Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"The most fundamental signals which permeate this world are inaudible."
November 5, 2012 4:08 AM   Subscribe

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings (Cracked)
What he had discovered, aside from an awesome new way to torture interns, was infrasound. It's noise at a low enough frequency that you don't consciously hear it, but your ears still sense it. The process of receiving sensory input without your conscious mind understanding where it's coming from wreaks havoc with your emotions. Specifically, researchers found that sounds between 7 and 19 Hz it could induce fear, dread or panic.

Knowing this is an article about ghosts, you can already see where this is going.
Infrasound linked to spooky effects
Their unusual experiences included feeling uneasy or sorrowful, getting chills down the spine or nervous feelings of revulsion or fear.

“These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound,” said Wiseman, who presented his findings to the British Association science conference.
Infrasound
In 1998, Vic Tandy, experimental officer and part-time lecturer in the school of international studies and law at Coventry University, and Dr. Tony Lawrence of the psychology department wrote a paper called "Ghosts in the Machine" for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.(PDF) They cited infrasound as the cause of apparitions seen by staff at a so-called haunted laboratory in Warwick.

Several years earlier, Tandy was working late in the "haunted" Warwick laboratory when he saw a gray thing coming for him. "I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck," he said. "It seemed to be between me and the door, so the only thing I could do was turn and face it."* But the thing disappeared. However, it reappeared in a different form the next day when Tandy was doing some work on his fencing foil. "The handle was clamped in a vice on a workbench, yet the blade started vibrating like mad," he said. He wondered why the blade vibrated in one part of room but not in another. The explanation, he discovered, was that infrasound was coming from an extractor fan. "When we finally switched it off, it was as if a huge weight was lifted," he said. "It makes me think that one of the applications of this ongoing research could be a link between infrasound and sick-building syndrome." When he measured the infrasound in the laboratory, the showing was 18.98 hertz--the exact frequency at which a human eyeball starts resonating. The sound waves made his eyeballs resonate and produced an optical illusion: He saw a figure that didn't exist.*
Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Eugene Mirman on StarTalk, about Vic Tandy and infrasound. The Southwest Ghost Hunters Association carried out their own experiment. Vladimir Gavreau is considered the 'father of infrasound, as detailed in the article The Sonic Weapon Of Vladimir Gavreau, from The Journal of Borderland Research. Vic Tandy published again in Something In The Cellar, and his research into infrasound continued at Mary King's Ghost Fest in Edinburgh.

Infrasound has also been linked to wind-turbine syndrome, is ued in nuclear test monitoring, and can be used to detect seismic and atmospheric activity.

Infrasound is just one of a few possible sources for ghost sightings.

Previously on MetaFilter: Soundless Music Shown to Produce Weird Sensations
posted by the man of twists and turns (135 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
Actually, the Mythbusters tested this on a recent episode and, if memory serves, it got busted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


"They did an experiment where acoustic scientists sneaked in low frequency sounds at a live concert . . . At the end of the experiment approximately 22 percent of the people involved in the experiment reported feelings of unexplainable dread, chills and depression when infrasound was blasted into the crowd. Why would it have this effect?"

The Blue Man Group just does that to some people, you know?
posted by not_on_display at 4:35 AM on November 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


if memory serves, it got busted.

Very much so.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:35 AM on November 5, 2012


Adam Savage v Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

This is my worst nightmare.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:39 AM on November 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


They still think ghost sightings are linked to carbon monoxide poisoning right? What eventually made me go out and buy a carbon monoxide monitor was learning, not that it would kill me, but that it might make me think my house was haunted.

I can handle dying in my sleep, but ghosts? No thanks.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:41 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can handle dying in my sleep, but ghosts? No thanks.

Think about the ghosts for once, will you? They really dislike carbon monoxide, but have no way to detect it other than an ill-defined feeling of dread. Also, living people moving into their houses is really disrespectful and stressful. You would moan, too, frankly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 AM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Infrasound: Brief Review of Toxicological Literature, November 2001 PDF
Experimental studies have been reported where humans or various species of animals (rats, mice, guinea pigs, chinchillas) have been exposed to infrasound in the laboratory. Most of the studies identified involved exposures at 90 dB and higher and ranged from minutes to several months. Of the many animal studies identified, there were none involving long-term (six months or greater) exposure and few that employed modern toxicology testing protocols and pathological assessments. The most common endpoints studied were behavioral, sensory, or simple physiological (e.g. blood pressure) changes. Some studies focusing on biochemical, cellular, or morphological changes in organs and tissues were identified. There were few studies evaluating reproductive function, developmental effects, and immunological effects, and no studies that evaluated carcinogenic effects. Most studies reported some effects attributed to infrasound exposure, though many studies also reported no observable effects. Among the more consistent findings in humans were changes in blood pressure, respiratory rate, and balance. These effects occurred after exposures to infrasound at levels generally above 110 dB.
Acoustic Weapons
Low-Intensity Effects of Low-Frequency Sound
Effects of low levels of low-frequency sound are not relevant for weapons; they are mentioned here only for the sake of completeness.Annoyance by infrasound has occurred at widely differing levels, from 120 dB inside motor vehicles to below 60 dB in neighborhoods affected by industry sources.
In a systematic study annoyance seemed related to the loudness sensation, however.
In some cases, indirectly- produced audible rattling noise may be a main reason for annoyance.
Stress hormones in-creased in rats after infrasound exposure to 100-120 dB; in humans, this occurred only when subjects had not slept.
Sleep was influenced somewhat by 80-100 dB low-frequency noise.
Some people seem to be more sensitive to low-frequency sound (and/or rattling noises) than others, which may lead to stronger physiological responses.
Speaking of acoustic weapons: What Sane Person Would Listen to 24 Hours Of Throbbing Gristle?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:36 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


A scientific explanation for ghost sightings is that people are actually pretty good at hallucinating, particularly if they are very tired, and particularly if they are culturally primed to accept their hallucinations as non-hallucinations
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


A scientific explanation for ghost sightings is that people are actually pretty good at hallucinating...

Likewise, a scientific explanation for sleep is that people are actually pretty soporific.
posted by DU at 5:44 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can handle dying in my sleep, but ghosts? No thanks.

Whatever, dude. I ain't afraid of no ghost.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:51 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Adam Savage v Neil DeGrasse Tyson?
This is my worst nightmare.


Uh, I think you mean best dream ever, amirite?
posted by maryr at 5:51 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neat-o! This explains the Long Island Medium too since her voice oscillates at exactly the proper frequency known to induce fever and vomiting in males named me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:52 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


There might be a difference between hearing the vibration through the air and experiencing it mechanically. That would explain why Mythbusters didn't find anything while Vic Tandy did, since his fan's vibration was enough to get the fencing foil shaking. From Wiki's article on the brown note, oddly enough:
Air is a very inefficient medium for transferring low frequency vibration from a transducer to the human body.[7] Mechanical connection of the vibration source to the human body, however, provides a potentially dangerous combination. The U.S. space program, worried about the harmful effects of rocket flight on astronauts, ordered vibration tests that used cockpit seats mounted on vibration tables to transfer "brown note" and other frequencies directly to the human subjects. Very high power levels of 160 dB were achieved at frequencies of 2–3 Hz. Test frequencies ranged from 0.5 Hz to 40 Hz. Test subjects suffered motor ataxia, nausea, visual disturbance, degraded task performance and difficulties in communication. These tests are assumed by researchers to be the nucleus of the current urban myth.[8]
To be sure, that last citation appears broken. The talk page mentions Mythbusters.
posted by zittrain at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What Sane Person Would Listen to 24 Hours Of Throbbing Gristle?

Well, I've certainly listened to AB/7A on repeat for up to 6 hours, if you include "while napping" in your parameters . . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 5:59 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work in a building that is widely assumed to be haunted. A large, echoey building, with specific climate control requirements, and suitably extensive ventilation system to handle those needs.



So I will be able to add this to my list of things to tell people when they ask me about the ghosts, along with "So why is it, when we have a whole entire other floor filled with displaced tomb artifacts, ancestral relics, the earthly manifestations of living gods, y'all only see ghosts in the galleries with paintings in them?"


I might add, "Besides, if there were ghosts, they would be here for their own reasons, not for the entertainment of the living. Therefore, it is within the scope of my duties to protect their privacy.




If there were ghosts. Which there are not."
posted by louche mustachio at 6:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Ooh, [Three Investigators spoiler] that was the Secret of Terror Castle!
posted by moonmilk at 6:02 AM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


My scientific explanation for ghost sightings is that people are needy, and credulous.

But that's not news. It's to be expected.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


If there were ghosts. Which there are not."

You would say this, wouldn't you? You want to protect their privacy!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:05 AM on November 5, 2012


I saw a ghost once. Bear in mind I'm a hardcore atheist skeptic.

I'd say it was about 10 years ago. My girlfriend at the time lived in a bedsit. One night I awoke with a bit of a start. When I looked up there was a woman standing at the end of the bed. I was confused - I remember being mainly surprised because I knew my girlfriend had carefully locked and bolted the door. I said something like 'Who are you,' or 'What are you doing here.'

I sat up, and it was then that I realised that I could kind of see through her. As you can imagine I was really freaking out now. I shut my eyes and opened them again and she was still there. By this time my girlfriend was awake. I asked if she could see the woman, and of course she couldn't. I crawled to the end of the bed, having reasoned that if I wave my hand through her the illusion would be broken and then she's disappear. I did, and she didn't. Worse, she moved back a little and her appearance became super scary, like the shadows on her face had changed, either to being up or down lit, I cab't remember now.

I only got rid of her by asking my girlfriend to turn the light on and off again.

So, I know it was some kind of hypnogogia thing going on, but it scared the crap out of me at the time. I can see why people believed such an experience meant seeing a ghost, some kind of demonic succubus/incubus visitation or alien abduction depending on cultural references. Not an explanation for people claiming to see stuff when they're wide awake and moving around, but still...

Incidentally, it's happened only twice since. Once a very small figure moved backwards and forwards very quickly, a second time a baby deer was lying on my bedroom floor. These times I knew what was going on, so it was kind of fun. I'd actually like it to happen more. Weird brain stuff is awesome.
posted by spectrevsrector at 6:06 AM on November 5, 2012 [23 favorites]


Nearly 20 years ago, I worked in an aluminum foundry that was very hot and had ~115 dB in the audible range. I often had sickening feelings of vibrations inside my body that were probably infrasonic sounds. I wore earplugs and earmuffs, but nothing worked against that feeling. It was a thoroughly unpleasant place to work. One night, I was driving home from work after working 12-16 hour shifts 7 days a week for a couple of months. Along the side of the road, I saw little gray and black cloaked people with red and yellow eyes running parallel to my path of travel. I was certain that they were out to kill me, and were following me home to kill my wife and baby son, too. I called off the next day to get some sleep. Some months later, they retired the large piece of equipment that was apparently causing the infrasonic sound, which was a huge relief.

When we watched the "brown note" episode of South Park years later, everyone was laughing but me.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:19 AM on November 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


A theory that explains infrasonic sound creating dark blurs on the edge of vision caused by vibration is not going explain detailed visions after the vibrations have ceased (e.g. on the way home from work).
posted by DU at 6:26 AM on November 5, 2012


It's part of the case against wind power as well.

I leave it to scientists and sufferers to fight over who's right on this one.
posted by BWA at 6:37 AM on November 5, 2012


I just came here to say that Vic Tandy sounds like the best made-up computer scientist name ever.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


I wasn't very far from work and I was seriously sleep-deprived. I'm a hard-core cynic, too and don't believe in ghosts. I'm relaying a possibly related experience, not trying to prove a theory.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:48 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Has anyone considered that maybe it's... ghostes?
posted by Mister_A at 7:12 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]



Cool. This might explain an experience I had way back when with a boyfriend. I was just out of high-school and both of us were still living at home. So when we *ahem* needed some privacy we'd find some out of the way spot in the parents car. We drove into this one spot and after a few minutes this overwhelming feeling of horrible dread came over me. Pretty much all the things the article describes. I even started to cry I was so scared and demanded we leave. I felt like some boogey man was going to get us, something bad had happened there or was going to happen. There was just no way on earth I wanted to be there.

We bugged out of there and the feeling went away. When it was gone I felt really stupid and silly but the feelings were so real. Another spot was found and there were no problems.
posted by Jalliah at 7:13 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Specifically, researchers found that sounds between 7 and 19 Hz it could induce fear, dread or panic.

I have an idea for a death metal band.
posted by goethean at 7:16 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of me wants to ignore these posts and threads.

Part of me wants to link to a podcast episode where one of my closest childhood friends & I describe, in detail, an experience we had around 15 years ago, a close proximity, extended interaction with a full-body apparition we saw outdoors - one lacking visible eyes and a mouth, which we saw dematerialize right in front of our sober eyes, in daylight.

But what's the point? I've learned that if you want to assume that humans have completely unraveled the mysteries of physics, life and the Universe, go right ahead, nothing I can say or type will change your mind. I will take the stance that we don't really know anywhere near as much as we'd like to think about anything. I can't tell you what we witnessed, I have no explanation, but it was no hallucination.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
posted by dbiedny at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think the Romney campaign is emitting infrasound!
posted by Mister_A at 7:20 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


@dbiedny

I'd be interested in hearing about it. I've had some other weird experiences which I would find hard to explain. I do take the same stance as you about not knowing as much as we think we know. I think this article may explain what is happening or could have happened in some instances (like the one I related) but I'm not worried about proving it one way or another.


Oh and something semi related to creepy things. If anyone has a plausible explanation(sciencey) as to how a clock radio in my Grandparents house started playing when it was not plugged in I'd be interested. This one was witness by three people and I still wonder how that happened. lol
posted by Jalliah at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the Romney campaign is emitting infrasound!

Not so silent, but deadly.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2012


I have an idea for a death metal band.

You might want to check out Sunn O))) and Khanate and some other drone metal bands. They've been working on that for a while now.
posted by griphus at 7:30 AM on November 5, 2012


More spooky stuff: Stimulation of a site on the brain's left hemisphere prompts the creepy feeling that somebody is close by.
posted by griphus at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


@mister_a that isnt how you spell "ghosts"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:35 AM on November 5, 2012


the showing was 18.98 hertz--the exact frequency at which a human eyeball starts resonating

I'm calling bullshit on this. For every human eyeball to have the same resonant frequency — to within a few mHz, as the number of significant figures here implies — it would require a ridiculous amount of physical uniformity, with every eye having the same size, the same elasticity, the same internal pressure, and so on.

(Or, even weirder, it would require a very tightly parameterized relationship between these physical properties, such that e.g. everyone with larger eyes also had proportionally less elastic eyes so as to compensate and maintain a constant resonant frequency.)

Anyway, the figure 19.98 doesn't seem to appear in the original source, and the research cited in that source gives (much more plausible) broad frequency ranges within which vibrations can cause blurred vision.

It's a nitpick, but it does give me a bad feeling about the rest of that Skepdic article. Going from "different sources claim values from 12Hz through 70Hz; we found one source that mentions 18Hz" to "the value is precisely 18.98Hz" makes it look like they're more interested in truthiness than in actual truth.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


FIGMENT, the art show on Governer's Island, NYC, had an infrasound generator hooked up in one of the abandoned officers' houses. I wouldn't say it made me feel dread, but it was profoundly unnerving---I could feel my eardrum vibrating with no sound being heard.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2012


You might want to check out Sunn O))) and Khanate and some other drone metal bands. They've been working on that for a while now.



You really need to check them out live for the full on standing there feeling your internal organs moving around experience. The last Thrones show I saw was good for that too.

I have found that under the right circumstances, that kind of overpowering drone can induce a state of euphoria. It's unpredictable - if there were any way I could reliably replicate it, I would. But I can accept it as a fleeting perfect moment and enjoy it for that.;
posted by louche mustachio at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Stimulation of a site on the brain's left hemisphere prompts the creepy feeling that somebody is close by."

A combination of infrasonics and anomalous electromagnetic activity . . . now that could be a real mind-bender. Having your temporal lobes massaged while your auditory system is having kittens sounds like a recipe for all sorts of weirdness.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anyone has a plausible explanation(sciencey) as to how a clock radio in my Grandparents house started playing when it was not plugged in I'd be interested. This one was witness by three people and I still wonder how that happened.

Were you able to inspect the clock to see if there was a 9-volt or chargeable battery backup? The clock might have been built to allow both the clock and radio to function in the event of a power outage.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have any of you been to the Dream House in NYC? It's a big pink room filled with giant speakers emitting sonic, infrasonic and ultrasonic noise. I wasn't able to disorient myself/"trip balls" in it, but my companion claimed she felt like she was lifted out of her body while meditating in there.
posted by modernserf at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


dbiedny, I legitimately thought that the second part of your comment was from some kind of lovecraftian fiction (it reads just like it).

And no, humanity haven't unraveled the mysteries of all physics yet.
posted by Evernix at 7:49 AM on November 5, 2012


FIGMENT, the art show on Governer's Island, NYC, had an infrasound generator hooked up in one of the abandoned officers' houses

Goddamnit, you just made me realize I forgot to go to that show. I had it on my calendar and everything. Motherfuck.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:51 AM on November 5, 2012


Were you able to inspect the clock to see if there was a 9-volt or chargeable battery backup? The clock might have been built to allow both the clock and radio to function in the event of a power outage.

Yep we did. First thing I thought of was a battery. There was a place for a battery but it was empty. It was an older type clock radio, probably 80s era. It also, to the best of our knowledge hadn't been plugged in for a while. It was in a room that was only used when someone came to visit.
posted by Jalliah at 7:52 AM on November 5, 2012


Could also have been a capacitor backup, which some digital clocks have (though it's not particularly common). Capacitors can store a charge for a long-ass time, and they don't look like anything special if you don't know to look for them.

Alternately, it could be that the radio had two battery slots: an easy-to-reach one for disposable batteries if you want to run the whole thing off of battery power, and also a small built-in rechargable battery in an inaccessible spot that was just there to keep it going through brief interruptions in power.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:56 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Evernix - to this day, I have yet to read any Lovecraft. And of course, I have heard that comment before, especially from people after they listened to the mentioned podcast. I think a good, solid dose of humility is required when talking about anomalous topics - and to qualify it, I made a bit of a name in the paranormal world a few years ago, by going after some of the sacred cows of the field and deconstructing them, especially when photographic evidence was offered. I stepped away from the field for various reasons, one being the fact that those predisposed to writing all this off, simply didn't want to have logical discussions about these areas.
posted by dbiedny at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I swear there was a FPP not too long ago about a controlled experiement where they put people in an isolated, low-light chamber and exposed them to infrasound to see if they could induce paranormal experience, but it turned out the only meaningful predictor of whether they had such an experience was whether they were told in advance to expect a supernatural experience.
posted by anazgnos at 8:01 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, this explains the Dementors. They're just vibrating at the right frequency. Patronuses must damp it or something.
posted by olinerd at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've learned that if you want to assume that humans have completely unraveled the mysteries of physics, life and the Universe, go right ahead, nothing I can say or type will change your mind. I will take the stance that we don't really know anywhere near as much as we'd like to think about anything.

What the bleep do we know?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2012


olinerd, that's fantastic.
posted by maryr at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2012


Speaking of acoustic weapons: What Sane Person Would Listen to 24 Hours Of Throbbing Gristle?

The real question is: was that person still sane after listening to 24 hours of throbbing gristle?
posted by asnider at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


ooh ghost story for-the-hell-of-it time:

I never really believed in ghost, or haunting, or anything paranormal, and still don't as, anytime there is an actually investigation done by people who aren't finding what they want to find, nothing supernatural is found. But I did just start working a midnight shift in a weird location, and I am starting to understand why people with less critical minds, might start seeing what they want to see.

It's a dead-quiet place, with the exceptions of an exhaust chimney that wails when there is wind outside, and an air ionizer that hisses and screams intermittently. There's probably also a very low level of cholinesterase inhibitors in the air, that result in a slight elevation of my sympathetic NS.

For whatever reason, while I am there, I find myself thinking thoughts that I haven't had trouble with since I was a child. Whenever I step around a corner, I expect to be greeted with a horror on the other side. My mind constantly plays the scene from The Lord of the Rings series where Bilbo is being tempted by the ring from Frodo, and his face briefly turns monstrous.

These are tiny variable though, compared to one. The most important factor, is that for long periods of time, nothing happens, nothing at at all -- and it's usually between 2 and 4 am. So despite my best efforts, I will occasionally drift into stage 1 sleep, where reality and the noise of my mind commingle. This is where the horror starts. Waking without being sure I was asleep, expecting to find a demon dog panting down my neck, or a body on the floor that is moving and angry at me, or worse. All these thoughts are dreams that, from my subjective perspective, just happened, and are very real, and it takes a moment or two for my mind to re-sync with reality.

The place I work at isn't haunted, but it does haunt my mind while I am there.
posted by 517 at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a skeptic of metaphysical phenomenon, I kind of have a problem with discussions about 'ghosts' or 'aliens' and what physical affects may or may not be causing them. We can't travel back in time to the moment when something is experienced to collect all the data and hypothesize about what happened. Furthermore, unless experiencers write down what happened (with perfect accuracy) right after the contact occured, with no questions or prompting from others, they are relying on a very fallible human memory, which is selectively written and reinforced as we query it, so any kind of hypothesizing based on post-contact accounts is extremely problematic.

So I can't be convinced by anecdotes, even things that I experienced, without reproducible results. But people who had these experiences can't be convinced by possibly-inapplicable results like, "Low tones cause feelings of dread" which are interesting scientifically but not actually satisfying when compared to a strong, possibly terrifying memory.

TL;DR it's sort of pointless to mix both scientific data and personal anecdotes about paranormal experiences. It's a conversation occuring on two different wavelengths.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


TL;DR it's sort of pointless to mix both scientific data and personal anecdotes about paranormal experiences

I should modify this by saying that the Tandy story is the sort of personal anecdote that I love. "I experienced something metaphysical. I looked in to it and found a possible cause."
posted by muddgirl at 9:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could also have been a capacitor backup, which some digital clocks have (though it's not particularly common). Capacitors can store a charge for a long-ass time, and they don't look like anything special if you don't know to look for them.

Alternately, it could be that the radio had two battery slots: an easy-to-reach one for disposable batteries if you want to run the whole thing off of battery power, and also a small built-in rechargable battery in an inaccessible spot that was just there to keep it going through brief interruptions in power.


Sounds plausible. Wish the clock still existed so I could go check it out. Would love to know for sure. Regardless of why it happened it sure was freaky. lol
posted by Jalliah at 9:34 AM on November 5, 2012


I have an idea for a death metal band.

You joke, but I'm in a death/doom band and this is exactly the kind of thing we attempt to produce. As louche mustachio points out, doom shows are a totally visceral experience. A good live setup will require audience members to lean forward slightly because of all the air being blasted at them by the speakers. If I were nasty rich, I'd attempt to put together a PA rig that was My Bloody Valentine levels of sound coupled with infra/ultra sonic frequencies. One could likely achieve some epic harmonic feats with such a setup.
posted by Demogorgon at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every time someone posts one of those AskMes about how there is a ghost in their new house or whatever and what should they do about it I want to shake them and scream. This is the 21st century! But I don't. It bothers me that people are so gullible.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The very best answer to one of those questions was when someone very seriously offered to come exorcise the ghosts with a lot of glitter and disco dancing.
posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Everyone knows you're supposed to call OSHA.
posted by griphus at 10:14 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I were nasty rich, I'd attempt to put together a PA rig that was My Bloody Valentine levels of sound coupled with infra/ultra sonic frequencies.
You don't need to be nasty rich. Just design the system on paper, and work up some renderings in various shades of olive drab. Then contact the department of defense and various local police departments that have recently purchased SWAT tanks. Wait for the contracts to roll in.

If you play your cards right, they will even pay for you to build a R&D unit, which you can use for your shows on weekends.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:17 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what's the point? I've learned that if you want to assume that humans have completely unraveled the mysteries of physics, life and the Universe, go right ahead, nothing I can say or type will change your mind. I will take the stance that we don't really know anywhere near as much as we'd like to think about anything. I can't tell you what we witnessed, I have no explanation, but it was no hallucination.

Well, assuming we've completely unraveled everything is the exact opposite of science and scientific thought. Claims of infallibility and complete knowledge are made by the woo-woo folks and organized religionists, not scientists. You say you have no explanation, but you do in fact provide one: a not-hallucination. How do you know?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Points for using the quote in context (it was a ghost sighting), but the speaker's subsequent antic disposition and other dithering-about behavior do not lend credence to the argument. ;) Besides, by that rationale, a philosophy that supplies anthropomorphic ghosts, aliens, or gods as explanations for the unexplained is itself a severely limited philosophy. The universe is a ginormous place. We, specks of dust.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:26 AM on November 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


Claims of infallibility and complete knowledge are made by the woo-woo folks and organized religionists, not scientists.

This.
posted by grubi at 10:29 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


<dave-barry>Fear, Dread and Panic would be a great name for a rock band.</dave-barry>
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:40 AM on November 5, 2012


Strange Interlude: I just came here to say that Vic Tandy sounds like the best made-up computer scientist name ever.

Vic Tandy, Gentleman Explorer!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:51 AM on November 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


And his archrival Commodore Sinclair!
posted by grubi at 10:52 AM on November 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


...working for the shadowy government agency INTELLIvision.
posted by griphus at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


And Vic's sidekick Newton!
posted by grubi at 11:02 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Newton's his PET.)
posted by grubi at 11:02 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having your temporal lobes massaged while your auditory system is having kittens sounds like a recipe for all sorts of weirdness.

Sounds like a recipe for KITTEN MASSAGE!

Fear, Dread and Panic would be a great name for a rock band.

Try Napalm Death's classic 'Fear, Emptiness, Despair'.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:04 AM on November 5, 2012


Newton is super-intelligent and can do all sorts of tricks, but he's also half deaf and "Newton, can you fetch me that stack of papers?" "STACK OF PANCAKES? GOT IT CHIEF."
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Regarding the clock radio: Speakers are sometimes capable picking up radio signals even when unpowered (I had computer speakers that did that).
posted by dirigibleman at 11:08 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Newton, can you fetch me that stack of papers?" "STACK OF PANCAKES? GOT IT CHIEF."

"Ooh, you steam my clams, Newton! But you'll always be my bueno amiga"
posted by grubi at 11:16 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Newton, can you fetch me that stack of papers?"

Can I pick up that stack of papers...here I am, brain the size of a planet...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a skeptic of metaphysical phenomenon

The problem with ghost-hunters is more epistemological than metaphysical.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2012


So apparently the Society of American Magicians has an Occult Investigation Committee and now I know what I want to be when I grow up.
posted by griphus at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


("Hellboy," the answer is "Hellboy.")
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is the mass of a human soul? It should be fairly easy to figure out; take the mass before death, take the mass after death, subtract the one from the other.

The ideal experiment would involve someone scheduled for receiving the death penalty by lethal injection. Determine their total mass after the injection is given but before death is pronounced, then the same after death is pronounced.

Yes, there are all kinds of problems with this experiment, but let's assume we're able to solve all of those.
posted by no relation at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2012


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Indeed there are.

In a related matter, belief in a supernatural being who uses faster-than-light quadripeds of the family cervidae to affect travel to 4x10e9 separate households during a 24-hour period in late December approaches 100% among the 5-7-year-old cohort in the United States. Such high rates of belief in a single consistent figure (many stemming from actual corporeal sightings in centers of commerce during the preceding month!), combined with the otherwise-inexplicable appearance of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of merchandise that materializes from the aether, must mean that there's something to this Saint Nicholas fellow.
posted by Mayor West at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Crazy cool article, thanks for sharing!
posted by RaynDrops at 12:08 PM on November 5, 2012


And his archrival Commodore Sinclair!

No, no Commodore Sinclair is the bewhiskered old gent who gives Vic Tandy his missions via a videophone. His nemesis is the dastardly Altair Coleco.

Stay tuned for Ace Jupiter and his sidekick Osborne Acorn!
posted by Dreadnought at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


So it's settled then: Ghostes indeed!
posted by Mister_A at 12:11 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ruh ro!
posted by Splunge at 12:16 PM on November 5, 2012


I can't tell you what we witnessed, I have no explanation, but it was no hallucination.

You know that the point of many hallucinations is that you don't know or are convinced they are not hallucinations, right? I mean, sometimes people are aware they are hallucinating. But often they are not.
posted by Justinian at 12:17 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


That said, you probably saw Venus. Or possibly swamp gas.
posted by Justinian at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


What is the mass of a human soul? It should be fairly easy to figure out; take the mass before death, take the mass after death, subtract the one from the other.


It's been done. Not very successfully.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:19 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't really believe in ghosts, but man, I love hearing people tell stories of weird crap that happened to them/haunted places they've lived. Probably because it's never happened to me; I've never even had what I would call a hallucination, or an overriding sense of dread. I've been scared by movies and such into being paranoid and jumpy, but never had the overwhelming dread feeling described. I wonder if all people are equally susceptible, or if it's just a rare occurrence?
posted by emjaybee at 12:39 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


This probably explains why being near automobiles playing music with powerful sub-woofers makes me feel anxious.

I actually feel dread when I hear them thumping away while sitting at a red light

posted by mmrtnt at 12:43 PM on November 5, 2012


And his archrival Commodore Sinclair!

No, no Commodore Sinclair is the bewhiskered old gent who gives Vic Tandy his missions via a videophone. His nemesis is the dastardly Altair Coleco.

Stay tuned for Ace Jupiter and his sidekick Osborne Acorn!


And they get wisdom from a mysterious entity known only as A.D.A.M.
posted by grubi at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the mass of a human soul? It should be fairly easy to figure out; take the mass before death, take the mass after death, subtract the one from the other.

Everyone knows the soul is made of neutrinos.
posted by Mister_A at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2012


"Damn you, Coleco! You lack vision!"
posted by grubi at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rumors about sonic weapons seem to go back ages. Rumors of Nazi weapons surface in pulp magazine editorials every now & then in slow months. One editorial suggested that it was hard to find men willing to operate them.

A college magazine once offered advice on how to get even with a downstairs neighbor: hang a big speaker out of your window and feed it with 7Hz waves.
posted by Twang at 1:00 PM on November 5, 2012


It is possible to "cross over" from dreaming to wakefulness with no perceptible gap or start or what have you. I once woke up in the middle of the night to see an enormous spider descending from the ceiling towards me. I immediately slid out of bed and turned the light on, then searched frantically through the sheets for the thing. It was only after quite a few seconds had passed that I realized the spider had been illuminated by red light from under/around the bedroom door, and not only was there no red light, there could not be, as we had nothing in the hallway that would produce such light. When I "woke p" to see the spider coming at me, I was still dreaming, and I never had a sensation of waking up/opening my eyes, etc. when I actually did so. Pretty weird.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:03 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the BBC:
Subsonic pipe organ producing religious experience?
Participants did record a higher number of unusual experiences in the most classically haunted places in Hampton Court
At both Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, the variance in local magnetic fields was highest in the areas thought to be most haunted, and lowest in areas where people typically did not record experiencing ghostly phenomena.
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:05 PM on November 5, 2012


I've had similar experiences as spectrevsrector. I have a good deal of sleep disorders, including hallucinations, night terrors, and sleep paralysis. I don't believe in ghosts but can certainly see how people have encountered "proof" of their existence.

Shadow figures in my doorway, a corpse in my bed, giant spiders on my wall, and most recently, a stream of dead dogs pouring from my ceiling onto the floor (seriously, brain, WTF, I know that was a pile of dirty clothes I really should have dumped in the wash before going to bed, but did you have to twist it into such a horrifying vision)... I wish I had the presence of mind when I wake up to record the current state of my surroundings and see if there's anything unusual in terms of sound, light, etc., that might be contributing triggers. But even though I know everything is a hallucination, it still takes me several minutes to quell the artificial feeling of sheer terror that comes with such an experience.

I joke that, if ghosts are real, then whatever is haunting me must be frustrated as hell, because even when I'm half-asleep and in that suggestive state of mind where I kinda think that, ok, maybe that really is the Slenderman in my doorway... I'm more prone to yell and bull-rush the apparation than cower in my bed. This is, of course, a problem when one is also a sleepwalker.
posted by Wossname at 1:09 PM on November 5, 2012


nebulawindphone: Going from "different sources claim values from 12Hz through 70Hz; we found one source that mentions 18Hz" to "the value is precisely 18.98Hz" makes it look like they're more interested in truthiness than in actual truth.
Thank you, nwp. That's bullshitty reporting. Not even the spectral response range of human vision displays that much precision - even though that's mostly based on the bulk properties of the lens and vitreous.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:19 PM on November 5, 2012


What is the mass of a human soul? It should be fairly easy to figure out; take the mass before death, take the mass after death, subtract the one from the other.

Wouldn't work. Souls naturally go up, so they must have negative mass. So you'd think that you could measure the increase in mass, but likewise, sin is heavy, (contributing positive mass), and when it leaves at the same time as the soul, they cancel each other out.
posted by mrgoat at 1:21 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know that the point of many hallucinations is that you don't know or are convinced they are not hallucinations, right?

I'm guessing the 'not a hallucination' part was because two people saw it, and group hallucinations are much more unusual than individual brain-glitches. Group hallucinations where the people involved simultaneously saw the exact same thing, without hallucinogenic substances or extreme mental states involved.... I don't know how the natural mechanism for that would even work, but brains are weird and complex and poorly understood enough that I wouldn't rule it out.

I have seen a ghost - in the sense that I've seen the kind of thing people claim to see when they see ghosts, not in the sense that I've experienced the walking soul of the dead - and I don't know what it was. What it looked like was a semi-transparent cat, oddly enough. I saw it several times on my own, and once with my dad, who isn't much of a believer in supernatural stuff as a rule but said "oh look, the ghost cat" as it ran past us. It wasn't exactly terrifying or anything, but it was pretty strange.

I am not claiming I saw the immortal soul of a dead cat. I have no idea if cats even have immortal souls, and if they do I would hope they're all up there somewhere massacring endangered songbirds in Kitty Heaven, not loafing around in my parents' living room. But maybe I'm wrong and it was a little feline Jacob Marley, paying off its sins. Or maybe it was a series of hallucinations, acting through some mechanism that we don't fully understand to trigger two brains to experience the exact same thing in the same way at the same time, through an external agent like infrasound. Or maybe it was something else. I'm totally agnostic about it, but I do think it's a shame that debates over that kind of experience often come down to "I experienced this, therefore we have proof of the supernatural" vs "There's no such thing as the supernatural, therefore you didn't experience that". Sometimes it's enough just to say "I experienced this weird thing, I have no idea what caused it, and maybe we'll have a good explanation some day in the future." Both our brains and the universe are fantastically complex things, after all.
posted by Catseye at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson to appear in upcoming issue of Superman
posted by homunculus at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2012


What it looked like was a semi-transparent cat, oddly enough. I saw it several times on my own, and once with my dad, who isn't much of a believer in supernatural stuff as a rule but said "oh look, the ghost cat" as it ran past us. It wasn't exactly terrifying or anything, but it was pretty strange.

I saw a zombie by my house the other day. It looked exactly like a zombie. It walked like a zombie. That doesn't mean it was actually a zombie. It was probably a guy wearing a paint-spattered coat walking with a slow limp. But my brain went straight to "zombie" and I got the fuck out of the area.

There's a big range between "hallucination" and "metaphysical phenomenon." That's why discussions like this are so frustrating. If I say, "Last year I saw a real live zombie," how does anyone counter that? Where does the conversation go from there?
posted by muddgirl at 1:42 PM on November 5, 2012


Aargh - last night my dreams were full of ghosts, and it felt real

More seriously; one of my friends is a scholar of ghosts, and she finds it fascinating that my grandmother haunted her house while she was still alive. The facts are: when I was a teen, living with my grandparents, my grandmother lived on her farm, breeding horses, and my grandfather lived in a townhouse. I moved between the two homes. My grandmother came to the city sometimes, and my grandfather and I would go to the farm sometimes.
The weird thing was, my grandmother's humming would stay on in our house always, wether she was there or not. We talked about it at dinner, but since grandpa said it was a normal thing, I didn't really worry. I don't know if the current inhabitants have a problem.
As I understand it, families with ghosts have the same attitude. It's not a big deal. But obviously, it's interesting why one gets these strange shared illusions
posted by mumimor at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the comments here, folks, are why I hesitate to even contribute to threads like this one.

A couple of years ago, I had a lovely dinner with a brilliant neurosurgeon and his wife. I asked him about the mechanics of two sober, awake people experiencing the same synchronized visual hallucination, and he assured me that outside of some form of exotic military weapon no one has ever heard of, it was essentially impossible.

I don't know what we saw, but I feel comfortable ruling out an hallucination.
posted by dbiedny at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2012


Here's my ghost-sighting story.

I was strolling through an old, overgrown cemetery one day in early autumn. The leaves had just started turning and the grass clearly hadn't been mowed in months.

I heard a noise to my right. Turning to look, I saw... something coming out of one of the graves.

My brain locked up and all I could think was NO in six-story-high letters. The thing, whatever it was, slowly emerged from the long grass...

Ducks.

Specifically, a mother mallard and nine little babies, struggling through the grass. She gave me the stink-eye as they paraded past me. I was nearly boneless with relief and ebbing adrenaline.

Moral of the story: ghost sightings are also caused by ducks.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:26 PM on November 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


There's a big range between "hallucination" and "metaphysical phenomenon."

Well yeah, but there's also a big range between "hallucinations" and "simultaneous shared hallucinations working through some mechanism we don't understand." Don't get me wrong, I still think that explanation is more likely than my parents' house being cat purgatory, but it's not exactly a perfect explanatory framework either.

Maybe what I saw was cat-shaped ball lightning, maybe it was some weird atmospheric anomaly allowing mist to form in the air in some way that coincidentally looked cat-shaped, maybe it was infrasound or carbon monoxide poisoning, maybe I'm hallucinating right now and inventing the memories. I don't know - but in the lack of any great explanation, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "I don't know what it was, but it was a cool thing to experience."
posted by Catseye at 2:33 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


a stream of dead dogs pouring from my ceiling onto the floor (seriously, brain, WTF, I know that was a pile of dirty clothes I really should have dumped in the wash before going to bed, but did you have to twist it into such a horrifying vision)

I used to have night terrors, but this also still happens to me sometimes. There's something about dimly lit clothes piles that brains just find wonderfully easy to interpret as deformed, melting faces and worse.
posted by Pyry at 2:44 PM on November 5, 2012


I don't know what we saw, but I feel comfortable ruling out an hallucination.

And this is why I don't like conversations like this - why are we focused on the hallucination aspect when there's literally uncountable numbers of material explanations I could think of? None of them provable by me, because it happened 15 years ago and apparantly isn't repeatable.

Maybe what I saw was cat-shaped ball lightning, maybe it was some weird atmospheric anomaly allowing mist to form in the air in some way that coincidentally looked cat-shaped, maybe it was infrasound or carbon monoxide poisoning

Maybe it really was a cat that looked like it was transparent, but wasn't. Maybe it was a mutant cat. Maybe it was a mirage. I don't know, I can't test any of my hypotheses!

I don't know - but in the lack of any great explanation, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "I don't know what it was, but it was a cool thing to experience."

There's a big difference between "This was a cool thing to experience" and "this was an experience that was not explainable by science, if we tried." Which seems to be the claim made by dbiedny - that his experience was not only unexplained, but unexplainable.

I don't think we've unraveled the mysteries of the universe, and I don't want to throw my hands up and give up. I'd love to experience something seemingly-metaphysical, sober, awake, in broad daylight.
posted by muddgirl at 3:12 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Muddgirl - if I could relive my life, the one thing I would definitely change would be my anomalous experiences. They have made my life exceedingly difficult, and I really, truly wish none of them had ever happened. The one I mention here is far from the oddest, and one of them had hundreds of other witnesses.

And with that, peace out on this thread.
posted by dbiedny at 3:22 PM on November 5, 2012


I never claimed anything I experienced was unexplainable, but I strongly suspect that our current state of intellectual evolution as a species puts the explanations far out of reach. We're simply not there yet.
posted by dbiedny at 3:26 PM on November 5, 2012


My colleague, John Huntington, did an experiment with infrasound a year or two ago as part of the haunted house that our department runs each year. Basically it turned up nothing, but he was using sounds just barely in the sub 20hz range, so he may do something else with lower frequencies. He got featured in various shows because of it and I believe I make my debut as "guy filling out paper work" in at least one of them.(as opposed to my usual role in John's movies as "guy holding a multimeter", it's important to push yourself as an artist and branch out like that)
posted by Perfectibilist at 3:31 PM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Jupiter Jones called. Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators Series #1, The Secret of Terror Castle (1964), wants its plot back.
posted by BrashTech at 3:56 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


My brain locked up and all I could think was NO in six-story-high letters. The thing, whatever it was, slowly emerged from the long grass...

Ducks.


I was sitting on a rock protruding some ways from the bank of a river in my home town. It was a peaceful day, and the white noise of the river and sun on my skin was lulling me toward sleep. Just then I become aware of movement out of the corner of my eye -- worse, the impression that I'd been half-aware of it for some little while. I turned my head to look at it directly and saw that it was... something... slick and black dragging itself out of the river. The closest thing I could mentally lock onto was some sort of large black dog. But I couldn't even make sense of that in some not-horrifying Stephen King-like way.

Then I saw the tail. Really large beaver. I shook off the goosebumps and went back to dozing.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:57 PM on November 5, 2012


I strongly suspect that our current state of intellectual evolution as a species puts the explanations far out of reach. We're simply not there yet.

I agree. When science dismisses certain phenomenon, like collective hallucinations for example, that it can't measure or explain then we clearly do not have an full understanding of reality. And even worse, we can't admit that fact. Maybe some day we will.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:23 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


A common source of infrasound is moaning of the dead calling out to you from beyond the grave.
posted by humanfont at 5:38 PM on November 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


Here's part of a reddit thread from 9 months ago about infrasound and feeling weird.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:20 PM on November 5, 2012


I think many of us recall the recent "I'm a neurosurgeon and I believe in the afterlife because I don't understand the brain or what brain death is" thread. Neurosurgeons aren't anything close to authorities on neuroscience, and there have been plenty of cases of shared hallucinations documented in various cultures. DMT has been a part of some of these and guess what the pineal gland secretes under certain circumstances...
posted by lordaych at 6:30 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


DMT has been a part of some of these and guess what the pineal gland secretes under certain circumstances...

It hasn't actually be proven that the pineal gland secrets DMT, it's only been speculated. But either way, ... it's far out.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:40 PM on November 5, 2012


if I could relive my life, the one thing I would definitely change would be my anomalous experiences. They have made my life exceedingly difficult, and I really, truly wish none of them had ever happened. The one I mention here is far from the oddest, and one of them had hundreds of other witnesses.

And with that, peace out on this thread.


While that is truly a superb mic-drop, I don't know how you can possibly hint at an unexplained experience witnessed by hundreds of people and not at least tell us what it was. Please?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:42 PM on November 5, 2012


Thanks liquidwolf, I should'a checked that prior to rapid-fire-flippant-posting from my phone. I apologize for the harsh tone and characterization of the other article, but that was my reaction to it and I channeled that here.

A definitive answer on endogenous DMT would be much appreciated (c'mon science!) but it's important to note that the brain ultimately renders or manifests all of the bizarre OMG think about the children and lock people up! hallucinations and psychotic delusions that have perturbed people through the ages, whether these events were instigated by external substances like hallucinogens and deliriants that push a few existing buttons and get things moving in a certain direction using the brain's pathways and neurotransmitters, or by extreme stress, starvation, meditation, intentional fasting, chanting, etc.

We haven't really scratched the surface on psychopharmacology and all models we have of how the brain works biochemically and is affected physiologically by depression, ADHD, etc are thus far are probably comparatively more crude than the old "they are like solar systems bro" model of the atom. But we do know that the brain makes a buffet of neurotransmitters that serve essential roles and can also bring about all manner of perceptual madness when thrown out of balance in one way or another. It has its own cannabinoids and opiods (funny how those two were discovered and categorized) for starters, and then serotonin, acetylcholine, and dopamine can bring on intense and often paradoxical effects including extreme delusions and visual hallucinations because it's so much more complicated than "this disorder/effect is brought on by this abnormality in this level of this neurotransmitter..." And then we have hormones / pheromones / etc to deal with, which also act like potent "drugs" and bring on mood and behavioral changes.

I think the exciting unraveled uber-complex network in the brain is a far more fertile playground for "explaining the unexplained" and the "science hasn't explained it" argument that comes up sometimes is basically stating the obvious -- XYZ unrepeatable event was bizarre and I think it's supernatural, and science hasn't explained what I saw. But there's an underpinning value judgment amounting to "my preferred explanation can't be scientific, I want it to be supernatural, I don't want it to be explained."

It's totally OK that science hasn't explained everything, this is no indictment of its honest progressive mission, and citing a practitioner of a discipline founded in science does not lend any credence to science's failure as a whole to answer every question rapidly enough. Of course, the greatest possible awesome authority on science wouldn't be able to prove that there is no possible scientific explanation for a given observed event either, but I'd listen more closely if they tried, especially if I could witness the event. This mentality has broken through a ridiculous number of barriers and given us quite a bounty of technological goodness.

So anyway, here's my experience...

Every few years I go on a health kick. A few weeks into it I start having crazy "whooshing" experiences in my bed where I'll suddenly realize I'm in some bizarre place and I'll pull myself out of bed, but it's like this ENORMOUS pulling force that wants to keep me where I am, and I feels like I'm in a fucking alien world being held against my will, and I force my way out and the first few times there was all this peripheral light around me and it was crazy and my mind went fucking wild. It's happened at least 5-6 times and usually my health kicks are accompanied by more dream awareness and recall. I don't know what the friggedy-frack is going on but hey.
posted by lordaych at 7:20 PM on November 5, 2012


One of the ways I know I've spent too long on too little sleep is I start getting really paranoid, convinced that something horrible is standing/lurking just behind me or right around a corner. I usually have to turn on all the lights in the house, and I routinely get some unpleasant audio hallucinations. (Once, most distressingly, I heard *breathing* coming from underneath a bed in the next room, which coincided with our cat at the time freezing on her way through the room I was in, staring at the bed in question, and then bolting for the other end of the house.)

Memory lies, though, and the brain plays tricks. Multiple witnesses just means that the people who saw whatever light or sound glitch occurred discussed it with each other at least once and gave their brains the chance to align their memories with each other. The monkey brain loooooves to agree with people.
posted by Scattercat at 7:23 PM on November 5, 2012


Staying up too late totally screws with me too. After 2:00AM I'll get spooky sounds every time I relax, things in the corner of my vision, my name being whispered once in awhile. Feelings of dread. A friend of mine started talking about "shadow people" once and it was basically "blah blah here's an urban lore designed to freak you out right now and plant seeds of fear into your night, ha ha" and I got sucked right into that shit and saw the scary night cowboy of dreadful fear (just got goosebumps now) and my heart assploded.

Sometimes I let it get out of hand and become scared of my basement after 2:00AM, storming up the stairs after I turn out the lights, feeling something chasing me. It's wild being over 30 years old and "facing my fears" of my own basement.

And I'm bipolar and smoke weed, y0
posted by lordaych at 7:29 PM on November 5, 2012


anazgnos - I swear there was a FPP not too long ago about a controlled experiement where they put people in an isolated, low-light chamber and exposed them to infrasound to see if they could induce paranormal experience, but it turned out the only meaningful predictor of whether they had such an experience was whether they were told in advance to expect a supernatural experience.

I think it's worth considering that in the experiment, they may have simply thought "Oh, that weird sensation must be part of the experiment", and that may be enough to hang on to so that your brain is kind of okay with it. In the real world someone wouldn't be primed with the comfort of knowing they're involved in an experiment, and may jump to an "OMG GHOSTS" state of mind.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:56 PM on November 5, 2012


After 2:00AM I'll get...my name being whispered once in awhile.

This has happened to me twice. Once was a long time ago and the details are hazy, but the second time was after I pulled an all nighter on a work project. About 7 hours into the next work day, I started getting very jittery and paranoid (I've never done well on little or no sleep), and I distinctly heard my name being whispered from behind and to the left of me (which is, perhaps not coincidentally, where it came from the first time). The first time it happened, I thought someone really had whispered my name. The second time, on no sleep, I knew it for an auditory hallucination. When my boss called me into his office to talk to me about something and I started seeing a shimmering, multicolored aura around him, I knew it was time to call it a day and get some sleep. I think the aura thing was me falling partway asleep and dreaming while he was still talking to me. Pretty wild, but going without sleep is so unpleasant I have no wish to repeat it.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:35 PM on November 5, 2012


As my father's Lewy-bidy dementia (still misdiagnosed as Parkinson's) got worse, his hallucinations became more frequent and vivid; he would have to ask my mother several times a day if the people he saw standing around in the living room or sitting on the furniture were real or not. Often they were not actually there, and often they were family members unrecognized, he couldn't tell the difference without outside assistance. Granted, this is an extreme example, but under the right conditions the brain can produce some very realistic visions.
posted by davejay at 10:23 PM on November 5, 2012


Yeah, I don't consider neurosurgeons to be experts on what human brains are capable of. Their job is to perform delicate surgery on a specific organ in difficult circumstances, not to understand all the vast quantity of functions that organ can perform. They're far more knowledgeable about the mechanics of the brain than it's psychology.

I really love the idea of infrasound being responsible for a perception of ghosts. It'd mean I might actually get a chance to experience it for myself, since I don't believe in souls. I'd love to try it sometime. But until Neil deGrasse-Tyson and Adam Savage resolve their differences, I'm going to reserve judgement on this too.

You can't choose which explanations you're going to believe based on how smug they make you feel. Well, you can, but you shouldn't.
posted by harriet vane at 12:08 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


boo
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:02 AM on November 6, 2012


There's something about LED clocks and devices ( if they're close to you) that allegedly causes a sense of presence or lucid dreaming, and many people sleep with them next to their heads. I don't have the data on this, but I saw a study on it once.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2012


Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (review) is an interesting look at this stuff.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:29 AM on November 6, 2012


People just don't really need much external stimulus at all to imagine fake things. We do it all the time. We've got a lot of free cycles up there.
posted by Miko at 6:31 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now that I know that a tiger's roar contains infrasound, this completely explains why I would be terrified if a tiger got loose at the zoo, hunted me down, and roared at me. I knew there was a scientific explanation!
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:47 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh. I'm surprised by how many people have been willing to "come out" about their experiences. Usually threads on here about such things are almost totally dismissive.

Personally, I think almost all that ghost hunting crap - "orbs" in photos and those little machine that record static that people think sound like words - is total bs. I also think a lot of people who claim to have these experiences are merely desperate for attention.

But I do think many people are being honest about their experiences whether there is an explanation or not. When I was fifteen I saw a white cat at the top of the stairs in our house. I thought it was a real cat who had got inside our house somehow until it walked into my bedroom and disappeared just as I approached it. I was wide awake and had never hallucinated anything before or since. Our actual cat at the time would often hiss at that spot at the top of the stairs for no reason both before and after the incident.

I also have another good story that I believe I successfully debunked: when I was in college, my friends and I would sometimes picnic at this tiny remote cemetery we had discovered near our campus. One day, we were there sitting on the gravestones, goofing off and eating our egg salad when we heard, coming from one of the gravestones, what sounded like a woman screaming, but it was truly the most blood curdling scream I have ever heard, like someone being murdered. We ran out of there so fast and never ever spoke of it again. I guess we thought it was some kind of sinister warning about being irreverent in a graveyard. It wasn't until years later I found out the raccoons having sex make sounds like human screams. I still haven't told my old college friends.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:00 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Every single "orb" image presented to me has obviously been artifacts of shooting with a point-and-shoot camera and flash in environments with ample particulate matter in the air.

This is the only truly compelling video evidence I've looked at of something reported to be orb activity, it's part of a larger story you can look up rather easily.
posted by dbiedny at 1:32 PM on November 7, 2012


I don't know about raccoons but those sorts of sounds are usually fox screams. Nothing sounds so human.
posted by Miko at 1:41 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fisher cats are effing terrifying.
posted by maryr at 2:16 PM on November 7, 2012


This is the only truly compelling video evidence I've looked at of something reported to be orb activity

Maybe it was more compelling when it aired on Bravo, but it is impossible to see what is going on in the linked video. Why are these videos always so blurry, I wonder...
posted by adamdschneider at 2:24 PM on November 7, 2012


One time I was real tired and I distinctly heard the telephone take a big breath before ringing.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used to see an odd little flash of light sometimes when I came down in the mornings to the living room. Always out of the corner of my eye...

Turns out, after much experimenting, that one of my electronic devices had a mysterious "bug" of flashing its LED once when the room light level changed suddenly while it was charging. So, it only happened when I turned the room light on, if and only if I entered the room when it was still dark out, and this device was plugged in.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:31 AM on November 9, 2012


dirigibleman: "Regarding the clock radio: Speakers are sometimes capable picking up radio signals even when unpowered (I had computer speakers that did that)."

Maybe it acted as a crystal radio receiver?
posted by double block and bleed at 7:52 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older What we currently call breast cancer should be tho...  |  Our aim is to examine [Paris's... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments