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Seeing Shadows, Hearing Noises, and Feeling Choked or Being Unable to Move Upon Waking Up Is Not Paranormal

Whether you are like myself, a die hard paranormal investigator that leans primarily on a wide variety of real world science subjects before considering the paranormal, a seasoned paranormal investigator who is only familiar with the commonly known science involved with a paranormal investigation, a newer paranormal investigator, a recreational ghost hunter, or a paranormal enthusiast, you most likely have heard many times about stories of people falling asleep or waking up to one of the following scenarios:

  1. Someone reports seeing shadows.
  2. Someone reports seeing human like or non human like figures.
  3. Someone reports feeling that they can not move.
  4. Someone reports feeling that they are being held down.
  5. Someone reports feeling that they are being choked.
  6. Someone reports feeling that they are having trouble breathing.
  7. Someone reports hearing unfamiliar voices or noises.
  8. Someone reports smelling unfamiliar scents.

Do I have your attention now? How often have you heard someone speak about one of the eight scenarios that I just listed? How often have you watched a paranormal television show that doesn’t typically incorporate science into their program, because they focus on the spooky for ratings purposes, represent these scenarios as paranormal in origin? Please remember that the vast majority of television shows aren’t in production to teach you the widely accepted truth about mainstream and paranormal science. The programs are designed to attract as many viewers as possible, and in general the spooky will draw many more viewers than the science that I often discuss about in my blog entries and podcasts. Unfortunately those paranormal television shows permeate quite a bit of false information and misnomers. Many people are under the impression that if it is on a television show then it must be true. Shows like the ones I have alluded to in this blog entry are often taken as scientific fact by many viewers. Why do people believe this false information that they see on television?

  1. Primarily the cause of the misinformation is what is known as the Availability Cascade. As defined on Wikipedia, this phenomenon is a self-reinforcing cycle that explains the development of certain kinds of collective beliefs. A novel idea or insight, usually one that seems to explain a complex process in a simple or straightforward manner. It gains rapid currency in the popular discourse by its very simplicity and by its apparent insightfulness. Its rising popularity triggers a chain reaction within the social network. Individuals adopt the new insight because other people within the network have adopted it, and on its face it seems plausible. Someone could have a situation at home that is benign in nature and after talking with friends and family it gets blown out of proportion and the homeowner believes that their place is haunted when there is an everyday science explanation.
  2. As I discussed in my previous blog entry titled The Mandela Effect, which is a phenomenon in which a person or a group of people have false or distorted memories, some believe that the Mandela Effect is proof of alternate realities, while others blame it on the fallibility of human memory. Someone can have a benign dream and later recall it incorrectly as something that happened upon waking up. This effect often leads to cryptomensia.
  3. 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 who 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.
  4. Spooky is fun, and if it helps fuel their enthusiasm for the paranormal people will believe something because it seems interesting to them, and disregard any science that disproves it. This rejection is known as the Semmelweis Reflex. The Semmelweis Reflex, in the paranormal field means one of a few things. It can mean that you believe that your house has paranormal activity and that you would reject any evidence that suggests otherwise no matter how convincing or factual it is. It could also mean that you believe that the SLS Camera, Ovilus, or Ghost/Spirit/Frank’s Box can actually see or hear ghosts or spirits and nothing anyone says will cause you to allow yourself to believe otherwise. In this particular instance it means that due the The Semmelweis Reflex people want to believe certain things are paranormal in nature and nothing anyone can say will make them change their mind, because it doesn’t agree with the belief or need for the situation to be paranormal.
  5. Someone isn’t interested enough in the science to take the time to research the actual science behind the statements that are made on paranormal television. Many people who are recreational ghost hunters or a hybrid of a ghost hunter and paranormal investigator are in it completely for the spooky, and don’t want science to ruin it for them. It is similar to someone who is a fan of professional wrestling who is able to suspend disbelief in order to perceive the professional wrestling production as something that isn’t somewhat scripted with predetermined results, and that the wrestlers are not characters being portrayed resulting in the belief that what you see is what you get, meaning the personalities and situations that they are viewing on television are all genuine to them at that moment.
  6. Someone may literally not be aware that what they are seeing isn’t accepted scientific opinion and simply take what they see as or hear from other sources as fact.
  7. Much of the misinformation is spread on social media. Social media isn’t designed to be an avenue for fact finding, and with most people following dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other people, pages, or groups on social media, there isn’t the time to research everything that you see on social media, and for some people if they see it often enough, or from sources that they assume to be knowledgable then they will believe this misinformation, especially if it supports their preconceived notions.

Similar to the misrepresented abilities of the SLS Camera, the Ovilus, and the Spirit/Ghost/Frank’s box, as well as many thought or health situations that I have discussed in the past as being widely perceived as paranormal when in fact they are not, today I will discuss two of the things that are more prevalent to be misinterpreted as paranormal activity due to the spread of misinformation and the Availability Cascade. We will be discussing hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations and how they are misrepresented on television and by many people in the paranormal field as being paranormal in nature, when in reality it is a medical condition that someone should speak to a licensed sleep specialist about and not a paranormal investigator and definitely not a recreational ghost hunter.

So what is a hypnogogic and a hypnopompic hallucination?

Hypnagogic Hallucinations: These are hallucinations that occur as you’re falling asleep. When you experience these hallucinations, you can see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there.

Hypnopompic Hallucinations: Hallucinations that occur as you’re waking up. When you experience these hallucinations, you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there.

You can see figures, shadows, mists, and forms of almost anything that you could imagine. You can hear groans, screams, beeping, whispering, music, voices, banging, or any other sound that you could conceive of. You could even smell anything from your favorite desert to the smell of raw sewage.

I wish that I could say that the origin of the misinterpretation of these two medical situations as being paranormal was something that occurred in more recent times due to social media or paranormal television shows, but in fact my research has taught me that these misinterpretations have dated back for centuries, and that more recent television programming, technology, and misinformed people has only accelerated the spread of the misinformation.

I am not saying that you can’t experience paranormal activity when you are waking up or falling asleep, I am saying that it is more important for a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders to rule out hypnagogic hallucinations, hypnopompic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis before you can point towards a paranormal cause.

What causes hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations? Science has shown us that when you are between the state of being awake and entering or leaving Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep it is possible for your brain to have a brief glitch where your brain partially wakes you up while your body is still partially paralyzed, the paralyzation which is purposely orchestrated by your brain while you sleep every day to keep you safe from injury. If you wake while your brain is still partially in REM sleep you can feel that you can’t move, are being held down, choked, or may have difficulty breathing. This is known medically as sleep paralysis. During this same time, due to hypnopompic or hypnogogic hallucinations, you can perceive a wide variety of sights, sounds, and smells that aren’t really there. The fusiform, which is a part of the brain, recognizes faces and can see faces where there aren’t any in inanimate objects. The term pareidolia is used to describe the situation where your brain’s attempts to make sense out of chaos or randomness. Due to the influence from your fusiform you can see figures of people whether transparent, as a shadow, or even as a full manifestation. Such every day examples of this phenomenon, also known as matrixing, include but are not remotely limited to staring at static on an old tv and seeing shapes or figures in the static, seeing figures in clouds or in ripples in water, or seeing figures in rock faces on the side of mountains. Pareidolia also comes into play with excessive electromagnetic energy and infrasound where our nervous system senses their presence and not understanding them causes us to perceive apparitions or other familiar forms, sounds, or even smells. You can begin to partially wake up out of REM sleep and believe that your dream is not a dream at all and the fear and confusion can lead to some very frightening imagery. Even if you never remember your dreams, you do dream. We all dream. If you don’t dream you aren’t reaching REM sleep, and you would have a slew of health problems because of it, even in the short term. In general anyone who says “I don’t dream” isn’t being completely truthful. They may not ever remember dreaming, but they do dream just like you and me.

For some people who have experienced these various sleep related phenomena they just report the symptoms of sleep paralysis. Other people report the sleep paralysis in tandem with pareidolia and/or the sights, sounds, and smells from hypnopompic and/or hypnagogic hallucinations. While of course it is possible to experience paranormal activity upon drifting off to sleep or when you begin to wake up, we as paranormal investigators, must look to a medical cause first before considering a paranormal cause. While the paranormal explanation is more fun, as who doesn’t like a good spooky situation, when it comes to people’s medical condition the paranormal has to take a back seat until a medical cause is ruled out by a qualified and license physician who specializes in sleep disorders. While being experienced paranormal investigators allows us to suggest that a client speaks with a licensed sleep disorder specialist, we can not in any way, shape, or form suggest that the situation isn’t medically caused and is of paranormal in origin.

I realize that the level of real world science that I consider before turning to a paranormal cause of perceived paranormal activity during an investigation can take the wind out of some people’s sails as in general people are interested in the paranormal field for the spooky and not for the science. The level of science that I use allows me to explain most perceived paranormal activity with everyday science. I am not saying that the paranormal doesn’t exist. I have seen more than my fair share of it over the years. I just choose not to believe something is paranormal when there is a real world science explanation for the activity. I have just as much fun explaining things with science as I do when I can say that in my opinion something is paranormal in nature. If I can’t explain it with science then I will consider a paranormal cause. I love the spooky just as much as you do, however I choose to complete my investigations with science as the primary avenue to ensure I don’t falsely lead a client to believe their situation is one of paranormal in nature when I can explain it with everyday science. If I can’t explain it with everyday science, and my network of scientists with PHDs can’t explain it with everyday science, then I will entertain a paranormal cause. To me finding the truth for my clients is more important to me then convincing myself something is paranormal when it isn’t because doing so could perceivably be more fun for me at the expense of my client. As I often say, follow the science, and not the spooky. We must rule out the science before considering the spooky. The truth is paramount to personal enjoyment of the spooky at the expense of our clients.

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