Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Time slip?

ClockMy acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR) was on a train ride recently and woke to see a familiar station but noticed something strange. MA was seated looking forward and could see ahead the street at one end of the platform. But the buildings there looked oddly unfamiliar.

MA, who knows all the stations on this particular line well, felt distinctly odd at this point. The rest of the station looked normal. It was just the street at the end that looked different. Could it be a failure of memory? What about a time slip - maybe a scene of the station from some previous era? Then the more likely answer occurred to MA. It must be a MWR! Except that it wasn't.

MA was most definitely fully awake and the scene remained stubbornly real but different to what it should have been. Then MA looked at the station sign. It was the next station along to the one MA thought. Clearly MA had slept right through the previous station. As I recently said, MA never usually misses train stops due to MWRs. This may have been why MA was so convinced it was actually the previous station. The two stations are broadly similar in layout but not difficult to tell apart visually. And yet only one bit, the street scene, looked different.

This appears to be a case of expectation affecting a surprisingly large chunk of what MA was perceiving. It would appear to be a dramatic case of inattentional blindness. One point to note is that MA was looking forward, so most of the station would have been in peripheral vision and so seen in less detail than the 'different' street scene ahead. Another important point is that MA was asleep just before arriving at the station, so none of the approach route was seen.

Inattentional blindness is not related to MWRs and can occur to anyone. However, it affected MA because of MWRs. MA is used to waking from any MWRs or naps at each station in turn on a rail journey. When this failed to happen, for once, MA expected to see one station when actually being at another. Nevertheless the effect was surprisingly powerful. It was only the sight of the station sign that corrected MA's error which lasted for tens of seconds. Until then MA was completely convinced it was another station that had somehow changed radically for some unknown reason. Had MA not been utterly convinced, the radical idea of a time slip would never have been considered! Inattentional blindness and the role of expectation are clearly points to be think about when examining reports of anomalous phenomena.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Was the ghost in focus?

White wallWas the ghost in focus? It's not necessarily an obvious question to ask a witness but it could be important. To understand why, I'll describe an incident that happened to me recently.

I happened to glance at a plain area of white wall illuminated obliquely from behind me (pic right). I noticed something very odd. There was a faint but quite distinct repeating pattern on it. It looked to be in a slightly different shade to the rest of the wall. It strongly resembled a relief wallpaper (also known as Anaglypta). The only problem is, the wall is plain painted with no pattern on it! Having said that, there are very faint, slight undulations in the wall. They are on the scale of millimeters in length, only noticeable when around a few centimetres distance and randomly distributed. The patterns I could see were perfectly regular shapes, repeating exactly and on the scale of centimetres across, plainly visible from a metre away. Just like a wallpaper. As the photo shows, such patterns simply don't physically exist on the wall!

It was clearly an unusually striking example of a misperception. I was seeing a wallpaper pattern from my own memory! I found, unusually, that I could reproduce the effect with the exact same lighting conditions and some persistence. Then I tried an experiment. I had no idea beforehand what the result would be. The experiment was simple - I took my glasses off. Regular readers will be aware that I am short-sighted. To my surprise the 'wallpaper pattern' was still plainly visible. And, unlike the surrounding wall, it was IN FOCUS! This meant that it could not possibly be a real wallpaper pattern because that would have been out of focus without my glasses.

So, here we may have a test concerning ghost sightings. Suppose, for instance, that the witness is short sighted and not wearing glasses. They could be in bed, for instance. If they could see a ghostly figure and it was IN FOCUS then it could well be a result of misperception. If the figure were objectively real it ought to be out of focus.

In what might be the dullest ever illustration of something paranormal, the photo (above right) shows the wall that produced the 'wallpaper pattern'. The specific area where the pattern appeared was the light stripe in the middle. The effect relied on very specific lighting and only appeared after a few seconds viewing. If anyone can see a regular pattern in this picture, please let me know! I can't, by the way.     

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Pig becomes a horse

Rock facePig faceRegular readers may recall the 'giant glowing pig' (see here) from a couple of months ago (pic left). Well, I've been back to the same area again and taken some more photos. The new picture (right) was taken from a similar location to the earlier ones. However, the yellow shape is quite different and certainly does not resemble a pig. It could be a rearing horse, I suppose, but that may be pushing it. So why does the shape look so different?

The original glowing pig was photographed on two occasions, about a month apart. On the second occasion the 'pig' was plainly visible to the naked eye, as well as in the photo. This third photo was taken about a month further on. The 'pig' was no longer obvious to the naked eye though the 'glowing shape' as. What had changed in this third month?

It was still winter when the latest photo was taken so there was no new growth of tree leaves that could account for the change. One possibility as that the photo was taken from a slightly different position. But the 'pig' shape appeared to be visible from a range of locations before and not at all on the latest occasion. Also, comparing the two photos they appear to be taken from only a slightly different angle. The big difference seems to be the green area about half way down the left side of the 'horse/pig'. There appears to be more of this dark green area than there was before. I think it is probably ivy on the rock face that contains the 'horse/pig' shape. It has been an unusually mild winter here in the UK and it seems as if the ivy, or whatever it is, has grown a lot in the past month.

What does all this have to do with anomalous phenomena? It shows how strange shapes, some even resembling human figures or animals, can be formed naturally in photos. It also shows how such shapes can change drastically over time so that investigations of a sighting may be too late to reveal the true cause of the original anomalous photo.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Figure vanishes then reappears shortly afterwards!

Crows in a treeI was wandering along a street recently when I saw someone sitting motionless in a parked car a little ahead of me. Now I am quite frequently fooled by the misperception of someone sitting in a parked car when it turns out to be something like a coat draped on the back of the seat. Sure enough, even as I looked the 'person' vanished to reveal an empty car! Such misperceptions are, of course, an important source of ghost sightings.

But then something completely unexpected happened. I kept looking at the car, as I approached it, because I could see there was 'something' there resembling a human figure and I was intrigued to see what it might be. But suddenly it WAS a person again! Closer inspection showed that it was indeed a real person.

I've have had a similar experience once before (see here). In that case the unlikelihood of the figure's position and posture made me think it must be a misperception. In the current incident it was more a case 'I'm not falling for that one again'. But it had the same effect. The figure 'vanished' temporarily while I mentally dismissed it as only a misperception, until I was so close that I could not mistake it for anything other than a real person.

Thus we now have two cases of 'imperception' (not seeing something visibly present) caused by my expectation about what I was seeing. The cases show, in a dramatic way, how perception can be directly affected by conscious expectation. It is easy to imagine a situation where this might alter how a spontaneous anomalous incident is reported. Suppose, for instance, two people were together and one could see a ghost but the other couldn't, quite a common occurrence. If the witness who could see the ghost told the other what they were seeing, the second witness might begin to 'see' it too.

Clearly something like the current incident could occur to witnesses other than me. If such a witness saw a person who then disappeared and reappeared they would no doubt think it might be a ghost! The only bit missing from this scenario is that the witness would need to doubt that what they were seeing was a real person for some reason. That's probably why I've never come across a report of a ghost that disappeared and the reappeared shortly afterwards in the same place. But clearly it could happen and if anyone knows of any such cases,please let me know.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Strange brown blob!

Brown blobI have mentioned before that on the very rare occasions when someone sees something anomalous and gets a photo of it, the resulting picture is generally nothing like what the witness saw. That's how this odd photo (right) happened.

I took the photo because I noticed something strange and wanted to capture it visually. However, what you see in the photo is not what I saw at the time. I can't actually recall precisely what I saw then but it was certainly not the brown blob visible here. Instead, I saw something moving in a field and thought it might be a rabbit or hare. When I looked closely at the field I saw nothing but the grass tussock visible in the background of the picture. So maybe it was a ghost hare! Note that the photo is completely unedited apart from cropping.

Looking at the photo, I suppose the brown blob could just be a fast moving rabbit. Except it isn't. Prolonged viewing of the scene at the time revealed the brown object to be the seed head of some long grass much closer to the camera than the tussock. The reason it looks fuzzy is because it is out of focus. That is also why you can't see (depending on your screen) the supporting stem under it.

A lot of reported anomalous photos are of oddities not seen by the photographer at the time of exposure. This tends to point to a likely explanation of photographic artefact. With the small numbers of photos that are of oddities actually seen by the photographer at the time, the resulting photo often shows something quite different. This tends to point towards misperception as a likely explanation.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Wide screen or peripheral vision weird experience?

 Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences may have discovered a way to tell the difference between two types of weird experience. MWRs are short dream or mixed dream and reality experiences that occur primarily to some people with certain sleep disorders. MWRs are effectively hypnagogic experiences but, because they are short and the witness is fully awake before and after, can feel very much like real experiences.

MA's visual MWRs typically are of two types. There are those based firmly on the real life scene just before the MWR started. Let's call them RB (reality-based) experiences. And there are also those where MA is apparently momentarily 'transported' to somewhere completely different. Let's call them SE (somewhere else) experiences.

MA has noticed that SEs don't feel quite as real as RBs. The reason is that they are more like watching a wide screen TV or a movie in a cinema. Peripheral vision appears to be missing removing the immersive 3D feel. In contrast, RBs DO seem to have full peripheral vision giving a much more realistic feel. This difference may be because there is lots of current sensory information available to the brain for the RB experience. In contrast,the SB experience is presumably based entirely on memory and so is much less detailed.

MA recently had an experience that illustrated this while sitting and reading a magazine article. After a while MA reached a paragraph that seemed to make no sense despite reading it several times. It was at this point that MA emerged from a MWR. It was a perfect example of a RB type MWR. MA was not aware of anything odd going on. Everything felt and looked completely normal and real. The only clue was the unreadable paragraph. MA's eyes were actually closed during the MWR which is why the text made no sense. The 'text' MA was seeing was not the text from the actual magazine.

This experience illustrates how it is possible to go from a completely real scene being observed by a fully conscious witness into one partly, or entirely, produced from within the brain. And the whole process is so seamless that the transition is undetectable. It is usually only the end of the experience that is noticeable, at least to MA. It is possible that others who experience MWRs may not notice the exit transition either. They may well not be aware of the true nature of MWRs and regard them as paranormal experiences. Indeed, MA has seen highly realistic ghosts in such circumstances (see here for instance).

It would be interesting to see if other witnesses who have experiences similar to SEs, such as out of the body experiences, see things like a wide screen TV or report fully immersive peripheral vision. Unfortunately, they may not actually remember. One of things about MWRs is that they end in a fully consciousness state and so can be recalled in great detail unlike some other near sleep experiences. It is what makes MWRs such a useful tool to probe bear sleep experiences.