Thursday, 12 November 2015

Just how far away IS that ghost?

Red ghostI was in an auditorium recently, watching a music concert, when I caught sight of someone standing a little to my left. Everyone else was seated so this person stood out visually. I assumed they were taking a photo. After a few seconds the person was still standing. I was surprised because I thought the standing person would have be annoying to those sitting behind. I looked around to see the person directly for the first time. But there was no one there! So, another ghost!

Instead of a human figure, what I was seeing was a pillar being temporarily lit, presumably for effect. It was, then, a peripheral vision misperception. The pillar was further away than the figure I'd seen. My brain had, presumably, having decided it was a human figure, 'moved' it into the audience where its presence made sense.

That was when I realised I'd come across this phenomenon before. Regular readers will be familiar with the door ghost (see here for background) that I see from time to time. It looks to be standing maybe a metre or two behind me. However, I know for a fact it is actually my own misperceived hand. Even though I know that, I still invariably see the figure further away than my hand could ever physically be.

Some interesting points arise out of this phenomenon. Firstly, we cannot any longer be sure what distance a ghost is when it is caused by misperception. So when a paranormal investigator finds no object to misperceive where the witness says the ghost was, it does not automatically rule out misperception. Instead, investigators will need to look along the line of sight from where the witness stood to look for other possible candidate objects. Secondly, for the figure to appear at the right scale, the object being misperceived must be a different size, due to perspective, I would guess. So, a nearby small object may be misperceived as something larger and further away. This makes sense with the door ghost. And a distant large object could be misperceived as something smaller nearby. This makes sense with my auditorium ghost as the illuminated pillar was rather larger than a human figure.

Scale and distance can be tricky to sort out in anomalous photos (particularly with UFOs). In the 'red ghost' photo (above right - full story here) the 'figure' is almost certainly a red sign. There were several identical signs at the site and they were noticeably taller than most human figures and a lot wider. So the red sign in the photo is probably a bit further away than it appears if we see it as a human figure. It doesn't make much practical difference in this example but I can imagine cases where it would.

Unless a ghost is seen physically interacting with some object in the scene being viewed, we cannot say for certain how far away it is. We think we know its distance because we are assuming it is a human/ghost figure. But if it is something else being misperceived, this may not be the case. The question of how far a ghost is away turns out to be more important than you might imagine.

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