Thursday, 26 February 2015

Anomaly site investigation team?

Crows in a treeSuppose you were unfortunate enough to be present at a crime scene, what would you do? You'd phone the police, obviously. And you'd be careful not to touch anything. Why? Because we've all seen the TV detective shows and know it is important to preserve the crime scene intact. Oddly enough, on those same shows the first person to arrive on the scene often does move things about!

Now, suppose you saw something anomalous, like a ghost, what would you do? It could be anything - go home, phone a mate, sit down, whatever. That's because there is no anomaly site investigation team ready and waiting to take your call. Which is a pity because many currently unresolved anomaly cases could probably be explained if there had been such as team.

A major problem with anomaly cases is that they are not reported to anyone who could investigate them for quite a while. During that time gap two important things are likely to happen that make investigation much more difficult.

Firstly, witnesses will recall their extraordinary experiences and share them. Every time a memory is recalled it can be changed and any alterations then become part of the 'true' memory. One likely source of such memory alteration may be the attitude of others who the witness may discuss their experiences with.

Secondly, the site of an anomaly experience will change over time. This is particularly important when misperception is the cause of an anomalous experience, as it is with a lot of cases. With misperception there is an object, or sometimes a pattern of shadows, to be misperceived. Such objects may be moved before investigators get to the scene. Also, lighting conditions change throughout the year and with the weather. Lighting conditions are crucial to misperception. So turning up to examine the scene weeks later, at a different time of day and in different weather, means that the source of a misperception is highly likely to be missed. Ideally, investigators need to arrive on the scene within minutes (!) of the original incident being witnessed when conditions will have altered little. Regular readers of this blog will know that I investigate my own odd sightings at the time of the incident, usually with good results.

Unfortunately, the idea of a network of anomaly site investigation teams, ready to get to any report location and witness within minutes is completely impractical. It may not always be so. Maybe one day we could maintain a team of robots ready to go and investigate at a moments notice. Or maybe not! In the meantime, it is worth bearing in mind that currently impressive-sounding anomaly reports might actually be easy to explain, if only they'd been investigated promptly.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Best ghost yet!

FoxI was intrigued to see a fox staring out at me from under someone's car the other day. For some reason, I've been seeing foxes most days recently and, being interested in natural history, am always pleased to see any wildlife. I was intrigued at this sighting because I've never seen a fox under a car before, though there seems no good reason why it shouldn't occur. But what happened next definitely should never occur - the fox completely vanished to be replaced by what I was really looking at - a car exhaust!

Clearly it was a misperception. There were two things noteworthy about it. Firstly, though the exhaust shape was reminiscent of a fox face, the colours were all wrong. Secondly, it was the best misperception I've had so far. It wasn't simply the shape of a fox. Instead, it was as clear, detailed and unambiguous as the picture here (right). I could see the the eyes, nose, ears, everything. It was even the correct reddish-brown colour.

While I've known for a while that such visual substitutions can be incredibly detailed and lifelike, I've never seen one as good as this myself. The 'ghost fox' was so clear and unambiguous that I was already starting to wonder why the animal was where it was. It didn't occur to me that it was anything other than a fox. The door ghost, by comparison, is a vague shadowy presence.

I was particularly struck, afterwards, by the lack of fox colours in the scene. While this didn't stop the misperception happening, it is probably why it vanished so quickly as I saw the scene better.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How things vanish!

KingfisherCasually looking out of a train window recently I noticed two Magpies in a field. The furthest away turned so that it was no longer side on and promptly vanished from view. All I could see was green grass. The other bird was still plainly visible. Was the vanishing bird a ghost? Well, ordinary birds don't vanish in broad daylight. Or do they?

Regular readers will know that I go birding. Unfortunately, it can often take a while to locate a bird that others are already observing, even when given excellent directions. But here's the weird thing. I've often looked directly at a bush where everyone else could see the bird but I couldn't. All I could see was a bush! Then, suddenly, on yet another sweep of the bush, I see the bird. So where was it before? It was obviously there all the time because everyone else could see it.

I think this is a form of misperception that I've previously called an imperception. I think what happens is that when our brains do not see something well enough to distinguish what it is they simply visually substitute it with the surrounding background! So, we literally do not see an object even though it is in plain view. While I've noted imperceptions before, it hadn't occurred to me until the Magpie incident that our brains might be substituting 'background' in to make a poorly-seen object vanish altogether. The fact that the Magpie was apparently replaced by green grass was what led me to that conclusion.

And the photo? This is a real example of a bird I couldn't see at first, though others could, despite scanning the bush where it was perched many times. In this photo it looks rather obvious but it certainly wasn't at the time. The bird is, of course, the orange blob in the centre of the frame. It is a Kingfisher, hardly something you'd think anyone would miss.

It is clear that misperception can, in its imperception guise, explain some mysterious object disappearances. In the case of the Magpie, it vanished because the bird turned so that it covered a much smaller angle of view. The fact that I was on a moving train, getting further away from the bird all the time, no doubt helped. I'm still awaiting my first sighting of a human figure vanishing in this way. Most people seeing such a phenomenon would, very reasonably, report it as a ghost.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ghost in inappropriate attire

Crows in a treeRecently, while staring out of a window, I noticed a man in a white shirt outside. What was odd was that it was night time and, being midwinter, it was distinctly chilly (only one or two degrees above zero, in fact). Of course, that doesn't stop anyone wearing just a white shirt but it does make it unusual. I only saw the man briefly as 'he' quickly turned into a pile of bags (some white) on more prolonged inspection. So, another ghost produced by glance misperception.

What was interesting about this otherwise typical glance misperception was the unlikelihood of the figure seen. People rarely go around in shirt sleeves in such cold conditions. It's interesting because it shows that misperception does not, when you can't see an object properly, simply select the most likely thing that could be there. It is more heavily influenced, it seems, by the visual form - the white bags in this case.

That means that misperception may be capable of producing visual substitutions that could be extraordinary, depending on the object being viewed. This could explain some of the really strange things that people sometimes misperceive. The visual memory used by the misperception might, in such cases, be taken from purely fictional sources, like horror or science fiction movies. I realise that's going a long way beyond someone wearing inappropriate attire on a cold night but the principle is the same.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Purple thing!

Purple thingHere's another odd photo (right). In this (recently taken) winter scene you can see a bush over water with no leaves, just a tangle of branches. But in front of it is a wispy patch of purple. And just above it is a glowing orangey circle (some might call it an orb).

The combination of branches and the purple area might vaguely suggest a human figure, if you can see the orb as a head and branches as limbs! Thus, it could be seen as a ghost by some people. It is, however, more a ghost of the movies, vaporous and insubstantial, than real life. When ghosts are reported by witnesses they usually look like perfectly normal human figures. It is often only when the ghost does something impossible, like vanish, that witnesses realize that what they're seeing isn't a normal person. I always think it odd that popular opinion on ghosts is so heavily based on fiction rather than fact. There can be few other subjects where this is the case.

The purple area in this photo is actually lens flare while the orangey orb is caused by an insect. The photo is one of several taken at the same time. This is is the only one where the orb happens to be directly above the purple area, suggesting a 'head'. Given that the orb and purple area have separate causes, this photo is an interesting example of a coincidence giving rise to an anomalous photo. The odds are not as big against getting this combination as you might think because both photographic artefacts owe their existence to the camera facing the sun, which is just above the frame.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Door ghost refuses to vanish!

ShadowSometimes I don't have time for ghosts! Given my level of enthusiasm for the subject that may be hard to believe, but it's true. The other day was one such occasion. I saw the door ghost for the first time this year. I was in a hurry and the apparition was distracting me, so I moved my hand out of the way to make it disappear. Except it didn't!

As regular readers will be aware the door ghost (see here for background) is a shadowy figure that is a misperception caused by my own hand reflected in frosted glass. So it should have vanished when I moved my hand away. That there was still a shadowy figure behind me gave me a frisson of disquiet. Rather than turn round, I stared more closely at the reflection and realised that it was a tussock of grass in the path behind me. Once I saw that, the ghost vanished never to reappear, as usual with misperceptions.

I wondered afterwards whether I would have seen that tussock as a ghost if I'd never seen the door ghost before. Had my regular encounters with the door apparition sensitized me to see ghosts in that particular spot? Or was it that the particular arrangement of a reflection in frosted glass would inevitably have made me misperceive a figure there eventually?

Either way, it leads to an interesting possibility regarding ghosts produced my misperception. A witness may see a ghost repeatedly in the same location. However, the object being misperceived might be different on each occasion. However, and not unnaturally, the witness is likely to regard each of the sightings as the same ghost.

So what does this mean for the practical investigation of ghost sightings? Well, the object that caused a misperception may no longer be present when an investigator examines the site. This has, of course, always been the case. But now we have to consider the possibility that different objects, when present in the same location, could be misperceived as the same ghost. It is no longer a question of one misperceived object equals one ghost!

So, it becomes important to understand what objects have, or might have, been present in a particular location during sightings. It may also be worth checking with the witness if a ghost seen in the same place one more than one occasion actually looked just the same or not. It is also vital to stand in exactly the position where the witness stood and look in the same direction they did. There just might be something unexpected, like frosted glass, there!

PS: The ASSAP website has been getting lots of hits in recent months. Indeed, last month was the third highest total ever. And it was busy even before the Seriously Possessed event pages went live.