Wednesday, 29 April 2015

UFO behind trees

UFO behind treesOK, this is what I see. You may see something different. Around the middle of the photo there is clearly an object behind the bare branches of a tree. But what is it? To me it is a 'classic' flying saucer. It's slightly ironic as UFOs seem to come in many shapes these days and the ' flying saucer' variety is no longer common.

This flying saucer, for those who see it, is clearly a misperception. Like all misperceptions, it is caused by not seeing an object clearly. In this case it's the intervening tree and small size of the object causing the problem.

OK, so here's the weird bit. In misperception, our brains substitute a poorly-seen object with something from our visual memory. But I've never seen a flying saucer! Even with my poor memory, I'd definitely remember something as amazing as that. So the object in my visual memory, being used here, can only have come from representations I've seen in movies, TV programmes, books or wherever. Most of these never claimed to be anything other than purely fictional. Now I have always assumed that images from sources not seen in real life by the witness can be used in visual substitutions. I assumed this because it made sense of many case reports. However, I now have definitive personal evidence that it really happens.

The object here is actually a large bird, gliding. Without the trees in the way it would be more obvious. I see a distinct dome on the top of the object, which you may not. It will depend a lot on your visual display. That dome shape is actually caused by the way the branches bend! The 'dome' is no longer present in another photo, taken just after this one, where the bird is lower down in the sky. Such domes are, of course, typical of flying saucers from movies. It confirms to me that you can misperceive something even if you've never seen it in real life before, only in the movies.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Orbs that really ARE behind other objects!

Orbs behind branches Spot the difference! These two photos, of the same scene, were taken around 0.2s apart. The camera has, nevertheless, moved slightly in that period, as you can see by comparing the tree branches. But look at the orbs. Some of them appear to be partially obscured by the branches.

I have stated elsewhere that orbs that appear to be behind other objects in a photo are not (see here). That's because the objects producing the orbs, such as dust particles or insects, are very close to the camera. And it's true for the vast majority of photos where orbs appear to be behind objects. They look as though they are behind because they blend into the background.

But here is a highly unusual case that is an exception to the rule. These orbs really ARE behind the branches. Where they appear to be partially obscured it's because they really are behind the branches. How is that possible?

Orbs behind branches 2In the orb zone theory (see here) orbs are out of focus highlights of objects very close to the camera. They show up because they are strongly illuminated, usually by a flash. But the bit about being close to the camera is not crucial, just the usual arrangement. You could have an orb zone remote from the camera. So long as it contains out of focus highlights and strong illumination, it will work. And that is what is going on here.

The branches in the photo are in the foreground and in focus. However, the background is out of focus and illuminated by strong sunlight. It is a river. The orbs are out of focus highlights in a stationary mat of algae sitting on the surface of the river.

If you look closely you'll see that all the orbs move slightly between the two frames. The move slightly to the left. The highlights causing the orbs are not really moving. It is the slightly different angle of the photo that produces the apparent motion. Actually, there is one exception. The orb in the top left corner appears to move vertically as well as horizontally. This is probably due to a localized movement in the algal mat.

So, there is a rare case where the orb zone is distant from the camera. Why don't we see more examples like this? It's because of the large depth of field in most digital cameras that keeps distant objects in focus. This particular photo was taken with a telephoto which has a smaller depth of field than other lenses. Note how a detailed knowledge of the circumstances of taking this photo was necessary to explain it.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Ghost leg

Shadow"All I saw was a leg. It was black. It moved away from me with a sort of dragging motion." This is a real, if brief, description of a ghost sighting. If I'd read it in a book I would have pictured the scene in my imagination. I would have seen a disembodied leg, probably of a shadow ghost, still somehow managing to walk. But the experience wasn't from a ghost book. It happened to me. Recently.

There is an expression in computing, WYSIWYG, which means 'what you see is what you get'. I think there should be a similar expression in anomaly research. It would be WYIMNBWTS, meaning 'what you imagine may not be what they saw'. It's a horrible acronym (initialism?) but I think it may turn out to be useful.

I remember, on an investigation of a well-known haunted building, I was told what phenomena to expect in certain locations. And I duly experienced some of the very phenomena described in those exact places. However, two unexpected things struck me. Firstly, though what I experienced fitted the descriptions I'd been given exactly, it was not what I'd imagined on first hearing them. Secondly, I could see fairly obvious natural explanations for the phenomena which were clearly not paranormal. However, if the phenomena HAD been as I'd imagined them, they would have been a lot harder to explain and probably paranormal.

This is where WYIMNBWTS comes in. I think that, in many cases, when we hear a witness's account of a strange experience we have a vision of the experience in our minds that often looks inexplicable. But it may not be what actually happened. I can illustrate this with the 'ghost leg' experience described above.

It was the latest appearance of my regular door ghost (see here). As in recent experiences, it was a bright sunny day and I saw just the dark appendage of a ghost. However, instead of feet walking away from me (see here), I saw a whole leg this time, as described above. But it was not a disembodied leg, as someone reading the description might imagine. Instead, I could not see any more of the 'figure' than the leg because my view was blocked by my own body. The ghost was behind me and I had only a highly restricted view, reflected in glass. So the sighting COULD potentially have been caused by an entire human figure, whether a ghost or an ordinary person. Obviously, a truly disembodied leg would be difficult to explain but one partially obscured by an object much less so.

It can be difficult to escape from that first vision you get of a scene described to you. That's why it's vital, as an anomaly investigator, to visit the site of an experience to correct any wrong ideas you have about it. I've certainly been surprised many times by how different places look to the way I'd imagined when I only had someone else's description of them. It is also important to stand exactly where the original witness stood, doing whatever it was they did at the time. Often, in such circumstances, new likely explanations for a reported experience become obvious, particularly misperception.

It's not catchy. It's impossible to pronounce. But it is still an important concept for anomaly investigators to consider - WYIMNBWTS - 'what you imagine may not be what they saw'.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Seeing the famous - the rate remains constant!

Crows in a treeRegular readers may recall that I appear to see famous people with remarkable regularity for someone with no contact whatsoever with the rich and famous. Indeed, I worked out that I see, on average, about 0.23 celebrities per month (see here). However, since I did that calculation, I have not seen anyone famous. I have become worried that the average may be declining!

Then, the other day, all was well again. I saw a famous politician. Of course, there is an election going on in the UK right now so seeing famous politicians is not as unusual as it might normally be. Nevertheless, I had still had to be in the right place at the right time. I wasn't seeking out political discourse and I was only there at the right time because I was running very late. I certainly had no idea in advance where the politician was gong to be. Oddly, there was no public transport involved this time.

Interestingly, this latest sighting brings the average to 0.22. Without this latest sighting the average would gave dropped to 0.18! If the average continues at around 0.22 or 0.23 into the future I will really begin to think something paranormal may be going on. I can think of no obvious natural reason why such a rate should remain constant. I suppose there must be a natural background rate for seeing celebrities by chance but I suspect it is lower than 0.23. If anyone has any data on this, or can calculate their own rate, I'd love to hear from them. In the meantime, I'm expecting my next celebrity in around 4 months!

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.

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.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Want to see a ghost? Forget it ...

ShadowTwice recently I have repeated my latest observation of the door ghost (the door what?). This is the one where I see the ghost retreating rapidly away from me with improbably small feet (see here for first observation). I noticed that each of these sightings had something specific in common - there was bright sunshine illuminating the whole area strongly. This suggests that the effect may depend on high contrast illumination, which may be why I've not noticed it before. The time of year may be important here, as well, perhaps related to a specific angle of the sun to the door.

This underlines, once again, how acutely sensitive misperception is to illumination. If you want to see a misperceived ghost that a witness saw, you need to be in the same place with the right illumination. That last bit can be difficult to arrange.

Regular readers may wonder at the seemingly haphazard way in which I am slowly investigating the door ghost. It's because of another big problem, apart from correct illumination, that hampers misperception research. It is this. If you've seen a misperception once it usually disappears, never to be seen again. That's because, once your brain knows what the object that you misperceived really is, it only ever sees it that way in future. Except, if you forget, at least temporarily, your previous observations. Then you can misperceive the same object all over again because your brain no longer remembers what it really is.

I have, as regular readers will know, a shocking memory. This is a disadvantage in just about every life situation imaginable. But this is one of those rare occasions when it is actually useful. But even with my poor memory, It means I see the door ghost repeatedly, every time I forget about it.

But even with a poor memory, it is very difficult to do experiments. Suppose I plan a particular experiment for when I next see the door ghost. I can't make a note of it as this will stop me seeing the ghost. So I forget it and the ghost eventually reappears. But then I have to remember what my test was before the ghost disappears, which usually happens within a few seconds. And having a poor memory, recalling the experiment is a tricky task!

So despite having a 'tame' ghost, it is still largely a question of amassing spontaneous observations over time. I think it might be possible to do some kind of truly experimental setup with wearable technology but that is very much a blue sky idea at present.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Seeing what you expect!

Crows in a treePassing through a bookshop the other day, a title caught my eye as it was about birding, a hobby of mine. Except that, on tuning to look at the book properly, it wasn't about birding at all. The relevant word in the title had six letters in common with 'birding', so my mistake was understandable. But I actually SAW it as 'birding', not something like it. It was, thus, a misperception. Regular readers will be aware that I started to notice my own misperceptions a few years back and have seen several ghosts as a result since. We all misperceive all the time, to some extent, but only notice it rarely.

So what, you may ask? Well, it made me think. I misperceive poorly-seen signs, newspaper headlines, book titles, posters and the like fairly frequently. But what is interesting is that the words I see are very frequently related to my own interests, particularly the paranormal. This is interesting because it suggests a definite bias in what I misperceive words to be, towards my particular interests. Misperceptions are definitely heavily influenced by the shape of the object, or word, being misperceived. I have also noted that they are often what you fear, or most want, to see. I hadn't realised, until now, that they may be influenced by other things too. Of course, words are not objects. It doesn't necessarily follow that I will misperceive objects as something paranormal simply because I do so for words. But it could well do. Maybe where I see ghosts, others see different things.

Even if the bias only applies to words, its effects might still be apparent in paranormal research. Take EVP, for instance. Formant noise, which is a xenonormal cause for some EVP recordings, is effectively a specialised form of misperception. It might mean that the meaning people place on apparent words caused by formant noise might be biassed. So someone who believes EVP are spirit messages may interpret the sounds that way while another person might not.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The ghost in the white hat

Crows in a treeI sat in a train recently, gazing idly out of the window waiting for departure. I noticed someone walking along a path near the station. There was nothing surprising about this and I paid the person little attention. I did note, however, that the person must be short as all I could see was their white hat protruding over a line of bushes in front. But then something extraordinary happened - the white-hatted individual vanished! One second plainly visible, the next completely gone!

I wondered if the person had gone behind a particularly tall bush but there were none nearby. Perhaps they had ducked down out of sight, for some bizarre reason. Either way, I did not see the white hat again.

Then, suddenly, the slight puzzle became a much bigger mystery. I realised that the place where I'd seen the white hat, which I knew well, was not where the path went at all. The path goes in front of the bushes, not behind. And behind the bushes is a tall fence, with no gap between. There is certainly no room for anyone to stroll along as I had observed the white hatted person do. For a minute or two I was completely baffled. A ghost actually seemed one of the more likely explanations!

Then another figure appeared in the same position. I could barely make out this individual, seeing only their lightest bits. Then I realised what was going on. I was seeing a dim reflection in the window I was looking out of. Due to the overcast lighting conditions, I could only see the lightest parts of people behind me on the station platform. I could see nothing else reflected in the window at all, which is why the idea of a reflection had not occurred to me before. I looked out at the platform but could see no one in a white hat though it is entirely possible that they had walked away in the time that had elapsed since I saw the ghost.

I usually recognize reflections easily. But, in this case, it was not at all obvious. I knew there was a path nearby so it did not occur to me there was anything odd about seeing someone walking along it. If they hadn't vanished I wouldn't have paid the incident any attention. It is an example of a nice coincidence giving rise to an apparent ghost sighting. Someone having seen the figure vanish who never worked out it was a reflection might still think it a ghost!