Thursday, 3 January 2013

Unexpectedly seeing an expected ghost!

ShadowWhen I saw the 'door ghost' again recently, it was the first time I've ever seen it when I was actually expecting to! Actually, I was expecting to see the real person I knew was standing behind me in the very position where the ghost normally appears. However, I've discovered that someone standing behind me is indistinguishable from my door ghost.

But when I looked round I had a shock! The person behind me was NOT where I thought they were and could NOT have been the shadowy figure I'd seen at all. In other words, I'd seen the door ghost by thinking I was looking at a real person!

My 'door ghost' is the misperception of a shadowy figure that I usually only see when I've forgotten to expect it. The 'ghost' is actually my own hand which, when reflected and seen in peripheral vision resembles the legs and feet of a person standing behind me! I have tried to 'will' myself to see it but it hasn't worked so far. But this incident shows that it IS possible to see the ghost even when you are expecting it, by thinking there's a real person there. It seems I need to 'fool' my brain into seeing it rather than simply looking 'hard enough'.

This gets to the heart of misperception. The visual perception part of our brains substitute in objects from visual memory when there is insufficient information coming from the eye to recognise them correctly. Misperceptions vanish when you get a better view. But misperceptions are a 'best guess' and not always completely wrong. If I am expecting to see the 'door ghost' I will not see it because I know it's really my hand. So even if I can't see my hand well enough to recognise it, my brain will actually substitute it with a hand! In other words, I will misperceive my hand as a hand, and so see no ghost! I've been trying to see the ghost deliberately by 'clearing my mind' in an attempt to 'forget' what to expect. Maybe if I did it for long enough it might work, but not so far.

The current incident shows that expectation manage to do the trick. I was expecting to see a real person as a ghostly figure but they were not visible from my position. So my brain substituted my hand with a figure, its best guess based on what I knew, just as it would do with no one there. However, I don't expect the trick to work again! After all, the next time I am in that situation I will EXPECT to see a hand instead of a real person!

This incident shows, unsurprisingly, that when someone misperceives an object as a ghost it can be strongly affected by the expectation of seeing a real person. I have noted before how misperceived objects tend to be in positions where you'd expect to see a person, like on a footpath or a seat. I don't know that statistics but I believe a lot of ghost reports are of figures in places where you might expect to see someone (at windows, walking along footpaths etc) as opposed to really unlikely locations.

Many ghost reports mention that the witness thought they were looking at a real person at the time of the sighting. But then, many ghost reports are caused by misperception.

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