Friday, 11 September 2015

Why are there more ghosts of people than tables?

Island mirageWhy do we see ghosts of people but not of tables or other inanimate objects? Well, actually there ARE some reports of ghosts of inanimate objects but they are rare. Generally, the vast majority of ghosts are human figures. But why?

On careful investigation, a large proportion of ghost sightings are caused by misperception. Many others are caused by hallucination. Given the high proportion caused by misperception this is a likely place to look for answers. You can misperceive absolutely anything. There seems to be no theoretical reason why it is more likely to misperceive a human figure than a book case or an island. So what's going on?

We all misperceive all the time. However, most people never notice it and even those who do only do so rarely. Regular readers will know that I have, for a few years now, noticed myself misperceiving far more than I ever did before. And the majority of the misperceptions that I notice are of human figures that are not really there (otherwise known as ghosts!). So, I wondered if I am just forgetting most of the non-ghost misperceptions.

I decided to record all the misperceptions I noticed over a period of 2 hours. The results were surprising. Firstly, I was astonished to find that I noted 7 misperceptions in that period or around 4 per hour, far more than I expected! Clearly I am forgetting most such incidents quickly. Secondly, all the misperceptions were of everyday inanimate objects without any paranormal feel to their appearance. Thirdly, in every case I was not expecting the misperception. I've found, over the years, that it is impossible to predict just when I will get a misperception. Fourthly, most of the misperceptions were of objects not in their usual place. Thinking about it, I can recall this being an aspect of many of my misperceptions. When in a familiar setting I will usually only misperceive an object if it is an unusual place. This makes perfect sense. The brain builds a mental map of surroundings which inform its perceptual guesses. If you know there is a bookcase in your peripheral vision, that's what you'll see. However, in the bookcase has been moved, you may misperceive instead.

I did this micro experiment in familiar surroundings. I'm not sure what would happen in unfamiliar surroundings. I would guess I might misperceive more. I will have to try it some time.

So back to the original question. Why do we, generally, see ghosts of people but not of tables? If my micro experiment is anything to go by it is probably a question of significance. Briefly seeing a small piece of wet cloth as a plastic badge (an actual example from the experiment) is hardly important or significant in my life. Unexpectedly seeing an unknown person certainly would be. I think the same principle may apply to the population in general.

Another interesting result of my experiment concerns seeing misperceptions. Firstly, I cannot make a misperception happen. I think my mind has to be in a state where I am NOT expecting it for one to appear. However, I can encourage noticing misperceptions, as they occur, simply by being alert to the possibility. And then they can be noted and recorded.

PS: The illustration shows 'ghost islands' - a mirage.

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