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Shadow People
September 27, 2006 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Scientists discover a region of the brain responsible for feelings of 'self' and 'other'. If electrically stimulated, it causes the perception of an alien being-- a shadow person, standing just behind you, mimicking your every move. This could explain strange feelings of being watched, or of strange presences, or ghosts.
posted by empath (75 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Woah.
posted by delmoi at 11:26 AM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Double whoa.
posted by salvia at 11:26 AM on September 27, 2006


Mountaineers pushed to their limits have often reported this sensation. One climber went so far as to offer to share his food with his "climbing companion".
posted by dglynn at 11:29 AM on September 27, 2006


I think it's most common in people who stayed awake for long periods of time.
posted by empath at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2006


Well, don't electrically stimulate that region.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:31 AM on September 27, 2006 [5 favorites]


All this time I thought it was god following me around.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:32 AM on September 27, 2006


When I was a teenager, I used to experience a similar phenomenon while hanging out with a bunch of friends, smoking the reefer. Perhaps it is related?
posted by Greg Nog at 11:34 AM on September 27, 2006


T.S. Eliot: "The following lines were stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton's): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted."
posted by Iridic at 11:39 AM on September 27, 2006


Did you check for his footprints in the sand, Mr_Zero?
posted by NationalKato at 11:42 AM on September 27, 2006


This would be a interesting (although possibly inhumane) punishment for criminals. You'd alway feel like somebody was watching you... Judging you... Keeping you in line.
posted by boo_radley at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Brings to mind Julian Jaynes' theory of bicameralism in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
"At one time human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was Consciously aware." [1]</sup]

posted by ericb at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Me and my shadow... dum de dum di du dee dooo

This is some fascinating stuff. But it raises a question to me. What happens if you suppress activity in that part of the brain? Does the person lose the concept of self? Does it make them lose their identity? Feel like nothing and everything? Does that make one schizophrenic?

More importantly, does it turn them into a hippy? Because if it does, we need to stop this research. Now.
posted by quin at 11:46 AM on September 27, 2006


boo_radley, the Bush administration is already hard at work perfecting this treatment in the hopes that al Qaeda types will share their deepest secrets with their new cellmates.
posted by NationalKato at 11:46 AM on September 27, 2006


I think it's lack of sleep and/or lack of oxygen that would cause it, for people otherwise sound of mind.
posted by talldean at 11:47 AM on September 27, 2006


Schizophrenia, DMT, there's a few other cognitive counterparts it could be related to.

You'd alway feel like somebody was watching you... Judging you... Keeping you in line.

Or maybe it would empower them and tell them to go on indiscriminate rampages with sharp objects?
posted by prostyle at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2006


Great post, but this isn't a new discovery if I recall correctly. (Unless "the other" somebody is stimulating my brain into remembering it.)
posted by orthogonality at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2006


Whoops. Well, no more staying up late, strangling myself.

I've just been so lonely.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2006


I love this stuff.

Personally, I want people to rip this into art for all it's worth. Find the defining attribues, distill them, put them into paintings. Find ways that Lynch's (or Cocteau or whoever) tableaus simulate this sort of behavior. To paraphrase another comment I left, imagine the Lovecraft movie that could be made if you could give half the impression this electrical stimulation does. Maybe a video game with shadowy figures at the corner of your screen but only in a way thats consistent with the actual experience.

The comments on that cosmos article are...interesting to say the least.
posted by Brainy at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2006


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
posted by interrobang at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2006 [3 favorites]


ericb -- have you read that book? Is it good? I've been meaning to pick it up for a long time.
posted by empath at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2006


I knew I made you all up.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:54 AM on September 27, 2006


Well this certainly begins to explain a hell of a lot of strange stories, and that some people really aren't lying when they claim to have perceived ghosts or aliens. What would John Mack have said?
posted by tula at 12:03 PM on September 27, 2006


Consider my mind officially blown.
posted by thekilgore at 12:04 PM on September 27, 2006


Jaynes' book is fascinating and well worth reading. Much of his anthropology/archeology/ancient history hasn't withstood professional scrutiny, but at least to my memory (it has been a while since I last read the book) his views on how consciousness evolved in humans is still thought-provoking and largely persuasive.
posted by twsf at 12:10 PM on September 27, 2006


I love Jaynes' book and think it is one of the most passionately written nonfiction books that I've ever read; Jaynes had real respect and awe for what he attempted to study, even the parts of it that seem to defy understanding. The first couple chapters about defining consciousness are very inspiring.

As for what all this "explains", I remain just as skeptical of neurology as I am of parapsychology, and would rather have a ghost in my house than an electrode in my skull.
posted by hermitosis at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2006


Where your eyes don't go a part of you is hovering...

(They Might Be Giants, staying one step ahead of the scientists)
posted by salvia at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Science is beginning to look at reality, on a quantum level, in the same way - that particles of the smallest size exist as vibrations. Perhaps, some theorize, the vibrations of our existence are beginning to mesh with those of another dimension, which accounts for the increase in such phenomena as ghosts, shadow people and possibly aliens.

so.. these shadow people.. they vibrate?
posted by dminor at 12:49 PM on September 27, 2006


ericb -- have you read that book? Is it good? I've been meaning to pick it up for a long time.

Yes. And I agree with twsf and hermitosis that it's a fascinating read.
posted by ericb at 12:54 PM on September 27, 2006


That song then goes on to ask the key question:

Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that / Wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of /
Should you worry when the skullhead is in front of you / Or is it worse because it's always waiting where your eyes don't go?

posted by salvia at 12:55 PM on September 27, 2006


Fascinating stuff.

Greg Nog said 'When I was a teenager, I used to experience a similar phenomenon while hanging out with a bunch of friends, smoking the reefer. Perhaps it is related?'

Yeah, and even more so on acid - I can remember more than a few occasions where me and my friends spent hours trying to work out who had just left the room.
posted by jack_mo at 1:06 PM on September 27, 2006


Sometimes I feel like my shadow person is having more fun than me. :-(
posted by Skygazer at 1:07 PM on September 27, 2006


::comes, goes, talks like Kurtis Blow::
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:15 PM on September 27, 2006


Semi-related:

Infrasound

It's cool finding a scientific basis for allegedly "paranormal" behavior.

The world is both more strange and more mundane than meets the eye.
posted by SBMike at 1:19 PM on September 27, 2006


Huh-huh-huh, UH UH
Uh-huh, huh, huh, mm mmm
.. mm mmm
Yes yes y'all
The best y'all, yes yes y'all
Huh, huh, huh, huh.. yes y'all
posted by salvia at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2006


My shadow person is such a great lover!
posted by dov3 at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2006


SBMike said 'Semi-related:

'Infrasound'


Feraliminal Lycanthropiser!
posted by jack_mo at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


My shadow person told me to invade Iraq.
posted by knave at 1:33 PM on September 27, 2006


More on this at Mind Hacks.

While this is nothing less than remarkable, my feeling is that it may be a tad premature to attempt to use this to explain a wide class of phenomena (paranoia, schizophrenia, paranormal experience, tripping etc) involving apparent others, which I guess are significantly more complex than this.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:34 PM on September 27, 2006


Rockwell will to be relieved to hear the news.
posted by BoatMeme at 1:35 PM on September 27, 2006


Sort of related: Voices in the head 'are normal'
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:38 PM on September 27, 2006


My family has always seen "shadow people"-like creatures (or at least my mom's side of the family), although we've always referred to them as "black spider monkeys from another dimension" because of their elongated appearance and scuttling movement (always out of the corner of an eye, of course). Maybe since only one side of my family has it (and consistently) there's some kind of genetic predisposition to being able to see these entities.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2006


empath: that book starts out with some really awesome observations about the nature of consciousness, but he then takes leaps of faith that are absolutely past any sense of reason. It's worth reading the first chapter. The rest of is it is a drawn-out flight of pure fantasy.
posted by Malor at 1:40 PM on September 27, 2006


Were these people bit by either radioactive or genetically modified spiders?
posted by srboisvert at 1:47 PM on September 27, 2006


Wow, jack_mo, that link was fascinating and disturbing. I'm very curious to build my own, but damn, more than a little scared too.
posted by SBMike at 1:52 PM on September 27, 2006


OverlappingElvis, these researchers might be interested in talking to you.
posted by zennie at 1:53 PM on September 27, 2006


I think this explains what's going on with the stripper mom on Heroes...
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:19 PM on September 27, 2006


Saw this on digg a couple days ago - my explanation was...
I would describe that as a sort of proprioceptive "deja vu." Imagine if the information about your limbs' positions and statuses was sent twice, or to the wrong area - say, an area concerned with other people's limbs' positions. Sounds kind of ridiculous, but I assure you there are already many connections between those kinds of areas. Interesting phenomenon, though!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:23 PM on September 27, 2006


Perhaps, some theorize, the vibrations of our existence are beginning to mesh with those of another dimension, which accounts for the increase in such phenomena as ghosts, shadow people and possibly aliens.

riiiiiiiiight.
posted by Sparx at 4:00 PM on September 27, 2006


Well, it's long been known that every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of.

Sheesh.
posted by washburn at 4:34 PM on September 27, 2006


At the risk of sounding nuts, this "shadow person" thing happened to me after Sept.11, though I didn't see anything. After many stressful long days and nights in the newsroom, I started feeling as if someone were standing right behind me, just behind my right shoulder. It was weird; not scary, just a very strong and odd sensation. Eventually the sensation passed but it was definitely there, and attributable, I suppose, to stress and lack of sleep.
posted by etaoin at 4:38 PM on September 27, 2006


Have they discovered the part of the brain that makes scientific discoveries yet? Or the part of the brain that makes people think that scientific theories are plausible?
posted by koeselitz at 6:02 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


SBMike, have you seen this?
posted by kimota at 6:09 PM on September 27, 2006


Is this not the unconscious, glimpsed by happenstance?
posted by rleamon at 6:16 PM on September 27, 2006


I get a sensation that seems very similar to the one described after periods of exceptionally prolonged wakefulness. I also have a similar experience during bursts of intense creativity: I may be writing or typing or playing an instrument or whatever and I get what can only be described as an out-of-body sensation: my 'mental me' seems to hover a metre or so above my body (and oddly, slightly arched backward), observing my physical body and whatever the hell I'm doing. I never perceive it as threatening though.

I also used to get something like that as a kid, when I would sometimes stop in my tracks and somehow feel bigger, like two or three times the size of my actual body. I suspect that this last sensation and the 'creativity' one are probably different from the 'shadow people' experience, and I understand that they differ from what is usually meant by an 'out of body experience', but I couldn't find any better words. The 'no sleep' sensation seems very much alike to me to the one in the article, though.

Greg Nog writes "When I was a teenager, I used to experience a similar phenomenon while hanging out with a bunch of friends, smoking the reefer. Perhaps it is related?"

Good point, and IMO definitely one that should be researched further, as should other cognitive effects of recreational drugs. Anecdotally, quoting my experience with the kind plant I think I see what you mean, but as with the experiences I described above, I think that at least with me it's different from the one in the article. Specifically, the detached-consciousness effect of marijuana to me always seems to be very much in the head, as if my brain is the sole locus of my being, with my body playing second violin whatever I do. YMMV, of course. And oh, dude, I totally just dropped my keys. *chuckles slowly yet hysterically*

dminor writes "so.. these shadow people.. they vibrate?"

I've taken upon myself the noble task of countering every instance of this old joke with the Ultimate "This X... It Vibrates?" Rejoinder. :)

Remains the question that's akin to that brain transplant conundrum: if you get a brain transplant, then after the operation who are you? The body guy or the brain guy? (I'd say brain guy.)

In this context: when you undergo the described procedure, and you perceive a shadow person apart from the person whose temporoparietal junction is being bzzzzed, then which are you perceiving as being you? The shadow person or the guinea pig?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:17 PM on September 27, 2006


rleamon writes "Is this not the unconscious, glimpsed by happenstance?"

I can't refute that as is, but it should be noted that this term is part of the Freud paradigm which nowadays is dated at best, and personally I strongly suspect that the conscious and subconscious (if they should be named that at all) are fluid in nature, and all part of the same "stuff".
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:21 PM on September 27, 2006


I strongly suspect that the conscious and subconscious (if they should be named that at all) are fluid in nature, and all part of the same "stuff".
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane


That's basically what Freud started to think c. early 1920's (See The Ego and The Id)

I was a little disappointed with that Mind Hacks link... I thought it would tell me how to stimulate this experience in myself.
posted by papakwanz at 6:39 PM on September 27, 2006


I remember seeing something about this on TV back in the pre-internet days. Something about experiments stimulating the temporal lobe that made the subjects feel very strongly that there was a malevolent presence in the room with them, even holding them down or preventing them from breathing in some cases. So if my vague memory is correct, this isn't the first time research of this general nature has been tried.

It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if we're eventually able to explain religious experience and "adduction" phenomena as neurological storms.

On the subject of drugs, I've often had the sense of being accompanied by a benevolent "entity" while on mushrooms.
posted by slatternus at 7:07 PM on September 27, 2006


the sense of being accompanied by a benevolent "entity"

Perchance by the name of Don Juan? ;-)
posted by ericb at 7:15 PM on September 27, 2006


posted by kimota

Mr. Moran, we are wish to discuss your other self.
posted by homunculus at 8:15 PM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Goodnewsfortheinsane: I think the term you're looking for is depersonalization.
I've experienced the same thing from time to time too, although sometimes it also manifests itself in a few other ways. I have also noticed that creative streak you mentioned once in a while, too. And it seems fluorescent lights can sometimes bring it on, which, from doing a little research, is something I've noticed a lot of other people have also experienced. It's quite a strange feeling, to be sure.
posted by flod logic at 8:21 PM on September 27, 2006


Mountaineers pushed to their limits have often reported this sensation. One climber went so far as to offer to share his food with his "climbing companion".
-dglynn

Do you happen to have any references? I've read in the book Beyond Risk that Voytek Kurtyka and his climbing partner simultaneously had this sensation in a very tough situation, but I didn't know there were other people who had it, too.
posted by palet at 8:51 PM on September 27, 2006


Greg Child wrote a short article about climbers various reports of this experience.

(rummages bookshelf)

ah, here we are. "The Other Presence", an article printed originally in Backpacker magazine in 1989, reprinted in Child's collection of essays titled "Mixed Emotions".
posted by dglynn at 11:38 PM on September 27, 2006


Something about experiments stimulating the temporal lobe that made the subjects feel very strongly that there was a malevolent presence in the room with them, even holding them down or preventing them from breathing in some cases.

That sounds, instead, like the effects of hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations with attendant lack of muscle tonus associated with REM sleep (but where the subject is awake). I hadn't realized that anyone could induce it.

I wonder how this ties in with the "religious" experiences of those exposed to high-energy plasma. Those usually involve a perception of some kind of entity as well.
posted by dreamsign at 1:25 AM on September 28, 2006


I get this regularly when off my head on whatever substance and pulling an all-nighter. I'll think six or seven people have been present when in fact it's only been two or three. I've got a reputation for being a bit of a div because of it.
posted by Summer at 5:00 AM on September 28, 2006


Religious experiences, alien abductions and visitations by other beings can all seem as real as any other experience to the subject. They have not experienced an event, but their conviction that they have can be infectious. This is helped by the fact that they are not lieing, they did have an 'experience'.
I saw Susan Blackmore (professional hair dye tester) being a subject for Persinger in a documentary during the '90s, it was pretty convincing stuff.
Using magnets to effect changes in brain behaviour is something I would expect to have seen more of in the consumerist arena by now.
posted by asok at 5:19 AM on September 28, 2006


They have not experienced an event

???
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:37 AM on September 28, 2006


They have not experienced an event

They were not visited by aliens, Jesus or their favourite dead relative. But they believe they were.
posted by asok at 7:00 AM on September 28, 2006


asok: "Religious experiences, alien abductions and visitations by other beings can all seem as real as any other experience to the subject. They have not experienced an event, but their conviction that they have can be infectious."

You can include "scientific discovery" and "logical deduction" in that list, as well. And "love."
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 AM on September 28, 2006


Huh?
posted by papakwanz at 9:21 AM on September 28, 2006


But they believe they were.

So, according to all tools of denying/affirming experience they have, their experience is valid, but you assert that they are incorrect based on...?

You can include "scientific discovery" and "logical deduction" in that list, as well. And "love."

I think koeselitz means that logical deduction and scientific discovery are also qualitative experiences, which differ from non-communicable experiences in that they are equipped with an internally consistent and standardized language.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2006


Thanks, dglynn!
posted by palet at 12:17 PM on September 28, 2006


you assert that they are incorrect based on...?

Based on the fact that the same types of experiences can be reproduced in the lab by the application of magnetic fields to the brain.
posted by asok at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2006


You can include "scientific discovery"

Not if it is a provable theory. Somebody might believe that they had made a discovery, but might be deluded (TIME CUBE etc).

and "logical deduction" in that list,

See above

"love."

Yes. Love is entirely subjective.
posted by asok at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2006


Based on the fact that the same types of experiences can be reproduced in the lab by the application of magnetic fields to the brain.

If I reported a mental state wherein I perceived entities that are prevalent everywhere, but not perceived by senses normally, and we could reproduce this state with external stimulation, have we anywhere made a determination as to the status of those entities?

What if multiple people report very similar experiences in that state?

It is not smart to confuse metaphysical questions with physical ones, physical tests can at best refute metaphysical assertions with irrefutable physical implications, if metaphysical experiences are reported that do not bear on the testable physical world, there is no manner in which to objectively test them. One would have to attempt to personally reproduce the state in which the experience appeared.

In fact, this is what we do in science, but often forget that's what we're doing.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:26 PM on September 28, 2006


You can include "scientific discovery"

Not if it is a provable theory.


Yes, but provable within the terms of scientific discourse, which doesn't exist in the physical world it's commenting on, but rather in the abstract world of language and ideas. This world exists between human minds and nowhere else.

The world is the territory. Scientific discourse is a map of the territory. They're not the same thing and really shouldn't be confused.
posted by Grangousier at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2006


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