Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Ghosts and mirrors

Water distortedIn this week's edition of New Scientist (I don't seem to have written that phrase here for a while) there is an article of psychomanteums, though it does not mention that name. Essentially, a psychomanteum consists of someone gazing at their own reflection in a mirror in low light conditions for a prolonged period. After a while some people may see apparent changes in their reflections.

I first tried this exercise many years ago. I had read that you could see yourself as an old person! At the time, I did indeed see what appeared to be a wrinkled version of my face. Having been told what to expect, no doubt suggestion played a part in what I actually saw. Some people believe that this technique can allow you to see spirits.

One thing that struck me in the New Scientist article was this description of one current theory about how the effect works: "As the brain struggles to make sense of what it is seeing, it might pull scraps from our memory to make up for our poor perception ..." This sounds like the way misperception works! As regular readers will be aware, I notice misperception a lot these days, while most people hardly ever seem to. So, I thought I might be a good subject for a some low light mirror gazing.

When I tried recently, it wasn't long before I did indeed see apparent changes in my reflected face. I tried two forms of illumination. In the first, my face was mostly illuminated from one side by an artificial light. In the second view, my face was mostly illuminated with natural daylight but from the other side. In both cases, I saw pretty much the same thing. Areas of my face would disappear and then reappear, despite no changes in the illumination. My lips would seem to be moving, even though physically they were not. And certain facial features, like my eyebrows, would seem to change shape as if to exaggerate features hardly noticeable normally. It was like looking at a caricature.

If the psychomanteum does work by misperception, or a related effect, it could provide a useful experimental tool for looking into how some ghosts are seen. Needless to say, I'm already thinking of trying some more experiments! The psychomanteum appears, if discussion of it on the web is any guide, to be a hot topic in parapsychology at present. So it seems that researchers are approaching this fascinating effect from both the parapsychological and psychological viewpoint. I wonder if they will come to a similar conclusion?

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    For the past several months I have been working on my own psychomanteum experiment. I will be posting the entire work via Psican.org, an organization in Canada with international readership. Looking forward to reading more about your experience.

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