Friday, 16 June 2017

Pale figure at a window

Sun behind treeWalking along a suburban street the other day something caught my eye. There was a very pale human figure in an upper floor window of a house ahead of me. I couldn't help but think 'ghost'. This was despite the fact that ghosts are usually reported to look like perfectly normal people (see here). The pale or white ghost appears to be largely a convention of movies rather than real apparition cases.

So, I was intrigued by this unusually pale figure. I watched it continuously as I walked closer to the house. The 'figure' changed shape as I moved, getting larger and losing all resemblance to a person. I realised the pale shape was the reflection of a nearby tree. It looked pale due to the lighting conditions and because it was a reflection.

It was yet another example of a coincidence causing an anomalous observation. If I'd noticed the shape just before or after the moment when I did it would never have resembled a ghostly figure at all. And if the lighting conditions had been different it would never have looked so strangely pale.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Is that my voice?

Sun behind treeMy acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) has had possibly the weirdest experience yet! MA was just talking when there came the unmistakable feeling of coming out of what was clearly a MWR. A witness was present and could confirm that MA had, in fact, said nothing and looked asleep. MA was, however, aware of the real surroundings exactly as they were and felt there was nothing wrong until 'waking up'.

Usually in MWRs, MA is a passive observer, or listener, to what is going on. But on this occasion clearly MA was speaking out loud though the witness heard nothing. This, then shows that MWRs are not always passive experiences. This would appear to border on lucid dreaming. However, MA experienced it as listening to a voice which was clearly MA's own but was not consciously aware of speaking voluntarily. I've had a feeling like this myself in everyday life when doing public speaking! It is certainly a strange aspect of MWRs that could explain yet more apparently anomalous experiences.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

White flying object

White flying objectSo, here's a UFO picture I took recently (right). I suppose, technically, it's not a UFO because I knew what it was when I took the photo. However, when I looked at the picture later I was struck by how it resembled a classic flying saucer. It is pure white with a shiny metallic look to it.

People routinely discover human figures (or objects resembling them) in photos that they did not notice at the time of exposure. They are often interpreted as ghosts. I have also come across this phenomenon with UFOs. People will notice an object in the sky in a photo when they saw nothing there at the time of exposure. If it is recognisable as a plane, balloon, cloud or some other mundane object, that is the end of it. But if it is not obviously recognisable, it may get reported as a UFO.

The very fact that a figure is only seen in a photo, but not at the time of exposure, is enough for people to think it might be a ghost. This relies on the commonly held belief that there are invisible ghosts. I'm not convinced that such invisible ghosts exist, as I discussed previously here. But I can see how something appearing in a photo, but not noticed at the time of exposure, might be considered paranormal. I guess a similar argument could be made for UFOs. If it really was an alien craft then some kind of invisibility would probably be an easy thing to do compared with interstellar space travel.

However, as always in such cases, it is entirely possible that the photographer simply missed what was plainly visible at the time. They may have been paying attention to the subject of the photo, not some object in the background. Another possible explanation for such pictures is a photographic artefact. In other words, the object in the photo is not what it appears at first sight to be. And that is the explanation here.

White flying object detailThe white flying object is actually a bird. Here (left) is a zoomed version of the object cropped from the same photo. The apparent 'saucer' shape is caused by the way the bird is holding its wings at the precise moment the photo is taken. Had the picture been taken at a slightly different time it would never have looked like a saucer. Had the photo been of lower resolution it would not have been possible to zoom in and get the extra detail required to show the true nature of the object. It might, then, have remained a mystery. This is, then, yet another example of a coincidence causing an apparent anomalous incident.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Ghostly object movement

Sun behind treeOne of the ways I address my poor memory is to leave important things in the same place. Always! As a system it works pretty well. So when an object I use as lot was not in its usual place recently, for the first time ever as far as I can remember, I couldn't even begin to imagine where it might be. I tried searching in obvious, less obvious and downright unlikely places, to no avail.
Then, suddenly, it came to me. Like many people I have habitual routines. These are also useful for coping with a poor memory. I remembered that one thing I habitually do every day had been unexpectedly interrupted that morning. Sure enough, when I went to look there was the object I'd lost, exactly where it would be if I'd failed to complete my normal routine.
This would all be pretty trivial were it not that object movement and disappearance are quite commonly reported aspects of hauntings. I wonder how may such reported disappearances or object movements are actually simply people leaving things in places they wouldn't normally do and then forgetting what they've done. Of course, this sort of thing happens to everyone from time to time and most people will think nothing of it. But if several such events happen over a short period of time someone might start to suspect a ghostly presence! And this is more likely if someone already thinks the place they are in is haunted. It is yet another case of coincidence causing apparent anomalous phenomena.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ghost in a high visibility vest?

Sun behind treeI was on as train when I noticed someone in a high visibility vest beside the track. It was a familiar sight to anyone who regularly travels by train. I idly watched the person as the train drew closer to them. Suddenly, to my surprise, I realised the 'person' wasn't a person at all! As the viewing angle changed, the 'person' turned into a trackside sign with a bright yellow portion. It was clearly a case of misperception. Had I looked away, instead of watching the 'person' continuously, and then back again seconds later I might easily have concluded that the figure had vanished and that it was a ghost.

Regular readers will have noted that I have misperceived rail signs as human figures several times. It is a recurring cause of misperception, like trees and bushes, discussed in the last post. I had not expected signs to be a frequent source of misperceived figures before I started to notice them. I guess it makes sense, though.

Many rail signs consist of a post with the actual sign on top at a similar height to a human head. The bit that doesn't fit is the post. Surely, it is far too thin to resemble a human torso. However, I've noticed many of the signs are seen from some distance away (as in this case) or are partly obscured by something nearby, like a bush. Also, such sightings are frequently made from a moving transport vehicle, making viewing transient. Taken together, these factors can make viewing conditions difficult which always encourages misperception. So it makes some sense after all.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Green man

TreeI don't know much about the green man. I've seen carvings on buildings, of course, but I'm not aware of any sightings of actual green men in the wild. So I was intrigued to find this object (right) in a recent photo I took. The dark tall, narrow bush in the middle of the photograph resembles the proportions of a human figure. But what struck me was a fairly obvious (to me anyway) face at the top of the 'figure'. It is, apparently looking towards the right. This is a misperception so it is entirely possible that other people won't see it, even though it's obvious to me. Whether you can see it will also depend on what device you are using to view the photo.

BushI can even still see the 'face' in a cropped version of the photo (left) which makes the image appear bigger. In this version, the 'face' is just above the centre of the frame. I can quite clearly see a nose, eyes and a bright area above suggesting a forehead. A light 'chin' is also outlined by a dark line below.

Given that the face is clearly made up of leaves it gives the impression of a classic green man carving. Though I see a 'face' in my misperception, it is clearly not a human face. The substituted image (from visual memory) is probably that of a green man carving rather than any real face.

Many of the misperceptions I've seen in recent years have been of trees or bushes as human figures. One reason for this is, I imagine, is that bushes or small trees can have similar sizes and proportions to a human figure. This does not explain how apparent faces are often seen too. This is, I imagine, is down to the complex patterns formed by leaves. It will also depend crucially on the illumination. Putting these factors, illumination and presence of leaves, together means that 'faces' and 'figures' probably only appear at certain specific times. This is one of the problems with investigating misperception, unless you can reproduce the exact conditions of the original observation, the misperception may not appear again.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ghost in a crowd

Sun behind treeI have said, on several occasions, in this blog that I would probably not notice a ghost in a crowd. I have often wondered how such a ghost might be spotted. A recent incident means that now I think I know! Ghosts are usually reported as looking indistinguishable from normal people. It is only when they do something unusual, like disappear, that their true ghostly nature is revealed. This is why one might not notice a ghost in a crowd.

I was standing in the audience at a concert, recently. It was dark and the crowd was tightly packed allowing little room to move. However, there were always a few people moving through the crowd. I found it annoying because I got jostled. I noticed one man heading my way and prepared for the expected disturbance but it didn't come. He went right by me and I felt nothing! Then I realised I hadn't seen him jostle anyone in front of me either. Suddenly remembering ghosts, I turned round to see what effect he was having on the crowd behind me. But there was no sign of him. It was as though he'd had no physical contact with the dense crowed and then vanished! So, a ghost in a crowd, then!

So could there be a xenonormal ex[planation for this observation? There are certainly factors that point that way. Firstly, I only remembered not seeing him physically interact with the people in front of me - I wasn't actually watching them closely at the time. So it could be memory affected by expectation. Secondly, when I turned round there was a gap behind me, no doubt because I am tall! But I only turned round after a second or so, as I realised something odd had happened. The man could have traversed that gap easily in that time and once beyond would be difficult to see in the dark. Thirdly, it's possible that the man had gone past me so carefully that he hadn't touched me despite the tiny gap. Even so, it still felt very odd overall and I wasn't sure at all!

Luckily, a few minutes later, the same man returned going in the other direction. And this time he did indeed touch me as he passed by. So he definitely was physically present! I concluded he was not a ghost after all.

PS: Some readers may have noticed that I seem to often have strange experiences at concerts. I've no idea right now about why that might be!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Ghostly sound

Sun behind treeAs I closed the door I heard the sound of a plastic bag being scrunched. Nothing odd about that except that I was sure I'd moved the plastic bag I'd placed there earlier. So I opened the door again and looked. I was right - no plastic bag! So, a ghost bag then!

I was truly puzzled by this anomalous event for a while until a little later when I discovered the explanation. I found another plastic bag, not far from, but out of sight of, the door. What was interesting about this bag was that it contained a small heavy object and it was not where I had left it shortly before the anomalous incident. It was clear that the bag had fallen from the somewhat precarious position I'd left it in, on top of a pile of stuff. I put things in this position frequently and they often fall off. Why do I continue to do this? Habit and a bizarre optimism that I can place an object carefully enough so that 'this time' it will not fall. Mostly, though, it is because the pile of stuff is in a convenient position to put things temporarily.

I have no doubt that the scrunching noise was the 'precarious bag' falling with its heavy load causing most of the noise. That it happened just as I was closing a nearby door is a coincidence - the cause of many anomalous reports. Another aspect of the coincidence is that I'd put another plastic bag behind the door earlier so that one COULD have been there, but wasn't.

I've experienced this sort of coincidence, where performing some movement corresponds with an unrelated sound, many times. For instance, I have touched an object gently only to hear a loud bang (caused by something else). At the time I was shocked but it always turned out to be a 'sound coincidence'. I'm sure readers have had similar experiences.

I experience these 'sound coincidences' so often that I need to come up with a snappy name for them. Do I notice such things more than other people? I've no idea. Nor do I know how frequent such coincidences are. It is easy to see., however, how such things could appear paranormal, particularly if they happen at a haunted location and the witness does not realise the true explanation.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

An odd ghost

Sun behind treeI noticed an intriguing diminutive human figure in the street but not for long. After just a second or two it vanished! So, a ghost then! I thought it was odd, even for a ghost, and afterwards I realised why.

The figure was walking along a sunlit pavement. When I saw it, most of the figure was concealed behind a foreground tree, which was in shadow. I soon realised that the figure was a result of misperception caused by the foreground tree. But here's the weird bit. The figure was clearly sunlit while the tree was firmly in shadow. So how could that happen?

I realised that the 'figure' was actually formed by the bits of the sunlit pavement that I could see through the tree. These areas, enclosed by the branches and leaves of the tree, were united in my brain to form a fleeting human figure. It was a bit like the photo (above right) but with the bright areas suggesting a figure. The movement of the 'figure' was caused by the fact that the tree was moving gently in the wind. My brain interpreted this movement as walking because the 'figure' was apparently on the pavement.

I have come across misperception caused by shadows in the past. The enclosed areas of brightly lit pavement were similar to shadows except they are bright instead of dark. It seems human perception makes little distinction. It is the shapes formed by the shadows / bright areas and their relative positions which is vital. And in this case the light bits seen together suggested a human figure. The 'figure' vanished because the shapes moved around and stopped resembling a person. Obviously, the figure in such a situation would always appear to be partly concealed by a foreground object.

From this experience I would say that this kind of misperception can be particularly convincing. It was only when it vanished that I realised it wasn't a real person. Having said that, I did think it was an odd-looking figure at the time.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Embarrassing ghost!

Sun behind treeI can't believe I've never had an experience like this before! I was walking along a country road when I noticed a dark figure in a nearby field. Nothing odd about that until the human figure changed into something else when I looked at it more closely. So, a ghost then! However, to my acute embarrassment it turned out to be a cow!

Yes it was a misperception and counts as a ghost (where a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present)! But even so - a cow! So what can I say in my defence? Well, I've misperceived several trees and bushes as human figures so a cow isn't so weird. In addition, this cow was facing me, head down, eating grass. So it gave the overall impression of a human figure in size and shape. Its legs were even positioned just as they would be for a human figure. Three of them overlapped visually with the lowered cow's head giving the impression of one narrow and one wide leg! At a glance the whole thing looked remarkably like a human figure bending over towards the witness.

So, in fact, I'd say the cow looked more like a human figure than some of the bushes and trees I've misperceived in the past. So much so that I'm surprised I've never misperceived an animal as a human figure before. Certain large animals can, therefore, clearly be a credible source of ghost misperception. So, on reflection, I'm don't think I should be embarrassed at misperceiving a cow as a human figure after all. Except, I don't know, it's still a cow. I couldn't even bring myself to put up a photo of a cow here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mysterious figure and fame month

Sun behind treeI'd already noticed something odd about the person before they vanished (so a ghost then). I mention this because generally the ghosts I see look like perfectly normal figures, at first anyway. I couldn't say exactly what was 'wrong' with the figure because it vanished before I could get a good look.

The 'ghostly figure' was a typical misperception and I soon saw what it really was. The 'body' consisted of a light coloured sign. It was partially concealed behind a dark fence post. It gave the impression of someone wearing light coloured clothes emerging from behind the fence. The 'face' was another light coloured sign behind the 'body' one. The two were aligned from my position to resemble a human figure. It is surprising how little is required to suggest a human figure! The fact that the sign posts were about the size of a typical human certainly helped. So this was, once again, a coincidence caused by a chance alignment of two signs and a fence post.

I think the fact that the 'figure' was partially concealed by a fence post was crucial to forming the misperception. It was, thus, a 'partial view' type misperception (see here). I think this is a particularly powerful type of misperception, as suggested by the fact that the materials here (signage!) was unpromising. It suggests that a partial view of an object is a powerful way of tricking human visual perception.

In other news, April is fame month once again! Briefly, I had noticed my tendency to see more famous people than I thought was 'normal' - an average of 0.23 per month. I do not seek out celebrities, I just see them during my normal everyday activities. What is really weird is that, recently, I appear to have been seeing them at regular intervals, every four months. Random events should not occur at regular intervals! The latest was due this month! For more on all this, see here. Anyway, a few days ago I saw someone famous - a well-known author. So this strange phenomenon continues!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A rare photo

SnipeHow many snipe are there in the picture here (right)? I know how many I see but it turns out that I'm wrong! It is a rare example of a photographed misperception. Generally, when you photograph a misperception all that appears in the photo is the object that was misperceived. But just occasionally the object is still misperceived in the photograph, to some viewers at least.

OK, I see 4 snipe in a line stretching into the distance from around the centre of the frame. The problem is that there are only 3 snipe actually present. The 'snipe' at the far end of the line isn't a bird at all. You may well only see 3 snipe because misperception varies from person to person. In a zoomed version of the photo (below right) the furthest 'snipe' is revealed as some vegetation that resembles the colouration of the real birds. This is not a coincidence, of course. Snipe have cryptic plumage, meaning they blend in well with their habitat which makes them difficult to spot.

What does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, it demonstrates that ghosts, and other anomalous phenomena, can definitely be photographed - where those sightings caused my misperception anyway. It has sometimes been suggested that ghosts cannot actually be photographed. This is the latest in my very small collection of photographed misperceptions.

snipe (detail)There are many photographs about where someone finds what appears to be a ghost in a photo where they saw nothing unusual at the time of exposure. The examples of those that I've personally examined were all photographic artefacts. There are also plenty of examples of people seeing ghosts but not photographing them. In such cases it is difficult to determine if the ghost was subjective or objective. There are few cases, in my experience, where someone saw a ghost and actually photographed it. And in such cases, what appears in the photo afterwards is often not what the witness described seeing. So my snipe photo is a rare example of seeing something, photographing it and the subsequent photo also showing it, despite it never actually having been there. If it had been a human figure, I would have happily called it a ghost!

Despite the ubiquitous mobile phone, few witnesses take photos of ghosts they see. And so the number of 'seen and photographed' ghost sightings remains extremely small. See here for a previous discussion of photographing ghosts.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

No glasses, no ghosts?

Sun behind treeRegular readers will be aware that I notice misperceptions frequently. Such misperceptions sometimes take the form of ghostly figures or other anomalous phenomena. However, I've noted that I don't usually notice misperceptions when not wearing my glasses (I'm short-sighted). Given that misperceptions usually happen when an object is not seen well, this appears paradoxical. I suspect that, when not wearing glasses, I don't look at things too closely - I'm usually only concerned with not bumping into anything.

There was one unusual incident once where I had an obvious misperception while wearing no glasses - reported here. Interestingly, the misperception was IN focus! It suggests that my visual memory holds images that are IN focus and does visual substitutions accordingly. But that does also suggest that visual substitution seen while wearing no glasses should stand out. So why is that the only example I've noticed?

Recently, I decided to do an experiment. I went outside for a walk wearing no glasses, something I never do normally. I looked around a lot to see if there were any misperceptions. There were not. I could easily see well enough to get around without problem though everything was fuzzy and out of focus. I saw nothing unusual and nothing in focus. Of course, there is a problem with this method. If you deliberately look for misperception you tend not to notice it.

This clearly implies that though perception is essentially an unconscious process, there is a conscious element to it too. Such priming is well-known in neuroscience. It means that if you deliberately look for a ghost, one caused by misperception at least, you will almost certainly not see it. It is also the reason why once a misperceived object has been seen for what it really is, it is not usually misperceived again. I'll need to think of some different way of doing my 'not wearing glasses' experiment. Experiments involving perception are tricky! But the evidence so far certainly suggests misperception is rarely noticed when not wearing glasses. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has seen a ghost while not wearing glasses that they normally wear all the time.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Amorphous white glowing shape or ghost?

White shapeI would hesitate to describe this photo (right) as showing a possible ghost. That's because ghosts are usually reported as looking just like normal human figures. Often the only reason a witness knows they are looking at a ghost is because such a person could not have been physically present. Or it may do something impossible, like disappear. The white shape here does, at least, have white 'appendages' on either side near the top, reminiscent of arms!

In popular culture ghosts are sometimes depicted as white and/or misty. So when people take a photo like the one here, an amorphous white glowing shape, they may interpret it as depicting a ghost. I'd simply describe it as a white anomaly. Anyway, what exactly is it?

I do know what the anomaly is because I took the photo deliberately, as I often do, to reproduce a type of anomalous photo. There are some clues in the photo itself. Firstly, the 'ghost' is entirely in front of the trees which means it could be out of focus. Secondly, there are several obvious white circles within the overall 'ghost' shape. These are typical of out of focus highlights, confirming the focus idea. Thirdly, there is, just below the main white anomaly, a faint transparent pale band going leftward to the edge of the frame. It is, of course, the stem of a plant. The object is an out of focus reed. It is bright because it is strongly illuminated by the sun.

White shapeHere (right) is exactly the same scene, taken at the same time, but with the reed in focus and the trees now out of focus. The reeds are not quite the same shape, overall, as the 'ghost' in the original photo. That's because there was a stiff wind at the time and the reeds were constantly moving, forming different 'ghost' shapes all the time.

It's difficult to say where the idea that ghosts are white or misty originated. It may have come from an artistic convention used to differentiate between ghosts and real people in paintings or movies. Or maybe it was simply because people thought there 'ought' to be some visual difference between ghosts and people. I honestly don't know where such ideas actually come from but I'm pretty sure it isn't from real life cases. Indeed, I suspect that many of the supposed attributes of ghosts in popular culture come from the widespread idea that ghosts are spirits, despite the lack of evidence to support that view (see here) from real life cases.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Was I a ghost?

BuzzardIt was at the end of a concert I attended recently. I was walking slowly towards the exit when I noticed a woman staring at me. Slightly surprised, I looked away, walked on a little and then looked back. She was still staring at me intently. I turned, walked on and looked back again. She was still staring at me. I walked on once again and turned back. But this time the woman had gone.

So why might this woman have been staring at me so intently? It was difficult to make out her expression, which might have given a clue, as the venue was fairly dark as such places often are. My best guess is that she thought she recognized me. I certainly didn't recognise her so she would have been mistaken. So why didn't she approach me or say hello? Perhaps because, if I was who she thought I was, I couldn't have been there! And by the definition of a ghost used here ("a ghost is a human figure, witnessed by someone, which cannot be physically present") I would be a ghost!

I've made a lot of assumptions to suggest that I was a ghost on this occasion. So I may well have got it all wrong. But it still raises an important point. A ghost sighting could be easily caused by someone seeing a person's double. And if the person the witness thought it was could not have been physically present, the incident could easily be reported as a ghost sighting. I can think of one or two examples of apparently good ghost sightings I've come across that could be explained this way.

But surely doubles are very rare, aren't they? I don't know the figures (or even if any such statistics exist) but I do know I've met mine. I was introduced to my double by someone who'd seen us both separately. I wasn't convinced he was my exact double myself but I'm probably not the best judge of my own appearance. I remember the man was similar enough for me to get an odd feeling meeting him.

I'll never know why that woman was staring at me. I don't think it was my appearance or clothing as she only looked at my face. Maybe I was indeed a ghost, to her. But next time I come across a ghost sighting of a witness seeing someone they knew who could not possibly be physically present, I'll certainly consider a double as a possible explanation.

And the photo (above right)? Well, I thought about a picture of me and decided the buzzard would be more interesting.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Another source of 'presence'?

Sun behind treeMy acquaintance (MA) who has microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences, which resemble paranormal phenomena, was on a train recently, idly looking out of the window. Without looking round, MA was aware that someone sat down in the adjacent vacant seat. Then, suddenly, MA had the feeling characteristic of emerging from a MWR. Looking round, there was no one in the adjacent seat!

MWRs usually last for no more than a second or two and there was no one in the adjacent seat before or afterwards. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the feeling of a 'presence' in the adjacent seat was entirely a product of the MWR. MA has not had this particular kind of MWR before. Previously ghostly figures have been plainly visible (see here for instance).

I have noted in the past that sound can induce a ghostly sense of presence, in me at least (see here and here for instance). Now it seems MWRs can also cause such feelings. Lab experiments have induced a sense of presence using the sense of touch. I suspect therefore that, like ghostly figure and UFO sightings, the sense of presence can have any one of a number of different causes.

MA also reports that MWRs appear to come of a particular type for several days running and then change to another type for the next few days. This pattern repeats endlessly. So, for instance, MA's recent MWRs have all consisted of bizarrely surreal scenes. Before that there were musical MWRs. Interestingly, the 'surreal' type MWRs corresponded to MA attending a concert. The MWRs appeared during certain songs, like a sort of pop video. Being surreal in content it was difficult to say if they were inspired by the music!

Without talking to other people who get MWRs, I can't know if having particular types of MWR for several days in a row is typical or unusual. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation on this sort of phenomena. It also explains why few anomaly researchers consider the idea that MWRs occurring to a witness unaware of their true cause might explain some strange phenomena reports.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

From goose to ghost

Egyptian GooseWhen I saw this photo (right) I knew straight away something was wrong. What is strange is the object, resembling a pale leaf, in front of the goose. I have a bad memory but I know for sure that there was no object in front of the goose when I took the photo a couple of days previously. So what is going on?

I have reduced the photo to a small size here deliberately. It is similar to the size when I first noticed the 'leaf' object. As soon as I zoomed in on the photo the mystery was resolved. As can be seen in the cropped version of the photo (below right) the object is not in front of the goose at all. It is some kind of flat concrete object in the grass, possibly an inspection cover or something similar. I admit I did not notice it at the time but since it was behind the bird, rather than in front of it, I wouldn't have regarded it as important.

The concrete object appears to be in front of the goose, in the smaller version of the picture, because it more or less matches the colour of the bird's neck at that point. So, it is coincidence based on a number of factors coming together. There is the similarity of colouration between part of the bird's neck and concrete object. Then there is the relative position of the bird, concrete object and photographer which need to line up in very specific way for the 'leaf' to appear. Finally, there is the way the goose has two different colours in its neck! Even though I know what is causing the effect it still looks like a leaf in front of the goose in the smaller photo to me. That would make it that rarity, a photographic misperception (see here for more on this).

Egyptian Goose (detail)This is a good example of how a coincidence can make things appear quite different to reality. Such coincidences can certainly give rise to paranormal reports. While no one is likely to report a 'paranormal leaf', a different set of circumstances could give rise to an apparent human figure that would 'vanish' as soon as the witness changed position. This might easily be reported as a ghost. With a photo it is possible to examine the scene again and again and zoom in and enhance the image. But with a casual observation the first impression is the only one available, wrong or right.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Ghost investigation conference

Sun behind treeASSAP is running a conference concerned with ghost investigation on 1 April in Bristol (details here). Ghost investigation is, of course, a big thing these days. When I first started out in paranormal research it was all rather different. We would wait, sometimes months or even years, for someone to report a ghost sighting and then go and interview them. If the case seemed to merit it, we might hold a ghost vigil at the site of the sighting. However, such vigils seldom, if ever, produced any compelling evidence of paranormal activity.

In those days there were few instruments available. But there still and video cameras and audio recorders available, of course. Even with such basic equipment it was possible to find interesting evidence after the event. I never relished looking through hours of video of an empty room where nothing was happening but it had to be done. And, just occasionally, something was caught on camera. But there was a problem with this.

Suppose a witness on the vigil reported something unusual happening and the area was being monitored by a video camera. This was excellent because the video recording might give a good idea of what had really happened. This usually turned out to be either something mundane or nothing appeared on the recording for the relevant time at all.

Then there was the other type of event, more common, where something odd was noted on the recording but not by any witness at the time. Suppose, for instance, it was an unknown voice. Because no one present heard it at the time it would be labelled an EVP. However, it could be that it WAS heard at the time but not as a voice. It might have been recognised as an environmental sound, like shuffling paper, a creaking chair or someone knocking the microphone! It only sounded like a voice in the recording because it was formant noise (sounds with peaks in the frequency spectrum that happen, by chance, to form a harmonic ratio).

The same kind of thing could happen with vigil photographs. Anomalies might appear in photos that witnesses at the vigil didn't see at the time. Many of these were probably photographic artefacts caused by such things as overexposure, camera shake, objects out of focus, long exposures, etc. For an in-depth discussion of such photographic artefacts see here.

As this brief note shows, ghost investigation is a complex subject, fully justifying a conference.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A ghost returns!

ShadowI was startled recently by a dark figure lurking unexpectedly behind me. I shouldn't have been surprised really because it was the door ghost (background here) appearing in exactly the same place it always has. However, it has been a while since I've seen the ghost and I was not expecting it, or thinking about it, at all.

Last May I concluded that, after a long absence, the door ghost had gone forever (see here). But then it unexpectedly reappeared, just once, last September (see here). But that only seemed to be the exception that proved the rule. I decided the ghost had disappeared because I was approaching the door from a different direction from the way I used to. The solitary September reappearance was put down to the particular lighting on the day in question. So why has it reappeared this time?

The answer turned out to be simple. I was wearing a coat that I hardly ever wear. It has especially baggy sleeves, enlarging the apparent size of my arms. Since the ghostly figure is a misperception of my own hand and arm, this all makes sense. Indeed, it made me wonder. I used to wear that particular coat a lot more than I do nowadays. Could part of the reason why the ghost no longer appears much be related to that change in clothing?

Misperception is highly dependent on the exact circumstances of how an object is observed. There are a number of trigger factors (see here) involved that promote the misperception of an object as something else. But perhaps the most important factor in misperception is the apparent shape of the object being misperceived. I say 'apparent shape' because often it is not the true full shape of the object but a partially obscured view.

It will be interesting to see if the door ghost reappears again. If it does, I'm sure there will be some special factor, not always present, like the coat, that makes the difference.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Disappearing heron!

HeronAs a birder, I'm always on the look out for birds when travelling by public transport. It's amazing what you can spot in such circumstances when you try. I've even spotted rare birds in this way. So when I saw the crouching heron from a train recently I was delighted but hardly surprised. What happened next, though, was very surprising indeed.

The 'heron' suddenly disappeared to be replaced by what it truly was, a low white object resembling a (British) fire hydrant sign. I don't know if it really was a sign as the whole scene was soon out of sight. What astonished me was how absolutely perfect this particular misperception was. I was in absolutely no doubt, at the time, that I was looking at a heron and even tried to get a better view before it went out of sight. So when it suddenly changed into something else I was shocked. I've seen a lot of misperceptions in recent years but this was among the very best. I can't recall exactly how the misperception disappeared but it was rapid. The heron in the photo (right) doesn't look very rectangular, like the 'sign' (or whatever it was), but when crouching they have a quite different overall shape.

I saw another striking misperception from a different train just a couple of days later. This time it concerned the fence running alongside the railway. When I looked directly at it, the fence looked unremarkable. But if I looked up, so that the fence went into peripheral vision, the fence became a wall! If I looked back it was a fence once again. And if I looked up again, it became a wall again. As such, it was an unusually robust misperception.

Of course, misperceptions are quite common in peripheral vision but usually they disappear once you've seen them in central vision, even if you subsequently view them in peripheral vision again. I wonder if the motion of the train was adding to the robustness of the misperception. It makes me wonder if witness or object motion might be another misperception trigger? It would make sense as the other triggers limit how well an object is perceived.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Can you recount a strange experience too often?

Airbourne dustWhen I recount a strange experiences in this blog it is always a fresh memory so I'm pretty confident that it is about as accurate as my memory will allow. Indeed, the first thing I tend to do after having an anomalous experience is write it down. It turns out that this is probably the best way to get an accurate record of an experience. Sadly, many witnesses do not do this. Instead, they may tell many other people about their odd experience before contacting a paranormal investigator. And that is not good for accurate recall of an event.

Scientific research has shown that human memory works in an unexpected way. Every time you recall a memory it is stored all over again - a process called reconsolidation. The problem with this is that during reconsolidation a memory can be modified or even erased. So every time a witness recalls a strange experience they may reconsolidate it slightly differently. This means that if they recount their experience many times, it could be altered quite significantly from the original memory. However, the witness will not be aware of this. To them, their current memory is the same one they formed when they first experienced the strange event. It probably explains why, when you visit somewhere you haven't been for a while, it often looks different. It's not just because the place has actually changed, which might be true. The chances are, so has your memory of the location. I had this experience recently when I barely recognized a town I used to live in!

So, if paranormal researchers are interviewing witnesses they need to get some idea of how many times the account they are recording has been retold. A witness might, for instance, have seen a UFO a month ago but never mentioned it to anyone until talking to a ufologist. But they may have seen the UFO just a day ago but have talked about it with dozens of people. The former account might actually be more accurate than the latter one, despite the bigger lapse of time since the event.

The problem is that when people have strange experiences it is natural that they want to talk about them. The 'best' witness would record everything they could in writing and then contact a paranormal researcher straight away. Sadly that seldom, if ever, happens! And, with the advent of online social media, the problem of memories changing is probably getting worse! I wonder if the best advice for witnesses might be not to think about their experiences too much!

In other news, my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) has been hearing extracts from original musical compositions again. If only MA was a musician this could be a really useful ability (see here for an earlier account). And the photo (above right)? It is bits of airborne dust illuminated by a strong light. They are in focus and appear as light trails because they are moving - the exposure time was quite slow at 1/5s. So when I come across a similar odd photo in future, I'll know what to suspect!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Best ghost in months!

Shingle with turnstoneI looked up and straight away noticed something alarming. I was at a railway station and I could see someone standing just a couple of metres from the track some 20m up the line. The person was not wearing a high visibility vest so I guessed they should not have been there. The person looked small, probably not even an adult. At least the figure was clearly visible, I thought, so there was little chance a train driver would fail to see them. But then something else struck me. The figure was standing still - absolutely motionless - in an unnatural way. I suspected a ghost.

Apart from not moving, the ghost was impressively real-looking. I could see its clothing, face, hair and that it was facing towards the railway track. If I walked a couple of metres from my initial sighting spot, the figure vanished. So, a ghost then! But when I returned to my original position the ghost reappeared! It was, of course, a misperception but a strikingly persistent one. Indeed, I was able to study the figure for a while to see how it was made up.

The 'figure' consisted of a sign post, a tree stump and a patch of light vegetation immediately behind. Only when the three lined up correctly was there a human figure visible. At any other angle there was nothing remarkable to be seen at all. It was sheer coincidence that I happened to see these objects lined up 'correctly' when I first noticed them. Had I looked at the scene from any other position I would never have seen the ghost. Interestingly, the light patch of vegetation fitted precisely between the sign post and tree stump so that the figure stood out well against the darker surrounding background.

This was certainly an impressive ghost. Even after I KNEW it was a misperception I could still see it and it was very life-like. It was also an impressive coincidence. The figure was only visible from one precise position - the one where I first saw it. The tree slump, sign and light vegetation were all many metres distant from each other but happened to be in the same direction from the place where I was standing. Anyone investigating a sighting of this ghost would have been unlikely to come up with the correct explanation for the figure. They would have had to find the exact spot where the witness saw the ghost and hope that the lighting (overcast) was similar and that the vegetation hadn't changed much since the time of the original sighting.

The trouble with coincidence is that it can be difficult to unravel after the event. My experiences over the years have led me to conclude that coincidence is a much bigger factor in causing reports of anomalous phenomena than most people realize. The reason such coincidences are rarely discovered is because the factors that caused them rarely persist for long.

And the photo (above right)? It's meant to illustrate how we can miss things even when they are in plain sight.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Fish in the sky?

SkyfishThe bright white object near the centre of this photo (right) looks to me like a fish. It appears to have tail fins on its right end which would mean it is swimming left. The only problem is that the 'fish' is clearly several metres above the ground. So, what's going on?

Could it be a flying fish? No, because it is nowhere near the sea and flying fish are a family of marine species. Could it be a fish-shaped balloon? That's entirely possible but it isn't the case. Luckily, though the photo is affected by camera shake and the object is overexposed, it is possible to identify the 'fish' by zooming in. The white object is actually a bird - a gull in fact - seen flying sideways on. The 'tail fin' at the back is formed by one of the bird's wings. The other wing is barely visible because it mostly blends in with the trees in the background.

I spotted the 'fish' straight away when I was reviewing some photos I'd taken recently. I didn't see a fish-shaped object at the time of exposure, of course. That's because I'd have seen a flying gull. It only resembles a fish because the still photo froze a moment in time when the gull happened to resemble a fish shape. There are many anomalous photos produced in this way.

It was only possible to unambiguously identify this photographic anomaly because the photo had a reasonably high resolution. Had the photo been low resolution it might have remained a mystery or been interpreted as something anomalous. Many anomalous photos that I've examined are low resolution making it often impossible to say exactly what they show.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Strange transparent object

Bird ghostI often take anomalous photos deliberately. That is, I take photos in such a way that a photographic artefact will appear which might be taken for a photo of an anomalous phenomenon. However, the photo here (right) was supposed to be a purely straightforward picture. So what is that strange transparent object dominating the upper part of the frame? Incidentally, this photo has not been edited apart from cropping.

The photo clearly shows the ground with twigs lying on it. The green section (top left) is a large branch, or possibly a tree root. The twigs in the foreground are sharp while those in the background are a little out of focus. The transparent 'object' is in the foreground. This is shown by the fact that it partly obscures some twigs that must be behind it. The 'object' is quite sharply defined so it is probably in focus itself. It consists of wispy transparent shapes and sharp lines. The most solid-looking part of the 'object' looks light brown in colour. The edge of the 'object' reaches the edge of the frame (top right). So what is this strange anomaly? Could it be a ghost?

Luckily, I know what I was trying to take a photo of at the time. It was a bird - a robin, in fact. The bird took off at the precise moment that I took the photo, resulting in motion blur. The bird might have been more recognisable were it not for the fact that I was using a rather slow shutter speed - 1/6s. Given that I never intended to take an anomalous photo, it shows just easily such photographic artefacts can arise accidentally. It also demonstrates how important it is to know all the circumstances of the taking of an anomalous photo.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A figure vanishes

Mound I turned to survey this scene (photo right) and a rather odd-looking person caught my attention immediately. They became even odder when they quickly vanished. All that remained was a low bush! So, a ghost then!

In case you can't see it, the 'ghost' is the bush about a quarter down the photo (right) near the left side of the frame. It was this bush that I misperceived as a human figure. The photo has obviously been cropped but apart from that is completely unedited.

In the photo the bush does not look much like a human (or ghost) figure. With photos, of course, the viewer has the advantage of being able to study objects for an extended period of time whereas I only saw the bush as a ghost for a few seconds in my initial view. Nevertheless, the bush is surely too small, isn't it?

At the time, the rather featureless landscape made it difficult to judge how far the ghost was away. If it had been a bit closer to the distant trees then it would have been a perfectly reasonable height for a human figure. There were several real people in the area for comparison and some distant ones were quite similar in dimensions to the bush.

As with most misperceptions, viewing conditions were not ideal. In this case, it was the short duration of my initial 'glimpse' that limited the visual information. I've noticed that misperception of all kinds often involves mistakes about scale and distances, as in this example.

A momentary glance at a scene can get all the scales and distances wrong. How? I think it is because the brain unconsciously 'recognises' one prominent object in the scene incorrectly. So, in this example, I think I noticed the bush first, seeing it as a human figure and mentally 'adjusting' the scene to fit that 'recognition'. But then I saw the distant trees, realised my mistake, and 'adjusted' the scene again towards reality (all unconsciously). This changed the 'distant figure' to a nearby low bush. I did not notice the change of scale, probably because I was concentrating on the ghost /bush.

This is similar to the mini-OBE experiences I've had (see here). In one such case the scene consisted entirely of regularly spaced bricks. These made it difficult to judge distance and scale. So I ended up apparently viewing the scene from a point in space much closer to the bricks than my real physical position. As you can see from the photo here, the scene of brown vegetation is rather featureless making it difficult to judge scale, especially if the distant trees weren't visible. That's why I cropped the photo the way I did to illustrate the problem.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Something really strange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Strange green and red glowing circles

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

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

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

Ghostly face!

Reflected treeCan you see the ghostly face in the photo (right)? I see photos all the time that I'm told contain the faces or figures of ghosts when I can see no such thing. This suggests to me that we are dealing with photographic misperceptions. These are misperceptions sufficiently 'strong' that some people, at least, see them all the time. Normally, misperceptions in photographs don't survive for long because it is possible to examine them over an extended period of time and you can zoom in and look at them more closely. But occasionally some survive such close examination, especially if it not possible to zoom in or enhance the photo. In contrast, misperceptions in 'the wild' are often seen as fleeting glimpses in poor viewing conditions.

I strongly suspect that if I could see what others were seeing in ghost photos it would be a real human face, not something that merely resembles one. That's because in misperception the real object is visually substituted with an image from our memories.

I put the picture (above right) up for the last blog post but had not noticed the 'ghost face' in it at the time! Now, when I look at the top right corner I see a pale face framed by long grey hair. If you can't see it, the face is traversed by the branch that forms a diagonal line across the top right corner. I see an 'eye' just to the left of the branch and a bizarrely upturned mouth below the 'nose'. The photo below shows the area of the apparent face.

Reflected tree (detail)Amazingly, I can still see the partial face, even in this zoomed version (right), though it is not as clear. So what is the 'face' really? Looking at this detailed view, I think the 'face' is primarily formed by the branches of the reflected tree. The 'eye' and 'mouth' are overlapping branches, I believe. The 'hair' is also outlined by branches. It only appears like thick bushy hair because of the presence of the 'face'! I think the fact that the tree is seen in reflection (in a puddle) also helps the misperception. It softens the appearance of the tree branches.

I think the thick diagonal branch that bisects the 'face' actually adds to the overall effect. I strongly suspect that if it wasn't there it would be obvious that the 'other eye' is most likely missing. I've noticed before that such 'partial' images in misperceptions in the real world are often particularly effective. Statistically, it is easier to find a group of objects that appear together to resemble half a face than a whole one. And our brains seem happy to recognise partially obscured objects.

Misperceptions appear to be perfectly real, so do I see it as an actual real life face in this photo? No, it looks like a drawing of a face. To that extent it appears real but, no, I don't see a normal living face. The face also looks a little grotesque. However, if I was expecting a ghost face there is no reason why it should look entirely 'normal'. The faces of ghosts portrayed on TV and in the the movies are often unnatural-looking.

Regarding this photo, as always with misperception, what you see will depend on the device being used to view the photo.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

White shape walks away!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Phantom snow boarder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The unexpected return of fame month!

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

Regular readers will know what this is all about. For everyone else, here's a catch up. I had noticed my tendency to see more famous people than I thought was 'normal' - an average of 0.23 per month. I do not seek out celebrities, I just see them during my normal everyday activities. What is really weird is that, recently, I appear to have been seeing them at regular intervals, every four months. Random events should not occur at regular intervals!

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

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