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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. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:16PM (#32175042) Homepage Journal

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

    • by Zobeid (314469)

      What's your source on that? I've never heard of any such videos.

      • by c++0xFF (1758032)

        Let me go find the video I took. I think it's on the same tape as my UFO abduction and ghost sightings ...

      • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:27PM (#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 deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:10PM (#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.

          • Yet what you provide as proof against its existence is actually just a statement about electricity.... Remember, electricity follows the path of least resistance and copper in power lines provides far less resistance than does air, so perhaps it's just able to "live" longer with power lines around. I've got a friend who once saw what he assumes was ball lightning and he wasn't remotely close to power lines(he was in the woods) but also wasn't remotely close to a camera. He only mentioned it made a crackling

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Myopic (18616)

              at first he thought it might be a UFO but then realized it was definitely from this earth

              Dude, that's just what they want you to think!

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by tehcyder (746570)

              Remember, electricity follows the path of least resistance and copper in power lines provides far less resistance than does air, so perhaps it's just able to "live" longer with power lines around

              Don't anthropomorphize electricity, it makes it mad.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        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.

      • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:29PM (#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]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)
          Is there any reason not to consider the option that this artificial phenomenon might have little to do with alleged observations of ball lightning?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Em Emalb (452530)

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

        Do I get a Slashdot "Achievement" for that?

        I didn't expect anyone to take my comment seriously. Every video ever seen showing "ball lightning" appears to be either edited heavily or easily explained away as something else.

        Carry on about your day, good sir.

        • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:54PM (#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!"

      • What's your source on that? I've never heard of any such videos.

        Surely you have heard of Google and YouTube... search for "ball lightning video" and you will find bunches. I suspect with some digging, you will find some that were shown on various science/weather shows on TV as well. The article authors seem to have overlooked the video evidence - unless they can come up with another (erroneous) theory claiming that videotaping such an electrical effect and watching the video later causes the same effect as experiencing it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jesus_666 (702802)
          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.
          -
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ehrichweiss (706417) *

        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 t

        • by fractoid (1076465)

          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.

          Interesting! What 'VR device' is this? I haven't heard of inducing feelings of motion with such things... do want more info! I'm getting a mental picture of Eight from the movie 9.

          Also, do these visual hallucinations remain stationary with respect to the world around you, when you move your head/eyes? Bright lights on their own can cause spots in front of your eyes, but since they're fixed w.r.t. your field of vision, they're easy to tell apart from actual entities in the world. I'd imagine that if these

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ehrichweiss (706417) *

            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 m

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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.
      • A whole branch of my family was fathered by ball lightning! Happened back in the Great Storm of 1806. Granted, they always were the black sheep at the family reunions, but they were certainly real!

        Now tell me that's a hallucination. I dare you!

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          A whole branch of my family was fathered by ball lightning!

          I've never heard of that before, but I gotta admit that "ball lightning" is a much more exciting euphemism than "baby batter". I'm going to have to start using that.

          I'm pretty sure it's your whole family that was fathered by it, though.

        • by mangu (126918)

          A whole branch of my family was fathered by ball lightning!

          It's the same in my family too. When a kid is born, they always blame it on the balls.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by evilviper (135110)

        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.

        Your grandmother has a Tyler Durden complex?

    • Or being able to create it in a microwave. [google.com] -- If ball lightning is just a stable plasmoid, that is.
    • by deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:49PM (#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 sjames (1099) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @04:22AM (#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.

    • by taniwha (70410)

      nor does it explain why two people can see the same thing

    • Oh.. Ball "lightning".

      I thought it was something painful involving bleach or scissors.

  • by bughunter (10093) <bughunterNO@SPAMearthlink.net> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:18PM (#32175062) Journal

    Feds will ban Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation on the assumption that it can be used recreationally.

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:18PM (#32175070) Journal

    Is how effective Tin foil might be at stopping the hallucinations. They haven't stopped since I started wearing my hat, I'm beginning to doubt they are hallucinations like my doctor tells me.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by JWSmythe (446288)

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524)

      Summary: 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.

      Question: Is how effective Tin foil might be at stopping the hallucinations. They haven't stopped since I started wearing my hat, I'm beginning to doubt they are hallucinations like my doctor tells me.

      I'm not a doctor, but I predict undesirable side-effects from the inter

    • Is how effective Tin foil might be at stopping the hallucinations. They haven't stopped since I started wearing my hat, I'm beginning to doubt they are hallucinations like my doctor tells me.

      "They" claim that tinfoil helmets don't really work: http://people.csail.mit.edu/rahimi/helmet/ [mit.edu]

  • Oh No! (Score:3, Funny)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:19PM (#32175076)
    Now that they know how to create this phenomenon, this fad could catch on and lure our children into magnetic hallucination parties! Won't somebody think of the children!
  • by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:20PM (#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 sonnejw0 (1114901)
      Also, the higher altitude regions, such as mountains, have higher electromagnetic energy due to being closer to the turbulent atmosphere. It's possible that this could result in hallucinations of all sorts, and explain the many mystic experiences of such regions.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:44PM (#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 CraigoFL (201165)
        I'll second this; it pretty much matches my experience too. My auras are an interesting experience (or would be if they didn't signify several hours worth of misery). It feels like a portion of my vision simply "isn't there"... not "blacked out" or anything, but just gone. I'm wondering if there's any relationship to the sensation of blindness.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nasch (598556)

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

      Most assuredly, interesting. How do you know this?

    • I would not be surprised of reports of concomitant parosmia, or olfactory hallucinations, with the display of ball-lightning caused by magnetic fields.

      That's unlikely as the reported experiment are focused on the visual cortex in the occipital region (Visual region stimulated => Only visual hallucination).
      But theoretically by focusing on other sensory regions, other kind of hallucination could be produced.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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 evide

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

    by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:22PM (#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 eln (21727) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:32PM (#32175286) Homepage

      Ball Lightening Caused by Magnetic Hallucinations

      It's clearly a bogus theory. In my experience, ball lightening is usually caused by filling it up with helium.

    • Well..., at least TMS from an LCD nearby causes the phenomenon of slashdotters jumping From 'interesting idea' to stated fact in record time!, I conclude.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by largesnike (762544)

      From 'interesting idea' to stated fact in record time!

      almost, Saddam's WMDs are still in front by a fair margin

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thogard (43403)

      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

  • Scissors (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:23PM (#32175140) Homepage

    Perhaps this explains the appearance of a giant pair of scissors in the sky when performing the iron pyramid experiment.

    • Allow me to karma whore for a second....

      I don't remember the last time I ran into the Look Around You [wikipedia.org] series. It's been awhile. If you don't know about it, or haven't seen any of it in some time, you should get an inoculation. Try this [wittysparks.com].

      In an attempt to add something useful to this discussion, I don't know what's more awesome - this theory, or ball lightning. I'm a fan of both!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Perhaps this explains the appearance of a giant pair of scissors in the sky when performing the iron pyramid experiment.

      I'd forgotten about that! Maybe it also explains the giant pliers on Google Street View: [google.co.uk]

  • by alop (67204) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:24PM (#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.

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      1) Heat or stress induced hallucination

      2) An artifact from seeing a bright light (or reflection)

      3) A floater [wikipedia.org] in your eye.

      4) Your telepathic ability to force an electrical discharge to not only not dissipate, but to stay in your view.

      5) An alien spacecraft with the specific goal of staying exactly where you're looking.

      Pick one. Nah, go ahead and pick 2. I'd go with #5 and #4 myself.

    • Everybody who ever has experienced any of these visual disturbances should be aware of the concept of form constants [wikipedia.org]

      I think I may actually know the one you are talking about. It's like leapord spots spiraling inward, and they tend to be darker than the background. Solution? Drink more water. No kidding. However, by the time you see them it's usually too late.

  • In Other News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mindbrane (1548037) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:24PM (#32175170) Journal
    Transcranial Magnetic Stmulation is used to ameliorate auditory hallucinations in schizophrenics [ynhh.org].
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      Transcranial Magnetic Stmulation is used to ameliorate auditory hallucinations in schizophrenics.

      So what you're saying is that ball lightning might be around everywhere but we're all suffering visual hallucinations masking its presence until we receive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

  • by Xaedalus (1192463) <Xaedalys.yahoo@com> on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:27PM (#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 John Meacham (1112) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @06:27PM (#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 osu-neko (2604) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @05:35PM (#32175324)
    This is your brain on lightning. Get the picture?
  • I don't care how fast you do it, there's only two albums.

  • Can anyone explain why people are so interested in this? I never really understood it.
    • by pavon (30274)

      Scientists are naturally curious people that want to understand how things work. From all accounts, ball lightning sounds like a plausible natural phenomenon, unlike other mysterious popularly reported things like ghosts, bigfoot, or aliens. Furthermore, if some reports are true, ball lightning has some very interesting properties, and understanding the physics behind it could have big implications.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bitmanhome (254112)

      "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 ChipMonk (711367)
      Aaaand we have two totally contradictory answers to the parent question. It's a "plausible natural phenomenon" that's "essentially impossible."

      Yay, Slashdot.
  • What about cases where multiple people see the same phenomenon, behaving the same way?

  • by Dunbal (464142) *

    Either the hallucinations can be transmitted via video too, or a piece of this airplane [youtube.com] caught fire and fell off.... Looks like "ball lightning" anyway - whether it is or not I leave to the physicists.

  • I'm not a neurologist, so school me. But look, we all know when we are having ocular hallucinations. Press on your closed eyes for a while and open them. There's no perception of depth to it; no sense of "oh, that hallucination looks like it's hovering over that hill 30 meters away." Now, these are allegedly affecting the visual cortex directly, but still...

    How would a magnetic field hallucination within the visual cortex create a sense of binocular depth, and consistently track to a static location in

    • by DavidTC (10147)

      Yeah, I pointed that out above.

      Hallucinations only appear to have 'real locations' if your brain is generated them, aka, you're mentally ill.(1) The eyes or the visual cortex generating them is pretty easy to figure out. Moving your head or eyes would, due, make the object move in sync. So I have trouble seeing anyone getting fooled by that at all.

      If you only see if for a second or so, sure, you can get fooled...we've all thought we saw something out of the corner of our eye, or opened a door and perceive

  • This effect can be easily prevented by the judicious use of tinfoil headgear; hence it's popularity in areas subject to lightning strikes.
  • I have seen ball lightning, it can't have been induced by magnetic waves I was wearing my tinfoil hat at the time!
  • Wrong conclusion (Score:3, Informative)

    by Evil Pete (73279) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @09:12PM (#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.

  • I saw ball lightning from about 6 to 10 inches away, eye level, then it slowly dropped to my knees, then slowly back to eye level.
    It hovered a second, then shot to the other room and blew the base board off the wall.
    The nails that held on the base board were melted, but the wood was fine. /I still swear it was sentient and it communicated. //The other room was the only safe place I could think of, for it to hit. ///Yeah, maybe it DID influence my brain waves.....

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