Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The rarest type of ghost

Crows in a treeWell that's not a misperception, I thought! Walking along a street recently I saw a human figure disappear around the corner of an industrial building. Nothing odd there, except that I'm absolutely sure it hadn't been there just a second before. I looked at the corner closely but there was nothing there that I could have misperceived as a human figure. I quickly moved along the street to a position where I could see around the corner. I expected, or at least hoped, to see no one! Maybe this time it really was that rarest and most enigmatic type of ghosts - the paranormal one!

So I was disappointed to see a man with a machine just round the corner. Worse, he looked like the mysterious figure I'd just seen. So, how come I'd not seen him before he walked round the corner? There is an entirely plausible reason, of course. The man may have come round the corner from where he was working, changed his mind for some reason and returned to his machine. People do not always behave predictably, to other people at least. The man probably had a perfectly sound reason to turn back suddenly. It would certainly explain how he was just there and then gone again.

People are, of course, one of the most frequent causes of ghost sightings. They are often dismissed as likely explanations because they do things that witnesses don't expect. But if you ever just watch people for a while, they will sometimes do things you don't expect. Life would be dull if they didn't!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Unrecognized ghosts

Misperceived treeIt was always unlikely but I thought I saw a famous actor in the street recently. Of course, famous actors do walk along streets but not usually in the anonymous suburb where I was. As I got a better look, the person was not a celebrity after all.

I seem to have a knack for seeing famous people, as I've mentioned before. But I also have a tendency to 'over recognise'. I often 'recognise' people I know, or celebrities, who turn out, on closer inspection, to be someone quite different. Indeed, this may actually be why I notice more celebrities than some other people.

My habit of 'recognizing' people who are really someone else takes the form, I'm sure, of misperception. I actually see the person I think it is, not just someone who resembles them. These misperceptions are so real that I've even taken evasive action when I've 'seen' someone I've been trying to avoid! Such misperception with faces is not surprising. As cartoonists know, you need very few characteristic facial features to recognize someone.

But here's the puzzle. I have never recognized any of the ghosts I've seen. Admittedly, that's not many ghosts compared with all the strangers I've seen. But it adds weight to the idea that misperceived ghosts are usually, if not always, archetypal figures and faces rather than identifiable individuals. In the many ghost reports I've read few, if any, witnesses identified the ghosts they saw at the time. So, if we hypothesize that misperceived ghosts are always unidentifiable, why should that be?

Many misperceived figures are caused by inanimate objects, like trees or patterns of shadow. Though these shapes can certainly resemble human figures visually, they will typically lack the specific detailed patterns, in the appropriate place, to suggest a face. The reeds in the photo (above) were seen as an 'old woman' but there are no bits that suggest facial features. In such cases, our brains insert an archetypal face, in the appropriate position, instead. The 'facial features' may be influenced by any specific details of the misperceived object, so not all the ghosts an individual witness may see will look the same. But none of these 'faces' are likely to resemble anyone they know! Of course, none of this applies to ghost sightings caused by hallucination. These may well be recognized by the witness!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Odd UFO photo

Swan UFOMany UFOs nowadays are spotted in photos having not been noticed at the time of exposure. That is, of course, a scenario typical of ghost photos. The photo here (right) could be just such an example. There is something odd in the sky with a unlikely shape for flying.

The first problem with any such photo is trying to work our how far the object is away and, therefore, just how big it is. If the object is actually close to the camera, it might be quite small. If so, it might be falling rather than flying and thus it there would be no reasion why it should have an aerodynamic shape. A seed pod, for instance.

If the object is distant then it might be something like a light plane or glider. From certain angles such an aircraft might appear just as this object does. Anyone seeing such an aircraft flying would be in little doubt what it really was, but still photos may catch objects in an instant when they are less readily identifiable.

Swan UFOIn reality, the object was photographed deliberately so its identity was known at the time of exposure. But it still looked odd when the photo was examined later. It is, of course, a swan (see zoomed version of the object right). One wing is not visible because it is directly pointing towards the camera which is what makes the bird look odd. In the non-zoomed photo above, the object could be a light aircraft flying towards the left, with its wings near the nose.

Unfortunately many anomalous photos have a low resolution so that when zoomed, the object just looks blurry and remains a mystery.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Dark cloud or UFO?

Plane UFOThe small dark cloud was moving perceptibly. This would have unexceptional had the other small dark clouds around it been moving too. So, a UFO perhaps? A slow moving plane, glinting in the morning sunshine, moved in front of the cloud. For someone who takes a keen interest in the sky and all the things in it, I was genuinely mystified by the behaviour of this particular cloud! Perhaps, I speculated, it might be at a different altitude to the other clouds and being propelled by a faster wind.

Then something extraordinary happened. The 'cloud' started to move more quickly and changed shape drastically. Even stranger, it changed from dark to light. It was revealed, to my surprise, to be a plane! Like the other plane, it was moving slowly in a holding stack, prior to landing. So, how could it ever have appeared to be a dark cloud?

Firstly, the plane was flying away from me initially at an angle that gave it an unfamiliar shape. Secondly, it looked dark because the sunshine was very patchy with some objects, like the other plane, well lit and others not. By coincidence, the colour happened to match some nearby clouds which were also of a similar angular size. The visual context made me think it was a cloud. Without those dark clouds, of similar colour and angular size, around, I doubt I would ever have thought it a cloud. Overall, it was a good example of an unlikely coincidence where several factors combined to give the wrong impression of what an object might be. Had I not seen the object turn into a plane, I believe I would still think it an oddly fast moving cloud even now. Someone else might easily have reported it as a UFO in similar circumstances.

As one who watches planes closely, I know that they can look surprisingly unfamiliar at times. For instance, a distant plane might simply appear as a silent bright light, often in broad daylight. In my experience, planes can put on their lights on at any time of day. The one in the photo above with a light clearly on, was seen recently one early afternoon! In fact, I saw just such a mysterious isolated light at the same time as the 'dark cloud', though I knew straight away it was another plane.

Witnesses often say things along the lines of "I know it wasn't a plane, I know what planes look like". But, when even experienced observers (which casual witnesses rarely are) can get it wrong, such statements should never prematurely shut down any avenue of investigation.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Do short-sighted people see ghosts?

Fuizzy shadowI've found a way to avoid noticing misperception - I just take my glasses off. That's despite the fact that everything, apart from stuff really close, goes fuzzy.

Regular readers will be aware that I have, for several years, noticed misperceptions having not done so before. I see ghosts from time to time, for instance, having never seen any at all until I started noticing misperceptions. Everyone misperceives all the time. Much of what you see in peripheral vision, for instance, is made up by your brain. But because we see what we expect to see, few people ever notice this aspect of visual perception.

Misperception happens when your brain cannot see something clearly enough to positively identify it. Your brain then makes a guess at what is there and does a substitution from visual memory. So, if most of what is visible is fuzzy, as it is when I don't wear my glasses, I should be misperceiving just about everything. Except I don't. Why not?

Though everything is fuzzy without glasses, I can still see most objects well enough - I never bump into things. I assume that misperception IS taking place as normal except that my brain is substituting in things I cannot see well with fuzzy objects! If so, does that mean that I need to store fuzzy versions of everything in visual memory in addition to sharp ones? If so, it might explain why my memory is not great. Or does my brain remember all objects in focus, given that I wear my glasses most of the time, and then 'fuzzies' them when required? I've no idea. That would be an interesting research project for someone.

But here's the most interesting point. I've never seen the door ghost (see here) when not wearing glasses. And I am often in the correct position to see the ghost without wearing glasses. So what's going on?

Well, the door ghost is a reflection seen in peripheral vision, so it's a very poorly seen object even when I'm wearing glasses. But without my glasses, the door ghost is even more poorly seen, just a vague fuzzy shape. And I guess a vague fuzzy shape, whether the real thing or a visual substitute, just doesn't resemble a shadowy figure. So no ghost!

Indeed, I never seem to notice misperceptions of any kind when I'm not wearing my glasses. The extra fuzziness may be enough to render the effect unnoticeable. It would be interesting to know if other short sighted people see ghosts when they're not wearing glasses or contact lenses. I suspect not, at least those ghosts are caused by misperception.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Another real life dolly zoom!

InsectsI've recently had a couple of experiences that felt even weirder than my usual stuff! And I'm not sure if they are likely to be widely experienced or, perhaps, confined to people like me!

Anyway, I was trying to photograph insects in flight, as you do. I found a cloud of midges but they kept moving about. Then, to my surprise, they appeared to stop still, as if all hovering, which is extremely unusual. I was about to photograph them when something really strange happened. The 'insects' suddenly all moved away from me until they were small white patches on the dark part in front of me! I was not looking at insects at all but those white patches on the ground. Somewhere along the line my brain had decided the patches were actually insects, flying around just in front of me! The real insects had departed unnoticed.

So what's going on here? The midges appeared, like the photo above, small and white and were difficult to focus on with the naked eye. I think they mixed up with the white patches on the dark path behind so that I saw them all as insects. I hadn't noticed the patches before that. My brain finally worked out what was going and put things right. The only way to do that, while making sense, was to 'move' the 'insects' away. It was like a dolly zoom! As far as I'm aware, such dolly zoom experiences don't happen in real life! Despite that, I've had such an experience before (see here).

The other experience was bizarrely different, yet similar. I was looking at a street scene at night. I thought I saw some discarded clear plastic boxes on the pavement. Suddenly, they became 'flat'! They were, in fact, poorly-seen water meter covers in the pavement! The 'clear plastic' was entirely in my perception. I can only blame the poor lighting for this particular strange misperception.

In both cases there was a misperception of the position of an object in space, probably due to a lack of useful visual cues. And when the misperception 'broke', it produced the odd dolly zoom effect. I'm not sure whether such spatial misperceptions are common (I'd be interested to hear from anyone with a similar experience to report). It is possible that only people who have mini-OBEs, like me, have such experiences. Anyone experiencing such a dolly zoom effect might certainly consider it as paranormal. It is strongly reminiscent of a puzzling experience that a paranormal researcher, that I once knew, had while conducting research. It had always baffled me until now.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Witness or instrument?

Blurry photoThat witness testimony has limited reliability is well known among paranormal researchers (see here). But what about instruments? Science uses instruments whenever possible, rather than eye witnesses, because of their much greater reliability (see here). However, because of the particular ways in which they are used, we cannot assume instruments are always much more reliable in paranormal research.

There are two main ways in which instruments are used in paranormal research. Firstly, they may happen to be in use when a spontaneous anomalous incident occurs. For instance, a witness may just happen to have a camera when they see a ghost or UFO. Also, witnesses may discover anomalous photos or recordings despite not experiencing anything odd at the time (taken by many as an indicator of something anomalous). Secondly, investigators may deliberately use instruments in situations such as ghost vigils. In both cases, the reliability of any recordings from such instruments will depend crucially on how they are made.

There are many examples of witness testimony contradicting what is seen in a photo. The witness may not recall using a flash even though EXIF data shows that they did. Or a witness may report deliberately not breathing out on a cold night despite a mist being clearly visible in a flash photo. A camera flash is a powerful, if brief, light source and can catch faint signs of breath on a cold night for some time after someone has exhaled. Or there may be a very obvious human figure in a photo even though the photographer is adamant that they were not there at the time. However, when you are busy paying attention to taking a photo, it is easy to miss something quite obvious right in front of you.

In the examples above, the camera is a more reliable recorder of what was happening than the the witness. However, with photographic artefacts, the camera itself becomes a less reliable recorder of what was physically present when a photo was taken. For instance, in the photo above there is considerable motion blur because the shutter speed was 1/3s, too slow for the camera to be held steady. The bizarre brown shapes are actually tree stumps, though you might not know that from the photo! They might be bizarre figures in undergrowth.

Paranormal investigators are used to assessing the reliability of witness testimony and treating it with due caution. However, they cannot assume instrumental recordings are completely reliable, as the examples above show. It is vitally important to understand how the instruments have been used. Without that information, instruments may be no more reliable than witness testimony.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The man with no face - the sequel!

Crows in a treeA few days ago I saw a man with no face (see here for the story). Then, just days later, I saw a girl with no face. Synchronicity or bizarre coincidence?

The girl with no face was on TV, in an episode (named Nocturne) of ITV's detective drama Endeavour. The girl is in a painting and appears around 37 mins into the episode. As I mentioned when I described the man with no face, I've only ever seen, as far as I can remember, one such an image once before, in an episode of Dr Who. Naturally, I've never seen such a thing in real life. So, for the second ever time I've seen such an image to occur just days after my 'no face man' incident is amazing. It was made even stranger by the fact that, unusually, ghosts feature heavily in this particular episode of Endeavour.

If this had been a premonition, it would have been difficult to dispute. I blogged about the 'no face man' incident BEFORE the TV programme was even broadcast and, since I don't work in the media, I could not have reasonably known about its contents in advance.

So, is this an example of a meaningful coincidence? Such coincidences have no obvious causal relationship but appear connected through their meaning to the witness involved. By that definition, this probably IS a meaningful coincidence. Some people view meaningful coincidences as paranormal. It is, however, difficult to differentiate between a rare, but entirely natural, coincidence and something paranormal. The usual test used in parapsychology is to see if the same effect happens repeatedly. If I continue to have strange coincidences, particularly if they appear to be conveying some kind of overall message, then they could be seen as paranormal. If it's just an apparently meaningless once-off incident then there is no obvious reason to label it as paranormal. Still weird though!

Monday, 7 April 2014

The ghost that walked!

ShadowThere was someone moving just behind me but I could hear nothing. The figure was very dark, like a shadow. I saw a leg moving, just behind me! Though I was 'in the position' where I sometimes see the 'door ghost' (see here), I've never seen that ghost move. So it was all distinctly disconcerting!

As regular readers will be aware, my door ghost is a misperception of my own hand, reflected dimly in peripheral vision. I've tried deliberately moving my hand to make the ghost 'walk' in the past but it didn't work. Instead I got another very odd effect, described here.

On this occasion I moved my hand deliberately and, to my astonishment, the shadow ghost walked! It really was the usual door ghost, now apparently able to move around without breaking the misperception. How had this remarkable change happened?

I believe the key here is the fact hat I only noticed the shadowy figure when it moved. Clearly this was caused by my hand moving. However, I wasn't aware I was moving my hand.

I don't know if this is common but, when I am concentrating on doing things with one hand, I tend not to notice what the other is doing. For instance, if I'm moving my computer mouse, I can't say for certain exactly if my other hand is moving or not until I pay attention to it. It might, for instance, be moving to adopt a more comfortable position. I suspect I'm not alone in this sort of behaviour. I'd be interested in hearing other people's experiences with this sort of situation.

With this latest door ghost sighting, I had once again forgotten completely about existence of the ghost. I have a poor memory and do this a lot! Misperception appears to be tied up closely with not paying attention. If I'd been expecting the ghost, I'm sure I wouldn't have seen it. And if I'd noticed it first when my hand wasn't moving, I don't think the ghost would have moved. Given this, I wonder if my poor memory is part of the reason why I tend to notice misperceptions when most people don't!

So is this the key to seeing moving misperceptions - namely that they must be moving when you first see them? I don't know, but it sounds plausible. It is very difficult to investigate this because in order to get a sighting, I first need to be not expecting it! I can only wait for the next time these circumstances come together by accident.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The man with no face!

Crows in a treeIt was the weirdest thing! Walking along a street, I glanced at a couple sitting on a bench. The man, who was facing me, had no face! Where there should have been facial features there was only skin. If you've ever seen the Dr Who episode The Idiot's Lantern, it was just like that. Within a second or two, I was relieved to see that the man really did have a normal face after all, unsurprisingly. The lighting was very flat which obviously contributed to the disturbing effect.

it was obviously a glance misperception. But what struck me forcibly was that I should misperceive someone without a face at all. I have never seen someone look like that and I doubt anyone else has either. At least, I've never seen someone look like that in real life. But I have seen some in the episode of the TV programme Dr Who just mentioned. I'm sure that I'd have never seen a 'no face' person if I'd not seen that episode. My perception would have swapped in some other visual memory instead.

What I found interesting was that I had experienced a visual substitution from a specific known fictional source. I don't think I've seen that 'no face' effect in any other movie or TV programme and obviously not in real life. It is important because I've always assumed that misperception used fictional, as well as real, images from memory. Now I KNOW it does!

In many cases, misperceptions appear to draw on general archetypes, whether fictional or real, like a 'classic' flying saucer for instance. But I think that in certain circumstances a much more specific visual memory may be used, as in the current example. I would guess it is determined by the specific visual properties of the object being misperceived.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Coot cylinder

CootThis magnificent bird (right) is a Coot! As people (nearly) always say with anomalous photos, I noticed something really odd when I looked at the photo after taking it. There was nothing obviously strange visible at the time of exposure.

If you look closely, you'll see two curious light brown tall thin objects in the photo. One is behind the bird about half way across the shot. The other is more central, in front of the Coot. So what are they? Some kind of flying rod, perhaps? Let's call them rods, for the sake of simplicity. Most flying rods have some sort of 'appendage' which these objects lack. But it might still be some sort of variation on the theme. So let's look at the clues in the photo.

Firstly, when viewed close up (pic below right), the objects strongly resemble cylinders. There is an obvious white vertical streak just left of centre. This suggests a highlight, as if from a reflective cylindrical object, like the capsules used to contain drugs. The sharp streak suggests that the objects are in focus.

The ends of the rod are rounded, like a gas cylinder. The rods are, apart from the streak, uniformly shaded and, crucially, somewhat blurred. Note, particularly, the transparent top and bottom of the cylinder, The rod shown below is the foreground object. It looks brighter, but the same colour as, the background object. Other than that, the objects look identical.

Coot rodCould the 'rods' be some sort of vegetation? The photo is one a series and none show any vegetation in front of the bird. Furthermore, there is no plant visibly attached to the 'rods'.

The key clue is that the objects are slightly blurred. This is not because they are out of focus. Therefore it must be motion blur. The obvious conclusion is that the rods are small falling objects. This is confirmed by the fact that the top and bottom of the cylinder are transparent. That's because all of the rod consists of overlapping images of the falling object (hence the uniform colour) except the top and bottom where there is no overlap (hence the transparency).

The rods are, in fact, falling seeds! The seeds came from a bird feeder directly above the Coot. Smaller birds were using the feeder and spilling some seeds onto the ground. And the Coot was eating the fallen seeds. There are two such seeds actually on the back of the Coot in a later photo in the series, as well as many others visible on the ground.

Falling objects could explain some UFO photos. It is always difficult to judge the size of an object that is not in physical contact with anything else in a photo. Using clues like those described here, it should be possible to detect such falling objects in photos.

PS: No April fool jokes here! In our field, it's difficult enough already to decide what is real and what isn't!