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Science

Ball Lightning Caused By Magnetic Hallucinations 269

Posted by kdawson
from the on-the-ball dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves placing a human in a rapidly changing magnetic field powerful enough to induce eddy currents in the brain. Focus the field in the visual cortex, for example, and the induced eddys cause the subject to 'see' lights that appear as discs and lines. Move the field within the cortex and the subject sees the lights move too. Physicists have calculated that the fields associated with certain kinds of multiple lightning strikes are powerful enough to induce the same kind of visual hallucinations in anybody unlucky enough to be within 200 meters or so. These fields ought to induce hallucinations that would take the form of luminous lines and balls that float in front of the subject's eyes, an effect that would explain observations otherwise classed as ball lightning, say the scientists."
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Ball Lightning Caused By Magnetic Hallucinations

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  • by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:20PM (#32175098)
    For those that suffer from migraines, these lights and balls should be familiar as "aura", or scintilating scotoma. For migraineurs, these lights last longer because they are caused by changing bloodflow to the occipital lobe over a longer period of time. It most assuredly activates the same neurons that this magnetic stimulation of neurons produces. I would not be surprised of reports of concomitant parosmia, or olfactory hallucinations, with the display of ball-lightning caused by magnetic fields.
  • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:27PM (#32175208)
    I looked on youtube [youtube.com]. The second hit seems to be missing for me, my browser is reporting the swf as not found. The third one in Saudi Arabia appears to be the lightning moving along the power lines. I suspect that these guys in TFA could be right, but that the term ball lightning is ambiguous, referring to several different phenomena.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:28PM (#32175224) Homepage Journal

    There's lots of claimed videos, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ioN-3UWYrY [youtube.com]

    Are there any scientifically verified videos? Elefino.

  •     You need to have your hat adjusted. I do tinfoil hat adjustments for only $499.95. Bring cash.

  • Re:Ministory (Score:5, Informative)

    by IorDMUX (870522) <mark.zimmerman3NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:36PM (#32175332) Homepage

    A ball went from the warehouse floor in to the office area (I believe it went through a wall to do this) and stopped above an employee's head, where it dissipated suddenly. I just can't see this entirely being a hallucination if it can be tracked with your eyes.

    Actually, this ability to be "tracked" is common in color/light optical hallucinations that are produced in the "front end" of your brain's visual processing, as opposed to more life-like and realistic (i.e. a deceased relative) visual hallucinations that occur father down the image-processing pipeline.

    You can demonstrate this on your own: Look just to the side of a small, bright light source for a few seconds, then look away, ideally towards a blank wall or other plain surface. (Don't stare into the sun or a laser or anything... I don't want people responding with "OMG now I'm blind!") If you did not focus directly on the light source to begin with, the "echo" of the light should appear slightly off center. As you move your eyes and/or head to try and focus on the echo, it will move away as the spot is fixed with respect to your retina, giving you the illusion of being able to "track" this visual phenomenon across a room or other space.

  • Re:Cameras (Score:3, Informative)

    by IorDMUX (870522) <mark.zimmerman3NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:52PM (#32175520) Homepage
    [Sorry for the double post... I just came up with this after a bit more searching.]

    I noticed that the majority of actual images of ball lightning that Google turns up fall into one of three categories: Illustrations, pictures of scientific experiments, or variations [google.com] on [google.com] this [google.com] picture [google.com].

    Though I do think that this description of ball lightning [bbc.co.uk] sounds as viable as the TMS theory. (Summary: A lightning strike heats fractal silicon "fluff balls" on the Earth's surface which can burn violently and hold themselves aloft like ashes from a fire.) Perhaps we are looking at two entirely different phenomenon: TMS causing the "cool" ball lightning which can mysteriously appear indoors or in airplane cockpits and then disappears without doing damage, and the burning silicon vapor explaining the "hot" ball lightning which has been reported to cause damage and leave scorch marks wherever it goes.

  • by deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:10PM (#32175726)

    I think the third video in that list you are talking about showing "BL" in Saudi Arabia is very important for everyone to see [youtube.com]. How many times have we heard of people having BL sightings around power lines or "following power lines"? Frequently! And what does that video show? NOT BL! It's just arcing between two of the power lines that's traveling down the line Jacob's-ladder-like, probably due to wind. Was it initiated by lightning? Maybe, but it is not BL at all. People trust their senses and their assumptions way too much.

  • by John Meacham (1112) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:27PM (#32175910) Homepage

    We don't at all. The strongest statement the original paper makes is

    "Lightning electromagnetic pulse induced transcranial magnetic stimulation of phosphenes in the visual cortex is concluded to be a plausible interpretation of a large class of reports on luminous perceptions during thunderstorms."

    just plausible. It's the editors that decided to publish it as if it were accepted fact.

  • by Bitmanhome (254112) <(moc.xobop) (ta) (namtib)> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:37PM (#32176026)

    "Ball" lightning is essentially impossible. Electricity cannot behave that way, as far as we know. And yet, many people claim to have seen it. So either it exists, and we'd like to learn how, or it doesn't, in which case we'd like to learn what those people are actually seeing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:21PM (#32176492)

    > Virtually everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times now.

    Most people with such gadgets live in urban areas awash with artificial lightning and spend their lives indoor.
    You have a point nonetheless but it's weaker than you think.
    Plus, I don't understand your eagerness to jump to conclusions for anybody else. Very religious of you.

  • Re:Cameras (Score:3, Informative)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... m ['rbo' in gap]> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:33PM (#32176644) Homepage

    There are a few phenomenon that are known to cause things like ball lighting.

    St. Elmo's Fire, for example, can look like a floating ball. Not usually, but it can, if it forms on an unseen point like a tree branch.

    There's probably other forms of ionization that we simple don't know about. There's plenty of ways to generate things that look likeball lightning is supposed to look, you can do it in your microwave. (Although that method does not seem likely to occur in nature.)

    And I love the idea that Will-o-wisps aren't real. Yes, half the cultures in the world independently invented the idea of lights rising up from marshy water. It's like that old world-wide myth that the stars could fall out of the sky, which, of course, we know is absurd, stars streaking across the sky and plummeting to earth is obviously crazy talk.

    I'm frankly astonished at all the people here who apparently think it's all a hallucination, which is, frankly, just stupid. Plenty of ball lightning has multiple observers and has been tracked for moderate distances.

    As has been pointed out, visual hallucinations are pretty easy to recognize as such, considering they either follow the field of view, if generated in the optic nerve, or the eyes, if some sort of vision after-effect.

    People who see fake lights and don't recognize them as such after about ten seconds as such are, quite likely, schizophrenic or have some other mental illness. Hallucination and optical illusions do not work that way in normal people.

    It's only when it's the brain itself generates stuff that it appears even slightly consistent with reality. No one can walk around tracking an optical glitch and think it's an actual floating ball in space.

  • Wrong conclusion (Score:3, Informative)

    by Evil Pete (73279) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @08:12PM (#32177694) Homepage

    It would be helpful if people actually read reports of ball lightning sightings before they jump to conclusions.

    Is this a possible explanation of some ball lightning sightings? Well it could be.

    Does it explain them all? Definitely not. Ball lightning has been observed many times to do lots of damage. It has also been observed in areas where there has been no lightning or storm activity at all. Including sunny days. Read up on it then make up your own mind. This is not a simple phenomenon. No one explanation seems to explain it all and perhaps there are multiple physical mechanisms to create the reported glowing balls of light with wildly different properties. I read a monograph some years back which detailed about 2 dozen different scientific theories and many good witness accounts showing the mismatch to each of these theories. Well there have been even more theories since, each of them compelling and reasonable ... and contradictory. The real problem of course is that the data is from witnesses, it is not repeatable so the theories cannot be tested against each other.

  • Re:Cameras (Score:3, Informative)

    by darkstar949 (697933) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @11:06PM (#32178776)
    Burning mod points by saying this, but digging around on Google turned up a site that has an form lightning that I don't recognize that was captured by film - http://www.ernmphotography.com/Pages/Ball_Lightning/BL_Gallery1.html [ernmphotography.com]

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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