Friday, 1 February 2013

Why night is not as scary as it could be

Orange eyeWhy aren't the overwhelming majority of reported ghost and cryptid incidents taking place at night? The reason I ask is that conditions for misperception, which is responsible for a great many ghost reports, occur much more frequently at night.

Take the photo here (right), for instance. It looks to me like a tall, thin creature with orange eyes, one partly obscured by a snout, staring towards me through the darkness. Depending on its size, I'm not sure I'd want it to get too close! It could certainly be a bizarre cryptid of some sort. Indeed, when you walk around at night there are lots of partially illuminated objects which could easily be taken for something weird. So why don't we?

One reason, I believe, is that most of us spend most of our time in places we are familiar with. So, walking along a street we know well at night we may see lots of things poorly but our brains substitute them with what it remembers they really are. When we go somewhere we don't know at night, misperception does indeed increase. You see this in the new house effect, which is a significant problem for those going on a ghost vigil to somewhere they've never been before.

So what happens when something new appears in a location you know well and you only see it for the first time at night? This happened to me recently. I saw something ill-defined and white apparently hovering above the ground in an area not well illuminated by street lights. But here's the odd thing - I felt no alarm or even wonder at this apparently paranormal occurrence, though I was puzzled. For some reason I never, even for a second, felt there was really something hovering, despite what I was seeing. Instead, I reasoned that it was a white object sitting on top of something black, which I couldn't see in the gloom. Next morning, I came across the mystery object and my deduction turned out to be correct. It was a black rubbish bin with something white overflowing.

So why did I never feel it was paranormal? I think that we may have a higher threshold for seeing weird stuff at night. If I saw something hovering low above a street by day I'd straight away think it was bizarre. But by night, no. I think this threshold adjustment comes from the perception system in our brains having long experience of the fact that things naturally look weirder at night. If the sensory threshold was not raised, we would find a walk out in the evening a quite terrifying experience. Interestingly, if this threshold effect is real then it means we may actually be missing real weird stuff at night because our brains tend to readily dismiss it as 'not as it appears' and of no consequence!

I suspect the overall effect of this changing threshold is that we misperceive at around the same rate night or day. I should say I'm talking about 'normal' conditions here. So by night time I mean illuminated by house lights, street lamps and so on, whatever you are used to from every day life. It is does not mean that having ghost vigils in the dark is a good idea because complete darkness is not 'normal' illumination for most people. All of this would explain why the number of ghosts is not much higher than those reported in the day.

The photo is actually a tree. The orange 'eyes' are stubs where branches have been removed. The photo was not taken at night at all, it was simply darkened to simulate it. You can get some weird effects by darkening photos, showing you what our brains may be accepting as 'normal' at night! Such photos remind me of those 'day for night' filming effects you get in old movies.

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