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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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  • idea != fact (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:22PM (#32175116) Homepage
    Typical of Slashdot. From TFA: "That's an interesting idea: that a large class of well-reported phenomenon may be the result of hallucinations induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation."

    From the Summary:
    Ball Lightening Caused by Magnetic Hallucinations

    From 'interesting idea' to stated fact in record time!
  • by Xaedalus (1192463) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `syladeaX'> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:27PM (#32175214)

    Taken from a comment on the TFA's commentary, and it proves a point. I've always wondered why we tend to take scientific recreations in a lab and automatically apply them to phenomena to the world outside the lab as "absolutely the truth". Are we that desperate for a logical-sounding answer that we'll immediately say "these phenomena were reproduced in this lab using these specific resources and therefore this must automatically happen every time similar phenomena happens under uncontrolled circumstances"

  • by Terminal Saint (668751) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:36PM (#32175330)
    Possibly, but it seems odd that they would all see the same thing in the same position acting in the same way.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:39PM (#32175380)

    Doesn't explain people having captured ball lightning on video from in some cases miles away.

    Wow. While we're misreading things and jumping to false conclusions not implied by the article, let me also point out that LSD doesn't explain real spiders.

  • by deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:49PM (#32175488)

    Absurd, you'd might as well also claim the Fox Alien Autopsy video and all the various close encounters of the blurred kind on Youtube aren't explained by the fact that we now understand things like kanashibari. The videos of so called ball lightning out there are far away, shaky, defocused and about as convincing as Chupacabra photos in the Weekly World News.

    Look, I'm sorry to piss on everybody's parade, but its time to relegate ball lightning to its rightful place in history alongside phrenology and N-rays [wikipedia.org]. The invention of the CCD and the associated UNBELIEVABLE proliferation of personal digital imaging devices over the past decade means that virtually everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times now. If the phenomenon of ball lightning existed at all, we should be seeing like one multiply reported HIGHLY CONVINCING video a week uploaded to the internet showing this. In fact, the number of ball lightning sightings and recordings over the past who knows how many years has pretty much stayed constant. If ball lightning exists at all, it's in the heads of observers, either as a result of a terrified mi-d thunderstorm hallucination or a result of some magnetic field induced phosphene as reported in this new paper.

    If ball lightning were an actual physical phenomenon, the number of video observations of it should have skyrocketed over the past 10 years along with the availability of personal digital imaging devices in the same way that once Red Sprites and Blue Jets were first reliably observed with very high speed video in 1994, observational replication around the world was practically IMMEDIATE [youtube.com] and widespread.

  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:54PM (#32175552)

    Oh wow, I feel so proud, my first ever [citation needed]

    Do I get a Slashdot "Achievement" for that?

    You would if you could:
    * Provide the requested citation
    * Post a link to a goatse domain showing a guy with his balls on fire (this is for all intents and purposes considered 'ball lightning')
    * Find a way to blame another /. poster
    * Combine any or all of the above into a super-mega-post

    I didn't expect anyone to take my comment seriously.

    Well, that happens around here so often that they really need a moderation tag for "Whoosh!"

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:04PM (#32175648)
    Is there any reason not to consider the option that this artificial phenomenon might have little to do with alleged observations of ball lightning?
  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:28PM (#32175914)

    Just because it has been modded up, I'd like to respond to the troll: on what basis exactly would you exclude funding for this research? Obviousness? Clearly not, because no one had any idea what a modulating magnetic field would do to the inner workings of the brain. Uselessness? Can't see how you arrived at that conclusion, considering that it indicates a way to manipulate how the brain processes inputs, which has a ton of potential application.

    No, the only reason that this is research unworthy of funding is that it doesn't immediately yield a product, which is the lamest, most short-sighted reason for which to deny a grant request.

  • by nasch (598556) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:33PM (#32175988)

    It most assuredly activates the same neurons that this magnetic stimulation of neurons produces.

    Most assuredly, interesting. How do you know this?

  • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:47PM (#32176862) Journal

    No, the reason that this research is unworthy of funding is that the researchers are the sort who would turn it into a search for the causes of ball lightning, or think that we don't know what causes it yet.

    Funding is supposed to go to people with competence to carry out science. These goobers failed.

  • That's an interesting theory (and... erm... interestingly phrased) but what do you have to back it up?

    Having had migraines and accompanying "auras", I can safely say that there's no resemblance between the visual distortions from a pending or in-progress migraine and any external visual phenomena (never mind lightning or ball lightning). The other migraine sufferers ("migraineurs"? really?) I've known can confirm this.

    While I am the last to rely on anecdotal evidence, it's an improvement over no evidence.

  • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @02:41AM (#32179852)
    This is what you argue:

    1. Researchers claim that their theory could possibly explain some ball lightning sightings as hallucinations.
    2. There are videos of possible ball lightnings.
    --------
    3. Therefore, the researchers must be wrong.

    Formulated more formally (note that I exaggerated the positions for the sake of readability):

    1. There is at least one ball lightning sighting that has been caused by a lightning-induced hallucination.
    2. There is at least one ball lightning that was captured on video.
    --------
    3. From 1 and 2 follows: Nothing; the two premises contradict each other. // Logical error

    I'm sorry, but "there is" premises (using the existence quantor) can't be refuted by using another such premise. If you can prove that one or even all ball lightning videos are genuine you still can't disprove that ball lightning can be magnetically induced hallucinations.
    If you were to prove that all ball lightnings ever witnessed were captured on video you would have an argument but realistically all you could possibly disprove is the claim that all ball lightning sightings are hallucinations, which the scientists never made.

    In fact, the scientists didn't even claim that even one such sighting was hallucinatory in the way described. They only claimed that magnetically induced hallucinations could explain some of the sightings since they match typical ball lightning descriptions.

    In short: The only erroneous theory is the one you have about what the researchers claimed, which can be refuted by actually reading TFA or even TFS. TFA does go on to generalize a bit but neither the researchers' quotes nor TFS suggest that the researchers ever talked about their theory applying to all ball lightning sightings.
  • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @03:22AM (#32180060) Homepage

    Not so fast, what do most people do when a severe storm blows in? They put their camera away and run for shelter. Unlike Sprites and Jets, ball lightning is typically small and often seen close to the ground such that you won't capture anything useful from miles away.

    Most of those digital cameras out there are in the possession of people who have no idea how to take a well focused non-blurry and non-shaky picture or video with them in even the best conditions. In addition, they're mostly cheap cellphone cameras with barely adequate lenses that are just about good enough to take a few snapshots while out with friends. The odds that they would get a decent picture of a light source that isn't just a big blur and doesn't look like a reflection from the lens are nearly nil.

    The key to getting good images of sprites was to figure out a few places where they were nearly sure to be seen and to get ready in advance with high end cameras fixed to good solid tripods. A bunch of amateurs with their disposable Kodak cameras and cellphones still won't likely photograph a blue jet.

    There are several easily reproducible phenomena that might be what people are describing or it might be something else (even magnetically induced eddy currents in the visual cortex).

    There is actually little doubt that ball lightning is a real phenomenon. There is a great deal of doubt as to what it is. There are a number of crackpot theories that are almost certainly wrong. There are a few good theories that might be correct. It's hard to gather enough evidence to say which is better since we haven't narrowed down where one should go and under what conditions to reliably see any. It's down to sheer luck.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

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