Monday, 16 December 2013

A different shadow ghost!

ShadowLooking out of a window at the night outside, a figure in the street caught my attention. Nothing obviously odd except that it suddenly vanished! So, a ghost then! It was only afterwards that I remembered it had been a really strange figure, unnaturally thin and small (probably what caught my eye). Not so much like a child as an ordinary adult made to look bizarrely thin by a trick in photo editing software.

The figure looked solid but dark a featureless, like a shadow. So, a shadow ghost then! It did not look as weird as it sounds because, in the poorly illuminated street, many definitely-real passing human figures also were mostly dark with few visible features. What really struck me, however, was actually seeing the figure vanishing. I have often seen misperceptions turn into the objects they really are, but seeing a figure simply vanish is new to me.

My first thought was that it was a misperception of something reflected in the window. I have had such misperceptions before, including the door ghost, which this figure superficially resembled. I tried to reproduce the effect with my hand, which had been moving when I saw the apparition. I couldn't reproduce it exactly but it was close enough to make me think I was on the right track. Certainly, given the distances and angles involved, my hand could certainly produce a similar reflection in the right position.

With the door ghost, also a reflection, the apparition appears behind me. So why didn't this one if it was, once again, my own hand? The difference is that the door ghost window is frosted. The window I was looking through this time was clear, so that reflected images sometimes appeared to be outside, in suitable (low) lighting conditions.

I am still puzzled by just how convincingly human the figure looked, albeit with decidely odd proportions. I think it was my perception system that did that. The odd shape of the figure would have come from my reflected hand. So why would it appear as a human figure? Well, there were several people walking by at the time. The ghost moved along a pavement, just where you'd expect to see a human! Expectation appears to play an important part in misperceptions. Had the 'figure' appeared somewhere else in the scene, it might have been misperceived as something else.

Another interesting point is that the figure appeared to move BEHIND a car! How is that possible? Well, the car was a bold white colour and I think this overwhelmed that part of the rather feeble dark reflection of my hand that would have appeared on the car itself. This affect certainly added to the impression that I was watching a real figure, until it vanished. No doubt my perception system ensured it all looked normal! The ability of our brains to construct reasonable looking versions of what MIGHT be present is truly astonishing!

Am I bothered that I could not reproduce the figure exactly at the time? Considering that I made a reasonable approximation of it using my hand, which I knew was moving at the time of the sighting, I'm happy that I've found the explanation. Considering all the angles, relatrive positions and distances involved, it is actually amazing that my hand could approximate the figure so well. Also, it is not generally possible to reproduce misperceptions twice in rapid succession. As I've discovered with the door ghost, you usually need to forget about the previous misperception for it to happen again in similar circumstances. Maybe I'll see this figure again once I've forgotten about it. Overall, I'm satisfied this was another case of misperception, albeit a particularly dramatic one.

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