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Perception Revisited: The Psychophysics of the Ashen Light

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Part of the Astronomers' Universe book series (ASTRONOM)


Although long thought perhaps the simplest form of mental representation, belief turns out to be a powerful filter through which the human mind interprets information about the world received through the senses, influenced as much by social reinforcement as our own firsthand experiences. Whether the conviction of the reality of the unseen in religious faith or the ability of the brain to form reliable, predictive “models” of the world based on past observations, belief forms a cornerstone of the concept of conscious thought. In short, belief exists at the confluence of the dual streams of emotion and cognition, a mixture of responses from the nervous system and the thinking brain.

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    There is an extensive literature on the subject. For more recent examples, see, e.g., Wesiman et al., 2002, An investigation into the alleged haunting of Hampton Court Palace: Psychological variables and magnetic fields, Journal of Parapsychology, 66(4), 387–408; M. van Elk, 2013, Paranormal believers are more prone to illusory agency detection than skeptics, Consciousness and Cognition, 22(3), 1041–1046; and Dagnall et al., 2016, Paranormal Experience, Belief in the Paranormal and Anomalous Beliefs, Paranthropology, 7(1), 4–15.

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    1927, Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 37, 345.

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    Spitschan was quick to point out that bistable figures are not optical illusions, because they really do show both aspects claimed. For more on this phenomenon, see, e.g., Long, G., and Toppino, T., 2004, Psychological Bulletin, 130, 748–768.

  5. 5.

    For a detailed discussion, see Ciocca, M., and Wang, J., 2013, Physics Education, 48(3), 360–367.

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    “The Reliability of Visual Observing,” (November 30, 2007).

  7. 7.

    For extensive catalogs of transient lunar phenomena beginning in the sixth century CE, see Middlehurst, B., et al., 1967, Chronological Catalog of Reported Lunar Events, NASA Technical Report No. TR R-277; and Cameron, W., 2003, Analyses of Lunar Transient Phenomena (LTP) Observations from 557–1994 A.D., self-published. The latter report is available on the Web at Together, the two reports tally over 2,000 alleged sightings.

  8. 8.

    For a detailed account, see Alter, D., 1959, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 71(418), 46.

  9. 9.

    “N rays” were described by French physicist Prosper-René Blondlot (1849–1930) in 1903 as a new form of radiation observed in laboratory experiments. While initially confirmed by over 100 other scientists, N rays were ultimately found to be illusory. The affair is often cited as a cautionary tale about the dangers of observer bias in science.

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Barentine, J.C. (2021). Perception Revisited: The Psychophysics of the Ashen Light. In: Mystery of the Ashen Light of Venus. Astronomers' Universe. Springer, Cham.

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