Thursday, 7 January 2016

Can you miss seeing someone in plain sight?

Crows in a treeAn odd thing happened. I was waiting for a train, anxious to get a seat. As the train pulled in I could see a vacant seat just near the door which stopped right in front of me. I was first in and headed straight for the vacant seat only to find a woman sitting there. I was amazed. There had been no one standing in the train. It was possible, I suppose., that the woman had risen from a nearby seat and taken the vacant one instead. However, there did not seem time to do this and there was no newly vacant seat nearby. I genuinely wondered if the woman might be a ghost! However,as I was looking for another seat I did not get a chance to look at her closely. From a distance she looked very normal. But then most ghosts do ...

The most obvious explanation for the incident was that I somehow failed to see the woman in the seat when looking from outside the train. Looking from afar, she did not appear to blend in with the seat. So how had I missed her? I actually SAW a vacant seat, not something just vaguely resembling it.

So here's my theory about what happened. I think there were probably reflections in the window as I looked into the train, though I don't actually remember any. These reflections interfered with my view so that the unconscious bit of my brain could not decide what it was seeing. So, it decided there was no one in the seat and did a visual substitution of an empty seat. That would make it an impressive example of a type of misperception that I call 'imperception' (see here) where it is possible to miss seeing something in plain sight. If anyone knows the real scientific name for an imperception, please let me know.

I frequently look for vacant seats on approaching trains before boarding them. This is the first case I've had of seeing a vacant seat that was not. Incidentally, I would not have noticed any reflections in the window for the same reason you don't see the tree you are misperceiving as a human figure. So that would explain why I don't recall seeing any reflections.

Imperceptions can have an important role in reports of anomalous incidents. The witness may fail to notice something that is a huge clue to a xenonormal explanation for an otherwise apparently inexplicable event. I've always wanted to compare just what a witness to an anomaly reports and what a video camera would see of the same scene. If, and until, life logging equipment becomes common I guess it will not happen.

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