Friday, 22 April 2016

A bizarre near miss!

Crows in a treeI was wandering slowly towards a lightly-used railway station recently when I saw someone I recognized standing alone on the platform. I couldn't remember their name, at first. But I did know immediately the man was a well-known actor whose work I admire. Regular readers will be aware that I am waiting to see if my 'prediction' that I'll see someone famous this month (see here) will come true. And it appeared it had!

But as I got closer I realised, with some disappointment, that the man was not who I thought it was at all. There was a resemblance but that's all. But the man definitely WAS the famous actor from a distance, not just someone who resembled them. So this would appear to be a case of misperception. I suppose we could call it 'identity misperception'. So what's going on here?

Firstly, I'll admit I've thought about seeing someone famous several times this month. However, I wasn't thinking about it consciously when I approached the railway station. But perhaps I was unconsciously on high alert constantly looking for someone famous. This could partly explain why I've been seeing famous people at 'predicted' intervals. It could be that, though I'm not consciously looking for them, unconsciously I am, but only when I 'expect' them. Of course, the famous person still needs to be physically present but, even so, being on the lookout has got to improve the chances of seeing one. I've no doubt I've passed famous people in the street, on occasion, without noticing them.

Secondly, the idea of 'identity misperception' is interesting. Misperception substitutes images from visual memory onto objects our brains don't properly recognise. A classic case is where a poorly-seen tree is viewed as a human figure. The figure is, in my experience, someone the viewer does not recognise. It hadn't occurred to me before that a poorly-seen real human figure might be seen as someone recognisable to the witness. But since visual substitution draws on the witness's memory, this makes perfect sense!

Thirdly, how do I know for a fact that all these famous people I've been seeing where really who I thought they were? Well, in all those cases I got a very close view of the person, often down to a metre or two. I've even brushed shoulders with one! Also, in many of the cases I had someone with me who completely agreed with the identification. And, in many cases, I heard the famous person talk, either to a companion or on the phone, thus confirming their identity. In fact, I don't recall one example of me seeing such a person on my own where they did not speak. So I'm confident of all those earlier identifications.

So how would 'identity misperception' affect anomalous phenomena cases? It might explain somes case of people being seen when they are physically elsewhere. And though most reported apparitions are not recognized by their witnesses, some of those that are might be explained by 'identity misperception'. I think there are more implications to examine arising from 'identity misperception'. I will no doubt return to the subject.

It does mean, of course, that I still haven't seen the expected famous person this month, despite apparently unconsciously looking hard for one. And time is running out.

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