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Your Turn Again

Donate In which I take a shot at trying to explain some of the weirdest stories sent in by listeners.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions, Logic & Persuasion

Skeptoid Podcast #792
August 10, 2021
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Your Turn Again

Once again it's a Skeptoid episode where we take a look at your stories, as we've been doing every so often since before the beginning of time[Citation needed]. Today's stories come from premium Skeptoid members to whom I reached out and asked for your very most mysterious life experience; perhaps something you can't explain, perhaps something too coincidental to have been possible. Perhaps even something terrifying.

Today we have stories about time moving slowly, a UFO with a singular sense of curiosity, and a ghostly presence in exactly the place you'd expect. But let's get started with an astonishing tale of the sea:

The Child of the Deep

From listener Jack:

The racing yacht Wings was in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a night delivery from Victoria BC to Seattle. Shipmate Colin and I were on watch, making about two knots in light wind off Point Wilson, when a little girl cried out "Mama!" as if she were with me at the helm. Frightened, I said nothing. Ten minutes later, Colin quietly said "Did you hear a little girl say 'Mama'?"

Must there have been a ghostly little girl out on the water that night? Well, other nocturnal sea creatures make noise too. Jack pointed out in an email that they were near an island that's a wildlife refuge for rhinoceros auklets and other birds. The auklets do indeed make a surprising variety of vocalizations, and they're only one of about 70 species out there on those waters.

However, I'd put my money on a harbor seal, the most common species of seal found there (and throughout the northern hemisphere). Unlike sea lions, harbor seals can sound nearly identical to a human. I listened to a bunch of recordings and didn't happen to come across a perfect "Mama", but this one from a baby seal isn't bad:

If shipmate Colin hadn't heard the same thing, that would have opened this up to other possibilities. One of the first things that came to my mind was hypnagogia, the thing that often gives us completely real-sounding aural hallucinations just as we're falling asleep — footsteps in the house or a door slamming being among the most common. It's even possible that this is still what did in fact happen; Jack could have told Colin what he'd heard, they talked about it, and years later it's perfectly likely that now both men remember having heard it. Always keep a limit on how much trust you put in your memories.

Crashing in a Time Warp

From listener Steve:

My question relates to the experience of time slowing down, and also of your life flashing before your eyes. I was involved in a motorcycle accident. It only took a few seconds, but it seemed to me to take minutes. I had plenty of time to observe everything that was going on, and at the same time, I suddenly thought of kids that I'd gone to school with and teachers that I'd had twenty years ago. I hadn't thought of them in years.

This is very cool, and although it's certainly unusual, it happens often enough that we do have a good sized body of research and theory to explain it. The familiar story of "having your life flash before your eyes" is called a life review, and it's related to the second experience you describe, that of have time seeming to slow down for you.

This does have empirical evidence from the animal kingdom. We do know that small animals with fast metabolic rates — think of a hummingbird — experience time faster than we do (meaning that to them, we look like we're moving in slow motion), allowing them to react faster than we can. How do we know this? One experiment showed many different species of animals a rapidly flashing light while measuring their brain activity. When the light blinks fast enough, it's suddenly perceived as a solid light — it's going too fast for their brain to detect. Big dumb slow animals, like us, process data more slowly and the light doesn't have to be blinking nearly so fast for us to perceive it as solid. Experiments like this have allowed us to confirm that yes, different animals, and even the same animals in different circumstances, actually experience time at different speeds.

The theory goes that in certain emergency situations, our brains may be able to draw upon extra processing bandwidth, perhaps borrowing that bandwidth from other functions, and allow us to do the same thing: we literally perceive time itself to slow down, giving us an advantage to react to things faster and possibly save ourselves.

This may be what gives us the time for the other half of your experience, the life review. We can scan our memories much faster, and in the few seconds of Steve's motorcycle crash, he perceived much more time, and could relive certain memories at a relaxed pace. Such life reviews are often described as intensely detailed, panoramic, and emotionally charged. There are competing hypotheses for why the brain chooses the moment of this emergency situation to throw memories at you when you should be working your way through the motorcycle crash, but one of these suggests that it's an artifact of the brain having borrowed processing bandwidth from other functions, incidentally leaving the memory from the neocortex and the amygdala dominant in your focus. Regardless, it produces a very special experience.

The Unearthly Spotlight

From listener James:

Back in my teens, sometime in the early-mid 2000s, I was delivering newspapers a few hours after the sun had set. On my route there was a road that ends at a fairly large grassy field. Something was flying over it, slowly and around 100 feet above, with blinking airplane-like lights. Most strangely though, it would periodically illuminate the ground below it as if a powerful camera flash. In hindsight it seems like it would have been a commercial drone but were those even available back then?

I'm always going to preface my thoughts on a UFO story with the fact that I wasn't there and cannot possibly know what you saw, but I can say what certain elements of your story are consistent with. First, we know memories drift quite a lot, and no matter how certain you are of the story elements, I know that in all likelihood some of them are wrong. I also know that we cannot reliably judge the distance or altitude of a light in the sky at night, no matter how evident that seemed to you — trained observers get proven to be dramatically wrong about this all the time, because there's simply no geometrically possible way to judge it without triangulation.

So when you tell me you saw an aircraft flying over a neighborhood at night periodically shining a light at the ground, well, for my money, that was a police helicopter, responding to something or looking for someone. I know you've got details in your memory that contradict that, but in my experience, they are the kind of details that are the least reliable. So, the most honest skeptical response to this is, cool story, but not something that gets me excited without better evidence.

The Phantom in the Temple

From listener Cary:

I want to quickly tell you about an experience I once had in a Mormon Temple. I was participating in a sealing ceremony where I and my wife were performing marriages by proxy for deceased relatives of other Mormon families. As I sat in the sealing room, pondering the people for whom we were acting in proxy, I became very sensitive to a belief that these people were in the room with us, watching from beyond the grave. My hair stood on end and a tingling sensation overcame my entire body. I began searching the space in the room, expecting them to appear to me at any time. It wasn't frightening, and I was hoping to actually see them, but didn't.

Everyone has had the feeling of being watched, or the feeling that there's a presence in the room, but there are also plenty of cases where the feeling was much more concrete. There isn't a whole lot of research on this, but at least one study may have found at least a partial explanation.

The work began from the observation that people with schizophrenia and some with certain specific brain injuries more frequently experience what they called a "feeling of presence", with the spectral person having a specific defined location in the room, often behind the person or off to one side, but never there when they turn to look. It was found that such people can erroneously misperceive the source, identity, and location of their own body's senses, which they interpreted as a rock-solid feeling of another person in that location.

The researchers were able to induce this same feeling of presence in healthy subjects through the use of a robotic mechanism that would mimic their own hand movements, making it feel like they were reaching forward and poking themselves in the back; and then by introducing both temporal and spatial variances in the touches that fooled the subjects' senses into perceiving an external copy of themselves.

Although we don't have much to tell us what circumstances might trigger this in real world conditions, the most dramatic of the reported cases frequently come from people like mountain climbers or solo sailors who are alone under extreme conditions. It's possible that the emotional impact of the ceremony in which you were participating could have had the same effect — concentrating on people who are isolated beyond the grave, for example — but that's just a speculation.

So that's all of our stories for today. But we do have some more, so please tune in next week for another group, when it's your turn yet again.


By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.

 

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Your Turn Again." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 10 Aug 2021. Web. 28 Nov 2021. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4792>

 

References & Further Reading

Blanke, O., Pozeg, P., Hara, M., Heydrich, L., Serino, A., Yamamoto, A., Higuchi, T., Salomon, R., Seeck, M., Landis, T., Arzy, S., Herbelin, B., Bleuler, H., Rognini, G. "Neurological and Robot-Controlled Induction of an Apparition." Current Biology. 17 Nov. 2014, Volume 24, Issue 22: 2681-2686.

Editors. "Rhinoceros Auklet Sounds." All About Birds. Cornell University, 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 Aug. 2021. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Rhinoceros_Auklet/sounds>

Huang, M., Wang, R., Wang, H. "Effect of Life Review on Quality of Life in Terminal Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." Journal of Nursing Research. 1 Apr. 2020, Volume 28, Number 2: PMID: 31246646.

Loftus, Elizabeth F. "Creating False Memories." Scientific American. Scientific American, 1 Sep. 1997. Web. 21 Dec. 2014. <http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/sciam.htm >

Ravignani, A., Kello, C., De Reus, K., Kotz, S., Dalla Bella, S., Méndez-Aróstegui, M., Rapado-Tamarit, B., Rubio-Garcia, A., De Boer, B. "Ontogeny of vocal rhythms in harbor seal pups: an exploratory study." Current Zoology. 7 Jul. 2018, Volume 65, Issue 1: 107-120.

Reas, E. "Small Animals Live in a Slow-Motion World." Scientific American MIND. Springer Nature America Inc., 1 Jul. 2014. Web. 3 Aug. 2021. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/small-animals-live-in-a-slow-motion-world/>

 

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