Friday, 20 January 2017

Ghostly face!

Reflected treeCan you see the ghostly face in the photo (right)? I see photos all the time that I'm told contain the faces or figures of ghosts when I can see no such thing. This suggests to me that we are dealing with photographic misperceptions. These are misperceptions sufficiently 'strong' that some people, at least, see them all the time. Normally, misperceptions in photographs don't survive for long because it is possible to examine them over an extended period of time and you can zoom in and look at them more closely. But occasionally some survive such close examination, especially if it not possible to zoom in or enhance the photo. In contrast, misperceptions in 'the wild' are often seen as fleeting glimpses in poor viewing conditions.

I strongly suspect that if I could see what others were seeing in ghost photos it would be a real human face, not something that merely resembles one. That's because in misperception the real object is visually substituted with an image from our memories.

I put the picture (above right) up for the last blog post but had not noticed the 'ghost face' in it at the time! Now, when I look at the top right corner I see a pale face framed by long grey hair. If you can't see it, the face is traversed by the branch that forms a diagonal line across the top right corner. I see an 'eye' just to the left of the branch and a bizarrely upturned mouth below the 'nose'. The photo below shows the area of the apparent face.

Reflected tree (detail)Amazingly, I can still see the partial face, even in this zoomed version (right), though it is not as clear. So what is the 'face' really? Looking at this detailed view, I think the 'face' is primarily formed by the branches of the reflected tree. The 'eye' and 'mouth' are overlapping branches, I believe. The 'hair' is also outlined by branches. It only appears like thick bushy hair because of the presence of the 'face'! I think the fact that the tree is seen in reflection (in a puddle) also helps the misperception. It softens the appearance of the tree branches.

I think the thick diagonal branch that bisects the 'face' actually adds to the overall effect. I strongly suspect that if it wasn't there it would be obvious that the 'other eye' is most likely missing. I've noticed before that such 'partial' images in misperceptions in the real world are often particularly effective. Statistically, it is easier to find a group of objects that appear together to resemble half a face than a whole one. And our brains seem happy to recognise partially obscured objects.

Misperceptions appear to be perfectly real, so do I see it as an actual real life face in this photo? No, it looks like a drawing of a face. To that extent it appears real but, no, I don't see a normal living face. The face also looks a little grotesque. However, if I was expecting a ghost face there is no reason why it should look entirely 'normal'. The faces of ghosts portrayed on TV and in the the movies are often unnatural-looking.

Regarding this photo, as always with misperception, what you see will depend on the device being used to view the photo.

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