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.