Monday, 4 August 2014

Letting a ghost walk by!

Spooky riverAs I turned, I became aware of someone approaching me. I stood out of the way without thinking about it. Then, as I looked all around, I realised, to my amazement, that there was no one there! All I could see was a pool of light, from a window, on the floor near my feet. I had stood back to allow a ghost to walk by, apparently!

To understand this strange experience some background is needed. Despite being a tall person, or possibly because of it, I often find people walking towards me apparently unaware I am there. I often have to get out of the way smartly to avoid them bumping into me. The problem has got worse since so many people have taken to walking along the street staring fixedly at their phone. I generally now avoid these collisions automatically, without conscious thought. So when, as in this case, I catch sight of someone approaching in my peripheral vision, I am already taking evasive action before I've even turned to see the person. This is the first such occasion where it turned out that there was no one actually there!

The public building where this incident took place is very modern. That is probably why it was rather gloomy when I was there. I think natural light is used preferentially to save energy. However, it means that on overcast days, like on this occasion, it can get quite dark inside.

I think that what I saw in my peripheral vision was the pool of light on the floor and an object in the background that combined briefly to give the impression of a shadowy figure nearby. I've seen shadowy figures in peripheral vision before - it's not that unusual. I think that the nearby bright pool of light changed the scene somehow to give the impression that the 'figure' was nearby. I should say that there was no actual human figure present, even in the background. I'm not sure how this particular misperception works but I suspect the overall low light and bright pool of light on the floor are key.

It's important to emphasize that I never actually SAW any obvious human figure at any time during this brief incident. I reacted unconsciously to get out of someone's way before I consciously saw anything. I think this unconscious reaction, mistaken on this occasion, was also key to the experience. I think it combined with a vague visual impression of a shadowy figure to momentarily give the strong impression of someone being present near me. I felt a rather odd sensation when, seconds later, I realised I was actually alone.

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