When ghosts break

When ghosts break

Misperception causes people to see ghosts. For more on how this works. I’ve been studying it for a few years now and it is quite remarkable. You don’t just see something that resembles a human figure - you see a real human figure, in detail. That’s because the poorly-seen object that is really physically seen is replaced by something from your own visual memory. It can explain why multiple witnesses can all see a ghost, unlike with a hallucination. But they may all see slightly different things, depending on their memory, and some may not see the ghost at all. But there are still some puzzles for me.

I thought at first thought it would be impossible to photograph a misperception but I was wrong.  OK you can’t photograph what witness sees as that is purely subjective. But you can take a photograph that evokes a misperception in some people. Indeed, many of the ghost photos in the media and on the web fall into this category. I took a photo of an apparent figure in a tricorn hat (right). Don’t worry if you can’t see the figure – some people see and some don’t which is normal with misperception. But what puzzled me was why do I STILL see the figure now even though I know it isn’t real?

When I misperceive something in every day life it generally vanishes after a few seconds. I call it the misperception ’breaking’. The misperception breaks because I get a better view of the poorly-seen object I’m really seeing. The light might get better or the object get closer. Or I may simply look at it from a slightly different angle. But sometimes I get persistent misperceptions. These happen if I don’t change my gaze at all and the view stays the same. I can get a misperception like this to persist pretty much indefinitely. My theory is that the misperception breaks if I get more visual information about the misperceived object. I think the reason the tricorn hat figure always works is the photo never changes so I never get any more visual information about it. I have a zoomed version of the figure from the same photo that reveals more detail amd breaks the misperception.

So when you see a ghost photo in a newspaper which looks like a fairly convincing figure consider this – if you had a zoomed version of the photo would it still look convincing? And what about in real life? Well, a witness may never get a better virew of the ghost if it is only seen briefly or the viewing conditions get worse. And if the misperception breaks the witness may interpret this as the figure vanishing actually reinforcing the impression that it is a ghost.

Author :© Maurice Townsend 2021

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