Thursday, 28 December 2017

Ghost witnesses and vigils

Sun behind treeI wonder if a prime source of information about ghosts is being neglected these days. The emphasis in recent years has been on ghost vigils. It is understandable. People want to have their own ghostly experiences, not just listen to witness accounts. However, the difference is that witnesses have actually experienced something ghostly. In contrast, I spent many, many of hours on ghost vigils over the years and witnessed hardly anything, as have oithers.

It seems to me that witness accounts are a much richer source of information about ghosts than the experiences of those on vigils. What is more, ghost vigils these days often employ assumption-led methods. These methods start with assumptions, such as ghosts being spirits. As I explained recently (here), I've found little evidence to support the idea that ghosts are spirits in the decades of research I've done on the subject. Indeed, the lack of any definitive evidence in favour of ghosts as spirits gathered by all those vigils in recent years has actually reduced the chances of it being true (see here).

As I see it, almost everything we know about ghosts comes from witness accounts. Indeed, I can think of little, if any, knowledge about ghosts that that has come from vigils. Anyway, just an end of year thought!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Noticing strange stuff

SunsetI sometimes think I might be genetically programmed to notice odd things. I will often look at a scene and notice straight away something that looks wrong or out of place. I remember odd events while completely forgetting more important stuff. I suppose it might explain why I'm interested in anomalous phenomena. It might also explain why I have a tendency to notice misperceptions.

Anyway, I doubt anyone else around at the time saw anything strange - but I did. It was around sunset and there a bright light on the horizon which was not the sun! I was on the edge of a small town walking along a dark road which had no houses. The bright light was in a group of trees some distance away. The light was not moving or changing. It reminded me of scenes I'd seen in UFO movies of a strange bright light shining through trees in a wood.

I couldn't make out what the light was at all. Luckily I had some binoculars on me so I could take a closer look. The 'light' turned out to be a large house with apparently all its lights on and no curtains drawn. None of the other houses in the vicinity had any lights on. From my position, without binoculars, the lights all fused into just one really bright one. And, with the trees in the way, i couldn't even see that there was a house. So, mystery over.

Few people routinely carry binoculars or similar optical equipment. So someone else seeing what I saw would never have worked out what it really was, short of actually going towards the mystery light. Perhaps, after all, it's just as well that no one else appeared interested in the light! Otherwise there may have been many reports of a strange light that actually had a mundane explanation.
Thinking about it, I doubt many witnesses who report strange phenomena routinely notice odd things like I do. If they did, they might report strange things all the time instead of maybe just once or twice in a lifetime.
PS: The picture (above right) was a different sunset! Also, I'm hearing sounds 'behind music' while I write this, yet again (see here for background). I suppose it is another example of noticing odd things.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Reading and phantom speech - a connection?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Investigating coincidences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Are we missing some vital information from witness reports?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 November 2017

The man who moved instantly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

More ghostly irony

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 November 2017

We're talking one Alexander right now!

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

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

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

Friday, 17 November 2017

The unexpected fall of night

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Ironic ghosts!

ShadowI love irony! There is a fine example in the current ghost hunting boom. The assumption-led methods used in the ghost vigils that are the a central feature of the boom revolve around a fundamental belief - that ghosts are spirits. This is despite the fact that the evidence for this is less than compelling (for a discussion of this evidence see here). So here's the irony - the ghost hunting boom itself is making the case for ghosts as spirits less and less likely.

The reason for this is simple. We now have what must be thousands of people spending millions of hours ghost hunting. With all that effort you would expect at least some some kind of consistent thread of evidence to emerge supporting the idea of ghosts as spirits, assuming that the idea is correct. And yet, no such body of evidence has so far emerged from the boom.

Careful research based on spontaneous cases of people seeing ghosts has revealed that many such sightings are caused by misperception or hallucination. There are other causes too (like coincidence) and there have always been other cases that might possibly be explained by such things as recording ghosts or spirits. So the evidence collected before the ghost hunting boom did not rule out spirits as one possible cause but did make it unlikely. But now the lack of any consistent evidence implicating spirits from the boom has reduced the odds of them being involved.

I believed ghosts were spirits when I started my interest in this subject because that was, and is, the overwhelming popular idea about ghosts. But I gradually realized from examining real cases that things didn't support that idea in any compelling way (see here for a brief account of how I came to this conclusion). I have always continued to believe, however, that some ghosts may have a paranormal cause. But I'm not convinced that any ghosts are spirits and the ghost hunting boom 'results' are only tending to reinorce that view.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Directional ghostly voices and an unexpected return!

Paving slabsAlone in a room, MA heard a voice say something. Then a different voice said something else. The voices did not appear, judging from what they said, to be talking to each other or to MA. Unfortunately, MA cannot remember exactly was said at the time. Both voices spoke just a few words each. But here's where it gets interesting. One voice came unmistakably from MA's left side while the other was unambiguously from the right. In other words, the voices appeared to come from two specific places in space. This is the first time MA has noted voices coming form any particular direction.

MA is my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) which is what this experience was. It was a 'voice MWR' a type where MA hears a voice when alone, while still seeing the actual physical scene ahead normally. In all previous 'voice MWRs' MA was not aware of the voice coming from any particular direction in space. It is quite possible that previous voices did actually came from a particular direction but, if so, it was not obvious at the time.

So what's the significance of this observation? MWRs are essentially a combination of real current sensory data and dream material. From this latest observation it seems that the dream element is so realistic that it even includes directionality. It is more like an immersive vuirtual reality experience than watching TV. It also implies that we dream in stereo!

MWRs can, of course, be mistaken for genuine paranormal experiences by a witness unaware of their true cause. They may be indicative of a sleep disorder or severe sleep deprivation. The fact that they are so realistic will simply add to the impression that these are completely genuine paranormal experiences. In other words, just because ghostly voices come from a specific direction it doesn't mean they are definitely real!

Meanwhile, I was utterly shocked to see the door ghost again recently (background here). I mentioned the ghost recently (here) having not seen it for 14 months! I think this return is the result of an unconscious psychological priming process. It is similar to the way I've started to hear 'voices behind music' (see here) a lot recently after discussing it in this blog. I also mentioned the door ghost recently, of course. Despite that I was not expecting the door ghost again so when it appeared I thought it was a real person. Turning round there was, of course, no one there.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

When ghosts rarely turned up on vigils!

Sun behind treeWhen I used to go on ghost vigils, we seldom experienced anything. In those days, before the current ghost-hunting boom, vigils consisted of people sitting around quietly waiting to experience something paranormal at a haunted location. We had little or no equipment. The idea was simply to try to experience whatever had been reported by prior witnesses who would not have had equipment either. We all wanted to see a ghost and reckoned a haunted place had to be the best place to go. I never did see a ghost on those vigils though I've seen several since (many reported in this blog).

So why didn't we see much on those ghost vigils? The favoured explanation at the time was that, if ghosts were reported, say, a couple of times a year at a particular venue then it was unlikely they would be seen simply by turning up on one random night of the year. It was a reasonable explanation but it would mean that if you went many, many times you must eventually see a ghost. But even after a lot of vigils the reported ghost count remained stubbornly low. So was there more to it than ghosts simply being very rarely seen? All these years later I've got some other possible explanations.

Firstly, if the original ghost sightings at a haunted location were caused by misperception then deliberately looking for ghosts was the not a good strategy. Misperception usually only works if you are NOT expecting it. It might help explain a curious thing we noted on those vigils. We found that many of the phenomena that WERE recorded on vigils happened during break periods when people were moving around between sessions and not expecting to experience anything. This idea of not seeing ghosts when you look hard for them was noted at the time, though not with misperception in mind. Some people even tried doing things other than looking for ghosts at haunted locations and it produced some promising results.

Secondly, I believe on some occasions we DID actually experience what previous witnesses had seen or heard without realizing it at the time. That's because we had formed our own mental picture, based on witness reports, of what to expect. But that mental picture probably owed more to ghost movies than reality. For instance, I remember one place (a haunting hot spot - see recent post) where ghostly whispering was frequently reported. It was only after I'd heard a particular sound there several times that I realized it could be interpreted as whispering. I'd already worked out that it was really the sound of water flowing intermittently in pipes behind walls in that room. It did not agree with the dramatic, obvious whispering sound I was expecting but it certainly fitted the witness description.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Ghostly 'sounds behind music' - again!

Sun behind treeRecently (here), I mentioned how I sometimes hear the sounds of someone moving around,. or voices, when quite alone and playing music loudly. I said it was a very rare occurrence. However, as noted in both posts since then, I've heard it several times since. In fact, I've heard it more times in the last few days than in the previous year. I think that writing about the phenomenon may have raised my psychological expectancy, causing me to hear it much more. This has allowed me to make some more detailed observations. I haven't heard the 'voice' version of the sounds recently, though I did as few months back, just those resembling someone moving around nearby in a different room, Here is what I found.

Firstly, the sounds are surprisingly distinct despite the loud music. In fact, they are more obvious than sounds caused by a real person moving around nearby! It is almost as though the phantom sounds are amplified compared to their real counterpart. They are, however, much less varied than the sounds of a real person moving around. They consist largely of clicks and knocks. And the strangest thing is that I never hear these quite distinctive phantom sounds when there is a real person present moving about.

What do I conclude from all this? Firstly, psychological expectation appears to makes the sounds appear more frequently. However, if I deliberately listen for them they don't occur. I have to be distracted by doing some other activity, like writing this post. Secondly, the noises are significantly different from the sounds of a real person moving around. This is important because it makes the phantom sounds recognizable. That's how I know they are NOT heard when there really IS someone else around. Thus, I conclude, that being alone is a prerequisite to hearing the sounds. This, and the fact that the music needs to be loud, fits in with the idea of the witness unconsciously feeling vulnerable since they could not hear anyone's approach. Hearing the sounds always prompts me automatically to turn the music off to see if there is anything real going on. So as a way of keeping me alert to my surroundings, it works!

It is entirely possible that this phenomenon could make someone think they are in a haunted location. The sound of someone moving around, when the witness is alone, certainly sounds like a haunting. I've not come across any cases like this, involving music, but they may well be out there.

Monday, 6 November 2017

What causes haunting hot spots?

Floor planWhat causes haunting hot spots? I've speculated in the past but it's time to get serious. For those who don't know, when a building is haunted paranormal activity is not usually recorded everywhere. There are usually pronounced haunting 'hot spots' of activity. For instance, in the floor plan (pic right), of an imaginary haunted house, there are only three places on the ground floor where haunting activity regularly occurs. In room A an apparition has been seen. In the hall, B, the sound of footsteps are regularly heard while faint music is sometimes heard at C in the corner of the largest room. So what causes such hot spots of haunting activity?

I was thinking about this recently, as you do, when it occurred to me that I'd already looked into a few hot spots in some detail. So here is what I think is probably going on at these particular hot spots. I already suspected that, like ghosts themselves, hot spots have different causes. Do these examples support that idea?

Firstly, there is the alley where I have felt a sense of presence several times (see here and here). The case for considering this place a haunting hot spot has been considerably strengthened recently. I discovered that someone else has also felt a sense of presence in the same location, also caused by noises suggesting a person walking behind the witness. So for this particular hot spot, the cause would appear to be sounds heard there suggestive of a person walking (caused by leaves on the ground blowing around) combined with discomfort from being in a relatively confined space with few escape routes. There is also a suggestion that witnesses need to be in a particular state of mind for the effect to occur.

Secondly, there is the bed in the Tapestry Room at Muncaster Castle. Independent witnesses sleeping in this particular bed have reported hearing a child crying. I won't bother to describe how this has been investigated as it is described in detail here and here. The overall conclusion is that the crying child phenomenon may be a hallucination induced by certain varying magnetic fields.

Thirdly, there is the door ghost. For an introduction to this see here. Though the ghost has only been seen by one witness (me) it has occurred so many times that I was able to do experiments on it. The cause of the shadowy figure was obvious enough - misperception. The ghost only appeared, however, when I approached the door from a very specific direction. I no longer use that approach so the ghost has vanished. If I use the 'old route' deliberately to see the ghost it does not appear. That's because misperceptions do not usually appear if you are expecting them! Lighting also had an effect on the ghost's appearances.

Looking at these three examples, plus others I've come across in the past, they support my idea that different haunting hot spots have different basic causes, like misperception and induced hallucination. So why doesn't everyone walking through a hot spot have a haunting experience? I think that is because there are many secondary contributory factors that need to be present at the same time for an experience to occur. In the 'haunted alley', for instance, you need things to cause a sound, like fallen leaves being blown around. With the door ghost, the exact position of the witness is crucial, as is lighting. The witnesses themselves also need to be a particular psychological state for such experiences to occur. I walk the 'haunted alley' all the time and the presence has only occurred a handful of times. In one such experience, for instance, I was distracted looking for autumn cobwebs when the footsteps came which is something I can only recall doing on that single occasion. As I've noted many times, anomalous experiences are almost always coincidences, involving many factors that all just happen to come together at one time. This would explain why these experiences are so elusive.

This is just a first stab at understanding haunting hot spots. I suppose on a more speculative level, you could consider recording ghosts as another possible cause of a hot spot though there are problems with this concept (see here). The popular idea of ghosts as spirits does not fit well with haunting hot spots. This may be why hot spots seem to be so rarely discussed.

PS: I just had yet another of those 'sounds behind music' experiences (see here for explanation). As I said last time, I think it is becoming a common occurrence now I've written about it.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Irregularly flashing UFO

SunsetRecently I spotted a bright light in the sky that I wasn't able to identify, making it a UFO! It was flashing at irregular intervals. I wasn't able to get a prolonged view but then I saw something that could easily explain the UFO.

The photo (right) was taken at around the same time near to where I saw the UFO. As the photo shows, it was sunset at the time which is, I think, crucial to understanding this mystery. The yellow object just below the centre of the picture is a cloud. It is the same colour as the UFO I saw but though less bright.

What I saw after the UFO was a low-flying plane on its approach to an airport. It was turning, at one end of a holding stack I think. As it turned, the underside glinted reflecting the sun which was near the horizon. As different parts of the plane reflected the sun it gave an overall impression of a brightly irregularly flashing object! I believe the UFO I saw earlier was the same thing, a plane turning and reflecting the sun, but higher in the stack, making its true identity less obvious.

When I first saw the UFO it certainly looked quite mysterious. However, once I realized it was moving like a plane it became fairly obvious what it was. The intensity of the light and the way it flashed irregularly was odd but easily explained by the plane reflecting the setting sun. This kind of UFO could only be seen at sunset or sunrise in a place where aircraft turn, such as in a stack. It is another example of an anomaly caused by a coincidence. It is something worth checking for when investigating UFO reports.

PS: I just had another of those 'sounds behind music' experiences (see here for explanation) as I wrote this post! I fear that writing about this phenomenon may now make it more common in future.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ghostly sounds 'behind' music

Sun behind treeHearing noises downstairs I stopped my music and called out 'hello'. There was no reply. I was uncomfortably reminded of those scenes in horror movies where someone enters a supposedly empty house, hears something and shouts 'hello'. The sounds had stopped and I confirmed that I was alone. So, a ghost then! Such sounds might certainly be considered signs of a haunting!

I first noticed this phenomenon when I was a teenager. I would play music at full volume, as you do at that age, but hear someone from another room shouting. I took this as meaning 'turn it down' and did so. However, I subsequently discovered that no one had shouted at all. I next noticed the phenomenon much later in life. I would be playing music, loudly, and hear either voices or the sounds of someone moving around. This happened when I was completely alone in a building. What's more, as soon as I switched the music off, the voices or noises would stop, only to return (sometimes) if I put the music back on. This phenomenon does not happen that often, maybe a few times a year, whereas I play music much more frequently than that. So clearly there is more to it than simply being alone with loud music on.

I had been meaning to blog about this phenomenon for years but never got round to it. Then, the other day, someone else reported the same thing happened to them. So, it's not just me! What's more, just a few days later I heard the phenomenon again, for the first time in months. Even weirder, today, just as I was preparing to write this it happened once again.

So what factors are involved in producing these ghostly sounds? From my observations, it doesn't seem to be associated with a particular fragment of music. If the same tune is played repeatedly, the sounds occur at different times with each play. So it is not something in the music itself. Nor it is associated with a particular type of music. The music being on loud definitely does seem to be a factor though. Even then, it does not always happen when music is on loud by any means. I have found that if I deliberately listen for the sounds they don't come. It seems that I must be distracted for the sounds to appear.

So the factors seem to be loud music, played when alone and something distracting the witness who is not deliberately listening for the sounds. My best guess is that if a witness is distracted and there is loud music they would be unable to hear someone, or something, sneaking up on them. In other words, it may be an instinctive protection mechanism, to keep the witness aware of any possible threats there may be around. That would make ghostly sounds hallucinatory. This explanation is purely speculation on my part, of course.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has had any similar strange experiences. Maybe it's a well-known phenomenon. I call it 'sounds behind music' but perhaps there is already an official, more catchy, name already.

Monday, 23 October 2017

This is, of course, impossible!

Paving slabsFollowing on from the last post (16 Oct) I decided to find out, definitively, if I dream in focus. I am myopic and so could, in theory, dream either in focus or out of it. Following some experiments I can now say for certain that I dream in crystal clear focus! This is unsurprising. I wear my glasses virtually all the time when I'm up so my visual memories should be in focus. This would explain how, when I misperceive a ghost while not wearing glasses, it is in focus even though the surrounding scene is not. I've heard there are reports from other witnesses who have seen ghosts in focus despite requiring glasses and not having them on at the time.

I've also noticed another strange thing. When I'm looking at an object with a fine, random pattern on it, like dots in a paving slab, I can see the pattern in focus even though I'm not wearing my glasses. An example is the photo (right). If I looked at these paving slabs without wearing glasses I would see all the little dots perfectly sharply. This is, of course, impossible! Indeed, it could well be reported as an anomalous phenomenon in its own right.

In reality, it is a case of misperception. I'm not seeing the actual dots but a version my brain has constructed from my visual memory. I'm amazed at just how convincing it looks. It is as if I was wearing my glasses. However, if I turn to look at another object nearby it will be blurry. I've only noticed the effect with objects that have a fine pattern on them so far, though it may occur elsewhere.

Clearly, I must have always seen things like this so why have I only just noticed it? That's the thing about misperception, it is only very seldom noticed. That's because the brain constructs a misperception of what is most likely to really be there when an object looks indistinct. So, if you're seeing what you expect to see, it won't draw your attention. I think it is my interest in misperception that has allowed me to notice it now. I'm now intersted in finding reports of strange phenomena from myopic people when not wearing glasses. I'll bet such people have seen some odd things but dismissed them because they don't trust what they see without glasses.

Monday, 16 October 2017

If a ghost is blurry is it paranormal?

Sharp object blurry backgroundIf a ghost looks blurry is it paranormal? I should add that the witness in this hypothetical case is myopic (short-sighted) and not wearing glasses or contact lenses.  Normally, of course, everything would look blurry to such a person. However, being myopic myself, I’ve seen ghosts IN focus in such situations. Also, I’ve come across reports that other people have had the same experience.

You might think that seeing a ghost in focus, when it should be blurry, might be a sign it is paranormal. After all, it shouldn't be possible in any normal situation. However, in my case it was because the ghost was a misperception.  I’ve also seen other misperceived objects IN focus when I am not wearing my glasses. It would appear to be a feature of misperception.

So why would I misperceive things IN focus when they ought to be blurry? Misperceptions happen when we cannot see something well and our brains substitute another object into the scene we are seeing. It appears to be our brain’s best guess as to what the object really is and the substituted image comes from our own visual memory. So this would imply that my visual memories are IN focus, despite my being myopic. This makes sense as I, like many other myopic people, wear my glasses pretty much all the time. So my visual memories should be in focus. Another common source of ghost sightings are hallucinations. In near sleep experiences, for instance, visual elements from dreams are superimposed on real scenery. As far as I'm aware I dream IN focus so I'd expect ghosts to be sharp if I saw one in a near sleep experience when I was not wearing glasses.

So if I saw a blurry ghost when I was not wearing glasses, would that be an indication that it was paranormal? It would certainly imply that the ghost was a real object 'out there', as opposed to something subjective (like a misperception or hallucination). However, it might still not be a paranormal ghost. If I saw someone in historical costume, for instance, I might think it was a ghost when it was someone very real (see here for recent example).

So it seems that whether a ghost is blurry, or not, to someone with myopia while not wearing glasses, is not a reliable test to see if it is paranormal. It has made me wonder if there are any tests that WOULD reliably distinguish a paranormal from a xenonormal ghost. I haven't thought of one yet but I'll continue to think about it.

Incidentally, there is apparently technology currently being developed that could allow people with myopia to see visual displays in focus when not wearing glasses.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Small human ghost?

Orangey thingRecently I saw 'something' odd in my peripheral vision. As I turned to look straight at it I still wasn't sure what it was but it appeared to be a small human figure in a hood! It was moving a lot which is what attracted my attention. The figure appeared to be leaning over, as if examining something on the ground. However, the idea of a 'small human figure' in a hood appeared unlikely.

Luckily, I took a photo of it and here it is (right). The 'figure' is roughly in the centre of the picture with the 'hood' looking right and downwards. Close examination at the time soon revealed the object to be a tall plant, resembling a reed. It was moving in the breeze while the surrounding vegetation was not because it fully exposed to the wind and clearly had a very flexible stem.

Orangey thing darkThe 'figure' sighting was clearly a misperception. After the misperception 'broke' I did not see she figure again. When I look at the photo here I see something that resembles a figure but I do not see it as one. It is therefore not a photographic misperception (see here).

This sort if thing would not fool many people into thinking it was really a small human figure. But what if the observation had been made in low light? As an experiment I decided to simulate much lower illumination to see what it might look like. So here's the picture (right) darkened using photo editing software. Note how the 'figure' is much more prominent while the background vegetation has mostly vanished. Now imagine it moving strongly in the breeze. It could give a much stronger impression of a small human figure or possibly some kind of animal. Of course a photographic reconstruction won't be quite the same as the seeing something with the naked eye. Human vision is significantly different to what cameras record (see here for a comparison). Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that if I noted something odd in broad daylight then more people would probably see something strange at night. Maybe it would even be seen as a ghost!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ghost with a paunch!

Car ghostI think I've seen more ghosts than anyone I know! And here's another one from just the other day. I was leaning down picking something up when I noticed someone standing nearby. Ever curious, I looked round slowly to see who it was. They were wearing dark trousers and a red top but I couldn't see any face because it was concealed by a tree branch. Then suddenly the figure was gone. So, a ghost then!

It realized quickly that it was a classic case of misperception. It was, however, by no means run of the mill. For a start, the ghostly 'figure' was actually made up of two different objects that happened to be in the same line of sight (see here for another recent example of this). Also the 'face' was not so much concealed as not there at all. I had 'seen' a human figure so I had just assumed the face must be behind the tree branch. This is an example of a partial concealment type of misperception (see triggers). Finally, the 'figure' was first viewed in peripheral vision (a typical trigger). And I was not wearing my glasses, so the whole scene appeared somewhat fuzzy even when I looked directly at it. This meant the 'figure' effect lasted a bit longer than a peripheral vision misperception normally might.

So what was I really looking at? The picture (right) is an extremely rough representation of what I saw. While it shows the relative positions of the objects involved correctly, the actual shapes are only approximate. The 'dark trousers' turned out to a black wheelie bin! Above that, the 'red top' was the front bonnet of a car behind the bin. There was a tree (the green object in the picture) just above the car and down the left side of the bin. A branch covered what would have been the upper torso and head, had it been a real human figure.

It is another example of how a partial view of an object can actually make a more powerful nociperception than a complete view. Had the tree not been there, I would not have seen a figure at all because there was nothing to represent a torso or head. But it made a convincing ghost with a paunch for a few seconds at least. And, yes, the figure was in focus (see here for background to this observation).

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

What I couldn't say about ghosts!

Floor planI was chatting with a new acquaintance recently, swapping brief biographical details, as you do. When asked about my interests it was with some embarrassment that I failed to mention my ruling passion - ghost research! How could I miss out this most vital interest?

Well, as I considered my answer I saw how the conversation might go. I knew that to the general public, the image of 'ghost research' is largely informed by the TV ghost hunting shows. I knew that it would take a long time to explain how different my ghost research is to what goes on in the TV programmes.

I expect I'll have to explain it one day so I thought I'd try it out here to see if it makes sense. The easiest way to look at how I got to where I am is to see where I came from. I started with an interest in ghosts informed largely by fiction and 'what everyone knows'. For instance, 'everyone knows' that ghosts are spirits, right?

So, when I started in real ghost research I was surprised by what I found. It wasn't a bit like the movies! For instance, ghosts were not instantly recognizable by being transparent or glowing. Instead they looked indistinguishable from normal people until they did something weird, like vanishing. And far from engaging with witnesses, they seemed unaware of their existence! None of this suggested sentient spirits to me.

And then there were hauntings, that 'everyone knows' are the activities of ghosts. But I have never come across any sightings of a ghost actually DOING any of the stuff they were supposedly doing, like moving stuff around. And what about haunting hot spots? These are quite specific small areas within a haunted location where the same phenomena are recorded again and again. So, in the diagram, an apparition might be seen repeatedly in room A, the sound of footsteps may be regularly heard in hall B while faint music is sometimes heard at C in the corner of the largest room. Again, none of this suggests the activity of a sentient spirit. It sounds more like a recording but that is a whole different discussion though ( see here for much more on this).

So after all this I decided to go back to basics. Instead of assuming anything about the nature of ghosts, I now examine the experience of witnessing them. This means looking at the witnesses themselves, the place where the experiences take place and what external event (if any) may be causing them. It turns out that there is no single cause of ghost sightings but many. And, to the witness, all the causes bring about an identical ghost experience. It is obvious that hallucinations (a key cause) can produce ghosts, even ones that might appear to interact with the witness. But misperceptions are every bit as lifelike. That's because what the witness sees comes from their own visual memory! Witnesses don't see a tree that vaguely resembles a human figure, they see a real solid person! And then there are coincidences, another important and often neglected cause of ghost sightings. An example would be someone seeing a figure in historic costume walking along a street apparently not interacting with anyone. It might be a very real human being who just happens to be going to a fancy dress party! As regular readers will be aware, my informal research has shown that these causes explain far more cases than you might, at first, expect.

As you can see, it is rather too long and complicated for a casual chat with a new acquaintance. On the whole I'd say I was right to skip it. Maybe next time ...

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Seeing ghosts to order?

Misperception in treeI felt annoyed! I looked out of a window and saw that someone had dropped a plastic box in the street. But as I looked a little harder the plastic box vanished before my eyes. There are, of course, ghosts of humans and animals but ghostly objects are much rarer. But they do occur occasionally. However, this clear plastic box looked like the sort of thing some food, like salads, comes in from a supermarket. It looked like litter rather than any ghostly manifestation.

It was, of course, a misperception, the same phenomenon responsible for many sightings of ghostly human figures. What makes this sighting interesting was that I was able to make it reappear easily. Normally a misperception 'breaks', so you see what's really there, and the misperception never reappears. But this one did. Through slowly changing my angle of view I could sometimes see the 'plastic box' and sometimes not. It was completely predictable and controllable.

It turns out that the 'plastic box' was made from a particular accidental visual alignment of three things. The top of the 'box' was formed by a drain cover in the pavement. The body of the 'box' was formed by the reflection of a white curtain fold in the window I was looking through. Finally, the base of the 'box' was formed by a patch of lichen on the pavement. If I moved just slightly, so that the three things no longer exactly aligned, the 'box' vanished instantly. But, unusually, it returned if I moved back. The box didn't reappear instantly, it came back after a few seconds of looking.

As a final experiment I revisited the scene at a different time of day. I could no longer see the 'box' no matter where I stood. I could still see the drain cover, lichen and reflected curtain fold, but the box would not appear. Clearly lighting was also a crucial factor. Specifically, I think the drain cover only worked as a box top when it was strongly illuminated from above by the sun, looking almost white as a result.

Years ago I had initially assumed that once our brains see a misperceived object for what it really is, the misperception does not reappear. I have, however, come across a few examples of particularly 'strong' misperceptions, like the door ghost, that defy that principle. It is possible that I've had it wrong all along. Maybe misperceptions CAN be sometimes, or even always, seen again if the conditions are just right. As this example shows, there needed to be an exact alignment of three things plus correct lighting for the misperception to appear. In most cases where misperceptions appear, the witness will move around at the time of the sighting. The misperception may rely on the witness being in just the right place, down to a matter of a few centimetres, as in this case. It is hardly surprising, then, that misperceptions usually disappear seemingly forever. But a second witness might see the same misperception if they stand in just the right place in the right lighting

This raises the interesting possibility that it might be possible to measure misperception. By that I mean one could measure the size of an area where a misperception could be seen. The lighting could also be measured to see within what parameters a misperception appears. In this way it might be possible to get misperceptions at a particular location, and hence ghosts, to appear more or less to order. Not everyone will see the misperceptions but those that do will see them consistently.

The photo? See here.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Paper defies gravity, again!

Paper on edgeWhen truly strange things happen twice you begin to wonder! I saw something odd lying beneath a letter box recently. It resembled a dark toothbrush. I did not have my glasses on so it was heavily out of focus which is probably why I thought of a toothbrush. I could not think of any good reason why a toothbrush would be in such a place. Closer inspection revealed something much stranger. It was a piece of A5 paper standing on its edge! It was like the photo (right)* but mostly black, shiny and with printing on it.

The paper had clearly come through the letter box. I was alone in the building and the paper had not been there the last time I looked. It was a commercial flyer. It was entirely unremarkable apart from the fact that it was standing, improbably, on its edge. The letter box was about 1m above the floor and the paper maybe 20cm horizontally away from it. I was able to topple the paper by blowing gently from a distance of over a metre away. So it was clearly very finely balanced.

It have tried to persuade bits of paper to stand on their edge like this but without success so far. I have discovered it is not that unusual for the paper to land on its side. However, momentum from the fall usually then causes it to fall flat. To stay upright on its edge the paper needs to land in such a way that there are no horizontal forces. The chances of this happening by chance are probably hugely against but it happened.

I had a similar incident to this some years ago (see here). In that case a dropped piece of paper stood on its edge for a whole second. In this latest incident the paper remained upright indefinitely, until I blew it. How is that possible? One thing I noted about this latest bit of paper is that it was slightly wrinkled, rather than completely flat. I think these slight wobbles in the edge of the paper were acting as additional points of support. Even so, I tried to do this experimentally and was not able to produce just the right pattern of wrinkles to keep a bit of paper upright indefinitely. I think heavy paper will work better and it would be easier to do with card. The actual paper involved was heavier and stiffer than typical photocopy paper but not by much.

So this paper standing on its edge required both a particular way of landing, to avoid tipping over, and just the right pattern of wrinkles to remain upright. My previous experience showed me that this kind of thing can happen by coincidence even though I have not, so far, been able to reproduce it. The point is that extraordinary things sometimes happen simply by chance, with no need to consider the paranormal. I can see how some people might think it a paranormal event if they witnessed it.

*The photo is merely an illustration. It was digitally manipulated to remove the support used!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Seeing a 'strange bird'

JayAs a birder I'm occasionally asked by people to identify a 'strange bird' they've seen. They've never seen anything like it before and wonder if it might be rare. And here's the odd thing; it is almost always a Jay. Why?

The thing about Jays is that they are big, colourful, loud and hard to miss. Well they're hard to miss if you see one but they are also very secretive and rarely come out into the open. So when a non-birder sees one they think it must be rare because how else can they explain never have seen such an unmissable bird before. In fact, Jays are relatively common in Britain.

Seeing an animal you've never noticed before could, of course, lead to its being reported as a cryptid. While that's unlikely to happen for Jays, there are rarer animals in the UK that could be misreported as something truly strange.

The broader point here is that none of us are experts in everything we might happen to see when going about our everyday lives. While the vast majority of stuff we see will be familiar there will always be a few things that are not. And these few things that can give rise to xenonormal reports. The xenonormal is something which is unfamiliar (to the observer), but normal, that is taken to be anomalous or paranormal.

I mention all this because I happened to see a Jay yesterday, the first in a while, and it reminded me that this is the time of year when you are most likely to see one. They are easier to see in the autumn because they are busy finding acorns, hazelnuts and other food to bury for winter provisions.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Opening the door to precognition?

Sun behind treeHas my acquaintance (MA) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experienced a genuine case of precognition? MA was in a MWR when the startling incident occurred. It was a 'being somewhere else' type MWR where none of the real surroundings were visible. In the MWR, MA saw a door closing. It was so close that it actually hit MA on the arm. This caused MA to wake from the microsleep. It then emerged that MA really had bit touched by someone's hand causing the awakening! But this is where it gets truly weird!

It is well known that real life sensations, like the sound of an alarm clock going off, can get incorporated into dreams. So there's nothing mysterious about feeling a touch while dreaming. But in MA's MWR the door was observed closing before it 'hit' MA, which is when it was felt. In other words, MA somehow anticipated being touched before it actually happened despite seeing none of the real scene. Is it precognition or could there be another explanation?

Could MA have heard the approaching hand? It seems unlikely as the other person was not wearing noisy clothing. Nor was this person sitting a on noisy seat! Or, given that during MWRs the brain is only partially asleep, might MA's eye have actually detected the approaching arm even though MA could not consciously see it? Or was it a brain 'time trick'? It is possible, for instance, that the 'dream door' started to move at the actual moment when the unconscious bit of MA's brain felt the real touch. The sensation of the touch was only then 'played' later in the dream when the 'door' appeared to hit MA. Does the brain play such time tricks in dreams? I don't know but it seems entirely possible. It is well-known that in misperception, the way visual objects are substituted is to 'make sense' of a poorly seen object. So the door may have been used to make sense of the unexpected touch.

It is not easy to study dreams using conventional sleep. That's because dreams are typically forgotten quickly when someone is woken from normal sleep. However, with MWRs the brain is only partly asleep and this seems to allow dreams to be remembered more easily and in detail. MA is often easily able to recall bizarre phrases spoken during such MWR episodes (see here), something difficult with ordinary dreams. It occurs to me that MWRs might be a good way of studying how dreams work. And it might emerge that the brain does indeed mess around with the order of events in dreams.

Or maybe MWRs can really open the door to precognition.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Historic figure and fame quandary

Sun behind treeRecently, as I walked into a hotel reception area, it felt eerily like stepping into a time slip. There were around half a dozen people there dressed in clothes from another era. I'm no historian but I would guess at early nineteenth century. The people could have been ghosts, though I doubt it. They were interacting with other people, in contemporary dress, in a way that suggested they were real life people*.

I'm sure many apparent ghost sightings are caused by ordinary people who happen to be dressed in historic costumes. There are all sorts of reasons why people might be seen in public spaces dressed in such a way. Examples include historic re-enactments, fancy dress parties, parades and pageants. Sometimes the participants in such events have to travel to them in costume. This is a good example of how a real life person can cause an apparent ghost sighting!

In other news, I saw a fairly well-known actor, seen regularly on UK TV, on a train just over one week into the month. I have no doubt about it being famous person, unlike my last 'sighting' (see here). The question I have is whether I can include the record in 'fame month' , which was August. For more on this see here.

*This raises an interesting question. Has there ever been a ghost report where a witness observed an apparition interact with a third party, who was not a ghost? I can't think one!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Moving aerial mystery

crowIt was odd! A TV aerial on top of a two-storey house was rocking quite violently. The thing was, there wasn't a breath of wind. All the leaves in the trees and bushes in the vicinity were completely still. The aerial continued to rock for several minutes, all with still no sign of the slightest breeze in the area. Once it stopped moving, the aerial then remained perfectly still. So what strange force had propelled it?

To explain that I need give the full sequence of events. I happened to glance at the aerial just before before seeing it in motion. Then I looked away for a few seconds before looking back to see the aerial moving. However, in my initial observation I saw a crow on the aerial. In the subsequent view, when the aerial was rocking, the bird had gone. It was clear that the force of the bird taking off had set the aerial rocking.

I often say in these blogs that if I hadn't noticed something or other before, or during, a strange incident I would still be puzzling over it now. In this case that is actually what happened! When I first saw the aerial moving I was genuinely puzzled, especially when I saw not a single leaf nearby moving. It was only then that I recalled seeing the crow previously! Though I have a terrible memory I don't think it is to blame for this incident. It was, rather, a failure to connect the crow to moving aerial in my mind, at first. I think that was because I never actually saw the bird take off. And if I hadn't made the connection, I might still be puzzling over the mysterious incident.

This illustrates how a witness may have actually seen the cause of an otherwise mysterious incident but not realised it. It shows the value of carefully interviewing witnesses to anomalous incidents. It is worth asking not just about the mysterious occurrence itself but everything else that was going on before and around it.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

On not seeing foxes

Perspective foxAs an amateur naturalist (as well as a paranormal researcher) I take a keen interest in local wildlife. Sometimes the two interests combine as in the case of the 'garden poltergeist' (see here). I have noticed, for instance, that urban foxes appear surprisingly tolerant of humans. I've seen them sitting motionless, watching people go by just a few metres away. They only react if the people move directly towards them. I think I know why this happens - it's because most people never even notice the foxes present. I've seen people walk right past foxes so close they could not possibly miss seeing them, but it appears they do. People are not great at noticing things.

The relevance of this to the paranormal is this. Someone might see an object every day when they walk past it but never actually notice it. But suppose, on one particular day, the object is brought to their attention for some reason. That person may be convinced that the object has suddenly 'appeared' that day, having never been there before. If it turns out that there is evidence that the object must have been there for a long time, and the witness could not possibly have missed seeing it, they might conclude that something paranormal is going on.

Noticing things is a strange process. The other day I was walking along a narrow path when someone suddenly came the other way. I looked at the person briefly but noticed noteworthy about them. But then, seconds later, I realised I knew the face. It was a moderately famous actor I'd seen several times on TV. How had it taken me several seconds to realise this important fact (given that it is fame month!). I think it worked like this. I saw the person and the unconscious bit of my brain recognised them. However, it took several seconds for my brain to process the fact that, although the face was familiar, from TV, it was not one I'd ever seen in real life before. Only then did the unconscious bit of my brain pass this important information on to the conscious bit. Probably. However it works, noticing things is complicated and humans are not generally good at it. I'm sure this general inability to notice stuff contributes to many reports of the paranormal.

Sadly, I don't think I can count the encounter as a hit for fame month. I only saw the person for a couple of seconds and I might have been mistaken. All the previous celebrities I've seen have been visible for much longer. So with fame month drawing to an end it looks as if I've missed out this time.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Identifiable ghosts part 2

Sun behind treeI saw someone I knew in the street recently. Not being great at small talk, I mentally prepared a few questions to ask while walking towards them. As a result I wasn't looking at the person too closely. So it came as a shock when I finally reached the person and realised it was not who I thought it was at all. The person in front of me was similar but not the one I know. So far, so unremarkable except for one thing. When I first saw the person it WAS them! It wasn't someone LIKE them. If I'd been asked at the time I would have said without hesitation that it was the person I knew.

It was clearly a misperception. My brain had visually substituted the person actually there with an image from my memory. So I actually SAW who I thought it was, rather than the real person. The location may be significant. It was a place where I often see the person I know. So there would have been some psychological expectation playing a part, I'm sure.

I mentioned in my last post how someone might see an apparently identifiable ghost from a MWR. Now I have an example of how someone might see an identifiable ghost through misperception too. In this case it was a real person who got misidentified but I think it could also happen with an inanimate object, depending on its visual appearance.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Identifiable ghosts

Sun behind treeHere is an imagined scene: "Witness A is visiting a stately home. He sits in the deserted garden to rest briefly on a hot summer's day. He notices someone walking across the lawn towards him. The person appears vaguely familiar. Then, astonishingly, the figure instantly vanishes! Witness A is shocked. He walks back into the main house that he has looked around already. He makes his way to the Great North Hall. He scans the portraits of former owners of the house along the wall. Just as he suspected there, between Edgar the Envious and Unwin the Unwavering is the man he saw on the lawn - Simon the Steady! So, a ghost then!"

And what is the point of this entirely fictional account? Well, it concerns a recent experience of MA (my acquaintance) who experiences MWRs (regular readers please accept usual lack of apology passim). In this particular MWR, MA was apparently 'transported' to a completely different scene. There, MA saw a rather animated man talking and pacing around restlessly. MA could not make out exactly what the man was saying. Then something unprecedented in MA's experience happened. The man froze to immobility and the surrounding scene faded away. Suddenly all MA could see of the man was his head. This then changed from looking normal and perfectly real into what looked like a painted portrait. Done in pastel shades, it was a good likeness but not photographic accuracy. It was, without doubt, as painting. Finally the image vanished and MA came out of the MWR. This MWR was unusually intense and felt very real, despite its surreal content.

This rather bizarre MWR got me thinking. Does this process also go the the other way? Do paintings of people we've never met get animated into realistic walking, taking recognisable people by our brains in MWRs? If a witness saw a portrait of someone said to haunt the area could it lead to an experience like the fictional one at the start of this post? It might explain some sightings of ghosts identified only from paintings!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Fame month again!

UFOAnd now a confession! It's 'fame month' (see here for explanation) once again. Unlike previous fame months I actually remembered it was coming this time. That might explain how I caught myself deliberately looking around at people in a restaurant recently. Yes, I was looking just in case there was anyone famous there. There wasn't! I hadn't done it consciously, at least not to start with. Once I realised what I was doing, I stopped.

It felt like cheating, but was it? My only rule is that I should not do anything that I would not normally do. I don't actually have a rule against looking all around, just in case. Such a rule would normally be superfluous as most of the time I forget it's even fame month. But it would appear that the unconscious part of my brain may be remembering for me, on occasion. But will it really bias the results?

Although looking for celebrities will obviously reduce the odds of seeing one, I think the effect would be tiny. That's because there still has to be a celebrity physically present to spot. And that is still highly unlikely, given that I don't deliberately visit places where celebrities are likely to be seen, like stage doors. So, do I think that my unconsciously being on the look out for celebrities during 'fame month' will explain the phenomenon? No I don't. None seen so far, by the way.

And the photo (above right)? I took it recently and when I first saw it displayed on a screen it appeared to show a UFO against a gloomy sky. It's the dark blob half way up, just right of centre. There was no UFO obvious visible at the time of exposure. It is, in fact, a cable car. You might be able to make out the cable if you look carefully, depending on the display you're using.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A psychic message?

Sun behind treeOnce again, I'm not going to apologize for discussing more fascinating experiences from MA (my acquaintance) who gets microsleep with REM (MWR). A recent experience marks yet another first and a highly significant one. It was a 'voice MWR'. This means MA heard a voice, even though there was no one else around, while still seeing the actual physical scene ahead normally. MA has had countless such voice MWRs but it was what this one said that so interesting.

Generally such voice MWRs sound like a snatch of an overheard conversation, from an unknown speaker, which is not apparently directed at MA. But on this occasion the few words included MA's name! What is more, the voice was one familiar to MA, someone who could not possibly have been present!

Unlike the previous 'voice MWRs', this sounded like a personal message from someone known to MA. As such, it had an emotional resonance. It is easy to see how, to someone unaware of the true nature of MWRs, this voice could easily have been interpreted as a personal psychic message, maybe telepathy.

MWRs are basically very short dreams. MWRs frequently mix real life sensory input with dreams, showing that the brain is only partially asleep. This 'partial sleep' is probably why MWR content is more easily recalled than normal sleeping dreams being a lighter sleep state. Research has revealed that dreaming uses the same brain areas as those used while awake to access episodic memory. In other words, dreams use memories of things that have happened to you. This agrees with the findings of dream researcher Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys (see here for more on this). Research also shows that the most vivid and bizarre dreams are also associated with activity in the amygdala and hippocampus. Both these brain areas are associated with memory formation with the amygdala important for emotional content.

Given this research, this latest 'name' MWR is easy to understand as it involves a memory of a particular person known to MA, someone who would have spoken MA's name many times. What is odd is the fact that the vast majority of voice MWRs are apparently random phrases (see here for examples), as if from casually overheard conversations, by people unknown to MWR. These presumably come from MA's memory but they sound unfamiliar.

One possibility is that they consist of various bits of real memories combined randomly together in an unfamiliar way. The Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys concluded that dreams are just that - our own recollections rearranged and presented back to us in an unfamiliar and often bizarre way. But does that really apply on such a small scale as a spoken phrase or short sentence? Maybe it does. If not, then MA must have heard those actual phrases at some time but cannot recall them consciously. This is perfectly possible. Think of all the TV we watch these days. There are a great many words spoken but the exact phrases are generally forgotten almost instantly. But perhaps some, at least, remain in the unconscious brain only accessible through things like dreams or MWRs. There is some support for this idea in a previous experience when MA recognised a voice heard as a a well-known male public figure (see here for account)! Maybe MA actually heard the person say it on TV. And maybe some of the other voice MWRs are snatches of conversations casually overheard in the street, for instance! It may be a case of cryptomnesia, in fact.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Like time standing still!

ClockMA heard a song, an original song, while reading. The song did not come from any electronic device or a human singer. It was just there. MA hears such original songs quite often these days. It is just a pity MA is not musical otherwise the tunes could be written down as original compositions! Whether these mysterious tunes are actually any good is quite another question*.

But something different happened this time. MA was reading but became stuck on the same sentence for the duration of the music. Only when it was finished did the reading continue. Nothinmg like this has ever happened before. So what does it mean? And what has it to do with the paranormal?

Regular readers will know that MA is 'my acquaintance' who gets microsleep with REM (MWR) experiences. These are microsleeps that go straight into a dream state. MA's MWRs fall into two broad categories - voices and visual. The 'visual' phenomenon are totally immersive, like virtual reality. MA is sometimes 'transported' to somewhere completely different. There is also a variation where the scene is the same as the one where MA actually is but with some significant differences (like the train ghost). The 'voices' phenomenon is not immersive and MA continues to see what is going on in the real world.

This latest experience was of the 'voices' type. Some of these experiences are in the form of songs, original ones, never heard by MA before. What made this latest experience unique was that MA stopped reading during the song. It was not a voluntary act. MA simply could not read while the song was being heard, even though the words on the page remained plainly visible throughout. So what's going on?

There are a number of possible explanations for this experience. It could be that MA was distracted by the song and stopped reading. MA insists, however, that it did not feel like that. A second possibility is that MA was unable to concentrate on both reading and listening to music and so could not read while the song was heard. MA doesn't think it felt like that either.

Then there's the possibility that the MWR completely 'took over' MA's brain, like an ordinary sleeping dream. In this scenario, MA's brain was no longer processing sensory inputs but simply 'replaying' the last thing it saw in a sort of loop, like a DVD on pause. That would be pretty weird, if true!

How can we tell if that last possibility was true? Well, if MA noticed any changes in the scene during the experience, like the page moving, it would show that 'live' sensory input was still getting through. MA did not notice any such changes. However, MWRs are short, typically a few seconds, so it's entirely possible that there WERE no visual changes during that period of time. For now the question must remain open until a new similar experience comes along which might provide evidence one way or the other.

And what has this to do with paranormal experiences? Well, MWRs are a rare, but quite normal, phenomenon usually caused by certain kinds of sleep disorder. Anyone experiencing such MWRs who did not know their true cause could easily interpret them as paranormal experiences. And the more we learn about the nature of MWRs the more easily we can recognise them. If this experience really IS like a DVD on pause it might be interpreted, if there was no accompanying music, by a witness as like time briefly standing still! And that really would be a very strange experience indeed.

*It should be easier for any would-be music composer to get new tunes from MWRs than from ordinary sleeping dreams. That's because MWRs are remembered in much better detail. MA can usually recall exact words spoken in voice MWRs, for instance, so why not exact notes and lyrics in the musical variation?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Invisible ghosts?

Apparent figureOne of the commonly held beliefs about ghosts is that are usually invisible, only appearing very rarely as human figures. I have often wondered where this belief comes from. Could it come from actual witness evidence? In a previous look at this topic (here) I pointed out that visible ghosts are sometimes observed to vanish. One interpretation of this might be that they are going from a visible to an invisible state.

Well, my recent experience in the rain (here) suggests a second line of witness evidence - a sense of presence. This consists of a definite feeling that there is someone nearby who ought to be visible but is not. This certainly sounds like an invisible ghost. There is also a third line of evidence - haunting activity. Such activity, like object movement, is assumed by some to be caused by an invisible ghost. A fourth line of evidence is that apparent human figures sometimes appear in photos when no one was seen at the time of exposure (see photo right).

All of this suggests that, unlike some beliefs about ghosts, the 'invisible ghost' idea may be derived from real ghost cases. However, this does not necessarily mean that the evidence actually supports the idea of invisible ghosts.

Take vanishing human figures, for instance. Many ghost sightings are found, on careful investigation, to be caused by misperception or hallucination. Vanishing acts are common in cases of misperception because such misperceptions frequently 'break' when the object being misperceived becomes better seen. And when hallucinations end, so do any human figures they contain (see the train ghost near sleep experience, for example). Photos of ghosts are often found to be photographic artefacts.

My own experiences with a sense of presence suggests that they can have xenonormal causes, like certain natural sounds. And a problem with haunting activity is that visible apparitions are not actually observed moving objects or performing other haunting activities. Indeed, in many haunting cases, no apparition is ever seen at all. It appears to be an assumption that ghosts cause these activities rather than a demonstrable fact (see here for more on this).

So I can now see how the idea of invisible ghosts is probably based on real ghost cases. However, in my opinion, there still seems to be no compelling evidence for the existence of invisible ghosts.

PS: The photo? Can you see a human figure in it? No such figure was seen at the time of exposure. See here for the story behind the picture.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sense of presence in the rain!

RaindropsI turned and looked for the third time but there was still no one there! This was despite distinctly hearing someone shuffling about behind me on each occasion. So, a ghost then!

I was in a nature reserve hide. For those not familiar with such buildings, they generally resemble a wooden garden shed, as this one did. In this example, there were windows at the front to observe wildlife, unobserved by animals. At the back was an open door. There was a wooden boardwalk leading up to the door. I was sitting watching birds through the front window when I heard someone coming into the hide behind me. When they did not come to the front window I looked round, out of curiosity, but there was no one there. This happened twice more. It definitely felt very odd!

I worked out, after a while, what was causing this 'sense of presence' phenomenon to occur. It was the sound of heavy rain on the hide roof and boardwalk. The sound, on occasion, resembled someone shuffling along the boardwalk or wooden floor of the hide. Though I've been to this hide many times before, this was the first time I'd been there during heavy rain. That was probably why I'd never heard this 'presence' phenomenon there before. I felt the sense of presence so strongly that I looked three times, despite seeing no one on each occasion.

I have, of course, had a sense of presence before, also caused by sound (see here and here for instance - note how 'shuffling' is the same adjective used). This latest example was in a completely different location and situation to the previous examples. It suggests that natural sounds may produce a sense of presence in many different circumstances. This examples is the most powerful I've come across so far.