Friday, 17 April 2015

A road ghost explanation to consider

RoadThere is a common type of road ghost sighting that goes like this. Someone is driving, often at night alone, when there is suddenly a human figure just in front of them in the road. Unable to stop in time, the horrified witness runs over the figure. Getting out of their vehicle they search for the 'body' but find no one or any sign that anyone, or anything, was ever there.

I was reminded of this scenario recently when I was looking for reports of MWR - microsleep with REM (see here). These experiences occur to a tiny proportion of the population. Those affected fall briefly asleep, for a few seconds, and instantly start dreaming, which could account for certain apparent paranormal reports. Some of the reports I found, from people with sleep disorders, were strikingly similar to the road ghost scenario outlined above. A witness would be driving along when an unexpected object would suddenly appear in the road ahead. The object was not real and the expected unavoidable collision did not occur.

It's one of those things that appears obvious, in hindsight. MWRs fit the 'running over a ghost' scenario perfectly. Indeed, driving is a typical scenario that leads to microsleep episodes. This isn't to say that ALL such experiences are likely to be caused by MWRs. Rather, it is a highly plausible explanation to be explored whenever such a case is reported.

Of course, there are cases where MWR is not such an obviously plausible explanation. For instance, cases involving multiple witnesses are highly unlikely to be caused by MWR. There is also the fact that road ghosts incidents sometimes cluster around a particular stretch of road. Multiple witnessed events or being tied to a specific location does not, of course, rule out misperception as a likely cause, as with other types of ghost.

PS: This blog is concerned with the scientific investigation of anomalous phenomena. As such, I usually ignore ethical issues. However, I ought to point out an ethical problem if an investigator believes a road ghost incident was most likely caused by MWR. The problem is that, as I understand it, the authorities, in the UK at least, do not usually allow people with certain untreated sleep disorders, to drive.

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