Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Should ghosts be more commonly seen at night?

Weird sunShould lots more ghosts be seen at night compared to daytime? More specifically, shouldn't misperception, which is a cause of many ghost reports, be more more commonly noticed in low light? Given that misperception is caused by poor viewing conditions you would think so.

We all misperceive all the time but it is only noticed very rarely. When misperception IS noticed it can easily lead to reports of ghosts and other anomalous phenomena. For the past few years I've noticed my own misperceptions much more frequently than I used to. This has given me useful insights into how misperception works. And one thing I've noticed is that misperceptions don't seem to occur more frequently in low light compared to full daylight. So why is that?

My best theory, until now, is that our brains somehow adjust to low light by trying less hard to make sense of what they see. In other words, they expect not to be able to see stuff well so they don't misperceive to compensate. But it now turns out the real explanation could be quite different. New research, reported recently in New Scientist, showed that people actually see better in twilight conditions. It seems that at dusk and dawn the background activity in the visual centres of our brains is reduced. This improves the signal to noise ratio making us better at seeing stuff! So the low lighting conditions are compensated for by improving our brain's ability to make out what it is seeing!

This 'improved seeing' phenomenon has been reported for dusk and dawn but what about in the middle of the night? In most urban settings there will, of course, be street lighting all night which approximates to twilight conditions. So I guess the effect still happens then. I'm not sure what happens in situations away from street lighting. I don't have enough personal experiences at those very low lighting levels to say what happens to misperception. It's certainly something I'll be looking out for in future.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

When the sounds behind music are real!

Weird sunI was listening to loud music when I heard something else. It was night time and I was alone in a building at the time. The noises sounded like someone moving about! Regular readers will be aware of the phenomenon I've noticed that I've called 'sounds behind music', for want of a better description (see the last post for more on this). I realised this was an interesting test of my observation that the phenomenon usually only happens when I'm expecting someone to turn up shortly. On this occasion I was definitely NOT expecting anyone so it appeared to contradict previous observations.

So I turned off the music and, as expected, the movement sounds stopped. But only for a couple of seconds! I have to admit I became slightly anxious at this point. The sounds appeared to be coming from an external door. I inspected it from inside and could see nothing. So I went to a window overlooking the door outside to see what might be causing the noise, which had now stopped. I was in time to see a fox trotting away from the door! It appeared to be another instance of our local 'garden poltergeist' (see here) up to its tricks!

I wasn't expecting anything else to come of the incident but the next day I examined the door concerned. Outside I found not only disturbed earth from nearby but identifiable fox paw prints on the door step. It was clear evidence that a fox had certainly been doing something quite intense, and certainly noisy, at the door, though I've no idea what.

This latest observation actually supports the idea that 'sounds behind music' are indeed less frequent when I'm not expecting anyone. I had had the loud music on for some time when I heard the fox and heard nothing up to that point. Unlike when I've tried to experiment with this phenomenon I was not thinking about 'sounds behind music' at the time. This factor also appears to suppress the phenomenon.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

When not to call out!

Weird sunI heard the 'sounds behind loud music' (see here) again recently. Alone in a building I called out, against all the obvious warnings from horror movies. This time there really was someone there. They had just arrived but I didn't know that before I called out. I had another 'sound behind music' experience next day when no one was present. Able to compare the two experiences I was struck by the fact that the sound of a real person was much the same as my 'sounds behind music' phenomenon. I think this is because my brain is recreating 'real' sounds, just like a misperception, with this phenomenon.

I've also noticed something else having experienced a number of these phenomena now. The 'sound behind music' phenomenon is much more frequent when I am expecting someone to arrive. When I expect to be alone for a long period I hardly ever hear the phenomenon. This suggests that expectation is a strong factor here. Also, the fact that the sounds stop precisely when music does suggest that this phenomenon is an aural misperception rather than a hallucination.

I then tried an experiment with loud music when someone was definitely known to be present. I didn't hear the 'sounds behind music' this time. However, this failure could be because I was deliberately listening out for the phenomenon. This suggests, again, that it is form of misperception where the same thing happens.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The book that turned over - instantly!

Weird sunThe book was just as it should be, in a perfect position to be read. But less than a second before it had been upside down! How could it flip over instantly? If I tell you the book was being read by my acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR - see here), regular readers might be able to guess. The majority of MA's MWR experiences occur while reading. I'm not sure of the significance of this but I suspect it's important.

Anyway, MA was reading and decided to turn the book upside down - as you do! Except MA can't actually remember deciding any such thing. Suddenly MA was slowly turning the book round for no obvious reason. Then it suddenly flipped back to it's normal position instantaneously. MA realised that it was the end of a MWR, which produces a peculiar feeling. MA gets lots of odd experiences during MWRs, many of which I've documented here. However, all the other experiences involved sight or sound. This was the first experience where MA appeared to physically manipulate an object. Except that it was obvious no such manipulation had taken place in the real world.

This new (to me at least) aspect of the MWR phenomenon is significant. In all the other experiences MA was merely a witness. In this latest episode MA appeared to actually manually affect the outside world, though with no actual physical result. Someone experiencing such a MWR, who was not aware of its cause, might appear to move an object only to see it instantly and mysteriously return to its original position. This might be interpreted as psychokinesis. It is said (though I've not come across it in cases I''ve examined myself) that objects, when moved, often return to their original position in some haunting cases. This movement is not usually witnessed in such cases, nor does it happen instantaneously, but it is still basically the same phenomenon. Either way, it is easy to see how any such incident could be interpreted as paranormal.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The return of the 'garden poltergeist'!

FoxA few years back, our neighborhood had a series of odd events in people's gardens. Small items left in gardens overnight were found to have moved or disappeared. Larger items were pushed over. Nobody ever saw these things happen as it was all under cover of darkness. Well, the 'garden poltergeist', as I called it at the time, is back!

A large heavy ball, similar to a football, has been moving around at night even though strong winds fail to move it when observed by day. It was after the latest such episode that I said I thought it indicated the presence of foxes. Then, just minutes later, to my surprise and delight I saw a fox wander right beside the ball in broad daylight! Having not seen a fox in that area for many months it appeared to confirm that the animal was indeed responsible for the mysterious wandering ball.

Of course, it's only circumstantial evidence. Definitive evidence would be a witness report or video of the fox pushing the ball about. In most reports of anomalous phenomena we only have circumstantial evidence available on which to base conclusions so this 'poltergeist' case is actually quite typical.

In the original 'garden poltergeist' case the 'poltergeist' showed a particular interest in moving shoes. It turned out that foxes are quite well known for taking a particular interest in shoes. But then, finally, there was an eye witness report of a fox actually seen picking up and moving a shoe (see here). So, given time and a little luck, such matters can finally be resolved. Until then I'm quite satisfied that the current 'garden poltergeist' is the same culprit as last time.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

When something strange is no surprise

Weird sunIs there any way to tell if an anomalous report was really caused by a near sleep experience? In particular, could a lack of surprise at seeing something really strange be a valid test? I have often wondered this but an article in this week's New Scientist brought the question back into focus again.

Apparently, during ordinary dreams the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain is shut off. This part of the brain controls logical reasoning. The unavailability of this brain region explains why ordinary dreams are so odd and we don't question these strange things while we are dreaming.

In near sleep experiences, more of the brain is operating than during normal dreaming. For instance, someone having a near sleep experience may see their real surroundings, with dream elements (like a human figure) added, so the visual perception system is clearly functioning. So is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex also working during near sleep experiences? From reports I've seen I think it is not. When strange things occur in near sleep experiences the witness does not appear to be surprised. This is the same kind of unquestioning response seen to to bizarre things in normal dreams. Take my acquaintances's (MA's) - the one who gets MWRs - ghost on a train experience, for instance (see here). To quote: "MA noticed someone suddenly sitting directly opposite. Oddly, MA didn't think this strange ...". A figure suddenly appeared from nowhere but MA did not show any surprise.

So, could a lack of surprise at an unusual sight be a test to indicate that an anomalous report was caused by a near sleep experience? I think I'd need more evidence to make a definitive statement on this. However, until such evidence emerges, I think that a surprising lack of surprise in a reported anomalous experience could certainly be an indicator that an explanation of near sleep experience might be worth examining.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Are rare events paranormal?

Paper standing on edgeWhat makes an event so unlikely that a paranormal explanation becomes a reasonable one? It is a difficult question to answer. And I think it's made even more difficult by the fact that people tend to be bad at estimating the statistical likelihood of an event occurring by pure chance.

It is very difficult to work out how frequently most unusual event might occur by pure chance. That's because such events involve many different factors interacting. So the easiest way to work out the frequency of an event is by looking at actual reports of it happening. But that relies on people noticing all such occurrences.

And I wonder how many truly extraordinary events are missed. I suspect it is a lot! Even though I believe I notice more strange things than most people I said in my last post "I absentmindedly picked it up and threw it in a bin". I was referring to a piece of paper that had somehow landed on its edge and stayed there! I only realised afterwards how extraordinary the event was. And I might easily have missed it completely.

I think most people miss extraordinary events most of the time. And, as a result, when they DO occasionally notice something unusual they think it's more unlikely than it really is because of all the other instances they failed to notice. Taking the example of the paper landing on its edge, it is clearly a rare event. But how rare? I've seen it twice in three and a half years so it's clearly not just a once in a lifetime event. But I wonder, given that I almost missed it on the second occasion, whether it might actually be much more common than I think.

So my point is this: rare events may not be as unusual as we think. And, therefore, we should resist labelling something as paranormal simply because it appears incredibly unlikely to have happened by chance. I think there is a good chance that it really is just a coincidence.
PS: While typing this I heard the sounds of someone moving around in the empty building where I am. I am playing loud music. Yes it's sounds behind music again. I can hear it right now as I write this! Spooky ...