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?