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.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Strange small figure

Shadow figureIn the photo (right) you may notice a small dark figure. It is just beyond the right-hand side of the bush in the centre of the photo. The figure was visible to the naked eye at the time, as well as in the photo. However, even before I took the photo, the object no longer looked like a human figure.

There are several things wrong with the 'figure'. Firstly, it is unusually dark for a human figure. That doesn't rule out some sort of shadow ghost, of course. A second objection is that at the apparent distance of the figure it would incredibly small for a human.

Looking more closely at the 'figure' it turned out to be a cluster of leaves attached to the bush by a couple of thin twigs from above. The twigs are not visible from a distance. Together, the leaves block more light than the nearby single leaves. That is why the cluster appears so dark. Finally, the leaf cluster just happens to produce a shape resembling the proportions of a human figure.

Had I taken the photo without noticing any 'figure' at the time I might later, on examining the picture, have thought it was a strange human figure - a miniature shadow ghost perhaps. In most anomalous photographs nothing unusual is noticed at the time of exposure.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Haunting noises

VigilRecently I entered a familiar building that I expected to be empty. Straight away I heard sounds from inside that suggested someone was there. I said 'hello' in a friendly way but there was no reply. I felt uneasy as it suddenly reminded my of a scene from a horror movie. And I knew what usually happened next!

I told myself to stop being silly and cautiously went to investigate. I entered the room where the noises came from and there was no one there! So, a ghost then! After a while I heard the noises again. Yes, you've guessed it, they came from that new fridge I wrote about recently (see here). It was a different noise this time but was undoubtedly coming from the fridge. The sound did gave a vague impression of objects were being moving around. Despite that I was puzzled by why the sounds gave me the strong impression someone was present when I first heard them.

I think at least part of it was that the sound source was round a corner, out of sight. So how different would it have been if the fridge had been visible when I first heard the noises? I could have immediately visually ruled out the presence of a real person. And I would have been able to hear that the noises came from the fridge, so also ruling out the possibility of a ghost. There is more about how noise coming from round corners in this article (here) about paranormal sounds.

So I've now been caught out twice by the same appliance! If I hadn't definitely tracked the noises down to the fridge I might well consider the building haunted by now.

I've learnt two lessons from this experience. Firstly, I can easily appreciate now how unfamiliar noises in a familiar environment can produce a feeling of a ghostly presence. Secondly, people really do say 'hello' when they enter what they think is an empty building and hear sounds they think show they're not alone. I thought it only happened in horror movies.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Knock knock

House with internal noisesWho's there? A ghost perhaps! I was alone in a building I know well. It was silent. Then I heard a loud single knock. I assumed something had fallen down in an adjacent room and went to investigate. Finding nothing out of place, I went back to my original position. A little later I heard the same single knock sound. Once again I investigated and found nothing to explain it. Maybe it was a haunting sound (see here for more on such sounds).

This time I decided to stay where the sound appeared to originate to see if I could hear it again. After a while, there it was. I now realised the sound was unmistakably coming from a fridge. Interestingly, it was a new fridge. I was used to the sounds of the old fridge it replaced and no longer really heard them at all. But the new fridge produced different sounds that appeared obtrusive.

This is a variation on the 'new house effect' (see here). Do you remember the last time you moved house (or flat)? Do you recall a moment when you woke up in the middle of the night in your new house, perhaps not quite sure where you were? Did you hear a distant knock or a loud creak nearby that caught you by surprise? Was there a shadow on the wall of your room that looked unfamiliar and even faintly sinister? This is the new house effect. Until you get used to the peculiar sounds and sights (and even smells) of your new house, they can seem a little disturbing, particularly in the middle of the night when the relative quiet outside can appear to magnify them. If the creaks and knocks are particularly loud and frequent it might even sound as though there is 'someone else' in the house with you. And if you're alone, that could lead you to think that the house is haunted.

What hadn't occurred to me until now is that even introducing some new item of equipment could set off a new house effect in an otherwise thoroughly familiar property. Anything that can produce noises without human intervention, like a fridge, could easily give rise to 'ghostly sounds'. It's not quite a case of a haunted object but certainly an object that can give the impression that a haunting is happening. Anyone investigating odd noises in a haunting case might consider checking if anything has changed in the physical environment of the affected premises recently.