ASSAP: Paranormal Research
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ASSAP bloggerWelcome to the ASSAP paranormal blog! Though this blog is aimed at anyone interested in the paranormal, it will be of particular interest to the paranormal research community. Updated frequently, but not regularly (don't expect something new every day!), it covers any paranormal topic, as well as highlighting recent changes to the ASSAP website. You may not notice it but this site changes on an almost daily basis.

Whenever new information becomes available on a subject ASSAP covers, it is added to the relevant pages of the website straight away. So, just because you've read a page, don't assume it will still be exactly the same when you next look. That way the ASSAP website remains an up to date research resource.

The photo (above right) is the ASSAP blogger himself, out looking for anomalies wherever they are to be found, so that you can read about them here.

Important note: If anything in this blog does not make sense, try following the links in text! If it still doesn't make sense, that's probably my fault ...

Previous blog pages ... (including ghosts, UFOs, poltergeists, flying rods, miracles, orbs, hypnotic regression, big cats, vampires, near sleep experiences, premonitions, shadow ghosts, paranormal photos, auras and dozens of other subjects)

26 Feb 2010: Seeking the visual continuity errors (or ghosts as they used to be known)!

I speculated recently that people only notice misperceptions when they appear 'wrong' for some reason. Misperceptions are inserted into our visual perception by our brains when they do not recognise an object in view. Instead of showing us nothing, our brains insert something from visual memory. This works fine most of the time and we never even notice it, despite misperceiving much of the time. However, though our brains can construct a reasonably convincing static image, it looks as though they may sometimes have problems constructing a 'back story' to explain it.

Looking at a selection of ghost reports recently, they tended to back up this idea. When witnesses recognise a figure as a ghost it is sometimes because they look odd or out of place (see here). In many cases, witnesses don't even realise they are watching a ghost until it does something impossible, like vanish (which is typical of misperceptions). They may not realise they've seen a ghost until after the sighting, when they discover they were alone in a locked building, for instance. The idea that we notice misperceptions because they are apparent 'continuity errors in reality' fits with all these types of sighting.

The last two mentioned ghost types, which both appear perfectly normal and are only identified as apparitions after a while, fits with the idea that misperceptions usually look 'normal'. Our brains produce these human figures from visual memory, so they ought to look look unremarkable! This is quite different to the typical 'movie' portrayal of ghosts as transparent or white or in some other way obviously distinctive. It tends to support the idea that most ghost sightings are, in fact, misperceptions.

Since I see misperceptions fairly frequently now (as regular readers will be aware), I am on the look out for these continuity errors (not necessarily ghosts just anything visual that looks obviously wrong). Our brains are clever at 'fixing' our visual field but not, it seems, that clever. They just aren't great at making their substitutions do convincing stuff! It is one thing to turn a poorly-seen tree into a human figure. It is quite another to explain why it is in a location where no human could possibly be!

25 Feb 2010: Cataloguing weird noises

Recently I heard a noise I didn't recognise in a building I know well. It was an unfamiliar rattling sort of noise whose source I could not put my finger on. Then I noticed there was another, more distant, faint noise that rose and fell with the first one. The more distant noise I DID recognise as some machinery.

After a little exploring I found that vibration from the machinery was causing a cupboard in an adjacent room to rattle. I believe it was a resonance effect. This occurs when an object is vibrated at its natural frequency and starts to vibrate strongly itself. I also discovered that the machinery was not behaving normally that day, which is probably why I had never heard this rattling before.

So what's the point of all this? If I hadn't heard the machinery, but only the rattling, I would have been baffled as to the source of the sound. It would have appeared paranormal!

In so many cases of paranormal reports, things happen without any obvious cause. But in many cases that may simply be because the witness did not notice or did not recognise the cause. It is obviously difficult to track down causes after the event, particularly if the phenomenon does not occur again, but we must beware of labeling things like odd sounds as paranormal simply because there is no immediate, obvious explanation. Indeed, if there WAS such an explanation, it's doubtful the witness would have reported the event as paranormal in the first place.

All we can really do is catalogue such xenonormal events, as they occur in everyday life, so that we know what to look for in a paranormal case.

24 Feb 2010: Ghost stories and legends

This week in the UK, if it hasn't been snowing it's been raining - hard! It seems this winter has yet to loosen its grip! I noticed a dark shape in a puddle on a dull wet day recently. It was moving vigorously and I thought it was a blackbird washing, a not uncommon sight. Looking more closely, it turned out to be the reflection of a very static post! The 'motion' was caused by rain hitting the puddle and disturbing its surface! Yet another misperception! It is interesting to note that, after people, the most commonly reported apparitions are animals, so it isn't surprising I misperceive them.

I read a lot of accounts of hauntings and many investigators are keen to do historical research with the idea of 'identifying' the ghost. Of course, only a minority of hauntings involve ghost sightinfs but they are still assumed by many to be the cause of the reported phenomena! Identifying a ghost that hasn't ever been witnessed (and may not exist!) must be a tricky thing.

Interestingly, the supposed 'identity' of many ghosts, particularly 'traditional' ones, turns out to rely on a legend. There is often no historical evidence to back up the supposed events that 'caused' the haunting. Leaving aside the question of whether ghosts even cause hauntings (which is not obvious from the evidence), it does appear that hauntings sometimes become associated with existing legends, or even start new ones.

This is the sort of conundrum that arises from assuming that ghosts are spirits and that they cause hauntings. Some researchers may even see a haunting as evidence that a legend is really true, despite lack of historical support! It all tends to strengthen the argument that researchers should move away from assumption-led techniques and use evidence-led methods instead. Ghosts and hauntings are fascinating but the evidence from real cases does not support the traditional view of how they arise. Some of the key causes of ghost reports are here.

23 Feb 2010: Believing in the paranormal

I have discussed in the past the part of the brain that tells us where our physical bodies are in space - the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). If this area doesn't get its expected inputs, we can experience an OOBE (see near sleep experiences). In this week's New Scientist (17 Feb) they mention that damage to another part of the brain, the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), can give rise to a feeling of transcendence from the physical world. This can manifest in spiritual feelings and belief in paranormal phenomena.

Everyone's brain is different. Its development is influenced by genetics and usage. London taxi drivers famously tend to have a large hippocampus, the part of brain associated with navigation and memory. London cabbies have to pass a test called the knowledge which involves memorising a large number of taxi routes through the city.

So, there will, by genetic chance or usage, be some people who happen to have low activity in their PCC. Such people may well be predisposed to paranormal belief, with or without good evidence. Certainly, it is my experience that some people seem to readily believe paranormal explanations for alleged phenomena much more readily than others. It could be that once you start down the road of believing in the paranormal, your brain might actually adapt itself to reinforce that tendency! Such belief often starts with a particularly striking experience but after that it may become self-sustaining, without the need for further strong evidence.

22 Feb 2010: Finding the key concepts

While it is gratifying to see that many people read the ASSAP website, I sometimes wonder if they find what they want and, in particular, the most interesting and unique bits. The site has grown over the years and it is not always possible to direct people towards the most useful bits easily. So, I've come up with a 'quick tour' page. This will point out the pages that contain both the most unique and important pages which are key to understanding our subject. This should be useful both to people new to the subject and more experienced researchers.

The recently released MOD UFO material (see 18 Feb) had various words blanked out! These were "insulting remarks about the public" according to the BBC. I think, as paranormal researchers, we can guess the sort of remarks they were! And we also know that they were probably undeserved!

19 Feb 2010: Do we notice misperceptions because they are continuity errors in reality?

We misperceive all the time. As you read this, much of what you are seeing comes from your memory, some of it fractions of a second old, some older. Parts of your visual image, in the peripheral regions for instance, may not be real at all but inserted by our brains because it is most likely correct! In poor viewing conditions, particularly if we are distracted, a higher percentage of our visual field may be 'made up'. We don't notice any of this because it is presented to us by our brains as true - seeing is truly believing!

So what prompts us to notice a misperception? In my brief experience of noticing misperceptions (which I started to do soon after looking deeply into the subject) the trigger may be a feeling that the misperceived object stands out from the normal visual background to our everyday lives, which we usually ignore. For instance:

  • the misperceived object 'should not be there' for some reason
  • the object is 'scary' or 'weird'
  • the object is a person that is watching you or might be
  • the object does something impossible like change shape or disappear

All these things have something in common - they are not expected! Misperception hides from us because it usually takes the form of things that are expected. But occasionally our brains get it wrong! We may see a poorly-seen tree as a person but if that person could not possibly have appeared in a particular location without being seen before, we notice it! It is like a continuity error in a movie. It seems our brains can make a particular static scene make sense in itself but not necessarily maintain the illusion of reality correctly for an extended period of time. Quite simply, we can create a version of reality in our heads but sometimes we make mistakes and that's when we notice them.

This would suggest a strong link with paranormal reports! If we notice a 'mistake in reality', that is practically a definition of paranormal! If you glance at a human figure in your peripheral vision and, when you turn to look straight at it, it vanishes, the first thing you think is - ghost! This would explain why many (most?) misperceptions that we notice are interpreted as paranormal. Indeed noticing misperceptions that are NOT apparently paranormal is probably very rare!

18 Feb 2010: The paranormal - from current celebrity to future progress

Since ASSAP started, back in 1981, the study of the paranormal has changed dramatically. In our early days, investigating paranormal reports was an obscure pastime. Anyone admitting to it was likely to be treated as a little unusual or even plain odd. There was occasional, often sensational, media coverage and a number of books to read and societies to join but that was pretty much it. Generally, the study of the paranormal was serious and scientific, though it has to be said, progress was, and remains, glacial.

Nowadays, by contrast, there is huge interest in our subject. There are many regular TV series, both reality shows and fiction, thousands of websites and societies, several regular conferences and a huge library of literature including many magazines. In addition, there are commercial companies who run ghost hunts and venues that offer themselves for people to hold investigations, for a fee. The paranormal has travelled from obscurity to celebrity in just a few years. There is now a strong and vibrant 'paranormal community' around the world and, hopefully, it is open to new ideas.

So, the majority of the paranormal community are probably relatively new to the subject. In my experience, it can take decades to see beyond the surface of the subject to its far more fascinating core. I, too, spent years waiting for my Hollywood moment, before realising it was never going to happen. When you consider the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of 'reality' ghost hunting shown on TV each year it is astonishing that they've never captured a Hollywood Moment either. Unless that's because they don't happen!

My hope is that, if only a tiny minority of the community get fed up with the cul de sac of assumption-led methods and switch to evidence-led research, it could greatly increase the currently quite small group of serious researchers. This could lead to a major leap forward in our subject in maybe a decade or so.

PS: UK's MOD continues to drip feed ancient UFO reports. While the media might find this stuff useful to generate stories on a slow news day, it only demonstrates to serious researchers that the MOD material is much the same as anomaly researchers have been studying for decades.

17 Feb 2010: Movement is distracting

I find it very hard to ignore visual movement. I tried some experiments the other day and this is what I found. If I look at a motionless scene and something moves, my eyes follow it automatically, even when I try hard not to. It happens even when I concentrate on one object and try not to be distracted. It happens even when I know motion is about to occur. It happens even if I initiate the movement myself! Though I admit I may be more easily distracted than most people, following movement in a scene is still a very common human trait. It is used by stage magicians to distract the audience from what is really happening during their tricks.

But what if we are watching a moving object when something else is changing in the scene? We will turn back to look at the main scene and probably not notice any difference. Such 'change blindness' can be incredibly dramatic - try these for instance. Such incidents can easily explain certain paranormal reports. If, for instance, two changes happen simultaneously in a scene, a witness is only likely to notice one of them. The other change might be noticed later and so be apparently inexplicable or paranormal ('I was watching all the time so I couldn't have missed it disappearing').

If only witnesses carried round a video camera all the time, we might be able to eliminate such xenonormal cases. Since that isn't going to happen, we can at least ask people if anything else was happening at the time of a ghost sighting or shortly before, even if it appeared completely irrelevant. It should be added to the checklist of things to look into when investigating a paranormal report - see here for more .

15 Feb 2010: Something different about the world this morning!

I looked out of the window one morning recently, before dawn, and immediately had the impression that the world looked darker and gloomier than usual. Though it was frosty, that did not seem enough to account for the strong impression that something was 'wrong'. It felt so strange that it would have been no surprise to see a ghost roaming through the gloom!

Closely inspecting the scene as a whole I suddenly worked out, after several minutes, what was wrong. The street lights in the road beyond ours, which would normally be visible, were not on. Nor were there any lights on in the houses in that street, where I would have normally expected one or two at that time of day. It was now obvious that our street was on the very edge of an area affected by a power cut. I hadn't noticed it straight away because the lights in our street were working fine. The normal cool white glow hugging the horizon, so familiar to town and city dwellers, was oddly missing. I was struck by how anxious the scene made me feel, before I identified what was going on. I knew something wasn't right but I couldn't say what.

I am convinced that it is such feelings of 'something being wrong' that give rise to some paranormal reports. If a witness has a strange feeling about a place, they may start to examine their normal surroundings in much more detail than usual. Given that most people rarely notice what is going on around them, they might easily see something normal as paranormal. It is the same feeling of slight unease that you sometimes get when walking alone through a spooky building.

As noted before, we misperceive all the time but only notice it occasionally. It may be just such mental states that prompt us to notice these misperceptions.

10 Feb 2010: I see the oddest thing

SquirrelMost of us go through life barely noticing what is going on all around us. But sometimes you see something so odd that it catches your attention. You wonder, could it be paranormal?

A few days ago I saw an object fall out of a tree. It was certainly bigger and bulkier than a leaf and fell straight down, indicating something fairly weighty. There was no one near the tree so I was puzzled as to what it might be. I knew from the way it fell, vertically, that it couldn't have been thrown. So whatever it was originated in the tree itself! I continued to watch, bemused, but I was too far away to see what the object on the ground was.

Suddenly, the object moved! It darted forwards and stopped, and then darted forward again and again until it went out of sight in the surrounding vegetation. I recognised the characteristic movement of a squirrel!

I see squirrels regularly but have never once, in all my life, seen one fall. This individual did not seem to be hurt as it went off running around in its usual way. Apparently, when squirrels fall they use their tail to slow their descent and usually land on their feet, so minimising the possibility of injury. Such falls are very rare.

Had someone else, who did not recognise the way squirrels move, seen this incident they might not have realised what it was. What they would have made of this object that fell out of a tree and then ran off, I've no idea. But it is yet another rare, but natural, occurrence that could be misinterpreted as anomalous by some witnesses. Interpretation of such unusual incidents comes down to personal experience and perhaps beliefs.

9 Feb 2010: Near sleep experiences on trains

I mentioned recently(4 Feb) how riding on a train tends to send me to sleep. Long ago I used to commute by train and would regularly fall asleep then as well. Oddly, I would always wake just before arriving at my station. Other commuters have reported this too. So how do we know, when fast asleep, that it's time to get off? Could it be paranormal?

The fact that commuters take the same journey frequently probably has something to do with it. We all have built-in clocks in our brains so that we usually know roughly what time it is, even with no watch or clock visible. So could this be responsible? Maybe, but it wouldn't explain how commuters still wake up even when their train is running late.

Another possibility is simply that commuters hear their station announced, when asleep, and it wakes them, like hearing someone calling your name. This is possible but when I commuted they did not have such public announcements and I still had no trouble missing my stop!

Another possible explanation is that we unconsciously learn to recognise the characteristic sounds the train makes, like going over points or noisy bits of track, along our regular route. Then when we hear the characteristic sounds that occur just before our station, we wake up.

I don't know if this last explanation is true though no doubt it could be tested. If it WAS true then it would mean that we pick up a lot more information about the environment we move though day to day than we imagine. Most of it feeds into the unconscious parts of our brain where it is only accessed when useful or relevant, as with waking the sleeping commuter.

It could be a trigger for reports of paranormal experiences. If we travel along a familiar route, going to work or the shops, we may notice when something appears 'different' or 'wrong', even though we cannot say what exactly has changed. This feeling of something being 'wrong' might well put our brains into a state where we have a misperception. We misperceive all the time but only notice it occasionally, so there must be some specific trigger for these rare events, and this feeling of something being 'different' may be one (see also 1 Feb).

8 Feb 2010: Believing is hearing

The other day, while out and about, I heard a faint voice in the distance. It was so faint I couldn't work out where it was coming from. Looking around there were a few people nearby but none were talking. I was sure the sound was a human voice but I couldn't make out any individual words. I wondered for a while if it might be a case of formant noise, where certain ambient sounds shares some characteristics with a voice. I have occasionally heard 'voices' in electric fans and I wondered if this could be similar.

Eventually I spotted the cause of the sound. It really was a human voice, coming out of the speaker of a mobile phone! The person with the phone wasn't talking, which is why I didn't realise earlier what it was. There is a growing tendency for people to use their mobiles in speaker mode in public so that anyone nearby can hear both sides of the conversation, whether they want to or not! Mobiles are also used to play music in this same way. The sound is generally not that loud so it can be difficult to make out what exactly it is.

So now we have yet another source of anomalous voices to consider in haunting cases! I wonder if this has already produced reports of 'ghostly voices' on any vigils? It seems every new piece of technology brings with it a possibility of producing new kinds of xenonormal report.

5 Feb 2010: Believing is seeing

Over several decades of actively researching paranormal phenomena I have, on occasion, been able to witness people seeing things they later claimed were paranormal. In every case I knew what was being seen was actually xenonormal because I recognised it and understood its cause (and investigated it at the time when practical). When the other witnesses reported the event, they tended to emphasise the features that made it paranormal to them, such as the apparent impossibility of the event. They often continued to believe it was paranormal even after it had been satisfactorily explained!

In recent years I, too, have started to see many apparently paranormal phenomena, despite having drawn an almost complete blank for the preceding decades. The difference with those witnesses I mentioned above is that I am fully aware that what I am seeing is xenonormal at the time of the sighting. Indeed, I am often able to investigate the phenomenon at the time and satisfy myself that it is indeed xenonormal.

All of this may explains why I, and many other serious paranormal researchers, have never had a Hollywood moment, where you see something obviously and unambiguously paranormal, like in the movies. Though other witnesses sometimes have such moments, they may, quite unconsciously, be exaggerating the paranormal nature of their experience in their memory. I believe that, if I was standing next to them when they had their dramatic ghost sighting, I would almost certainly see something obviously xenonormal, or at least not as ambiguously paranormal as reported. As a result I am no longer puzzled by how some people get such seemingly amazing results, nor even jealous anymore!

It is important to realise that the process of misperception produces an image which is presented to the witness, by their own brain, as completely real! What each people actually sees, however, is different. I may see a poorly visible tree as a vague dark ghostly figure while someone else may see many more 'details, even enough to 'identify' the 'apparition'.

There will be similarities between the two descriptions because they are caused by the same object being misperceived. So height, width, distance and coloration may be the same but the other details will depend on the witness' visual memory. Someone who is expecting a particular ghost at a particular site, because they've read about it, may see detail that apparently confirms the identity!

We misperceive almost all the time. Seeing ghosts, by contrast, is a rare phenomenon. It might depend on the expectation, and particular visual memories, of the witness as to whether they misperceive objects as ghosts. Based on my experience, you probably need to accept the possibility of misperception in order to notice it. By the same token, you probably need to accept the possibility of ghosts to misperceive objects as apparitions. So believing may lead directly to seeing.

4 Feb 2010: Another day another OOBE!

After looking for non-working escalators to walk down for weeks, today I unexpectedly found two together! The first was roped off but the second was open, so I walked down it. I felt a bit weird, looking at the silver metal steps with the dark gaps between. However, I didn't get an OOBE! Perhaps I should have gone back to the top and tried again a few more times. It might be a cumulative effect. I probably would have been stopped for behaving suspiciously eventually! If you are not a regular and have no idea what I'm talking about, see here to get up to speed!

Later on, I was riding a train and feeling sleepy. Trains often send me to sleep - it's probably the gentle slight swaying motion. Anyway, at one point the train braked unusually enthusiastically, causing me to sway much more than usual. This had two effects - I woke up and I had an OOBE! To be precise, I had a feeling that I was leaving my body and then suddenly got yanked back into it, as if attached by an elastic rope! It was a slightly unpleasant feeling, perhaps because I had no control over it!

In this particular case, I was clearly in a near-sleep state, drifting in and out of consciousness. In my theory of how OOBEs are induced, at least two of the senses that inform our brain where our body is in space must be giving inaccurate, or no, information and we need to be in a particular mental state - like imagining, dreaming (including day dreaming) or meditating. In this case, my eyes were closed so one sensory channel was clearly unavailable. A second sensory channel, touch, was also compromised because I was sitting down, so my body thought it was stationary, but the train produced a sudden unexpected bodily movement. And I was certainly in an unusual mental state - between sleep and wakefulness. So, this apparent OOBE fits the theory.

All of this makes me wonder if I am naturally susceptible to OOBEs but simply have not noticed it before. However, I only started noticing misperceptions after I became acutely aware of them, even though they are happening to most people much of the time. So, while I'm now sure I can have OOBEs, I don't know if I'm particularly susceptible or have simply started to notice them more. Perhaps that is the way with most people who have OOBEs. Maybe anyone can have them but only a few people realise what they are.

3 Feb 2010: Instrumentation into the future

Given that most paranormal reports are explained by things like misperception and near-sleep experiences, which are both subjective, is there much point in deploying instruments on investigations?

Yes there is! Firstly, we need to eliminate possible physical causes of reported paranormal phenomena. So, for instance, we can put a video camera on an empty room to prove there was no one in there during an investigation. Secondly, there ARE some phenomena that we know can be caused by physical phenomena, like magnetic hallucinations. Thirdly, there may be other phenomena that we don't yet know about that could the cause of some paranormal reports. If we don't look, we'll never know! On the downside, many instruments produce artifacts that can be misinterpreted as paranormal, like orbs in digital cameras.

However, what about the subjective phenomena, like misperception? Can they be instrumented? Because a phenomenon is subjective, it doesn't mean it leaves no physical trace. If someone saw a ghost while in a fMRI machine, we might be able to see if there was any particular area of the brain involved. My guess is that misperceiving a ghost would stimulate the same areas of the brain that are involved in normal visual perception. That's because misperception is part of normal perception!

We can't put investigators in fMRI machines in haunted houses as they are big and expensive! And even if we did, they might just show up normal perception! We'll need to wait for some new technology to make a portable deep brain scan possible (EEGs only measure activity at the surface of the brain and are not that useful for such applications). Eventually, it should be possible to display what someone is actually seeing in real time (by monitoring their brain) on a computer screen and compare it with the real scene, viewed by a video camera. Then we will finally be able to see misperception in action in someone else's head. It will no longer be a purely subjective experience. Until then, instruments can be useful but we must be aware that they cannot currently measure some of the most important causes of paranormal reports.

2 Feb 2010: Birds behaving oddly

Little EgretThe ever dependable New Scientist (27 Jan) reports that crows can not only recognise individual humans (which is more than we can do for crows!) but can remember if someone has treated them badly! So if you do something to annoy a local crow, don't be surprised if they call out at you for years after! You may start to wonder what on earth is going on! It is another example of how someone, who is not aware of natural history, might be puzzled by animal behaviour and treat it as anomalous.

I watched the other day as someone gazed for a long time at a Little Egret (photo right), clearly wondering what it was. These small white herons have colonised southern England in the last decade or so and are now quite common in some places. I was tempted to say 'ghostly white herons' except ghosts are only white in the movies!

These birds still look exotic in the English countryside. They are not too difficult to see along the south coast and in winter they turn up inland, like the one pictured. Even so, few people notice them but, when they do, they are often surprised at the birds' striking appearance. Nature is always surprising us and sometimes it can produce xenonormal reports!

1 Feb 2010: When do people see ghosts?

Misperceived ghostOK, to be more precise what I am asking is, when do people misperceive ghosts? Since most ghost sightings are misperceptions anyway, the question is highly relevant.

We know that the conditions for misperception are around us for much of the time. An object may be too distant to see well or low light levels may make everything difficult to recognise. And at any time objects in our peripheral vision are poorly observed. It therefore follows that misperception is probably going on most of the time for everyone. So why don't we notice it?

It is because our brains are the things producing the misperceptions and they also 'validate' them. In other words misperceptions are labeled as 'true' perceptions even before we are consciously aware of them. So though we misperceive all the time, we are very rarely aware of it. In my experience, you only start to recognise misperceptions when you become aware that they can happen. Even then, it is a rare event!

So the real question is, why do people sometimes take misperceptions as anomalous phenomena? Why, for instance, does someone see a tree in their peripheral vision (example in photo - see here for account of the sighting) as a ghostly figure? There are two things going on here. Firstly, the witness actually notices a misperception, a rare event in itself. Secondly, they interpret it as something in the real world (not just created by their own brain). I suspect they notice the misperception BECAUSE they think it is strange or out of place.

Although the content of misperceptions is based on what the brain expects to see in any given situation, sometimes the witness may find the resulting image disturbing and so notice it. If the witness is anxiously walking along a lane at night alone, they will be disturbed at the sight of a dark figure nearby. Our brains sometimes 'see' exactly what they are most anxious not to!

This fits in with the observation that people report more paranormal activity in places that look spooky than elsewhere. This may be where the influence of culture comes in. If a witness views a scene reminiscent of a horror movie they once saw, it may unconsciously trigger a misperception based on that fictional scene. As well producing a misperception it may also inform its specific content. Their brain might literally 'see' a ghost in a ruined castle because they have memory of a similar scene in a horror movie. This would be a latent memory, only recalled by a specific trigger (the scene) and not necessarily be consciously accessible.

Clearly, the question of when we notice misperceptions is central to the understanding of ghost experiences. I will return to it again, after more research.

PS: The Sky Lanterns that cause ufologists such grief (see here) are also not popular with farmers, according to the BBC.

For a review of paranormal research in the noughties, see here.

This month's (January) website figures are an average of 11465 hits per day. This is noticeably up on last month's 10752, which was a holiday month! It is substantially up (by 56%) on the same month in the previous year, when the number of hits was only 7355 average per day!

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