Friday, 26 February 2016

The ideal witness?

Crows in a treeI sometimes see reports about anomalous incidents where the profession of the witness is prominently displayed. The implication is, presumably, that the training and expertise involved in certain professions make their practitioners more credible witnesses to strange phenomena. But I think we need to be careful here. The problem is that even people well qualified in their particular field may not match the range of attributes of an 'ideal' witness to a paranormal incident. To demonstrate this I'll describe my 'ideal' witness!

What would the ideal witness for an anomalous incident be like? There are some obvious general factors to start with. For instance, the ability to notice things. People are easily distracted, by phones for instance,so that they notice little of what is going on around them. Another factor would be an eye for detail, even when it is not immediately obviously important. An open mind would be important too. If you have preconceived ideas about what you are observing it is easy to see what you're expecting rather than what is actually there.

Next there is the matter of relevant expertise which would be useful in eliminating xenonormal explanations. So, for instance, a naturalist might make a good witness for an apparent alien animal. But with anomalous phenomena, a wide range of expertise is required because of the many different possible xenonormal explanations for a particular observation. Take UFOs, for instance. The 'perfect' UFO observer would need a range of reasonably detailed knowledge covering many likely natural explanations, from sky lanterns and aircraft to planets, balloons and drones.

Another useful area of expertise iwould be a working understanding of the limitations of observers. So a good knowledge of misperception and hallucinations, and how to detect when you are having them, would be highly useful. A reasonable knowledge of actual xenonormal explanations for previous similar sightings would obviously be incredibly useful too. And a familiarity with anomalous phenomenal in general would be also be helpful.

It is obvious from the above that there are few, if any, 'ideal' witnesses for anomalous phenomena out there. And even any 'ideal' witnesses that exist would still still be subject to misperception, hallucination, psychological suggestion, faulty memory and so on. So I think we need to be wary of giving undue weight to the reports of witnesses simply because of their professions.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Unlikely to be a ghost fox!

FoxI often see odd stuff from trains windows (see here for a recent example). I'm surprised more people don't report seeing anomalous phenomena from trains. Maybe people DO see such things but, because they only get a brief view, they're not sure enough about what they saw to report it. Or perhaps they just accept that, having not had a proper view, they must have been mistaken about what they thought they saw.

Anyway, the other day I was looking out of the window of a train when I saw what looked like a white fox. It was on a patch of derelict land where there were the remains of a demolished building. I say a 'white fox' but I was not sure what species of animal it might be, only that it was white and about the size and shape of a fox. Of course, ghosts are sometimes shown white in the movies though in real ghost reports that is seldom, if ever, the case. So it was unlikely to be a ghost fox.

The most obvious possibility is that the animal was an albino of some kind. I've never seen an albino fox but looking at photos of them, they look quite extraordinary. But the animal I saw didn't look like them. In fact, there was something rather odd about it. The animal was obviously moving but did not appear to be making any progress along the ground. Instead it appeared to be shivering violently. All very odd!

Luckily the train was going slowly and I had the animal in view for long enough to see what it was. In fact, it wasn't an animal at all. The 'fox' was a large sheet of clear plastic wrapped around some bits of metal sticking out of the ground. It was fluttering in the stiff breeze giving the object an animated look. Its size and shape certainly suggested something like a fox at first glance.

It's not the first time I've been deceived by plastic resembling animals (see here for instance). The way small bits of plastic flutter around in the wind that can sometimes suggest animals in appearance.

What this demonstrates is that not every report of an unusual animal is necessarily a living creature. Of course, most will indeed be animals of some kind. In many cases the animal will turn out to be a common species in its normal habitat that is simply not recognized by the witness. Many people pay little attention to the animals that live around them so it is little wonder that they may have trouble recognizing them.

Friday, 19 February 2016

It's back and more disturbing

ShadowThe door ghost (the door what?) is back and looking more slightly disturbing than before. In the latest sighting, the ghost looked bigger, darker and closer than ever, all of which was unsettling considering there was no one there. The incident also drew my attention to something curious I'd failed to notice before. I hadn't seen the door ghost for weeks, since last year, in fact. It is the longest gap in appearances since I first saw the ghost. Coincidence or clue?

Looking carefully at the ghost, at the time of the sighting, I realised it was being caused by my arm, rather than my hand as in previous appearances. This would explain its larger, darker, more shadowy presence. I could not even see my hand. The reason was that I was at a slightly different angle to the usual one in which I approach this particular door. Thinking back, I realised I'd been taking this slightly different route for a while, probably for as long as the time the ghost was not being seen.

So the new angle of approach to the door, which means I don't see my hand, would explain the ghost's disappearance. And its reappearance only happened when my whole arm became visible which requires an unusual, rather extreme version of my new angle of approach. Once again this case illustrates how misperception is incredibly sensitive to the exact conditions of a sighting. In this case, a few tens of degrees in direction made the difference which one of two different versions of a ghost I saw or whether I even saw it all.

I haven't visited the door since this last sighting so it will be interesting to see if the ghost reappears. And if so, which version.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A leaning figure vanishes!

Crows in a treeTo most people it wouldn't have appeared that interesting but I seem to have an insatiable curiosity. What I had noticed was someone, in light clothing, leaning over a car bonnet in the street below. Having only seen the figure in peripheral vision, I decided to get a better look. But as I approached the window, the leaning person vanished. So, a ghost then!

As I looked at the car, I noticed it had a headlight assembly that swept back well onto the bonnet. I realized that this was in the same the position as my 'leaning figure'. Returning to the position where I first saw the figure, I also realized that the window was steamed-up (it was a cold morning) to produce a random shape such that, when coupled with the headlight assembly, it strongly suggested a human figure. It was not the definite human I'd seen before but that is in the nature of misperception. It almost never works twice for the original witness, even in the exact same circumstances. I tried viewing the scene in peripheral vision but the original definite human figure did not show up again, only a light-coloured human shape.

What made this incident more than a 'run of the mill' ghost misperception was that two completely separate visual elements combined to form the figure - the headlight assembly and the random shape in the steamed-up window. The two objects were perhaps 20m apart physically and yet they combined, in my peripheral vision at least, into a single object. The incident is also a further example of a coincidence (the chance alignment of the headlight and a random shape in a steamed-up window) causing an apparently anomalous phenomenon. I could not exactly reproduce the phenomenon event though I investigated it at the time. Imagine trying to investigate the incident days or weeks later. The crucial factor of the steamed-up window would almost certainly not have been recalled by the witness and it is unlikely the car would still be present.

All of this shows just how difficult it is to investigate misperception. I strongly suspect that many more apparent paranormal reports are caused by misperception than is generally supposed.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Ghost in odd pose?

CrowSitting on a moving train recently, I noticed an odd figure in an otherwise deserted urban allotment. It looked female but I was too far away to be sure. Two things struck me as strange. Firstly, the figure was wearing garish clothes. Secondly, it was leaning over a fence in a way that looked distinctly uncomfortable. I wondered if the person might be tending some plants over the fence. While this was possible, it seemed an odd, and quite possibly painful, way to work. I wondered if it might be an example of an unlikely figure that was actually a ghost in plain sight. I wrote about this possibility recently (here). So, a ghost then!

Seeing something weird from a train is frustrating. There is no possibility of getting out to have a closer, more prolonged, look. Luckily, in this particular case, the train got closer to the figure before leaving it behind. So I was able to examine the ghost closely and it was indeed a human figure! It just wasn't a human!

The figure was actually a rather lifelike scarecrow. I've never seen one in an allotment before which is why it never occurred to me as a possible explanation. Had the journey been at twilight, instead of in the afternoon, I'm sure I would still think it was either a person or a ghost.

Thinking about it, scarecrows must be an occasional source of ghost reports in country areas, particularly at night. It's obviously something to consider with reports of distant, static ghostly figures. And not just in the countryside! I'm not sure how effective scarecrows are these days at repelling crows. As I've noted before (here), I've come across one population who seem as tolerant of human presence as street pigeons.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Identifiable ghosts with a xenonormal cause!

Crows in a treeMA (my acquaintance who experiences MWRs - microsleeps with REM) heard the voice quite distinctly. The problem was, no one present had said anything. MA quite often hears voices that are not audible to others present when experiencing a MWR. The big difference on this occasion was that the voice was recognisable. It belonged to another person who was present in the room at the same time. But that person never said anything! What is more, they was our of sight round a corner at the time MA 'heard' their voice.

At first sight this may not seem remarkable., given that MWRs contain dream elements. MA had already identified the experience as a typical MWR, generally recognized by the 'waking up' phase at the end. But MA had never heard a recognisable voice before, only the speech of strangers.

MWRs are basically short hypnogogic experiences. They feel more real than most hypnogogic experiences because they are so short that they often 'blend in' with real experiences going on at the same time. What usually happens, according to MA, is that the scene will be, essentially, the real one in front of MA at the time when the MWR started. But additional non-real elements may be overlaid on this real scene, such as a human figure or voices. But these figures or voices are always those of strangers - until now.

What this shows is that MWRs can use real objects (or people), even when they are not in the original scene, as part of the experience. Naturally, this makes the experience seem all the more real, even though it is not.

I think there are parallels here between MWRs and misperception. In misperception, ghostly figures seen are also always (in my experience) strangers. I think they are archetypical human figures rather than real remembered people. Their features are also heavily influenced by the object being misperceived. In MWRs there are clearly no such restrictions so I guess real remembered people, or in this case their voices, can be used. Perhaps here we have a mechanism whereby real identifiable people may be experienced as ghosts in a xenonormal experience.