Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Vanishing mouse!

Leaves and lens flareI was waiting at a railway station recently when I noticed a mouse, or something like it, scamper across the the other end of the platform. But before it reached the far side, it simply vanished! Astonished, I went for a closer look. Even as I approached the area I realised what had happened. It wasn't a mouse, or any other animal, but a wind-blown leaf. But I certainly thought it was a mouse while I was watching it. Having seen squirrels on that same platform before, a mouse would not have been so extraordinary. So, it was a clearly a case of a misperception where the movement of the misperceived object played a crucial role.

Obviously, wind-blown leaves are rarely mistaken for mice but there were a number of factors at play here. Firstly, the leaf was a fair distance away, about 25m or so. Secondly, though it was daylight the sky was overcast giving unusually poor light conditions. Thirdly, the leaf was blown along the ground at just the right speed to resemble a scampering mouse. It turned over and over giving the impression of a something running. Fourthly, I think recent rain contributed both to the dark overall appearance of the leaf and its unusual rolling motion. I saw the 'mouse' for a couple of seconds initially and was completely convinced at the time that I was watching an animal. It was only when it stopped and 'vanished' that I began to wonder. The vanishing act is easily explained - the wind suddenly dropped the leaf so that it fell flat on the ground.

And the picture? Well I was looking for a photo of autumn leaves and I found this one with a nice bit of lens flare, right of centre, to add anomalous interest.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Grey fuzzy thing!

One winged thingYet another strange photo (right)! This one shows a grey fuzzy 'thing' attached to a thin branch at the top of a tree. The 'thing' has an appendage of some sort pointing out above while other appendages appear to attach it to the branch. The main body of the object appears more or less featureless. So what is this strange anomalous thing?

There are clues in the picture. The right end of the 'thing', including the vertical appendage, looks oddly fuzzy. The appendages at the left end are more sharply defined so the 'thing' cannot be out of focus. This suggests that motion blur is responsible for the fuzziness in part of the object. The position of the 'thing', on a branch, is also a big clue.

Bird by branchThe 'thing' is actually a small bird which has just taken off from the branch. Here is a zoomed view of the same photo (right). It is possible now to see that the blurred section at the right end, and the appendage, are fast moving wings. The 'appendages' by the branch are the bird's tail and one of the its legs stretched out having just let go of the branch.

I took this photo by accident. It was part of a sequence of photos of the bird on a branch. I deliberately 'zoomed out' the first version of the photo above. In many anomalous photos that I've seen it is not possible to get greater detail like this by zooming in because the resolution is too low. So you only have a photos like the zoomed out one above. It is also rare for there to be other photos taken of the same scene at the same time.

Unfortunately low resolution is a feature of many anomalous photos. The picture may be good enough to show its main subject well but the small 'anomaly' may not contain enough detail to determine its true nature.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Strange glowing yellow dots

Glowing yellow stuffThere are strange things everywhere if you look closely enough. Take the photo (right) here that I took recently. The picture shows a cobbled pavement covered in fallen leaves. But there is also something odd. There are lots of glowing yellow dots! What might they be?

The vast majority of photographic anomalies are found when a photo is examined after exposure. The anomaly was hardly ever seen at the time the photo was taken. This is significant because the photographer will often not remember much about the circumstances of the photo being taken after the event. This can result in 'unknown' human figures, taken to be ghosts, showing up when they were simply real people present but not noticed by the photographer at the time. When someone is concentrating on taking a photo they can easily not notice quite obvious things in the background of the picture.

Then there are other oddities whose explanation actually lies just outside the frame of the photo and which were, again, not noticed at the time. This picture is an example of that type of anomalous photo. Although the photo was taken in plain daylight, there was a streetlight on nearby. Its bright yellow light is being reflected in the wet street cobbles leading to the 'glowing yellow dots' seen here. Since streetlights are seldom on during daylight hours, it's not an obvious explanation to someone looking at the photo after the event.

So it is not a photographic artefact. The effect was 'out there' in the real world, not just in the camera. I DID notice it at the time, which is why I took the picture. However, it could easily have only been noticed after the event by someone who either forgot about the lit street light or never even noticed it at the time. It is a case of missing information being the key to explaining the effect. I get frustrated with many anomalous photos that I'm sure could be easily explained if only there was another picture available of the same scene taken from a different angle. In this case, a photo showing the lit street light would have helped! I often ask people with anomalous photos if any other pictures were taken at the same time. Sometimes there were and they can be really illuminating.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Doppelganger?

Crows in tree A strange thing happened to me recently. I was at a meeting and went outside briefly. There, in a corridor, I passed someone who said hello to me. I didn't realise who it was until it was too late to say hello back. I hoped the person, who I know slightly, wasn't offended by my apparently ignoring them. I returned to the meeting.

Then something odd happened. I discovered that the person I'd seen in the corridor was not actually at the meeting at all, even though I'd expected them to be there. So who had I really seen - a doppelganger maybe? Looking round the room I saw someone there who resembled my acquaintance and might have been the person I really saw in the corridor. But the face, in particular, was quite different.

I was definitely convinced, at the time of the sighting, that I'd seen the person I know slightly. So much so that I was afraid I'd inadvertently offended them. But if it was someone else entirely, how could I have been so mistaken?

Though the obvious way to recognise someone is by their face, other aspects of a person's appearance or behaviour work too. One method of recognition is called gait analysis - recognizing someone by their walk - and it is surprisingly accurate (see here). It can work even when you don't get a good view of someone. Then there is a person's size and shape (see here). Again, it can work when you don't get a good view. I only saw the person in the corridor's face for a second or so but noticed their body for longer. Did I unconsciously, and incorrectly, 'recognise' them from things other than the face? If so, I believe I have an excuse.

I think there are two key points to consider with this incident which I believe was a misidentification of a real person, rather than a doppelganger sighting. Firstly, the person said 'hello' which started me thinking I knew them. This stranger may simply have said hello because we were both in the same meeting and so had a common interest. Secondly, I was definitely expecting the person I know slightly to be at that meeting. I think these factors may have biassed me towards 'recognising' an unfamiliar face.

Though I don't think it was a doppelganger, I think this incident is relevant to witness testimony of anomalous phenomena. There are anomalous incident reports, some ghost sightings for instance, where the witness may apparently recognise a human figure they see. In my experience of ghosts caused by misperception I've never recognised the figures. I have speculated that this is because our brains use an archetypal figure, rather than a specific remembered person, from visual memory in such incidents. But the features of misperceived figures are also determined by the shape of the actual object being misperceived. So maybe, on occasion, a misperceived figure might be 'recognised' as a specific person by a witness using such factors as perceived body shape and size. Obviously, with misperception there is no real figure to recognise but if it is 'identified' by a witness this reinforces the idea that it is a paranormal ghost.

I had previously thought when a ghost is positively identified by a witness that rules out misperception. I no longer think that. Also, I'm hoping that, in future, I might see an identifiable ghost myself, caused by misperception.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ghost fox

Night foxI was looking out of an upstairs window recently at night. I noticed a fox on the opposite side of the road outside trotting along the pavement. It reached a point maybe 20m away and stopped. I waited to see what it would do next. I gradually became aware that it was no longer there, despite having watched continuously and not seen it move. I waited a while but then a pedestrian walked by so close to the 'fox' that they would undoubtedly have made it move had the animal still been present. So, a fox ghost then!

I was astonished by this incident. I could not believe I had manage to 'lose' a fox I had in plain view. Admittedly, the area where the animal went 'missing' was less well lit than most of the surrounding area. I think this was a special kind of misperception. I've come across other instances with birds (I am a keen birder). On many occasions I've seen a bird 'land' in a bush only for there to be no sign of it when the area is examined with binoculars. In reality, the bird flew INTO the bush rather than landing on it. It is a case of expectation causing misperception. With the fox, I believe it never stopped where I thought it did but instead went behind a nearby car out of sight. Because I EXPECTED it to carry on in a straight line, that's what I saw. And because I could no longer see any movement, I 'saw' the fox come to a standstill. Obviously, this kind of misperception would never occur in good viewing conditions, such as daylight.

So this is a different kind of misperception based on expectation. The way the fox 'vanished' was interesting. At one moment I was convinced I could see it. Then it was just no longer there, replaced by poorly-lit paving slabs. Anyone not aware of misperception might certainly have seen this as a fox vanishing. Indeed, that was just how it felt to me at the time and it was oddly disturbing. Solid objects are not supposed to vanish in plain sight.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Strange small figure

Shadow figureIn the photo (right) you may notice a small dark figure. It is just beyond the right-hand side of the bush in the centre of the photo. The figure was visible to the naked eye at the time, as well as in the photo. However, even before I took the photo, the object no longer looked like a human figure.

There are several things wrong with the 'figure'. Firstly, it is unusually dark for a human figure. That doesn't rule out some sort of shadow ghost, of course. A second objection is that at the apparent distance of the figure it would incredibly small for a human.

Looking more closely at the 'figure' it turned out to be a cluster of leaves attached to the bush by a couple of thin twigs from above. The twigs are not visible from a distance. Together, the leaves block more light than the nearby single leaves. That is why the cluster appears so dark. Finally, the leaf cluster just happens to produce a shape resembling the proportions of a human figure.

Had I taken the photo without noticing any 'figure' at the time I might later, on examining the picture, have thought it was a strange human figure - a miniature shadow ghost perhaps. In most anomalous photographs nothing unusual is noticed at the time of exposure.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Haunting noises

VigilRecently I entered a familiar building that I expected to be empty. Straight away I heard sounds from inside that suggested someone was there. I said 'hello' in a friendly way but there was no reply. I felt uneasy as it suddenly reminded my of a scene from a horror movie. And I knew what usually happened next!

I told myself to stop being silly and cautiously went to investigate. I entered the room where the noises came from and there was no one there! So, a ghost then! After a while I heard the noises again. Yes, you've guessed it, they came from that new fridge I wrote about recently (see here). It was a different noise this time but was undoubtedly coming from the fridge. The sound did gave a vague impression of objects were being moving around. Despite that I was puzzled by why the sounds gave me the strong impression someone was present when I first heard them.

I think at least part of it was that the sound source was round a corner, out of sight. So how different would it have been if the fridge had been visible when I first heard the noises? I could have immediately visually ruled out the presence of a real person. And I would have been able to hear that the noises came from the fridge, so also ruling out the possibility of a ghost. There is more about how noise coming from round corners in this article (here) about paranormal sounds.

So I've now been caught out twice by the same appliance! If I hadn't definitely tracked the noises down to the fridge I might well consider the building haunted by now.

I've learnt two lessons from this experience. Firstly, I can easily appreciate now how unfamiliar noises in a familiar environment can produce a feeling of a ghostly presence. Secondly, people really do say 'hello' when they enter what they think is an empty building and hear sounds they think show they're not alone. I thought it only happened in horror movies.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Knock knock

House with internal noisesWho's there? A ghost perhaps! I was alone in a building I know well. It was silent. Then I heard a loud single knock. I assumed something had fallen down in an adjacent room and went to investigate. Finding nothing out of place, I went back to my original position. A little later I heard the same single knock sound. Once again I investigated and found nothing to explain it. Maybe it was a haunting sound (see here for more on such sounds).

This time I decided to stay where the sound appeared to originate to see if I could hear it again. After a while, there it was. I now realised the sound was unmistakably coming from a fridge. Interestingly, it was a new fridge. I was used to the sounds of the old fridge it replaced and no longer really heard them at all. But the new fridge produced different sounds that appeared obtrusive.

This is a variation on the 'new house effect' (see here). Do you remember the last time you moved house (or flat)? Do you recall a moment when you woke up in the middle of the night in your new house, perhaps not quite sure where you were? Did you hear a distant knock or a loud creak nearby that caught you by surprise? Was there a shadow on the wall of your room that looked unfamiliar and even faintly sinister? This is the new house effect. Until you get used to the peculiar sounds and sights (and even smells) of your new house, they can seem a little disturbing, particularly in the middle of the night when the relative quiet outside can appear to magnify them. If the creaks and knocks are particularly loud and frequent it might even sound as though there is 'someone else' in the house with you. And if you're alone, that could lead you to think that the house is haunted.

What hadn't occurred to me until now is that even introducing some new item of equipment could set off a new house effect in an otherwise thoroughly familiar property. Anything that can produce noises without human intervention, like a fridge, could easily give rise to 'ghostly sounds'. It's not quite a case of a haunted object but certainly an object that can give the impression that a haunting is happening. Anyone investigating odd noises in a haunting case might consider checking if anything has changed in the physical environment of the affected premises recently.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Can really wanting to see a ghost allow you to see one?

VigilI've really wanted to see a ghost ever since I was a kid. I utterly failed in that ambition for many years, despite many long nights spent in haunted buildings. Then, a few years ago I saw my first. Since then I've seen a number and can't even remember much about the first one any more. The thing about these ghost sightings is that they were a lot less dramatic than the portrayal of such events in the movies. In most cases, I was unaware I was even seeing a ghost until it vanished! This experience tallies with many other ghost sightings I've looked into that have happened to other witnesses. My own sightings were, in most cases, caused by misperception.

As well as ghosts I also started to notice other misperceptions a few years ago. We all misperceive all the time but almost everybody fails to notice it almost all of the time. Our brains 'fill in' details of the parts of our visual field that are poorly seen with a best guess from visual memory (visual substitution). Most of my misperceptions could not be interpreted as paranormal which is why I don't mention them here.

These 'normal' misperceptions fall into two broad types. Firstly, there are visual substitutions that look 'right'. In other words, they are objects that might well be found in a particular situation but just don't happen to be physically present. Secondly, there are objects that look out of place, things that are unlikely to be present and, of course, are not. The one I see most of is the second type - 'wrong' out of place stuff. I guess this makes sense as I have a marked tendency to notice things that appear 'wrong' in some way.

But here's an odd thing - why should my brain's 'best guess' be something unlikely to be seen in a particular situation? Firstly, I suspect these 'wrong' guesses are vastly outnumbered by the 'right' ones. It's just I don't notice all the 'right' ones because they don't stand out. Secondly, misperceptions are not pure guesses - they are based on the actual visual shapes and colours visible. If these strongly suggest a 'wrong' object then that becomes the 'best guess'.

I am still not sure why I suddenly started to notice misperceptions. I have speculated that it might be that, after reading about research into perception, I gave myself unconscious 'permission' to see them. Or, more recently, I wondered if my birding made me more sensitive to anomalies in my visual environment that others might miss. I am still not convinced either way.

Given that noticing misperception shows no sign of going away, I can only assume that my brain is permanently working differently to the way it used to. Such neuroplasticity is, of course, a well known phenomenon. But why did it happen in my case? My latest idea is this. Having always yearned to see a ghost, perhaps, having seen my first I unconsciously 'remembered' my brain state at the time and managed to reproduce it. Yes, it could be that I see ghosts now because I've always really wanted to in the past! But I'm still not totally convinced.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A strange voice recognized!

WavesRegular readers will be aware of my acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. These are short part-dream, part-reality experiences that frequently feel paranormal, despite having natural causes. A small proportion of the population has such experiences, often those with certain sleep disorders.

One regular type of MWR that MA gets is voices. It is like a snatch of an overheard conversation, though only one voice is ever heard at any one time (except for a single occasion when there were two). The snatches are often bizarre: ('I have a glorious question going forward tonight', 'Newcastle politics 19', Screeches are off the agenda'). As recently discussed (here), MA has never been able to identify the speaker as a particular known person or even to a region or foreign country. Until now!

MA does not remember what this recent voice said. That's probably because MA was so surprised by the voice itself. It was unmistakably a person MA had heard before. It was a well-known male public figure with a distinctive voice. MA has never met the person but had heard him on TV just the previous evening. This seems unlikely to be a coincidence. It appears likely that MA's brain had used the distinctive voice having heard it recently.

If this is true then why are all the other voices MA had heard before been unrecognizable? The short answer is, I don't know. But if I were to speculate I'd say most were 'archetypal' voices, just as misperceived ghosts are often no one in particular, just an archetypal human figure. It would explain the lack of any regional or foreign accents. So why was this latest voice recognisable? Again, I don't know. The voice was particularly distinctive which may be a clue. Perhaps, for that reason, it was more memorable. We'll have to wait and see if a recognisable voice happens again. If it does, it may provide a further clue to what is going on.

If these voices can include recognizable people it may further encourage the idea of a paranormal origin in those who experience MWRs without realizing their real cause. If the voice heard during the MWR said anything other than words MA has heard that person say before, which is highly likely, it would be interesting. It would show MA's brain was effectively mimicking the famous person. Since people sometimes report meeting famous people in their dreams, I guess this would not be that surprising.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The disintegrating ghost!

ShadowI looked round to view the large man next to me only for the figure to disappear! So, a ghost then. I was at a rock gig, standing in near darkness at the back of the crowd. There was someone to my right, lots of people in front and this large man to my left. Or so I thought.

I had originally seen the man in peripheral vision. He was quite tall and well-built. He appeared to be wearing dark clothing but it was difficult to distinguish colour in the low lighting conditions. Though I was mainly watching the stage, I did occasionally look around at the audience. That's when I noticed the man. It was as I turned to look at him directly that he vanished. But he didn't fade away, instead he seemed to disintegrate bit by bit. All that was left after a couple of seconds was an empty space surrounded by people on three sides. I realised it had been a misperception all along. What I was misperceiving was not a solid object but a pattern of shadows.

I have seen many misperceptions. Usually they seem to blink out of existence in an instant. But this one was very different. Bits of the figure seemed to vanish one by one as I looked directly at them. I think reason it disintegrated, instead of simply vanishing, was that it was a particular strong misperception.

I had no inkling that it was a misperception at all until I turned to look. I was merely aware of the presence of a large man next to me. There are many references in the ghost literature to partial ghostly figures being seen by witnesses. Perhaps at least some of these sightings could actually have been misperceptions!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Light anomaly

Light anomalyI took this photo (right) recently. It shows a patch of moss with fallen leaves, as one might expect in autumn. However, in the middle there is something odd. It appears to be a slightly fuzzy orange elliptical translucent object. As it doesn't look very solid I would describe it loosely as a light anomaly. It is clearly in front of the moss so must either be lying on it or floating in the air above it. Incidentally, as the EXIF data confirms, no flash was used.

The answer to this puzzle is in the second photo (right) taken precisely 2 seconds earlier of the same scene. The 'light anomaly' is now in Hoverflyfocus and revealed to be a hoverfly. Notice how the moss is now well out of focus. The hoverfly was around 2m in front of the moss. I was trying to photograph the hoverfly but took the upper photo just after losing focus on the insect.

Had someone taken the picture above and not noticed the presence of the hoverfly, they would only have got the 'light anomaly' photo with no obvious explanation. They might well have concluded that it was some kind of anomalous phenomenon. As it happens, I wasn't deliberately trying to get a photographic anomaly, though I often do. In this case I just got lucky!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Ghostly leaf in focus to myopic witness!

Bird with out of focus background and foregroundI recently noticed something rather odd and completely unexpected. It was a white leaf which was not attached to a plant. Surprised, I looked more closely at the object and it quickly vanished. So, a ghost leaf then!

It became obvious that the sighting was a misperception. The object being misperceived was a patterned curtain illuminated from behind by the sun. The pattern did include some flowers in its design but they were stylized. The ghostly leaf, however, looked entirely natural.

Now here's the really strange bit. I am myopic (short-sighted) and did not have my glasses on at the time. Though the patterns in the curtain were fuzzy to me (I could not even recognise the stylized flowers), the 'leaf' was not - it was sharply in focus. In the past (here) I'd noted that I do not notice misperceptions when I'm not wearing glasses. Now it seems that is incorrect. I strongly suspect that seeing something in perfect focus (when it's at a distance where everything is out of focus), while not wearing glasses, is probably a sure sign that it is a misperception!

So how come I've never noticed this extraordinary effect before? Perhaps it is a rare effect. Or it could be because, when I'm not wearing my glasses, I don't look at things too closely - I'm usually only concerned with not bumping into anything. I think my visual memory holds images that are IN focus and does visual substitutions accordingly. This makes sense because I wear my glasses most of the time so I probably store all, or most, images in focus in my visual memory.

So, if a ghost witness is myopic and sees an apparition while not wearing glasses (while in bed, for instance), it would be interesting to know if the figure looked sharp or not. A sharp figure might well indicate a misperception. This might be a unique example of a myopic person seeing something in focus unaided, albeit an unreal object. Misperception just keeps springing surprises!

PS: The picture (above right) is just an illustration of a how a sharp object stands out against fuzzy background and foreground. The ghostly leaf stood out for that reason.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Long live orbs!

Dust into orbsOrbs, it seems, never quite go away. Despite many paranormal researchers deciding that they are photographic artefacts, there are always a few who demur. I view this situation as good!

In science all knowledge is provisional. Newtons's laws of gravitation were eventually superceded by general relativity. Newton's laws were excellent, as far as they went, but there were things they could not explain, like the anomalous precession of perihelion of Mercury (see here). And relativity itself is constantly subjected to new tests. So far it has passed all the tests, but one day it will fail one have to be replaced by a better theory. That is the way science progresses.

At present the Orb Zone Theory (OZT) explains how orbs are out of focus highlights in the 'orb zone'. From time to time people come up with examples of orbs that do not appear to be readily explained by the OZT. So far, I have not come across any that could not be explained by the OZT. Of course, I haven't seen all the orb photos out there so maybe one already exists. I list the current reported objections to OZT, and why they don't disprove it, here. So before anyone sends me an orb photo that 'disproves' the OZT, they should read that page first in case I've already covered it.

And when, one day, OZT IS shown to be inadequate, it will have to be replaced by another, better theory. There are two very important points that need to be considered by anyone proposing such a new theory. Firstly, the new theory will need to explain not only the anomaly that 'broke' OZT but everything that OZT currently explains AS WELL! Secondly, the theory must be testable so that it too, in turn, could be 'broken' by new evidence. An untestable (or unfalsifiable) theory is not scientific.

So I welcome evidence that appears to 'break' the OZT. Every time such evidence is produced that, it turns out, does not contradict OZT after all, it actually strengthens the theory.

In the meantime I still continue to examine the OZT. You can see the results, which include a video of dust particles turning into orbs as they enter the orb zone (see photo above right), here. For now, at least, the OZT seems to work well at explaining orbs. I actually rather like orbs. That's because, though I love a mystery, I prefer a solution.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Amplified hearing - yes it could be real!

Crows in a treeRegular readers will be aware of the strange 'amplified noise' phenomenon reported by MA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR). Briefly, MWRs produce experiences which could easily be reported as paranormal but are natural in origin. They affect a small percentage of the population, usually those with certain sleep disorders.

The 'amplified noise' phenomenon consists of sound apparently being heard more loudly than when fully awake during some MWR episodes. I have not, so far, been able to decide if the phenomenon actually amplifies real sounds heard at the time or is purely dream content produced by MA's brain. The latest evidence (see here) suggests that it might indeed by amplifying real sounds. But I've had trouble finding any other similar phenomena. Until now.

I recently recalled an incident I had once when I had my ears syringed to remove wax. After the procedure everything was very loud, painfully so. This extremely loud effect continued for a few hours but gradually my hearing returned to normal. This is clear evidence that the brain and/or ear are indeed able modify the sensitivity of our hearing. So it is entirely plausible that MA really is hearing real external sounds with the 'volume turned up' (by the brain/ear) during certain MWR episodes.

I was prompted to think about this by an article in this week's New Scientist. It described research which showed that people can process language when in REM sleep. Whether speech heard in REM sleep is amplified I've no idea. Nevertheless it raises the possibility of people gaining sound information from their environment when asleep.

Consider the following scenario. Someone (lets's call him X) falls asleep in front of the TV and eventually enters REM sleep. Suppose that, during this time, a documentary comes on about some obscure episode from history. When X wakes he remembers none of this. Then, weeks later X is watching a TV quiz when a question comes up about the very same obscure historical episode described in the documentary he slept through. X finds himself able to answer the question correctly, even though the panelists on TV cannot. X is utterly baffled because he cannot recall ever hearing about the historical episode before. X wonders if he might be psychic receiving a message from beyond!

I've often found myself answering obscure questions on TV quizzes despite having no idea how I knew the information. I've always assumed it was something I'd picked up somewhere in my life and I've simply forgotten when and where. That is most likely to be the answer, particularly with my terrible memory. But I now also have to consider the possibility that I don't remember how I know something because I only ever heard it when I was asleep!

One could describe a psychic as "someone who supplies information, on a particular subject, that they were not previously consciously aware they had" (see here). Some people may think they are psychic when actually they have a terrible memory for context or have heard stuff in their sleep!.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Shadow ghost

ShadowMy attention was recently drawn to a curious phenomenon. It was early morning, barely light. i could not see what had been described to me at first and thought I'd missed it. But then, there it was! It was a shadow moving slowly, in a roughly circular path, across the surface of a road. The shadow was roughly circular in shape with indistinct edges. It was, perhaps, half a metre in diameter. My first thought was that it might be a shadow thrown by a moth, or a tree branch, near the street light illuminating that section of road. However, there were no trees anywhere near the street light. Also, the shadow was moving too slowly to be a moth, nor was there any hint of flickering that you expect from its wings. So, a shadow ghost then!     

I was incredibly lucky to have a pair of binoculars to hand, so I turned them on the street light. At first I could see nothing unusual. Then I saw it - a large insect walking across the refractor (the transparent cover below the bulb) of the street lamp. The insect was maybe close in size to a dragonfly but I'm not sure what species it was (possibly a large crane fly). The fact that it was walking (rather than flying) over the refractor explained how it could move slowly without any fluttering.

Without binoculars I could never have identified the source of this shadow ghost phenomenon with any certainty. Before looking through the binoculars I hadn't considered the idea of a walking insect. And that is a central problem with so many reports on anomalous phenomena. When witnesses only have a brief naked eye view of something strange, it is highly likely to remain a mystery simply through lack of relevant informatio

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Could we see ghosts on demand?

ShadowOne of the things that has struck me down the years is the sheer elusiveness of anomalous phenomena. They seldom, if ever, turn up when expected. Instead, witnesses are usually caught completely by surprise. It is a quality that makes these phenomena incredibly difficult to study. If only we could see anomalous phenomena in demand.

Take ghosts. Unlike UFOs, at least ghosts have a tendency to crop up repeatedly in the same location. The trouble is, you never exactly when they are going to appear. When I used to go on ghost vigils I didn't see a single apparition, despite many long nights spent at haunted locations. Statistically, that's not surprising. If a ghost has been seen a handful of times over a decade, for instance, the chances of seeing it on any particular night are slim. At least that's the usual explanation.

But I now think the elusiveness of ghosts has a different cause. Investigation has revealed that many ghost sightings are caused by such things as misperception, hallucination and coincidence. All of these will produce unpredictable sightings. For instance, misperception is highly sensitive to viewing conditions. And coincidences, like seeing someone in historical costume on their way to a re-enactment, are both rare and unpredictable.

So, if we know what causes many ghost sightings, can't we mess around with the variables involved to make ghosts appear on demand? I thought I'd accidentally managed that with the door ghost (see here). However, though this misperception ghost appeared quite frequently, I could never predict when. That's because I first had to FORGET about it for it to reappear! It is one of the few times when having a terrible memory actually proved useful. When the ghost DID appear I had just seconds to remember my pre-planned experiment before the apparition disappeared. And now the door ghost only puts in sporadic appearances like that reported recently (here).

What about hallucinations? My acquaintance (MA) who experiences MWR saw a ghost on as train once (see here) but reports that such apparitions are rare despite having had innumerable MWRs. MA could not recall anything different about that particular experience that might suggest a way to make it happen again. As for coincidences, they are uncontrollable by definition!

So the most promising way forward has to be with misperception, given that the door ghost showed it is possible to have repeatable experiences. I have also had some quite prolonged misperception experiences showing they can be quite robust in the right circumstances. The main problem is that the witness must not be expecting to see a ghost!

So my new ambition, alongside the permanent photographic misperception (see here) is a reproducible ghost! Will it be difficult? Yes!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Amplified noise - could it be real?

Crows in a treeMA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR) was at a lecture recently. Though it was an interesting talk, MA still had a few MWRs. During two of these, separated by seconds, MA experienced the curious 'amplified noise' phenomenon again (see here for background). As in previous incidents, MA heard sound apparently amplified during brief MWR episodes lasting a couple of seconds at a time.

MA was struggling to hear the speaker whose voice was not loud. However, during the MWRs the voice became louder and perfectly understandable. This much has happened before (here). However, on this occasion MA realized that the amplified words heard fitted perfectly into the content of the talk.

Unfortunately, because MA couldn't hear the speaker well outside MWRs it was not possible to say if the 'amplified' bits fitted EXACTLY into what was being said. This leaves open the possibility that the 'amplified' words were not what the speaker actually said but just MA's brain imagining likely ones to insert. However, it does nudge the evidence a little towards the possibility that noise really IS being amplified somehow in the MWR state!

Could sounds actually get 'amplified' in all dreams, both MWRs and normal night dreams? There is a big difference between normal dreams and MWRs. Normal dreams usually start well after the experiencer has gone to sleep. With MWRs the dream state starts straight away and tends to continue with a version of reality (sometimes with minor changes like the addition of a ghost - see here). So any differences, like 'amplified noise' will be apparent to the MWR experiencer straight away. By contrast, in conventional dreams there is no continuation of reality, so amplified noise would not be noticed. My point is that 'amplified noise' may be a normal, if rare, phenomenon in all dreaming but it hasn't been noticed much before.

Anyone experiencing MWRs who is not aware of their natural origin might be tempted to see 'amplified noise' as some kind of paranormal phenomenon. As to how the brain might achieve such a trick, it's open to speculation. And if it ISA a real trick, what other odd phenomena may occur within MWRs?

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Anniversary ghosts and an unexpected return!

ShadowIt's back! I was at 'that door' recently (see here for background) and suddenly realised there was a dark, somewhat menacing, figure standing just behind me. Sure enough, it was the door ghost, a misperception with the same cause as in the past. It was a big surprise as I haven't thought about the ghost in months.

I reported the long term disappearance of the door ghost back in May (here). This is the first sighting since February, some 7 months ago. I suggested then that the ghost had vanished because I approach 'the door' from a different angle these days. So, have I changed back to my old approach direction? No, I haven't? So why has the ghost reappeared?

If the ghost has reappeared despite the new route, something else must have changed. One crucial element with misperception is lighting. I've noted that similar misperceptions often recur at the same time each day for a few days each year (provided the weather is also similar). This is because the sun follows a slightly different track across the sky every day through the year. So, at any given location, the sun will be at the same position in the sky at the same time on the same day each year. Thus, the lighting will be the same for that time and date each year, subject to weather conditions. Given how sensitive misperception is to lighting conditions, the same (misperception) ghost may be seen at the same location at the same date and time every year. It is possible that the door ghost now requires such specific lighting to appear on my my new route to the door. In the past, using a different route, the lighting was not so crucial.

This got me thinking. There are said to be some ghosts that appear regularly on a particular date each year - anniversary ghosts. Could misperception explain at least some of these reports? It seems possible, if the ghost is seen outside in daylight. The same factors would not apply at night for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much outdoor lighting at night is provided by fixed street lights. Secondly, the moon does not appear in the same position in the sky at the same time on the same date each year.

Even if it turns out that the reappearance of the door ghost has nothing to do with lighting on a specific day, the idea that misperception could explain at least some anniversary ghosts remains valid. Having missed the door ghost I'm glad it's back, even if it's only a fleeting visit.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Ghost bird

Yellow branchI came around a corner and immediately something caught my eye. It was a yellow bird in a tree. But it quickly vanished! So, a ghost bird then. I photographed the scene and you can see it here (right). The 'bird' is the yellow object in the centre of the frame. Interestingly, I saw the 'bird' again when I examined its photo for the first time. So it was that rarity, a photographable misperception. Such misperceptions, when they take on the appearance of human figures, can easily generate ghost reports.

I suspect that most people, when viewing this photo, will see no bird and be mystified as to how I ever saw one. And I think that is significant. I started noticing misperceptions a few years ago. At the time I thought it was because I had recently found out how people misperceive all the time. I speculated that this gave my unconscious 'permission' to notice misperceptions. But now I have a new theory. I think it may be because I'm a birder.

When you go birding a vital skill is being able to spot birds. While most people would find a goose or gull hard to miss, spotting tiny warblers in dense foliage is much more difficult. I believe that looking for birds has made me particularly sensitive to tiny movements in foliage or objects that stand out from their background, like the yellow 'bird' here. The bird is actually a lichen covered branch. Being the only yellow bit in the scene it stands out strongly to me and my brain straight away thinks 'bird'! I suspect most non-birders would walk past the same scene and not even notice the lichen, far less see a bird.

I'll have to work out if there is any way of testing my theory. However, I think it makes sense.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Figure vanishes!

Crows in a treeI paid little attention to the scene before me until something odd happened. I saw someone standing motionless beside a car. I looked away for literally a couple of seconds and the figure had vanished. There was a house door nearby but not enough time had elapsed while I looked briefly away for the person to reach it. Apart from that there was no nearby cover where the person might have been hidden from view. A ghost then!

Now I have to admit something - I was not wearing my glasses (I have myopia) at the time of the observation. Suddenly, mystified by what I saw, I put my glasses on. At first I could see nobody. Then I saw the person had got into the car and was sitting motionless in the driving seat. It was not easy to make them out from my distance so I'm not surprised I didn't see them without my glasses.

Now, obviously, someone with better eyesight than me would have seen the person in the car, after a while anyway. However, if it had been dark or foggy they too might have thought the figure had simply vanished. And they might have concluded that it was a ghost. A figure vanishing while someone looks away is typical of ghost reports.

This was another case of a coincidence causing a anomaly. The person must have got into the car at exactly the time I looked briefly away and shut the door by the time I looked back. And without my glasses I couldn't seen them in the car. Only when all these events coincided was there any apparent mystery to solve.

I only report this apparently trivial incident because, at the time, I really thought I'd seen a ghost. For someone to vanish so quickly was decidedly strange.

Finally, it's the end of August and, sad to say, I've seen no celebrities this month (see here). Indeed, I haven't even caught myself studying passers-by intently in the last week or so. Maybe my unconscious mind had already given up!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The wasteful way of sleep

Crows in a treeThe wasteful way of sleep! This musing was heard by MA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR) recently. It is interesting because it might be a direct reference to MA's situation at the time. An odd characteristic of all the voice 'communications' until now was that they never appeared to refer to MA. They were more like overheard snatches of one side of a conversation (see here).

Of course, if you listen to enough random messages some are bound to appear relevant to you, even if they are not. So MA then started listening out to see if there are any other examples that appeared personally relevant. And a few days later one appeared. It was a very specific reference to a place that is special to MA. It could just be another coincidence of course.

Considering that the source of the 'messages' is MA's own brain it is actually extraordinary that they seem so random and irrelevant to their own creator. This could, of course, be seem as evidence that they are real communications from outside MA's brain to anyone who does not know how MWRs work.

MA also recently reported that that there were TWO voices in one communication apparently talking to each other! However, it only happened once and MA was not certain that the two voices were actually conversing. Though MWRs are easier than normal dreams to remember, it is still not always easy to recall exact words used. If it happens again then, like the 'relevant' message, I will report it here. Once again the whole phenomenon appears to be 'evolving' in some way (see here for previous discussion).

Monday, 22 August 2016

Shadow ghost

ShadowLooking out of a window very late at night, something strange intruded on a very familiar scene. It was the shadow of a person moving across a wall. That would have been unexceptional had I been able to see the person causing the shadow. But there was no one to be seen, just the shadow. The area concerned has no trees, bushes or other places where a person could easily hide and the area is well lit by street lamps. So anyone present should have been obvious.

Many shadow ghosts are seen in peripheral vision (see here for a discussion). However, this shadow was very clear and in central vision. I was just wondering if it might be a paranormal shadow ghost when I finally saw the person throwing the shadow. They were in a completely different place to the one I expected for a shadow on that particular wall. That's why I'd completely missed them until I widened my area of search. The shadow was coming from a street lamp round the corner out of my line of sight. Had the person left the scene before I found them I would still be left with the mystery of a shadow ghost sighting!

So, no ghost then! I think what happened was that my familiarity with the scene made me only look in places where I expected to see a person throw a shadow on that particular wall. Had I been looking at an unfamiliar scene I might have searched in more places for the person creating the shadow and found them more quickly.

Meanwhile I've been dreaming of seeing a celebrity! Yes, as 'fame month' continues with no celebrity yet seen, I actually dreamt I saw one. In fact, for a few seconds after waking up I was so convinced I really HAD seen a celeb that I was mentally preparing a blog post. This, I think, supports the idea that, unconsciously, I am on high alert this month concerning celebrities, despite not consciously looking for one. Of course, there still has to be a celebrity physically nearby for me to spot and so far I've drawn a blank! Time is running out.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

And now strange music

Crows in a treeFollowing on from a recent post, my acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR) has had another 'first' and it is extraordinary. Among a series of 'normal' voice 'messages' (see post) MA heard a snatch of music. It was a rock song. There was someone singing but MA can't remember the lyrics. MA was alone in an empty room at the time and there were no radios, TVs or other electronic devices present that could have been the source of the music. At the end of the music, MA experienced the usual feeling that marks the end of a MWR making it clearly the source of the music.

This is the first musical MWR that MA has experienced. But much more interesting is the fact that MA did NOT recognise the song! So where did it come from? One can only assume it came from MA's own brain. This means that the unconscious bit of MA's brain is apparently capable of composing original songs without conscious intervention. MA says the song didn't sound very original. Even so, the idea of a work of art being composed without conscious intervention is intriguing.

MA does not play music but listens to it frequently, including rock. So MA's unconscious brain may be playing with bits of music that MA has heard in much the way a dream is composed by rearranged conscious experiences (see here). Whatever brain process puts together dream narratives may be capable of putting together those strange voice 'messages' discussed in the 3 Aug post. And could it also put together simple remembered musical phrases in different ways to 'compose' an original, if highly derivative, song?

So what might a person who had MWRs, without realizing their natural origin, think of the arrival of such original music, seemingly from nowhere? If that person was a regular composer of music they might simply think it is their normal creative process. And, who knows, maybe some creative processes work like that for people with MWR. But for someone who has never written down a note in their lives, they might think the source of the music is external, somehow. It might, indeed, be interpreted as a paranormal process.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Phantom squirrel?

VigilRegular readers will know that I am a keen nature watcher. So when I saw a small shadowy animal (maybe squirrel-sized) moving around in the distance, in peripheral vision, I instinctively turned to look straight at it. I was a bit surprised to see no animal there, with nowhere it could have hidden in the fraction of a second it took me to turn my head. So, was it a phantom squirrel?

My first thought was that it must have been a misperception but there was no obvious object present to misperceive. Then I saw what I recognised to be the same object moving again. The 'squirrel' was actually a petal blowing around a few centimetres off the ground. So it WAS misperception after all!

This all sounds a bit unlikely until you consider the circumstances. It was early in the day, the sun was low in the sky, throwing long dark shadows everywhere. The petal was barely noticeable until it was caught for a second or so in a shaft of sunlight as it was blown around.

Movement is one of the most important ways by which I detect the presence of wildlife. So when I caught the movement in peripheral vision, my first thought was that it must be a small animal. The moving petal then visually combined briefly with a dark shadow behind. Peripheral vision is, of course, more sensitive to movement than central vision. It also has lower resolution so that physically separate objects can sometimes get combined visually, particularly in high contrast views like the one here.

This incident illustrates the most difficult to detect type of misperception - that caused largely by patterns of light and shadow. If an investigator finds a bush where a witness reports seeing a human figure, it is easy to see how misperception may be the cause of the sighting. But a sighting caused by a pattern of shadows that might only occur for a few hours of a few days each year can be much more difficult to track down. I've only worked out explanations for such incidents when I've investigated them at the time of the sighting. Had I investigated them later I doubt I'd have worked out what was really going on. Maybe some shadow ghost sightings are actually caused by normal shadows.

PS: I caught myself in the act of carefully looking at people's faces in the street twice recently! I just suddenly realised I was doing it. So maybe it IS an explanation worth considering for 'fame month' - see here for the background to this.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

More strange messages

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR) is often addressed by voices during MWR episodes. MA will be doing something like reading when a voice is heard saying a few words before a feeling of coming out of a MWR. Here are some recent examples that give a flavour of these 'messages':

I only brought one in because I thought she was perfect.

I have a glorious question going forward tonight.

Newcastle politics 19.

Screeches are off the agenda.

Each of our children are telepathic.

Hold it a day and I'll take it apart.

MA has noted some new points about these 'messages'. For instance, most are in a male voice though some are female. The voices never have a regional or foreign accent. MA has never recognized any of the voices as belonging to real life people. Nor has MA recognized voices from previous 'messages' though this might simply be because they are too brief to remember. One surprising thing is that the 'messages' never appear to go beyond a single phrase or sentence. This may be because MWRs are so short but it seems odd that there are never (so far) multiple sentences. One example above, Newcastle politics 19, sounds as though it may be truncated as there is no verb.

As previously noted, the voices don't appear to be addressing MA but rather sound like one side of a conversation between two other people. As can be seen in the examples above, which all occurred in the space of two days, the 'messages' don't appear to refer to each other, even when they occur seconds apart. Nor do any of the 'messages' appear relevant to MA, despite their origin in MA's own brain. Interestingly, though the voices often occur when MA is reading, none of them appear inspired by what MA is reading.

The subject matter of the 'messages' always appears incomplete. It is like hearing just one sentence out of a longer conversation between third parties. Though the 'messages' make some sense in themselves, without the rest of the theoretical 'conversation' they have only limited meaning. For instance, with Hold it a day and I'll take it apart what exactly is 'it'? One exception to this is the first example I only brought one in because I thought she was perfect. MA had a feeling at the time that the situation being discussed was a job interview. This is similar to the way that we are often aware of the background to a dream, even though there is no visible or audible content in the dream itself to support it.

If a person had MWRs without realizing their natural origin, it would be easy to mistake such 'messages' for psychic communication. But their apparent randomness might go against that interpretation. However, if someone gets enough of these apparently random messages it is inevitable that one will, by chance, eventually appear relevant to that person's life. And it is likely that it is such apparently meaningful 'messages' that the 'receiver' will remember rather than the others.

It is even possible, given that apparent 'evolution' noted in MA's MWRs towards more realism (see here) that the messages may change over time. Maybe they will become more relevant to MA and appear more meaningful. Maybe ...

Monday, 1 August 2016

It's fame month again!

Crows in a treeSo, here it is again - fame month! Though I failed to see a celebrity in the last fame month, April, I did see one just two weeks later in May (see here). I think two weeks in four months is close enough to qualify as a hit, though others may disagree. What would really get me back on track now would be a hit this month.

Regular readers will know what this is all about. For everyone else, here's a catch up. I had noticed my tendency to see more famous people than I thought was 'normal' - an average of 0.23 per month. But what was really weird was that I appeared to be seeing them at regular intervals, every four months, with the next one due in August 2016. Random events should not occur at regular intervals!

So what non-paranormal explanations might there be for this bizarre phenomenon? There is coincidence, of course, though that looks increasingly unlikely if the 4 month pattern continues. Another possibility I've considered is 'unconscious attentiveness'. By this I mean that unconsciously I am paying more attention to people I pass in the street during 'fame months'. Obviously, I can't make famous people appear when I want to (and I don't seek them out in obvious places like stage doors) but I can make sure I don't miss any that might just be there as I go about my everyday tasks. I'm sure I've walked past several famous people, over the years, without recognising them.

I suppose I could test this 'unconscious attentiveness' idea by trying to describe everyone I've just seen in one particular street. If I'm unconsciously being more attentive, I ought to remember more details than usual. I could repeat this exercise in 'fame months' and non fame months to see if there is a difference. The problem is that I'd need to do these tests randomly without warning, otherwise I may consciously affect the results. Anyway, I will try to see if I can do something to test the idea this month.

I have sometimes wondered if people become more unconsciously attentive when they are told the building they are in is haunted. They may then, without any conscious effort, notice lots of natural background noises that would otherwise be ignored. And these noises could be interpreted as haunting sounds because of the location.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

And now voices with direction ...

Crows in a treeIn another recent experience, MA (my acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM - MWR) heard a voice saying various things which were, unfortunately, not recorded at the time. What was interesting, however, was that the voice appeared to come from different directions each time it spoke! MA has never heard this phenomenon before. Such solitary voices have, until now, not come from any particular direction in space.

This new 'positional' aspect of MWRs once again makes me wonder if they might be evolving over time. Perhaps MWRs can expand their repertoire, through some unconscious process, over time. Recent novelties have seen 'alternate realities' (see here), the sensation of touch (see here), amplified hearing (see here) and now sound coming from a particular direction in space.

If this IS evolution, in which direction is it going? It seems to me that the direction is towards greater realism in the dream elements of the experience. Apart from the specific feeling of coming out of a MWR, that MA always feels, it may soon be difficult to differentiate MWR experiences from reality! But why should MWRs evolve at all? Ordinary night-time dreams don't become more realistic over time (unless anyone knows different). But MWRs are part dream and part reality. As I've noted from misperception, our brains appear to have a strong tendency to make sense of what they perceive. So that could provide the pressure for MWRs to evolve towards more realistic dream elements.

Suppose there are people out there who experience MWRs but are unaware of their natural origins. And suppose their MWRs have evolved to the point where they appear completely real though still including apparent paranormal elements. Such people could be forgiven for thinking such experiences are genuinely psychic instead of xenonormal!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Small robot on wall

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR) had another disturbing strange incident recently. While gazing at a featureless white wall, for no particular reason, a strange figure suddenly appeared on the wall. It was 'robotic' in appearance with a silver metallic sheen. Its edges were well defined while the 'body' looked more amorphous. The figure, which was perhaps half a metre high, looked three dimensional and yet was somehow flat against the wall. The object did not move. The experience, which occurred a few weeks ago, has not been repeated.

After a few seconds MA came out of a MWR and the object vanished. It was clearly a dream-type experience superimposed on real scenery. MA found this experience oddly disturbing compared to previous strange stuff.

The robot reference got me thinking that someone else who had this experience, unaware of its natural explanation, might consider the incident an alien contact. It would, after all, be easier for an advanced alien civilization to send robots to explore the universe, rather than living creatures, as they would not require life support systems and could remain active for centuries. These MWR experiences just keep springing surprises.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Transparent figures in photos

HDR ghostAnyone taking a picture and seeing a transparent figure in the resulting photo might feel that a ghost was worth considering as an explanation. But it may, in fact, have a natural explanation (apart from a long exposure). Indeed, such photos may become increasingly common thanks to a feature found in many modern digital cameras and phones. It is called HDR or high dynamic range imaging.

Digital photography has a relatively low dynamic range compared with the human eye. This means that details, visible to the naked eye, can be lost in shadows or brightly lit parts of a digital photo. HDR fixes this problem by taking multiple photos (usually 3), at different exposure settings, when the shutter button is pressed once. These photos are them combined to produce a single picture revealing details in dark and light areas of the picture. Depending on the setting, you can either save all three photos, and combine them later in photo editing software, or it can be done automatically in the camera at the time of exposure.

When HDR pictures are produced in the camera, it is possible that the photographer may forget that they were taken that way. Unfortunately, the fact that HDR mode was used may not always be visible in the EXIF data. It should be obvious to the photographer at the time that HDR was used but that fact might be forgotten later. One clue might be if there is some motion blur when the shutter speed appears fast enough to stop it. A transparent figure may appear in HDR photo because someone moved during the extended time it took for the three shots to be taken.

The photo (above right) shows a HDR shot of ASSAP's own Seriously Strange magazine. In front of it there is blurry red object that appears partially transparent. It is a red cord swinging through the picture while the 3 shots were being taken.

The 'HDR ghost problem' may well solve itself over time. It is likely that HDR software in future will automatically delete objects that don't show up in all three shots. The problem may eventually become restricted to certain older camera and phone models.

Monday, 18 July 2016

How important is coincidence?

Hooded figureI have been reviewing the anomalous experiences I've had over the years. I'm not sure how many there have been but it is certainly in double figures (not including repeat incidents like the door ghost). Given that most people are lucky to get one or two in their entire lifetime, I feel privileged. Also, I think it gives me a large enough statistical sample to make a few tentative observations.

I think it is a useful sample of experiences because they all shared the same witness - me! This means that the standard of recording is fairly consistent. In addition, as an experienced paranormal researcher I could investigate each experience at the time. Given how quickly conditions at a site and the psychological state of a witness can change, this is extremely useful for drawing accurate conclusions about reported experiences.

I noticed two things straight away. Firstly, I was able to find xenonormal explanations for all the experiences. Secondly, coincidence was a major factor in causing pretty much all of the experiences.

Most reports of anomalous phenomena are not investigated straight away. Indeed, many aren't investigated for days, weeks or even months. The problem with that is that evidence of coincidence as an explantation is highly likely to be lost in that time. Take the case I reported recently of the ghostly hooded figure (pic right and account here). Had I not taken a photo of the hooded figure I would never have noticed the vegetation covering the lower half of the tree stump. This vegetation hid the fact that the shadow actually stretched right down the tree stump. Without this coincidental factor there would never have been a 'hooded figure'. Nor would there have been a 'figure' if the lighting had been brighter - it would then have appeared more obviously like a tree stump. Nor would there have a 'figure' if the stump had been seen from a different angle or distance.

Now suppose I'd reported the hooded figure, never taken a photo, and someone else had investigated the case few weeks later. If the investigator had visited the same spot where I stood, it is highly unlikely they would gave seen a hooded figure. One or more of the contributing factors that gave rise to my sighting would almost certainly have been different, particularly lighting. The same could be said about all of the experiences I've had where coincidence played a big role, which is just about all of them.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Ghostly hooded figure

Hooded figureFollowing on from my last two posts, here's another attempt at a photographable misperception, this time from last winter. It is an apparent ghostly hooded figure (pic right). It only looked like a hooded figure briefly when seen in real life. Oddly, in the photo it looks slightly more convincing - to me anyway.

I see a dark brown hooded 'figure', apparently looking downwards to the left. I can't make out a face just a dark shadow. In popular culture hooded ghosts are often portrayed as having a dark area where the face should be. Thus, many people would, I imagine, see this as a classic ghostly figure.

Hooded figures are quite often reported as ghosts. All you need for such a 'figure' is a misperceived tall thin object with a dark area where the 'face' should be. An object like a tree stump, for instance. And that is what this hooded figure really is. The stump is leaning forward causing a shadow to fall on its front. Some vegetation in front of the stump is obscuring the fact that the whole of the front of the stump is in shadow, not just the top bit! Without that vegetation, it would no longer look like a hooded figure. The stump is about the size of a tall human belong. This makes the whole thing a coincidence.

Though the photo resembles a hooded figure, to me at least, I am not misperceiving it as a real figure. It is, therefore, not my goal of photographable misperceived ghost. I think it closer, though, than the 'bigfoot' example from my last post.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Giant ghost or Bigfoot?

Green ghostIn my last post I said my goal is, one day, to get a photographable misperception of a human figure. I'd like to expand on that idea a bit.

Almost all ghost photos I've examined show something that was NOT seen by the witness at the time of exposure. And even in those few examples where something odd WAS seen by the witness at the time, it was not what appeared in the resulting photo. Clearly, such photos are mainly photographic artefacts caused by such things as long exposure, focus problems, reflections, shadows etc.

What I want to photograph is an object (which is NOT a human figure) that was seen by a witness as a human figure at the time of exposure and still looks like one in the resulting photo. In other words it is a photographable misperception (as discussed in the last post). Given that is "a ghost (or apparition) is a human (sometimes animal) figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present" (see here for a discussion of this definition) then an object misperceived as a human figure certainly qualifies as a ghost. So, if I could get a photo of such a ghost and it still appeared as a human figure in the picture it would, in effect, be a photo of a genuine ghost!

In the cases where I've seen a misperception ghost and photographed it, the result has always been not much like a human figure. See these examples, here and here, for instance. But there was ONE exception. It is the photo above (right) taken a few months ago. OK I don't actually see the object as a human figure in this photo. However, I can appreciate why it appeared as a real person, at first glance.

One oddity is that the figure would have to be very tall, if real. The 'figure' (a pollarded tree) is about twice the height of a fence just behind which must be at least 2m high! Given its huge size and shaggy appearance I'm surprised I didn't misperceive it as Bigfoot, or at least an ape!

That is the closest I've got so far to my goal. What I really want is an object that still looks like a human figure, if only to me, in the photo. I will keep trying!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

There is no such object here!

Ghostly tubeThere is no such object here! That was the unlikely thought that flashed through my mind as I suddenly noticed an object I didn't recognise about a metre away. It was a plastic tube pointing almost directly at me. It reminded me of an endoscope. It felt almost as if someone was spying on me from behind a pile of stuff!

This was an over-reaction, of course. I noted how easily I went from seeing an unexplained object to a narrative involving spying! I guess I watch too many spy dramas. There are probably many anomalous reports that involve the witness interpreting an unrecognized mundane object they see in terms of something paranormal. If you think that was an over-reaction, what happened next was worse! I spent an hour taking over a hundred photos of the object trying to get it just right, with the best one shown here (right).

What I see when I look at the photo is a plastic tube with its end pointed towards me and to the right. The tube curves behind downwards to the left. At least that's what I see sometimes! At other times I see it quite differently. And you may see something different too. That's because it is a rare example of a photographable misperception. I described another one that worked rather better sometime ago (here).

I had to take dozens of photos to get the misperception to work, even for me - the original witness. I had to vary the lighting, the angle of view, the background and, crucially, how much of the object was visible. Misperceptions are extremely sensitive to viewing conditions. In the end I got a version that works for me, some of the time. If you don't see a plastic tube at all that's normal - misperception varies a lot between people. It will also depend on what device you are using to view the picture.

I was right in my first thought - there WAS no plastic tube present! The object is actually a strip of thin white cardboard that has curled up at the end to form a cylindrical shape. When I first saw it I thought the uncurled bit of cardboard below was a continuation of the cylinder, leading to an overall impression of a plastic tube. I quickly realised what the object really was but the misperception still reappeared several times after that. Generally, though not always, misperceptions only work once. When you're brain sees the object correctly it does not usually misperceive it again. But this misperception was persistent which is why I tried to photograph it. My goal is, one day, to get a photographable misperception of a human figure!

Monday, 4 July 2016

New house effect may have an ally

What's making noises in your house?I was struck by an article in New Scientist that I came across a few weeks ago. It said that people often have trouble sleeping for the first night in unfamiliar surroundings. It's certainly something I've experienced. It is called the 'first night effect'. Research has shown that those experiencing the effect were more alert in the left hemisphere of their brain during sleep compared to the right. This suggested that half the brain was unusually alert, presumably to possible threats that might be present in an unfamiliar location.

I found it interesting because it has parallels with the 'new house effect' (see here) that can explain certain haunting phenomena. It works like this. When you first move into a new house there are, naturally, lots of unfamiliar sights, smells and, particularly, noises. These become familiar over time but at first they can appear strange and unexplained, even paranormal.

It is easy to see how the two effects might work together. Someone moving in to a new place may be woken in the middle of the night by an unexplained sound. They would be more readily woken because of the first night effect. And the noise could be interpreted as a haunting phenomenon because of the new house effect. In reality, the sound could be completely normal, like pipes contracting after central heating goes off.

It is striking how many people report cases of haunting when they first move into a house, despite the previous occupants having had no problems. Similarly, it is often visitors to a building that first report strange things going on that the residents have never noticed. It seems likely to me that the first night effect and new house effect probably do indeed work together.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Touching sensation without touching

Crows in a treeMy acquaintance (MA) who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR) had another incident recently involving apparent 'alternate realities'. In the previous incidents MA apparently turned off a TV which switched itself back on and flicked a bit of paper in a train (see here) Neither incident was what it seemed and the TV one felt distinctly paranormal.

The latest incident was not that strange, at first sight. MA switched something off but then found, after coming out of a MWR, that it was still on. It became clear that the switch was only operated in the MWR, not in real life. This is like the previous 'alternate reality' incidents but with an important difference. MA could FEEL the switch being pressed while doing it! In other words, MA had the sense of touch in a MWR.

All MA's previous MWRs consisted solely of sound and vision. This is the first instance where MA has noticed the sensation of touch too. Obviously, this makes the 'experience', composed partly of reality and partly of a dream, feel even more real than usual. Anyone who gets MWRs but is unaware of what they are might easily think, on finding a switch on that they KNOW they turned off, think it might be a haunting phenomenon. Having actually felt the switch being operated can only emphasise how real it was. Even though it wasn't!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Odd UFO

UFOI took this photo of a strange object in the sky recently. It is NOT a cloud or a balloon but it is definitely flying in the sky. The photo is unedited except for some cropping to remove lots of white empty sky around the object. So what exactly is it?

The big clue is that the photo is overexposed. The sky was grey but not pure white as shown here. Another clue is that the shutter speed was very slow - 1/6s. At that shutter speed is was impossible to avoid overexposure given the brightness of the sky.

The object is, in fact, a helicopter, though you'd hardly know it. The strange shape is caused by the motion of the helicopter during the 1/6s exposure. The photo below is an aircraft taken in similar circumstances with UFOthe same exposure time of 1/6s. This time it has more of a classic flying saucer shape, though it is not quite symmetrical.

I haven't come across any UFO photos that resemble these. However, I think it it entirely possible that someone could take such a photo by accident and think it a UFO. Maybe they already have. With a different lens (one that can get down to a lower f-number) it might be possible to obtain a photo that is not so overexposed. The white 'fog' effect produced by overexposure hides details that might otherwise make it obvious what the object really is.

One important point to note is that, for these photos, the plane needed to be at quite a low altitude. A typical location for such a photo might therefore be near an airport. You might think the photographer would realise they were taking a photo of a nearby plane. However, if the plane was in the background of a photo it might not be noticed. And even the plane was noticed at the time of exposure, this might be forgotten when the photo is examined much later.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

More amplified hearing

Crows in a treeWhen an unlikely phenomenon happens just once you have to wonder if it could be a case of faulty memory or rare coincidence. So it was comforting for my acquaintance (MA) who gets MWRs to have a previously unique experience repeated several weeks later.

In the latest incident, MA was sitting at one end of a room while someone was eating a meal at the other. MA could hear the distant sound of crockery and utensils occasionally knocking together. Then, quite suddenly, the sound was much louder. MA was shocked, having not seen anyone approaching, with or without crockery!

It turned out that the person eating was still in the distance and the sound returned to its normal level as soon as MA came out of a MWR. So, clearly the louder sound was produced by the MWR. It parallels an earlier experience (described here). In that incident MA was suddenly able to hear every word of a conversation previously barely audible. So this appears to be another case of what I'm calling 'amplified hearing'.

Last time this happened I mentioned two possible explanations for the effect. One was that the MWR simply produced a fictitious version of the amplified noise, a mini-dream produced by MA's own brain. The second was that the MWR state might really amplify the actual sounds, perhaps by filtering out background noise. Unfortunately, the latest example does not resolve the issue. The cutlery sound might still have been real or fictitious. The latest incident does, however, suggest that the effect is a repeatable phenomenon, not just a one-off oddity.

Apart from appearing to be a paranormal phenomenon, despite having a natural explanation, the effect could have real life applications (assuming the second explanation above is true). If someone who gets MWRs needed to hear a faint sound, without any electronic equipment, maybe they could just go into a MWR. This brings up the question of whether it is possible to actually induce a MWR to order. It is not too difficult to create situations conducive to MWRs. Sitting quietly, reading is a good one, for instance. However, at present, the onset of any individual MWR appears unpredictable, to MA at least. And sometimes in such situations MA goes into an ordinary snooze instead, which is no use whatsoever.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Is witness testimony valuable?

ASSAPIn this month that marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of ASSAP's foundation I am, once again, musing on what has changed over the organization's lifetime. I am particularly interested in the role of witness testimony this time.

I cannot speak for other ASSAP members but I have seen my attitude towards witness testimony change hugely over ASSAP's lifetime. In the early days I initially took witness testimony on anomaly cases more or less at face value. However, research showed (see here for instance) that witness memory is a fragile and unreliable thing. It can be altered by such things as how someone is interviewed or the opinions of friends. Once such false memories are formed, they replace the originals forever.

So just how reliable are witness reports of anomalous phenomena? Taking ghosts as an example, they are remarkably consistent which is a point in their favour. And more importantly, they are consistently different to the talking, transparent ghosts of fiction and the movies. This suggests that some ghost reports, at least, are describing something real and not just the product of a collective cultural imagination.

Another factor in favour of the reliability of witness testimony is that independent witnesses often report the same ghosts at the same location on different occasions, despite being unaware of any previous reports. Then there are ghosts witnessed by multiple observers at the same time. In theses cases witnesses sometimes agree about what was seen and sometimes disagree, with some people seeing nothing unusual at all. Such multiple witness events imply a cause that is not strictly subjective. There is, of course, a xenonormal cause for some ghosts to be seen by independent and multiple witnesses - misperception - which certainly accounts for many such reports.

In recent years I've started to have my own regular strange experiences, most of which are documented in this blog. In my case, I have invariably tried to record and investigate, where possible, my own experiences immediately. Obviously this is important as the factors that may contribute towards a sighting of something unusual may quickly be lost. I have seen ghosts, people disappearing, UFOs, strange animals and other weird things. I have, in every case so far, found xenonormal causes for my sighting. However, without an immediate investigation, which few other witnesses would ever attempt, such causes could easily have been missed.

What struck me about my own experiences is this - they could have been taken as paranormal by many other witnesses had they seen the same thing. Had I reported these events as paranormal, they would have sounded no different to many other cases that investigators deal with all the time. My point is that just because a witness reports something extraordinary, we cannot assume they didn't experience exactly what they said they did! However, neither can assume that what they experienced was paranormal.

So, after thirty-five years my attitude towards witness testimony is that it IS useful but must be treated with caution.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Instruments on ghost vigils

ASSAPTwo days ago it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of ASSAP's foundation. Such days inevitably make me think of the 'old days'. For instance, ASSAP has always been enthusiastic about using instruments on ghost vigils. But we never envisaged how their use would become so extensive nor how they would used.

In the early days of ASSAP (I feel terribly old writing that) there were three main ideas about instrumenting ghost vigils. One was, obviously, to try to record ghosts and haunting phenomena. So cameras were a priority as well as such things as thermometers to capture possible 'cold spots'. A second use of instruments was to ensure controls were in place to avoid accidental human intervention, by investigators for instance. So motion detectors were a priority there.

The third use for instruments was rather different. Then, as now, there was no compelling evidence that ghosts are spirits. An idea quite widely accepted by researchers then was that of 'recording ghosts'. Briefly, this says that ghosts are actually 'recordings' of some past human activity somehow captured on the local environment and 'replayed' by witnesses. One of the reasons for the popularity of recording ghosts then was the existence of 'haunting hot spots'. A haunted building does not typically exhibit haunting phenomenon in all areas. Instead it is concentrated in particular rooms, or even parts of rooms, where the same phenomenon is recorded repeatedly, often by independent witnesses. This clearly fits in with the idea of something being recorded in those hot spots.

The 'third use' of instruments was therefore to see if there was anything 'different' about these haunting hot spots compared to other places nearby. The idea was to deploy a range of environmental monitoring instruments over a long period of time to see if any differences appeared. The range of instruments was limited only by what was available. Sadly the 'third use' was never really developed for many reasons, mainly practical.

As it turns out, there is another possible explanation for haunting hot spots besides recording ghosts. Misperception relies on certain objects, or a configuration of objects, that can be seen as human figures in the correct conditions. Many such objects, like trees for instance, are static so obviously the same ghost is going to be misperceived at the same place from time to time, usually to different witnesses.

There may be other causes of haunting hot spots. Certain magnetic fields may, for instance, cause hallucinations and these may be tied to a specific location. There has been some preliminary research in this area that has showed promise but lots more needs to be done to verify it. Until then I would say it is a possibility worth examining rather than a definite phenomenon.

Anyway, here ends the trip down memory lane ...