Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Ghostly figures at windows

I looked out of a window, staring at nothing in particular, when I noticed a passer-by. But then, very unusually, the person turned round and stared straight at me! It was slightly unnerving! Is this, I wondered, what it feels like to be a ghost?

Regular readers will be aware that I often see human figures at windows that usually turn out to be potted plants or furniture. There is one window nearby where washing is often drying which sometimes strongly resembles a figure. The misperception usually only lasts for a second or two before I see what the object really is. But while I am misperceiving, the human figure is very realistic. When it 'disappears' it is like seeing a ghost! Hence my thought about knowing what it feels like to be a ghost!

I also regularly see photos that supposedly show ghostly figures at windows. They usually turn out, on closer inspection, to show either faintly seen objects in the room behind the window or things reflected from outside. Many of the photos are taken of reputedly haunted buildings, which may be why the photographers examine the windows! This 'ghost at the window' motif is common enough to be a class all of its own among ghost photos. Faces, or figures, at windows are also a regular feature of ghost cases.

You may have noticed that an unexpected 'face at the window' is also a staple motif of horror and thriller movies. I wonder if this is a coincidence? Have the horror movies led witnesses to expect weird figures at windows? Or did real-life ghost cases influence horror script writers?

Is there something about windows that encourages misperception? I think so! Firstly, windows usually conceal most of a real human figure and partial concealment is a feature of many misperceived objects. Secondly, when looking into a window from outside, the illumination is generally poor, another common factor in misperception. Thirdly, windows can reflect objects from outside which can 'mix images' with objects inside to produce unlikely shapes! So windows probably DO encourage misperception which almost certainly leads to many of the ghost sightings in such situations. And the effect even extends to vehicle windscreens (see here)!


  1. Yes, I think you're right! Mirrors are also classic horror-movie tropes. And reflective surfaces play a big part in occultism, such as crystal balls and obsidian scrying stones. As you suggest, it's their ability to mix images and thereby alter perception that seems to account for the fascination.

    I'm intrigued by the passer-by who seemed to react to your gaze. Was this an example of a different paranormal phenomenon, 'the sense of being stared at', which has been researched and written about by Rupert Sheldrake?

    1. I think the passer-by could easily see me if they bothered to look round. It's just that hardly anyone ever does bother! I've no idea if they felt they were being stared at!