Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why aren't there more animal ghosts?

Night foxI sometimes wonder why there aren't many more animal ghosts. While they certainly exist, I've only come across a tiny number of animal ghost cases. By contrast, I've looked at a huge number of cases involving the ghosts of humans.

Some people may not find the disparity surprising, but here's why I do. As an amateur naturalist, I observe wild animals whenever I can. One thing I've noticed about them is their distinctly ghost-like ability to appear and disappear, often right in front of me. And it's not just me, other naturalists report the same thing.

The following scenario is not unusual among birders. A bird may be in plain sight until it flies into an isolated bush. I then look at the bush with binoculars trying to find the bird. But after some time it becomes obvious that the bird is not in the bush at all. A closer examination confirms this. The bird has vanished! In reality, what has probably happened is that the bird did not stop in the bush for long at all but flew out from the other side, unnoticed by me. So while I was patiently examining the bush leaf by leaf with binoculars the bird was already in the next field!

Another typical experience is animals just appearing out of nowhere. I might be quite deliberately examining a well-lit night scene, a street for instance, looking for foxes. Then, suddenly, a fox will appear right n the middle of the scene. How could it have appeared, as if from nowhere, when I should have plainly seen its approach? The solution to this puzzle is the opposite of the bird one above. With the bird in the bush I was concentrating on where I 'knew' the bird to be, so not noticing its escape. With the fox, I did not know it was present and so was scanning the scene generally while missing its rapid approach.

There are countless other examples of animals, observed by highly experienced naturalists, just disappearing or appearing in the spookiest manner. I am not suggesting that the way these animals appear or disappear is paranormal, which is why I included explanations for the examples. But there must be times when this sort of thing happens to someone who is not as experienced with the ways of wild animals who may well think that it IS paranormal. So why aren't there more reports of vanishing animals?

And that is why I'm surprised there aren't more reports of ghost animals. It's possible that the seemingly spooky antics of animals are only noticed by those who watch them a lot, like naturalists. And they know there is nothing ghostly going on.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Tall thin green ghost

White streaksI became aware of a tall person standing behind me recently. I was outside, in daylight, with rain falling and a strong breeze blowing. The person was in my peripheral vision. I turned slowly, to look properly at them, only to discover there was no one there. So, a ghost then!

I quickly realised that what I was actually seeing was a tall bush, with a good covering of leaves. So it was a misperception ghost. The bush was tall and thin, its dimensions closely resembling those of a tall, thin person. It was, of course, overwhelmingly green which is not typical of a human figure. However, the colour was not so obvious in my initial view. Peripheral vision tends to look monochrome.

So, a typical peripheral vision misperception ghost sighting. Except that I wasn't wearing my glasses. I have quite pronounced short sightedness (myopia) and rarely go outside without my glasses on. This sighting contradicts an observation I made last year (see here). I had noted that I seldom, if ever, notice myself misperceiving when not wearing glasses. This latest observation directly contradicts that idea. So what's going on?

I had sacculated that objects seen as ghosts in normal vision were too fuzzy in myopic vision to be misperceived as human figures. This idea may still be true. What I failed to note was that some objects NOT misperceived as ghosts in normal vision may become fuzzy enough, in myopic vision, to be seen as human figures. In other words, myopia doesn't stop misperception, it simply shifts the distance (from the witness) of objects that might be affected.

So why do I not almost never notice misperception when not wearing glasses? It is probable that the range of distances (from me) over which objects may be misperceived is quite narrow when I'm not wearing glasses. It would require some experiments to determine this for sure. What looks certain is that myopia, and presumably hyperopia, can have a profound effect on misperception. It is clearly important to know if witnesses have either of these conditions and whether they were wearing corrective lenses when they had their anomalous experiences.

The motion of the bush in this observation was, I think, an important contributory factor to its being misperceived. Obviously, significant movement is more typical of human figures than bushes so it would have added to the impression of a ghost. Also, the bush was isolated from nearby vegetation. Taken together, the shape, dimensions, isolation and movement of the bush all gave it a distinctly human look when seen in peripheral vision.

PS: And the photo? More examples of white streaks - see yesterday.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Strange white streaks photographed

White trailsThe photo here (right), taken recently, is a rather blurry picture of the leaves in a tree. Despite the blurriness it is possible to make out individual leaves. But there is something more mysterious in this photo. There are several vertical white streaks. The best examples are two streaks in a dark patch just above, and to the right of, the centre of the frame. They look sharp, in contrast to the leaves around them.

I've seen many anomalous photos which are blurry. It can be difficult to identify the cause of anomalies in such photos. However, I know what these particular streaks are because I came across them when experimenting with deliberately blurring photos. There are two main causes of blurring in photos - being out of focus and motion blur. This photo is caused by motion blur - the camera had a relatively slow shutter speed (1/5s) and was moved slightly during exposure.

The white streaks are small patches of sky showing through the canopy of leaves. On a non-motion blurred photo they would show up as white dots. But when the camera moved they became white streaks,. They appear to be sharp because a dot forms a line when stretched. Leaves, on the other hand, just become fuzzy. I have to admit, had I never done this experiment, and I was presented with a photo like this, I would be puzzled by it. It shows the value of such xenonormal experiments.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Unlikely prediction comes true

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be aware that I have an apparent tendency to see famous people more often than appears normal. I've no idea what a 'normal' rate is for seeing famous people but 0.23 celebrities per month seems a lot to me. If anyone has any figures for this I'd love to see them. I should emphasize that I see these famous people just in the normal course of everyday living. I do not go out of my way to find celebrities. I don't hang around at places where they might be expected to turn up.

Anyway, here's a quote from this blog (23 April 2015): " I'm expecting my next celebrity in around 4 months! " And here we are, four months later and guess what? Yes, I saw my latest famous person a couple of days ago, just on time! It was a musician and one whose work I happen to play a lot. Most sightings I've had have been on public transport but this one was at a tourist attraction.

The prediction was based solely on the average rate of seeing famous people. I didn't expect it to actually happen just as I'd predicted. Nevertheless, I wrote it and it happened! On its own it is a coincidence, of course. If it happens again, in another four months, it will certainly start to look distinctly spooky.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Dream or paranormal?

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be familiar with my acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). Essentially, it is a rare experience, affecting a tiny proportion of the population, who go straight into a dream state when they have a microsleep. Some of the experiences feel paranormal, despite their normal cause. Someone unaware of the phenomenon of MWR who experiences them regularly might think themselves psychic. But, surely, these experiences are just dreams and simple to distinguish from ordinary real life, aren't they?

So, how do know if you are dreaming? Unless it is a lucid dream, you don't, at the time. One obvious test for dreaming would be whether it is an experience you have just prior waking up. There is usually a definite boundary between dreaming and being conscious while we wake up. Let's call it the 'waking up test'. It is generally reliable but not always. There is the false awakening phenomenon to consider, though that ought to recognisable once you know what to look out for. I've had false awakenings and they are disconcerting!

There is another test of whether you are dreaming which we might call the 'blind acceptance test'. Although strange things happen routinely in dreams, we just accept them without question. It appears that whatever part of our brain would normally raise the alarm at odd goings-on is switched off during dreaming. Once we wake up and review the dream content it becomes obvious that it contained absurdities or fiction that would never have been blindly accepted had we been awake. So, can these tests be applied to MWR experiences?

MWR experiences differ from 'long sleep' dreams in several ways. Obviously they are short, typically seconds long. And with MWRs the dream starts straight away, producing a continuous experience, straight after conscious reality, which can be hard to spot straight away. When a MWR ends there is a feeling of waking up but it is, for MA at least, less pronounced than the 'long sleep' version.

So do the tests for dreaming still work? They do but not always. Suppose MA is sitting in a chair at home and then suddenly is apparently in a desert talking to a large lizard and finally back at home again, all in a few seconds, it is quite obviously a MWR. It triggers the 'blind acceptance test' whereby MA did not consider it remarkable, at the time, to be chatting to a lizard or, indeed, suddenly teleported to a desert. But what if MA had gone from home to being suddenly aboard an alien space craft? This is similar to some reported alien abduction cases and, to some people, it would not appear unlikely at all. MA has never had that experience, so far, but it could happen.

There is another experience with MWRs that MA has had several times where it can be difficult to tell if it is a dream. What happens is that the MWR consists of the scene around MA just before going into the microsleep. It looks as if MA's brain takes a visual snapshot of the scene and turns it into a dream. Usually there is, however, something slightly different about the dream version. It is generally the presence of a human figure that was not there before, or after. Also, any changes in the real scene that occur during the MWR are not noticed, as you might expect. There is an example here on a train. Such an experience could easily be interpreted as a ghost. MA can only detect such events through the 'waking up test'.

To summarize, MWRs typically form a continuous experience with waking conscious reality which can make them feel real. They can even use an image of reality, taken just before the dream started, making it difficult to notice the MWR. Of course, if others with MWR have similar experiences to MA, some of the dreams will be more easily noticed by their unrealistic content. But someone unaware of the existence of MWRs could interpret the 'unrealistic' MWRs as psychic visions or even astral travel.

On a unrelated topic, I recently was astonished to see a packet falling off a high supermarket shelf right in front of me, with one else nearby. While it COULD have been paranormal there is a more obvious theory to consider. It is possible that someone took the packet off the shelf, to look at it, and then replaced it. However, they did not put it back in a stable position and the packet slowly slid down to eventually fall off the shelf just as I walked by. The fact that it was a high shelf tends to back this idea up as the person involved may have not noticed, because they couldn't see the shelf from above, that they'd left the bag in an unstable position.

Monday, 10 August 2015

White UFO

White UFOI happened to look up, recently, and catch sight of a white object slowly crossing the blue sky. It was only by chance that I noticed it because there was no accompanying sound whatsoever. I could not see what the object was so that made it technically a UFO. Luckily, I had a camera with me so I took several photos of the object, one of which you can see here (right). It looks pretty much like what I saw, an amorphous white blob.

While this photo resembles what I saw with the naked eye, it is actually out of focus. It isn't easy to focus on a tiny object in the sky with a telephoto lens but I managed it in the end. The result is shown below (below right). As you can see, it's an aircraft. I've cropped this photo more tightly than the first one to produce a bigger version of the object but, other than that, both photos are entirely unaltered.

PlaneYou might think that it's not very likely that anyone would not recognise an aircraft and think it a UFO. However, as I said, I genuinely wasn't sure what the object was when I first saw it and I see planes a lot. I suspected a plane but without the help of my camera's telephoto lens, I could not be sure. You might also think that few people would mistake an out of focus object in a photo for a UFO. Well, many UFOs are described as glowing balls of light so it would fit with some people's expectations.

So, suppose someone else had spotted my UFO. They, too, might not have been able to identify it immediately purely with the naked eye. And if they, too, had taken its photo with a telephoto lens, and got a photo like the upper one, they may not have realised it was out of focus.

The reason I couldn't hear the aircraft was because it was flying relatively high. I've no idea of its altitude but it was probably descending towards an airport nearby.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Alien robot 2

InsectAs I opened the door I was annoyed to realize a fly had come in with me. It buzzed around crashing into various closed windows. I've wasted my time before vainly trying to coax insects towards open windows, using bits of paper, so I decided not to bother trying again.

As I moved around the locked empty building, minding my own business, I noticed the solitary fly seemed to find me every time, after a minute or two. So, as an experiment, I opened one window, all the others being firmly shut. I then wandered around the building for a while and the fly duly followed. Finally, I returned to the open window and within a couple of minutes the fly turned up. After having a go at a couple of nearby closed windows first it found the open one and left!

All of this reminded me that I'd said I would look out for intelligent insect behavior, just in case it was a disguised alien robot sent to look at the Earth (see here). So was this insect displaying unusually intelligent behaviour, following me round to find an open window? I don't think so. How could it have known I was going to open a window? Well it could have scanned my brain, if it really was an advanced alien robot bee. But if it had that kind of technology, I'm sure it could have found the open window by itself. I think it more likely that it was an ordinary terrestrial insect attracted to me by some odour or other. Interestingly, the fly never actually landed on me, or even nearby. It just turned up in my vicinity and then tried to escape through all the windows nearby. But the fly failed to find the open window until I stood by it.

I have had more thoughts about detecting alien robot insects. Would they really display unusual behaviour? If they did, wouldn't that give the game away if they were meant to be acting covertly? Strange insect behaviour is more likely to be a sign of intoxication (see here). I think we're going to need a much more subtle test for alien robot insects, assuming they exist. In the meantime, at least I now know how to get rid of flies from a building.

PS: For an explanation of the unusual insect photo, see here.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Alien robot?

BeeIn the photo (right) you'll see a bee. On its back is what looks like some sort of rectangular object, with something sticking out of it at the top, on its back. The sheen gives it a metallic look. So what might this mysterious object be?

One possibility is a tracking device placed there by a naturalist. Such devices really exist - see here for an account with a photo. However, the devices are rather bigger, at present, than the object here. So what about an insect drone? Yes, those exist too - see here for stuff on those. However, those devices don't, at present, look too much like real insects. A third possibility is that the bee is actually an alien robot observing life on Earth.

That last possibility sounds a bit far fetched but it isn't at all. Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, pointed out in this week's New Scientist that technology evolves far more quickly than biological life. So artificial intelligence is likely to quickly take over from biological intelligence as alien civilizations become more advanced. And, in my opinion, if an advanced alien civilization was interested in visiting Earth they'd quite likely send robots rather than biological life forms. Such machines would not just be more intelligent that biological species but would be far better at surviving the conditions in space and on alien worlds. And why not use robots disguised as a Earth insects to observe undetected? But surely any alien technology capable of navigating vast distances of space would make a better job of building a bee than the one above? So, it probably isn't one of those either.

BeeLooking at a close up (right) of the object on the bee's body it no longer looks rectangular. Indeed, it isn't a single object at all. It now looks like a group of allantoid* objects. They could be bits of pollen or seeds from a plant. Either way, I don't think any exotic explanation, like aliens, is required.

Oddly, I've noticed that once I see the zoomed version, the first photo actually looks different. I no longer see a rectangular shiny object on top of the bee but something more like the allantoid things. That sounds like misperception at work. If so, then some of you probably never saw the 'rectangular object' in the first place! None of this changes what I said about alien robots. If I see any insect behaving strangely, I'll take a close look at it. And maybe say hello.

* OK I admit it, I'd never come across that word before.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Same ghost, same location, not misperception

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences recently realised something interesting. ALL, as far as MA can recalll, of the speech MWRs have occurred when MA was reading. At all other times visual MWRs occur. This seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Interestingly, none of the speech heard ever seemed to relate to what was being read. Nevertheless, it raises the intriguing possibility that MWR content may be influenced by what the witness is doing just prior to the episode.  

Now suppose someone who experiences MWRs, but is not aware of their true nature, perhaps believing they are psychic insights, goes ghost hunting. And suppose they knew the exact location and appearance of an apparition that a previous witness had seen. It is not too fanciful to suppose that a MWR might occur featuring an apparition whose appearance might just agree with the previous sighting.

This is, of course, a big leap from speech MWRs always coinciding with reading. But we know that ordinary dream content can often reflect our waking experiences so it is not so fanciful. It provides another way, besides misperception, whereby two independent witnesses might see the 'same' ghost at the same location at different times. Of course, it would rely on the second witness knowing in advance what the first witness reported. Sadly, with information about hauntings so freely available on the web these days, that bit is far from fanciful.
PS: I forgot (that bad memory again) that there is already an example of MA having MWR content drawn from recent experience, albeit fictional (here). This obviously adds weight to the idea of a new ghost experience being generated by an old report.