Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Ball Lightning Just a Shared Hallucination?

That is the claim some are making based on some new findings. The logic goes that lightning creates a magnetic field and that field is what is making people see the ball lightning. I have two main problems with this theory beyond the technical complications you can read at the source. Some of the reports of ball lighting involve physical damage done to property. You can not hallucinate real damage. Secondly, just because you be tricked into seeing something does not mean that something is not real. It would not be real in that case, but that is not the same as saying that it is never real. I can make you think you see an apple that is not really there, that does not mean all apples are fake and anyone who thinks they have seen an apple was mistaken. This may mean that not all sighting are real.

"For hundreds of years, people have reported seeing ball lightning, a weird phenomenon that resembles glowing, hovering spheres of electricity sometimes witnessed during lightning storms. But scientists have never been able to explain what causes it or even what it really is. Even though some surveys say that 1 in 150 people have seen ball lightning, photographic evidence is basically nonexistent. There are dozens of theories of how ball lightning could form, including the burning of hot silicon particles produced when a lightning strike vaporizes the ground. When people who claim they have seen ball lightning try to explain what they saw, often they are told, "You must be seeing things!"

Perhaps they are.

A pair of physicists from Austria say that the magnetic fields associated with certain types of lightning strikes are powerful enough to create hallucinations of hovering balls of light in nearby observers, and that these visions would be interpreted as ball lightning.

Alexander Kendl and Joseph Peer from the University of Innsbruck analyzed electromagnetic pulses of repetitive lightning discharges and compared them to the magnetic fields used in clinical transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a technique used by neuroscientists to explore the workings of the brain; it is also used for psychiatric treatments. Patients are subjected to a rapidly changing magnetic field that is powerful enough to induce currents in neurons in the brain. Patients will sometimes see hallucinations of luminous shapes in their visual field.

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