This Q&A originally appeared in an issue of THE BENT SPOON, a free monthly paranormal magazine. It was founded by Nick Callis and Bobby Nelson, the latter of which is a Toledo resident.
How can our own eyes, brains, and senses fool us while we are investigating? -Mark
Hey Mark, thanks for the question.
It’s interesting, really. Our brains and senses are fooled so often that it is almost incredible to realize we don’t notice it more often than we do. But it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, I find it kind of funny when these things are pointed out to me.
Forget about paranormal investigation for just a moment. Let’s look at common, everyday examples of how we are tricked by our brains and senses. Have you ever been in your bedroom, for instance, and smelled something delicious? Maybe it smelled like a big tub of buttered popcorn. So, you got up and went to the kitchen to check it out…and, alas, there was nothing there? Or, perhaps the food you were smelling seemed like popcorn, but ended up being sausages instead. Furthermore, have you ever thought about your favorite food for a few minutes, then started smelling it almost immediately? All of these are a few common ways our brains play little tricks on us and cause us to sense something that isn’t accurate.
Now, let’s check out a few common optical illusions. Check out this website: http://jayesh.profitfromprices.com/LSenses.htm If you’re an intelligent person, with a fully functioning brain like most Bent Spoon readers, you’ll see black dots where there are none in Figure 1, wavy lines when they are really perfectly parallel in Figure 2, and struggle to say the correct color out loud without saying the word spelled out in Figure 3, and so on. In simple terms, what is happening is that the communication between our eyes and brains is having a little hiccup…and it causes us to interpret visual data incorrectly.
So, what about paranormal investigation? If you are like most, you have probably experienced similar situations to the scenarios outlined earlier in the daytime. And you likely were taking a look at those optical illusions in decently lit conditions as well. Now think about being on a ghost hunt. Are the lights off? If so, this puts your senses at an even bigger disadvantage. Human beings are not nocturnal animals. Our eyes work best in the light. Putting us in the dark impairs our ability to interpret our surroundings. Not only will we see things that aren’t there (generally out of the corner of our eyes; see: http://www.assap.org/newsite/articles/Corner%20eye%20phenomena.html), but we will also mistake the length, width, and depth of the things that really are! But even if you are investigating in well lit conditions, we are susceptible to bias. Because we are at a location which is believed to be haunted, we are often hoping or expecting to find evidence of ghosts. Having these expectations can lead us to misinterpret ordinary smells, noises, and other events as paranormal in origin when, in fact, they are not. But that is a matter for further exploration in psychology, and perhaps a topic for another day.
I hope this helped you out, Mark. Thanks again for the question!