Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Ghostly faces - a new clue!

Face in leaf litterI have mentioned before how puzzled I am by reports of apparent paranormal faces reported in photos. In summary, the mystery is this: in most cases, the faces are clearly not 'real' but an accidental shape that resembles one - a simulacrum, in other words. Someone seeing a rock that resembles a camel is highly unlikely to report it as the ghost of a camel! So why, when a 'face' shape appears in what is clearly a bush, would anyone report it as a ghost?

I've noted before (here) that the faces in photos are almost always blurred. You can see this effect once again in this brand new example (right - pic by Val Hope) where the 'face' is blurred compared to the sharp foreground. The 'face' was created in leaf litter.

When we view a blurry photo, our brains are less able to quickly and accurately identify all the objects visible. So the brain must consider (unconsciously) a wider range of possible identities for each discernible object than would be needed with a sharp photo, where objects are obvious. So, to the brain, it becomes at least a possibility, albeit a remote one, that an apparent face in an unsharp photo might actually BE a face. This might be enough for the fusiform gyrus area of the brain to react as if it was a face. And, given that the 'face' is not attached to a human figure, it becomes logical for the viewer's brain to conclude that they are looking at a ghost!

But there is still a mystery here because there is no tradition of ghosts appearing just as faces. I cannot think of any real life cases of people reporting isolated ghostly faces with the naked eye (ie. NOT in photos), unless you count the controversial Belmez Faces. There does not even seem to be an obvious tradition of fictional ghost stories involving isolated faces. So it is still a bit of mystery why people report what appear to be straightforward simulacra as paranormal.

Then I noticed something recently. Looking back at the examples from the thousands of anomalous photos I've examined, there was a common factor in many of the examples of 'ghostly face' photos. A lot of the photos were taken in places which were thought to be haunted or had an association with someone recently lost. It looks as though the psychological expectation generated by the circumstances surrounding a particular location may be biassing people to more readily report seeing faces in photos.

There was no haunting, or any other similar association, with the photo here. It just looked like a rather good simulacrum!

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