Friday, 26 October 2012

How do you identify a ghost?

Ghost treeSo, you've seen a ghost! It looked like a human figure. But who is it? Though many people spend a lot of time doing research to find out who a ghost is, there is another strong possibility - it isn't anyone at all! But how can that be?

Consider the photo, right (original story of sighting here). It may not look much like a person, or even a ghost, but it did when originally seen. It appeared to be "an elderly person with frizzy grey hair" for a few seconds before reverting to its actual physical form, the one you see here - a tree! It was an example of misperception. Though this was only a brief sighting, misperceptions can sometimes last for a long time and be seen as a human figure throughout. But here's the point - there clearly was no 'elderly person', ghost or otherwise, present. So it isn't anyone and cannot ever be identified.

In cases of misperception, the features of the figure are largely determined by the object being misperceived and the lighting. In the example here, the bit at the top of the tree where a branch has been removed looks lighter and produces a 'face' when misperceived. Any 'details', like mouth, eyes and so on come from the viewer's visual memory. From examining many examples of misperception, it appears that our memory produces archetypal figures in such cases, rather than a recognizable person that we remember. So even the misperception is not an actual person.

While misperception is responsible for many ghost sightings, another common source of apparitions is near-sleep experiences, like hypnagogia. In such experiences, elements from dreams are mixed with real sensory input. So someone might be lying in bed and they see a figure standing nearby. The figure comes from a dream state while the real background is what they are actually seeing. In ordinary dreams there are often other people present, some real ones that we know, and sometimes others that we don't. It appears to be the same with hypnagogic states where sometimes figures are recognizable but many are not. So most of this category of ghost would also have no identity.

None of the above deters people from trying hard to identify ghosts. Indeed, they may try to identify figures that are little more than shadows or even just vague shapes! So how is it done? The key is the location where the ghost was seen. The 'identifier' will do some historical research to work out 'likely possibilities'. These may include people involved in tragedies (either at the location or elsewhere), famous people (!), people emotionally attached to the location and so on. All of these connections rely on the idea that ghosts are spirits, even though though there is no compelling evidence to suggest that is actually the case.

Finally, there is almost never a good enough description available from the witness to definitively identify a ghost with a particular person! So, all in all, I would say that you're probably better off NOT trying to identify a ghost in the first place.

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