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.

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