Thursday, 25 July 2013

The ghost that won't appear in sunshine!

ShadowThe door ghost (the what?) seldom, if ever, appears on bright sunny days. Recent sunny days (we've recently had the hottest weather here in the UK since 2006!) have allowed me to try to get to the bottom of this puzzle. With the ghost appearing on almost every occasion, when I'm in the correct position, in recent months, it was clear that it was the sunshine itself that was behind the ghost's recent nonappearance. But how, exactly?

I tried hard to 'see' the ghost on sunny days, when in a suitable position, but it stubbornly refused to appear. Then I noticed a big difference from previous occasions, when the figure has appeared without difficulty. I could now see the details of the paving slabs that form the backdrop to the shadowy figure. Normally, they lack visual detail. Though the photo, right, is not of the actual site of the door ghost, it is a similar situation. As you will see, there is plenty of 'detail' in paving slabs if you observe them carefully. I should explain that the slabs where the ghost appears are normally seen reflected in frosted glass and only in peripheral vision. Obviously, if I looked straight at them, even in low light, there would be much more detail to see. But with lots of bright sunlight, the details are apparent even when reflected in frosted glass and in peripheral vision, something which surprised me!

It appears that with a detailed background, my hand does not turn into the ghost. Specifically, it does not appear further away than it really is, as happens when the shadowy figure is present. The hand is silhouetted, showing no detail itself, but it appears that the state of the background is more important. Even when I tried to visualize the 'figure', which normally works easily, it made no difference.

This is central to how misperception works. It is the lack of detail in certain views that allows the unconscious brain the latitude to make an informed guess about what it is seeing. It may then 'fill in' its own (spurious) 'detail' by substituting something with an image from visual memory. Sometimes the 'guess' is wrong and we see 'human figures' where there are really poorly-seen bushes or trees. Seeing something better will almost always disperse a misperception. I say 'almost' because, although the object originally misperceived may now be seen properly, there may be a detail within it, a branch in a tree for instance, that might then be misperceived instead. The general principle is that you can only rely on an object NOT being misperceived if it is well seen. For everything else, you're most likely just 'seeing' what your brain thinks is probably there.

This incident illustrates how crucial it is to establish the exact viewing conditions of any ghost (or other anomaly) sighting. The difference between whether the sun was out or not (and even from what angle it shone), for instance, could affect whether the witness misperceived or not. It is also vital to visit the exact location of the sighting, if possible, in as near to the original conditions, particularly lighting, as possible. Even the angle at which the witness was looking is important. There is only one specific position and particular angle of view where the door ghost appears. Though it appears in most lighting conditions, sunshine definitely stops it.

It can be easy to wrongly dismiss misperception as likely if you don't get all these details right. But consider this - the very specific conditions required for a particular misperception means that most people will, most of the time, fail to see it. If misperception was commonly observed, few people would report such incidents as paranormal! It is likely that many investigators will fail to reproduce a reported weird sighting unless they know about misperception works and try really hard! I wonder how many cases have been labelled 'unexplainable' when, in fact, they were just hard-to-reproduce cases of misperception.

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