Thursday, 29 September 2016

Amplified hearing - yes it could be real!

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be aware of the strange 'amplified noise' phenomenon reported by MA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR). Briefly, MWRs produce experiences which could easily be reported as paranormal but are natural in origin. They affect a small percentage of the population, usually those with certain sleep disorders.

The 'amplified noise' phenomenon consists of sound apparently being heard more loudly than when fully awake during some MWR episodes. I have not, so far, been able to decide if the phenomenon actually amplifies real sounds heard at the time or is purely dream content produced by MA's brain. The latest evidence (see here) suggests that it might indeed by amplifying real sounds. But I've had trouble finding any other similar phenomena. Until now.

I recently recalled an incident I had once when I had my ears syringed to remove wax. After the procedure everything was very loud, painfully so. This extremely loud effect continued for a few hours but gradually my hearing returned to normal. This is clear evidence that the brain and/or ear are indeed able modify the sensitivity of our hearing. So it is entirely plausible that MA really is hearing real external sounds with the 'volume turned up' (by the brain/ear) during certain MWR episodes.

I was prompted to think about this by an article in this week's New Scientist. It described research which showed that people can process language when in REM sleep. Whether speech heard in REM sleep is amplified I've no idea. Nevertheless it raises the possibility of people gaining sound information from their environment when asleep.

Consider the following scenario. Someone (lets's call him X) falls asleep in front of the TV and eventually enters REM sleep. Suppose that, during this time, a documentary comes on about some obscure episode from history. When X wakes he remembers none of this. Then, weeks later X is watching a TV quiz when a question comes up about the very same obscure historical episode described in the documentary he slept through. X finds himself able to answer the question correctly, even though the panelists on TV cannot. X is utterly baffled because he cannot recall ever hearing about the historical episode before. X wonders if he might be psychic receiving a message from beyond!

I've often found myself answering obscure questions on TV quizzes despite having no idea how I knew the information. I've always assumed it was something I'd picked up somewhere in my life and I've simply forgotten when and where. That is most likely to be the answer, particularly with my terrible memory. But I now also have to consider the possibility that I don't remember how I know something because I only ever heard it when I was asleep!

One could describe a psychic as "someone who supplies information, on a particular subject, that they were not previously consciously aware they had" (see here). Some people may think they are psychic when actually they have a terrible memory for context or have heard stuff in their sleep!.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Shadow ghost

ShadowMy attention was recently drawn to a curious phenomenon. It was early morning, barely light. i could not see what had been described to me at first and thought I'd missed it. But then, there it was! It was a shadow moving slowly, in a roughly circular path, across the surface of a road. The shadow was roughly circular in shape with indistinct edges. It was, perhaps, half a metre in diameter. My first thought was that it might be a shadow thrown by a moth, or a tree branch, near the street light illuminating that section of road. However, there were no trees anywhere near the street light. Also, the shadow was moving too slowly to be a moth, nor was there any hint of flickering that you expect from its wings. So, a shadow ghost then!     

I was incredibly lucky to have a pair of binoculars to hand, so I turned them on the street light. At first I could see nothing unusual. Then I saw it - a large insect walking across the refractor (the transparent cover below the bulb) of the street lamp. The insect was maybe close in size to a dragonfly but I'm not sure what species it was (possibly a large crane fly). The fact that it was walking (rather than flying) over the refractor explained how it could move slowly without any fluttering.

Without binoculars I could never have identified the source of this shadow ghost phenomenon with any certainty. Before looking through the binoculars I hadn't considered the idea of a walking insect. And that is a central problem with so many reports on anomalous phenomena. When witnesses only have a brief naked eye view of something strange, it is highly likely to remain a mystery simply through lack of relevant informatio

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Could we see ghosts on demand?

ShadowOne of the things that has struck me down the years is the sheer elusiveness of anomalous phenomena. They seldom, if ever, turn up when expected. Instead, witnesses are usually caught completely by surprise. It is a quality that makes these phenomena incredibly difficult to study. If only we could see anomalous phenomena in demand.

Take ghosts. Unlike UFOs, at least ghosts have a tendency to crop up repeatedly in the same location. The trouble is, you never exactly when they are going to appear. When I used to go on ghost vigils I didn't see a single apparition, despite many long nights spent at haunted locations. Statistically, that's not surprising. If a ghost has been seen a handful of times over a decade, for instance, the chances of seeing it on any particular night are slim. At least that's the usual explanation.

But I now think the elusiveness of ghosts has a different cause. Investigation has revealed that many ghost sightings are caused by such things as misperception, hallucination and coincidence. All of these will produce unpredictable sightings. For instance, misperception is highly sensitive to viewing conditions. And coincidences, like seeing someone in historical costume on their way to a re-enactment, are both rare and unpredictable.

So, if we know what causes many ghost sightings, can't we mess around with the variables involved to make ghosts appear on demand? I thought I'd accidentally managed that with the door ghost (see here). However, though this misperception ghost appeared quite frequently, I could never predict when. That's because I first had to FORGET about it for it to reappear! It is one of the few times when having a terrible memory actually proved useful. When the ghost DID appear I had just seconds to remember my pre-planned experiment before the apparition disappeared. And now the door ghost only puts in sporadic appearances like that reported recently (here).

What about hallucinations? My acquaintance (MA) who experiences MWR saw a ghost on as train once (see here) but reports that such apparitions are rare despite having had innumerable MWRs. MA could not recall anything different about that particular experience that might suggest a way to make it happen again. As for coincidences, they are uncontrollable by definition!

So the most promising way forward has to be with misperception, given that the door ghost showed it is possible to have repeatable experiences. I have also had some quite prolonged misperception experiences showing they can be quite robust in the right circumstances. The main problem is that the witness must not be expecting to see a ghost!

So my new ambition, alongside the permanent photographic misperception (see here) is a reproducible ghost! Will it be difficult? Yes!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Amplified noise - could it be real?

Crows in a treeMA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR) was at a lecture recently. Though it was an interesting talk, MA still had a few MWRs. During two of these, separated by seconds, MA experienced the curious 'amplified noise' phenomenon again (see here for background). As in previous incidents, MA heard sound apparently amplified during brief MWR episodes lasting a couple of seconds at a time.

MA was struggling to hear the speaker whose voice was not loud. However, during the MWRs the voice became louder and perfectly understandable. This much has happened before (here). However, on this occasion MA realized that the amplified words heard fitted perfectly into the content of the talk.

Unfortunately, because MA couldn't hear the speaker well outside MWRs it was not possible to say if the 'amplified' bits fitted EXACTLY into what was being said. This leaves open the possibility that the 'amplified' words were not what the speaker actually said but just MA's brain imagining likely ones to insert. However, it does nudge the evidence a little towards the possibility that noise really IS being amplified somehow in the MWR state!

Could sounds actually get 'amplified' in all dreams, both MWRs and normal night dreams? There is a big difference between normal dreams and MWRs. Normal dreams usually start well after the experiencer has gone to sleep. With MWRs the dream state starts straight away and tends to continue with a version of reality (sometimes with minor changes like the addition of a ghost - see here). So any differences, like 'amplified noise' will be apparent to the MWR experiencer straight away. By contrast, in conventional dreams there is no continuation of reality, so amplified noise would not be noticed. My point is that 'amplified noise' may be a normal, if rare, phenomenon in all dreaming but it hasn't been noticed much before.

Anyone experiencing MWRs who is not aware of their natural origin might be tempted to see 'amplified noise' as some kind of paranormal phenomenon. As to how the brain might achieve such a trick, it's open to speculation. And if it ISA a real trick, what other odd phenomena may occur within MWRs?

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Anniversary ghosts and an unexpected return!

ShadowIt's back! I was at 'that door' recently (see here for background) and suddenly realised there was a dark, somewhat menacing, figure standing just behind me. Sure enough, it was the door ghost, a misperception with the same cause as in the past. It was a big surprise as I haven't thought about the ghost in months.

I reported the long term disappearance of the door ghost back in May (here). This is the first sighting since February, some 7 months ago. I suggested then that the ghost had vanished because I approach 'the door' from a different angle these days. So, have I changed back to my old approach direction? No, I haven't? So why has the ghost reappeared?

If the ghost has reappeared despite the new route, something else must have changed. One crucial element with misperception is lighting. I've noted that similar misperceptions often recur at the same time each day for a few days each year (provided the weather is also similar). This is because the sun follows a slightly different track across the sky every day through the year. So, at any given location, the sun will be at the same position in the sky at the same time on the same day each year. Thus, the lighting will be the same for that time and date each year, subject to weather conditions. Given how sensitive misperception is to lighting conditions, the same (misperception) ghost may be seen at the same location at the same date and time every year. It is possible that the door ghost now requires such specific lighting to appear on my my new route to the door. In the past, using a different route, the lighting was not so crucial.

This got me thinking. There are said to be some ghosts that appear regularly on a particular date each year - anniversary ghosts. Could misperception explain at least some of these reports? It seems possible, if the ghost is seen outside in daylight. The same factors would not apply at night for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much outdoor lighting at night is provided by fixed street lights. Secondly, the moon does not appear in the same position in the sky at the same time on the same date each year.

Even if it turns out that the reappearance of the door ghost has nothing to do with lighting on a specific day, the idea that misperception could explain at least some anniversary ghosts remains valid. Having missed the door ghost I'm glad it's back, even if it's only a fleeting visit.

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.