Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mind Games: Spirits Within Us? (Part II)

Dear friends, Spooky Kine Investigations remains dedicated to helping people resolve paranormal related issues wherever they occur.  We believe this can best be accomplished by the scientific and the spiritual working together.  The following article focuses on paranormal studies from a scientific standpoint.  It is our hope to supply readers with a more intimate knowledge of existing scientific theories through which to filter possible evidence of paranormal activity.  Please note that never in the following article will you hear an absolute explanation for every possible situation.  We believe that when it comes to the supernatural, anything is possible.   ~ Wayne

Part II:  What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

Many people underestimate the power of the human mind.  This is exactly the case when it comes to vision.  The complexities of human vision are immense, and seeing is only a fraction of the experience.  Perhaps the most important part of the visual system is perception.  “The goal of perception is to take in information about the world and make sense of it... Visual perception takes in information about the properties and locations of objects so that we can make sense of... our surroundings.”  (Smith & Kosslyn, 2007, p. 51).  Without visual perception, we wouldn't be able to answer simple questions such as: “What am I looking at?”, “How far away is it?”, or “How fast is it moving?”, just to name a few.  Our brain also helps us fill in the missing pieces and perceive more than what is really there.  By allowing us to mentally bridge the gaps, we are able to recognize objects without having to see them in their entirety.  An example of this would be seeing a car pull out of a garage.  When it is only halfway out, you are still able to recognize that it is a car.  You don't need to wait for the whole thing to be visible before identifying it.  This example shows how perceptual processes can help us fill in the gaps to infer a coherent visual world even without all of the necessary visual information.  However, this type of mental processing is not without flaws.  “Such processing can also lead us to see things that are not in fact there.”  (Smith & Kosslyn, 2007, p. 68).  Take a look at Figure 1.  What do you see?

Figure 1: An example of an Illusory contour. (n.d.). Source:

There are eight black circles, each with three white lines in them.  And yet, when shown this picture, most people claim to see a cube.  Upon taking a closer look, one can see that there is no actual cube - it is simply eight carefully placed black circles, each with three carefully placed white lines within them.  However, the cube is so vivid that some people even swear to be able to see the full length of the lines that create the cube.  These invisible contours are known as illusory contours.  An illusory contour is defined as:  “One that is not physically present in the stimulus but is filled in by the visual system...The illusory contours that you see are the product of your perceptual processes at work.  Filling in the missing pieces provides relevant information that is not present in the sensory stimulus.” (Smith & Kosslyn, 2007, p. 68)

Now, knowing that the brain has the ability to create information, let us present a hypothetical situation.  You are walking home from work.  It is approaching midnight on a cold, windy night.  The only sources of light are the dull street lights and the moon.  You look over to your left and see thick brush followed by a small graveyard.  You begin to turn your head back towards the street, and out of the corner of your eye you think you see a dark figure.  Stopping in your tracks, you turn and take a closer look.  All you see are small trees swaying with the wind, fading in and out of the shadows.  With no sign of your dark figure, you go on your way once more, eventually reaching your home without incident.  

Let us now take consideration of possible explanations for what just happened.  On one hand, it may have been a spirit.  On the other hand, you may have just experienced an illusory contour, or a simple trick played by your mind.  Evaluating these two explanations, which one would seem more likely?  Believers would argue the importance of the location and time that it happened.  A cemetery in the middle of the night would be a prime location to witness a spirit.  Oddly enough, skeptics would use this same evidence, location and time, as proof against this idea.  A combination of a dark and heavily shadowed path and an overactive imagination could lead your mind to play tricks on you.  In the end, there is no way of knowing for sure one way or the other.  However, there is a very important scientific principle that comes into play here, known as parsimony.  Also known as Occam's Razor, parsimony suggests preference for the least complex explanation for any given situation (Courtney & Courtney, 2008).  It is important to note that this is just a rule of thumb, and that there are exceptions.  It is entirely possible that what you saw was paranormal, but looking at it from a logical and scientific standpoint, perhaps what you see isn’t always what you get.

WRITTEN BY: Matthew Terada
for Spooky Kine Investigations
* Matthew Terada is currently studying as a psychology major at the University of Hawai‘i. *

Annotated Bibliography

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Auditory hallucination.  (2009).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved November 25, 2009, from

Baruss, I. (2001).  Failure to replicate electronic voice phenomenon.  The journal of scientific exploration, 15(3), 355-367.

Courtney, M., & Courtney, A. (2008).  Comments regarding “on the nature of science”.  Physics in Canada, 64(3), Retrieved November 25, 2009, from

Delightful Illusions [Online Image]. (n.d.).  Retrieved November 20, 2009, from

Hines, T.  (2003).  Pseudoscience and the paranormal.  Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Long Island Paranormal Investigators.  (2009).  Evp classification.  Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

Rüdiger, P. (2004).  Cognitive illusions: a handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgement and memory.  Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Smith, E.E., & Kosslyn, S.M. (2007).  Cognitive psychology: mind and brain.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Wynn, C.M., & Wiggins, A.W. (2001).  Quantum leaps in the wrong direction: where real science ends and pseudoscience begins.  Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.

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