Friday, 11 October 2013

Recognizing ghosts

Shadow ghostI mentioned the other day my idea that sounds resembling those caused by people, where none are present, might lead to reports of ghosts. Now, new research on facial recognition lends support to that idea.

I have mentioned before that people with face blindness (prosopagnosia), who cannot recognise people's faces, still manage to recognise acquaintances somehow. They do this, unconsciously, by learning to recognise people through things other than their faces, like body, clothing, voice, hair, behaviour, context (where and when seen, for instance) and so on. The new research shows that the rest of the population has this ability too. We can all, it seems, recognise people we know even when we can't see their faces, through other cues, like those mentioned above. And the strangest thing is that when people have done this they think they used the face to recognise others, even when they demonstrably haven't.

So, it seems, we all learn to recognise people by a whole variety of clues other than faces, and aren't even aware we're doing it. While the research was concerned with visual cues, it is entirely plausible that aural ones may be used too. And if this skill can be used to recognise specific individuals, it may also be used to infer the presence of unknown people in general, perhaps from clues like characteristic sounds. Someone might, from hearing suitably suggestive noises, think they are not alone in an empty house. And they might therefore decide that they are in the presence of a ghost. And, crucially, they will not realise HOW they KNOW there is someone, or a ghost, present. Indeed, this might even explain the 'sense of presence' that some people feel in haunted, and other, locations.

This all ties in with previous experiences I have had myself of apparently 'sensing' ghostly presences (see here for instance). I tied them in to mysterious sounds at the time and now I think I can see how I may have turned those unexplained sounds into a feeling that someone invisible (or a ghost) was present. Odd sounds are the most commonly reported phenomena in hauntings. They are often the key component of the new house effect. Now, it seems, there may be a specific brain mechanism, either innate or a learned skill, responsible for this effect.

No comments:

Post a Comment