4 Optical Illusions People Think Are Proof of Paranormal Activity

Sometimes a hill — even when a car can seem to roll *up* it — is still just a hill
4 Optical Illusions People Think Are Proof of Paranormal Activity

We like to think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, but the truth is that our brains are so dumb, it’s a wonder we can walk across a room without accidentally killing ourselves. We suddenly have no idea how far away something is if we close one eye, our sense of danger is largely color-coded and our ability to remain upright depends on ear gunk. So it’s not surprising that when presented with stimuli our stupid, stupid brains don’t understand, we immediately jump to “Ghosts!” 

But unfortunately for the haunting hucksters of the world, a whole lot of supposedly paranormal phenomena are just plain old optical illusions. For instance…

The Brocken Specter

What It Looks Like: Jesus returned to Earth. There are no atheists in foxholes, and neither are there in the presence of a shadow-y human(ish) figure surrounded by rainbows and overall good vibes. It doesn’t help that it tends to happen when people are hiking in the mountains (like a man who went viral in 2021 for photographing such a figure), walking along misty coastlines, and other experiences that people who like to go outside describe as spiritual.

It can also look like one of those Signs aliens threatening you with a hug. It’s really a crapshoot.

What It Actually Is: Your own shadow. If you made the connection between the rainbows and the foggy and/or cloudy conditions under which the illusion shows up, you’re smarter than a lot of awestruck hikers. To be fair, it’s not every day that you see your own shadow reflected in the clouds or the mist, which is what causes the “Brocken specter.” Everything needs to line up just right, and that includes getting up above some clouds, which is hopefully not part of anyone’s daily routine. Frankly, it just sounds exhausting.

The Superior Mirage

What It Looks Like: A ship straight-up flying through the air. In March 2021, people on the English coast couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be a boat hovering several stories above the water, but being English, they mostly just went, “Huh, that’s weird,” and continued minding their own business. A week later, they saw a freaking cruise ship doing the same thing. It would have been completely reasonable to assume they were under surveillance by an alien race smart enough to disguise themselves as boats but dumb enough to forget how boats work.

What It Actually Is: Air-temperature weirdness. Usually, air gets colder as you get higher, but sometimes, a band of cold air clings to the surface of the water with warmer air above it. That causes a “superior mirage” (because it makes an object look higher, not because it’s better than you) for reasons that involve the density of different temperatures of air that we don’t really understand. It’s very rare as far south as England, hence all the picture-taking, but it’s apparently pretty common in the Arctic, where penguin researchers see hovering watercraft all the time. So, you know, start there, aliens.

Gravity Hills

What It Looks Like: A hill where gravity has stopped working. You drop a ball, dump a bottle of water or park your car in neutral, and it rolls up. Depending on your favored brand of conspiracy theory, you might attribute this to a glitch in the simulation or good old-fashioned ghosts. These hills exist all over the world. One gravity hill in Florida, lazily named Spook Hill, is blamed on the ghost of an alligator, because Florida gonna Florida.

What It Actually Is: The horizon fucking with you. Either you can’t see it at all because you’re in the middle of a forest or something, or it sits in such a way that it makes a downward slope appear to go up. For example, at a gravity hill in Scotland, “the whole landscape tilts” one way, as a scientist explained, “and the road tilts in the same direction, but by a smaller amount, so the relative slope appears to go the (opposite) way.” Without a reliable horizon, we literally don’t know which way is up, and we’re somehow allowed to run governments and choose the fall TV lineup and stuff.

The Oregon Vortex

What It Looks Like: Physics has just gone back to bed and completely given up. The Oregon Vortex, which is creepy enough to have been featured on The X-Files, is mostly a slanty “House of Mystery” where brooms stand by themselves and, like gravity hills, objects roll uphill. Most famously, though, there’s a spot outside where you can stand across from someone and watch as they magically grow taller or shorter, depending on where they’re standing. The staff insists this is because the area’s powerful and mysterious magnetic forces change the molecular structure of people’s bodies, which is an obvious lie, right?

What It Actually Is: Right. It’s just hills. If you’ve been paying attention, you understand why visitors are first enclosed in a house with slanted walls before they start seeing freaky shit. As for the height changes, they occur on a slope so gentle as to be imperceptible that happens to point north. Human bodies naturally orient themselves toward the north, and they also naturally lean against a slope so they don’t, you know, fall over. If you’ve ever seen a weirdly shot movie, you know that viewing someone from an angle makes them look taller or shorter, and that’s all that’s happening there. You’re leaning forward and they’re leaning backward, or vice versa. 

Next they’ll be telling us wereworms aren’t real, either.

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