Friday, 28 March 2014

Cricketer casts shadow

Misperception faceI see a big difference between the two photos accompanying this post. You may not. It will depend on your visual display, among other factors. Anyway, in the top photo (right), I see the main large shadow, on the right of the photo, as resembling the profile of a human face. I see it as a head, wearing a peaked cap low, not far above a pointy nose. Below that I see a hint of lips and a protruding chin. It looks to me like the shadow of a cricketer's face! You may well see only a random shadow on crumpled brown paper! Which is, of course, what it is!

I have mentioned before that I am always seeing anomalous photos that are supposed to contain faces which, almost invariably, I cannot see. But sometimes, as with this shot, I can actually see something unexpected. I can a facial shadow here, though no actual face to cast it!

Misperception indistinct shadowIn the second photo (right), of exactly the same scene, I see only an ill-defined shadow with no obvious recognizable shape. It is too vague to resemble a cricketer, for me at least. The reason is obvious - the lighting is more diffuse, leaving the shadow lighter and less crisply defined.

So what's the point of all this? Well, careful investigations show that many sightings of anomalous phenomena are caused by misperception. The problem for investigators is that misperception can be difficult to see as it is sensitive to lighting conditions. An investigator visiting the site of an anomalous report under different lighting conditions to the original sighting may see nothing odd at all. And, unfortunately, witnesses rarely remember the exact lighting conditions accurately.

So I wondered if there might be an easy way to test if a scene might contain a misperception that could explain a sighting? One could make a long duration video of the scene in the hope of capturing the right lighting conditions. However, lighting often changes slowly, as the sun or moon moves across the sky and clouds come and go. Reviewing a video may produce nothing noticeable. So, instead I tried taking still photos of a scene at regular intervals. The big advantage is that differences between individual photos are larger, and so more obvious, compared to watching a video.

You may be wondering - why photograph at regular intervals? Why not wait until you see the light obviously change? The problem is that the human eye adapts to lighting changes making them less obvious.

Of course, I haven't photographed a misperception - that's not possible. Misperception is something that happens in a human brain. Some photos and videos may induce misperception in certain people viewing them (see shadow ghost in the snow for instance) but the camera itself can't misperceive! Nevertheless, a photo can make it obvious how some witnesses might see a figure or a face in some locations in certain lighting conditions.

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