Wednesday 28 December 2016

Car Ghost Photo

(photo credit: Mercury Press/Harper Kurtz. Reproduced in accordance with copyright guidelines on fair use)
It seems I am in a skeptic-bashing mood at the moment. Therefore I'm going to address a skeptic analysis of a supposed ghost photograph that was taken back in July. The photo is a selfie made by a thirteen your old girl called Harper Kurtz. It is a sunny day and the shot is well-lit; it's also on a fast exposure setting because you can see her hair in detail even though it's blowing around in the wind. She's sitting in the front passenger seat of a car and her mother, Melissa Kurtz, is driving beside her out of frame to her left (It's a left-hand drive car because they're in Florida USA). The camera Harper is using is her mother's and you can see it is being held in both her hands, reflected in the lenses of her sunglasses. Behind her can clearly be seen what looks like a human head. It has a very thin face with a narrow pointed chin. Its skin is pallid and its hair is light brown and curly. It has a high forehead. It has been described as looking like a small boy and to me it does; perhaps a boy who is black or of mixed race. His head is in the position you would expect if he were sitting in the back seat behind Harper. It appears he is holding two fingers up in front of his chin palm backwards; an inverted victory sign which is not an abusive gesture in North America as it is in Britain. The head is slightly out of focus to the same degree as the whole back seat area is; which is to be expected seeing as the principle object of the photo is Harper's face which is within a foot or two of the lens. The lighting is the same for the boy's head as it is for Harper's. Unfortunately the head is obscured by Harper's hair and the headrest of her seat. However this should all be impossible anyway because Harper and her mother say they were alone in the car. They never discovered the anomaly for a whole month because Melissa hadn't got round to studying the contents of her camera. When she saw the image in question she published it on social media and the press ran a story. It turned out that there are some curious additional facts surrounding this mystery. The day the photo was taken was the first anniversary of a major road traffic accident on the same stretch of road. Melissa could find the details, but she believes a child died in the incident. If this is the ghost of the victim he might have been drawn to Harper to warn her because, as you can see, she didn't have her seatbelt on. There is also a history of paranormal activity in the family centred on Harper. This is not the first ghost photo she has taken. From the very start her life has been tinged with fate. Melissa's brother had been engaged to be married to a woman named Harper while Melissa was pregnant with her daughter. Yet the couple were killed in a car accident and Melissa named her daughter after her deceased sister-in-law to be. Source:

Several paranormal investigators have examined the photo and passed it as genuine. However one of them disagrees, Mick West of, a good old fashioned pre-Facebook nostalgic internet forum that describes itself as: "...dedicated to the art and pastime of honest, polite, scientific investigating and debunking." I'd have thought "investigating" would have been enough if your goal was to be scientific. Mr West thinks that the photo is not of a real ghost. Nevertheless even he admits that this image would very difficult indeed to fake. The layering would have to be exactly right and this would be close to impossible seeing as Harper's hair was obscuring it. As you can see, every strand of the girl's hair is in front of the object behind her. The lighting effects are exactly right too, as is the focus. This also is a good reason to believe the Solway Firth Spaceman photo, see:; you can see that all of Elizabeth's hair is in front of the white-suited entity. An example of a badly layered fake ghost photo is this one, also of a ghost in a car, see:; notice how the "ghost's" collar overlaps the door frame slightly? We see nothing like that in Harper's photo. Mr West instead thinks that Melissa and her daughter are lying or mistaken about them being alone in the car and they actually did have a real living boy in the back seat, probably one of Harper's school chums. It was about a month before they even noticed the anomaly so they may have forgotten the details of the day in question. West says it's more likely they concocted a lie because they're both unlikely to have conflated the same error (This, as an aside, contradicts the standard skeptic explanation for the Mandela effect, see: The problem here is that the boy in question might well recognize himself in the media and come forward. There would be an incentive because no doubt he'd become a five-minute sensation himself. Melissa and Harper do profess to recall what they were doing that day, driving to a beauty pageant where Harper was competing. Mr West says he has worked all this out using Occam's razor, a problem solving method that states you should always address the most likely explanation first, the one that involves the fewest additional assumptions. He has therefore assigned the possibilities in order of likeliness:
1. There was a boy in the car and Melissa and Harper lied about it.
2. There was a boy in the car and Melissa and Harper forgot about him.
3. There was no boy in the car and the image is of something else blowing around in the back seat.
4. It is a fake photo.
5. There was no boy in the car and it's a photo of something truly supernatural.
The problem with number three is that the object really looks like a boy's head. The answer could be that it's just a coincidence and it looks to me like a boy's head through pareidolia. However that brings up the coincidence fallacies that I've discussed before, see: Unlike most skeptics, Mick West appears to have an awareness of this obstacle. In fact he admits: "This possibility is more complex because it requires us to image something that precisely forms into the shapes we see in the photo, something that resembles a human head and two fingers. Something that seems to have the correct three dimensional shape and the skin tone." However he saves the real ghost explanation for last, number five. This is because he considers this the least likely explanation in accordance with Occam's razor. This is one of the big concerns I have with Occam's razor that I've also addressed elsewhere, see: West has composed his little hierarchy of plausibility unilaterally. He has deduced for himself what he considers to be more or less likely completely on his own terms and this is a mistake. In the background links I give the example of a radio. If it stops working, try changing the batteries before you open it up and stick a screwdriver into its innards because flat batteries are the most common cause of a radio not working. However you have to know how the radio works in the first place to make that judgement. West simply says this about Possibility number five: "That requires us to introduce something incredibly complex and entirely new world of science: life-after-death with spirits returning to walk the earth..." That's a highly subjective statement to make. We don't know how many spirits there are walking the earth or how often they make themselves visible to the living and photographic film. Until we have exact proportions we can't assign the possibility a place in the league table of likelihoods. To understand those proportions there needs to be a congress of opinion between various experts in the field and that has never taken place. That being said though, by skeptic standards, West's article is a very good effort. However I still think this case is probably a real ghost photograph. Incidentally, Mr West has made an extra interesting discovery that the other investigators missed. The ghost photo is one of a series that are on the same film chip and the one before was taken just a second or two earlier. Originally it appeared there was no sign of anything unusual, but Mr West has noticed that you can see what looks like the boy's shoulder in it. Source:

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