Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Why misperceptions are likely to be reported as paranormal

Shadow ghostI see ghosts - a lot! I see the 'door ghost' several times a week, on average. Aside from that, I see ghosts maybe a couple of times a month. To put that in context, most people will usually admit to seeing perhaps one or two ghosts in their whole lifetime! And fair number of people will see none at all. If I didn't know that my ghosts (many reported in this blog) were all caused by misperceptions or coincidence, I'd definitely think I was psychic!

I started seeing ghosts frequently only once I realised that misperception is actually a feature of normal perception. It appears that this knowledge gave the unconscious part of my brain 'permission' to let me notice misperceptions. So what did I see before that? Nothing! Despite years of eagerly attending ghost vigils, not a thing. Since my perception cannot have changed fundamentally since then, what did I see before when there was a tree stump that resembled a human figure? The most obvious explanation is that I misperceived then, just as I would now, but simply never noticed it. And I think this is the normal, default state for the vast majority of people. They misperceive alright but simply don't notice because the unconscious part of their brain stops the conscious bit noticing.

In addition to ghosts, I misperceive plenty of other stuff rather more frequently. One of my 'favourites' is seeing the wrong figures on the display of a poorly-seen digital display, like a clock. To see if it works for you, try this experiment*. Isn't this a bit of nuisance, you may ask, seeing stuff that isn't really there on a regular basis? No, because I expect it now. If I see something I suspect 'isn't right', I take a close look and it usually resolves into mundanity. However, there's a problem here because when we misperceive, we usually see what we are expecting, rather than what is really there. So, often a misperception will look quite normal and so be overlooked. But that only puts me into the same situation as all those other people who never notice themselves misperceiving!

One question that interests me is, do others notice the same misperceptions as me? On the few occasions I've been able to test this, I've found that people who don't notice misperception see nothing. But, interestingly, people who've previously witnessed some paranormal stuff will often see the something weird, though not always the same thing as me. Another thing I've noticed is that people tend to misperceive more on ghost vigils, and usually with a bias towards seeing apparently paranormal stuff. I should emphasize, these are only extremely provisional observations based on informal data collected from a small sample!

So why do the vast majority of people (including me until my recent 'ghost seeing phase') never notice their own misperceptions? I think there is an unconscious brain constraint that presents whatever we see as 'definitive reality' - seeing is indeed believing. I suspect it is a sort of brain 'defence mechanism' to keep things 'running smoothly'. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't trust what you were seeing most of the time. Life could become difficult indeed!

However, there is also a downside to this defence mechanism. It means that when someone DOES notice a particularly striking misperception, they will almost inevitably label it as paranormal! Since such a misperception would need to be particularly strong to get past the defence mechanism, it might explain why most people only ever see one or two apparently paranormal things in their lifetime.

*I'd be interested to know what results readers get with this test.

No comments:

Post a Comment