Friday, 7 June 2013

But what else happened when you saw the ghost?

I've been thinking about the various times when I've seen ghosts, many of which are documented in this blog. I can remember what happened in each case in some detail. However, when I try to remember what else happened at the time of the sighting, I can't say for certain. I know, in general terms, what was going on. In most cases I was out walking, always somewhere familiar to me. But if I try to remember exactly what happened on that particular walk, apart from seeing a ghost, I can't honestly remember.

So I tried an experiment recently. I attempted to remember the individual details of exactly happened the last time I made one of these routine walks. I tried to recall exactly what I saw, what the weather was like, whether I did anything different to usual, if anything unusual happened and so on. I found that I could picture myself making the walk but only in general terms. I could not recall the details. I knew what route I walked and I could describe what it looked like in detail. But I could say what I saw specifically on that particular day. My memories of a familiar walk are probably drawn from many different occasions.

And where I CAN recall specific details, like the weather, I wonder if it is actually the result of confabulation. For instance, I can recall the weather on the occasion in question - it was mainly sunny. Though I remember the walk as sunny, I'm not sure if that is a true memory or just my brain recalling 'what must have happened'.

When it comes to things I do habitually, I cannot say for sure what happened on any particular occasion, even when it was very recent. I do have a poor memory so perhaps this is a problem particular to me. But I suspect it is more widespread than that. But why does it matter?

Well, if someone sees a ghost while doing some routine task, it may mean that their recall of what else was going on at the same time could be non-existent or simply wrong. And what is going on 'at the same time' can be crucial to explaining a ghost sighting. The lighting might be important to seeing a misperception, for instance. But if the witness can't remember the lighting, or recalls it incorrectly, a xenonormal explanation might be ruled out when it should not be.

This is just one reason why it is crucial for investigators to examine the site of a sighting in as close to the original conditions as possible. And if the witness can't recall the weather, for instance, it can be checked with meteorological records for the date, time and location of the sighting. A site visit is also crucial to test if the witness remembers details correctly. For instance, you might discover that the witness could not have seen particular features of the landscape from where they say they stood during the incident. They may actually have been in another location nearby instead. Such details can change the list of likely natural explanations completely.

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