Are We Sure of What We See?

by blackspanielgallery

Light can play tricks on us, and understanding how this can happen gives a whole new perspective on what people claim to see.

Our minds are trained from very young that if we see something it must be there. It you see an apple, for example, you know you can reach out and pick up that apple. If you see an object on the floor you know not to walk on it, or you might trip. When we see something, there is an expectation the object is there. Moreover, we expect the object is what we think we see. If something looks like an apple, we would be very surprised if it turned out to be a pear.

But light can play tricks on us. We might think we see something when there is nothing there at all.


Light is composed of waves.  When two crests come together there is an increase in brightness.  When a crest and a trough come together some or all of the light is cancelled.  In between the two extremes leads to a variety of reinforcements and cancellations.


Another complicating factor is light of different colors have waves of different lengths.  So, one color can be enhanced by crests passing where another color is canceled, and others are between in brightness. 


We understand light can reflect, and most of us have realized even a transparent window can reflect some light.  Look at a window and observe your reflection.  When light goes from glass to air a percentage of light will reflect, but this also happens to a lesser extent when light goes from air to glass.  Furthermore, some light goes back and forth in the glass several times before exiting.  This can lead to some fuzzy images. 


The partial reflections often produce weak images, which can look ghostly.

ghostly Image through Reflection


Light bends as it goes from one substance like air into another like glass.  But each color bends at a different angle, so we have colors separating and complicating those fuzzy images.




Light passing through a pinpoint diffracts.  The light spreads out.  Some light from one side of the small hole crosses over and some does not.  For a single color of light we can see the diffraction patterns, where we get bright and dark rings. 


Now imagine mixing the diffraction pattern of various colors and we get some distortion to the original image.


Using a slit instead of a pinhole gives bright and dark lines, again observed best for a single-color light.

In Nature

In nature there are many opportunities to have diffraction, such as dirt on a window.  In fact, dirty air can cause light to pass dust and mimic a diffraction pattern. 

What People often Claim

People often claim to see Jesus, or a Saint, in a window, or perhaps a ghostly figure.  Is it reality, or is it what the person believes is there?


First, when something is reported in a window there is often a light source.  In some cases, it is a streetlight.  But there is a large light, the moon, that is always there.


Next, windows with screens act like multiple diffraction sources that interact with each other.  And a bent screen, and few are taut, can highlight some images. 


Another possibility is dust on the window that has points are streaks that diffract light.


Finally, consider the reflections, including the internal reflections, of light making things fuzzy.  And with older windows the thickness is not uniform, making the reflections and refractions even more complex.


Internal reflections can highlight a single color, due to a certain wavelength reinforcing itself.  This can be seen with floating oil, which shimmers in colors due to the thickness of the light path through the oil.


So, Are Those Images of Jesus?  Do we see ghosts?  One can argue either way. 


If it is what God uses to have a person believe the image is of Divine origin, we cannot question it.  God can communicate in a multitude of ways, and this could be one of them.  Then again, we would have no way of knowing. 


So, physics provides a possibility, but the spirit world offers others.  Are the appearances what we see, or are they what light makes us believe?  This I cannot answer.


The physics is only a cursory approach, a true understanding is too complex for this venue.  But it is possible to present the qualitative ideas, which is the purpose here.


This article contains links to affiliate programs and Adsense advertising.  These must use cookies to allow for proper crediting. As a Zazzle associate,  Viglink Associate and Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


The introduction image is our own Zazzle product, The digital image is my own.

Updated: 08/16/2020, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 05/08/2021

It is amazing how light interacts with matter, and with other light waves.

WriterArtist on 05/08/2021

Light has amazing properties mainly Reflection, Refraction, Diffraction, Polarization, Dispersion and Scattering. There must be others too. All these properties relate to our visual sense. Sometimes light pays tricks and creates illusion. Many times, it is our brain and perception behind it. We can see people that do not exist and ghosts we are scared of.

Very nicely explained blackspanielgallery with relevant examples.

blackspanielgallery on 11/04/2020

Yes, the smoothness, and the angle of the light are important. Mirrors reflect from the back, so light is subjected to refraction inside the glass, and the interface from glass to air has internal reflections. So, how straight on you look, and how smooth the surfaces play roles here.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/04/2020

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for the practical information and the product line.
Is it known why reflections differ in different mirrors and windows? For example, an acquaintance temporarily had bell's palsy aftereffects, which showed up sometimes, sometimes not in mirrors, and typically not at all in windows. Also, I look different in different mirrors: would it be the non-quality or quality of the component parts?

blackspanielgallery on 08/28/2020

You are correct. Sorry about the late response, we evacuated for the hurricane. It was supposed to come this way days back, but it went west of here.

frankbeswick on 08/23/2020

Perception involves not only the eye but the brain, and when the image reaching the eye is brief, faint or broken the brain has to interpret what is seen using limited input. Here is where perceptual mistakes are made.This is why people saw canals on Mars, as the blurred images seen on telescopes led the viewers' minds to join up the dots, but better telescopes revealed that the straight canal lines did not exist. .

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