Thursday, 26 May 2016

Goodbye my spooky friend!

ShadowI haven't seen the door ghost since I last reported it here in February. In the past it has never gone missing for more than a week or two but this time it looks as though it might have gone for good. Having been around for 4 years, I'm starting to feel like I've lost a friend!

The door ghost (door what?) is, of course, a misperception. Such misperceptions are usually fragile which is what made the door ghost so unique. So why has it vanished now? What has changed?

One of the big variables that affects misperception is lighting. I've noticed that the door ghost was always spotted more in winter than summer, with no sightings at all in June. This suggests that the angle of the sun in the sky is an important factor. However the ghost has been missing throughout March and April which have been produced a high proportion of sightings in the past.

Another important factor in misperception is familiarity. Typically objects are only misperceived once by any individual witness. That's because on the second occasion the witness's brain knows what the object really is and no longer misperceives it. The exceptions to this are if the witness forgets about the original sighting, in which case they can misperceive it all over again. There are also some very rare misperceptions that are so strong, to particular individual witnesses, that they may be seen repeatedly even if the original sighting is remembered.

I believe I saw the door ghost repeatedly because, having a terrible memory, I forgot about it from time to time. It would explain why there were usually a few days, or a week or two, between sightings. That was how long it took me to forget about my previuous sightings!

As I mentioned in February, I approach 'the door' from a different angle these days. So is that the reason for the ghost's final disappearance? To find out, I set myself the task of observing how I approach the door. The problem is, I wanted to observe an unconscious task. I knew if I thought about it, I wiould almost certainly do something different. So what I needed to do was forget about the task until I was actually in the process of doing it. Surprisingly, it turns out that this is actually possible! I just think hard about the task when I'm actually at the door and then forget about it. Having a terrible memory actually makes this task easier! Then, a few days or weeks later, I will be reminded of the task by the sight of the door itself.

What I discovered was that I consistently approach the door from a significantly different route to the old one. I think that is likely to be the reason for the ghost vanishing. Being a creature of habit, I'm unlikely to change back to the old route so it's likely the ghost will never return. So why don't I just deliberately position myself in the 'old' position and look for the ghost? Sadly, that doesn't work because of the 'familiarity' problem outlined above. So, it is with great sadness I say, goodbye my spooky friend!

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