October 6, 2003

Card Sharks, MeFi and the Paranormal

Somebody probably ought to be keeping me away from this site. (Link found via MetaFilter)

Speaking of MetaFilter, (and here is where my train of thought jumped the rail and took off) there's a recent entry on pareidolia, a phenomenon I mentioned back in my Old Man Of The mountain post last month.

If you look in the archive of pareidolia photos on the Folklorist.com (referenced in the MetaFilter article above) you'll find a subsection on ghost photography. This is something that always fascinates me -- photographs that people mistake for ghosts, or intentionally fake to suggest ghosts. And as we approach Halloween it becomes seasonally applicable.

So, on to my personal experience with ghost photographs lately...

One type of ghost photo (and possibly the least creepy) is the "orb" photo. This site has a good example. The "orbs" are one or more round-looking translucent light-colored patches in the image. In ghost-photography circles, these are supposed to represent spirits, or spiritual energy.

In the world or reality, they represent dust on your lens, and they tend to appear when bright light hits the dust lens, as when you use a flash indoors.

See, I've been getting tons of orbs in my home renovation photos lately. One could say that our renovations have disturbed the spirits in this century-old house. Or, one could say that while doing a whole lot of sanding floors and furniture, there is something like a ton of dust in the air, and some of that dust came to rest on the lens of my camera.

Who can tell? (tongue lodged in my cheek)

But even though I'm pretty sure there are no ghosts in my photos, I still love to look at old spirit photography. I don't know why it all fascinates me. I guess, people fooling other people, and people fooling themselves is what it comes down to. That "foolery" which happens under the umbrella of "the paranormal" is certainly strange and commands attention. But since people also fool themselves into believing other things they want to believe (like what a politician is telling them, or that they are a good person if they support killing some other type of person) it can become a very important subject.

Recently, someone I know was contacted by a person who was seeking information on her past life. She was certain she was killed in a particular catastrophic historical event and is hoping to sift through the names of the victims looking for her past self, and that of her daughter. This person is serious -- I could tell by the email. And it turns out that her occupation is to "help" people spiritually. In other words, she's a psychic.

How do people come to believe these things? They are not all charlatans, cynically exploiting the beliefs of their clients. Some actually believe they have a gift which allows them to perform feats that cannot be explained, extracting information about dead loved ones or past and future (!) lives. What is going on in there?

Posted by James at October 6, 2003 2:54 PM
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