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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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  • Doesn't explain... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb@gmai3.14l.com minus pi> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:16PM (#32175042) Homepage Journal

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

  • by Terminal Saint (668751) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:21PM (#32175108)
    Indeed. Heck, my great grandmother used to tell the story of the time ball lightning broke the living room window, did a circle around the room and went back out, leaving scorch marks on the ceiling. But then, it's a story from the great grandmother, so take it for what it's worth.
  • Ministory (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:23PM (#32175138)

    My dad saw ball lightning at the warehouse he managed a few years ago. 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.

  • by alop (67204) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:24PM (#32175168) Journal

    I've often wondered why I "see" spinning disks (as the article described) when on road trips or on hot days. It's very odd to explain, the best analogy I could come up with was a "Video game style targeting system"... But seeing it explained as a hallucination makes sense.

  • In Other News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mindbrane (1548037) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:24PM (#32175170) Journal
    Transcranial Magnetic Stmulation is used to ameliorate auditory hallucinations in schizophrenics [ynhh.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:26PM (#32175188)

    There has been a story in my family of ball lightning going through the old family house. And everyone thought it was really weird because even thought they saw it, they thought it would be impossible for such a thing to occur. That something would catch on fire, or the ball would be attracted to the wiring in the home instead of just floating away down the hall. Multiple people saw it, so they felt it could not be people "just imagining things". But if it was a hallucination created by eddy currents in the whole family (they were all in the kitchen together) that explains everything quite nicely.

    Way to go science, 50 year old family mystery is solved.

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:29PM (#32175230)

    there are photos in encyclopedias and on web.

    I've seen ball lightening from distance of half a mile, and it's been created in lab

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070122-ball-lightning.html [nationalgeographic.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:44PM (#32175432)

    If these are equivalent to migraine auras, I'm very skeptical that they can explain ball lightning. I've periodically experienced migraines and what doctors assure me is an aura preceding it. I don't know about others' subjective experience with auras, but while it's an annoying visual artifact covering some or all of my visual field, at no point did I ever perceive it as some localized 'ball' with anything like a defined position, distance relative to me, etc. as ball lightning is often described. It was always something I perceived as an internal static that makes my vision mostly useless, not some external object.

    Again, there could just be subjective difference, but I've never heard a fellow migraine sufferer describe an aura as some ball of light.

    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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:33PM (#32175984)

    Having full-blown migraines with aura and other visual artifacts, and having seen ball lightning up-close (less than a meter), I can vouch that they are NOT even remotely close to the same thing.

    My sister saw it to, so that kind of blows the migraine theory out the window.

  • Re:idea != fact (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thogard (43403) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:00PM (#32176256) Homepage

    I would buy into the "may"... in some cases. I also expect there may be more than one phenomenon that is called ball lightning.

    I used to live in a house that had plastic dome light shade in the room lights. After the light was turned off and they cooled down they would pop. That pop would create a Piezo generated electric field that would cause me to see a bright flash of light that wasn't there. It may have caused others to see ghosts. There have been reports of large amounts of geo-piezo activity in areas where ghosts, angels and aliens are often seen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:06PM (#32176316)

    well me and a bunch of other people in an open air cinema, a clear summer night, saw a ball travelling over us at high speed in a (seemingly) horizontal trajectory. For years I thought I saw a meteorite, but then I witnessed a real meteorite coming down and it was completely different (the tail of the lightning was almost non existent).

    That can't be explained by the "all in your brain" theory: too many witnesses, no storm, the lightning localized in the sky (a small part of the FOV for all of the involved parties who were watching the screen and the hallucination would not know the right moment to disappear, beneath the screen).

    So, feel free not to believe me, but IMO magnetism has nothing to do with some of these lights.

  • by ehrichweiss (706417) * on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @08:26PM (#32177810)

    1986-ish Radio Electronics magazine had a study where they took pics of ball lightning that originated from arcing around a generator onboard an old engine on a train. I will mention this since I know it's brought up further down in the discussion, the ball lightning only *originated* from the arcing, it however did NOT just follow the power lines like a Jacob's Ladder might but rather had quite the mind of its own, scaring the bejesus out of the researcher when it entered the cabin of the train and began to approach him. I should have this issue archived somewhere so I can verify this at some point soon.

    That said, I do have a VR device that induces the feelings of motion in the brain through electrodes(1 on the forehead and 2 behind each ear on the "mastoid process") that when cranked high will induce visual hallucinations for a second or two...but they wouldn't make me think I was seeing ball lightning.

  • by ehrichweiss (706417) * on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @10:40AM (#32182986)

    The device is called MotionWare and was released as a prototype about 10 years ago. The inventor had a hard time getting it to the fast track so the 100 prototypes he made are all that exist. It uses electro-vestibular stimulation to generate the sense of motion(though only through one "channel"[the inner ear] of the three, at least, from which we sense motion[inner ear, proprioceptive and visual]).

    Anyway, the hallucinations/visuals seemed to be generated right around my forehead where the front electrode made contact and were always at that spot regardless of where I looked. They were always triggered by cranking the power output up to the maximum setting(I have VERY high skin resistance so this was necessary for me to feel the movement). I attempted to bring this up to the inventor but he didn't seem quite as interested in it as I was. I've since shelved the prototype I bought since I don't really do VR research any more; shame, someone should get some real use out of it as I know it's still functional.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @10:54AM (#32183162)

    I'm perplexed why there aren't more videos. But I can testify that ball lightning is real and doesn't match the magnetic stimulation version described in the article.

    As kids, we lived down the street from a tree that would generate ball lightning during dry thunderstorms. My brother and I would hear it first. Crack ... Crack ... Crack crack! We'd seen and heard the show enough times to know we could run to a window or the screen door and watch colored globes drift around the tree until they would explode. There might only be 1 to 3 at a time, but an episode might produce dozens.

    Two people, hearing and seeing the same thing, moving on the other side of a screen door, window, and tree branches (the light wasn't superimposed on our vision), witnessed from different rooms. Simultaneously and repeatedly.

    Why didn't we take pictures? It was 1982 and we were kids. Never realized that we were seeing something so incredibly rare. To us it was common.

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