Monday, 21 December 2015

Strange object with a tail

Weird lkems flareI took this photo (right) of a strange apparently luminous object recently. It appears to have a tail bending off to the right. It turns out that the explanation for this particular photo could apply to a whole range of similar strange objects photographed in low light.

At first sight, it isn't obvious what the explanation is. There was no actual aerial object seen at the time of exposure. However, the strange object could be seen clearly in the viewfinder of the camera. That's because it's lens flare.

Lens flare isn't the most obvious explanation because the shape is asymmetric. Most lens flare produces symmetric shapes. The reason this lens flare is asymmetric is that it has been elongated by camera shake. The exposure time was 1/4s. The camera shake isn't obvious because the bush in the bottom right corner does not show noticeable motion blur. Now does the post supporting the street light on the left.

Less strange lems flareCompare the photo (right) of the same scene taken at the same time (or 16s later to be exact). The same lens flare is present but it is now a more familiar symmetric elliptical shape with no tail. This is how the lens flare looked at all times through the camera viewfinder. The exposure time is also 1/4s but I clearly held the cameras more steady for this shot. The bush does not look motion blurred in this photo either. So what's going on here?

I realised the answer as I looked through the viewfinder while taking these photos. As I panned across the scene, every object in the static view 'moved' at the same rate with one exception. The lens flare moved noticeably more quickly than all the real objects in the photo. The degree of blurring in a photo is proportional to the angular speed an object is moving at in the scene. Obviously, there are no physical objects moving in this photo but the camera shake made them appear to move, like a sort of unwanted panning action. And the one object 'moving' much faster than the others in this static scene was the lens flare.

So, we have here a likely xenonormal explanation for many such similar anomalous photos. Lens flare can no longer be ruled out for not looking asymmetric.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Ghost scurries away!

ShadowThe door ghost (background here) is appearing very frequently at the moment. When the ghost has appeared recently I've deliberately moved my hand to make it go away - there are times to do ghost research and times when it is inconvenient! Even though I KNOW what the ghost is (my own hand), the misperception is so strong at present that I continue to see the figure even after I've remembered what it really is. Instead of turning into a hand, the ghost appears to scurry away! This is unusual, though not unknown, with misperception. So why is the door ghost misperception so powerful at present?

As I've previously discovered (here), the ghost appears when the lighting reduces visible detail in the background behind the figure. The best conditions to remove such details are an overcast sky. We've had a lot of overcast days recently here in the UK, no doubt linked to our unusually mild winter.

Oddly enough, I've NEVER seen the door ghost at night! I'm not sure why that is but I'm sure it is linked to lighting, which is crucial in all visual misperception. It may simply be that I cannot see my hand well enough in such low lighting conditions. However, I've also speculated in the past (here) that low light may actually raise the threshold for noticing misperception! In other words, we expect odd visual stuff at night so we don't pay it so much attention. This would mean that ghosts produced by misperception may actually be rarer at night, contrary to popular ideas about apparitions.

Perhaps, instead of seeing the ghost as a nuisance, at the moment, I should do some more experiments on it. It is, after all. unusual to get a persistent misperception. The problem is that if I think about the ghost just before I expect it to appear, it doesn't show up. Or maybe it will now.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Where are all the sea serpents?

Breaking waveIs it just me or do sea serpents not get reported much these days? I thought about sea serpents straight away when I saws this photo (right). If you look at the object in the middle of this sea view, it appears to be a large, sinuous 'thing' snaking through the surf, water streaming off it. The 'serpent' appears thicker towards the left, slimming towards the top right corner of the frame.

So what is the 'serpent'? If this photo was doing the rounds of the internet, with no background details, who knows what people might make of it. And that's a central problem with anomalous photos. They are an instant snapshot of a scene. Without context it can be difficult to interpret what is really being shown. And the context is often lost because the 'anomaly' is only noted when the photo is examined some time after it was taken. That means the photographer must rely on their memory to recall the background details and that is not always a reliable process.

Luckily, with this particular photo the background IS known. The 'serpent' is actually a breaking wave near to a beach on a very windy day. Without this information it might be assumed that the photo was taken away from a beach making the wave more suggestive of a large sinuous object surfacing from the deep. Incidentally, this is not a cropped photo, so there is no beach to be seen even in the original larger version. Interpreting anomalous photos often relies not just on a technical knowledge of photography but on some experience of the subject in view.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Now it's getting spooky

Crows in a treeOK, this is getting truly spooky now! Regular readers will be aware that I have noted my apparent tendency to see more celebrities, while going about my everyday business, than might seem 'normal'. I calculated that I see about 0.23 per month. I have not been able to discover an average rate for the general population (can anyone help with this?) but that seems high to me,. The latest celebrity was a well-known radio and TV presenter spotted at a concert recently. No, not on stage, in the audience!

But here's where it gets spooky. Back in April I wrote, that (23 April 2015): " I'm expecting my next celebrity in around 4 months! ". Now, of course., 0.23 is just an average, it doesn't mean that celebrities will turn up every four months on cue. Except that, in this case that's exactly what appears to be happening. So, I saw my next celebrity in August (see here). And here we are four months on with the next one, right on time. So is this more than a coincidence?

Could I be deliberately trying to see celebrities every 4 months and not in between? Well, I certainly recalled the celebrity thing at the beginning of the month, wondering if it was going to happen again. However, I subsequently forgot all about it. I haven't made any special efforts to find celebrities .Even if I did, these wouldn't count as the whole point is that I DON'T seek seek them out. Nor have I tried to avoid celebrities. Indeed, most of the time I don't remember the 'celebrity effect' at all. So, it all comes down to me going about my everyday life as normal and simply seeing celebrities when they happen to appear. Which is, currently, every four months!

So, if this bizarre pattern is to continue, I should see my next celebrity in April 2016. If that really happens then it will be truly amazing!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

On being a witness

Golden seaI enjoy people watching. When standing around waiting for a bus, for instance, I like to imagine the people around me are about to be witnesses to an anomalous event. How accurate would their accounts of the incident be? Those watching their phone and listening to music probably wouldn't notice much but what about the others?

Recently I was standing at just such a bus stop when I heard a strange noise. It was quite loud and obtrusive. I knew what it was because I'd heard it before, but only twice. I looked for what I knew would be the source but could not find it. The odd thing was that no one else at the bus stop seemed remotely interested in the sound at all, even though it was rather unusual and clearly originated nearby.

Casual observations like this lead me to think that there could be a lot of unreported strange incidents going on all the time. Most people seem to notice little of what is going on around them, even when it unusual. I also wonder how much detail witnesses might recall if they actually DID notice something strange. And how much of what they recall would be accurate (see here).

There is an effect I've noticed about witnesses that I've mentioned here before. It is this; if you ask them questions about factors that might show a natural cause for their observation, witnesses will often recall events, that they have not previously mentioned, that support a paranormal interpretation. When this happens I recall watching potential witnesses apparently oblivious to their surroundings, odd or otherwise.

It would be great to study witnesses actually in the act of observing strange phenomena 'in the wild', as opposed to a staged incident. The chances of this happening by chance, with a convenient nearby CCTV for instance, are slim. We will probably have to wait for wearable lifelogging equipment to become commonly worn (if it ever does) to record such things. In my own case, I quite often come across odd things and always try to actively investigate their possible origins at the time. I've recorded many such examples in this blog. However, I am always on the lookout for strange phenomena and have some good ideas of their causes beforehand. These factors make me, I suspect, an atypical witness of strange phenomena.

And the photo? It shows a strange golden sheen on some waves in the sea. It might not be obvious, just from this cropped photo, what the cause of this phenomenon is. A clue is at the top of the shot where you can just see the support pillars of a seaside pier. The golden effect is a reflection of bright lights on the pier in the highly agitated seawater below. And the strange noise at the bus stop? It was the alarm call of a Grey Squirrel. Despite belong a long time amateur naturalist I've only heard the sound a couple of times before so I think it unlikely that many, if any, of the other people at the bus stop knew what it was.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Do 'false steppers' see more ghosts?

False stepI nearly ended up sprawled on the stone floor. Luckily I managed to recover from my stumble and stay upright. I was merely embarrassed rather than injured. I was walking down some stairs in a busy public place. I knew what had caused me to stumble at the bottom of the stairs. I have done it a few times now and have decided to call it 'false stepping' (with apologies to anyone who has already named the phenomenon).

What I saw as I went down the white stone steps was much like the diagram (right). The floor below the steps consisted of the same, or a very similar, stone to the steps. As you can see the first joint between floor slabs was parallel with the steps and at a similar distance from the steps as the tread width of the stairs. The next joint was much further away. So, the bit labelled 'floor' in the diagram resembled another step and that is certainly how I saw it and why I treated it as such.

I think these 'false steps' I do from time to time, in similar circumstances, are a result of the fact that I tend to notice misperceptions that most people never do. I first started noticing misperceptions a few years ago when i realized that they are part of normal human perception. Ever since then I have seen ghosts and other visual objects that were not actually what they appeared.

So, what did my embarrassing stumble teach me? Firstly, since not one of the many other people around at the time stumbled, I'm guessing that noticing misperceptions is rare in the population, as are people who see ghosts. Secondly, I've realised that noticing misperceptions can cause accidents! So, there are down sides to noticing misperceptions, including false stepping.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Shadow ghost in 3D?

 VigilI was wandering beside a development of new flats when something caught my attention. A poster I was walking past appeared to be in 3D! As I moved, my point of view appeared to change just as it would for a real 3D scene. However, I could see it was plainly a flat 2D picture and, on close inspection, nothing actually moved relative to other objects in the background. Incredulous, I went back and tried it again and saw the same bizarre effect! It worked even though I knew it wasn't real. I've never seen a picture do this before. The effect occurred in full daylight (overcast). I think it was a misperception phenomenon where my unconscious perception system was overruling my conscious knowledge of what I was seeing.

There were other posters nearby but the 3D effect only occurred on this one. So what was special about it? The picture was of an interior of a flat. Importantly, it was life size and at street level. In other words, had it been a real room, I could have simply walked into it and everything would have looked normal. The other posters were smaller than life size and elevated above the street level by a metre or so. I think the fact that it looked as though I could walk over into it was crucial. Misperception relies on expectation. I don't recall seeing similar life size street height posters before which is probably why I've never noticed the effect before.

What does this have to do with the paranormal? I think it shows that misperception is not just about visual object substitution I now think it can make scenes appear to have depth when they have none. Examples might include shadows on a wall or a mural in low light. If shadows on a wall involved a shape resembling a human figure it might be interpreted as a shadow ghost. And if someone suggests it was in fact just a shadow, the witness might reply that the ghost moved relative to its background as they moved so it must have been three dimensional! Until now that might have been a pretty good argument but not any more!     

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The crouching ghost

Crows in a treeMA looked down to see a man crouching. Disturbingly, the man was staring up at MA. Even stranger, the man then vanished. So, a ghost then! The incident happened on a train.

MA is my acquittance who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. I have recounted some of MA's bizarre experiences before. This one falls into a group of such experiences where a dream element, the crouching man in this case, is added to a real life scene. It is likely that such scenarios would be reported as ghosts by people who had MWRs but were unaware of their true nature. As in some similar experiences, MA reports that there was an undefinable feeling that something unusual was going on. Aside from that the experience felt completely real.

What was interesting about this latest incident is the apparently strange behaviour of the ghost. MA saw a staring figure on a train before over a year ago (see here). There are clear parallels between the two accounts - both involved silent, still staring ghosts. The big difference is the apparently strange behaviour of the ghost this time - crouching down low for no obvious reason. Unlike the previous experience, MA was not able to describe the man. This may have been because the unusual behavior was distracting. I can see no obvious reason why a ghost should crouch but if anyone knows of other examples, please let me know.

The proportion of strange incidents MA experiences on trains is high. It's more likely because train journeys encourage MWRs than that trains are particularly spooky. Sitting around for long periods, the gentle motion and sound of the train may well be conducive to MWRs in those susceptible to them. Amazingly, MA never misses the train stopping at stations due to MWRs, which is just as well. Maybe it is feeling and/or sound of deceleration.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

White fuzzy orb!

Daylight orbOrbs have been considered a natural phenomenon by many paranormal researchers for years now. So few people are interested in studying them any more. I am an exception - I am always interested to get a new interesting example. In this recent photo here (right), for instance, a daylight orb was illuminated by the sun, not a flash. The object producing the orb was a fluffy wind-blown seed 'parachute' rather than dust.

Note how this orb has an indistinct edge compared to typical orbs. I believe this is partly because it is overexposed, which is why its interior is featureless. The other factor responsible is, I think, that the 'orb' is actually dozens of smaller orbs overlapping.

Compelling evidence suggests that orbs are actually out of focus highlights (see 'what are orbs'). Such highlights may be a results of bits of dust but they can also be produced by other objects like insects, pollen, seeds or raindrops. With a large object like a seed 'parachute' there will be many highlights, each producing its own tiny orb. All the orbs overlap to produce a big white fuzzy orb.

And this is why I continue to study orbs. There are always new things to find out about them. See here for lots more on this endlessly fascinating subject. But what do orbs have to do with the paranormal, you may ask? It is only by understanding what is NOT paranormal but resembles it (the xenonormal) that we can eliminate it when investigating strange incidents. If someone sent me a photo like this I'd have a good idea what it was!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Strange object photographed

Strange lightI took this odd photo (right) recently. It is a crop of a larger photo but otherwise is entirely unedited. So it's not any kind of manipulation. It looks like a transparent cylinder with bright spiral lines attached but it's definitely not a camera strap. Nlote how big the object looks compared to the bricks behind. So what is it?

The effect is all down to the rather unusual way I took the photo. The camera was inside a clear plastic bag. I did that to protect it from water and dirt found in the location being photographed. Surprisingly, in many of the photos taken with this arrangement everything looked reasonably sharp with just a few slightly hazy areas. These bits could easily have been mistaken for condensation on the lens.

The 'object' is actually a reflection from the light source, a torch, on the plastic bag. The transparent plastic was a centimeter or two in front of the lens. I think that the strange shape derives from the curved surface of the plastic bag.

OK, people don't normally take photos like this, though they might on occasion. What this photo shows is the kind of strange images that can be produced by curved transparent surfaces in front of a liens. It is worth thinking about when examining similar anomalous photos.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Paranormal object movement

Moving letterParanormal object movement is sometimes reported in haunting cases. It sounds highly dramatic and, if real, obviously paranormal. However, in many such incidents the objects are found somewhere other than where they were left. Importantly this means that no one actually saw them moving. It is, therefore, quite possible that there are non-paranormal reasons for the object turning up in an unusual place. Seeing objects actually flying through the air is very unusual indeed.

All of this explains my reaction when I recently saw something move for no obvious normal reason. I was completely stunned! I was approaching a pile of recently delivered letters when I saw the top one move, in plain view, several centimetres towards me. Given that the letter was lying flat, and there was no draught, I could see no obvious normal reason why this letter should move. It was like something out of a movie about poltergeists.

Cautiously, I approached the letters. There were three, including the one that moved. They were on a flat floor directly below the letter box. I picked up the letter that had moved and examined it but I could see nothing strange about it. I then looked at the letter below. It was strongly folded so that it had a pronounced triangular cross section (blue object in picture above). Suddenly it was possible to imagine what had happened. The 'moving' letter (red object in picture above) would have started in an unstable position perched on top of the 'triangular' one below when the two fell from the letter box. At some stage, inevitably, the 'moving' letter would have slipped down the slope to a more stable position. That's what I caught it doing.

The real puzzle is why the letter appeared to move horizontally, towards me, across a flat floor. Trying to reproduce the effect, I found that viewed directly from above (as I did in my initial observation) the slope was not obvious. Furthermore, I think that when something unusual happens completely unexpectedly we may often fail to observe vital details that could help explain it. If I had not been able to physically examine the pile of letters at the time I might still wonder if I'd seen genuine paranormal object movement. It certainly felt like it at the time!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Transported to the future?

Crows in a treeRegular readers may wonder why I devote so much space to my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. It's because these accounts provide a rare source of accurately recorded reports of a near sleep experience that could explain some apparent paranormal reports. It is only by understanding the detail of such experiences that we can hope to accurately identify them when faced with a paranormal case.

Anyway, MA has been having some decidedly odd stuff going on recently. While watching TV, MA was twice suddenly been 'transported' somewhere completely different. It was not a picture on the TV screen, MA was actually THERE in the 'other place'! In both cases, the 'other place' was a deserted urban scene in daylight. However, the two places were completely different and unknown to MA. In each experience, MA was apparently exploring the landscape.

MA has reported these experiences of suddenly being 'transported' elsewhere for a few seconds before. In the past I wondered how they might be interpreted by someone who experiences MWRs without realizing their real non-paranormal explanation. I had thought, perhaps the witness might think they had been teleported somewhere. But thinking about these latest examples, other possibilities occurred to me. One is a spontaneous out of the body experience. However, these usually start with a feeling of leaving the body and seeing it from afar. Then there is the rarely reported phenomenon of spontaneous remote viewing. That certainly looks a likely possibility, but then I had another idea.

It's possible that someone might interpret being apparently 'transported' somewhere briefly as a premonition - a vision of a future event. Premonitions are often reporeted to occur to people in dreams. But a MWR is such a bizarre experience that a witness may well attach much higher significance to it. In addition, it is, in MA's experience, much easier to recall details from MWRs compared with ordinary dreams. So, overall, MWRs are much more memorable than ordinary dreams.

MA will report back if the 'deserted urban scene' experiences actually occur. The experiences sound a little bizarre given how densely populated cities are. However, the suburbs of cities can be surprisingly deserted during working hours and the buildings MA saw could easily fit that sort of area.

I have thought for a while that MWRs can explain some paranormal reports well, particularly certain ghost sightings. But I was puzzled why people weren't reporting being 'transported' as happens to MA. The answer may be that they are but I just didn't recognise them.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Just how far away IS that ghost?

Red ghostI was in an auditorium recently, watching a music concert, when I caught sight of someone standing a little to my left. Everyone else was seated so this person stood out visually. I assumed they were taking a photo. After a few seconds the person was still standing. I was surprised because I thought the standing person would have be annoying to those sitting behind. I looked around to see the person directly for the first time. But there was no one there! So, another ghost!

Instead of a human figure, what I was seeing was a pillar being temporarily lit, presumably for effect. It was, then, a peripheral vision misperception. The pillar was further away than the figure I'd seen. My brain had, presumably, having decided it was a human figure, 'moved' it into the audience where its presence made sense.

That was when I realised I'd come across this phenomenon before. Regular readers will be familiar with the door ghost (see here for background) that I see from time to time. It looks to be standing maybe a metre or two behind me. However, I know for a fact it is actually my own misperceived hand. Even though I know that, I still invariably see the figure further away than my hand could ever physically be.

Some interesting points arise out of this phenomenon. Firstly, we cannot any longer be sure what distance a ghost is when it is caused by misperception. So when a paranormal investigator finds no object to misperceive where the witness says the ghost was, it does not automatically rule out misperception. Instead, investigators will need to look along the line of sight from where the witness stood to look for other possible candidate objects. Secondly, for the figure to appear at the right scale, the object being misperceived must be a different size, due to perspective, I would guess. So, a nearby small object may be misperceived as something larger and further away. This makes sense with the door ghost. And a distant large object could be misperceived as something smaller nearby. This makes sense with my auditorium ghost as the illuminated pillar was rather larger than a human figure.

Scale and distance can be tricky to sort out in anomalous photos (particularly with UFOs). In the 'red ghost' photo (above right - full story here) the 'figure' is almost certainly a red sign. There were several identical signs at the site and they were noticeably taller than most human figures and a lot wider. So the red sign in the photo is probably a bit further away than it appears if we see it as a human figure. It doesn't make much practical difference in this example but I can imagine cases where it would.

Unless a ghost is seen physically interacting with some object in the scene being viewed, we cannot say for certain how far away it is. We think we know its distance because we are assuming it is a human/ghost figure. But if it is something else being misperceived, this may not be the case. The question of how far a ghost is away turns out to be more important than you might imagine.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The invisible soundproof barrier

VigilI will freely admit, I've occasionally doubted if interactive ghosts even exist. This may be because I've never been involved in such a case personally. However, there are enough credible reports around to suggest they do.

Interactive ghosts are those that appear aware of the witness and might even interact with them. While many ghosts in the movies seem to be interactive, real life examples appear to be distinctly thin on the ground. Typically, ghosts appear as normal human figures that, though they may interact with the scenery they inhabit, usually don't seem aware of the witness watching them. So I was intrigued by a recent experience of my acquaintance (MA) who experiences MWRs (microsleep with REM).

The incident occurred on a train which MA was travelling on. A woman sitting adjacent, a stranger, started talking to MA. Unable to hear what she was saying, MA leaned towards her. She also leaned towards him. But, though her mouth was clearly moving, no words could be heard. It was as if there was an invisible soundproof barrier between them. It was at this point that MA started to find the experience unnerving! Then, suddenly, the woman was no longer there. There was no one at all sitting in the adjacent seat. MA realised it had been just another MWR experience. MA noted the typical feelings associated with coming out of a MWR when the woman vanished.

The experience is particularly interesting because the ghost / human figure appeared to interact with MA. Not only did the ghost appear to be addressing MA personally but even leaned over to assist communication! The fact that MA could not hear the woman, even when leaning in, is distinctly odd. But when you realise that MWRs are basically dreams, albeit sometimes projected onto real scenery, odd behavior can be expected. To anyone experiencing MWRs who did not understand their origin, the 'silent speech' aspect will probably have just added to the impression that the experience was paranormal.

This incident suggests that MWRs can generate reports of interactive ghosts. Some interactive ghosts reports could also be generated by hallucinations, such as hypnogogic phenomena. It is even possible that misperception could conceivably generate a report of an interactive ghost. For instance, suppose a tree is being misperceived as a human figure in poor viewing conditions. If the wind is moving the branches of the tree, it might appear as if the 'figure' is waving at the witness! Clearly, though, such circumstances are likely to be rare. Certainly, the fact that a ghost interacts with a witness does not rule out a xenonormal explanation.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Why do witnesses so rarely take photos of ghosts?

Misperceived 'woman'Encounters with ghosts are rare. And, until recently, few people routinely carried a camera around with them. So, it's little wonder that there are few examples of witnesses actually photographing ghosts that they were watching. However, in recent years a large proportion of the population has started to take mobile phones pretty much everywhere. And a lot of these phones contain built-in cameras. So shouldn't we be seeing an upsurge in the number of ghosts photographed by witnesses while seeing them? In my experience, I'd say we are not. But why not?

It is a puzzle. In my experience, there are certainly many more ghost photos around today than there used to be. However, a high proportion of them show objects or figures NOT seen by the photographer at the time of exposure. Some people regard this as an indicator of their paranormality. But it is also a key characteristic of photographic artefacts, which is what many of them, on investigation, turn out to be.

The numbers of photos taken by witnesses actually seeing a ghost at the time remains oddly small. Talking to hundreds of ghost witnesses to ask why they didn't take a photo, when they could have, would be impractical. Perhaps it should become a standard question in future investigations! With that option out I decided to examine my own experiences for an answer.

I've seen a number of ghosts but rarely got any photos of them. Thinking back I realised there are several reasons for that. Firstly, in most cases, I thought I was seeing an ordinary human at the time, so I had no reason to take a photo. This is a common experience with ghost sightings. Secondly, most sightings didn't last long, often just seconds, giving little time to react. Thirdly, on the occasions when I realised at the time that there was something odd going on, I was reluctant to stop watching the ghost, in case I missed something vital. I suspect these reasons apply to many other ghost witnesses.

The answer to such problems is probably wearable life-logging technology. Only once photos can be taken with little or no effort, without needing to take your eye off the ghost, are such pictures likely to become more common.

So what can we expect to see when we get more of these photos? From the few existing examples I've seen, what is photographed is often radically different to what the witness reported seeing. This is unsurprising given that many ghost sightings are caused by misperception or hallucination. The photo accompanying this post (above right) is an example. The background is described here. I do hope the number of such witnessed ghost photos does increase. I can't wait to analyze them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Ghost in red?

Red ghostOn two occasions recently I've seen a sign as a ghost (see here and here). It might seem unlikely to some that a sign could be misperceived as a human, or ghostly, figure. Then, unexpectedly, I found I had a chance to illustrate the phenomenon of ' ghostly signs'.

I was looking at a photo I'd taken recently when I noticed a figure in the background that I hadn't noticed at the time. It was someone in the distance, apparently dressed in red. You can see the figure in the photo here (right) which is a cropped version of the original (otherwise completely unedited). The figure appears to have a small head and rather prominent shoulders.

I really thought this was a person (or ghost), at first glance. Zooming in the 'figure', it looked too rectangular. Looking at other photos, taken at the same location at the same time, I found several examples of rectangular red signs with similar proportions. By chance, there was also a very real person in a red top in one photo. However, their shoulders were nothing like as square! Interestingly, this person was around the same height as the red signs.

I'm in no doubt that the red object in this photo is one of the signs at this site. It may not look terribly convincing, to most people, as a human figure, particularly on prolonged close examination. However, it does demonstrate that signs can be of similar height and proportions to real human figures and in locations where people might well stand. I think the photo shows that signs are a credible source of ghostly misperception, when seen briefly, in peripheral vision or poor viewing conditions.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Life suddenly goes into fast forward!

Crows in a treeLooking out of a train window recently a witness experienced something extraordinary. The train was stopped at a station but suddenly the witness felt they were moving. But out of the window the station was still there. It was not one of those experiences of false movement when a train on an adjacent track is moving. There was no other train present.  

It suddenly became apparent that the train really WAS moving, despite appearances to the contrary. But the strangest bit was this. The scenery briefly went by much FASTER than the speed of the train. It appeared to be catching up with reality! It was like watching a recording in fast forward mode. So what is going on?

Regular readers will probably be unsurprised to know the witness was my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. MA goes straight into a dream state during microsleep episodes that last just seconds. Being awake before and after means that the dream episode can feel very much like a waking experience. A small proportion of the general population, typically with certain sleep disorders, have such experiences.

What appears to have happened is that MA went into a MWR while the train was stopped at the station. As the train moved off MA was actually seeing a dream version of the station, indistinguishable from the real thing. The motion of train probably stirred MA out of the MWR. On coming out of the MWR MA's brain had a conflict between live visual input, showing the train moving, and the MWR showing a stationary scene. In order to reconcile the two MA's brain did a 'fast forward' of the scene to catch up with reality. It could simply have 'jumped ahead' but presumably decided that a fast forward was more 'realistic'! The way such sensory conflicts are resolved by our brains leads to apparently strange experiences that nevertheless appear realistic. It is easy to see why they would be interpreted as paranormal.

I can't think of a paranormal report exactly like this incident. However, it is easy to see how such an incident could be viewed as paranormal, or possibly the effect of alien technology, by a witness. It could even be seen as a manipulation of time or space. It is certainly something to consider when people report bizarre time or space distortion effects.

"The point is, we're in a little trouble if you don't ..." This was the latest snippet overheard by MA during a separate purely aural MWR incident. It is typically frustrating. Is the speaker actually talking to MA, or a third party? What has MA, or a third party, not done? Not least, what is the trouble? Intriguingly, the 'my point is' phrase implies that we are coming in at the middle of a conversation even though it is all MA heard. Remember that all this content comes from MA's own brain. So are these scenes being played out unconsciously before MA hears them or do they simply appear as if they have already started? What ius certain is that they could easily give the impression of having originated outside MA's brain.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Scary ghosts?

VigilWhy are ghosts supposed to be scary? I say 'supposed' because I have not found my own encounters with ghosts scary. Until now ...

I was on a train, gazing out of the window, as you do. My attention was caught by a tall dark figure standing very close to the track by an overbridge. For some reason I cannot fathom, a feeling of dread enveloped me as I saw that figure. I stared at it intently as we passed by. That's when I realised that the figure was, in fact, a sign, with similar dimensions to a large man. The ghost was a particularly effective misperception. I was certainly in no doubt, when I first saw it, that it was a person. Indeed, I was surprised that the train driver did not sound the horn in warning.

Later I tried to analyze why this particular ghost left me with a feeling of dread. I may have been worried that the figure was so close to the track that there might be a horrible accident, though this didn't occur to me consciously at the time. Another possibility is that the lighting made the 'figure' look sinister. The short rail trip I was on is one I do frequently but I'd never seen the sign before. It might be a new sign but it is more likely I'd simply never noticed it before. The lighting, from an overcast sky, may have highlighted the sign relative to its background, bringing it to my attention. The sign is unusually tall for a person which may make it look a bit threatening, I suppose. Either way, I thought I was watching a real person at the time so I never felt afraid because I thought it was a ghost.

Many people are afraid of ghosts, despite having never seen one. On the other hand, many witnesses are, as in the current incident, not even aware that they are seeing a ghost at the time they experience one. So they are unlikely to be scared at the time of the sighting.

Hauntings, on the other hand, are understandably disturbing. Having apparently random unexplained events occur frequently in the same location is likely to be unsettling. As I've pointed out before, we do not know that ghosts actually produce hauntings. For instance, ghosts are not seen actually doing haunting stuff like moving objects. And they only appear in a relatively small number of hauntings. In addition, ghosts are often seen without any associated haunting phenomena. This suggests that the idea that hauntings are what ghosts do is not a robust conclusion from the actual evidence. So, while I can see how hauntings can be scary, I'm not so sure most ghost actually deserve their scary reputation. Nor am I convinced they produce hauntings.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Touched by a ghost!

Crows in a treeThe witness was sitting on a moving train, looking out of the window. They felt someone sit down in the adjacent seat. Curiosity soon got the better of the witness who, after a few seconds, turned to casually look at their new neighbour. There was no one there!

That's the basic account, now for the detail which is vital in understanding paranormal cases. First of all, the 'witness' is my acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. MA goes straight into a dream state during microsleep episodes that last just seconds. Being awake before and after means that the dream episode can feel very much like a waking experience. A small proportion of the general population, typically with certain sleep disorders, have such experiences.

MA did not actually see or hear anything. It is possible the ghost made a noise while sitting down but this could have been drowned out by the train noises. Instead there was only the physical feeling of someone's clothes touching MA's when the ghost sat down. It felt perfectly normal, just as if a real human being had sat there. It was not possible for the ghost to have actually been a real person as MA still felt the 'contact' while turning round. MA does not recall exactly when this feeling stopped. A crucial point is that MA remembers coming out of a MWR while turning to look at the ghost. So the experience definitely appears to be a MWR episode. However, crucially, this is the first time MA has ever felt anything physical in such an experience. MA's MWRs have hitherto been exclusively visual and / or aural.

This is very interesting! It means that MWRs can involve physical sensations as well as visual and auditory ones. It is not yet known if the three can combine in one experience. We'll have to wait and see. Interestingly, MA did NOT feel any sense of presence. There was, instead, the normal physical sensation of someone's clothes touching MA's. It was so real that MA was shocked to see no one there. And this is someone for who strange experiences have become routine.

This physical sensation clearly extends the range of reports of apparently paranormal phenomena that MWRs can cover. For instance, in some ghost cases there are reports of witnesses apparently being touched by someone, or something, invisible. These reports no longer rule out the possibility of MWRs as a possible xenonormal explanation.

Monday, 12 October 2015

When considering lights in the sky ...

UFOI took this light in the sky photo (right) recently. It was dusk with no cloud. The foreground is a roof with chimney. The photo here is a cropped section of the original but is otherwise unaltered. Many UFO sightings are described as lights in the sky. Anyone taking this photo would, therefore, feel entitled to report it as a UFO.

So what is it? Luckily, it is one of a whole series of photos showing the same object. In most shots the light is not in the sky at all but in front of buildings or the ground! Knowing the background behind the taking of a photo is often crucial to understanding it. So here's what actually happened.

I was taking photos when I noticed a curious glowing light some of the shots. The object, initially apparently just above the ground, moved as I panned around. In fact, it clearly moved synchronously with the camera movements. It was, thus, obviously, a photographic artefact. I then deliberately panned the camera to a position that placed the glowing object in the sky. The result is the photo here.

The glowing object is actually lens flare caused by a bright streetlight in the original (uncropped) frame. Had someone taken just one photo, with the light in the sky, it might have been interpreted as a UFO. I've not come across a UFO photo that was obviously lens flare to date but that may only be because I hadn't thought it would produce a convincing UFO. But it turns out that lens flare IS something to be eliminated when considering UFO photos after all.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Monk and nun ghosts

Shadow in treesI've heard that ghosts of nuns and monks are common in the UK (see here, for instance). I say 'heard' because I've not come across many contemporary accounts personally. So, either my sample of ghosts is atypical or the monk / nun form may be disappearing. I was prompted to think about such ghosts by a recent experience.

I was out and about when I caught sight of what appeared to be a nun's wimple. It was an oval white shape with a yellowish circle in the middle. For a few seconds it really WAS a nun, to me anyway. I was startled as it was not a place where I'd ever expect to see a nun. Given that fact, I wondered if it might be a ghost. And when the 'nun' vanished, to be replace by a white sign, my ghost suspicion was confirmed. It was a classic misperception ghost. I could not see the writing on the sign from a distance making its true identity unobvious. The circle in the middle, giving the impression of a face, was actually a picture. The yellow colour was not obvious from at the distance where I originally saw the ghost.

The experience demonstrated to me why monks and nuns ought be fairly common as misperception ghosts. All you really need is a dark shape resembking a figure, such as a shadow, with a lighter area suggesting a face in an appropriate position. Then you have the classic monk in a habit. I tried taking some photos of suitable shadows in foliage to see if one resembled a monk or nun.

The photo (above right) is the nearest I got to a shadowy 'monk' figure. The 'ghostly figure' is in the centre of the photo. There is a suggestion of a 'cowl' at the top, formed by some leaves. It looked like a ghostly monk figure, briefly, when seen with the naked eye. However, in the photo it is possible to examine the image at leisure so its inadequacies become plain to seek. I only spent a few minutes trying to get shadow 'monk' type photos. I'm sure that with a bit more effort I could get a reasonably convincing photo of such a ghost.

So, if monk ghosts are relatively easy to misperceive, why haven't I seen them before? And why have I not come across many contemporary reports of them? I think it may be because such dark figures are more likely to be labelled as shadow ghosts these days. As far as I recall, shadow ghosts only appear to have come to prominence relatively recently. Are monk ghosts and shadow ghosts different interpretations of the same basic kind of apparition? If anyone has any information on the history of monk ghosts and shadow ghosts I'd be interested to hear about it.

PS: By coincidence (or not), a few days after taking these photos I saw two real nuns. It was the first time I'd seen any in years!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

White ghost in a tree!

Greek statue (not)So, I was looking through some recent photos, as you do, when I found a ghost. I should say, straight away, that I deliberately take photos in situations where I think something resembling a ghost might appear in the resulting picture. But this was NOT one of those photos. It was, instead, a rather distant picture of a bird. I wasn't expecting anything odd in the photo at all but I could hardly miss it when I looked. I have cropped the photo (right) to highlight the ghost, otherwise it is unaltered.

To me, the pale object (top centre) looks like the profile view of a head facing left. I can see an eye, a mouth, a nose, a hairline and a neck. Shadows suggest that the head is illuminated from the left. My first thought was that it was a classical Greek statue.

So, if it most closely resembles a statue, why am I calling it a ghost? Well, one popular idea about ghosts is that they are pale or white. In reality, witnesses usually report ghosts as looking just like normal everyday people. As discussed recently (here) popular ideas about ghosts generally differ widely from real life reports. My point is that I can easily see how someone discovering this 'statue head' in a photo they'd taken might report it as a ghost.

So what is it? There is no statue, Greek or otherwise, at the location. The 'statue head' effect is clouds seen through a hole in tree branches. That it resembles a statue is pure coincidence. In the field of anomalous phenomena, coincidence is frequently mentioned in connection with subjects like precognition or telepathy. But it is actually an important factor throughout the whole field of anomalous phenomena. It can explain many apparent paranormal reports. For more on this subject see here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A glowing transparent ghost!

Transparent objectThere is a popular idea that ghosts are transparent. Another widespread idea is that some ghosts, at least, glow. This latter idea may explain why so many people hold ghost vigils in the dark. Paradoxically, actual ghosts sightings are usually of witnesses seeing quite ordinary looking human figures. I have seen a number of ghosts myself and they all looked like perfectly ordinary people. So, you can imagine my shock when, recently, I saw a transparent, glowing ghost!

I was on a bus when I noticed this bizarre figure standing on a small patch of grass in an otherwise tarmac and concrete urban landscape. The figure vanished within seconds, just in case I had any lingering doubts that it was indeed a ghost! So what was going on?

I soon realized that the ghost was a reflection in the bus window of a real person on the opposite side of the street. The figure appeared transparent because it was a reflection. It appeared to 'glow' because it was strongly illuminated by the orange sunlight of the setting sun. The area of grass was, by contrast, in deep shadow, making the figure look as though it was glowing. What made the ghost so convincing was that it appeared to standing on the grass and was of ordinary size. Also, no objects apart from the figure were reflected in the window. Had the figure appeared above or below the ground, or looked particularly magnified or diminished, I would have spotted it at once as a reflection.

The whole effect relied on coincidence. Firstly, the lighting had to be just right to strongly illuminate only the 'ghost' but not its accompanying background. The grass also needed to be in shadow. On a subsequent trip to the same location, on the same bus, I could clearly see a whole scene reflected in the window, not just passing pedestrians. Clearly the sun had to be at a particular angle for just one figure to be illuminated. Secondly, the figure had to be reflected in such a way that it appeared to be walking on the grass, not below or above it. The area of grass is significantly elevated above the pavement opposite, which probably explains that. Thirdly, the figure needed to be a credible size in the reflection. I think this effect was due to the fact that the bus was on the same side of the road as the person who became the ghost. This meant that the reflected figure appeared a natural size in a reflection in the bus window opposite. If the bus had been on the opposite side of the road, the figure would have looked a different size.

I suspect the ghost effect only works at a particular time of day on a few days a year, due to the angle of the sun. I say this because I travel on that bus route regularly and always look at that grass patch. That's because I am a birder and the grass often attracts interesting birds. I must have done this trip thousands of times in total but only ever seen the ghost once! That gives a good idea of how rare a coincidence it must be.

Having seen this particular ghost I now see that is entirely possible for witnesses to report glowing, transparent ghosts. So why are there so few reports of such phenomena? It is odd, given that many people actually expect ghosts to be transparent and glow. My own best guess is as follows. Firstly, if this case is anything to go by, it may takes a rare coincidences to produce a glowing, transparent ghost effect. Secondly, witnesses may realize quickly that they are seeing a reflection. Thirdly, even if the witness thinks it IS a ghost, they might consider it so fantastic that they dismiss it as imagination.

Whenever a transparent ghost is reported it is always worth checking for the presence of windows or other reflective surfaces at the scene of the sighting. This is obviously an important factor where someone reports something strange from inside a vehicle of some kind.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

An unsettling ghost

Hair in front of the cameraWhen I saw an amorphous, misty shape flit behind me it was unsettling. It was not the thought that it might be a ghost - that would have been exciting. No, it is seeing an unknown person in a place where I thought was no one around that was disturbing.

In many ghost sightings witnesses do not even realise they are watching a ghost at the time they see it. It is only afterwards, when the figure disappears, or the witness realizes there could not have been anyone there, that it becomes obvious it was a ghost.

In this latest incident I was looking out of a window. It was twilight outside and the window was partly covered in condensation because of the cold outside. Behind me there was a light on in a different room. I could clearly see the reflection of that room in the window. It was in that reflected room where I saw a dark shape move. At first I was puzzled as there should not have been anyone there at the time. It did indeed appear to be a ghost!

I then saw the same thing again and this time I was able to watch it more carefully. I deduced that the shape was actually part of the condensation on the window. It was partly obscuring the otherwise clear reflection of the lit room behind. The movement was caused by me! As I moved slightly, it made the area of the reflected room obscured by condensation move too. This gave the appearance of a dark, misty amorphous shape flitting around in the room behind.

Most ghost reports describe perfectly normal looking people who just happen to disappear or be in places where they should not be. Misty ghosts tend to be more typical of anomalous photos, where the explanation is often the photographer's own breath on a cold night (see here). So it is interesting to have an example of a misty ghost not involving photography!

Monday, 21 September 2015

There is no 'I' in dream

Crows in a tree"Now there was going to be trouble. I reached for my phone." This the latest 'voice' reported by my acquaintance (MA) who experiences MWRs (microsleep with REM). MA goes straight into a dream state during microsleep episodes that last just seconds. Being awake before and after means that the dream episode can feel very much like a waking experience. A small proportion of the general population, typically with certain sleep disorders, have such experiences. As I've reported recently, MA often just hears a voice. It does not appear to address MA but is more like an overheard conversation. Since the dream state during MWRs does not appear to be very deep, MA is able to remember what happens, including precise wording, easily. In contrast. MA does not remember ordinary long sleep dreams well.

This latest couple of sentences are extraordinary and here's why. They are in the first person but, though presumably originating in MA's brain, do not 'feel' as though they are MA speaking. Indeed, MA had no phone at the time this latest incident occurred, nor was there any imminent threat of 'trouble'. So it appears that the 'I' in this case was not MA but someone else.

The sentences sound like those of a narrator or protagonist in a novel or movie. Indeed, such short speech fragments are deeply frustrating because MA never finds out what happens next. What was the trouble coming and who was the narrator going to call? We will simply never know. MA has never heard speech fragments that appear to be a continuation of earlier examples.

MA also gets visual MWRs and these have a similar quality. It is as if MA is present at some scene but not involved in it. No one addresses MA. the scene simply unfolds on its own. It is as if MA was an invisible witness at the centre of a movie set where a scene was being filmed. There always seems to be some sort of unknown plot unfolding, driving the action forward. However, the MWRs, whether visual or spoken, do not appear to direct extracts from actual movies that MA has seen.

What is interesting about all this is that the movie-like quality of the MWRs can make them feel very real. Not only that but some of the material seems to be directly taken from actual movies, albeit altered (see here). So it is possible now to see a direct path for someone who has watched a movie about UFOs, for instance, to have a MWR about aliens loosely based on those memories. And if that person was not aware of what MWRs are, they might very well accept the experience as a real alien encounter.

I'm not sure how different MWRs are to long sleep dreaming but they do seem, for MA at least, to follow a quite specific pattern. Maybe this is because the brain experiencing a MWR is not as profoundly asleep as in the long sleep dream. This may be why MWRs usually feel much more real than long sleep dreams and why they may be mistaken for paranormal experiences. MWRs may be playing an unknown movie sequence in someone's heads as if it were real.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Linear photographic anomalies

Hair imn front of the cameraThere is a type of anomalous photo that contains a glowing linear object, or strand, like the example here (right). The linear objects in these photos look out of focus and strongly illuminated by a flash. This implies that the objects are close to the camera. In all the examples I've seen, the linear object reaches the frame edge suggesting it is not floating free. The obvious possibility is a strand, or strands, of the photographer's own hair. Since cameras are often used near the face, it is likely that long hair will sometimes intrude on the image, unnoticed by the photographer.

It is certainly possible to reproduce this type of photo by dangling a strand of hair, or a thread, just in front of a camera. I have, however, never been able to test the idea of the photographer's own hair being responsible. Until now! I have recently taken to wearing my hair quite long.

Hair in front of the cameraSo I decided I'd see just how easy this sort of dangling hair photo really is. The answer I got is that it is not as likely as you'd imagine. It took a little effort on my behalf to get my hair, admittedly not that long, to get in front of the lens. I imagine it would, however, be easier with a tiny camera or phone. I was, nevertheless, able to get the photos I wanted, the one above being an example. Notice how there are brighter bits along the linear anomalies. These are highlights, bits reflecting more strongly than the rest. It certainly demonstrated to me that the idea at least works.

The next photo (right) was a real surprise. I've seen anomalous photos like this before. I'd always assumed it was mist or the photographer's own breath showing up on a cold night. While many such photos are indeed caused in those ways this one was not. It is, in fact, my hair! I had only intended a few strands to intrude on the frame but got this by mistake. The effect does not obviously suggest hair, to me at least. There are so many strands that it has a sort of wispy misty look overall. It is certainly a possibility to consider when examining photos like this.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Insect ghost

Apparent ghost insectI recently posed the question (here), why aren't there more animal ghosts? While animal ghosts are certainly reported, what about insects? I'm not sure anyone would even notice an insect ghost. If you're trying to find an insect in a room it can be difficult to see. You hear insects more easily than see them and they disappear from view regularly, only to reappear later, often nearby. So I'm not sure how you could tell a real insect from a ghost one.

I'm thinking about this because recently I saw an insect on a white wall. Nothing strange about that except that it wasn't really there. It was, as far as I could tell, a ghost insect! Before I explain how I deduced that, I'll show you my attempts to recreate the incident.

In the photo (right) you can see how I got on. The photo shows a 'thing' on a white sheet of paper. The 'thing' has legs and a rather flat body. It looks similar to what I saw in the original incident.

Apparent insect on paperIn the original incident, I was looking at the white wall from an acute angle. From there I could see the 'insect' quite clearly. But when I approached the 'insect', it suddenly looked flat. It was actually a dark mark on the wall. So I drew a similar squiggle on a piece of paper and photographed it from an acute angle. This is the photo above. In the next photo (right) you can see the squiggle from above, looking nothing like an insect. I think the effect is all about the white background. A plain featureless background makes it difficult to judge perspective. So it can give 2-D marks on the surface a 3-D look, depending on what they show. A touch of misperception would have made the object look like a very real insect.

So, my first insect ghost! I wonder if it might be possible to produce the 3-D ghosts of larger objects in a similar manner on a white wall. Perhaps even human figures!

Monday, 14 September 2015

UFO in clouds

UFOHere's a photo (right) of a UFO I took recently. The object, resembling a fuzzy brown pillar, appears to be emerging from a cloud. So what is it?

Well, I suppose it could be an alien spacecraft floating among the clouds, its fuzzy appearance perhaps due to an unknown exotic propulsion method. Or maybe it is in the act of materializing in our atmosphere from some kind of teleportation. Or perhaps not.

The truth is more prosaic. UFOs are sometimes discovered in photos when nothing odd was noticed at the time of exposure. This is similar to what happens with a great many ghost photos. Whenever this happens, it is always useful to look at photographic artefacts for an explanation (see here).

Leaf UFOThis object in this photo is actually a leaf (photo right). It was caught in a spider's web and blowing around in the wind. It is blurry because, being much closer to the camera than the trees or clouds, it is out of focus. The position apparently in the clouds is fortuitous. In fact, I took a great many photos and selected this one deliberately because of how it looked. Most of the others look more like an out of focus leaf. But, of course, if this is the only photo someone took of the UFO they might not get those useful comparison shots.

One interesting point about this UFO is that it appears to be among the clouds but is, of course, much closer. It can be difficult to judge how far an object really is away from the camera.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Why are there more ghosts of people than tables?

Island mirageWhy do we see ghosts of people but not of tables or other inanimate objects? Well, actually there ARE some reports of ghosts of inanimate objects but they are rare. Generally, the vast majority of ghosts are human figures. But why?

On careful investigation, a large proportion of ghost sightings are caused by misperception. Many others are caused by hallucination. Given the high proportion caused by misperception this is a likely place to look for answers. You can misperceive absolutely anything. There seems to be no theoretical reason why it is more likely to misperceive a human figure than a book case or an island. So what's going on?

We all misperceive all the time. However, most people never notice it and even those who do only do so rarely. Regular readers will know that I have, for a few years now, noticed myself misperceiving far more than I ever did before. And the majority of the misperceptions that I notice are of human figures that are not really there (otherwise known as ghosts!). So, I wondered if I am just forgetting most of the non-ghost misperceptions.

I decided to record all the misperceptions I noticed over a period of 2 hours. The results were surprising. Firstly, I was astonished to find that I noted 7 misperceptions in that period or around 4 per hour, far more than I expected! Clearly I am forgetting most such incidents quickly. Secondly, all the misperceptions were of everyday inanimate objects without any paranormal feel to their appearance. Thirdly, in every case I was not expecting the misperception. I've found, over the years, that it is impossible to predict just when I will get a misperception. Fourthly, most of the misperceptions were of objects not in their usual place. Thinking about it, I can recall this being an aspect of many of my misperceptions. When in a familiar setting I will usually only misperceive an object if it is an unusual place. This makes perfect sense. The brain builds a mental map of surroundings which inform its perceptual guesses. If you know there is a bookcase in your peripheral vision, that's what you'll see. However, in the bookcase has been moved, you may misperceive instead.

I did this micro experiment in familiar surroundings. I'm not sure what would happen in unfamiliar surroundings. I would guess I might misperceive more. I will have to try it some time.

So back to the original question. Why do we, generally, see ghosts of people but not of tables? If my micro experiment is anything to go by it is probably a question of significance. Briefly seeing a small piece of wet cloth as a plastic badge (an actual example from the experiment) is hardly important or significant in my life. Unexpectedly seeing an unknown person certainly would be. I think the same principle may apply to the population in general.

Another interesting result of my experiment concerns seeing misperceptions. Firstly, I cannot make a misperception happen. I think my mind has to be in a state where I am NOT expecting it for one to appear. However, I can encourage noticing misperceptions, as they occur, simply by being alert to the possibility. And then they can be noted and recorded.

PS: The illustration shows 'ghost islands' - a mirage.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

More about the way ghosts vanish

Crows in a treeOften, with ghost experiences, the witness does not even realise they are seeing a ghost during the experience. This happened to me recently. I was walking along a suburban street when I noticed a small car parked ahead of me. It was in an unusual position, which is why I noticed it. And there was someone in it, which was also noteworthy. The person in the car appeared to be looking in my direction but not directly at me. Sitting in the driver's seat, the person had an arm draped over the top of the adjacent seat.

As I approached closer, still looking at the car, the figure vanished. It wasn't an abrupt disappearance, like in a ghost movie, they just simply weren't there any more. I could see now that it was a misperception.

The figure's 'head' was actually a light coloured head restraint. The 'draped arm' was actually a dark garment lying along the top of the back seat. The two objects lined up, from my viewpoint, to resemble a head and outstretched arm.

I was so impressed by this strong misperception that I straight away retraced my steps and walked towards the car by the same route again. As feared, the misperception no longer worked but I could see why it had. The head restraint and garment certainly resembled a human figure, though not enough to actually appear as one on the second attempt. Misperceptions rarely work a second time because the witness's brain now knows what it is really seeing. Also, misperception usually only works when the witness is not expecting it. I have seen ghostly figures in cars before. They usually involve a head restraint because it occupies the space where you'd expect to see someone's head. Misperception is always helped by an object being a position where you would expect to see a person.

The weather during this sighting was dull and overcast giving flat lighting with faint shadows. Lighting is crucial to misperception. On this occasion, it made the interior of the car difficult to see well, though the light head restraint showed up prominently.

The way misperceived ghosts vanish is interesting. As I said, they don't suddenly disappear, like in a movie. Nor do they fade away slowly. It is hard to describe but they are just no longer there. It doesn't feel odd at the time, only afterwards when you realise what's happened. It is as if you completely believe you are seeing a figure one second and then completely believe you don't see one in the next, without any feeling of contradiction. That is a strange experience in itself! This expands a little on my previous attempt to describe the process of misperceived ghosts vanishing here.

Monday, 7 September 2015

A new class of strange experience?

Crows in a treeA large number of paranormal reports turn out, on investigation to be xenonormal. That is, they appear paranormal but actually have a natural explanation. The word xenonormal means 'foreign normal'; in other words 'the unfamiliar but natural'. It is all about witnesses seeing something but thinking it is something else. With misperception, for instance, someone might view a poorly-seen tree as a human figure. Or a witness unfamiliar with Chinese Lanterns might see them as alien spacecraft. In the first example, the witness obviously knows what a tree looks like but does not recognise it due to poor viewing conditions. In the second example, the witness has never seen a Chinese Lantern before and so does not know what to make of it.

I mention this because my acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) episodes reported something new, along these lines, recently. MA was on a short trip by train. MA does this trip frequently and so is very familiar with the scenes from the train window. But while coming out of a MWR on this particular trip, MA looked out of the window and was momentarily completely lost. The scene was utterly familiar, and yet at the same time completely unfamiliar. The state of confusion only lasted a second or two but it was disturbing. MA has never had this experience before, despite having microsleeps frequently on trains.

Although the 'unfamiliar' scene turned out to be completely familiar, it felt utterly foreign for a second or two. The incident happened during the transition between MWR and full consciousness and was, presumably caused by that transition. Although I can think of no obvious set of paranormal reports that correspond to this type of phenomenon, it seems highly likely other people ARE experiencing it. Such an odd experience COULD certainly be reported as paranormal or at least strange. It seems possible, if unlikely, to be a 'new' class of strange experience. If anyone has come across an incident like this, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Invisible ghosts

VigilA Goldfinch flew over. I didn't look up. I knew what species the bird was without seeing it. I recognized its call. But it got me thinking about those cases of haunting where no actual apparition is ever seen. Why do witnesses assume a ghost is even involved?

With no apparition, a haunting consists of some odd occurrences happening at a particular location. That a ghost is responsible is an assumption. Of course, you could argue that similar events occur in hauntings with or without apparitions. But even when ghosts are seen they are not observed producing knocking noises, moving objects about or any of the other stuff associated with hauntings. Ghosts are also often seen without any accompanying haunting phenomena. It might, therefore, be better to think of ghosts as a rare symptom of certain hauntings.

Despite this, there is a general assumption that hauntings are caused by ghosts, seen or unseen. This brings me back to the Goldfinch. Suppose I was in an empty building and I heard a door close somewhere out of sight. I would assume that there was someone present. But if, on searching, I could find no one, I would either conclude that they had left rapidly or it was a ghost. But there is another possibility, of course. What if the sound was not a door closing at all but just sounded like it? There is even a small possibility that my Goldfinch was something else entirely. A Starling, for instance, can mimic other bird calls.

My point is that I think people may assume invisible ghosts are responsible for haunting phenomena because they sound like someone moving around. But the sounds of someone moving about are so general that they can be produced by many other mechanisms. The 'closing door' I heard, in my example, may have been some automatic machinery operating, for instance, or perhaps something falling down. I have often been caught out by machinery in this way, causing me to think I was not as alone as I'd thought. And that's just indoors. Outside there are many things, like the wind, flowing water or animals, that can sound like someone moving around.

There's a lot more on this topic here. You will gather from these blog posts that I regard the idea of invisible ghosts as an, as yet, unproven assumption. Maybe compelling evidence for their existence is out there somewhere but I've yet to see it.

PS: "A rational guide to booing". It sounds like the title of an amusing lecture that I'd like to attend. It is, instead, a recent snatch of speech from an MWR (see 1 Sep). I think an acronym is needed for this dream eavesdropping. How about MDE - Microsleep Dream Eavesdroppin

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

What doesn't stay in the office?

Crows in a tree'It doesn't stay in the office. It's not long before you miss it.' This is a short snatch of speech heard by my acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). Essentially, it is a rare experience, affecting a tiny proportion of the population, who go straight into a dream state when they have a microsleep. Some of the experiences feel paranormal, despite their normal cause.

This latest odd experience is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it contradicts something MA had previously noted, namely that speech MWRs only seem to occur while reading. This particular random speech fragment happened while MA was sitting in a chair, resting but very much awake. Such random snatches of speech may feel like psychic messages to some people who have MWRs who are unaware of their true cause. Having said that, many of these 'messages' appear strangely opaque! This one sounds like a cryptic clue in a game. Such random content is typical of MWR speech (another example here). The talking does not seem to be addressed to MA but is more like eavesdropping on someone else's conversation. MA has only ever heard one voice talking per MWR but that may just be because the sessions are so short. It is interesting to note that many reported psychic communications also appear rather cryptic.

A second point that this example illustrates is that MWRs feel more real than ordinary dreams. They can often be recalled in detail. MA wrote down this one directly after hearing it. In contrast, MA cannot recall anything like such detail from ordinary sleeping dreams, only generalities. I suspect this is because the brain state is 'closer' to full consciousness during MWRs compared to normal REM sleep, allowing better recall. Because MWRs can be recalled in detail, they can feel very real.

Meanwhile MA's visual MWRs seem to getting longer and more frustrating. It is like seeing 10s of a thriller and never finding out what happens next! MA feels somehow detached from the action, not playing an active part even though the scenes appear much more real than TV. It is like standing, unseen, in the middle of a film set with the action going on all around. It would, therefore, not be hard for someone else who experiences MWRs, who does not know what they are, to think they are real, possibly paranormal, experiences.

Sadly, we will never know what doesn't stay in the office.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why aren't there more animal ghosts?

Night foxI sometimes wonder why there aren't many more animal ghosts. While they certainly exist, I've only come across a tiny number of animal ghost cases. By contrast, I've looked at a huge number of cases involving the ghosts of humans.

Some people may not find the disparity surprising, but here's why I do. As an amateur naturalist, I observe wild animals whenever I can. One thing I've noticed about them is their distinctly ghost-like ability to appear and disappear, often right in front of me. And it's not just me, other naturalists report the same thing.

The following scenario is not unusual among birders. A bird may be in plain sight until it flies into an isolated bush. I then look at the bush with binoculars trying to find the bird. But after some time it becomes obvious that the bird is not in the bush at all. A closer examination confirms this. The bird has vanished! In reality, what has probably happened is that the bird did not stop in the bush for long at all but flew out from the other side, unnoticed by me. So while I was patiently examining the bush leaf by leaf with binoculars the bird was already in the next field!

Another typical experience is animals just appearing out of nowhere. I might be quite deliberately examining a well-lit night scene, a street for instance, looking for foxes. Then, suddenly, a fox will appear right n the middle of the scene. How could it have appeared, as if from nowhere, when I should have plainly seen its approach? The solution to this puzzle is the opposite of the bird one above. With the bird in the bush I was concentrating on where I 'knew' the bird to be, so not noticing its escape. With the fox, I did not know it was present and so was scanning the scene generally while missing its rapid approach.

There are countless other examples of animals, observed by highly experienced naturalists, just disappearing or appearing in the spookiest manner. I am not suggesting that the way these animals appear or disappear is paranormal, which is why I included explanations for the examples. But there must be times when this sort of thing happens to someone who is not as experienced with the ways of wild animals who may well think that it IS paranormal. So why aren't there more reports of vanishing animals?

And that is why I'm surprised there aren't more reports of ghost animals. It's possible that the seemingly spooky antics of animals are only noticed by those who watch them a lot, like naturalists. And they know there is nothing ghostly going on.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Tall thin green ghost

White streaksI became aware of a tall person standing behind me recently. I was outside, in daylight, with rain falling and a strong breeze blowing. The person was in my peripheral vision. I turned slowly, to look properly at them, only to discover there was no one there. So, a ghost then!

I quickly realised that what I was actually seeing was a tall bush, with a good covering of leaves. So it was a misperception ghost. The bush was tall and thin, its dimensions closely resembling those of a tall, thin person. It was, of course, overwhelmingly green which is not typical of a human figure. However, the colour was not so obvious in my initial view. Peripheral vision tends to look monochrome.

So, a typical peripheral vision misperception ghost sighting. Except that I wasn't wearing my glasses. I have quite pronounced short sightedness (myopia) and rarely go outside without my glasses on. This sighting contradicts an observation I made last year (see here). I had noted that I seldom, if ever, notice myself misperceiving when not wearing glasses. This latest observation directly contradicts that idea. So what's going on?

I had sacculated that objects seen as ghosts in normal vision were too fuzzy in myopic vision to be misperceived as human figures. This idea may still be true. What I failed to note was that some objects NOT misperceived as ghosts in normal vision may become fuzzy enough, in myopic vision, to be seen as human figures. In other words, myopia doesn't stop misperception, it simply shifts the distance (from the witness) of objects that might be affected.

So why do I not almost never notice misperception when not wearing glasses? It is probable that the range of distances (from me) over which objects may be misperceived is quite narrow when I'm not wearing glasses. It would require some experiments to determine this for sure. What looks certain is that myopia, and presumably hyperopia, can have a profound effect on misperception. It is clearly important to know if witnesses have either of these conditions and whether they were wearing corrective lenses when they had their anomalous experiences.

The motion of the bush in this observation was, I think, an important contributory factor to its being misperceived. Obviously, significant movement is more typical of human figures than bushes so it would have added to the impression of a ghost. Also, the bush was isolated from nearby vegetation. Taken together, the shape, dimensions, isolation and movement of the bush all gave it a distinctly human look when seen in peripheral vision.

PS: And the photo? More examples of white streaks - see yesterday.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Strange white streaks photographed

White trailsThe photo here (right), taken recently, is a rather blurry picture of the leaves in a tree. Despite the blurriness it is possible to make out individual leaves. But there is something more mysterious in this photo. There are several vertical white streaks. The best examples are two streaks in a dark patch just above, and to the right of, the centre of the frame. They look sharp, in contrast to the leaves around them.

I've seen many anomalous photos which are blurry. It can be difficult to identify the cause of anomalies in such photos. However, I know what these particular streaks are because I came across them when experimenting with deliberately blurring photos. There are two main causes of blurring in photos - being out of focus and motion blur. This photo is caused by motion blur - the camera had a relatively slow shutter speed (1/5s) and was moved slightly during exposure.

The white streaks are small patches of sky showing through the canopy of leaves. On a non-motion blurred photo they would show up as white dots. But when the camera moved they became white streaks,. They appear to be sharp because a dot forms a line when stretched. Leaves, on the other hand, just become fuzzy. I have to admit, had I never done this experiment, and I was presented with a photo like this, I would be puzzled by it. It shows the value of such xenonormal experiments.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Unlikely prediction comes true

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be aware that I have an apparent tendency to see famous people more often than appears normal. I've no idea what a 'normal' rate is for seeing famous people but 0.23 celebrities per month seems a lot to me. If anyone has any figures for this I'd love to see them. I should emphasize that I see these famous people just in the normal course of everyday living. I do not go out of my way to find celebrities. I don't hang around at places where they might be expected to turn up.

Anyway, here's a quote from this blog (23 April 2015): " I'm expecting my next celebrity in around 4 months! " And here we are, four months later and guess what? Yes, I saw my latest famous person a couple of days ago, just on time! It was a musician and one whose work I happen to play a lot. Most sightings I've had have been on public transport but this one was at a tourist attraction.

The prediction was based solely on the average rate of seeing famous people. I didn't expect it to actually happen just as I'd predicted. Nevertheless, I wrote it and it happened! On its own it is a coincidence, of course. If it happens again, in another four months, it will certainly start to look distinctly spooky.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Dream or paranormal?

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be familiar with my acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). Essentially, it is a rare experience, affecting a tiny proportion of the population, who go straight into a dream state when they have a microsleep. Some of the experiences feel paranormal, despite their normal cause. Someone unaware of the phenomenon of MWR who experiences them regularly might think themselves psychic. But, surely, these experiences are just dreams and simple to distinguish from ordinary real life, aren't they?

So, how do know if you are dreaming? Unless it is a lucid dream, you don't, at the time. One obvious test for dreaming would be whether it is an experience you have just prior waking up. There is usually a definite boundary between dreaming and being conscious while we wake up. Let's call it the 'waking up test'. It is generally reliable but not always. There is the false awakening phenomenon to consider, though that ought to recognisable once you know what to look out for. I've had false awakenings and they are disconcerting!

There is another test of whether you are dreaming which we might call the 'blind acceptance test'. Although strange things happen routinely in dreams, we just accept them without question. It appears that whatever part of our brain would normally raise the alarm at odd goings-on is switched off during dreaming. Once we wake up and review the dream content it becomes obvious that it contained absurdities or fiction that would never have been blindly accepted had we been awake. So, can these tests be applied to MWR experiences?

MWR experiences differ from 'long sleep' dreams in several ways. Obviously they are short, typically seconds long. And with MWRs the dream starts straight away, producing a continuous experience, straight after conscious reality, which can be hard to spot straight away. When a MWR ends there is a feeling of waking up but it is, for MA at least, less pronounced than the 'long sleep' version.

So do the tests for dreaming still work? They do but not always. Suppose MA is sitting in a chair at home and then suddenly is apparently in a desert talking to a large lizard and finally back at home again, all in a few seconds, it is quite obviously a MWR. It triggers the 'blind acceptance test' whereby MA did not consider it remarkable, at the time, to be chatting to a lizard or, indeed, suddenly teleported to a desert. But what if MA had gone from home to being suddenly aboard an alien space craft? This is similar to some reported alien abduction cases and, to some people, it would not appear unlikely at all. MA has never had that experience, so far, but it could happen.

There is another experience with MWRs that MA has had several times where it can be difficult to tell if it is a dream. What happens is that the MWR consists of the scene around MA just before going into the microsleep. It looks as if MA's brain takes a visual snapshot of the scene and turns it into a dream. Usually there is, however, something slightly different about the dream version. It is generally the presence of a human figure that was not there before, or after. Also, any changes in the real scene that occur during the MWR are not noticed, as you might expect. There is an example here on a train. Such an experience could easily be interpreted as a ghost. MA can only detect such events through the 'waking up test'.

To summarize, MWRs typically form a continuous experience with waking conscious reality which can make them feel real. They can even use an image of reality, taken just before the dream started, making it difficult to notice the MWR. Of course, if others with MWR have similar experiences to MA, some of the dreams will be more easily noticed by their unrealistic content. But someone unaware of the existence of MWRs could interpret the 'unrealistic' MWRs as psychic visions or even astral travel.

On a unrelated topic, I recently was astonished to see a packet falling off a high supermarket shelf right in front of me, with one else nearby. While it COULD have been paranormal there is a more obvious theory to consider. It is possible that someone took the packet off the shelf, to look at it, and then replaced it. However, they did not put it back in a stable position and the packet slowly slid down to eventually fall off the shelf just as I walked by. The fact that it was a high shelf tends to back this idea up as the person involved may have not noticed, because they couldn't see the shelf from above, that they'd left the bag in an unstable position.