As it doesn’t make for entertaining television you will very rarely hear about various phenomena pertaining to tricks that our mind plays on us that could result in misinterpreted activity that you then perceive to be paranormal. You may occasionally hear the term pareidolia come up on even the most respected paranormal investigation television shows, but beyond that you won’t hear them speak of the various subjects that I will be discussing today. The purpose of the television shows is to get ratings, and the shows wouldn’t get the ratings that they do receive if they spent their time discussing all of the scientific possibilities that could cause perceived paranormal activity that need to be addressed before leaning towards activity being paranormal. In general people watch television shows for the spooky, and not the science. A show based upon the science that we use at Mount Washington Valley SPIRIT would be for a very small niche audience that would be better suited for a podcast such as this one, where people interested in such things can explore those subjects. While I believe the level of science that my team uses would benefit the paranormal field of study to be used widespread, it would very much take away from the spookiness that draws people into becoming a paranormal investigator, as it explains many more situations with science than falsely perceived paranormal activity. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen my fair share of paranormal activity, but at the same time I have seen plenty of television show episodes and videos online where something was proclaimed to be paranormal when it has a real world scientific explanation that wasn’t taken into consideration as the investigators chose not to educate themselves on such topics. I have covered this topic generalized before. Today I will further deep dive into topics related to where our minds play tricks on us. In the future I may further deep dive into some of these subjects individually. For a serious scientific paranormal investigation it is beneficial for an investigator to be familiar with the brain related topics that I will explore with you today.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not remotely saying that paranormal activity is always a situation where your mind is playing tricks on you. I have personally experienced and seen evidence from others that I couldn’t deny being paranormal, I am just saying it is important to not to immediately jump to the conclusion that something is paranormal as it is imperative that we give our clients the most accurate information possible, and in doing so that means we have to put aside our want and need for spookiness when it could possibly be something explainable with science.
Let us start off with exploring pareidolia. This phenomenon is also referred to as matrixing. This situation is your mind’s attempt to find patterns in randomness. Our mind loves things to make sense and when they don’t your mind tries its best to make sense out of chaos. The fusiform, which is a part of the brain, recognizes faces and can see faces where there aren’t any in inanimate objects. This can often cause pareidolia. Examples of this occurring would be staring at static on an old school television set and seeing shapes or figures in the static. Another example is seeing figures in clouds. How often do you look at a cloud and see a bunny, a car, the Enterprise from Star Trek (yes I am a trekkie), a horse, or another object that you are familiar with? Other examples of pareidolia include seeing objects in the ripples of moving water or seeing figures in rock faces on the side of mountains. Examples of this in the paranormal field would be seeing faces in condensation caused fog or mist which can show up out of no where, even inside of a building. You may see figures in the dark or in very low light levels. You may see faces in wallpaper, or misperceive shadows as something paranormal. Often this is perceived as seeing something “out of the corner of your eye”.
Pareidolia also comes into play with excessive electromagnetic energy where our nervous system senses their presence and not understanding them our brain can react in way way where we perceive apparitions or other familiar forms. Electromagnetic energy surrounds us and our nervous system can act as a big antenna to receive this energy. For some people their mind will matrix the energy into a visual form that isn’t really there. Long term high EMF exposure has been proven by science to cause hallucinations.
Pareidolia can also be something that affects your hearing. Infrasound is sound below the threshold of human hearing. Some animals can hear into the infrasound range. Infrasound has been found to have an effect on the human nervous system and can cause perceived paranormal activity via hallucinations. Any large appliance can cause infrasound, large equipment outside of your home in the neighborhood such as construction equipment and mother nature can cause infrasound as well. There are other situations pertaining to sound that can cause pareidolia. One situation includes ear barotrauma, which also known as airplane ear, is where unbalanced pressure in the ear or clogging of the eustachian tube can cause you to hear things that aren’t really there. Another example is tinnitus which is humming, clicking, ringing, or buzzing in the ear. This can and has been misperceived as paranormal activity. There is also something called musical ear syndrome which is when someone hears music that isn’t there. This happens quite often to many people, and can be misperceived as an entity playing music on an instrument, or an old radio playing music.
While you may have heard pareidolia mentioned from time to time on paranormal television shows, I will now discuss other situations where our minds can play tricks on us and make us believe we are experiencing paranormal activity when in reality we aren’t at that time. These subjects will be handled alphabetically.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by distortions of visual perception, the body image, and the experience of time. People may see things smaller than they are, feel that their body is altering in size or experience any of the syndrome’s numerous other symptoms. Four of the primary symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome include Macropsia, Micropsia, Pelopsia, and Teleopsia. I will start off by saying that these four situations aren’t limited to Alice and Wonderland Syndrome and can be found related to other medical conditions or situations that aren’t medically induced at all and are simply circumstantial illusions. Firstly, macropsia is when your mind perceives objects larger than they really are. This could be when looking at your house, a car, another person, yourself, a pet, a light, or any other object. Coupled with anxiety or other phenomena you could easily start to perceive this as something paranormal. Secondly, the opposite of macropsia which is known as micropsia is when your mind perceives objects as being smaller than they really are. You may look at yourself in a mirror and believe that you are quite short, when that isn’t the case at all. You may perceive a large television to be small, or a big horse to be a pony. This can also cause your brain to misperceive things and could be perceived as paranormal. Thirdly there is pelopsia which is where objects are perceived closer than they really are. I have seen a few paranormal cases in my career where this situation came up. On the flip side of that there is teleopsia where objects appear further away then they really are. The side mirror of a car is a good example of what this phenomenon can appear to be like. It states on most of these mirrors that objects may be closer than they appear. Our mind has the ability to misperceive distances and this alone or coupled with anxiety, paranoia, or simple unilateral misperception can cause someone to believe they are being paranormal activity or that their situation is being caused by something paranormal.
Chronostasis is a type of temporal illusion in which the first impression following the introduction of a new event or task-demand to the brain can appear to be extended in time. In layman’s terms that means when time seems to stand still. In mild forms this can be caused by boredom, but in more moderate and severe forms this can be caused by anxiety, fear, or a medical incident. More particularly when it pertains to anxiety and fear I have heard cases where clients may claim that the chronostasis was due to a paranormal cause, meaning caused by a paranormal entity. While I doubt a spirit gains the ability to control the passage of time after the person is deceased, this phenomenon can be brought on by the fear or anxiety caused by seeing a paranormal entity.
Cryptomensia is an occurrence that describes when a forgotten memory returns without its being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a tune, a name, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration. An example would be someone had a dream when they were 16 of a paranormal experience, and somehow it pops into their mind 20 years later, and the person doesn’t remember having the dream or where the memory comes from so they are convinced that they went through a recent paranormal experience, when they haven’t.
Déjà Vu, Jamais Vu, & Presque Vu come from the french words meaning “already seen”, “never seen” and “almost seen” They are all situations typically caused by either a memory lapse, a misinterpretation of a memory, or a small “glitch” in your brain processing experiences where you temporarily mix your memories with your perception of the current situation. Déjà vu, pronounced “day-jah-voo” is when you believe you have experienced an exact series of events identically before. Jamais vu, pronounced “juh-may-voo” is when you have something that you routinely do, but out of the blue one day it feels new. Presque vu, pronounced “pah-rescue-voo” is when something is on the tip of your tongue and can’t recall the memory such as the name of someone or a place. All of these situations have been incorrectly associated with paranormal activity.
Depersonalization is a medical condition where your brain misinterprets signals from your nervous system and you feel detached from your body as if the emotions and sensations that you are feeling are not your own, as if you were a stranger in your own body. While some recreational drugs and medications are known to cause this feeling, it can also be and is typically caused by anxiety or depression. I have heard these feelings described in many situations that someone believed to be paranormal, most often as a possession, when they aren’t familiar with depersonalization. This can also be coupled with derealization.
Derealization is similar in nature to depersonalization, however it refers to things, people, and places outside of your body. Basically it feels as if nothing around you is real, as if you were in a holodeck or a holosuite on Star Trek. The causes are similar to depersonalization. You can have either one of these alone which can be very scary and nerve-racking, or you can get both of them at the same time which can be even more debilitating. If someone suffers from either or both depersonalization and/or derealization they may believe there is paranormal activity involved when there isn’t.
Hypnagogic Hallucinations occur as you’re falling asleep. On the flip side Hypnopompic Hallucinations occur as you’re waking up. When you experience hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations, you can see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there. Some examples of this could be seeing a ghost or spirit, hearing music or voices, or feel that you are being held down, touched, or choked. You quite often hear stories about people waking to seeing paranormal entities, being held down, and/or being choked. This isn’t a paranormal experience. It is a hypnopompic hallucination, but the sensations can be very strong and you may interpret it as a real paranormal experience when it isn’t.
Palinopsia is a phenomenon when you see an image repeatedly, even after looking away from it. This is also known as “after images” or “retina burn”. Examples are such as looking at yourself in a mirror and then turning your head and seeing a blurry version of yourself or a human like figure across the room, looking at a cell phone and then seeing the image when you close your eyes, or looking at the tv and then seeing a similar image in the window. You may be using a mirror, and spin around and see a form that you believe to be a paranormal entity when in reality it is an image caused by palinopsia. You may be playing a game on your cell phone and look up and see what you believe to be a blurry mist or a fog, a figure, or may perceive an object to move. Again this is most likely palinopsia. While this can be a nearly everyday occurrence for some people many others may misperceive this situation and believe it to be paranormal in nature when it isn’t.
Peripheral Drift Illusion is a phenomenon that refers to a motion illusion generated by the presentation of a sawtooth luminance grating in the visual periphery. Basically it’s an optical illusion that can occur when looking at certain patterns, wether it be something on television, on your computer or portable electronic device, in photos, etc. This illusion can play tricks on your mind and can cause you to temporarily start visually hallucinating, and in some cases those hallucinations could be misperceived as a paranormal phenomenon.
Scopaesthesia, also known as the psychic staring effect, is a theorized phenomenon in which humans detect being stared at by extrasensory means. Basically it is the feeling of being watched. There is some scientific evidence that some people may have this ability to some extent, but in general it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Often this feeling can be caused by electromagnetic radiation or anxiety.
Synesthesia is a phenomenon where you hear music, but you see shapes. Another example is when you hear a word or a name and instantly see a color. Synesthesia is a fancy name for when you experience one of your senses through the stimulation of another sense. This is not very common, but scientifically has been proven to occur. You will come across it in paranormal investigations from time to time, especially with psychically sensitive people. In most cases it isn’t actually synesthesia, but instead it is a form of pareidolia.
As you can see there are a plethora of situations where your mind can play tricks on you, and you will see these situations are often misperceived or misrepresented on paranormal television shows as paranormal activity. I am certain that this list isn’t all inclusive and there could be other situations where your mind plays tricks on you. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, I am not saying discount all activity with science, but on the flip side don’t jump to paranormal conclusions before considering the science first. It is important to provide your client with information that is as accurate as possible, and to do that a strong awareness of science is necessary, and it is important as paranormal investigators to put our need and want of spookiness aside and to find the truth for the client whether it be paranormal or not.