing sensory inputs but simply 'replaying' the last thing it saw in a sort of loop, like a DVD on pause. That would be pretty weird, if true!

How can we tell if that last possibility was true? Well, if MA noticed any changes in the scene during the experience, like the page moving, it would show that 'live' sensory input was still getting through. MA did not notice any such changes. However, MWRs are short, typically a few seconds, so it's entirely possible that there WERE no visual changes during that period of time. For now the question must remain open until a new similar experience comes along which might provide evidence one way or the other.

And what has this to do with paranormal experiences? Well, MWRs are a rare, but quite normal, phenomenon usually caused by certain kinds of sleep disorder. Anyone experiencing such MWRs who did not know their true cause could easily interpret them as paranormal experiences. And the more we learn about the nature of MWRs the more easily we can recognise them. If this experience really IS like a DVD on pause it might be interpreted, if there was no accompanying music, by a witness as like time briefly standing still! And that really would be a very strange experience indeed.

*It should be easier for any would-be music composer to get new tunes from MWRs than from ordinary sleeping dreams. That's because MWRs are remembered in much better detail. MA can usually recall exact words spoken in voice MWRs, for instance, so why not exact notes and lyrics in the musical variation?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Invisible ghosts?

Apparent figureOne of the commonly held beliefs about ghosts is that are usually invisible, only appearing very rarely as human figures. I have often wondered where this belief comes from. Could it come from actual witness evidence? In a previous look at this topic (here) I pointed out that visible ghosts are sometimes observed to vanish. One interpretation of this might be that they are going from a visible to an invisible state.

Well, my recent experience in the rain (here) suggests a second line of witness evidence - a sense of presence. This consists of a definite feeling that there is someone nearby who ought to be visible but is not. This certainly sounds like an invisible ghost. There is also a third line of evidence - haunting activity. Such activity, like object movement, is assumed by some to be caused by an invisible ghost. A fourth line of evidence is that apparent human figures sometimes appear in photos when no one was seen at the time of exposure (see photo right).

All of this suggests that, unlike some beliefs about ghosts, the 'invisible ghost' idea may be derived from real ghost cases. However, this does not necessarily mean that the evidence actually supports the idea of invisible ghosts.

Take vanishing human figures, for instance. Many ghost sightings are found, on careful investigation, to be caused by misperception or hallucination. Vanishing acts are common in cases of misperception because such misperceptions frequently 'break' when the object being misperceived becomes better seen. And when hallucinations end, so do any human figures they contain (see the train ghost near sleep experience, for example). Photos of ghosts are often found to be photographic artefacts.

My own experiences with a sense of presence suggests that they can have xenonormal causes, like certain natural sounds. And a problem with haunting activity is that visible apparitions are not actually observed moving objects or performing other haunting activities. Indeed, in many haunting cases, no apparition is ever seen at all. It appears to be an assumption that ghosts cause these activities rather than a demonstrable fact (see here for more on this).

So I can now see how the idea of invisible ghosts is probably based on real ghost cases. However, in my opinion, there still seems to be no compelling evidence for the existence of invisible ghosts.

PS: The photo? Can you see a human figure in it? No such figure was seen at the time of exposure. See here for the story behind the picture.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sense of presence in the rain!

RaindropsI turned and looked for the third time but there was still no one there! This was despite distinctly hearing someone shuffling about behind me on each occasion. So, a ghost then!

I was in a nature reserve hide. For those not familiar with such buildings, they generally resemble a wooden garden shed, as this one did. In this example, there were windows at the front to observe wildlife, unobserved by animals. At the back was an open door. There was a wooden boardwalk leading up to the door. I was sitting watching birds through the front window when I heard someone coming into the hide behind me. When they did not come to the front window I looked round, out of curiosity, but there was no one there. This happened twice more. It definitely felt very odd!

I worked out, after a while, what was causing this 'sense of presence' phenomenon to occur. It was the sound of heavy rain on the hide roof and boardwalk. The sound, on occasion, resembled someone shuffling along the boardwalk or wooden floor of the hide. Though I've been to this hide many times before, this was the first time I'd been there during heavy rain. That was probably why I'd never heard this 'presence' phenomenon there before. I felt the sense of presence so strongly that I looked three times, despite seeing no one on each occasion.

I have, of course, had a sense of presence before, also caused by sound (see here and here for instance - note how 'shuffling' is the same adjective used). This latest example was in a completely different location and situation to the previous examples. It suggests that natural sounds may produce a sense of presence in many different circumstances. This examples is the most powerful I've come across so far.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Demonstrating precognition

Sun behind treeI was thinking about precognition the other day, as one does. I came to the conclusion, despite some apparently excellent examples around, that precognition is surprisingly difficult to demonstrate. Here are some hypothetical examples to demonstrate what I mean.

Example 1: Witness A has a strong feeling that event A is about to happen and it does, within a day. On the face of it this looks like a good demonstration of precognition.

Example 2: Witness B has a strong feeling that event B is about to happen and it does, within a day. Yes it's the same as example 1. However, further research reveals that witness B has strong feelings about the future several times a week and has done so for over a decade. This is the first time any of B's premonitions have come true.

Example 3: Witness C reads about event C in a newspaper and suddenly remembers she had a dream about just such an event the night before.

OK, firstly, examples 1 and 2 are identical in what actually occurs - a witness feels something will happen and it does. However, in example 2 the witness has had so many such premonitions, which were all wrong until now, that far from appearing incredibly unlikely, the final correct prediction almost seems inevitable!

Secondly, in example 3 witness C only remembers the dream after reading the newspaper. So how many dreams has the witness had which did not apparently predict any real life event? The answer is probably rather a lot. It is, in effect, the same situation as with witness B. The main difference is that witness C has forgotten all the dreams that did not come true whereas witness B may remember many at least some of their previous wrong predictions. Also, witness C did not initially see the dream as precognitive while B thought their feeling was. Question: if you only realise you've predicted the future after it has happened, but didn't think it was a premonition at the time, is it precognition?

Thirdly, there is the question of what constitutes a correct prediction. Suppose witness 4 dreams about event 4 which actually occurs. The essential events in the dream and event D are the same, However, there are many details in the dream that are different to event D. Also, many additional things happen in the dream than do not occur in the real life event D. Do all these differences count against this being a hit or not? I have, incidentally, seen many examples of this where there are a number of material differences between the prediction and event but it is still counted as a hit. I'm not so sure.

Fourthly, there is the question of symbolism. Do we accept a prediction as being fulfilled if it relies on symbolism rather than a literal description of the actual event? Again, I'm not so sure.

When I view some remarkable-sounding examples of precognition against these points many start to sound rather less amazing. I think when it comes to judging examples of precognition it is a case of "it's complicated".