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Medicine Science

Visual Hallucinations Are a Normal Grief Reaction 550

Posted by kdawson
from the who-goes-there dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Vaughn Bell has written an interesting essay at Scientific American about grief hallucinations. This phenomenon is a normal reaction to bereavement that is rarely discussed, although researchers now know that hallucinations are more likely during times of stress. Mourning seems to be a time when hallucinations are particularly common, to the point where feeling the presence of the deceased is the norm rather than the exception. A study by Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved's passing. It's not unusual for people who have lost a partner to clearly see or hear the person about the house, and sometimes even converse with them at length. 'Despite the fact that hallucinations are one of the most common reactions to loss, they have barely been investigated and we know little more about them. Like sorrow itself, we seem a little uncomfortable with it, unwilling to broach the subject,' writes Bell. 'We often fall back on the cultural catch all of the "ghost" while the reality is, in many ways, more profound.' "
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Visual Hallucinations Are a Normal Grief Reaction

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  • by Mister Transistor (259842) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:22AM (#25974071) Journal

    For several weeks after a beloved cat of mine died, I swear I saw him out of the corner of my eye a few times! Most of the "hallucinations" were brief glimpses, but one I particularly remember I turned a corner and swear I saw him sitting there. I even said involuntarily "Hi, Prince..." then realized after a few seconds that nothing was there. Pretty creepy, huh? After about a month or so I stopped "seeing" him around. So long, my friend.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:28AM (#25974117)

    One thing that the death of someone I loved has proved to me is that there are no ghosts, and certainly no afterlife.

    How exactly did someone's death prove there is no afterlife? I can understand not believing in an afterlife, but how did someone you love's dying prove it?

  • by pdh11 (227974) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:37AM (#25974189) Homepage

    I turned a corner and swear I saw him sitting there. I even said involuntarily "Hi, Prince..."

    Stories like this make me wonder whether we actually hallucinate the presence of cats, maybe even people, all the time, and it's only when it happens after the cat has passed away that we think twice about such events and realise that they must have been hallucinations...

    Peter

  • Jesus. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:40AM (#25974207)

    I'm not trying to start a flamewar (seriously), but I wonder if this is what happened when Jesus' disciples reportedly met with him after his death.

    Although that would require multiple people to have similar hallucinations at the same time, since some of the accounts describe Jesus meeting with groups of disciples after his death.

  • by theilliterate (1381151) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:45AM (#25974251)
    That in 80% of cases some remnant, some energy of that person was left behind? Just because it happens frequently doesn't mean it is *not* supernatural in nature.

    Do they have MRIs of people while they are experiencing a hallucination like this? Something to show the brain is dreaming, and not simply observing?

    By the same token, I suppose we can't really prove that there is an observation going on. I've had family members relate to me that they remember a sequence of events, in a very specific way. I remember the same events differently. Either we are people from different dimensions who have slipped between worlds to share this one, or we have altered our own memories to suit what we would have liked to happen. One of these is more consistent with current science. It doesn't guarantee that the other option won't be found to be possible at some point.
  • Love? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vorpal22 (114901) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:48AM (#25974275) Homepage Journal

    One thing I never understand about certain religions and spiritual beliefs is this importance that's placed on love. Sure, love is a powerful force that we generally consider "good", but love can be quite dark and twisted at times, and certainly hate can easily be just as powerful in terms of what one will accomplish in the name of it, and heck, it can definitely be very rewarding, too.

    Why does love get touted around on a pedestal like it's some miracle thing? Seems a little silly to me. Any emotion can be beneficial when used in the appropriate context and detrimental when it isn't. Love is no different, and not particularly worth special praise.

  • by gunnk (463227) <gunnk@@@mail...fpg...unc...edu> on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:58AM (#25974337) Homepage
    I lost a much-loved dog (Indy -- "we named the dog Indiana") last fall.

    I felt his presence for quite some time though I never saw him.

    Then again, someone that barely knew him DID see him. She came around a corner and saw him sitting there for a couple of seconds. Real surprise for her!

    I'm not making any claims here -- extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence -- but she certainly had no mental model to follow nor strong attachment that would lead you to expect her to hallucinate his presence.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:11AM (#25974493)

    In the same way a human brain seems wired to see recognizable patterns in random material, I think a part of us is also hard-wired to seek familiarity and anticipate familiar sights by "seeing" them before they actually appear. That's why it's so shocking (or even traumatizing) when you see the same sight your whole life, only to have it disappear or radically change one day. I remember one story from a New Yorker after 9-11 who said he occasionally still spotted the towers out of the corner of his eye because he was so used to them being there.

    Most humans find comfort in the familiar. And when it's not there, it can be very hard for us to accept--and take even more time for the brain to adjust to that absence.

  • by theilliterate (1381151) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:11AM (#25974495)
    I remember when I was a kid, I shared a bedroom with my older brother.

    I would hear him whispering in his sleep, it would go on for hours.

    Then he went away on a school trip and I could still hear the whispering.
  • Re:Morning (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:17AM (#25974571)
    A lot of early morning hallucinations probably also come when a person is still asleep, but doesn't realize it. I saw a documentary on sleep research not long ago where they showed that during certain phases of a sleep cycle, a person could actually be asleep and still think they're awake. People in these phases would often interpret lingering sleep paralysis as some weight on their chest, not realizing it was just the remnants of them dreaming.
  • Re:Eh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jamu (852752) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:20AM (#25974619)
    They've seen their partner almost everyday for several years, and when they suddenly disappear, they occasionally see them for a bit afterwards. The adaptability of the human brain is less than perfect.
  • by Xelios (822510) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:24AM (#25974679)
    They've barely been investigated because one of the best avenues for investigating them, hallucinogenic drugs, has been actively suppressed. Take the tryptamines for example. Here we have a class of chemicals that are, for the most part, physically harmless, that can be administered in a controlled setting and are all but guaranteed to produce hallucinations. Hell one of them, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is even produced naturally in the human brain. This is the most powerful hallucinogen known to exist, yet we know almost nothing about it or what it's doing there, because (ironically) it's a Schedule I drug. Technically, we're all guilty of possession of a controlled substance.

    Whether these things should be legalized is another topic, but at least make it easier for researchers to do legitimate science with them. Just tell me where to sign up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:30AM (#25974749)

    Depends on the person I guess. Under sensory deprivation I do not hallucinate. In fact it's the only time I get peace from all the random shit flowing through my body in the normal world (ain't autism great? pffft). My brain finally relaxes and there is just nothing. It's great.

  • not just death (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:45AM (#25974915) Homepage

    I observed this phenomenon with grief over a girlfriend. We broke up after four years together. Afterward, I kept seeing her out of the corner of my eye, and my heart would skip a beat. It was always someone else, though.

    Another unusual visual phenomenon: when the grief was particularly overwhelming, I started seeing in black-and-white, or at least with muted perception of color.

    Since then I have avoided this problem by always breaking up with a girl as soon as things start getting serious. Hey, it works.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yakmans_dad (1144003) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:48AM (#25974963)
    My father was in the hospital when my grandmother (his mother) came by to see how he was recovering. Pretty well, he said. They talked of this and that and finally my father had to mention that though he was pleased that Grandma had stopped by he was puzzled because she'd died the month before.

    A couple of years later, after Dad died, he came by to see me and would have said something except that his mouth had been sewn shut.
  • Ghost stories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:56AM (#25975061) Homepage Journal

    The mind is a wierd thing to live in. I've "seen a ghost" twice in my life. Both were wierd. Neither was explicable.

    The first time my oldest was an infant and my youngest wasn't born. We lived in a funny shaped house by a railroad track (we were dirt poor). The (now ex) wife and I had just gone to bed, and both of us saw a thin, very pale woman with long black hair and wearing what looked like a "dressing gown"' from ages past walking past the bedroom door! We thought there was an intruder. We both jumped up, I looking for the intruder and she checking to make sure the baby was alright.

    It was extremely strange that we would both have the same hallucination at the same time. We finally decided that we'd seen the ghost of a woman who'd been struck by a train.

    The second time I saw a ghost I came to the conclusion that seeing ghosts isn't a hallucination or sight of a disembodied spirit but a wrinkle in the spacetime continuum. The girls were visiting the wife's family in Missouri and I had the house to myself. I was sitting on the toilet, and since I was alone I didn't bother shutting the bathroom door.

    I looked up just as a woman wearing contemporary-looking clothing walked up to the door, startled out of her wits as if she'd seen a ghost, as was I, -- and then she vanished.

    There is a lot about the physical world that we not only have never investigated, but never expected or suspected.

  • Expectation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raijinsetsu (1148625) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:01AM (#25975149)
    I'm no psychologist, but I had a thought as to the cause of this.
    When you know someone for a time, you build a little model of them within yourself. It contains every aspect of the person that you have experienced: your expectations of them, the way they sound, the way the act, and, in some cases, the way they smell. You begin to guess what their answer to a particular question might be, or where they will be on Sunday mornings. You could hold whole conversations with this model and expect that the real person would react the same way (this isn't always true, but you expect it is).
    Just because the person has past, or left, does not mean that this model has ceased operating. So, for instance, if every Saturday Jane could be found sitting in her rocker in the corner, and she had done this for as long as you could remember, then I wouldn't be surprised that you'd see her there, even if she wasn't. Or, if on Tuesday's, John could be found playing out a game of checkers in the other room, you may hear the pieces hitting the board.
    Expectation can have a huge impact on reality.
  • Re:Ghosts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infamo[ ]net ['us.' in gap]> on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:18AM (#25975379) Homepage

    by objective measures their systems leave a lot to be desired and often don't justify the TCO, or the inevitable lock in to the providers total solution suite.

    While vendor lock-in is a common feature in products from established Western vendors, folks in the far East have been building their own custom solutions from a variety [blogspot.com] of [yinyangnature.com] providers [religionsofman.com] for a long while now. Some newer, upstart Western vendors [wikipedia.org] also eschew lock-in.

    Of course, at some point in deciding whether the TCO is justified or not we need to ask just what is religion, anyway [infamous.net]?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:34AM (#25975561)

    I am a psychologist, and it makes sense to me, too. The brain does a lot of top-down processing. One consequence of this is that we experience a lot of fully-formed perceptions based on minimal sensory input that has just a few cues leading us to expect that perception. Have you ever been driving late at night and seen a person or deer by the side of the road that turned out to be a bush or mailbox? But for a split second, you could really see a person or deer...a fully formed perception. We impose anticipated perceptual patterns onto ambiguous sensory data all the time. And we're really good at it. It doesn't surprise me that we get "false positives" like seeing/hearing/sensing a loved one shortly after they've stopped being a part of daily experience.

  • by Seakip18 (1106315) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:35AM (#25975583) Journal

    Exactly. My dad passed away a little over three weeks ago and my mom swears up and down she has seen him. My dad had dialysis in a chair right across from their bed, so my mom naturally started seeing him in or around that chair. Though, to be fair, she's under a lot of stress and her potassium levels were pretty low for 2 weeks.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rdnetto (955205) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @11:38AM (#25975599)

    Who is to say that living on in your memories is not a form of ghostliness? Its an unorthodox view, but I believe this is what the summary is getting at.

  • by penguin_dance (536599) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @12:05PM (#25975967)

    I really don't agree with this all being just a hallucination. I have had a close connection to several pets. Some that lived with me and some that no longer did. The first time I experienced this phenomenon, I was on vacation with the furry family kenneled and I had a dream that had a lot of dogs in it. It was a pleasant dream, not bad at all, but when I awoke, I had this overwhelming need to call the kennel and check on my pack. It turns out my elder dog had passed away that morning and they had just gotten off the phone with my parents.

    Okay, so let's say that's a fluke and that she was old, so it wasn't unexpected that she passed. A few years later, I had a dream about a cat I'd had, but had to give away. It was the only dream I'd ever had of her before or since. We were back at our old home, but I was inside and looking out the window I saw her outside and said, "What are you doing out there?" before I woke up. I later found that she had passed away that same month.

    But the most surreal was a couple of years back shortly after my cat, Boca, passed away. I was napping in the lounger. The TV was on but it was like it was far away. Boca jumped up on me--she was small and liked to sit high up near my shoulder or neck. She was purring away. I reached up to pet her and I could feel her fur and even her ribs! She felt a little skinny, but was happy. Then she jumped down and I never had the dream again. Later, when I told my spouse I found he had also had a dream about Boca recently. The next words out of his mouth were, "She seemed a little skinny."

    There's just a lot of things we can't explain and some we never will. Who knows if there is a residual energy left behind when a person or pet dies. Maybe the afterlife has nothing to do with sky and clouds, but simply a different dimension. And maybe...just maybe, our loved ones just want to visit with us one more time and make sure we're okay and let us know they are too.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @12:48PM (#25976589) Journal
    AFAIK so far there's no scientific theory to explain "self awareness"/"consciousness", and I suspect it's the very first observation all scientists make - observation of self. Why should there be such a phenomenon in the first place?

    One of my current theories of consciousness is it's the result of the mind recursively simulating/predicting itself as part of simulating/predicting the universe, and peeking into the future of what it is going to think next. It's very useful for a creature to predict the world around it, including other creatures, and it often has to predict itself.

    But even if that is the case why should it cause the phenomemon we (I presume it's "we" and not just me :) ) observe? Is it because we're all somehow "cheating" and peeking into the actual future very slightly?
  • Re:Ghosts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @12:49PM (#25976603) Homepage

    The fallacy comes in when people start touting said non-existence as a proven fact when it's only based on our current understanding of science. Like this article itself - dismissing it all as hallucinations. Current science can't explain it, so it must be a hallucination.

    But what if it's not?

  • This happened to me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Matt Apple (766065) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @12:50PM (#25976629)
    For months after my mom died I used to "see" her out of the corner of my eye in public places. Then I would turn to look and it would just be someone that resembled her (same body type, or hair or shape of the face). I just assumed that it was due to the fact that she was on my mind. Later I started to think about the brain's pattern recognition system. The one that lets us see faces in electrical outlets and the grills of cars. It allows us to get a pretty good sense of something without complete information. And for all of my life whenever I saw someone from a distance, or in poor light or out of the corner of my eye that vaguely resembled my mother it probably was my mother. That shortcut to recognition usually serves us well. Its just that it doesn't turn off instantly when someone dies. Its that flash of pain you get when you remember "oh yeah she's gone" that makes these misidentifications memorable. That being said, when you start having conversations with dead loved ones outside of a dream its time to call in a professional.
  • by MickLinux (579158) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:18PM (#25977019) Journal

    Aaah... what do they teach in schools these days?

    It sounds like both you, and the poster somewhere above who had a problem with religous marketing departments, have made up your mind about the possibility of evidence, a priori.

    So therefore, there is no need to consider any evidence at all.

    That sounds quite similar to the "science" that Asimov introduced in his Foundation series, in which scientists of the dying Empire has concluded "the scientific method involves looking at historical records, and deciding for yourself what is true."

    Asimov's subtle point was that that ain't science. Might I point out that neither is your scientific method.

    The scientific method is observation, followed by experimentation, followed by theory to explain the experimentation and make as-yet unobserved predictions, followed by the repeatable experiment to test the theory. It has a partial basis in philosophy, but does not expand as wide as philosophy, and therefore will not be able to conclude certain truths, though they are truths.

    So science is very useful within its limited range. Of course, for most human purposes in our very limited current society, science is useful. But philosphy is less useful over a much wider range.

    Oh, and by the way, scientifical is not a word. It's intellectualizationabilizing-speak. Such usage is a way of pointing out that your opinions are much smarter than they are. Or, if you will, that you have no humility.

    So... let me suggest, if you want to approach truth, try a little of that humility. Realize that you don't have all the answers, that you aren't the be-all end-all of anything, and that others -- including religions -- do sometimes have answers that are righter than yours.

    Then, as part of that humility, set yourself not to deny truth when it confronts you. In other words, don't discount evidence just because it doesn't fit your preferred world view. Then be willing to learn.

    Finally, let me say that I have found Christianity to be right on, including having experiences in things that scientifical people would say don't happen -- even when it happened in front of them. But I have also found that certain experiences of sin blind one to truth. That is, innocence is more humble, and more open to truth, than experience. Those who eat the apple think their eyes are opened. But that very day, their eyes become closed.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cyphercell (843398) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:41PM (#25977359) Homepage Journal

    This happened to me when my best friend died. I was 18 and I had been good friends with him since I was 5. At the time I understood the situation in several ways. First I knew very well what lucid dreaming was and how profoundly real dreams can seem (it's a matter of attaining awareness/consciousness while you are dreaming). Second I had understood this situation to be a potential root for the near ubiquitous belief in zombies/ghosts/vampires, due to an armchair study of demonology. None of this information made my dream any less soothing.

    P.S. Lucid dreaming is awesome. At one point I could do homework in my dreams, limited access to textbooks of course, but anything you can remember you can study in your sleep.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CroDragn (866826) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:49PM (#25977473)
    You can lucid dream about studying, but it's still a dream (and somewhat of a waste of lucidity in my opinion). Once you actually try to write down what you learned, you'll discover that either you're wrong, the details were passed over, or you're wrong AND the details were passed over. Had this happen to me once or twice; turns out my subconscious mind can't do calculus. It's a pity.
  • Re:What if.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @01:56PM (#25977565)

    A psychiatrist once told me that loss/grief is the same no matter how the person left your life. It doesn't matter if they died or just stopped talking to you, the emotion is the same.

    Every girl who looked remotely like an important friend I saw for 2 years, seemed to be her for the first second. I wonder if this is related.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cynic (9633) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:23PM (#25977879) Homepage

    Marvin Minsky would seem to second your theory about prediction, so that our perception of what is "now" is actually based on "old" (on the milliseconds scale) data, and most of the time syncs up fairly well with what is eventually perceived in that moment.

    I'd recommend his book "The Emotion Machine" for a much more in-depth look at this topic.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AugstWest (79042) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:43PM (#25978117)

    Seriously, this statement:

    'We often fall back on the cultural catch all of the "ghost" while the reality is, in many ways, more profound.' "

    What could be more profound than the spirit of the deceased lingering?

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:46PM (#25978157)
    Speaking of prediction, there have been a fair number of times that I've woken up just before my alarm clock goes off as in within a few seconds AND the thing is I KNOW that it's about to go off, so I wake up, disable the alarm, and then soon after I hear the annoying click of the hour hand getting to the alarm hand.

    My alarm clock is not a digital one, and I'm not the sort who sets it to exactly the same time every day, or bothers to wake up the same time every day.

    I typically use the alarm clock to set a "max reasonable" time - e.g. should really wake up by this time tomorrow.

    Maybe it's coincidence, but the thing is - for those moments I wake up knowing the alarm is about to go off even without looking at the clock (I keep it inside my drawer out of sight, and I'm asleep), it really is within a few seconds of sounding.

    Perhaps my subconscious is very good at estimating when the alarm will sound, just from looking at the hands when I'm setting the alarm, and if someone else sets it and doesn't show it to me, I wouldn't be able to do it.
  • Re:And yet.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AugstWest (79042) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:49PM (#25978195)

    My Paternal grandfather had died, and my grandmother was still kicking around 5 or 6 years later. I was dreaming one night that I was hanging out in the woods behind their house, when my grandfather came walking out of the woods and said to me, "It's time to call your grandmother."

    Normal dream fare, but for some reason it woke me up and I stored that I should call her. So, the next day, I woke up, went about my day, and called my grandmother and had a nice conversattion with her, which was fortunate because she died that night.

    I still have that walking stick in my office.

    Being certain that such things are impossible is just as stupid as believing in them, imho. We are just a bunch of monkeys. There's far stuff more going on that we don't understand than there is stuff we've scratched the surface of.

    You can smile and nod at me and think I'm a looney toon for thinking that the deceased may linger. I would be just as much in the right to smile and nod at you for thinking otherwise.

    Neither of us knows.

  • Hallucinations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tuidjy (321055) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:56PM (#25978309)

    I've had one hallucination, without any grief or drugs. I think stress is enough.

    I was kayaking nears rocks, surfing very high waves, lost my kayak, and spent 15 minutes in the surf, hitting rocks multiple times. I got out, retrieved my kayak, launched, and paddled to a place where I could relax... then I had a pretty long and elaborate hallucination.

    It involved three-four deities (Tangra, Athena, Poseidon and the Lady) and the appropriate sacrifices I should perform for my pretty damn miraculous survival. I'm an atheist, and I cannot help but think that this is how religions get started.

  • Not just the dead (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tillerman35 (763054) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @02:57PM (#25978323)
    The grieved-for party doesn't even have to be dead for this to occur. I distinctly remember waking up one morning after breaking up with a long-term (4yrs) girlfriend and hearing her cooking breakfast, feeling the warm depression in the bed where she had slept, and "remembering" her climbing over me to go to the kitchen. The illusion was so vivid that I actually smelled bacon cooking and called out to ask her when her flight had got in (she had been living in another country at the time of the break up). When I went into the kitchen and saw nobody there, the sounds and smells of cooking immediately stopped, and I was hit with the most profound sense of grief I had ever experienced. I actually became suddenly convinced that she had passed away and somehow come to say "goodbye."

    And get this- when I called her up and explained that I didn't want to bother her but I had had a very weird experience and just wanted to make sure she was OK, she told me that she had had a very similar experience. She was at a video store about to pick up a video, and without thinking she held it up for approval to someone across the room. She had somehow convinced herself it was me (in fact, it turned out to be someone who looked very similar). Not quite as profound, but still we both experienced the effect described in the article.

    Unfortunately due to presence of an ocean and most of two continents between us, this did not lead to awesome reunited-and-it-feels-so-good nookie. It did, however, take much of the sting of a very bitter break-up away.
  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @03:16PM (#25978561) Homepage Journal

    AFAIK so far there's no scientific theory to explain "self awareness"/"consciousness", and I suspect it's the very first observation all scientists make - observation of self. Why should there be such a phenomenon in the first place?

    I don't know if it would be considered a "scientific" theory or not, but consciousness is often considered to be simply an emergent property of the complexity of the brain. Emergent properties are nothing special - the simple way to describe it is states of matter: A water molecule cannot take on properties like "solid" and "gaseous", but significant numbers of them can, and do.

    An interesting illustration of the idea is presented in Verner Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep [wikipedia.org]. In it, some dog-like creatures are individually incapable of coherent thought, but can join together in packs, and self-awareness and human-level intelligence emerges. Very interesting treatment.

  • by ZombieRoboNinja (905329) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @03:38PM (#25978885)

    I've noticed a similar effect learning foreign languages... when I came back from Japan, every conversation I half-heard in the background sounded like Japanese until I got close enough to make out what was being said. When I got back from Argentina, everything sounded Spanish.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AkiraRoberts (1097025) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @04:13PM (#25979387) Homepage
    One possibility is that, shortly before the alarm goes off, the clock emits a subtley different sound (I had an old analog alarm that would do exactly this - a sort of pre-alarm echo) just barely audible. You've slept to the point of being woken by the alarm often enough that you sub-conscious recognizes the sound, and jerks you awake to avoid the annoyance of the alarm proper.
  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @04:17PM (#25979475) Journal
    Thing is he spends most of his time talking about the "car" and not the "driver". While there's good reason for that, the latter is a greater wonder to me.

    It is less surprising to me how the "car" works (though that is a wonder in itself, and also useful if we ever want to build better "car"s).

    Try this: stare at a blank wall and don't think.

    Your "car" is still working merrily and quietly in the background, but your "You" is still there, and you know it, whether or not your memory works or not.

    So if you were born with a wreck of a "car", would your "You" will still be there? Yes/No/Depends? If it's "Depends", what does it depend on? That's what I'm curious about.

    People suffering from a stroke have experienced not being able to do a lot of stuff (temporarily not understanding numbers, language etc) but still "being there" nonetheless.
  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lgw (121541) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @07:56PM (#25982727) Journal

    Don't try to read too much into Godel's theorum. It panicked a lot of people at the time (there were actually logic classes cancelled at universities here and there), but all it really seems to imply is: in a sufficiantly rich fomal system there are statements that parse grammatically, but don't make sense.

    There are many examples, but they mostly come down to "there's a village in Spain where the barber shaves every man who does not shave himself", in a formal language so you don't have the usual outs (e.g., the Spanish Barber is female). The sentence is perfectly legitimate English, but it's still nonsense.

    There are a fantastic numebr of really bad arguments by otherwise smart people to the effect that thought is different in kind from computation, that no animals are self aware, etc. We want to be special.

  • Re:Ghosts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Free the Cowards (1280296) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @08:47PM (#25983225)

    Still doesn't explain why I am me.

    Out of six billion people on the planet, and all the billions who have lived throughout history, exactly one of them gets this unique window on the world that I call "me".

    There's no scientific explanation for it. Until somebody figures out a way to measure it or even to observe it in people other than themselves, there can't be.

    This strange phenomenon is, as far as I can tell, the only reason for thinking that there might be more to the world than just physics. Even then it's no proof, but it's a powerful suggestion.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbeach (852844) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @09:55PM (#25983859) Homepage Journal
    I think you should read the first post in this thread again. And also read up on the Rhine experiments, as only one example.

    Strange things happen all the time, and they don't have to all simply be misperception. Sure, our brains are great at making connections which aren't really there. But there also *countless* probability-defying examples of people's minds making connections which ARE there - but which they would have no possible way of knowing, if our brains are really "just meat".

    After all, consciousness itself is a metaphysical phenomenon. It is generated by physical means, as far as we know; and it very well may not outlast our physical components. But it still is something that is more than merely matter; that in itself should tell you that other forms of more-than-matter are at least *possible*, if not probable.

  • Re:And yet.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ffflala (793437) on Wednesday December 03, 2008 @10:29PM (#25984109)

    I had a similar experience. One detail that you mentioned grabbed my attention: it woke you up.

    I had a dream in which my grandmother (by then confined to a wheelchair) came for a visit, was walking with braces and my aunts on either side, then stepped away from the braces, their arms, and walked into our house.

    My dream woke me up; wide awake, clear, not at all groggy, and much earlier than usual. I knew she had passed. It was a peaceful sensation, somehow allowing me to skip the initial, painful stages of grief and go right into acceptance.

    I had just finished telling my sister that our grandmother had died when the phone rang to let us know that our grandmother had in fact died that morning.

    Now I know that it's nothing I would ever be able to prove or convince to someone with a reasonably skeptic mind. There certainly are other explanations, and I'd be the first to admit the whole thing sounds like mystic, wishful thinking or even if the details were true, could be pure coincidence. You see that in the response to your post.

    It's a curious position to be in: a sane person absolutely convinced that he or she has been spoken to from beyond the grave who can at the same time understand why people would not believe your story.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

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