Monday, 18 September 2017

Seeing a 'strange bird'

JayAs a birder I'm occasionally asked by people to identify a 'strange bird' they've seen. They've never seen anything like it before and wonder if it might be rare. And here's the odd thing; it is almost always a Jay. Why?

The thing about Jays is that they are big, colourful, loud and hard to miss. Well they're hard to miss if you see one but they are also very secretive and rarely come out into the open. So when a non-birder sees one they think it must be rare because how else can they explain never have seen such an unmissable bird before. In fact, Jays are relatively common in Britain.

Seeing an animal you've never noticed before could, of course, lead to its being reported as a cryptid. While that's unlikely to happen for Jays, there are rarer animals in the UK that could be misreported as something truly strange.

The broader point here is that none of us are experts in everything we might happen to see when going about our everyday lives. While the vast majority of stuff we see will be familiar there will always be a few things that are not. And these few things that can give rise to xenonormal reports. The xenonormal is something which is unfamiliar (to the observer), but normal, that is taken to be anomalous or paranormal.

I mention all this because I happened to see a Jay yesterday, the first in a while, and it reminded me that this is the time of year when you are most likely to see one. They are easier to see in the autumn because they are busy finding acorns, hazelnuts and other food to bury for winter provisions.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Opening the door to precognition?

Sun behind treeHas my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experienced a genuine case of precognition? MA was in a MWR when the startling incident occurred. It was a 'being somewhere else' type MWR where none of the real surroundings were visible. In the MWR, MA saw a door closing. It was so close that it actually hit MA on the arm. This caused MA to wake from the microsleep. It then emerged that MA really had bit touched by someone's hand causing the awakening! But this is where it gets truly weird!

It is well known that real life sensations, like the sound of an alarm clock going off, can get incorporated into dreams. So there's nothing mysterious about feeling a touch while dreaming. But in MA's MWR the door was observed closing before it 'hit' MA, which is when it was felt. In other words, MA somehow anticipated being touched before it actually happened despite seeing none of the real scene. Is it precognition or could there be another explanation?

Could MA have heard the approaching hand? It seems unlikely as the other person was not wearing noisy clothing. Nor was this person sitting a on noisy seat! Or, given that during MWRs the brain is only partially asleep, might MA's eye have actually detected the approaching arm even though MA could not consciously see it? Or was it a brain 'time trick'? It is possible, for instance, that the 'dream door' started to move at the actual moment when the unconscious bit of MA's brain felt the real touch. The sensation of the touch was only then 'played' later in the dream when the 'door' appeared to hit MA. Does the brain play such time tricks in dreams? I don't know but it seems entirely possible. It is well-known that in misperception, the way visual objects are substituted is to 'make sense' of a poorly seen object. So the door may have been used to make sense of the unexpected touch.

It is not easy to study dreams using conventional sleep. That's because dreams are typically forgotten quickly when someone is woken from normal sleep. However, with MWRs the brain is only partly asleep and this seems to allow dreams to be remembered more easily and in detail. MA is often easily able to recall bizarre phrases spoken during such MWR episodes (see here), something difficult with ordinary dreams. It occurs to me that MWRs might be a good way of studying how dreams work. And it might emerge that the brain does indeed mess around with the order of events in dreams.

Or maybe MWRs can really open the door to precognition.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Historic figure and fame quandary

Sun behind treeRecently, as I walked into a hotel reception area, it felt eerily like stepping into a time slip. There were around half a dozen people there dressed in clothes from another era. I'm no historian but I would guess at early nineteenth century. The people could have been ghosts, though I doubt it. They were interacting with other people, in contemporary dress, in a way that suggested they were real life people*.

I'm sure many apparent ghost sightings are caused by ordinary people who happen to be dressed in historic costumes. There are all sorts of reasons why people might be seen in public spaces dressed in such a way. Examples include historic re-enactments, fancy dress parties, parades and pageants. Sometimes the participants in such events have to travel to them in costume. This is a good example of how a real life person can cause an apparent ghost sighting!

In other news, I saw a fairly well-known actor, seen regularly on UK TV, on a train just over one week into the month. I have no doubt about it being famous person, unlike my last 'sighting' (see here). The question I have is whether I can include the record in 'fame month' , which was August. For more on this see here.

*This raises an interesting question. Has there ever been a ghost report where a witness observed an apparition interact with a third party, who was not a ghost? I can't think one!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Moving aerial mystery

crowIt was odd! A TV aerial on top of a two-storey house was rocking quite violently. The thing was, there wasn't a breath of wind. All the leaves in the trees and bushes in the vicinity were completely still. The aerial continued to rock for several minutes, all with still no sign of the slightest breeze in the area. Once it stopped moving, the aerial then remained perfectly still. So what strange force had propelled it?

To explain that I need give the full sequence of events. I happened to glance at the aerial just before before seeing it in motion. Then I looked away for a few seconds before looking back to see the aerial moving. However, in my initial observation I saw a crow on the aerial. In the subsequent view, when the aerial was rocking, the bird had gone. It was clear that the force of the bird taking off had set the aerial rocking.

I often say in these blogs that if I hadn't noticed something or other before, or during, a strange incident I would still be puzzling over it now. In this case that is actually what happened! When I first saw the aerial moving I was genuinely puzzled, especially when I saw not a single leaf nearby moving. It was only then that I recalled seeing the crow previously! Though I have a terrible memory I don't think it is to blame for this incident. It was, rather, a failure to connect the crow to moving aerial in my mind, at first. I think that was because I never actually saw the bird take off. And if I hadn't made the connection, I might still be puzzling over the mysterious incident.

This illustrates how a witness may have actually seen the cause of an otherwise mysterious incident but not realised it. It shows the value of carefully interviewing witnesses to anomalous incidents. It is worth asking not just about the mysterious occurrence itself but everything else that was going on before and around it.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

On not seeing foxes

Perspective foxAs an amateur naturalist (as well as a paranormal researcher) I take a keen interest in local wildlife. Sometimes the two interests combine as in the case of the 'garden poltergeist' (see here). I have noticed, for instance, that urban foxes appear surprisingly tolerant of humans. I've seen them sitting motionless, watching people go by just a few metres away. They only react if the people move directly towards them. I think I know why this happens - it's because most people never even notice the foxes present. I've seen people walk right past foxes so close they could not possibly miss seeing them, but it appears they do. People are not great at noticing things.

The relevance of this to the paranormal is this. Someone might see an object every day when they walk past it but never actually notice it. But suppose, on one particular day, the object is brought to their attention for some reason. That person may be convinced that the object has suddenly 'appeared' that day, having never been there before. If it turns out that there is evidence that the object must have been there for a long time, and the witness could not possibly have missed seeing it, they might conclude that something paranormal is going on.

Noticing things is a strange process. The other day I was walking along a narrow path when someone suddenly came the other way. I looked at the person briefly but noticed noteworthy about them. But then, seconds later, I realised I knew the face. It was a moderately famous actor I'd seen several times on TV. How had it taken me several seconds to realise this important fact (given that it is fame month!). I think it worked like this. I saw the person and the unconscious bit of my brain recognised them. However, it took several seconds for my brain to process the fact that, although the face was familiar, from TV, it was not one I'd ever seen in real life before. Only then did the unconscious bit of my brain pass this important information on to the conscious bit. Probably. However it works, noticing things is complicated and humans are not generally good at it. I'm sure this general inability to notice stuff contributes to many reports of the paranormal.

Sadly, I don't think I can count the encounter as a hit for fame month. I only saw the person for a couple of seconds and I might have been mistaken. All the previous celebrities I've seen have been visible for much longer. So with fame month drawing to an end it looks as if I've missed out this time.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Identifiable ghosts part 2

Sun behind treeI saw someone I knew in the street recently. Not being great at small talk, I mentally prepared a few questions to ask while walking towards them. As a result I wasn't looking at the person too closely. So it came as a shock when I finally reached the person and realised it was not who I thought it was at all. The person in front of me was similar but not the one I know. So far, so unremarkable except for one thing. When I first saw the person it WAS them! It wasn't someone LIKE them. If I'd been asked at the time I would have said without hesitation that it was the person I knew.

It was clearly a misperception. My brain had visually substituted the person actually there with an image from my memory. So I actually SAW who I thought it was, rather than the real person. The location may be significant. It was a place where I often see the person I know. So there would have been some psychological expectation playing a part, I'm sure.

I mentioned in my last post how someone might see an apparently identifiable ghost from a MWR. Now I have an example of how someone might see an identifiable ghost through misperception too. In this case it was a real person who got misidentified but I think it could also happen with an inanimate object, depending on its visual appearance.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Identifiable ghosts

Sun behind treeHere is an imagined scene: "Witness A is visiting a stately home. He sits in the deserted garden to rest briefly on a hot summer's day. He notices someone walking across the lawn towards him. The person appears vaguely familiar. Then, astonishingly, the figure instantly vanishes! Witness A is shocked. He walks back into the main house that he has looked around already. He makes his way to the Great North Hall. He scans the portraits of former owners of the house along the wall. Just as he suspected there, between Edgar the Envious and Unwin the Unwavering is the man he saw on the lawn - Simon the Steady! So, a ghost then!"

And what is the point of this entirely fictional account? Well, it concerns a recent experience of MA (my acquaintance) who experiences MWRs (regular readers please accept usual lack of apology passim). In this particular MWR, MA was apparently 'transported' to a completely different scene. There, MA saw a rather animated man talking and pacing around restlessly. MA could not make out exactly what the man was saying. Then something unprecedented in MA's experience happened. The man froze to immobility and the surrounding scene faded away. Suddenly all MA could see of the man was his head. This then changed from looking normal and perfectly real into what looked like a painted portrait. Done in pastel shades, it was a good likeness but not photographic accuracy. It was, without doubt, as painting. Finally the image vanished and MA came out of the MWR. This MWR was unusually intense and felt very real, despite its surreal content.

This rather bizarre MWR got me thinking. Does this process also go the the other way? Do paintings of people we've never met get animated into realistic walking, taking recognisable people by our brains in MWRs? If a witness saw a portrait of someone said to haunt the area could it lead to an experience like the fictional one at the start of this post? It might explain some sightings of ghosts identified only from paintings!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Fame month again!

UFOAnd now a confession! It's 'fame month' (see here for explanation) once again. Unlike previous fame months I actually remembered it was coming this time. That might explain how I caught myself deliberately looking around at people in a restaurant recently. Yes, I was looking just in case there was anyone famous there. There wasn't! I hadn't done it consciously, at least not to start with. Once I realised what I was doing, I stopped.

It felt like cheating, but was it? My only rule is that I should not do anything that I would not normally do. I don't actually have a rule against looking all around, just in case. Such a rule would normally be superfluous as most of the time I forget it's even fame month. But it would appear that the unconscious part of my brain may be remembering for me, on occasion. But will it really bias the results?

Although looking for celebrities will obviously reduce the odds of seeing one, I think the effect would be tiny. That's because there still has to be a celebrity physically present to spot. And that is still highly unlikely, given that I don't deliberately visit places where celebrities are likely to be seen, like stage doors. So, do I think that my unconsciously being on the look out for celebrities during 'fame month' will explain the phenomenon? No I don't. None seen so far, by the way.

And the photo (above right)? I took it recently and when I first saw it displayed on a screen it appeared to show a UFO against a gloomy sky. It's the dark blob half way up, just right of centre. There was no UFO obvious visible at the time of exposure. It is, in fact, a cable car. You might be able to make out the cable if you look carefully, depending on the display you're using.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A psychic message?

Sun behind treeOnce again, I'm not going to apologize for discussing more fascinating experiences from MA (my acquaintance) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR). A recent experience marks yet another first and a highly significant one. It was a 'voice MWR'. This means MA heard a voice, even though there was no one else around, while still seeing the actual physical scene ahead normally. MA has had countless such voice MWRs but it was what this one said that so interesting.

Generally such voice MWRs sound like a snatch of an overheard conversation, from an unknown speaker, which is not apparently directed at MA. But on this occasion the few words included MA's name! What is more, the voice was one familiar to MA, someone who could not possibly have been present!

Unlike the previous 'voice MWRs', this sounded like a personal message from someone known to MA. As such, it had an emotional resonance. It is easy to see how, to someone unaware of the true nature of MWRs, this voice could easily have been interpreted as a personal psychic message, maybe telepathy.

MWRs are basically very short dreams. MWRs frequently mix real life sensory input with dreams, showing that the brain is only partially asleep. This 'partial sleep' is probably why MWR content is more easily recalled than normal sleeping dreams being a lighter sleep state. Research has revealed that dreaming uses the same brain areas as those used while awake to access episodic memory. In other words, dreams use memories of things that have happened to you. This agrees with the findings of dream researcher Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys (see here for more on this). Research also shows that the most vivid and bizarre dreams are also associated with activity in the amygdala and hippocampus. Both these brain areas are associated with memory formation with the amygdala important for emotional content.

Given this research, this latest 'name' MWR is easy to understand as it involves a memory of a particular person known to MA, someone who would have spoken MA's name many times. What is odd is the fact that the vast majority of voice MWRs are apparently random phrases (see here for examples), as if from casually overheard conversations, by people unknown to MWR. These presumably come from MA's memory but they sound unfamiliar.

One possibility is that they consist of various bits of real memories combined randomly together in an unfamiliar way. The Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys concluded that dreams are just that - our own recollections rearranged and presented back to us in an unfamiliar and often bizarre way. But does that really apply on such a small scale as a spoken phrase or short sentence? Maybe it does. If not, then MA must have heard those actual phrases at some time but cannot recall them consciously. This is perfectly possible. Think of all the TV we watch these days. There are a great many words spoken but the exact phrases are generally forgotten almost instantly. But perhaps some, at least, remain in the unconscious brain only accessible through things like dreams or MWRs. There is some support for this idea in a previous experience when MA recognised a voice heard as a a well-known male public figure (see here for account)! Maybe MA actually heard the person say it on TV. And maybe some of the other voice MWRs are snatches of conversations casually overheard in the street, for instance! It may be a case of cryptomnesia, in fact.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Like time standing still!

ClockMA heard a song, an original song, while reading. The song did not come from any electronic device or a human singer. It was just there. MA hears such original songs quite often these days. It is just a pity MA is not musical otherwise the tunes could be written down as original compositions! Whether these mysterious tunes are actually any good is quite another question*.

But something different happened this time. MA was reading but became stuck on the same sentence for the duration of the music. Only when it was finished did the reading continue. Nothinmg like this has ever happened before. So what does it mean? And what has it to do with the paranormal?

Regular readers will know that MA is 'my acquaintance' who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. These are microsleeps that go straight into a dream state. MA's MWRs fall into two broad categories - voices and visual. The 'visual' phenomenon are totally immersive, like virtual reality. MA is sometimes 'transported' to somewhere completely different. There is also a variation where the scene is the same as the one where MA actually is but with some significant differences (like the train ghost). The 'voices' phenomenon is not immersive and MA continues to see what is going on in the real world.

This latest experience was of the 'voices' type. Some of these experiences are in the form of songs, original ones, never heard by MA before. What made this latest experience unique was that MA stopped reading during the song. It was not a voluntary act. MA simply could not read while the song was being heard, even though the words on the page remained plainly visible throughout. So what's going on?

There are a number of possible explanations for this experience. It could be that MA was distracted by the song and stopped reading. MA insists, however, that it did not feel like that. A second possibility is that MA was unable to concentrate on both reading and listening to music and so could not read while the song was heard. MA doesn't think it felt like that either.

Then there's the possibility that the MWR completely 'took over' MA's brain, like an ordinary sleeping dream. In this scenario, MA's brain was no longer processing sensory inputs but simply 'replaying' the last thing it saw in a sort of loop, like a DVD on pause. That would be pretty weird, if true!

How can we tell if that last possibility was true? Well, if MA noticed any changes in the scene during the experience, like the page moving, it would show that 'live' sensory input was still getting through. MA did not notice any such changes. However, MWRs are short, typically a few seconds, so it's entirely possible that there WERE no visual changes during that period of time. For now the question must remain open until a new similar experience comes along which might provide evidence one way or the other.

And what has this to do with paranormal experiences? Well, MWRs are a rare, but quite normal, phenomenon usually caused by certain kinds of sleep disorder. Anyone experiencing such MWRs who did not know their true cause could easily interpret them as paranormal experiences. And the more we learn about the nature of MWRs the more easily we can recognise them. If this experience really IS like a DVD on pause it might be interpreted, if there was no accompanying music, by a witness as like time briefly standing still! And that really would be a very strange experience indeed.

*It should be easier for any would-be music composer to get new tunes from MWRs than from ordinary sleeping dreams. That's because MWRs are remembered in much better detail. MA can usually recall exact words spoken in voice MWRs, for instance, so why not exact notes and lyrics in the musical variation?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Invisible ghosts?

Apparent figureOne of the commonly held beliefs about ghosts is that are usually invisible, only appearing very rarely as human figures. I have often wondered where this belief comes from. Could it come from actual witness evidence? In a previous look at this topic (here) I pointed out that visible ghosts are sometimes observed to vanish. One interpretation of this might be that they are going from a visible to an invisible state.

Well, my recent experience in the rain (here) suggests a second line of witness evidence - a sense of presence. This consists of a definite feeling that there is someone nearby who ought to be visible but is not. This certainly sounds like an invisible ghost. There is also a third line of evidence - haunting activity. Such activity, like object movement, is assumed by some to be caused by an invisible ghost. A fourth line of evidence is that apparent human figures sometimes appear in photos when no one was seen at the time of exposure (see photo right).

All of this suggests that, unlike some beliefs about ghosts, the 'invisible ghost' idea may be derived from real ghost cases. However, this does not necessarily mean that the evidence actually supports the idea of invisible ghosts.

Take vanishing human figures, for instance. Many ghost sightings are found, on careful investigation, to be caused by misperception or hallucination. Vanishing acts are common in cases of misperception because such misperceptions frequently 'break' when the object being misperceived becomes better seen. And when hallucinations end, so do any human figures they contain (see the train ghost near sleep experience, for example). Photos of ghosts are often found to be photographic artefacts.

My own experiences with a sense of presence suggests that they can have xenonormal causes, like certain natural sounds. And a problem with haunting activity is that visible apparitions are not actually observed moving objects or performing other haunting activities. Indeed, in many haunting cases, no apparition is ever seen at all. It appears to be an assumption that ghosts cause these activities rather than a demonstrable fact (see here for more on this).

So I can now see how the idea of invisible ghosts is probably based on real ghost cases. However, in my opinion, there still seems to be no compelling evidence for the existence of invisible ghosts.

PS: The photo? Can you see a human figure in it? No such figure was seen at the time of exposure. See here for the story behind the picture.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sense of presence in the rain!

RaindropsI turned and looked for the third time but there was still no one there! This was despite distinctly hearing someone shuffling about behind me on each occasion. So, a ghost then!

I was in a nature reserve hide. For those not familiar with such buildings, they generally resemble a wooden garden shed, as this one did. In this example, there were windows at the front to observe wildlife, unobserved by animals. At the back was an open door. There was a wooden boardwalk leading up to the door. I was sitting watching birds through the front window when I heard someone coming into the hide behind me. When they did not come to the front window I looked round, out of curiosity, but there was no one there. This happened twice more. It definitely felt very odd!

I worked out, after a while, what was causing this 'sense of presence' phenomenon to occur. It was the sound of heavy rain on the hide roof and boardwalk. The sound, on occasion, resembled someone shuffling along the boardwalk or wooden floor of the hide. Though I've been to this hide many times before, this was the first time I'd been there during heavy rain. That was probably why I'd never heard this 'presence' phenomenon there before. I felt the sense of presence so strongly that I looked three times, despite seeing no one on each occasion.

I have, of course, had a sense of presence before, also caused by sound (see here and here for instance - note how 'shuffling' is the same adjective used). This latest example was in a completely different location and situation to the previous examples. It suggests that natural sounds may produce a sense of presence in many different circumstances. This examples is the most powerful I've come across so far.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Demonstrating precognition

Sun behind treeI was thinking about precognition the other day, as one does. I came to the conclusion, despite some apparently excellent examples around, that precognition is surprisingly difficult to demonstrate. Here are some hypothetical examples to demonstrate what I mean.

Example 1: Witness A has a strong feeling that event A is about to happen and it does, within a day. On the face of it this looks like a good demonstration of precognition.

Example 2: Witness B has a strong feeling that event B is about to happen and it does, within a day. Yes it's the same as example 1. However, further research reveals that witness B has strong feelings about the future several times a week and has done so for over a decade. This is the first time any of B's premonitions have come true.

Example 3: Witness C reads about event C in a newspaper and suddenly remembers she had a dream about just such an event the night before.

OK, firstly, examples 1 and 2 are identical in what actually occurs - a witness feels something will happen and it does. However, in example 2 the witness has had so many such premonitions, which were all wrong until now, that far from appearing incredibly unlikely, the final correct prediction almost seems inevitable!

Secondly, in example 3 witness C only remembers the dream after reading the newspaper. So how many dreams has the witness had which did not apparently predict any real life event? The answer is probably rather a lot. It is, in effect, the same situation as with witness B. The main difference is that witness C has forgotten all the dreams that did not come true whereas witness B may remember many at least some of their previous wrong predictions. Also, witness C did not initially see the dream as precognitive while B thought their feeling was. Question: if you only realise you've predicted the future after it has happened, but didn't think it was a premonition at the time, is it precognition?

Thirdly, there is the question of what constitutes a correct prediction. Suppose witness 4 dreams about event 4 which actually occurs. The essential events in the dream and event D are the same, However, there are many details in the dream that are different to event D. Also, many additional things happen in the dream than do not occur in the real life event D. Do all these differences count against this being a hit or not? I have, incidentally, seen many examples of this where there are a number of material differences between the prediction and event but it is still counted as a hit. I'm not so sure.

Fourthly, there is the question of symbolism. Do we accept a prediction as being fulfilled if it relies on symbolism rather than a literal description of the actual event? Again, I'm not so sure.

When I view some remarkable-sounding examples of precognition against these points many start to sound rather less amazing. I think when it comes to judging examples of precognition it is a case of "it's complicated".

Monday, 10 July 2017

Looking at an angle but seeing level

Perspective foxThere is something wrong with this photo (right), to me at least. The photo appears to be taken at the same height as the fox's head, looking straight at it. The thing is, the picture was taken from above at an angle I've calculated as at least 40 degrees.

The first question is this: do other people agree that the photo looks to be taken at fox head level? If not, then it is misperception and some people will see it straight ahead while others won't. If anyone sees the fox as if from above, please let me know (here). I have seen this effect before in other photos (see below). However, I've never seen the effect when simply looking at an object with the naked eye so I assume it's a photographic artefact.

So next question: what might cause such a photographic artefact / misperception? First clue: the photo was taken with a telephoto lens. This introduces a perspective distortion, namely flattening the scene. In other words it 'compresses' the scene so that objects appear closer to each other than they really are in real life. For instance, the out-of-focus leaves in the foreground look close to the fox but they are many centimetres from it.

I think such flattening of perspective may be part of the answer. I think also the lack of a visual cues to the angle of view is important. If the fox was near a fence or wall, for instance, I think would be obvious what the angle of view was. The fact that a camera has one lens may also be a factor as this removes the stereo vision that allows us humans to get a 3-D view with our eyes.

StorkI have come across other examples and here is one (right). This clearly shows a flying stork, apparently from the same height as the bird. However, it was taken from the ground and I would estimate that the stork was at an elevation of at least 30 degrees. Once again, a telephoto lens was used and there are a lack of visual cues in the background to the angle of view. And once again the point of view has been 'changed' to look at the object as if it were straight ahead.

It appears as if the viewer's brain is 'rotating' the image to make objects appear straight ahead, for some reason,. I don't know why but if anyone does, please let me know. More examples would help in solving this puzzle. Whatever the reason, it is clear that photos do not always show objects at a correct angle. This is worth bearing in mind when examining photos with few objects in them, such as views of the sky. Such photos may give a false impression of where the photo was taken from which could be vital in understanding any anomaly in the picture.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

One possible explanation for some haunting sounds

Sun behind treeI realise I've mentioned my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) several times recently. I don't apologize fore this as MA keeps reporting novel phenomena from MWR episodes. Each such novel phenomenon increases the range of apparently paranormal reports that MWRs might explain. So what's happened now?

Well, MA's MWRs fall into two broad categories - voices and visual. The 'visual' phenomenon are totally immersive, like virtual reality. MA is sometimes 'transported' to somewhere completely different. There is also a variation where the scene is the same as the one where MA actually is but with some significant differences (like the train ghost). The 'voices' phenomenon is not immersive and MA continues to see what is going on in the real world. It sounds like snatches of an overheard conversation which are usually nothing to do with MA. There was a notable new variation recently where MA's own voice appeared in such an episode.

The latest novelty was in such a 'voice' phenomenon. In addition to a voice there was the sound of a heavy lorry driving by. When MA 'woke' from the MWR both 'voice' and 'lorry' stopped instantly. This is the first time such a 'voice' MWR has involved sounds other than actual voices. It clearly demonstrates that these 'voice' MWRs can extend to a broader soundscape involving other noises. It is also perfectly possibly that MA has had 'sound' MWRs involving no voices but other non-real noises instead! These would not have been as obvious as voices in a room where MA was alone and so might have been dismissed as 'normal'.

Inexplicable sounds are probably the commonest phenomena reported in haunting cases. So a witness who was getting MWRs, not realizing their true cause, might hear strange, inexplicable sounds that could be attributed to a ghost. MWRs are typically a symptom of certain sleeping disorders. Sleep disorders often go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, for years, sometimes for an entire lifetime. So there is likely to be a small but significant percentage of the population who experience MWRs without realizing what they are. And, as MA's experiences have shown, these experiences could easily be misinterpreted as paranormal experiences, including haunting phenomena.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

More real than actual reality!

Sun behind treeI am often struck by how witnesses are completely convinced they've experienced something paranormal even when there is a compelling xenonormal explanation for their experience. Having experienced many misperceptions I can understand this. Such misperceptions are drawn from visual memory so they are look absolutely real. You don't see something resembling a human figure, you see a real person!

Now I've come across an experience that feels even more real than reality! That is what my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) told me about a recent experience. MA was witnessing a dramatic 'incident' in a room when suddenly it vanished. Instead, MA was suddenly sitting on a moving train with nothing remotely unusual occurring. Baffled. MA thought it must be an unwelcome MWR. However, the train scene persisted and MA realised that it was the train that was real, not the 'incident'!

This is the first time that MA has ever been confused about what is reality and what a MWR. While MWRs feel real at the time, it is always obvious they were a dream straight afterwards (to MA who is used to MWRs). But not in this case, at least not for a few seconds. The dramatic incident felt more real than actual reality! So why was this?

It seems that the dramatic MWR was much more emotionally engaging than the humdrum reality of the train journey. Indeed, MA longed to return to the MWR to see how the incident unfolded but it was not possible. MWRs cannot be artificially induced. Or can they - a fertile area for future research perhaps? Anyone who experiences MWRs and does not realise what they are could easily think they were experiencing something paranormal and very real.

So what does tell us about apparent anomalous incidents actually caused by MWRs, or indeed misperception? I would speculate that it is the emotional engagement in the MWR/misperception that makes it feel profoundly real. MA said that the MWR felt like suddenly seeing a previously unseen scene from a favorite TV drama. It was immediately engrossing and felt profoundly authentic.

This may well explain how xenonormal experiences can feel utterly real. Many witnesses continue to believe the paranormal explanation for such an experience even though they can see how the xenonormal explanation fits well. It may be that the witness's emotional engagment in the dramatic content of the experience is more important even than that what they believe about the paranormal.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Pale figure at a window

Sun behind treeWalking along a suburban street the other day something caught my eye. There was a very pale human figure in an upper floor window of a house ahead of me. I couldn't help but think 'ghost'. This was despite the fact that ghosts are usually reported to look like perfectly normal people (see here). The pale or white ghost appears to be largely a convention of movies rather than real apparition cases.

So, I was intrigued by this unusually pale figure. I watched it continuously as I walked closer to the house. The 'figure' changed shape as I moved, getting larger and losing all resemblance to a person. I realised the pale shape was the reflection of a nearby tree. It looked pale due to the lighting conditions and because it was a reflection.

It was yet another example of a coincidence causing an anomalous observation. If I'd noticed the shape just before or after the moment when I did it would never have resembled a ghostly figure at all. And if the lighting conditions had been different it would never have looked so strangely pale.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Is that my voice?

Sun behind treeMy acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) has had possibly the weirdest experience yet! MA was just talking when there came the unmistakable feeling of coming out of what was clearly a MWR. A witness was present and could confirm that MA had, in fact, said nothing and looked asleep. MA was, however, aware of the real surroundings exactly as they were and felt there was nothing wrong until 'waking up'.

Usually in MWRs, MA is a passive observer, or listener, to what is going on. But on this occasion clearly MA was speaking out loud though the witness heard nothing. This, then shows that MWRs are not always passive experiences. This would appear to border on lucid dreaming. However, MA experienced it as listening to a voice which was clearly MA's own but was not consciously aware of speaking voluntarily. I've had a feeling like this myself in everyday life when doing public speaking! It is certainly a strange aspect of MWRs that could explain yet more apparently anomalous experiences.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

White flying object

White flying objectSo, here's a UFO picture I took recently (right). I suppose, technically, it's not a UFO because I knew what it was when I took the photo. However, when I looked at the picture later I was struck by how it resembled a classic flying saucer. It is pure white with a shiny metallic look to it.

People routinely discover human figures (or objects resembling them) in photos that they did not notice at the time of exposure. They are often interpreted as ghosts. I have also come across this phenomenon with UFOs. People will notice an object in the sky in a photo when they saw nothing there at the time of exposure. If it is recognisable as a plane, balloon, cloud or some other mundane object, that is the end of it. But if it is not obviously recognisable, it may get reported as a UFO.

The very fact that a figure is only seen in a photo, but not at the time of exposure, is enough for people to think it might be a ghost. This relies on the commonly held belief that there are invisible ghosts. I'm not convinced that such invisible ghosts exist, as I discussed previously here. But I can see how something appearing in a photo, but not noticed at the time of exposure, might be considered paranormal. I guess a similar argument could be made for UFOs. If it really was an alien craft then some kind of invisibility would probably be an easy thing to do compared with interstellar space travel.

However, as always in such cases, it is entirely possible that the photographer simply missed what was plainly visible at the time. They may have been paying attention to the subject of the photo, not some object in the background. Another possible explanation for such pictures is a photographic artefact. In other words, the object in the photo is not what it appears at first sight to be. And that is the explanation here.

White flying object detailThe white flying object is actually a bird. Here (left) is a zoomed version of the object cropped from the same photo. The apparent 'saucer' shape is caused by the way the bird is holding its wings at the precise moment the photo is taken. Had the picture been taken at a slightly different time it would never have looked like a saucer. Had the photo been of lower resolution it would not have been possible to zoom in and get the extra detail required to show the true nature of the object. It might, then, have remained a mystery. This is, then, yet another example of a coincidence causing an apparent anomalous incident.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Ghostly object movement


Sun behind treeOne of the ways I address my poor memory is to leave important things in the same place. Always! As a system it works pretty well. So when an object I use as lot was not in its usual place recently, for the first time ever as far as I can remember, I couldn't even begin to imagine where it might be. I tried searching in obvious, less obvious and downright unlikely places, to no avail.
Then, suddenly, it came to me. Like many people I have habitual routines. These are also useful for coping with a poor memory. I remembered that one thing I habitually do every day had been unexpectedly interrupted that morning. Sure enough, when I went to look there was the object I'd lost, exactly where it would be if I'd failed to complete my normal routine.
This would all be pretty trivial were it not that object movement and disappearance are quite commonly reported aspects of hauntings. I wonder how may such reported disappearances or object movements are actually simply people leaving things in places they wouldn't normally do and then forgetting what they've done. Of course, this sort of thing happens to everyone from time to time and most people will think nothing of it. But if several such events happen over a short period of time someone might start to suspect a ghostly presence! And this is more likely if someone already thinks the place they are in is haunted. It is yet another case of coincidence causing apparent anomalous phenomena.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ghost in a high visibility vest?

Sun behind treeI was on as train when I noticed someone in a high visibility vest beside the track. It was a familiar sight to anyone who regularly travels by train. I idly watched the person as the train drew closer to them. Suddenly, to my surprise, I realised the 'person' wasn't a person at all! As the viewing angle changed, the 'person' turned into a trackside sign with a bright yellow portion. It was clearly a case of misperception. Had I looked away, instead of watching the 'person' continuously, and then back again seconds later I might easily have concluded that the figure had vanished and that it was a ghost.

Regular readers will have noted that I have misperceived rail signs as human figures several times. It is a recurring cause of misperception, like trees and bushes, discussed in the last post. I had not expected signs to be a frequent source of misperceived figures before I started to notice them. I guess it makes sense, though.

Many rail signs consist of a post with the actual sign on top at a similar height to a human head. The bit that doesn't fit is the post. Surely, it is far too thin to resemble a human torso. However, I've noticed many of the signs are seen from some distance away (as in this case) or are partly obscured by something nearby, like a bush. Also, such sightings are frequently made from a moving transport vehicle, making viewing transient. Taken together, these factors can make viewing conditions difficult which always encourages misperception. So it makes some sense after all.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Green man

TreeI don't know much about the green man. I've seen carvings on buildings, of course, but I'm not aware of any sightings of actual green men in the wild. So I was intrigued to find this object (right) in a recent photo I took. The dark tall, narrow bush in the middle of the photograph resembles the proportions of a human figure. But what struck me was a fairly obvious (to me anyway) face at the top of the 'figure'. It is, apparently looking towards the right. This is a misperception so it is entirely possible that other people won't see it, even though it's obvious to me. Whether you can see it will also depend on what device you are using to view the photo.

BushI can even still see the 'face' in a cropped version of the photo (left) which makes the image appear bigger. In this version, the 'face' is just above the centre of the frame. I can quite clearly see a nose, eyes and a bright area above suggesting a forehead. A light 'chin' is also outlined by a dark line below.

Given that the face is clearly made up of leaves it gives the impression of a classic green man carving. Though I see a 'face' in my misperception, it is clearly not a human face. The substituted image (from visual memory) is probably that of a green man carving rather than any real face.

Many of the misperceptions I've seen in recent years have been of trees or bushes as human figures. One reason for this is, I imagine, is that bushes or small trees can have similar sizes and proportions to a human figure. This does not explain how apparent faces are often seen too. This is, I imagine, is down to the complex patterns formed by leaves. It will also depend crucially on the illumination. Putting these factors, illumination and presence of leaves, together means that 'faces' and 'figures' probably only appear at certain specific times. This is one of the problems with investigating misperception, unless you can reproduce the exact conditions of the original observation, the misperception may not appear again.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ghost in a crowd

Sun behind treeI have said, on several occasions, in this blog that I would probably not notice a ghost in a crowd. I have often wondered how such a ghost might be spotted. A recent incident means that now I think I know! Ghosts are usually reported as looking indistinguishable from normal people. It is only when they do something unusual, like disappear, that their true ghostly nature is revealed. This is why one might not notice a ghost in a crowd.

I was standing in the audience at a concert, recently. It was dark and the crowd was tightly packed allowing little room to move. However, there were always a few people moving through the crowd. I found it annoying because I got jostled. I noticed one man heading my way and prepared for the expected disturbance but it didn't come. He went right by me and I felt nothing! Then I realised I hadn't seen him jostle anyone in front of me either. Suddenly remembering ghosts, I turned round to see what effect he was having on the crowd behind me. But there was no sign of him. It was as though he'd had no physical contact with the dense crowed and then vanished! So, a ghost in a crowd, then!

So could there be a xenonormal ex[planation for this observation? There are certainly factors that point that way. Firstly, I only remembered not seeing him physically interact with the people in front of me - I wasn't actually watching them closely at the time. So it could be memory affected by expectation. Secondly, when I turned round there was a gap behind me, no doubt because I am tall! But I only turned round after a second or so, as I realised something odd had happened. The man could have traversed that gap easily in that time and once beyond would be difficult to see in the dark. Thirdly, it's possible that the man had gone past me so carefully that he hadn't touched me despite the tiny gap. Even so, it still felt very odd overall and I wasn't sure at all!

Luckily, a few minutes later, the same man returned going in the other direction. And this time he did indeed touch me as he passed by. So he definitely was physically present! I concluded he was not a ghost after all.

PS: Some readers may have noticed that I seem to often have strange experiences at concerts. I've no idea right now about why that might be!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Ghostly sound

Sun behind treeAs I closed the door I heard the sound of a plastic bag being scrunched. Nothing odd about that except that I was sure I'd moved the plastic bag I'd placed there earlier. So I opened the door again and looked. I was right - no plastic bag! So, a ghost bag then!

I was truly puzzled by this anomalous event for a while until a little later when I discovered the explanation. I found another plastic bag, not far from, but out of sight of, the door. What was interesting about this bag was that it contained a small heavy object and it was not where I had left it shortly before the anomalous incident. It was clear that the bag had fallen from the somewhat precarious position I'd left it in, on top of a pile of stuff. I put things in this position frequently and they often fall off. Why do I continue to do this? Habit and a bizarre optimism that I can place an object carefully enough so that 'this time' it will not fall. Mostly, though, it is because the pile of stuff is in a convenient position to put things temporarily.

I have no doubt that the scrunching noise was the 'precarious bag' falling with its heavy load causing most of the noise. That it happened just as I was closing a nearby door is a coincidence - the cause of many anomalous reports. Another aspect of the coincidence is that I'd put another plastic bag behind the door earlier so that one COULD have been there, but wasn't.

I've experienced this sort of coincidence, where performing some movement corresponds with an unrelated sound, many times. For instance, I have touched an object gently only to hear a loud bang (caused by something else). At the time I was shocked but it always turned out to be a 'sound coincidence'. I'm sure readers have had similar experiences.

I experience these 'sound coincidences' so often that I need to come up with a snappy name for them. Do I notice such things more than other people? I've no idea. Nor do I know how frequent such coincidences are. It is easy to see., however, how such things could appear paranormal, particularly if they happen at a haunted location and the witness does not realise the true explanation.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

An odd ghost

Sun behind treeI noticed an intriguing diminutive human figure in the street but not for long. After just a second or two it vanished! So, a ghost then! I thought it was odd, even for a ghost, and afterwards I realised why.

The figure was walking along a sunlit pavement. When I saw it, most of the figure was concealed behind a foreground tree, which was in shadow. I soon realised that the figure was a result of misperception caused by the foreground tree. But here's the weird bit. The figure was clearly sunlit while the tree was firmly in shadow. So how could that happen?

I realised that the 'figure' was actually formed by the bits of the sunlit pavement that I could see through the tree. These areas, enclosed by the branches and leaves of the tree, were united in my brain to form a fleeting human figure. It was a bit like the photo (above right) but with the bright areas suggesting a figure. The movement of the 'figure' was caused by the fact that the tree was moving gently in the wind. My brain interpreted this movement as walking because the 'figure' was apparently on the pavement.

I have come across misperception caused by shadows in the past. The enclosed areas of brightly lit pavement were similar to shadows except they are bright instead of dark. It seems human perception makes little distinction. It is the shapes formed by the shadows / bright areas and their relative positions which is vital. And in this case the light bits seen together suggested a human figure. The 'figure' vanished because the shapes moved around and stopped resembling a person. Obviously, the figure in such a situation would always appear to be partly concealed by a foreground object.

From this experience I would say that this kind of misperception can be particularly convincing. It was only when it vanished that I realised it wasn't a real person. Having said that, I did think it was an odd-looking figure at the time.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Embarrassing ghost!

Sun behind treeI can't believe I've never had an experience like this before! I was walking along a country road when I noticed a dark figure in a nearby field. Nothing odd about that until the human figure changed into something else when I looked at it more closely. So, a ghost then! However, to my acute embarrassment it turned out to be a cow!

Yes it was a misperception and counts as a ghost (where a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present)! But even so - a cow! So what can I say in my defence? Well, I've misperceived several trees and bushes as human figures so a cow isn't so weird. In addition, this cow was facing me, head down, eating grass. So it gave the overall impression of a human figure in size and shape. Its legs were even positioned just as they would be for a human figure. Three of them overlapped visually with the lowered cow's head giving the impression of one narrow and one wide leg! At a glance the whole thing looked remarkably like a human figure bending over towards the witness.

So, in fact, I'd say the cow looked more like a human figure than some of the bushes and trees I've misperceived in the past. So much so that I'm surprised I've never misperceived an animal as a human figure before. Certain large animals can, therefore, clearly be a credible source of ghost misperception. So, on reflection, I'm don't think I should be embarrassed at misperceiving a cow as a human figure after all. Except, I don't know, it's still a cow. I couldn't even bring myself to put up a photo of a cow here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mysterious figure and fame month

Sun behind treeI'd already noticed something odd about the person before they vanished (so a ghost then). I mention this because generally the ghosts I see look like perfectly normal figures, at first anyway. I couldn't say exactly what was 'wrong' with the figure because it vanished before I could get a good look.

The 'ghostly figure' was a typical misperception and I soon saw what it really was. The 'body' consisted of a light coloured sign. It was partially concealed behind a dark fence post. It gave the impression of someone wearing light coloured clothes emerging from behind the fence. The 'face' was another light coloured sign behind the 'body' one. The two were aligned from my position to resemble a human figure. It is surprising how little is required to suggest a human figure! The fact that the sign posts were about the size of a typical human certainly helped. So this was, once again, a coincidence caused by a chance alignment of two signs and a fence post.

I think the fact that the 'figure' was partially concealed by a fence post was crucial to forming the misperception. It was, thus, a 'partial view' type misperception (see here). I think this is a particularly powerful type of misperception, as suggested by the fact that the materials here (signage!) was unpromising. It suggests that a partial view of an object is a powerful way of tricking human visual perception.

In other news, April is fame month once again! Briefly, I had noticed my tendency to see more famous people than I thought was 'normal' - an average of 0.23 per month. I do not seek out celebrities, I just see them during my normal everyday activities. What is really weird is that, recently, I appear to have been seeing them at regular intervals, every four months. Random events should not occur at regular intervals! The latest was due this month! For more on all this, see here. Anyway, a few days ago I saw someone famous - a well-known author. So this strange phenomenon continues!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A rare photo

SnipeHow many snipe are there in the picture here (right)? I know how many I see but it turns out that I'm wrong! It is a rare example of a photographed misperception. Generally, when you photograph a misperception all that appears in the photo is the object that was misperceived. But just occasionally the object is still misperceived in the photograph, to some viewers at least.

OK, I see 4 snipe in a line stretching into the distance from around the centre of the frame. The problem is that there are only 3 snipe actually present. The 'snipe' at the far end of the line isn't a bird at all. You may well only see 3 snipe because misperception varies from person to person. In a zoomed version of the photo (below right) the furthest 'snipe' is revealed as some vegetation that resembles the colouration of the real birds. This is not a coincidence, of course. Snipe have cryptic plumage, meaning they blend in well with their habitat which makes them difficult to spot.

What does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, it demonstrates that ghosts, and other anomalous phenomena, can definitely be photographed - where those sightings caused my misperception anyway. It has sometimes been suggested that ghosts cannot actually be photographed. This is the latest in my very small collection of photographed misperceptions.

snipe (detail)There are many photographs about where someone finds what appears to be a ghost in a photo where they saw nothing unusual at the time of exposure. The examples of those that I've personally examined were all photographic artefacts. There are also plenty of examples of people seeing ghosts but not photographing them. In such cases it is difficult to determine if the ghost was subjective or objective. There are few cases, in my experience, where someone saw a ghost and actually photographed it. And in such cases, what appears in the photo afterwards is often not what the witness described seeing. So my snipe photo is a rare example of seeing something, photographing it and the subsequent photo also showing it, despite it never actually having been there. If it had been a human figure, I would have happily called it a ghost!

Despite the ubiquitous mobile phone, few witnesses take photos of ghosts they see. And so the number of 'seen and photographed' ghost sightings remains extremely small. See here for a previous discussion of photographing ghosts.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

No glasses, no ghosts?

Sun behind treeRegular readers will be aware that I notice misperceptions frequently. Such misperceptions sometimes take the form of ghostly figures or other anomalous phenomena. However, I've noted that I don't usually notice misperceptions when not wearing my glasses (I'm short-sighted). Given that misperceptions usually happen when an object is not seen well, this appears paradoxical. I suspect that, when not wearing glasses, I don't look at things too closely - I'm usually only concerned with not bumping into anything.

There was one unusual incident once where I had an obvious misperception while wearing no glasses - reported here. Interestingly, the misperception was IN focus! It suggests that my visual memory holds images that are IN focus and does visual substitutions accordingly. But that does also suggest that visual substitution seen while wearing no glasses should stand out. So why is that the only example I've noticed?

Recently, I decided to do an experiment. I went outside for a walk wearing no glasses, something I never do normally. I looked around a lot to see if there were any misperceptions. There were not. I could easily see well enough to get around without problem though everything was fuzzy and out of focus. I saw nothing unusual and nothing in focus. Of course, there is a problem with this method. If you deliberately look for misperception you tend not to notice it.

This clearly implies that though perception is essentially an unconscious process, there is a conscious element to it too. Such priming is well-known in neuroscience. It means that if you deliberately look for a ghost, one caused by misperception at least, you will almost certainly not see it. It is also the reason why once a misperceived object has been seen for what it really is, it is not usually misperceived again. I'll need to think of some different way of doing my 'not wearing glasses' experiment. Experiments involving perception are tricky! But the evidence so far certainly suggests misperception is rarely noticed when not wearing glasses. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has seen a ghost while not wearing glasses that they normally wear all the time.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Amorphous white glowing shape or ghost?

White shapeI would hesitate to describe this photo (right) as showing a possible ghost. That's because ghosts are usually reported as looking just like normal human figures. Often the only reason a witness knows they are looking at a ghost is because such a person could not have been physically present. Or it may do something impossible, like disappear. The white shape here does, at least, have white 'appendages' on either side near the top, reminiscent of arms!

In popular culture ghosts are sometimes depicted as white and/or misty. So when people take a photo like the one here, an amorphous white glowing shape, they may interpret it as depicting a ghost. I'd simply describe it as a white anomaly. Anyway, what exactly is it?

I do know what the anomaly is because I took the photo deliberately, as I often do, to reproduce a type of anomalous photo. There are some clues in the photo itself. Firstly, the 'ghost' is entirely in front of the trees which means it could be out of focus. Secondly, there are several obvious white circles within the overall 'ghost' shape. These are typical of out of focus highlights, confirming the focus idea. Thirdly, there is, just below the main white anomaly, a faint transparent pale band going leftward to the edge of the frame. It is, of course, the stem of a plant. The object is an out of focus reed. It is bright because it is strongly illuminated by the sun.

White shapeHere (right) is exactly the same scene, taken at the same time, but with the reed in focus and the trees now out of focus. The reeds are not quite the same shape, overall, as the 'ghost' in the original photo. That's because there was a stiff wind at the time and the reeds were constantly moving, forming different 'ghost' shapes all the time.

It's difficult to say where the idea that ghosts are white or misty originated. It may have come from an artistic convention used to differentiate between ghosts and real people in paintings or movies. Or maybe it was simply because people thought there 'ought' to be some visual difference between ghosts and people. I honestly don't know where such ideas actually come from but I'm pretty sure it isn't from real life cases. Indeed, I suspect that many of the supposed attributes of ghosts in popular culture come from the widespread idea that ghosts are spirits, despite the lack of evidence to support that view (see here) from real life cases.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Was I a ghost?

BuzzardIt was at the end of a concert I attended recently. I was walking slowly towards the exit when I noticed a woman staring at me. Slightly surprised, I looked away, walked on a little and then looked back. She was still staring at me intently. I turned, walked on and looked back again. She was still staring at me. I walked on once again and turned back. But this time the woman had gone.

So why might this woman have been staring at me so intently? It was difficult to make out her expression, which might have given a clue, as the venue was fairly dark as such places often are. My best guess is that she thought she recognized me. I certainly didn't recognise her so she would have been mistaken. So why didn't she approach me or say hello? Perhaps because, if I was who she thought I was, I couldn't have been there! And by the definition of a ghost used here ("a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present") I would be a ghost!

I've made a lot of assumptions to suggest that I was a ghost on this occasion. So I may well have got it all wrong. But it still raises an important point. A ghost sighting could be easily caused by someone seeing a person's double. And if the person the witness thought it was could not have been physically present, the incident could easily be reported as a ghost sighting. I can think of one or two examples of apparently good ghost sightings I've come across that could be explained this way.

But surely doubles are very rare, aren't they? I don't know the figures (or even if any such statistics exist) but I do know I've met mine. I was introduced to my double by someone who'd seen us both separately. I wasn't convinced he was my exact double myself but I'm probably not the best judge of my own appearance. I remember the man was similar enough for me to get an odd feeling meeting him.

I'll never know why that woman was staring at me. I don't think it was my appearance or clothing as she only looked at my face. Maybe I was indeed a ghost, to her. But next time I come across a ghost sighting of a witness seeing someone they knew who could not possibly be physically present, I'll certainly consider a double as a possible explanation.

And the photo (above right)? Well, I thought about a picture of me and decided the buzzard would be more interesting.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Another source of 'presence'?

Sun behind treeMy acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences, which resemble paranormal phenomena, was on a train recently, idly looking out of the window. Without looking round, MA was aware that someone sat down in the adjacent vacant seat. Then, suddenly, MA had the feeling characteristic of emerging from a MWR. Looking round, there was no one in the adjacent seat!

MWRs usually last for no more than a second or two and there was no one in the adjacent seat before or afterwards. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the feeling of a 'presence' in the adjacent seat was entirely a product of the MWR. MA has not had this particular kind of MWR before. Previously ghostly figures have been plainly visible (see here for instance).

I have noted in the past that sound can induce a ghostly sense of presence, in me at least (see here and here for instance). Now it seems MWRs can also cause such feelings. Lab experiments have induced a sense of presence using the sense of touch. I suspect therefore that, like ghostly figure and UFO sightings, the sense of presence can have any one of a number of different causes.

MA also reports that MWRs appear to come of a particular type for several days running and then change to another type for the next few days. This pattern repeats endlessly. So, for instance, MA's recent MWRs have all consisted of bizarrely surreal scenes. Before that there were musical MWRs. Interestingly, the 'surreal' type MWRs corresponded to MA attending a concert. The MWRs appeared during certain songs, like a sort of pop video. Being surreal in content it was difficult to say if they were inspired by the music!

Without talking to other people who get MWRs, I can't know if having particular types of MWR for several days in a row is typical or unusual. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation on this sort of phenomena. It also explains why few anomaly researchers consider the idea that MWRs occurring to a witness unaware of their true cause might explain some strange phenomena reports.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

From goose to ghost

Egyptian GooseWhen I saw this photo (right) I knew straight away something was wrong. What is strange is the object, resembling a pale leaf, in front of the goose. I have a bad memory but I know for sure that there was no object in front of the goose when I took the photo a couple of days previously. So what is going on?

I have reduced the photo to a small size here deliberately. It is similar to the size when I first noticed the 'leaf' object. As soon as I zoomed in on the photo the mystery was resolved. As can be seen in the cropped version of the photo (below right) the object is not in front of the goose at all. It is some kind of flat concrete object in the grass, possibly an inspection cover or something similar. I admit I did not notice it at the time but since it was behind the bird, rather than in front of it, I wouldn't have regarded it as important.

The concrete object appears to be in front of the goose, in the smaller version of the picture, because it more or less matches the colour of the bird's neck at that point. So, it is coincidence based on a number of factors coming together. There is the similarity of colouration between part of the bird's neck and concrete object. Then there is the relative position of the bird, concrete object and photographer which need to line up in very specific way for the 'leaf' to appear. Finally, there is the way the goose has two different colours in its neck! Even though I know what is causing the effect it still looks like a leaf in front of the goose in the smaller photo to me. That would make it that rarity, a photographic misperception (see here for more on this).

Egyptian Goose (detail)This is a good example of how a coincidence can make things appear quite different to reality. Such coincidences can certainly give rise to paranormal reports. While no one is likely to report a 'paranormal leaf', a different set of circumstances could give rise to an apparent human figure that would 'vanish' as soon as the witness changed position. This might easily be reported as a ghost. With a photo it is possible to examine the scene again and again and zoom in and enhance the image. But with a casual observation the first impression is the only one available, wrong or right.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Ghost investigation conference

Sun behind treeASSAP is running a conference concerned with ghost investigation on 1 April in Bristol (details here). Ghost investigation is, of course, a big thing these days. When I first started out in paranormal research it was all rather different. We would wait, sometimes months or even years, for someone to report a ghost sighting and then go and interview them. If the case seemed to merit it, we might hold a ghost vigil at the site of the sighting. However, such vigils seldom, if ever, produced any compelling evidence of paranormal activity.

In those days there were few instruments available. But there still and video cameras and audio recorders available, of course. Even with such basic equipment it was possible to find interesting evidence after the event. I never relished looking through hours of video of an empty room where nothing was happening but it had to be done. And, just occasionally, something was caught on camera. But there was a problem with this.

Suppose a witness on the vigil reported something unusual happening and the area was being monitored by a video camera. This was excellent because the video recording might give a good idea of what had really happened. This usually turned out to be either something mundane or nothing appeared on the recording for the relevant time at all.

Then there was the other type of event, more common, where something odd was noted on the recording but not by any witness at the time. Suppose, for instance, it was an unknown voice. Because no one present heard it at the time it would be labelled an EVP. However, it could be that it WAS heard at the time but not as a voice. It might have been recognised as an environmental sound, like shuffling paper, a creaking chair or someone knocking the microphone! It only sounded like a voice in the recording because it was formant noise (sounds with peaks in the frequency spectrum that happen, by chance, to form a harmonic ratio).

The same kind of thing could happen with vigil photographs. Anomalies might appear in photos that witnesses at the vigil didn't see at the time. Many of these were probably photographic artefacts caused by such things as overexposure, camera shake, objects out of focus, long exposures, etc. For an in-depth discussion of such photographic artefacts see here.

As this brief note shows, ghost investigation is a complex subject, fully justifying a conference.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A ghost returns!

ShadowI was startled recently by a dark figure lurking unexpectedly behind me. I shouldn't have been surprised really because it was the door ghost (background here) appearing in exactly the same place it always has. However, it has been a while since I've seen the ghost and I was not expecting it, or thinking about it, at all.


Last May I concluded that, after a long absence, the door ghost had gone forever (see here). But then it unexpectedly reappeared, just once, last September (see here). But that only seemed to be the exception that proved the rule. I decided the ghost had disappeared because I was approaching the door from a different direction from the way I used to. The solitary September reappearance was put down to the particular lighting on the day in question. So why has it reappeared this time?


The answer turned out to be simple. I was wearing a coat that I hardly ever wear. It has especially baggy sleeves, enlarging the apparent size of my arms. Since the ghostly figure is a misperception of my own hand and arm, this all makes sense. Indeed, it made me wonder. I used to wear that particular coat a lot more than I do nowadays. Could part of the reason why the ghost no longer appears much be related to that change in clothing?


Misperception is highly dependent on the exact circumstances of how an object is observed. There are a number of trigger factors (see here) involved that promote the misperception of an object as something else. But perhaps the most important factor in misperception is the apparent shape of the object being misperceived. I say 'apparent shape' because often it is not the true full shape of the object but a partially obscured view.


It will be interesting to see if the door ghost reappears again. If it does, I'm sure there will be some special factor, not always present, like the coat, that makes the difference.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Disappearing heron!

HeronAs a birder, I'm always on the look out for birds when travelling by public transport. It's amazing what you can spot in such circumstances when you try. I've even spotted rare birds in this way. So when I saw the crouching heron from a train recently I was delighted but hardly surprised. What happened next, though, was very surprising indeed.

The 'heron' suddenly disappeared to be replaced by what it truly was, a low white object resembling a (British) fire hydrant sign. I don't know if it really was a sign as the whole scene was soon out of sight. What astonished me was how absolutely perfect this particular misperception was. I was in absolutely no doubt, at the time, that I was looking at a heron and even tried to get a better view before it went out of sight. So when it suddenly changed into something else I was shocked. I've seen a lot of misperceptions in recent years but this was among the very best. I can't recall exactly how the misperception disappeared but it was rapid. The heron in the photo (right) doesn't look very rectangular, like the 'sign' (or whatever it was), but when crouching they have a quite different overall shape.

I saw another striking misperception from a different train just a couple of days later. This time it concerned the fence running alongside the railway. When I looked directly at it, the fence looked unremarkable. But if I looked up, so that the fence went into peripheral vision, the fence became a wall! If I looked back it was a fence once again. And if I looked up again, it became a wall again. As such, it was an unusually robust misperception.

Of course, misperceptions are quite common in peripheral vision but usually they disappear once you've seen them in central vision, even if you subsequently view them in peripheral vision again. I wonder if the motion of the train was adding to the robustness of the misperception. It makes me wonder if witness or object motion might be another misperception trigger? It would make sense as the other triggers limit how well an object is perceived.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Can you recount a strange experience too often?

Airbourne dustWhen I recount a strange experiences in this blog it is always a fresh memory so I'm pretty confident that it is about as accurate as my memory will allow. Indeed, the first thing I tend to do after having an anomalous experience is write it down. It turns out that this is probably the best way to get an accurate record of an experience. Sadly, many witnesses do not do this. Instead, they may tell many other people about their odd experience before contacting a paranormal investigator. And that is not good for accurate recall of an event.

Scientific research has shown that human memory works in an unexpected way. Every time you recall a memory it is stored all over again - a process called reconsolidation. The problem with this is that during reconsolidation a memory can be modified or even erased. So every time a witness recalls a strange experience they may reconsolidate it slightly differently. This means that if they recount their experience many times, it could be altered quite significantly from the original memory. However, the witness will not be aware of this. To them, their current memory is the same one they formed when they first experienced the strange event. It probably explains why, when you visit somewhere you haven't been for a while, it often looks different. It's not just because the place has actually changed, which might be true. The chances are, so has your memory of the location. I had this experience recently when I barely recognized a town I used to live in!

So, if paranormal researchers are interviewing witnesses they need to get some idea of how many times the account they are recording has been retold. A witness might, for instance, have seen a UFO a month ago but never mentioned it to anyone until talking to a ufologist. But they may have seen the UFO just a day ago but have talked about it with dozens of people. The former account might actually be more accurate than the latter one, despite the bigger lapse of time since the event.

The problem is that when people have strange experiences it is natural that they want to talk about them. The 'best' witness would record everything they could in writing and then contact a paranormal researcher straight away. Sadly that seldom, if ever, happens! And, with the advent of online social media, the problem of memories changing is probably getting worse! I wonder if the best advice for witnesses might be not to think about their experiences too much!

In other news, my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) has been hearing extracts from original musical compositions again. If only MA was a musician this could be a really useful ability (see here for an earlier account). And the photo (above right)? It is bits of airborne dust illuminated by a strong light. They are in focus and appear as light trails because they are moving - the exposure time was quite slow at 1/5s. So when I come across a similar odd photo in future, I'll know what to suspect!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Best ghost in months!

Shingle with turnstoneI looked up and straight away noticed something alarming. I was at a railway station and I could see someone standing just a couple of metres from the track some 20m up the line. The person was not wearing a high visibility vest so I guessed they should not have been there. The person looked small, probably not even an adult. At least the figure was clearly visible, I thought, so there was little chance a train driver would fail to see them. But then something else struck me. The figure was standing still - absolutely motionless - in an unnatural way. I suspected a ghost.

Apart from not moving, the ghost was impressively real-looking. I could see its clothing, face, hair and that it was facing towards the railway track. If I walked a couple of metres from my initial sighting spot, the figure vanished. So, a ghost then! But when I returned to my original position the ghost reappeared! It was, of course, a misperception but a strikingly persistent one. Indeed, I was able to study the figure for a while to see how it was made up.

The 'figure' consisted of a sign post, a tree stump and a patch of light vegetation immediately behind. Only when the three lined up correctly was there a human figure visible. At any other angle there was nothing remarkable to be seen at all. It was sheer coincidence that I happened to see these objects lined up 'correctly' when I first noticed them. Had I looked at the scene from any other position I would never have seen the ghost. Interestingly, the light patch of vegetation fitted precisely between the sign post and tree stump so that the figure stood out well against the darker surrounding background.

This was certainly an impressive ghost. Even after I KNEW it was a misperception I could still see it and it was very life-like. It was also an impressive coincidence. The figure was only visible from one precise position - the one where I first saw it. The tree slump, sign and light vegetation were all many metres distant from each other but happened to be in the same direction from the place where I was standing. Anyone investigating a sighting of this ghost would have been unlikely to come up with the correct explanation for the figure. They would have had to find the exact spot where the witness saw the ghost and hope that the lighting (overcast) was similar and that the vegetation hadn't changed much since the time of the original sighting.

The trouble with coincidence is that it can be difficult to unravel after the event. My experiences over the years have led me to conclude that coincidence is a much bigger factor in causing reports of anomalous phenomena than most people realize. The reason such coincidences are rarely discovered is because the factors that caused them rarely persist for long.

And the photo (above right)? It's meant to illustrate how we can miss things even when they are in plain sight.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Fish in the sky?

SkyfishThe bright white object near the centre of this photo (right) looks to me like a fish. It appears to have tail fins on its right end which would mean it is swimming left. The only problem is that the 'fish' is clearly several metres above the ground. So, what's going on?

Could it be a flying fish? No, because it is nowhere near the sea and flying fish are a family of marine species. Could it be a fish-shaped balloon? That's entirely possible but it isn't the case. Luckily, though the photo is affected by camera shake and the object is overexposed, it is possible to identify the 'fish' by zooming in. The white object is actually a bird - a gull in fact - seen flying sideways on. The 'tail fin' at the back is formed by one of the bird's wings. The other wing is barely visible because it mostly blends in with the trees in the background.

I spotted the 'fish' straight away when I was reviewing some photos I'd taken recently. I didn't see a fish-shaped object at the time of exposure, of course. That's because I'd have seen a flying gull. It only resembles a fish because the still photo froze a moment in time when the gull happened to resemble a fish shape. There are many anomalous photos produced in this way.

It was only possible to unambiguously identify this photographic anomaly because the photo had a reasonably high resolution. Had the photo been low resolution it might have remained a mystery or been interpreted as something anomalous. Many anomalous photos that I've examined are low resolution making it often impossible to say exactly what they show.