Monday, 28 November 2016

Ghost fox

Night foxI was looking out of an upstairs window recently at night. I noticed a fox on the opposite side of the road outside trotting along the pavement. It reached a point maybe 20m away and stopped. I waited to see what it would do next. I gradually became aware that it was no longer there, despite having watched continuously and not seen it move. I waited a while but then a pedestrian walked by so close to the 'fox' that they would undoubtedly have made it move had the animal still been present. So, a fox ghost then!

I was astonished by this incident. I could not believe I had manage to 'lose' a fox I had in plain view. Admittedly, the area where the animal went 'missing' was less well lit than most of the surrounding area. I think this was a special kind of misperception. I've come across other instances with birds (I am a keen birder). On many occasions I've seen a bird 'land' in a bush only for there to be no sign of it when the area is examined with binoculars. In reality, the bird flew INTO the bush rather than landing on it. It is a case of expectation causing misperception. With the fox, I believe it never stopped where I thought it did but instead went behind a nearby car out of sight. Because I EXPECTED it to carry on in a straight line, that's what I saw. And because I could no longer see any movement, I 'saw' the fox come to a standstill. Obviously, this kind of misperception would never occur in good viewing conditions, such as daylight.

So this is a different kind of misperception based on expectation. The way the fox 'vanished' was interesting. At one moment I was convinced I could see it. Then it was just no longer there, replaced by poorly-lit paving slabs. Anyone not aware of misperception might certainly have seen this as a fox vanishing. Indeed, that was just how it felt to me at the time and it was oddly disturbing. Solid objects are not supposed to vanish in plain sight.

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