Thursday, 28 March 2013

Photo or witness?

Misperceived black rabbitMost people carry cameras around all the time these days, in their phones. In spite of that, it is still highly unusual for a witness to something weird to record it at the the time with a photo. There are three main reasons I can think of for this. Firstly, witnesses are often too amazed by what they're seeing to think about taking photos. Secondly, many sightings only last a few seconds, minutes at most, and there may not be the time to take a photo. Thirdly, witnesses to something amazing rarely want to take their eyes off it!

From the very few cases I've come across where witnesses have actually photographed what they've seen, the resulting photo generally does not agree closely with what the witness remembers seeing. So, where they are contradictory, which is most likely to be correct - the photo or witness account?

I think you should treat both photo AND witness account as equally valid. It is entirely possible that both are entirely accurate! That's because people misperceive while cameras don't. So a witness may see a ghostly figure in a car only for a simultaneous photo to show an empty seat with a coat hanging draped over it. Indeed, it is the very contradiction between the photo and witness memory that may have led to the incident being reported as a ghost in the first place. It is the reverse of the more common case where people see a figure in a photo but cannot recall seeing anyone at the time of exposure.

But which is real - photo or witness report? We know there are many problems with witness reports, quite apart from misperception, like memory for instance. And the more time that has passed since the incident, the less accurate the witness report is likely to be. By contrast, a photo can be examined minutely again and again with its information content never changing. Having said that, photos do have their own limitations. They may suffer from low resolution, under- or over-exposure, motion blur and so on, which will make it difficult to say what is present. And though they may not show misperceptions, they do quite often contain photographic artefacts (can you see the 'black rabbit' in the photo above - background here?).

Investigators do have one other thing they can do, besides interviewing and studying the photo, to help resolve these problems - they can (if practical) visit the site where the photo was taken. They can look for signs of possible misperception on site (see here), though things may have changed since the original report, of course. Such research can help resolve whether the photo, witness report or both are truly accurate representations of what took place.

So, the question of photo versus witness report is not simple. Many people would say the photo must be 'correct' but, for reasons I've given above, that is not necessarily so. And it is entirely possible for the witness to have perceived exactly what they say they did, even though what they saw was not physically present and not photographable. We always need to treat the photo and witness report as equally valid and important evidence.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Does 'witness credibility' actually matter?

Misperceived womanBack in the early days of ASSAP, one of the key things we looked for when investigating a report of an anomaly was the credibility of the witness. This 'credibility' equated roughly to how likely So members of certain professions, for instance, would generally be considered highly likely to be honest and, if trained observers, particularly reliable witnesses. That was before we realised that most reports are actually the result of misperception, which happens to everyone without exception. So does the concept of a 'credible' witness carry much weight any more in anomaly research?

Obviously, the likelihood of someone telling the truth is still important. However, traditional ideas that people in certain professions are more likely to be honest are not so widespread these days.  So, the idea of believing everything someone says automatically, simply because of their job, can no longer be seen as a reliable method of gathering scientific data! Luckily, in my experience, the problem of dishonesty is a surprisingly rare one in anomaly research. And it is generally picked up quite easily in a well-conducted investigation.

Much more of a problem is misperception. Given good investigation methods, like cognitive interviewing techniques, you can get a reasonably full and accurate recall from a witness of what they experienced. However, that doesn't mean that what they report equates objectively with events that took place at the time. I have, in this blog, frequently reported seeing human figures in some detail. However, most turned out to be misperceptions. So, though I was reporting honestly and accurately, there was still no actual human or ghostly figure present!

So, what makes a credible witness when misperception is such a problem? Firstly, in my experience, it is generally the case that most witnesses will report accurately, to the best of their abilities. To that extent, the vast majority are perfectly credible. It is in deciding how likely is that what they experienced equated to objective reality that we have the problem. Luckily we DO have a rough and ready way of gauging how likely someone is to misperceive any particular object.

The way we perceive depends on our visual experience - all the things we've ever seen. So, a plane spotter, for instance, with their extensive visual experience is unlikely to misperceive a jet as a UFO. And an astronomer will usually have enough experience of meteors and satellites to not misperceive those as UFOs either. Where does this leave 'trained observers'? Though likely to be more methodical, they are probably no better than 'casual' observers when outside their area of experience. So a police officer may be good at describing people or vehicles but may be no better than anyone else at deciding whether a orange UFO is actually a Chinese lantern.

It is visual experience that counts for most when it comes to being a truly credible witness. But even visually experienced witnesses can sometimes still misperceive in their own area of expertise. As I've mentioned before, I've seen experienced birders get species identification wrong on occasion. It is rare but it DOES happen. And there is still the problem of accidental patterns of light caused by things like vegetation that can fool anyone (like the picture above)! There is no such thing as the perfect witness!

It is important when interviewing a witness to find out what their relevant visual experiemnce is like. Has someone reporting an orange UFO, for instance, ever actually seen a Chinese lantern? If they haven't it doesn't destroy their credibility as a witness but it certainly makes misperception harder to rule out.

So, overall, if we are to retain the idea of any witness being more credible than others, it cannot reasonably be based on their profession or training. Instead, it should be based, at least in part, on any relevant visual experience. And knowing what something looks like, from a picture or movie, is nowhere near as useful as seeing it in real life. If you want to say for certain that a UFO was definitely not a Chinese lantern, you are a much more credible witness if you have extensive experience actually watching them!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bootlace that knots by itself!

Can a bootlace tie itself in knots? My answer would have been 'no', until it happened to me recently. You hear about impossible physical things happening sometimes, in poltergeist cases for instance. So was it a paranormal event?

First of all, the knot did not appear completely spontaneously. But, on the other hand, neither was it the result of any obvious knot-tying action. I moved my hand along the lace quickly, to remove it from an obstruction where it had been caught. It produced a sort of whipping action in the lace. Then I noticed, to my astonishment, a knot had appeared on the very end of the lace. The aglet (that plastic sleeve at the end) had managed to get itself between two folds of the lace, forming a simple knot. And just to prove it was a knot, and not simply a chance fold, I undid it (which I needed to do anyway because it was stopping me tying my laces). It was definitely a knot!

We've all had the experience where a long cable, or piece of string, spontaneously ties itself in knots simply by being used multiple times and stored in a pile, rather than being wound properly. It happens because each time we pick up the string we inadvertently rotate it a bit. This twisting causes the string to wrap itself. Given the right sequence of twists, the string forms coils and then simple knots. Indeed, experiments have shown that knots readily form spontaneously in agitated strings. However, not usually with just one single movement, as happened in this case.

Some twisting must have happened with the bootlace. However, I think the presence of the aglet was crucial because, unlike the rest of the string, it was stiff and unbending. I think it collided with the lace, possibly twice, to produce a loop and then a knot (which also includes the lace crossing itself). I don't think the knot could have appeared without the aglet. If I had a lot of time, I think I could work out the exact sequence of moves that could make a whip action produce a knot. But life's too short! I know it's possible because it happened. I also know it's incredibly unlikely. I'm pretty sure I could repeat that action a thousand times and it would not happen again.

If only I could find the exact action I used to knot the bootlace, maybe I could invent self-tying boots! But WDTHDWP? Well, incredibly unlikely things are sometimes reported as paranormal. But high odds against something happening don't mean it is impossible, nor that it must be paranormal (see coincidence). Instead, just like my knotted bootlaces, they just happen very rarely.

PS: I was searching for a photo of a boot to illustrate this article but I'm pretty sure you've all seen one already. Instead, let me share with you my strange ambition to become the manager of an outdoors shop for one day in January. I've always wanted to put up a sign in the window saying 'this is the winter of our discount tent'. On second thoughts, perhaps the boot photo was a better idea ...

Monday, 25 March 2013

The lies we never stop believing!

Manipulated photoFlicking through a magazine I noted the title of an article, in bold type, that I wanted to read later. It concerned a place I knew well. When I came to find the article again later, I could not! It had vanished! What I DID find was an article with an almost identical title except in one important respect. The place name in the title was different, somewhere I knew but nowhere near as well. The names did have a lot in common. They both started with the same letter and ended in the suffix 'borough'. One name had 4 letters as a prefix while the other had 5. So, as you can see, visually they looked similar even though geographically the places were quite different.

This was a typically dramatic example of misperception. For someone who has never seen such a thing happen, it can sound trivial - a minor case of 'imagination' or 'hallucination', perhaps. It is neither. I didn't see something that resembled the familiar place name, I saw it as clearly as the words around it (which remained the same in both viewings). It did not change at all as I was looking at it for the second or two before I flicked to the next page. I was genuinely puzzled when I failed to find the article again.

Misperception is the lie that our brains tell us that we just keep on believing. Even after we've seen a demonstration of how unreliable our visual perception really is. I think this powerful lie is why we find those many weird experiences caused by misperception so compelling. The only alternative to believing we've seen something paranormal is to distrust our own sight, the sense we rely on over all others. And that's a very disturbing idea.

By contrast, people's reaction to anomalous photos is increasingly to distrust them! When people say 'photographs don't lie', it is now usually ironic. The reason for this is that everyone knows that digital photography has made it incredibly simple to manipulate photos (like the one above right) and videos. In fact, my own detailed examination of thousands of anomalous photos shows that very few are manipulated. The vast majority of weird photos turn out to be photographic artefacts.

So we are now in the bizarre position where we implicitly trust our own visual perception, which lies to us habitually, while distrusting photos which are actually manipulated a lot less than we believe. I think this incredibly strong trust of our untrustworthy visual perception helps generate many paranormal reports. We'd rather believe we've seen something weird than admit to the possibility that our brain lies to us.

There is an excellent reason why the brain lies - to speed up visual processing. If we waited for a perfect picture of what was going on all around us, we could not react quickly enough to possible dangers. And a kinder word than 'lie' would be 'short-cut'. Our brain gives its best guess, when there isn't sufficient information available to determine something definitively. And that is vital to help us to survive and thrive. The unwanted side effect, however, is that we sometimes 'experience' things that are not actually objectively real. Like me momentarily seeing a familiar place name in a magazine, instead of the one that was actually there.

So next time you interview a witness who insists that they saw something paranormal when, it seems highly likely to you to have been a misperception, think carefully. If they ask your opinion, and you give it, don't expect them to necessarily accept it. In a very real sense they DID see what they say they saw. It's just that what they saw might not have actually been present at the time in any objective sense.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Looking for ghosts? Get distracted!

ShadowI tried to visualize the 'door ghost' but it would not appear. Then, once I'd given up, it appeared anyway! Why? Because I'd been distracted by something else. My initial failure may be because I have difficulty remembering the precise form of the door ghost (I don't find shadows easy to visualize). But it may also be that distraction is simply a far better way to see a strong misperception than remembering the last time you saw it.

For those who don't know what this is all about, the 'door ghost' is described here and the observation that visualization can bring back misperception here. I have known about the power of distraction for a long time, as documented frequently in this blog.

It made me wonder if I could capture the distraction effect with a test online. In the last blog entry I linked to a test that works for me, though probably not for most people, who don't notice themselves misperceiving. So I added a new test to the same page (here), right at the bottom. The idea is simple. Instead of an orange blob, I used a tiny ambiguous photo between the digits. The idea is that it might provide a momentary distraction (is that a crocodile?), allowing time for misperception to take hold (are they mushrooms?). I'm sure I could produce a much better experiment but I was in a hurry (or eyes?).

It does work marginally better for me than the orange blob (or are they flowers?). I'd be interested to hear if anyone else gets any different results with the new lower test. Whatever the results, being distracted, or day dreaming, certainly seems to be a better state of mind to encourage misperception rather than concentration. I only wish I'd known that before I spent hours on vigils staring intently looking for a ghost that never appeared.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Why misperceptions are likely to be reported as paranormal

Shadow ghostI see ghosts - a lot! I see the 'door ghost' several times a week, on average. Aside from that, I see ghosts maybe a couple of times a month. To put that in context, most people will usually admit to seeing perhaps one or two ghosts in their whole lifetime! And fair number of people will see none at all. If I didn't know that my ghosts (many reported in this blog) were all caused by misperceptions or coincidence, I'd definitely think I was psychic!

I started seeing ghosts frequently only once I realised that misperception is actually a feature of normal perception. It appears that this knowledge gave the unconscious part of my brain 'permission' to let me notice misperceptions. So what did I see before that? Nothing! Despite years of eagerly attending ghost vigils, not a thing. Since my perception cannot have changed fundamentally since then, what did I see before when there was a tree stump that resembled a human figure? The most obvious explanation is that I misperceived then, just as I would now, but simply never noticed it. And I think this is the normal, default state for the vast majority of people. They misperceive alright but simply don't notice because the unconscious part of their brain stops the conscious bit noticing.

In addition to ghosts, I misperceive plenty of other stuff rather more frequently. One of my 'favourites' is seeing the wrong figures on the display of a poorly-seen digital display, like a clock. To see if it works for you, try this experiment*. Isn't this a bit of nuisance, you may ask, seeing stuff that isn't really there on a regular basis? No, because I expect it now. If I see something I suspect 'isn't right', I take a close look and it usually resolves into mundanity. However, there's a problem here because when we misperceive, we usually see what we are expecting, rather than what is really there. So, often a misperception will look quite normal and so be overlooked. But that only puts me into the same situation as all those other people who never notice themselves misperceiving!

One question that interests me is, do others notice the same misperceptions as me? On the few occasions I've been able to test this, I've found that people who don't notice misperception see nothing. But, interestingly, people who've previously witnessed some paranormal stuff will often see the something weird, though not always the same thing as me. Another thing I've noticed is that people tend to misperceive more on ghost vigils, and usually with a bias towards seeing apparently paranormal stuff. I should emphasize, these are only extremely provisional observations based on informal data collected from a small sample!

So why do the vast majority of people (including me until my recent 'ghost seeing phase') never notice their own misperceptions? I think there is an unconscious brain constraint that presents whatever we see as 'definitive reality' - seeing is indeed believing. I suspect it is a sort of brain 'defence mechanism' to keep things 'running smoothly'. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't trust what you were seeing most of the time. Life could become difficult indeed!

However, there is also a downside to this defence mechanism. It means that when someone DOES notice a particularly striking misperception, they will almost inevitably label it as paranormal! Since such a misperception would need to be particularly strong to get past the defence mechanism, it might explain why most people only ever see one or two apparently paranormal things in their lifetime.

*I'd be interested to know what results readers get with this test.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A ghost mouse, a ghost hand and the wind

Walking along on a windy day recently, my attention was caught by a small animal scurrying around in front of a high fence. A mouse, perhaps? The animal quickly vanished. So, a ghost mouse then!

On another windy day, also recently, I saw someone apparently attempting to put washing on a clothes line. I guess it caught my attention because the very windy conditions did not seem good for hanging washing. I continued to watch, to see how the person got on, but they never appeared! Do ghosts need to hang up washing, I wondered? Thinking about it, all I'd seen was a hand on the clothes line. The rest of the person (or ghost) was concealed by an overhanging tree. So, a ghost hand, then!

Back to the ghost mouse. It soon became obvious that the 'creature' was actually a small piece of thin black plastic, perhaps from a bag. It moved rapidly in a roughly circular pattern, continually turning over and over, thus giving the impression of a small animal scurrying about. As a misperception, I actually SAW it as a mouse for a second or two before it became obvious what it really was.

The ghost hand turned out to be an orangey-pink cloth hanging on an adjacent, concealed washing line. A portion of it, around hand-sized, became periodically visible from my position as it was blown by the strong wind. There it gave the appearance of a human hand doing something with the clothes line. When it came back for a second and third time, I could see what it really was. Once again, as a misperception, it looked like a genuine human hand, at least on the first occasion.This is typical of misperceptions, which are strongest when they take place in a location where you might reasonably expect a person, or a hand in this case, to be present.

Most of the misperceptions I've seen have been static, so it is interesting to come across some good examples that move. In both cases the wind was responsible so that's a factor to consider when evaluating moving ghost sightings. Also in both cases, without the wind there would have been no misperception in the first place!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

When a movie cuts into real life!

Rolling titlesINT. DRAWING ROOM - DAY

The room is silent with low lighting. CHARACTER 1 is seated in a soft chair reading intently from a magazine. Nods slightly.

CHARACTER 1
(bemused)

Well that was weird!

What CHARACTER 1 (C1) had just witnessed was this. The whole room scene had vanished to be replaced by the yellow rolling credits of a movie. The titles were not seen on a cinema or TV screen but directly ahead, as if floating in space, against a perfectly black background, like the picture above. And C1 was real - my acquaintance who has microsleep with REM (MWR) - see here for more info on this.

Clearly C1 had just gone into a microsleep and began dreaming instantly (MWR), a fairly frequent occurrence for C1 in suitable circumstances. But the content of the dream was very unusual indeed, appearing as if INSIDE a movie! This is interesting because dream content mingles with real scenery during hypnagogic episodes which are behind some reports of paranormal phenomena (usually at the point of falling asleep or waking). Clearly, a scene consisting solely of rolling credits cannot arise from any real-life experience, except perhaps using a head up display, which C1 never has. It is, apparently, an adaptation of the experience of watching the closing credits of a movie on TV or in a cinema. What is interesting is that the dreamer has become part of the scene itself, no longer simply an outside observer.

Now, suppose C1 had, instead, dreamt of the interior of an alien spacecraft once seen in a movie. So the scene might have proceeded more like an alien abduction. One moment reading a book, the next in the interior of a highly detailed alien spacecraft cabin. This sort of near sleep experience can certainly explain some apparent alien abduction experiences, with the detail of the spacecraft lifted wholesale from a movie scene the witness had once seen.

The most obvious lesson from this experience, for C1 at least, is that entirely fictitious visual material, like the rolling credits, can be introduced into near sleep experiences just as easily as scenes from real-life, with nothing to signal any difference. We have known for some time that fictional material appears to be feeding into reported real-life weird experiences (see here). But it is rare for such an explicitly fictitious example, such as this one, to be reported.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A fall of snail?

Snow pelletWinter has returned to the UK. Last week it was sunny, warm and spring-like, while today it is snowing. Or is it? I noticed that some of the 'snow' looked a lot more like hail. It was in the form of angular, compact balls of ice (a few millimeters across) which fell more vertically than the snow (see photo, right). The 'balls' bounced when they hit the ground, like hail but unlike more fluffy snow. I have seen hail looking very similar to this but never falling with snow.

So can hail and snow fall together, given the very different ways in which they are formed? And even more important, what would you even call it? Since 'haow' is pretty unpronounceable, what about 'snail'? Um ...

It turns out that solid ice chunks that accompany, or replace, ordinary snow are called sleet (see here)! Well, I thought sleet was a mixture of rain and snow but what do I know. However, the sleet referred to is also known as ice pellets (see here) which do not look quite the same as the stuff I photographed, particularly with regard to size.

It appears to me that what I have are snow pellets (see here), a special form of snow with an ice coating. I get the impression that they are fairly unusual in the UK. So I was right to get a little bit excited by my observation!

There are wider points here for anomaly researchers. Firstly, it is safe to assume that, if you come across something weird, the chances are very high that someone, somewhere has encountered it before and probably has a scientific explanation. Secondly, don't name something before checking whether it already has one! So, sadly, it didn't snail today after all!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Finally, definitive evidence of the paranormal!

Shadow ghostSometime in the next week, month or year, someone will come up with what they will imply is definitive evidence that the paranormal is real. It might be an undeniably dramatic event caught on video during a ghost case. It could be a parapsychological experiment giving such obvious positive results that it will defy simple alternative explanation. It will doubtless cause controversy, with many people believing it while others dispute any paranormal interpretation. But here's the weird thing. A few years later, hardly anyone will have heard of it and paranormal will still be looking for that 'definitive evidence' that will change the world.

How do I know this? Because it's happened many times before! Take the Enfield Poltergeist case, for instance. It looked like a game changer at the time. But, few even remember it today. There are many similar examples. Back in the early 1990s, ASSAP had a number of exciting cases that also appeared to be good evidence for the paranormal. But who remembers them today? And I predict that this pattern will continue on into the future.

So why doesn't this apparently 'definitive' material ever change the way most people think about the paranormal for all time? I think there may be three main reasons.

Firstly, even at the time of release, the evidence is likely to be strongly disputed. It is likely that few people who did not already believe in the paranormal will change their mind as a result. And when such believers see that the evidence did not change anything, it is gradually forgotten.

Secondly, after some time has passed, anyone critically re-examining the original case or experiment will see obvious limitations that more recent methods or technology could have addressed. For instance, old still photos and tape recordings of haunting incidents are never going to be convincing when compared to modern HD video of similar events. Furthermore, more possible natural explanations for recorded incidents, that were either unknown, or could not be checked for at the time, will have emerged in the intervening years. Such things will tend to move the case from 'definitively paranormal' to 'not totally explained' at best.

Finally, some people have an unusual attitude towards the paranormal - they actually WANT it to remain mysterious! So whenever anyone comes up with an 'answer', whether paranormal or normal, their instinct is to reject it. The overall result is that public attitudes and beliefs towards the paranormal have apparently moved little in many decades. Ghosts are still spirits to most, despite the lack of any compelling evidence. This may be why many ghost researchers are still searching, apparently in vain, for definitive evidence for paranormal ghosts. The ghost hunting boom has seen unprecedented numbers of people seeking this definitive evidence but, despite all that effort and regular claims to have found it, nothing ever appears to change.

Is there a way around this apparently bleak never-changing future for paranormal research? Well, it's all a question of approach. The problem with the approach used by many people now is that they first propose a theoretical mechanism, the paranormal, to explain weird experiences and then seek definitive evidence of its existence. If, instead, you research the causes of the weird experiences themselves a different picture soon emerges. Many such experiences clearly have xenonormal causes which is why they will never produce evidence of the paranormal. And if there IS a paranormal cause to some currently unexplained cases, it should emerge naturally from such an approach. In other words, stop worrying about 'proving' the paranormal, it will emerge naturally, if it is there, if you just concentrate on the causes, natural or otherwise, of weird experiences.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Somewhere unlikely and looking odd

Flying crowI noted the dark figure in the back of the parked car. It was unusual because solitary figures in parked cars tend to be in the front seats. The figure, which looked unusually slim, appeared to be facing backwards, as if reaching out towards the rear window. A ghost? A misperception?

I have noted in the past how objects that happen to occupy places where you expect to see human figures are much more likely to be misperceived than when they are in other locations. A particularly powerful misperception that regularly fools me is when someone has draped a coat over a seat in an unoccupied vehicle. It often appears as a human figure, only to revert to its true nature on closer examination.

So, my initial impressions, of a human figure (or possibly ghost), gave way to the idea that it was a dark coat slung over the back seat. That would fit with the unlikely position and unusual slenderness of the 'figure'. So, just another misperception! But as I got closer something totally unexpected happened. The 'coat' turned out to be a real human figure! And they really were kneeling on the back seat fiddling with the rear window! I felt just as surprised as if it had been a ghost!

What points does this experience raise? Firstly, that you can never assume that an object IS or ISN''T a figure without a closer examination. Secondly, many arguments that a figure 'must be' a ghost because of the unlikelihood of the situation do not hold water. On the second point, I have frequently heard arguments that a figure could not have been a real person because they were either behaving in a way no one would or looked too odd. Both of these circumstances were present in this case, and yet it really WAS a slim person, doing something unusual. I think such arguments should be limited to the impossible, rather than the unlikely. If a figure disappears then clearly it cannot be a real person.

As for behaviour, humans are capable of doing almost anything, however odd, at times. So, I don't think I'd ever say a figure couldn't be a real person simply because of highly unusual behaviour. And the photo? Well, it may not be immediately obvious but it is a crow flying, quite normally. It looks slightly odd because of the position of the wings at the time the shutter went off. Even totally normal behaviour can look odd when viewed in particular circumstances.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A ghost returns unexpectedly!

ShadowMy regular door ghost appeared again recently. Once again I wasn't expecting it, which is almost certainly why it appeared. I saw the trousers and shoes of someone standing behind me, all in black! I was in exactly the usual position. For those who've no idea what I'm taliking about, try reading here first.

Involuntarily, I looked back, saw my hand and the ghost duly vanished. Then something new happened. As I returned my gaze to its previous direction, the ghost reappeared! I've never had a misperception reappear like that before. In my experience, misperceptions either never happen again ever (the most common) or only reappear on a later visit to the same location in similar conditions.

I've not come across any ghost reports where the figure disappears and then reappears seconds or minutes later. But if there are any such reports, misperception can, it seems, no longer be ruled out as a possible explanation!

However, my case is not typical as I'm used to the ghost and don't usually pay it too much attention (yes, I've become blasé about seeing ghosts - who'd have thought). In most spontaneous cases of misperception the witness will either think the figure real, and then be shocked by its disappearance, OR think it a ghost from the outset (perhaps because of its location or appearance). In both cases, the disappearance is likely to make the witness much more alert making it highly unlikely the misperception will reappear. But if, particularly in the first case, the witness fails to notice the figure disappearing, perhaps because they are not paying it too much attention (which often happens with misperception), a reappearance may simply prolong the sighting. Misperceptions are typically short-lived which means they are often ruled out for prolonged observations. However, if a misperception can be re-triggered in the way that happened here, it could mean that they cannot be ruled out so easily.

Background to the door ghost: I see a ghost sometimes at a particular outside door. It appears as a dark figure standing a metre or two behind me on a light path (like the one in the photo above), reflected in the frosted door glass. The figure is always black and I only see the lower part, usually just legs and feet. That isn't because the rest of the figure is invisible but because most of it is obscured by me! The figure only appears when the reflected image is in my peripheral vision. Attempts to get a better look, by moving gaze for instance, result in the figure disappearing. It turns out that the 'figure' is actually my own arm and hand, a little behind me! It is, clearly then, an example of misperception. The best lighting conditions for the ghost to appear are overcast while strong sunlight is definitely no good.

There are many mentions of the 'door ghost' in this blog over the past year or so (particularly here - look for the shadow on pavement photo, like the one above). The door ghost is proving a valuable research tool, perhaps I should give it a name!