Tuesday, 19 February 2013

How a misperception can act like a recording ghost!

Shadow ghostI glanced down at a piece of paper and noticed it had rather a good line drawing of an animal on it. It looked like the work of a professional cartoonist. But then, suddenly, it had turned into writing together with a much smaller cartoon drawing of something quite different! It was clearly a misperception. What was striking, however, was how clear and detailed the 'animal cartoon' was. Every bit as sharp as the writing it subsequently turned into, in fact! I've never seen such a well-defined misperception before. It was so clear, I could remember the animal in my head afterwards.

So, why was it so sharply defined? I think because the paper was much closer than is usual with most misperceptions, less than a metre away from my eyes. It seems my brain had to produce a visual substitution that fitted in realistically with the objects around it. So it had to be very clear and detailed. With the usual, more distant, misperceptions they too must fit in with their surroundings and so are naturally less detailed. I love the way our brains always show us what we expect to see, whether it's real or not! If you're wondering why I misperceived something so close, I think it was because the lighting was low and I'd never seen the paper before. Plus, it was an unexpected place to find a piece of paper!

As usual, I could not get the misperception to work again. I tried looking in even lower light but it made no difference. I even tried taking my glasses off. I am short-sighted so everything went fuzzy. But in order to see the 'cartoon/writing' in focus, I had to get up close, leaving no possibility for misperception! I guess misperceptions ARE possible if you are short sighted but they will be fuzzy, like everything else, so you'd probably never even notice them.

Then I had an idea and, astonishingly, it worked! I closed my eyes and looked towards the 'cartoon/writing'. Then, without opening my eyes, I visualized what the 'animal cartoon' I'd originally seen looked like. Then I opened my eyes. I was not looking straight at the 'cartoon/writing' but quickly shifted my gaze to it and saw the cartoon animal once again! After about a second, it reverted to the writing it really was. Being so clear and detailed, I was able to see exactly how the cartoon changed into writing. It did not rearrange itself or suddenly change. Instead, the whole image went fuzzy, just briefly, and emerged as the writing! I've never managed to catch that conversion before, usually because misperceptions happen unexpectedly and I'm not ready to take in all the details. Frustratingly, the trick did not work again. I believe this was because I couldn't get the real writing image out of my head and replace it with cartoon again. It may work again if I leave it for a while without looking at the writing.

So what new stuff have I learned about misperception? I already knew that misperceptions are made to fit in with whatever visual context is around but this latest incident provided a beautiful illustration of that. I've found out how misperceptions change into the real thing by going fuzzy temporarily. But, most interestingly, I've found a conscious way to re-activate a misperception, even though it isn't particularly reliable.

Applying this to a ghost case (WDTHDWP), it is easy to imagine how someone will see exactly the same ghostly figure every time they see the same misperception. So a witness to a particular misperception will certainly form the opinion that they are seeing exactly the same ghost each time and it will 'behave' in the same way. This is because their memory of the first sighting will feed back into any subsequent sightings. So we may now have a plausible mechanism for why a misperception can be seen to appear and behave exactly the same way every time a particular witness sees it. So, it appears there is no need to invoke recording ghosts for some sightings after all.

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