Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Vanishing mouse!

Leaves and lens flareI was waiting at a railway station recently when I noticed a mouse, or something like it, scamper across the the other end of the platform. But before it reached the far side, it simply vanished! Astonished, I went for a closer look. Even as I approached the area I realised what had happened. It wasn't a mouse, or any other animal, but a wind-blown leaf. But I certainly thought it was a mouse while I was watching it. Having seen squirrels on that same platform before, a mouse would not have been so extraordinary. So, it was a clearly a case of a misperception where the movement of the misperceived object played a crucial role.

Obviously, wind-blown leaves are rarely mistaken for mice but there were a number of factors at play here. Firstly, the leaf was a fair distance away, about 25m or so. Secondly, though it was daylight the sky was overcast giving unusually poor light conditions. Thirdly, the leaf was blown along the ground at just the right speed to resemble a scampering mouse. It turned over and over giving the impression of a something running. Fourthly, I think recent rain contributed both to the dark overall appearance of the leaf and its unusual rolling motion. I saw the 'mouse' for a couple of seconds initially and was completely convinced at the time that I was watching an animal. It was only when it stopped and 'vanished' that I began to wonder. The vanishing act is easily explained - the wind suddenly dropped the leaf so that it fell flat on the ground.

And the picture? Well I was looking for a photo of autumn leaves and I found this one with a nice bit of lens flare, right of centre, to add anomalous interest.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Grey fuzzy thing!

One winged thingYet another strange photo (right)! This one shows a grey fuzzy 'thing' attached to a thin branch at the top of a tree. The 'thing' has an appendage of some sort pointing out above while other appendages appear to attach it to the branch. The main body of the object appears more or less featureless. So what is this strange anomalous thing?

There are clues in the picture. The right end of the 'thing', including the vertical appendage, looks oddly fuzzy. The appendages at the left end are more sharply defined so the 'thing' cannot be out of focus. This suggests that motion blur is responsible for the fuzziness in part of the object. The position of the 'thing', on a branch, is also a big clue.

Bird by branchThe 'thing' is actually a small bird which has just taken off from the branch. Here is a zoomed view of the same photo (right). It is possible now to see that the blurred section at the right end, and the appendage, are fast moving wings. The 'appendages' by the branch are the bird's tail and one of the its legs stretched out having just let go of the branch.

I took this photo by accident. It was part of a sequence of photos of the bird on a branch. I deliberately 'zoomed out' the first version of the photo above. In many anomalous photos that I've seen it is not possible to get greater detail like this by zooming in because the resolution is too low. So you only have a photos like the zoomed out one above. It is also rare for there to be other photos taken of the same scene at the same time.

Unfortunately low resolution is a feature of many anomalous photos. The picture may be good enough to show its main subject well but the small 'anomaly' may not contain enough detail to determine its true nature.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Strange glowing yellow dots

Glowing yellow stuffThere are strange things everywhere if you look closely enough. Take the photo (right) here that I took recently. The picture shows a cobbled pavement covered in fallen leaves. But there is also something odd. There are lots of glowing yellow dots! What might they be?

The vast majority of photographic anomalies are found when a photo is examined after exposure. The anomaly was hardly ever seen at the time the photo was taken. This is significant because the photographer will often not remember much about the circumstances of the photo being taken after the event. This can result in 'unknown' human figures, taken to be ghosts, showing up when they were simply real people present but not noticed by the photographer at the time. When someone is concentrating on taking a photo they can easily not notice quite obvious things in the background of the picture.

Then there are other oddities whose explanation actually lies just outside the frame of the photo and which were, again, not noticed at the time. This picture is an example of that type of anomalous photo. Although the photo was taken in plain daylight, there was a streetlight on nearby. Its bright yellow light is being reflected in the wet street cobbles leading to the 'glowing yellow dots' seen here. Since streetlights are seldom on during daylight hours, it's not an obvious explanation to someone looking at the photo after the event.

So it is not a photographic artefact. The effect was 'out there' in the real world, not just in the camera. I DID notice it at the time, which is why I took the picture. However, it could easily have only been noticed after the event by someone who either forgot about the lit street light or never even noticed it at the time. It is a case of missing information being the key to explaining the effect. I get frustrated with many anomalous photos that I'm sure could be easily explained if only there was another picture available of the same scene taken from a different angle. In this case, a photo showing the lit street light would have helped! I often ask people with anomalous photos if any other pictures were taken at the same time. Sometimes there were and they can be really illuminating.

Thursday, 1 December 2016


Crows in tree A strange thing happened to me recently. I was at a meeting and went outside briefly. There, in a corridor, I passed someone who said hello to me. I didn't realise who it was until it was too late to say hello back. I hoped the person, who I know slightly, wasn't offended by my apparently ignoring them. I returned to the meeting.

Then something odd happened. I discovered that the person I'd seen in the corridor was not actually at the meeting at all, even though I'd expected them to be there. So who had I really seen - a doppelganger maybe? Looking round the room I saw someone there who resembled my acquaintance and might have been the person I really saw in the corridor. But the face, in particular, was quite different.

I was definitely convinced, at the time of the sighting, that I'd seen the person I know slightly. So much so that I was afraid I'd inadvertently offended them. But if it was someone else entirely, how could I have been so mistaken?

Though the obvious way to recognise someone is by their face, other aspects of a person's appearance or behaviour work too. One method of recognition is called gait analysis - recognizing someone by their walk - and it is surprisingly accurate (see here). It can work even when you don't get a good view of someone. Then there is a person's size and shape (see here). Again, it can work when you don't get a good view. I only saw the person in the corridor's face for a second or so but noticed their body for longer. Did I unconsciously, and incorrectly, 'recognise' them from things other than the face? If so, I believe I have an excuse.

I think there are two key points to consider with this incident which I believe was a misidentification of a real person, rather than a doppelganger sighting. Firstly, the person said 'hello' which started me thinking I knew them. This stranger may simply have said hello because we were both in the same meeting and so had a common interest. Secondly, I was definitely expecting the person I know slightly to be at that meeting. I think these factors may have biassed me towards 'recognising' an unfamiliar face.

Though I don't think it was a doppelganger, I think this incident is relevant to witness testimony of anomalous phenomena. There are anomalous incident reports, some ghost sightings for instance, where the witness may apparently recognise a human figure they see. In my experience of ghosts caused by misperception I've never recognised the figures. I have speculated that this is because our brains use an archetypal figure, rather than a specific remembered person, from visual memory in such incidents. But the features of misperceived figures are also determined by the shape of the actual object being misperceived. So maybe, on occasion, a misperceived figure might be 'recognised' as a specific person by a witness using such factors as perceived body shape and size. Obviously, with misperception there is no real figure to recognise but if it is 'identified' by a witness this reinforces the idea that it is a paranormal ghost.

I had previously thought when a ghost is positively identified by a witness that rules out misperception. I no longer think that. Also, I'm hoping that, in future, I might see an identifiable ghost myself, caused by misperception.