Thursday, 26 January 2017

Something really strange

Misperception in tree Things don't move in still photos. In the picture (right) I saw something unusual in the tree. I noticed what looked to me like a human head just above the point where the main branches start spreading out from the trunk. It was, I quickly concluded, a photographic misperception. The head looked 'real', in the sense that it was, to me, a wooden statue rather than an actual living person. But then I noticed something really strange.

As I gradually zoomed in on the 'head' it suddenly 'moved'! From a distant view the head was facing me but then, as I gradually zoomed in, it was suddenly sideways on, looking to my right. If I zoomed out, the head got smaller but continued to be sideways on. And if I zoomed in a lot the head disappeared altogether to be replaced by the tangle of branches it really is. If I wait for a while, without seeing the photo, I can repeat the whole sequence again starting with the head once again facing towards me from a distant view. The head looked to be the same one in both versions.

So what's going on? I think that as the level of detail changes, the misperception flips from one head to another one. Misperception depends crucially on how well an object is seen. By zooming in I see the object better and the misperception alters. Eventually, having zoomed in a lot, I can see so much detail that the misperception vanishes altogether as I see the real objects.

The fact that the sideways misperception persists even when I zoom out is not unexpected. Once a misperception is 'broken' (when you see what the object really is) you don't see it again. It appears that once the first 'face on' misperception is broken, I don't see it again. However, if I wait for a while I can see the first one again as I have forgotten the sideways version. With a memory as bad as mine, that doesn't take long!

What makes this really interesting is that it may well happen with non-photographic misperceptions too. So, if a witness sees a tree as a human figure, it might appear to change if they approach it. This is important because it will hugely reinforce the idea that they are looking at an animate object rather than something inanimate. So such a 'changing' misperception is more likely to be reported as a ghost because it appears to be a moving figure. And an inanimate object can no longer be discounted as the source of a ghostly misperception just because it appears to change shape or move a little.

I have just noticed that if I stare at the photo for a while, I can see the head turn back and forth! It actually appears to turn rather than just flip from one state to another. I guess the 'turning' is my brain trying to make sense of something that should be impossible.

I had thought that a misperception could just 'break' and that was all. But now, it seems, a misperception can change into another misperception as well. It can even appear to move! While this change occurred by zooming on a photo I imagine a change in lighting could have a similar effect in a real life scene. Misperceptions are a whole lot more complex than I ever imagined.

PS: As usual with misperception, whether you see a 'head' in this photo will depend on the display you are using as well as how easily you notice misperceptions.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Strange green and red glowing circles

Green and red circlesThis photo (right), taken recently, shows some mysterious glowing red and green circles in front of vegetation. These lights were not seen in the actual scene at the time of exposure. So what are these odd anomalies?

Here are some clues. Firstly, it is striking that the two groups of glowing circles are almost identical apart from colour. Secondly, though the circles were not visible in the physical scene at the time, they WERE seen in the camera viewfinder. Thirdly, outside this cropped area of a larger photo there is a bright light source, the sun shining through trees. From these clues it is easy to determine that the glowing circles are, in fact, lens flare.

Lens flare may be obvious to seasoned photographers but not necessarily so to other people who could interpret them as paranormal phenomena. For lens flare, the light source causing it does not need to be in the frame. And though the lens flare often consists of a line of transparent circles, it can come in many odd shapes and sizes, as this photo illustrates.

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.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

White shape walks away!

Reflected treeI looked up to see a white shape n the distance. My first thought was that it was a person. But it didn't move so I decided it must be something inanimate, though I wasn't sure what. It was just another case of misperception! But then, completely unexpectedly, the object started moving - walking in fact. It was a real person after all!

It occurred to me that the vast majority of misperceptions I notice are of inanimate objects appearing as human figures or animals. I suspect this is probably typical of most misperception that people notice. A recent example is the RSPCA who apparently get a lot of calls about animals in distress that turn out to be inanimate objects (see here).

So why might misperceptions of inanimate objects as people be more frequently noticed than the other way round? I think it is simply because people (and animals) are more important to us than inanimate objects. It is also less likely that someone would misperceive a person as an inanimate object because people rarely stay still for long.

We all misperceive al the time but very rarely notice it. My experience suggests that most misperceptions that ARE noticed are human figures. And given that they often 'vanish', it is little wonder they get reported as ghosts. They do not really vanish, of course, they simply revert visually to their real form, such as a tree (see here). I suspect misperception may be the biggest xenonormal cause of paranormal reports.

PS: The picture is a tree reflected in a puddle!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Phantom snow boarder

Mystery sky objectMost people won't see this. In fact, it may only be me that can! The picture (right) shows a mystery object in the sky that I photographed recently. As is so often the case with anomalous photos, I noticed nothing unusual at the time of exposure. But when I looked at the photo later, I was astonished.

What I saw was a wispy figure standing on a flat board - a snow boarder in mid-air! However, the picture was taken in a city and the object was several tens of metres in the air!

You're probably looking at the photo and thinking, how is that a mystery? I believe this is how it happened. I noticed the odd object in the photo and zoomed in to see what it was. In doing so I think I zoomed in just enough for me to misperceive the object as a 'flying snow boarder'. I am, as regular readers will be aware, prone to noticing misperceptions so someone else, seeing the exact same scene, would probably have see nothing odd at all. But that is the nature of anomalous photos - some people see a ghost or UFO, others don't.

So what natural explanations did I consider? I thought it might be a part of a distant crane suspended by wires that were too thin to show up in this view. In a similar vein, I wondered if the object could be something at the top of a thin white pole. There were some cranes nearby but other photos I took from different angles showed none in that position, nor any pole or the mystery object itself. I also considered the idea of a cloud but the sky was overcast and the object was clearly well below the cloud base.

Mystery sky objectIt was only by zooming out a bit that I finally realised what I was really looking at! So here (right) is a version zoomed out. Now it looks like a bird - a gull to be precise. There were plenty about at the location so it makes perfect sense. The 'wispy figure' is the gull's wings and the 'board' its body.

Usually when you zoom in to an object in a photo it becomes clearer what it is. However, when the object is near the limit of resolution for the photo it may become pixelated and actually look different, as in this case. Just for a while, though, I really thought I'd caught something very strange in the sky - a phantom snow boarder perhaps!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The unexpected return of fame month!

Crows in a treeIt was the very last day of 2016. Suddenly, out of the blue, I saw a celebrity - a well-known sportsperson. According to the original 'fame sighting pattern' December is a 'fame month'. However, after missing out in August, the last one, I'd thought the apparent pattern was broken. So, I wasn't even thinking about celebrities at all.

Regular readers will know what this is all about. For everyone else, here's a catch up. 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!

So the recent sightings are as follows: April 2015, August 2015, December 2015, April 2016 (2 weeks late). The expected August sighting never occurred but now there is one in December apparently resuming the previous pattern. I'm even beginning to wonder if maybe I walked near a celebrity in August and simply never noticed them!

Even before this pattern of sightings appeared, I'd been seeing around 0.23 celebrities a month going back many years. The non-appearance last August hardly dents that average. To me, at least, it still seems a high number of sightings for someone who is making no effort whatsoever to seek out the famous. It will be interesting to see what happens in April.