Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The ghost owl...

A few nights ago I awoke from a deep sleep, groggily looked around my room, and found a pair of menacing dark orange eyes staring at me from outside my window.  After a few moments it faded away. My initial thought was that I must be imagining it but when I cleared my eyes and looked again the eyes had returned, yet again they only lasted a second before they disappeared. After a few more repetitions of the disappearing and reappearing eyes occurring at regular intervals I decided it must be caused by a reflection in the window from a light in my room. So I jumped up and looked around. Immediately when I stood up the eyes disappeared yet no lights were pointed at the window so I sat, pondering for a second.

If I had been more credulous I might have attributed my experience to a ghost flipped on a light and rearranged things in my room such that I would not have discovered the cause. As it was I searched cautiously for a second more and realized a light from my computer was reflecting off my phone and hitting the window just right so that it only appeared as eyes from my bed.

I tested my theory by blocking first the lights from my computer which stopped the  eyes from appearing. Next I covered my phone screen and again no eyes. Mystery solved.  Here is what I saw:

Note the faint red blurry dots. This is one of those times I wish I had a tripod so I could have taken a better picture though perhaps a blurry picture is appropriate considering the quality of most pictures of alleged ghosts. You cannot see it in the picture but the two eye like dots are surrounded by a glow that to me appeared to be a menacing face.

Now, the whole time I was fumbling around my room trying to solve my midnight mystery and snap some pictures, my girlfriend slept somehow totally undisturbed. Excited by my discovery I of course gently woke her up, explained the reflection and how uncannily it looked like ghost eyes. She looked up, said "oh, that's nice, look a friendly little ghost owl" and promptly went back to sleep.  I looked back up at it, and suddenly the menacing face was gone and all I saw was her happy little ghost owl.

The next night my girlfriend asked if the ghost owl was back. I tried to position my phone right but just couldn't quite get the right positioning to get the reflection so I guess the ghost owl might not return for another night time visit.

I found this to be a great example of how people can be fooled by strange phenomena caused by very specific conditions. Everything in my room needed to be set just right to cause the ghost owl effect. Luckily the ghost owl was caused by a repeating light thus allowing me to take the time to search and discover the cause. But I imagine how something temporary (like a passing car) could cause such an illusion and leave someone feeling like they saw a ghost with no way to determine the exact cause.

To me this is another reminder that when I see something that seems strange I shouldn't immediately leap to a supernatural conclusion. Human perception is fallible. My mind turned the blurry glowing image into a menacing face while my girlfriend turned it into an owl. Another reminder that what we see often isn't what really is. When we take time to investigate phenomena like this natural explanations often emerge.  Even if I had not discovered the natural explanation in this case that would not have been enough for me to believe it was a ghost, it would have been just enough for me to say I saw an unexplained light. 

Here is a comparison of night to day of the ghost owl.

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