Thursday, 14 December 2017

Reading and phantom speech - a connection?

 FrequenciesReading in an empty quiet room recently MA (my acquaintance who gets microsleep with REM - MWR) suddenly heard a choir singing! MA didn't recognise the song. However, the experience prompted MA to realize something! ALL the 'voice MWRs' MA has ever heard, whether speech or singing, occurred when MA was reading! The connection is presumably that MA's brain was processing words when the 'voice MWRs' occurred. All the music MWRs that MA has heard involved singing, so there was a word element there too.

When a person hears human speech their brain responds to certain frequencies in the sound. Specific neurons respond only to particular frequencies. The combination of these frequencies is then interpreted as words by the brain. This same process also happens without sound when a person is reading words. This is how we hear an 'inner voice' in our heads as we read.

The other main type of MWR that MA has are immersive visual experiences. In such experiences MA either sees the real surroundings but with additional unreal additions (like the train ghost) or is simply 'transported' to a completely different location. Neither of these type of experiences are preceded by MA reading. It appears that reading is required to specifically trigger the word/singing type MWRs.

There is a parallel here with formant noise. This phenomenon occurs when someone's brain responds to particular frequency combinations in noise by hearing words that are not actually there. This can cause cases of apparent EVP. Hearing certain frequency combinations in sound turns the brain into 'speech mode' so that subsequent formant noise is heard as words (listen to examples here). It seems likely that MA's brain is turned on to 'speech mode' by reading and interprets dream content in a subsequent MWR as words, either spoken or sung.

For someone who gets MWRs but doesn't realize their true explanation, they might well interpret MWRs as paranormal. experiences. They, too, may hear voices from nowhere if they are reading just prior to an MWR incident. It would be worth knowing what witnesses are doing just prior to hearing anomalous voices.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Investigating coincidences?

Wet cobblesI was walking along an empty street when I heard a strange sound behind me. It was like a heavy plastic sheet hitting the ground. I was surprised because I was sure there was no one behind me. I stopped and looked round but there was no one there nor was there anything unusual visible.

Then the sound happened again, as I was watching. It had been raining but had just stopped. The sound was caused by a lot of water droplets hitting the ground simultaneously. They came from the branches of a nearby tree and were released together by a sudden gust of wind. I would not have guessed what this sound was if I hadn't seen this.

As mysteries go this is hardly that amazing. However, it is a nice example of how an apparently mysterious incident can occur as a result of a coincidence. The factors that had to come together coincidentally were: very recent rain, a sudden gust of wind and me passing by but not seeing the incident. In addition, this could only happen just after rain. If there was a gust of wind when the rain was still falling I doubt I'd have noticed the sound over the rain itself. If the gust had occurred a little later, much of the water would have already dripped out of the tree in individual droplets.

I have noticed that many strange incidents I've witnessed have been caused by coincidences. But, as this incident demonstrates, it is difficult to find such a coincidental explanation after the event. If the incident had happened to someone else, could I still have worked out what it was?

The crucial information required to find the correct explanation would be the exact timing of the rain. Though it would be possible to find out the general weather in the area by looking at meteorological records, it would not be possible to say that rain had just stopped at that exact location and time. The witness might remember that information but it's unlikely. The best hope would probably be in visiting the site of the incident in conditions as closer to the original event as possible. Then, with luck. the sound might be heard again and its cause seen.

As all this shows, it is difficult to investigate coincidental causes to anomalous incidents. This is probably why coincidence is rarely considered as an explanation. However, having seen for myself how common these causes are, I suspect that many apparently inexplicable incidents could be explained by coincidence. If lots of anomalous incidents are caused by coincidences it might explain why their explanations are apparently so elusive!

PS: Once again I've heard 'sound behind music' while writing this blog post (see here for background)!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Are we missing some vital information from witness reports?

Sun behind treeWhen researching spontaneous anomalous phenomena most researchers have to rely on reports from witnesses. Few researchers are lucky enough to see any phenomena themselves. Whenever I read a witness account I always wonder, what would I have seen if I'd been standing by the side of the witness. Crucially, would I have seen it differently in any way?

When we deal with witness testimony there are various factors to consider. Firstly, there is perception. Specifically, did the witness see exactly what physically happened in front of them or did their perception alter what they saw in some way? In the case of misperception, for instance, the witness may have seen a human figure when, physically, there was actually a poorly seen tree in front of them (see here for a discussion and case study on this). Secondly, there is the problem of witness memory. Every time someone recalls something, that memory can (unconsciously) change and any alteration becomes the 'real' memory from that point onwards. This means that if a witness discusses their experience a lot, before they are interviewed by a researcher, it may bear little resemblance to what happened, even though the witness is convinced it is absolutely correct (see here for a discussion of witness memory). Thirdly, there are psychological factors, like priming, that can affect what a witness sees. So there are many reasons why what I might see and remember may be different compared to a witness standing next to me. Fourthly, some reports are caused by hallucination.

Luckily, I've witnessed a number of anomalous incidents, or things that might be reported as such by other people. Many of them have been reported in this blog. Many of these incidents appeared, at first sight, to be anomalous but I always found a xenonormal explanation. In many cases the incidents were the result of an unusual coincidence involving many factors coming together in an unlikely way. These factors typically change soon after the incident. So unless you notice them at the time, you may miss vital clues to the true nature of the incident.

I suspect that I would probably see much the same as a witness standing next to me. If it was a misperception I might see something similar or something quite different (a tree rather than a human figure for instance). If it was a hallucination, obviously I wouldn't see the anomaly at all. But the key point is, would I have the presence of mind to look for things other than the anomaly itself? It is difficult to ignore something extraordinary in front of you. So, whether I would notice such details I can't honestly say.

I strongly suspect that many details, particularly what was going on around the anomaly at the time and what happened just before, may not be noticed by witnesses, for understandable reasons. My experiences have led me to conclude that many reported anomalous incidents may not be as inexplicable as they seem. We just lack the relevant additional information that is lost soon after the event.

Note: I just had that 'sound behind music' thing again (see here for background). Wow, it just got weirder! I had a feeling there was someone standing just behind me when there was not! So another form of sense of presence may be caused by sound! Obviously this was all with loud music playing.

Monday, 27 November 2017

The man who moved instantly!

BlurredAs I turned my head, the person in my peripheral vision did something extraordinary, impossible in fact. The man turned round completely - instantly! In a flash, the man went from facing forwards to sideways. Doing impossible things is a trait of ghosts! But I was totally convinced the man was utterly normal and real. So what's going on?

I could write a book about the odd things I see as a short-sighted person. I've already got a title - 'Tales from Myopia'. I've mentioned some of this stuff recently (see here and here). This latest effect is caused by wearing glasses. I've never noticed it until recently but that's because I've got new glasses. I think it is a combination of the particular strong prescription of the lenses and their size. It means that objects in my peripheral vision, at the visible edge of the lens, can appear distorted visually. I only notice it in certain situations but when I do it can be quite extraordinary. Objects can look as though they are facing a different direction to the one they really are. And if I turn to look at the object directly this distortion instantly vanishes. This is what happened to the man I noticed. He did not move at all while I was watching but by turning my head, he appeared to be suddenly facing in a different direction.

Another effect I've seen is a stationary object apparently moving when seen through a narrow slit In a recent case it was the gap formed by a narrowly open door. Something seemed to move inside the unoccupied room as I turned my head from a peripheral to central view. The effect happened repeatedly every time I moved my head, even though nothing physically moved in the room beyond the door. Moving my head repeatedly proved a a reliable way of testing for such an effect. Obviously, if there really was an object moving on its own, moving my head should make no difference. Sadly, it's unlikely that a witness to a spontaneous incident would have done this test at the time.

Yet another odd effect I've noticed is when I get a peripheral view of a well-lit room from outside. It can look as if there is an object in the room which, when I look straight at it, isn't there. Again the effect is reproducible by doing the same movements repeatedly. Also, straight-edged objects can sometimes look curved.

These visual effects do not happen that frequently and I haven't been able to say exactly in what circumstances. It appears to relate to relative positions and distances of the objects involved as well as the angle of view. I expected to stop noticing the effects as I got used to the new glasses. However, they continue to happen from time to time, months after getting the glasses. I think they reappear after I've forgotten about them for a while. Nevertheless, they were more frequent when my glasses were new.

Paranormal case investigators would usually take note if a witness is short-sighted. However, if the witness was wearing their glasses at the time of the incident they will probably discount this as a factor in a strange observation. That's because, of course, glasses correct vision! However, my recent experience suggests glasses can also sometimes cause apparent paranormal effects.

The picture (above right) has been edited! It attempts to illustrate how the edge of a lens distorts the view seen by someone wearing glasses,

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

More ghostly irony

ArchMore ghostly irony, this time at my expense! As I entered a walled garden recently I noticed someone on the opposite side. I was immediately struck by how still the figure was. Then I realized what it was - a misperception ghost! Intrigued, I continued to watch the figure, expecting it to turn into a tree or bush at any moment. Except it didn't.

After a little while the figure moved! It did not turn into something else but remained stubbornly human. So, a real person after all, I decided. I looked away for a few seconds and them back again., The figure had gone. This puzzled me because the figure was surrounded by high walls. They did not have enough time to vanish from my sight while I looked away. So, another kind of ghost then!

Sadly not! It turned out that there was an open gate in the wall near the figure that I could not see from my initial angle of view. So the person could easily have left the scene in the few seconds when I looked away. Final conclusion - a real person. I think the figure was very still at first because they were taking photographs.

So here's the irony. Another witness, who knew less about ghosts than me, would most likely have reacted quite differently. They would have seen the person, thought nothing of it and never considered the possibility of a ghost! So it is only because I know a bit about ghosts that I thought I saw one. I wonder if some things reported on ghost vigils may come from this sort of expectation of what ghosts look like and how they behave.

Monday, 20 November 2017

We're talking one Alexander right now!

Sun behind tree"We're talking one Alexander right now". This was heard by my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) in an empty room recently. MA often hears these 'voice MWRs' which sound like something overheard from a slightly bizarre conversation. They always make sense grammatically and hang together as a coherent thought. But, as this example illustrates, it is difficult to see how they might fit into anything other than a bizarre conversation. See here for more examples.

However, there was something new with this latest example - it was said in a distinct American accent. MA has never heard any voice MWRs in any noticeable accent before. In what is surely not a coincidence, MA was reading an article about American elections just before the MWR occurred. MA has not noticed voice MWRs specifically linked to real life events just prior to the experience before but it would be unsurprising if it happened.

So how might this play out to someone who gets MWRs but does not know their true cause? Well an obvious possibility is seeing a ghost in a place the witness knew to be haunted! It is even possible that if such a witness knew what the ghost was supposed to look like, having seen a picture, that might be who they see! For more on this idea of how MWRs could produce sightings of identifiable ghosts, see here.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The unexpected fall of night

Dark kingfisherFrom my ongoing study of anomalous photographs I would say there are basically two main types. Type 1 is where a witness sees something anomalous and photographs it. Type 2 is where the witness notices nothing unusual at the time of exposure but sees an anomaly in the resulting photograph.

Type 2 photos are far more numerous than type 1. Since the anomaly was not visible at the time of exposure in type 2 photos, it is likely that most are photographic artefacts. See here for a description of some of these such artefacts.

I've always wondered why there are so few type 1 anomalous photos. Years ago this could be put down to the fact that few people carry cameras around. However, nowadays most people carry a mobile phone and these contain cameras. And yet the number of type 1 photos remains low. There was an incident recently which made me realize why this might be.

I was out taking photos of wildlife, something I do regularly. I was watching a kingfisher which remained stubbornly distant. Then, unexpectedly, it perched nearby for a few seconds and I took several photos of it. My joy at this bit of luck was short-lived. The resulting photos were highly underexposed. This was because I'd changed the standard settings for an earlier photo and forgotten to change them back. You can see the result here (top right) which looks as though night suddenly fell unexpectedly!

It made me appreciate how difficult it is to get a photo of a short-lived, unexpected event. I am an experienced nature photographer who had his camera out and ready. And yet I still made a mistake which messed up the photo. The situation for a witness facing an unexpected anomalous event is much worse. They are highly unlikely to have a camera, or phone, out ready for just such an event. And they may, in any case, fail to react quickly enough because of the shock of seeing something truly extraordinary and unexpected. And even if they do get a photo taken what are the chances it will be well exposed?

It is not easy taking photos of short-lived events even when you are ready for them, as I was with the kingfisher. So I am no longer surprised that there are so few type 1 photos. I think we're lucky that there are any at all.