Monday, 22 July 2013

The day I was a ghost!

Shadow ghostLooking at the exhibit, I found myself being addressed in an oddly familiar way from someone I didn't know. Bemused, I gazed into the gloom and saw a woman of about my own age. She gazed at me and apologized. She explained that she had taken me for her father!

I did not reply but instead retreated with my dignity! While I could understand that I might share her father's build and general appearance, I was surely nothing like his age! Had this woman really seen me as her father? I was obvious that her father had wandered off but, on turning round, he was who she expected to see. So she did!

It was a classic misperception, one of the likeliest cause of any ghost sighting. Actual real humans are probably one of the commonest, and yet most frequently overlooked, causes of ghost sightings. It only takes someone to walk around in historical costume for no obvious reason (such as a play, parade, fancy dress party or historical reconstruction) to generate a few ghost reports, particularly in low light and/or at a known haunted location. But there are other instances where real humans can be the cause of a ghost report, such as where they are present at a location they none are expected.

So how did I come to be a ghost? Or, at least, someone else? I was in a museum which had very low lighting. I assume it is designed to protect exhibits from photodegradation. Low lighting would also make the many interactive visual displays, so common in museums nowadays, easier to see. Such low lighting is, of course, a common cause of misperception.

I had my own striking misperception at the same place. I contrived to nearly trip over a perfectly flat floor! The floor had a uniformly coloured carpet (grey?). It was interrupted in one place a dark metal strip. The strip was flat and level with the carpet so that there no step where the two met. However, what I saw in the low light was a long step. I interpreted the dark strip as the shadow caused by a step. So I 'climbed' the step only to find there was none there! If you've ever misjudged the number of steps there are in a staircase and tried to 'climb' one too many, you'll know exactly what I did. Even as I stood, looking at the strip afterwards, it still gave the strong impression of being a step! It was one of the strongest misperceptions I've ever had.

The lesson? Low lighting is one of the most powerful causes of misperception. And yet, low (or even no) lighting is exactly what happens on many ghost vigils, for no obvious reason. It is little wonder that such vigils produce 'positive' results. And how did it feel to be a ghost? Mostly annoying!

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