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Looking for a physics/biology explanation for an unusual experience

  1. Nov 7, 2011 #1
    About 25 years ago I had a very unusual experience which I've never been able to explain.

    I was in a restaurant with my Mum one day, she was chatting, I was listening. Suddenly I see a wave come from her head going across the room, it was a sine wave. Interesting hallucination I thought to myself. I followed it across the room for about 30 feet when it reached where people were queueing up to pay for their food. As it reached the guy at the head of the queue, who had just paid, it disappeared and as it disappeared he dropped his whole tray of food on the floor, he stood there in complete shock and obviously didn't have a clue why it had happened.

    I have never experienced anything even remotely similar since then.

    Now of course it could have been a completely random event with no connection to the wave I had seen. But if it wasn't is there any likely explanation for what happened?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2011 #2
    Only that the hallucination actually included the guy dropping his plate, etc. You've been assuming the hallucination ended when the "sine wave" went away, whereas you may have continued to hallucinate everything for a bit after that.
  4. Nov 8, 2011 #3


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    Internet claims of fantastical-magical experiences do not lend themselves to "debunking" very well. How can verify anything about your experience, other than what an anonymous name speaking in aerial font can tell us?

    Having lots of experience with the "insert-X-kinesis" kids on the internet (some of you with better things to do may not have much experience with these people, be thankful for that), its my hypothesis that most of the people seeking "explanation" for fantastical, magical or supernatural claims on the internet are actually seeking attention. If you want attention, rest assured, this is not the way to get it. Get off the computer, join some extracurricular activities and experience some real life, social interactions.

    Ryan's quote applies here as well as the other topic;

  5. Nov 8, 2011 #4


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    Nelson, we look for natural explanations before we look for supernatural ones.

    Jay Ingram's book Theatre of the Mind is an absolutely fascinating trip into just how susceptible the mind is to tricks and hacks and just how much it makes up. It's a lot. In some circumstances, it is estimated that as much as 95% of what we think we see is actually invented by our minds to fillin the gaping holes betwen what we really do see. There are some tests in the book that make this plain.


    I highly recommend the book.

    One of the things that could have happened is that your perception was distorted. It is possible that, while you were looking at your mom, someone across the room dropped a tray, and in the time it took for your brain to process the noise, it formed a visual connection.

    The brain takes hundreds of milliseconds to react consciously to a stimulation. That is enough time for your brain to make a switcheroo of cause and effect.

    I've experienced a very similar effect when on the verge of sleep. My eyes were closed, but I dreamed of a lamp falling over. Then I heard the crash. I woke up to find the lamp actually crashed. What happened was that, I did not see the lamp fall over, I heard it first, then my brain invented a visual effect to explain the noise, and presented them to my conscious mind in the correct order - visual then audio.

    No, I'm not suggesting you were half asleep, but you may well have been in an altered conscious state. As your eyes scanned across the room you might well have seen a trail of lights.

    You cannot trust that your memory of what happened is accurate. That's the thing about our minds. They make a lot of stuff up. A Lot.

    Have you ever seen the selective attention video?

    Test your attention.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  6. Nov 8, 2011 #5
    Yeah, we haven't heard a peep out of the OP after my post. There's no telling what he thinks.
  7. Nov 9, 2011 #6
    Frustrating, this site logs you out very fast, just wrote a long reply and lost it when posting, and unlike other sites where this happens you can't go back to the page you did the reply in, so I'll keep this brief.

    Zoobyshoe, that is possible, although it would mean I also hallucinated everybodys reaction when the tray dropped, and the clean up by staff afterwards, which seems to be pushing it a bit.

    Bobze I'm 59 years old, so time is rather of the essence for me, and if I wanted to troll or get attention I could think of a lot more exciting and fun ways to do that than visit here with my post that I posted.
    Also if I was looking for a new age/spiritual type explanation for what I experienced I would hardly come here for that would I ;)

    Why I came here now was to see if there had been any research lines in the 25 year gap that could explain the wave function of the experience. But on reading up since my post I've found that the electro magnetic field around the human body is tiny, so could hardly explain the energy required to get someone to drop a tray. So I started checking up on quantum stuff, again to see if any new research might explain that, and think based upon what I've seen, that I can rule that out too.
    Now obviously a couple of new age mates suggested some kind of "explanation" for it, but I don't think they were completely comfortable with my experience because it seemed so random/capricious, rather than having any kind of spiritual meaning. If anything my experience would put me off believing that, exactly because of the random nature of the event, what "meaning" could be implied by my experience. The guy dropping the tray was bemused, my mum had no idea what I experienced, and there was nothing about the experience of a spiritual nature for me.

    So it looks like daveC's response is the route to follow, specially liking the retroactive reconstruction aspect, so thanks for that.

    Would say though that anyone needing a cheap laugh should check out some of the new age quantum consciousness sites, they are hilarious, mainly because even I can see the faulty logic there quite easily, and in one Deepak Chopra video, duplicitous too, where he says he's only using it as an anology one minute, then a couple of minutes later says Quantum Consciousness is a fact, and people wonder why religion gets a bad name, hilarious. What did surprize me slightly though, was the recent quantum biology stuff re photosynthesis etc, and that some serious scientists were looking into the possibility of quantum consciousness, eg hameroff/penrose
  8. Nov 9, 2011 #7
    Yes, after I read it I think Dave's explanation is better than mine.
  9. Nov 9, 2011 #8
    After many similar experiences I now always copy my post before clicking "Preview Post" or "Submit Reply".
  10. Nov 9, 2011 #9
    It must be an illusion. Physics never supports such illusions
  11. Nov 9, 2011 #10


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    Your willing acceptance of this possibility lends credence to your story.

    Retroactive reconstruction has the pitfall of being susceptible to "reconstruction aids" as time passes. These are little tidbits of information that you associate with an event to help you remember it, sometimes in the form of a mental trick, or sometimes in the form of emphasis gone awry.

    Sometimes to remember an event we put in a placeholder or we make it a story about ourselves, when it was really a retelling of a story from someone else. Sometimes we exaggerate a point to emphasize it, only to retell the story later insisting that the exaggeration was factual. Or, in this case, you might have a mental trick... in the original story perhaps your vision was: "it was almost like she projected a beam at him that caused him to drop the tray." Which be came "she projected a beam at him which made him drop the tray." After some time and a few retellings, the story is reinforced, and detail grows.

    A classic example is a story where my friend and I differ on the recounting of it:

    He was visiting me in college for an overnight stay, and we got carried away playing video games that night. I went to the window to look out onto realize it was daytime again! I remember saying: "Dude, want to see something crazy?" and pulling back the curtain.

    The story is incredibly vivid for me. The window was next to my desk and I used to store empty Mountain Dew cans on the sill (as an engineer, my other roommates used it as a metric to see how hard I had been working when returning home after class).

    When my friend recounts the story, he's the one who pulls back the curtain revealing the daytime to me.

    This story only took place 4 or 5 years ago. I know for a fact that I was the one who revealed the daytime for the punchline, because I went on to recycle all of the cans on the sill. In my friend's retelling, there are no such details (instead, in his version, he made a joke about drinking too much or something). However, I respect my friend VERY highly and trust his judgement almost implicitly. I've never known him to lie to me, and I believe he honestly thinks he was responsible for the voila moment.

    Fortunately, we are both smart enough to enjoy this type of cognitive dissonance. I know he's wrong, and he knows I'm wrong. (In reality, I'm right, though.)​
  12. Nov 9, 2011 #11
    People often post here about having seen a UFO or ghost. They rule out hallucination with the claim all their friends saw it too. I always suspect that if we could actually interview the friends it would turn out, in many cases, they remember the whole incident differently.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2011
  13. Nov 9, 2011 #12


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    Or that they didn't find it nearly as compelling. My neighbors saw a "UFO" and they know I have a particularly skeptic-slant, so one came over to tell me the story. I listened and asked a few questions (despite my manner on this site, I understand that the average person may not have access to the same knowledge that we PFers have). I suggested a few alternatives, but in true believer fashion all I get is "it couldn't be that because..." and "no, that doesn't make sense." Finally I get "well, so-and-so saw it, too... I'm not crazy." (They have little patio parties and hang out.)

    So, I called over the neighbor's wife, and another neighbor reported to have seen it.

    I suggest a meteorite and INSTANTLY the wife says "oooh, I've never seen one, that would be so cool." And the other neighbor says: "hey, I said that last night!" Not everyone was as convinced as the first neighbor.
  14. Nov 9, 2011 #13
    I had the same experience when I checked up, informally, on a couple claims. The other witnesses didn't exactly back the claimant up. It was my first inkling that people who claim "all my friends saw it too" may be surprised to find their friends wouldn't interpret the incident the same way they did.
  15. Dec 5, 2011 #14
    Since this was 25 years ago, your memory might have been altered of this event. My guess, is something tends to happen to me, happened to you. This was a lucid dream, which later on you just thought was a real memory. This would explain why "real world" objects reacted to the sine wave, because they were part of the same "reality". In 25 years a memory might not be the same, and this was possibly a confusion between a realistic dream, and reality.
  16. Dec 8, 2011 #15


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    Gaming all night long? You rock, man. :cool:
  17. Jan 9, 2012 #16
    Not everything we see is "real".
    And we don't see everything that is "real" either.

    Just the persistence of vision and our natural tendency to try to impose visual patterns on things makes it very easy for us to construct ghosts and illusions all by ourselves.

    The best thing to do when confronted with unusual phenomenon is to get a second (or more) people to observe it. try to write down what you see before asking them. Point and ask if they see anything. Do not ask them if they see something specific. If they do see something, ask them to describe it. Do not describe what you see to them until after they provide a description. If their description then matches yours, then you have a common experience and greater validity that whatever you see actually exists.
  18. Mar 4, 2012 #17
    The first thing that occurred to me when I read this was a brief but hilariously timed instance of sudden-onset brief synesthesia. Perhaps a smell or a noise triggered an optical representation in the form of a traveling sine wave. And if we consider DaveC's hypothesis of temporal sequence reordering, perhaps the sound of the guy dropping his tray triggered the wave. Or it's completely possible that even in that very instance the wave was never actually perceived, but was an artifact of memory, that creates a memory of seeing that sine wave while you never actually did. Also, if you partake of any psychedelic substances, particularly LSD, it can trigger visions of wave forms and geometric patterns.
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