Monday, 5 September 2016

Ghost bird

Yellow branchI came around a corner and immediately something caught my eye. It was a yellow bird in a tree. But it quickly vanished! So, a ghost bird then. I photographed the scene and you can see it here (right). The 'bird' is the yellow object in the centre of the frame. Interestingly, I saw the 'bird' again when I examined its photo for the first time. So it was that rarity, a photographable misperception. Such misperceptions, when they take on the appearance of human figures, can easily generate ghost reports.

I suspect that most people, when viewing this photo, will see no bird and be mystified as to how I ever saw one. And I think that is significant. I started noticing misperceptions a few years ago. At the time I thought it was because I had recently found out how people misperceive all the time. I speculated that this gave my unconscious 'permission' to notice misperceptions. But now I have a new theory. I think it may be because I'm a birder.

When you go birding a vital skill is being able to spot birds. While most people would find a goose or gull hard to miss, spotting tiny warblers in dense foliage is much more difficult. I believe that looking for birds has made me particularly sensitive to tiny movements in foliage or objects that stand out from their background, like the yellow 'bird' here. The bird is actually a lichen covered branch. Being the only yellow bit in the scene it stands out strongly to me and my brain straight away thinks 'bird'! I suspect most non-birders would walk past the same scene and not even notice the lichen, far less see a bird.

I'll have to work out if there is any way of testing my theory. However, I think it makes sense.

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