Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Lake side ghost seen AND photographed!

Old man ghostIn most ghost photos I've examined, the ghost was not actually noticed at the time of exposure (suggesting a photographic artefact in many cases). And on the few occasions when a witness actually saw a ghost and took a picture, the resulting photo usually does not show anything like what they reported. So an example of a ghost that was seen at the time, and looks very similar in the photo, is rare. Here is just such a case which happened to me recently.

As I came around the corner in the path I immediately saw the distant figure across a lake (pic right above). It looked to me like an man with a hat and brown or green clothing, or so I thought. For several seconds I looked at the man without having any doubt that he was a real person. It then struck me as odd that the figure didn't move. Not even slightly! Ordinary people rarely stand so still. And, being familiar with the area, I knew there was no statue there. Oddly, I never thought it was a ghost though I could see how others might. I realised it must be a misperception, probably of a tree. A telephoto photo (pic lower right) revealed what it really was.

In many reported ghost sightings the witness believes they are looking at an ordinary human figure at the time. It is only when the figure does something odd, like standing statue-still or vanishing, that people start to suspect it might be a ghost. In some cases the witness only realizes they were watching a ghost after the observation has ended. This might happen if the figure was in a place where it is known for certain that no one was present, like a locked empty room for instance. So the fact that I thought, for several seconds, that I was watching an ordinary human being is quite typical of many ghost sightings.

Even in the first photo (above) it still resembles a human figure to me, though others may not think so. How you see it will probably depend mainly on your device's display and how susceptible you are to seeing misperceptions.

Some interesting questions arise from the sighting. For instance, why did I decide it was a man? And why wearing a hat? Looking at both photos now, it may not appear obvious!

There is, however, a big difference between watching a distant object for a few seconds and being able to study a photo closely for as long as you like. I can see where the 'hat' comes from: it is the flat top of the figure. It is obvious from the size of the 'figure' that it would have to be an 'adult' rather than a 'child'. I have other photos of the same scene where real people walk next to the pollarded tree. They are a very similar size. But why a man rather than a woman? I honestly don't know! I suppose it was 50:50 and my brain chose arbitrarily. The clothing colour clearly came from the actual hue of the real tree.

Old man figureWhen we misperceive we may see a human figure drawn from visual memory. However, its individual features will be constrained by the object being misperceived. So two witnesses who misperceive the same tree are likely to agree, broadly, about what the 'figure' looked like. There may be detail differences, though. Someone standing next to me, for instance, might have decided the figure was a woman. I believe the human figure we see when we misperceive is probably a generalized archetype rather than any specific remembered individual. But it will always be altered to look like an individual by the characteristics of the object being misperceived. I've no idea of the details of how it works but no doubt that will emerge in time.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Giving a ghost gloves does not prove useful!

ShadowThere are so many experiments I COULD do with the 'door ghost' (door what?), it's hard to know where to start. So, naturally, I thought of giving the ghost gloves. Well a transparent plastic bag, to be precise. I placed this on my hand, the part of my body that, when misperceived, forms the mysterious shadow ghost apparently standing behind me.

Recently the door ghost has been getting 'stronger'. By that I mean it appears now in circumstances where once it would not have. I can, for instance, 'will' the ghost to appear and it usually does. OK, it's not really 'willing'. Rather, I stand in the correct position, looking the right way, close my eyes and clear my mind. Then I open my eyes and, usually, the ghost will be there. When I tried this months ago it never worked. In reality, the ghost is not getting 'stronger' so much as my brain is getting better at spotting misperceptions.

Indeed, I now spot misperceptions in every day life regularly. Only a few could be interpreted as ghosts, namely the ones that resemble human figures. But quite often I will see, momentarily, things that quite simply are not physically present. They are usually things that could easily, or plausibly, be really present but just don't happen to be so. For instance, regular readers will know I am a keen birder. So, I often see a 'bird' perched on a tree, bush or roof, only for it to turn out to be a dark bit of vegetation. The vegetation will be physically behind the 'perch', and of a size and shape that gives an impression it is a bird. It is always a big disappointment when I discover this!

Anyway, back to giving the door ghost a plastic glove. I had no theory as to what effect it might have, I just thought I'd have a go. Disappointingly, it meant the ghost simply would not appear, no matter how hard I tried. My first theory to explain this was that the plastic bag gave my hand a more jagged outline, making it look less like a foot. However, on examining the hand it didn't look so different to normal. Instead, I now believe it was actually because the plastic bag reflected more light from the sky than my hand, giving it a lighter look. This destroyed the hand silhouette which, in turn, got rid of the shadow ghost. Even my improved ability to spot misperceptions has its limits.

If I didn't know I was misperceiving, my 'ability' to see things that aren't really there could easily be taken for a psychic faculty. If I DID think I was psychic, it would appear that the facility was improving over time! I wonder if this happens to others who think they are psychic when, in fact, they are really noticing misperception? I also wonder just how far my ability to notice misperception will go!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The wall mystery!

This event really happened! Maybe not quite as described but ... Anyway, a piece of mounting putty was discovered one morning attached low down on a wall. No one had stuck it there! Everything else in the room appeared completely undisturbed. There was no obvious, or unobvious, way in which this putty could have attached itself to the wall! The only clue was a mysterious bang heard a few hours earlier from the room. Based on these facts alone, a paranormal cause might appear more likely than some of the bizarre natural alternatives that might be readily imagined.

This is just the sort of mystery that paranormal investigators are often faced with when they arrive to examine a case. The central problem is that vital clues are missing, though this may not always be obvious. In the real example here, the missing clue is the previously unheard testimony of the secondary witness who removed a fallen picture from the floor before the primary witnesses arrived. Without that testimony a site examination might, or might not, have revealed a crucial clue that a picture was missing from the wall. But even then, there would be no reason to think the picture had gone missing recently!

An investigator in possession of these additional vital facts could then piece together what almost certainly happened. And here is the conclusion. A picture, attached to a wall with mounting putty, fell from the wall, hence the mysterious bang as it hit the floor. It was then removed, by the secondary witness, from its position at the bottom of the wall, unknown to the primary witnesses. However, while the picture was leaning against the foot of the wall, a piece of the mounting putty, which had come unstuck, was wedged between the two objects. When the picture was removed, the putty remained stuck to the wall, rather than the picture, a fact unnoticed by the person moving it. Hence the position of the putty on the wall, not far from the floor! Later, the primary witnesses came across the putty and could find no obvious reason for its presence.

Unlikely? Well it happened, pretty much exactly as described. The odds against such an occurrence happening by chance must be quite high. But that doesn't make it impossible, merely a very rare occurrence. In those cases where the investigator cannot find all the required information, such occurrences will remain mysterious. The moral of this story is not to stop digging around for clues too quickly or easil

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Time distortion less likely during weird experiences

Distorted clockA significant proportion of ghost sightings (as well as other anomalous phenomena) are caused by near sleep experiences, like hypnagogia. In such states, our brains mix dream material with what is going on at the same time in the real world. Some people think that apparent time in dreams can sometimes flow at a different rate to the real world. It is often reported, for instance, that a lengthy dream can be packed into a relatively short time asleep. This may be because dreams are often episodic, showing only 'highlights' of the 'story' they are conveying. But what if time really does flow at a different rate in dreams? Wouldn't that make hypnogogic experiences even weirder, with dream elements moving at a different rate to real ones? It would make ghost sightings feel even odder! But does it happen?

Regular readers will know I have an acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). This is a rare phenomenon that some people (usually those with a sleep disorder) experience where they go into a dream instantly during a microsleep (usually only seconds long). Generally the dream momentarily replaces what is going on around the microsleeper in the real world, a weird experiences in itself and likely to explain some reports of anomalous phenomena. However a recent experience was distinctly different.

My acquaintance went into microsleep, with eyes closed, and a dream took over the entire visual field. However, there was a real world voice heard at the same time, from a nearby radio, and this carried on throughout the dream. However, it was not incorporated into the dream, as real world sensory data often is. It was like being in a cinema watching a film with a fellow audience member talking loudly and continuously! The mixture of dream element with real life sensory input means the experience qualifies as hypnogogic. What is more, my acquaintance was aware that it was a dream at the time, making it lucid as well!

But here's really the interesting bit. The dream element and the real voice both proceeded at a normal speed, together! This would agree with the study done by Stephen LaBerge using lucid dreamers (see here). So, it seems time really does flow normally in ghost sightings, where they are caused by hypnagogia. This probably answers the question I raised in an earlier blog entry (here) where I suggested that apparent time distortion in such experiences might contribute to their 'spooky' feeling.

It is still possible that time is distorted sometimes in dreams. It might be only in hypnagogia, in contrast, that the brain deliberately keeps time from both the dream and sensory sources synchronized to make sense of the overall experience. I guess that seeing a human figure (or alien) that is not physically present is spooky enough for most people.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

It just appeared!

Branch web 1I have noticed that a rarely mentioned class of anomalous photo appears to be becoming more popular. The 'class' is best described like this: an object appears in one photo but not in another. The two photos are of exactly the same scene, taken from the same position and were shot just seconds apart. There are two subclasses of this type of photo. One is where the 'object' is anomalous, like an orb, ghostly mist or flying rod. The other is where the 'object' is simply an unremarkable, everyday sort of thing. The photo pair is usually considered anomalous because the photographer cannot see how the object could have just appeared, or disappeared, in a matter of seconds.

In the case of an apparently anomalous object, there is a common cause linking most such examples. It is that the specific conditions in which such an anomaly, or photographic artefact, appears are strictly limited. For instance, objects only appears as orbs inside the orb zone, a relatively small volume just in front of the camera. Bits of dust can easily drift in and out of the small zone within seconds. With flying rods, the insect needs to be in focus but close enough to the camera to appear as a rod. Again, this is a relatively small volume of space in front of the camera which flying insects can enter or leave quickly. In the case of ghostly mists, these are usually caused by the photographer's own breath becoming visible on cold nights when illuminated strongly by the camera's flash. To show up in this way, the breath needs to be close to the camera. So close, in fact, that is out of focus, making less obviously recognizable.

Branch web 2With non-anomalous objects, the reasons why something should be visible in one photo of a pair, and not in another, are more varied. Take the example in the photos shown here. The top two pictures, which are both cropped from larger photos of the same scene, were taken 10 seconds apart. The lower photo is slightly blurred due to camera shake but there is also a much more obvious difference. Only the lower photo shows a clear linear diagonal light 'anomaly' in the upper third of the shot, midway between the left and right edges of the frame.

The 'anomaly' is caused by the sun reflecting on a strand of a cobweb. If you look carefully at the upper photo, you can see a bit of the same strand nearer to the tree branch, though much less bright. So what happened in those 10 seconds to make such a bright reflection (which requires direct sunlight) suddenly appear? The sun could certainly not have moved in the sky enough to produce the effect in such a short time. Nor was there any wind to move the branch. If you look at the whole, uncropped version of the upper photo there is a big clue!

RobinAnd here is that whole photo (right)! The cropped area is in the bottom right corner. And look, there is a Robin sitting on the branch that the web is attached to! Though the bird is in exactly the same position in both photos, it flicked its tail between the two shots. It was enough to move the branch slightly! Comparing the two photos closely, the branch is slightly higher (when compared to the background) in the second shot. In other words, it is in a slightly different position, compared to the sun. It is enough to allow direct sunlight to hit the previously shaded cobweb strand. It is just such slight changes that can make something visible on one photo and not in another, taken seconds apart. If the Robin had not been visible in the frame, the cause of this particular change would have remained a mystery!

So, why are people taking multiple shots of the same scene seconds apart? I don't know but I can speculate. It may be to get a comprehensive record of an important event. Or it may be to get at least one good shot by taking many. Whatever the reason, this still rare phenomenon appears to be on the increase!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Does reproducing a paranormal report really prove anything?

Ghost tapeDoes reproducing a paranormal report, using natural causes, actually prove anything? Firstly, we need to lose that word 'proof'! The concept of 'proof' is not one used generally in science. While proof is possible in some branches of mathematics and philosophy, it is not a meaningful concept in most of science. Instead there is the idea of the 'balance of available evidence'. All scientific theories are provisional, always subject to new evidence. The idea of proof implies a fixed and final answer which does not occur in science.

So a better question would be, just because we can reproduce a paranormal report faithfully, does that imply it must have happened that way? Well, obviously no! There are often several different ways to produce any particular phenomenon. Orbs, for instance, though mostly produced by out of focus bits of dust, something almost indistinguishable can be produced through lens flare. In most cases, the differences between 'ordinary' orbs and those produced by lens flare is not obvious.

So what is the point of reproducing paranormal phenomena using 'natural causes'? Well, suppose you could reproduce a witness's experience faithfully, using only those environmental factors known to be present at the time of the report? Or using other factors that might reasonably have been expected to be there at the time? In that case, it definitely becomes a plausible explanation for the report. In fact, it becomes the 'explanation to beat'. So unless there was some good reason for thinking otherwise, it would be reasonable to accept the reproduced cause as the most likely explanation.

And what if it proves impossible to reproduce a paranormal report? Does it then follow that the report must indeed have had paranormal origins? Unfortunately, not! It is possible that those trying to reproduce the report simply didn't think of a possibility, at the time, that would, indeed, have worked. The best we can say, in such circumstances, is the report remains unexplained to date.

If this all sounds very theoretical, unfortunately it has only too practical results. Unfortunately, real life paranormal cases do not routinely feature very obviously inexplicable phenomena, like the stuff seen in horror movies. Instead, the vast majority of cases feature phenomena that is ambiguous, at best, and often quite easily reproducible. All of this makes developing ways to reproduce phenomena an important part of paranormal research. See here for more on that!

PS: The photo shows a double image produced in a single long exposure with a digital camera, reproducing similar phenomena found in many anomalous photos.
PPS: I heard some weird noises indoors the other day and wondered if they could be paranormal! It turned out to be a normal sound from the street outside. I had a window open for the first time in months and had forgotten what street noises sounded like!