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Ghosts, Scents, Apparitions... ?


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#1    Lionel

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 04:58 AM

Hi everybody wavey.gif

Here is something I found on one of the websites (www.ghosts.org). I am not an expert in neuroscience or neuropathology, nevertheless it makes an interesting discussion...

Here it is...

My name is Hilli and I recently graduated from UCLA with a bachelor degree in neuroscience. I have been reading some of the stories that people have submitted to your page. Having been a scientifically-minded person all my life, I couldn't help reacting to some of the situations that the writers have described by asking myself how such things have happened. For example, some writers have described smelling strange scents when supposed apparitions were about; I am familiar with the mechanism by which the brain interprets scent--molecules diffuse into the tectorial membane in the nasal cavity and activate connections in the brain which are interpreted as scents. So in order for the writer to have experienced a scent, this neural pathway in the brain would have to be activated by something.

Certain relatively-common neural disordes are characterized by such connections becoming activated in the brain without external sensory stimuli, and are expressed in the patient in the form of images, scents, sounds, and so on. Often these sensory experiences are aided by the patient's memories--for example, a memory of a relative will influence visual stimuli, and the patient will report having seen the relative. These sensations are very real and not mere illusions--they are as real to the patient as images of objects that are in the patient's actual visual field.

I can't help wondering whether a lot of the experiences that people discuss in the stories they submit to your webpage are manifestations of such neural mechanisms. I have worked with patients, myself, who have experienced such sensory experiences as part of the symptoms of their condition. I think this information is worthwhile to mention on your website for those who are not familiar with neuroscience and neuropathology.


What do u guys think about this...

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#2    Althalus

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 08:57 AM

I think that this explanation could work a number of ways:

1.  The mentally ill patient, is ill (obviously) and starts thinking he/she is seeing members of the family, and smelling things, though not at the same time in some cases.  

2.  The haunted person is seeing and sensing all of this because the ghost is activly stimulating the right neuro-pathways in the brain, and this is how some people see ghosts, such as to os crisis apparitions, and membsrs of the family.

3.  The condition in the area, (electromagnetism, whatever) overwrites the brains control of this area, albeit temporarily, this then manifests itself as the ghost and the person sees it.

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#3    Kismit

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 10:17 AM

QUOTE
Certain relatively-common neural disordes are characterized by such connections becoming activated in the brain without external sensory stimuli, and are expressed in the patient in the form of images, scents, sounds, and so on. Often these sensory experiences are aided by the patient's memories--for example, a memory of a relative will influence visual stimuli, and the patient will report having seen the relative. These sensations are very real and not mere illusions--they are as real to the patient as images of objects that are in the patient's actual visual field.

If I've got this right , this person appears to be sugesting a disorder similar to sleep paralisis but triggered by scent memories . Everybody has scent memories like the smell of your lunch box when you opened it in third grade ( mine allways smelt like bananas ) When I experience a scent memory I associate it with a particular mental visual . Like with the lunch box I can see the seat at school I am sitting on , the trees at the back of the oval and even some other kids playing on the netball courts ?
Perhaps some crisis apparitions could be explained this way . Visions of recently deceased realtives could be triggered by familiar scents reminicent of the deceased . This then affects that part of the brain which controls our mental visuals causing us to experience the sensation of a vision .
Who knows ... it's just a theory  , nothing serious rolleyes.gif  


#4    Aslan

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 11:35 AM

Quite interesting, isn't it. However, in my opinion Hilli here is doing what most sceptics do when confronted by the 'paranormal' and that is to suggest an explanation without properly examining the evidence.

To be fair Hilli never claims that every single ghost experience is explicable in terms of neuroscience, and admittedly the neural disorders mentioned could undeniably produce 'ghostly' visions, but by that to we infer that all ghostly visions are the result of neural disorders. Surely that's like saying fire produces heat so all heat is the result of fire - which is patently ridiculous.




#5    uranium101

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 02:59 PM

good point aslan. CASE CL- er, i mean, lets think of some other explanations if we can, shall we? whistling2.gif  

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#6    PurpleStuart

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 09:18 PM

  laugh.gif

If i remember correctly a symptom of epilepsy is hallucinating smells.

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#7    Kismit

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 09:37 AM

Facinating PS ... huh.gif

Actually Aslan and I know that sometimes I can be awfully picky but I felt Hilli to be more postualting  huh.gif  . Granted it needs to be studied and tested but it is a posibility .
Of course I don't think it would explain all ghostly experiences, however it could explain some .
What I'm saying is that it would be well worth looking into at any rate  original.gif
  


#8    Aslan

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 11:24 AM

I agree, Kismit. It was just a theory she was suggesting to explain some manifestations. I thought I said as much. original.gif

And it is well worth looking into. If it turns out that all ghosts are the result of neural disorders then that's that. And to be honest I would be quite happy with that explanation. The fact that humans can conjure up full scale hauntings is just as fascinating as the possibility of the objective reality of a haunting.

OK. Maybe that's a little disengenuous, maybe not quite as fascinating, but still, in my opinion, an answer I would be reasonably happy with. It's better than claiming that everybody who experiences a ghost is either deluded or lying, at any rate.

But my point is I don't see how it possiblycan be a blanket explanation for all ghostly manifestation. How, for example, do you take a photograph of the result of someones neural disorder? How can more than one person witness someone's neural disorder? It's seems to me that what Hilli is really suggesting is that a lot of ghosts are basically personal hallucinations, which we knew anyway. The interesting part of the suggestion is the mechanism which causes those hallucinations.


#9    Aslan

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 11:31 AM

Actually, I've just thought of something else. On the subject of temporal theories for the existence of ghosts, the most interesting one I heard was courtesy of Arther C Clarke.

He suggested, somewhere or other, that ghosts could be the result of the eyes somehow operating 'in reverse' - projecting an image rather than 'taking' in an image; and ghostly noises the result of the ears acting like speakers rather than recording devices. My technologically inept similies don't do justice to the theory but I'm sure you get the idea.  


#10    PurpleStuart

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 01:39 PM

Aslan - To my mind the only way a vision created by a neural disorder(disorder is a bit strong here, maybe just a slightly different neural pattern) could be shared would be if there was some sort of a trigger - yes a smell would do or any other environmental circumstance i suppose. Say if 10% of the population had this neural pattern maybe then that would explain why some people are more 'sensitive' than others. The photos? unfortunately all fake.

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#11    Aslan

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 01:54 PM

PS - I agree that a smell could trigger a neural 'episode', and I also agree that more people than we suspect are probably susceptible to this condition, but the fact remains that it doesn't adequately explain how multiple witnesses can experience the same outlandish manifestation. To me, the suggestion that the smell of Madeira cakes, for example (remembering my Proust), could trigger the same hallucination in three people at exactly the same time, is absurd.

And I disagree that all ghost photographs are faked. I agree that the vast majority are faked, and I would even be prepared to admit that every ghost photograph taken in the last ten years is faked, but all? That's a touch dismissive is it not?


#12    PurpleStuart

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 02:33 PM

Yes it's very dismissive and i really should of added "if this is the case then" before hand.  That said i'm struggling to think of any ghost pictures that aren't fakes - at best some are thought provoking and not the proof that we'd like to see.

The madiera cake, well yes, since you put it that way i agree - you could say that often 'shared' hauntings are often witnessed by family members and there would be a case for saying that it triggered the same thing due to similiarity of brain pattern  between family members and similiar experiences - but this i feel is an unsatisfactory explaination.

More likely would be a subtle mix of suggestion, pattern matching and the human desire to explain things (or even pigeonhole things) with a little dab of peer pressure and the feeling of safety in numbers. I'm not sure if that makes any sense - i'll explain with an example.

Firstly i'm assuming that as it is a triggered neural event, then like most hallcinatory effects, what they witness would lack definition ( a shape, a shadow, a noise).
Two people witness an event that is triggered , they both see and hear 'something', possible something completely different but because it is undefined the memory of the experience could be molded by the conversation after the event as much by the event itself.
Both people know they saw something - if one says "it looked like a woman" and the second wasn't sure the chances are when reporting the event the second would take the firsts line that they saw a woman. if the second added that he heard it say his name and the first heard something but wasn't sure, he would as likely say he heard the same thing.
If what one of them said they heard/saw/felt was a common point of reference then the this effect is even stronger ("It was Great Aunt Jane!" for example)
As they both saw something both will assume they saw the same thing, which is a normal human premise we use in everyday life  

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#13    Aslan

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 03:05 PM

Broadly speaking, I agree with all that. Five members of the same family could conceivably convice themselves (and each other) that they saw the shade of Great Aunt Jane, but it's still, I feel, somewhere at the outer edge of conceivability - for example...

QUOTE
As they both saw something both will assume they saw the same thing, which is a normal human premise we use in everyday life


...does not put much faith in the objective intelligence of mature individuals.

That said, I'm at one with you in that half-seen shadows and misplaced noises are often immeadiately extrapolated into the realms of the supernatural - look at excitable kids alone in the house who all claim to have heard this and seen that - but as a blanket explanation it does seem to fall somewhat short.

To be brutally honest I don't particularly know if I believe in ghosts or not, but one of the reasons I veer towards belief is that, basically speaking, it's the simplest explanation, and the only one the covers the observable phenomenon. Not very scientific, I realise, but there's another thread around here somewhere about ghosts being caused by gas. Again, a valid theory and wone worthy of discussion, but these things seem to generate more problems than they solve.

I agree with you as regard the photographs. We're never going to see the proof we'd like on film - thought provoking is probably, as you point out, the best we're likely to get. There's not a single ghost photograph in existence that we can hold up and state categorically that this is an example of a discarnate intelligence, but that's the nature of the beast. Ghosts were never the most democratic of unexplained phenomena.


#14    PurpleStuart

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 03:47 PM

QUOTE
Ghosts were never the most democratic of unexplained phenomena.


Yeah they're cheeky buggers aren't they  laugh.gif

QUOTE
...does not put much faith in the objective intelligence of mature individuals.


True, but a good example in everyday life is witnesses to an accident - say if the police question the witnesses without them confering, they will get 5 differing accounts. If the 5 have a chance to talk to each other before being questioned, it is likely that the stories will be far more similiar. It is human nature - added to this your brain makes the implicit assumption that everyone will see things the same as you do For example as far as i know you could be seeing a different spectrum from me - what i call the colour 'orange' you call orange as well, but if i saw it through your eyes i'd see what i would recognise as green. A bit of a trite example i know but you get what i mean.

Also i can only talk about generalities here, as i expect you realise, i didn't mean there was no objectivity out there.

Ghosts? i don't know now. By that i mean ghosts as an intelligence, the essense, souls or spirits of dead people. I have witnessed things i can't explain in the past, but i must admit to becoming a bit jaded about it the more reseach i do, mainly because there is so much crap out there. I wish to believe but as skeptic i feel the need to dissmiss every other avenue first.
Ghosts for me is a bit of a blanket term - I believe that when we do finaly understand ghosts fully we will discover that there are many different causes of them and they are all distinct phenomina just as in the past everything that wasn't understood by science was lumped under the blanket of mythology or theology - Gods throw lighning, plagues are caused by angry gods, fire was a gift from the gods, eclipes are a monster eating the sun etc

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#15    Aslan

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 04:24 PM

QUOTE
i must admit to becoming a bit jaded about it the more reseach i do, mainly because there is so much crap out there. I wish to believe but as skeptic i feel the need to dissmiss every other avenue first.


It's the same with me, sadly. It's difficult to find a reasonable theory that is separated from a particular agenda that the expounder of that theory might hold. People hijack ghosts to prop up their beliefs, and as a consequence it's pretty easy to start sounding hopelessly ridiculous when ghosts enter the conversation.

I like the traffic accident example and I wholeheartedly agree with it, and I also agree that we implicitly believe that observable reality is the same for all individuals, which is at best a mild conceit.

But the fact that it is a mild conceit makes concurring stories of outrageous visual phenomena all the more baffling. What I mean is, if we agree to the neuroscientific explanation, then we have to agree that six different people on six different occasions have experienced the same neural 'short circuit' (for want of a better phrase)in the same location, and then as a result of that, been privy to exactly the same hallucinatory phenomenon - even with no knowledge that the location is 'haunted'.

You would expect sensible people to try and crowbar their experience into what they consider is consensus reality and be done with it, but plenty of stories just seem to be utterly beyond comprehension in terms of anything perceivable from the standpoint of current scientific explanation.

But as I said, people have different motives for saying different things, and I suppose the only way any thoughtful individual is going to be able to form a rounded opinion about ghosts is to actually experience a ghost for themselves. As I said, never the most democratic phenomena - unlike, for example, crop circles where anybody can go and have a look and then decide what they think.







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