Friday, 30 May 2014

Single witness UFOs over built-up areas

UFOWaiting for a bus recently, I noticed something strange in the sky. It was dark, silent, flying slowly and appeared to be only just above the height of nearby tall buildings. I took it to be a helicopter, given its shape, speed and altitude. Oddly, no one else around me on the bustling street appeared to even notice the very obvious UFO.

I have always found it interesting that large, obvious UFOs can appear over built-up areas but only get reported by a single witness. It has always seemed bizarre to me but here it was happening right in front of me. I looked all around but no one was looking up apart from me! People, it seems, just don't look up that much! I guess there is too much interesting stuff going on at ground level.

Anyway, I looked back up at the UFO and noticed it had changed shape. In reality, it was a silhouette and only looked different because it had rotated a bit since I last saw it. I now realised that it was actually a mylar balloon. It displayed four long appendages - legs perhaps. I got the impression that it might be a balloon in the shape of a cow!

The balloon floated behind one of the tall buildings but never emerged on the other side. I assume it must have got stuck on the building! I guess it could have been reported as a black, silent, shape-shifting UFO that suddenly vanished. And I can now see how easy it is for a UFO to be reported by just one person, despite being obviously visible over a built-up area. The UFO in the photo changed shape as well - see here.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Low fast flying object

Crows in a treeWalking along a street, I was rudely woken from a day dream by an odd sight. In front of me 'something' suddenly appeared, flying silently just a few centimetres above the ground and then, in less than a second, it was gone again! The 'something' was brown in colour, tiny (maybe a few centimetres across) and moving very quickly. It is not the sort of thing you see every day and I admit I was baffled.

I tried to see the object again and was able to glimpse 'it' several more times. Indeed, 'it' flew past again, twice, nearly hitting me. I say 'it' but I quickly realised that the 'object' was actually two things. It comprised one House Sparrow chasing another at high speed. I suspect it was a territorial dispute of some kind.

As a birder, I've seen birds behave like this before. What took me by surprise was how close they came. Clearly they were more interested in their dispute than in my presence which would, normally, have made them keep their distance. However, if they hadn't returned, I might still not know what I was looking at.

Someone with less experience of natural history would be forgiven for being totally baffled by this odd sight. Of course, many people may not have even noticed it. Most people pay little attention to their surroundings, particularly in familiar locations. So when people DO notice something unusual, but natural, there is a higher probability that they will consider it anomalous.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A brilliant flash and a loud bang!

CloudsFor a second I didn't have a clue what was going on. There was a brilliant flash and a very loud bang! The room I was in was brightly illuminated, even though the curtains were closed and the flash came from outside. It turned out to be the opening salvo in a brief, but intense, thunder storm.

Like many people, I'm sometimes count between a lightning flash and the following clap of thunder to calculate the distance of the strike. So, given that the two things were simultaneous in this case, I'd have to say it was incredibly close! This incident happened the other day but I have heard lightning and thunder simultaneously once before. On that occasion I actually saw the lightning hit, just 50m or so away!


The fact that there had been no prior warning, like some rain or thunder for example, is what made this incident mysterious, initially. Although lightning is not an anomalous phenomenon, it can, as in this case, sometimes present itself in an unfamiliar way that can lead to misinterpretation. I have to admit, when I saw the room illuminated from the outside by a brilliant white flash, I was immediately reminded of a scene from a UFO movie. In so many anomaly reports, the cause turns out to be something natural but experienced in an unfamiliar way. Or something natural that the witness has simply never experienced before. It is the unfamiliarity that is key - it's what the xenonormal is all about.
 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Do different witnesses see the same ghost differently?

LizardI should have been surprised, shocked even. The sight of a lizard in a suburban street is rare indeed. I've certainly never seen it before though I've no doubt it happens occasionally. They are certainly found in gardens from time to time. It's one of the strange things about seeing something unusual or weird. At the time it often feels quite normal while you're watching, at first, anyway.

Anyway, the 'lizard' quickly disappeared. It was yet another misperception, albeit an unlikely one. Close inspection revealed a small circular plastic object. I'm not sure what it was - it may have been a discarded component of something more familiar. Next to it there was a loose length of tape from an audio cassette. The tape was twisting in the wind, its shiny surface occasionally catching the sun and flashing. It was this flashing effect that was key to the misperception. The tape was held down buy the plastic object and as it flashed it gave the impression of something long and thin darting in and out of the circular plastic thing. I saw it as a lizard flicking its tongue, as they do! The circular plastic object resembled a coiled lizard, like the one in the photo (above right). Two things struck me immediately about this bizarre sighting.

Firstly, misperceptions are drawn from the witness's visual memory. So had someone else, who had never seen a lizard flicking its tongue (even on TV), been present they might have seen the object as something quite different. The wider point is that, what we each misperceive objects to be, depends on our own visual experience. So, when misperception is the cause, different people will see different ghosts. In a group of witnesses, each may see the same ghost differently and some may not see it at all. This is precisely what is frequently recorded with multiple witness ghost sightings.

Secondly, when misperceiving there is, in my experience, usually no feeling of surprise, no matter how bizarre the sighting. At least at first. I think it's because our brain's make a 'best guess' when misperceiving, so whatever is seen appears reasonable. It is generally only after the witness has had time to consider the situation that it starts to feel strange. And that might not happen until after the sighting has finished. It is worth asking witnesses if they felt what they were seeing was strange at the time. If they did not, it might be an indicator of misperception.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

How ghosts vanish!

Ghostly cylinderAs regular readers will be aware, I have a tendency to notice my own misperceptions. Like most people, I was blissfully unaware of them until I learned how visual perception really works. Since understanding that some of what we see is actually placed there by our brains from our own visual memory, I've started to notice this mechanism in action. It can be disconcerting, amusing, occasionally annoying, never dull. A big plus is that I have, as a result, seen several ghosts for the first time in my life.

We all misperceive all the time. Much of what we cannot see well, in peripheral vision or poor lighting conditions for instance, is substituted from visual memory. Most of the time we do not notice this because the brain comes up with good guesses, often entirely correct, as to what the poorly-seen objects really are. Even the incorrect guesses are usually so plausible that most people seldom, if ever, notice these misperceptions.

However, once you staying noticing yourself misperceiving, life can get a bit odd. It is bizarre watching an object suddenly flip from one thing to something else entirely. And that's precisely what I experience from time to time.

It's usually fairly easy to see why my brain got confused. Take the example here (right above), first discussed in an earlier post. I see the picture as a blank page being opened in a magazine, despite the fact I know that's wrong. Others may not see it what I see, that being the nature of misperception.

Ghostly cylinder undoneNow look at the next photo (right), which is the same picture but not so tightly cropped. You can now see the top of the magazine and it is clear that the 'open blank page' is actually part of a completely separate object. You can also see more of this other object - a white card. There are different shadows there, further dispelling the 'open blank page' impression in the previous photo.

This is the sort of thing I see when a misperception 'breaks'. Once I get a better view of the scene, the misperceived object suddenly changes to something else. And if I was seeing a ghostly figure, it vanishes!

In a photograph we can only see a scene in one way. This is why I continue to see the 'open blank page' in the upper photo, despite knowing its true nature. However, in real life the witness can generally get a better view. They can get closer, for instance, or look from a different angle. Or improve the lighting. Or the object itself might move.

Any of these things might 'break' the misperception. It usually occurs instantly - one object is simply replaced by another. It isn't always obvious that one object has visually 'transformed' into another, especially to someone unfamiliar with misperception. Instead, the object first seen by the witness may appear to vanish, leaving only a previously concealed 'background' object suddenly revealed. And this is how ghosts caused by misperception vanish!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Window ghost turns red

 Sea wavesRegular readers may recall a window ghost I saw recently (see here). It is a fairly frequent experience which happens like this: I am inside a particular building and approaching one specific window, sideways on, when I get a peripheral vision glimpse of a figure at the window. If I get closer and/or turn to look straight at the window, there is invariably no one there.

I concluded, unsurprisingly, that it was a peripheral vision misperception. There was a remaining mystery, however. Just exactly WHAT was I misperceiving? I decided it must be a wall that partially obscured the window as I approached it. But it turns out that this was wrong! The clue was that the ghost suddenly appeared bright red, instead of its usual shadowy grey.

It turned out that someone had left a bright red object, the same hue, next to, but not overlapping, the window where the ghost appears. There are always objects in the same position but usually they are not brightly coloured. So, it appears that my peripheral vision had made an object next to the window look as though it partially covered it. Or to be precise, it looked like a shadowy figure outside the window.

Peripheral vision has, of course, poor resolution compared to central vision. But I think there is more to it. The low lighting conditions, that are apparently required for this ghost to appear, no doubt contribute. But there is also the fact that I'm short sighted. Though I see the ghost when I'm wearing my glasses, it is in peripheral vision which is an area not covered by my glasses! So the blurriness of my uncorrected vision is, I suspect, also important. Someone else in the exactly same location may not see the ghost at all!

None of this has anything to do with the photo (above right) which shows the sea. But just how big are those waves? They could be anything from a slight surf to huge rollers. This illustrates the difficulty of judging the scale of objects in anomalous photographs. What is needed is something of known size, visible in the photo, to get some idea of the scale. That small white object bottom right is a Herring Gull. Its typical length is around 65 cm and it is flying low over the sea. So those waves are distant and quite big!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Anomalies through gaps

Boundary rocksIt seems there is yet more stuff to consider when examining witness evidence. Specifically, was the witness looking through a window or some other restricted aperture, like a gap in trees? If so, they may be 'remembering' more than they actually saw. Welcome to the world of boundary extension.

Boundary extension is a very common type of false memory whereby people recall seeing things beyond the edge of a restricted view. Though experiments on boundary extension often use photographs, the effect works with real life scenes as well. It could occur, for instance, if someone saw a scene through a window or gaps in foliage.

So, paranormal researchers should consider the possibility that this effect may occur whenever a witness has a view of an incident restricted by some kind of aperture. It is also possible that such an aperture may be temporary. A witness could see an anomaly between a pair of parked cars, for instance. So, it's important to find out if any objects were restricting the witness's view at the time of the sighting.

Boundary rocksIn many cases, the details witnesses 'remember' of bits of the scene they cannot physically have seen are very similar to what was really there. So why does it matter? Well, suppose someone was looking at the framed photo here (above right). They may later 'recall' more rocks outside that view. But, as the wider version of the photo (right) shows, things may be different to what they unconsciously expected to see beyond the framed view. In this case, there is a large bush to left of the framed view and a dark recess to the right. So the witness recall would be significantly in error. And, as I've discovered when investigating my own odd sightings, things a little away from the observed anomaly can often provide important clues to a xenonormal explanation.

It is, therefore, important, to consider if a witness had a restricted view when they saw something anomalous. It is entirely possible that they may not even remember that they were seeing a scene through any kind of aperture. I have come across anomalous photos clearly taken through a window even though the photographer is sure they were not! At least, unlike other false memories, this one requires quite specific circumstances and produces known effects.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Rock face

Rock faceI know I shouldn't but I can't help seeing a face in the photo here (right). I spotted it as soon as I saw the photo, though I never noticed at the time of exposure.

For those who can't see it, the face occupies much of the photo. There are two eyes, a stubby nose and a very straight mouth. The person is touching their nose with a finger coming in from the right hand side of the photo.

So why do I find this rather non-naturalistic face so compelling? I find that if I forget it is a photo and see it as a painted portrait it is surprisingly realistic. It is, perhaps, an old man frowning at an artist while scratching his nose. Though it is hardly realistic as a face, the shadows of the left eye, nose and mouth are broadly correct, as are the overall proportions and relative positions of each feature. I have enhanced the effect by deliberately cropping out stuff around the edges that would disturb the face impression. I found that getting just the right crop made a big difference to how well I could see the face. That's a point worth considering when examining anomalous photos - would a wider view radically change the anomalous interpretation of the subject?

Surprisingly, I think it is a form of misperception. Obviously, I don't see a real face. However, I DO see it as a detail from a much larger painting, perhaps with a mythical subject. As with all misperceptions, what people see varies according to their perceptual experience, expectation, lighting and so on. Many people will, no doubt, recognise this as the eroded cliff face it actually is.

People continue to report anomalous faces in photos in huge numbers. I tend not to see most of them. However, I find photos of rock scenery, like this one, rich in face-like objects. In most cases, I'm sure those reporting such things do not see realistic human faces but things more like this example. They may well interpret such objects as 'spirit faces' temporarily imposing themselves on inanimate objects. I say temporarily because the faces are usually not apparent when the photographed objects themselves are examined closely. This is probably because it takes particular lighting, and the correct viewing angle and distance, to reveal the natural features that make up the apparent face.

Friday, 9 May 2014

A startling animal!

Crows in a treeLeaning down, I noticed something moving nearby in my peripheral vision. It was surprising because, when I'd surveyed the scene just before, there was nothing in motion. As I turned to look at the object, I was shocked to see a lion's head protruding over a nearby bush!

Thankfully, the 'lion' quickly changed into what it really was - a plastic bag caught in the bush, inflated by the wind. The 'lion effect' appears to have come from the overall shape of the bag and the way the wind was moving it around, giving the appearance of a large mane in motion.

The lion was, of course, a misperception. I've never noticed such an unlikely misperception before. Though it is not impossible to see a lion in UK, outside a zoo it's unimaginably unlikely. There are, of course, many reports of similarly unlikely out of place animals, even including the odd lion, in this country.

This experience implies something interesting about misperception. We don't notice misperception because it usually inserts likely objects in the place of things we can't see well, so they do not command attention. It seems that, in perception, 'likely' is not restricted simply to what you might expect in any given situation. It is presumably more a question of appearance. If you see something that looks enough like a lion's head, that's what you'll see. Perception probably works like this because it learns how to process information purely from visual experience.

This aspect of misperception would explain some cryptid and UFO sightings which turn out to have mundane explanations. The witness really DID see a lion, it's just that there was no actual lion physically present, just something visually resembling one. Perception is an unconscious process so, simply knowing that you're incredibly unlikely to see a lion on the loose in the UK will not stop you misperceiving one! It is just as well perception works this way. If it didn't, the unlucky person who one day sees a real escaped lion could be in big trouble.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The creeping doppelganger

Crows in a treeThe ghostly figure was bent low, creeping along. And yet, strangely, it was moving very quickly in a way that appeared impossible for any normal human to do. Then, having reached a seat, it was suddenly seated and quite motionless.

This experience happened recently to my acquaintance (MA) with microsleep with REM (MWR). MA had briefly nodded off, while seated, and the bizarre observation occurred on waking. The whole experience lasted only a second or two. It, therefore, seems highly likely to be a hypnagogic experience, where dream elements mix with a real visual scene while the brain is in a intermediate state between sleep and full consciousness. There are two points of particular interest in this otherwise fairly typical (of MWR) experience.

Firstly, there was a real person already sitting in the seat that the ghost subsequently 'occupied'. This person may have acted as the inspiration for the specific content of the hypnagogic experience. MA reports that the ghost appeared to 'meld' into the real seated person, as if it was the same figure all along. However, another witness might interpret the observation as paranormal. They might, for instance, see the ghostly figure as a doppelganger!

Secondly, the unnatural swiftness of the creeping figure might suggest that it must have be floating even though this was not actually observed! I have wondered before whether reports of floating ghosts may be prompted by the figure's legs simply not being seen, rather than being visibly above the ground. In this example, the legs were not specifically noticed rather than being concealed. It was the unnatural swiftness of the figure's movement that suggested it was floating. I suspect that, whenever we observe the world, our perception has a tendency to interpret what is seen in terms of experience, even when this contradicts what is actually visible.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Can a ghost be photographed?

Ghostly cylinderThe question is often asked - can you photograph a ghost? A simpler question might be - has a ghost ever been photographed? I can only go on the photos I've examined in detail personally. So far, I've not seen any compelling evidence that these photos contain ghosts. The vast majority contain photographic artefacts.

So, going back to original question - can ghosts be photographed in theory? I would say it depends on the type of ghost. Those ghost sightings caused by hallucination are obviously subjective so the answer would be no, at least until brain scans can reliably show what people are actually seeing. But what about that large proportion of sightings caused by misperception? Obviously, misperception is subjective so you can't photograph it directly. However, I think it it is possible to produce misperceptions with a photo.

So what's the evidence that it is possible to photograph what people see when they misperceive? I often examine anomalous photos that the photographer says contains a ghostly face or figure. In almost every case, I can't see the face or figure. However, I have no reason to doubt that the photographers DO see them. The photos concerned are typically motion-blurred or out of focus or over- or under-exposed or a combination of these. Thus, they contain the photographic equivalent of the poor viewing conditions typical of 'real life' misperception. The fact that some people see the anomalous object, while others don't, is also characteristic of misperception.

If a particular pattern of light can cause someone to misperceive in a scene in front of them, there seems no theoretical reason why a photograph can't do the same. Having said that, if you take a photo of an object you've just misperceived as a ghostly figure, you will usually see the bush, tree or whatever you're misperceiving. But there are at least two possibilities where a photo may produce a misperception. Firstly, there might rare circumstances where it is possible to actually photograph a 'real life' misperception. And, secondly, there may be photographs which, quite by accident, produce a pattern that happens to produce misperception in some viewers, like the ghostly faces mentioned above.

I recently came across an example of the first possibility - a 'live' misperception that appeared to be photographable. I happened to notice an odd white cylinder near to where I was sitting. The thing is, there was no such object there. It was only after studying the cylinder closely that it suddenly 'changed' (the misperception broke) into a white flat piece of card.

It gave me an idea for an attempt to photograph misperception, seen in the photo (above). It shows a copy of Seriously Strange magazine that appears, to me anyway, to have its front cover held open to reveal a mysteriously blank inside page. Except it's not!

In reality, the white object on the right is a flat piece of card, not attached to the magazine, diagonal to the camera with the left edge closest. It is illuminated by a diffuse light source with a shadow darkening the card towards the right side. It is not curved in any way, even though it might appear to be. This being misperception, some people will no doubt have seen it accurately all along.

In testing the conditions to produce this photo, I discovered various factors that are important in capturing misperception in a permanent way. Firstly, the field of view is crucial. In the photo above, the edges of the card and magazine are deliberately not shown as these would break the misperception (which is what happened in my original 'cylinder' observation). Secondly, lighting is key - the effect here relied on the light source being diffuse. It would not have worked in direct sunlight. Thirdly, exposure is important. The effect vanished when the photo was deliberately was over-exposed.

All of this encourages me to think that it should prove possible to photograph a misperceived ghostly figure. I think that some people, looking at the resulting photo, will see pretty much what the original witness saw at the time. And that is why I think it is possible to photograph a ghost.