Monday, 25 February 2013

A ghost walks!

AlleyI was daydreaming as I walked along when something caught my attention - a sticker on a lamp post. As I turned to look at it I noticed, in my peripheral vision, someone a few metres behind me. As it was an alleyway, I thought it best to move out of the way, so I resumed walking forward. Then something odd struck me. I could not hear any footsteps behind me. I turned to look and saw no one there!

While it is possible that it was a real person who suddenly decided to reverse the way they'd come and get out of the alley, that seemed unlikely. I had only gone a few steps before turning back and they would have had to run fast to be out of sight so quickly. And I'm sure I'd have heard that. The most obvious, if rather unlikely, explanation was a ghost! If so, the ghost was wearing light clothing overall and I could not make out any recognizable facial features. What was particularly interesting was that the ghost was walking, unlike others I have seen which were stationary. As is often the case in ghost sightings, I believed the figure to be an ordinary human when I saw it and never suspected a ghost until I turned to look back,

I returned to the same spot later to see if it might be a misperception. I noticed that, when standing in that precise spot, by the lamp post, I could see a vague 'figure' in the direction I'd seen the ghost. I say 'figure' but it was actually a concrete bollard with a metal signpost behind. When the two objects overlapped they give the vague impression of a roughly human-shaped object, albeit rather thin! Although this would convince no one that it was a human figure while in plain sight, it might if seen just briefly in peripheral vision or low light. The overall impression was light coloured with no obvious 'head', which would explain the lack of 'facial features'. Interestingly, this was the only point in the alley where the two objects were aligned. This may be why I've never noticed the 'figure' before.

But if it's a misperception, as seems likely from the available evidence, how could it be walking? Bollards and signposts don't generally move! However, when I replayed the incident in my mind, just after it had happened, I realised I had not actually seen the 'figure' move. It was an assumption my brain made on my behalf. The logic goes like this. There is a figure behind me in an alley. It is not far behind me so it must be moving in the same direction as me. I saw the figure so briefly that I would not necessarily have noticed actual movement.

We make these sort of unconscious judgements about how the world works, based on long experience, all the time. When something behaves unexpectedly we may well misperceive. We see what we EXPECT to happen rather what really happens. Another interesting point is that I was daydreaming when I had this experience. I've noticed being distracted as an important factor in misperception before and here it is once again.

And, finally, what was the sticker on the lamp post? No idea!

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