Monday, 14 October 2013

A ghost car?

Tree branchesIt was wet. Very. Walking along a street I was determined to avoid getting splashed by passing cars. There was one particular puddle that was so big that when cars went through it they created another one, almost as big, on the pavement. So as I approached the puddle, from the other side of the road, I took careful note of an approaching white car. After crossing the road I stopped short of the huge puddle and waited. And waited. The white car never arrived! Fed up of waiting, I walked quickly past the puddle to get a better view of the road ahead. There was no white car, or any other for that matter, in view. Had I seen a ghost car?

I should explain that from the side of the road with the puddle you can't see far along the road because it bends and is obscured by trees. From the other side, however, you can see much further along the road. So, when I crossed the road I lost sight of the white car, as I expected to. What I did not expect was for it not to arrive a few seconds later. Where had it gone?

There IS a turn off that the car could have used after I saw it and before arriving at the puddle. Except that, I was SURE at the time that the car was beyond the turn off and reversing from that position would have been a risky and bizarre thing to do. I've certainly never seen anyone do that manoeuvre there, nor would I ever expect them to. So what actually happened?

Well, obviously it could have been a ghost car that simply vanished! There is another rather more likely possibility - when I saw the car it WASN'T beyond the turn off at all. How could I have made such a fundamental mistake? I was, as I've said, rather anxious not to get heavily splashed. I've noted in the past that when I've misperceived stuff it has often been things I either wanted to happen or didn't want to happen. For instance, I've seen large house plants in nearby windows as people, giving me the distinctly uncomfortable feeling of being watched.

I've little doubt that the white car was real and not a misperception. So maybe it was the turn off that I was misperceiving! Visually, it is not particularly obvious from the place where I saw the car though I knew it is there because I'm extremely familiar with the road. But maybe, on this occasion, I misperceived it to be somewhere slightly different from where it actually was. Indeed, it seems likely that the car itself was obstructing my view of the real turning.

So, instead of a ghost car, this may be a case of misperceiving a geographical feature. There seems no reason why this should not happen. After all, I once managed to climb entirely the wrong mountain (see here)! Though misperceptions are generally of people or animals, in my experience, I've also often seen one type of inanimate object as quite another. So why not misperceive a distant geographical feature? Indeed, it's possible that such misperceptions may be quite common. However, they are unlikely to be noticed much, compared to the presence of an unknown animal or person. So, next time you see a tree, among many other trees, maybe it isn't there at all. Maybe it's just bits of other trees nearby overlapping to give the impression of a tree. But who would really care enough to find out?

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