1 The Sciece Behid WHY PEOPLE SEE GHOSTS (AND GODS, ANGELS, DEMONS, AND ALIENS AND WHY THEY FLOAT, FLY, AND TRAVEL OUT OF THEIR BODIES) By Michael Shermer ad Pat Lise 500 years ago demos hauted our world, ad icubi ad succubi tormeted their victims as they lay asleep i their beds. 200 years ago spirits of the departed made bedside visits. More recetly gree ad grey alies bega to molest people i their sleep. What is goig o here? Are these mysterious visitors i our world or i our mids? They are i our mids. All experiece is mediated by the brai, which cosists of about a hudred billio euros with a thousad trillio syaptic coectios betwee them. No woder the brai is capable of such sublime ideas as evolutio ad big bag cosmology. But it also meas that uder a variety of coditios the brai is capable of geeratig extraordiary experieces that are ot real. 1 PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS The ability of halluciogeic drugs to trigger preteratural experieces are well documeted. A sese of floatig ad flyig may be stimulated by atropie ad other belladoa alkaloids, which are foud i madrake or jimso weed ad were used by Europea witches ad Native America shamas, probably for this very purpose. Dissociative aesthetics such as the ketamies are kow to iduce out-of-body experieces. Igestio of methyleedioxyamphetamie (MDA) may brig back log-forgotte memories ad produce the feelig of age regressio, while di-methyl-tryptamie (DMT) AKA the spirit molecule causes the dissociatio of the mid from the body ad is the halluciogeic substace i ayahuasca, a drug take by South America shama. People takig DMT report I o loger have a body, ad I am fallig, flyig, or liftig up.
2 2 MEDITATION I the 2001 book Why God Wo t Go Away, euroscietist Adrew Newberg reported that brai scas made of meditatig Buddhist moks ad prayig Fracisca us idicate strikigly low activity i the posterior superior parietal lobe, a regio of the brai the authors have dubbed the Orietatio Associatio Area (OAA). The OAA s job is to oriet the body i physical space, ad people with damage to this area have a difficult time egotiatig their way aroud a house, sometimes eve bumpig ito objects because their brai does ot process the object as somethig separate from their body. Whe the OAA is booted up ad ruig smoothly there is a sharp distictio betwee self ad o-self. Whe OAA is i sleep mode as i deep meditatio ad prayer that divisio breaks dow, leadig to a blurrig of the lies betwee reality ad fatasy, ad betwee feelig i body ad out of body. Perhaps this is what happes to moks who experiece a sese of oeess with the uiverse, or with us who feel the presece of God, or with alie abductees who float up out of their beds to joi with the mother ship. 3 BRAIN DAMAGE The reowed eurologist Oliver Sacks, best kow for his remarkable work i awakeig the catatoic brais of ecephalitis victims as portrayed i the popular 1990 film Awakeigs (starrig Robi Williams as Sacks), has writte a umber of books describig the bizarre halluciatios experieced by his patiets such as the ma who mistook his wife for a hat which are ievitably iterpreted by the experiecers as exteral to their brai. Oe elderly patiet who suffered from macular degeeratio ad had completely lost her visio was diagosed by Sacks with Charles Boett Sydrome because of her suite of complex visual halluciatios, icludig ad especially faces with distorted teeth ad eyes. Aother patiet developed a tumor i her visual cortex ad soo after bega halluciatig cartoos most memorably Kermit the Frog that were trasparet ad covered oly half of her visual field. I fact, says Sacks, about 10% of visually impaired people experiece visual halluciatios. Brai scas of halluciatig patiets show that the visual cortex is activated durig these phatasms. Durig geometric halluciatios it is the primary visual cortex that is most active the part of the brai that perceives patters (but ot images). Halluciatios that iclude images such as faces are associated with more activity i the temporal lobe s fusiform area i the temporal lobe, which is ivolved i the recogitio of faces (people with damage to this area caot recogize faces, ad stimulatio of the area causes people to spotaeously see faces). 4 COMAS I Ebe Alexader s bestsellig book Proof of Heave, the Harvard professor recouts his Near-Death Experiece (NDE) durig a meigitis-iduced coma i which he says he wet to heave. Did he? Not likely. First, Alexader claims that his cortex was completely shut dow ad that My ear-death experiece took place ot while my cortex was malfuctioig, but while it was simply off. Ad yet the oly way he could remember the experiece is if his brai was o. Ad there s a reaso they re called Near Death Experieces: the people who have them are ot actually dead. As well, as Oliver Sacks otes i his 2012 book Halluciatios, migraie headaches also produce halluciatios, which Sacks himself has experieced, icludig a shimmerig light that was dazzligly bright : It expaded, becomig a eormous arc stretchig from the groud to the sky, with sharp, glitterig, zigzaggig borders ad brilliat blue ad orage colors. Compare Sacks experiece to that of Eba Alexader s trip to heave, where he was i a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pik-white oes that showed up sharply agaist the deep blue-black sky. Higher tha the clouds immeasurably higher flocks of trasparet, shimmerig beigs arced across the sky, leavig log, streamerlike lies behid them. Dr. Sacks explais that the reaso halluciatios seem so real is that they deploy the very same systems i the brai that actual perceptios do. Whe oe halluciates voices, the auditory pathways are activated; whe oe halluciates a face, the fusiform face area, ormally used to perceive ad idetify faces i the eviromet, is stimulated. Sacks cocludes: The oe most plausible hypothesis i Dr. Alexader s case, the, is that his NDE occurred ot durig his coma, but as he was surfacig from the coma ad his cortex was returig to full fuctio. It is curious that he does ot allow this obvious ad atural explaatio, but istead isists o a superatural oe.
3 5 SENSED PRESENCE EFFECT There is a pheomeo well-kow amog moutai climbers, polar explorers, isolated sailors, ad edurace athletes called the sesed-presece effect the sese that someoe or somethig else is with us. Coditios associated with a sesed presece iclude: mootoy, darkess, barre ladscapes, isolatio, cold, ijury, dehydratio, huger, fatigue, fear, ad sleep deprivatio. Charles Lidbergh sesed ghostly preseces o his tras-atlatic flight to Paris. The famous Austria moutaieer Herma Buhl sesed a presece after summitig the 26,660 foot Naga Parbat: I see two dots. I could shout with joy. I ca hear their voices too, someoe calls Herma, but the I realize that they are rocks. I set off agai subdued. This realizatio happes frequetly. I hear voices, hear my ame really clearly [but they are oly] halluciatios. I had a extraordiary feelig that I was ot aloe. Whatever its immediate cause (temperature, altitude, hypoxia, physical exhaustio, sleep deprivatio, starvatio, loeliess, fear), a deeper cause of the sese-presece effect is to be foud i the brai: (1) A extesio of the ormal sesed presece we experiece of real people aroud us; (2) A coflict betwee the low-road of emotios ad the high-road of reaso; (3) A coflict withi the body schema, or our physical sese of self, i which the brai is tricked ito thikig that there HERRRRMANN! is aother you; (4) A coflict withi the mid schema, or our psychological sese of self, i which the mid is tricked ito thikig that there is aother mid. 6 NATURAL-BORN DUALISTS Yale Uiversity psychologist Paul Bloom says that we are atural-bor dualists. Childre ad adults alike, for example, speak of my body, as if my ad body are two differet etities. I a experimet Bloom told youg childre a story about a mouse that gets muched by a alligator. The childre agree that the mouse s body is dead it does ot eed to go to the bathroom, it ca t hear, ad its brai o loger works. However, they isist that the mouse is still hugry, cocered about the alligator, ad wats to go home. This is the foudatio for the more articulated view of the afterlife you usually fid i older childre ad adults, Bloom says. Oce childre lear that the brai is ivolved i thikig, they do t take it as showig that the brai is the source of metal life; they do t become materialists. Rather, they iterpret thikig i a arrow sese, ad coclude that the brai is a cogitive prosthesis, somethig added to the soul to ehace its computig power. The reaso dualism is ituitive is that the brai does ot perceive itself, ad so imputes metal activity to a separate source. Halluciatios of preteratural beigs such as ghosts, gods, agels, ad alies are perceived as real etities, Out-of-Body ad Near-Death Experieces are processed as exteral evets, ad the patter of iformatio that is our memories, persoality, ad self is sesed as a soul. 7 DOPAMINE Explorig the eurochemistry of superstitio ad magical thikig, psychologists Peter Brugger ad Christie Mohr foud that people with high levels of dopamie are more likely to fid sigificace i coicideces ad pick out meaig ad patters where there are oe. I oe study, they gave 40 subjects L-Dopa the drug used for Parkiso s Disease patiets that icreases the levels of dopamie i the brai ad foud that the boost of dopamie caused people to idetify scrambled faces ad real ad jumbled words as ormal. Why? Dopamie icreases the rate of eural firig i associatio with patter recogitio, which meas that syaptic coectios betwee euros are likely to icrease i respose to a perceived patter. Icreasig dopamie icreases patter detectio, ad other scietists have foud that dopamie ot oly ehaces learig but i higher doses ca also trigger symptoms of psychosis such as halluciatios.
4 8 RIGHT BRAIN v. LEFT BRAIN Carl Saga wrote: There is o doubt that right-hemisphere ituitive thikig may perceive patters ad coectios too difficult for the left hemisphere; but it may also detect patters where oe exist. Skeptical ad critical thikig is ot a hallmark of the right hemisphere. I split-brai experimets Peter Brugger preseted subjects with strigs of letters formig either a word or osese to either the left visual field or the right visual field, istructig the subjects to respod whe they recogized a word. The subjects also rated their belief i ESP o a 6-poit scale. Results: skeptics had greater left hemispheric domiace compared to believers, ad believers had superior right hemispheric performaces compared to skeptics. 9 SLEEP ANOMALIES & LUCID DREAMS Alie abductio experieces typically occur durig sleep ad strogly resemble hypagogic (just after fallig asleep) ad hypopompic (just before wakig up) halluciatios. Other dream states such as Lucid dreamig ad sleep paralysis also cotai compoets that parallel the abductio experiece. Hypagogic ad hypopompic halluciatios occur i the fuzzy borderlads betwee wakefuless ad sleep, whe our coscious brai slips ito ucosciousess as we fall asleep, or trasitios ito wakefuless from sleep. Reality ad fatasy blur. Multiple sesory modalities may be ivolved, icludig seeig ad hearig thigs that are ot actually there such as represetatioal images, geometric patters, speckles, or lies. Halluciatory images may be i black-ad-white or i color, still or movig, flat or 3-D, ad sometimes eve iclude the spiralig tuels reported by people who have Out-of-Body ad Near-Death experieces. Halluciatios ca also be auditory such as hearig your ame called, or the soud of a doorbell or kockig, ad eve fragmets of speech from others imagied to be i the room. Lucid dream images are eve more vivid because the sleepig perso is aware that he or she is asleep ad dreamig ad ca participate i ad alter the dream itself. Sleep paralysis is a type of lucid dream i which the dreamer, aware of the dream, also seses paralysis, pressure o chest, presece of a beig i the room, floatig, flyig, fallig, or leavig oe s body, with a emotioal compoet that icludes a elemet of terror, but sometimes also excitemet, exhilaratio, rapture, or ecstasy. 10 PATTERNICITY Imagie that you are a homiid o the plais of Africa three millio years ago. You hear a rustle i the grass. Is it just the wid or is it a dagerous predator? If you assume that the rustle i the grass is a dagerous predator but it turs out that it is just the wid, you have made a Type I Error i cogitio, also kow as a false positive, or believig somethig is real whe it is ot. That is, you have foud a oexistet patter. No harm. You move away from the rustlig soud, become more alert ad cautious, ad fid aother path to your destiatio. But if you assume that the rustle i the grass is just the wid but it turs out that it is a dagerous predator, you have made a Type II Error i cogitio, also kow as a false egative, or ot believig somethig is real whe it is, i this case a dagerous predator. You re luch! You are o loger a member of the homiid gee pool. Our brais are belief egies, evolved patter-recogitio machies that coect the dots ad create meaig out of the patters that we thik we see i ature. Sometimes (A) really is coected to (B), sometimes it is ot. The baseball player who does t shave (A) ad hits a home ru (B) forms a false associatio betwee (A) ad (B), but it is a relatively harmless oe. Whe the associatio is real, however, we have leared somethig valuable about the eviromet from which we ca make predictios that aid i survival ad reproductio. We are the descedats of those who were most successful at fidig patters. This process is called pattericity, or the tedecy to fid meaigful patters i both meaigful ad meaigless oise. The problem is that assessig the differece betwee a Type I ad Type II error is highly problematic especially i the split-secod timig that ofte determies the differece betwee life ad death i our acestral eviromets so the default positio is to assume that all patters are real; that is, assume that all rustles i the grass are dagerous predators ad ot the wid. This is the basis of all superstitio ad magical thikig.
5 11 AGENTICITY, OR SYMPATHETIC MAGIC Let us retur to our homiid o the plais of Africa who hears a rustle i the grass, ad the crucial matter of whether the soud represets a dagerous predator or just the wid: wid represets a iaimate force whereas dagerous predator idicates a itetioal aget. Thus we ted to practice ageticity: the tedecy to ifuse patters with meaig, itetio, ad agecy. That is, we ofte impart the patters we fid with agecy ad itetio, ad believe that these itetioal agets cotrol the world, sometimes ivisibly from the top dow. Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demos, agels, alies, ad all maer of ivisible agets with power ad itetio are believed to haut our world ad cotrol our lives. Examples of ageticity aboud. Subjects watchig reflective dots move about i a darkeed room, especially if the dots take o the shape of two legs ad two arms, ifer that they represet a perso or itetioal aget. Childre believe that the su ca thik ad follows them aroud, ad whe asked to draw a picture of the su they ofte add a smiley face to give agecy to it. Geital-shaped foods such as baaas ad oysters are ofte believed to ehace sexual potecy. A third of trasplat patiets believe that the door s persoality or essece is trasplated with the orga. Psychologist Bruce Hood foud that most people say that they would ever wear the sweater of a murderer, showig great disgust at the very thought, as if some of the murderer s evil rubbed off i the material of the sweater, but that most people say that they would wear the cardiga sweater of the childres televisio host Mr. Rogers, believig that wearig the sweater would make them a better perso. We see agecy everywhere we look, ad sometimes those agets are ghosts ad gods, agels ad demos. 12 HYPNOSIS AND MEMORY May alie abductio experieces are remembered years or decades after the fact through a techique called hypotic regressio, i which a subject is hypotized ad asked to imagie regressig back i time to retrieve a memory from the past, ad the play it back o the imagiary scree of the mid, as if there s a dimiutive homuculus sittig iside a little theater i the head ad reportig to the brai s director what he is seeig. This is ot at all how memory works. The metaphor of memory as a videotape playback system is so far off that it is ot eve wrog. There is o recordig device i the brai. Memories are formed as part of the associatio learig system of makig coectios betwee thigs ad evets i the eviromet, ad repetitive associatios betwee them geerates ew coectios betwee euros, which are the stregtheed through additioal repetitio or weakeed through disuse. Use it or lose it. Do you remember your 10th birthday, or do you remember your mother s commets about it as you looked at party photos whe you were 20? Have you added icidets from other parties you atteded or eve party scees from TV? It is likely all of the above, ad much more. So, whe a alie cotactee is recoverig a memory of a abductio experiece, what is actually beig recovered? Aalysis of hypotic regressio tapes used by abductio therapists who employ hyposis shows that they ask leadig questios ad costruct imagiary scearios through which their subjects may cococt a etirely artificial evet of somethig that ever happeed. 13 NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES (NDEs) Sice the advet of jet plaes capable of powerful G-force acceleratios that ca cause pilots to lose cosciousess durig aerial maeuvers, the U.S. Air Force ad Navy have udertake a umber of studies o how to fight G-Force Iduced Loss of Cosciousess or G-LOC. Dr. James Whiery studied pilots usig the cetrifuge at the Naval Warfare Ceter i Warmister, PN, where he discovered a remarkable pheomeo experieced by the majority of pilots what he called dreamlets cosistig of brief episodes of tuel visio (sometimes with a bright light at the ed), as well as feeligs of floatig or paralysis, ad, after they regaied cosciousess, a sese of euphoria or peace ad sereity. These are the same characteristics of a Near-Death Experiece (NDE). Whiery iduced NDEs over a thousad times uder the cotrolled coditios of the cetrifuge. Uder high G-Force, the blood drais out of the head ad pools i the torso, sedig pilots first ito a gray-out phase followed by a black-out state, all withi a matter of secods. The NDEs occurred durig black-outs suggestig the cause: apoxia, or oxyge deprivatio to the cortex. Whe G-LOC is iduced i a gradual fashio by acceleratig the cetrifuge i a systematic maer, the subjects first experieced tuel visio, the blidess, the blackout, which is likely caused by the loss of oxyge first to the retia the to the visual cortex (producig tuel visio as the euros shut dow from the outside to the iside), leadig to total blackout whe the majority of the cortex powers dow. NDEs ca also be geerated by electrical stimulatio of the right agular gyrus i the temporal lobe. A 43-year old patiet sufferig from severe epileptic seizures reported feeligs of sikig ito the bed ad fallig from a height after mild electrical stimulatio of this area. More itese stimulatio led her to see [her]self lyig i bed, from above Ad eve more iduced a feelig of lightess ad a sese of floatig about two meters above the bed. The scietists discovered that they could eve cotrol the height above the bed the patiet reported that she floated by the amout of electricity delivered.
6 For more of our famous free dowloads visit skeptic.com: THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHY PEOPLE SEE GHOSTS Do you kow someoe who has had a mid alterig experiece? If so, you kow how compellig they ca be. They are oe of the foudatios of widespread belief i the paraormal. But as skeptics are well aware, acceptig them as reality ca be dagerous TOP 10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE BY THE SKEPDOC, HARRIET HALL, M.D. Topics iclude: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupucture, ad the questioable beefits of orgaic food, detoxificatio, ad atural remedies. WHO BELIEVES THEM? WHY? HOW CAN YOU TELL IF THEY RE TRUE? What is a cospiracy theory, why do people believe i them, ad why do they ted to proliferate? Why does belief i oe cospiracy correlate to belief i others? What are the triggers of belief, ad how does group idetity factor ito it? How ca oe tell the differece betwee a true cospiracy ad a false oe? LEARN TO BE PSYCHIC IN 10 EASY LESSONS TOP 10 MYTHS ABOUT EVOLUTION (AND HOW WE KNOW IT REALLY HAPPENED) If humas came from apes, why are t apes evolvig ito Psychic readigs ad fortuetellig are a aciet art a combiatio of actig ad psychological maipulatio. humas? Fid out i this pamphlet! " YOUR DONATION MATTERS SKEPTICS SOCIETY DONATION CARD Fudraisig, Wie Tastig, Dier, ad Star Parties YES! I d like to support the Skeptics Society i its efforts to ivestigate cotroversial claims & promote sciece & critical thikig. I am eclosig my tax-deductible support i the amout of: $25-$49 $50-$99 $100-$249 $250-$499 $500-$999 $1000 ad above Other $ Please make your check payable to the Skeptics Society. Mail this card to P.O. Box 338, Altadea, CA You may charge your gift by phoig 626/ , or fax the iformatio to 626/ Or doate olie at NAME ADDRESS CITY STATE ZIP PHONE NO. We accept: Accout No. EX. DATE Moth Year Sigature Prit ame EXACTLY as it appears o card The Skeptics Society is a 501(c) (3) oprofit corporatio ad all cotributios are tax deductible. F or doatios of $500 or more you are ivited to joi Michael Shermer i his cliff-side home whe he hosts a fudraisig dier party ad wie tastig evet. We ll have a spectacular suset view of all of Souther Califoria, ad a 8-ich Meade telescope for some star gazig that ight. Dates to be determied. To get o the list to be iformed of upcomig diers ofte with special guests call our office at 626/ Good cause, good fu. Joi us! Michael Shermer, Executive Director, Skeptics Society