Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Photos of ghosts actually seen by witnesses

Red KiteWhy isn't photography more helpful when it comes to ghost research? I wondered about this recently when I looked at the photo here (right). When I took the photo, it was of a Buzzard. But when I looked at the photo it became obvious that the bird (the one on the right being pursued by a Crow) was actually a Red Kite. It was ironic because, typically, when birders misperceive species they tend to 'see' rarer species than the ones actually present. At the site where I took the photo, Buzzards are far commoner than Red Kites.

So, why did I 'see' a Buzzard? My first excuse is that the bird was distant and I had no binoculars, whereas the camera had a telephoto lens. My second excuse is jizz. Birders use jizz to identify birds they cannot see that well. Jizz combines an overall impression of appearance, behaviour, voice, habitat, location and so on. The bird certainly resembled a Buzzard in shape and behaviour. And I see that species regularly at the location concerned. The appearance and behaviour bits rely on experience of the species concerned. The location and habitat bits bring expectation into the equation. I expected to see a Buzzard. It looked and behaved like one, so that's what I saw.

So what has this to do with ghost research? I wondered why, if taking a photo can reveal that I had misperceived a Buzzard as a Red Kite, why can't it reveal what people see when they perceive a ghost? These days a lot of people walk around with a camera all the time, in the shape of a mobile phone. There are many apparent ghost photos around but the vast majority are anomalies in the photo that were NOT SEEN by the photographer at the time of exposure. And, in most cases, the pictures turn out to be photographic artefacts (see here) , which is why they were not seen at the time of exposure. The numbers of these photos does, indeed, appear to have increased hugely with the proliferation of mobile phones and digital cameras, as you might expect.

But there seems to have been no obvious increase in the numbers of photos of ghosts that were actually seen at the time of exposure. The numbers of such photos remains vanishingly small. So what's going on? I think it is largely because most people don't realise they are seeing a ghost until after they've seen it, which is why their phones and cameras remain unused. And that, in turn, is because most ghosts look like perfectly ordinary people, until they do something impossible, like vanishing. It's like the jizz thing. Witnesses see ordinary people because they look and behave normally and hang around places you expect to see people. And, also like jizz, it has a lot to do with expectation. I don't think we'll start to see many photos of ghosts actually seen by witnesses until life logging equipment becomes popular (see here). It will be fascinating to see what witnesses actually saw.

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