Reader Request Week 2019 #1: Strange Experiences

It’s Monday and it’s time for this year’s Reader Request Week! Let’s start this one off on a slightly spooky note, with this question from Mar:

I’d be curious to know, if you’re comfortable talking about it, whether you’ve ever had a “strange”, or for lack of a better term, what we might call “paranormal” experience. Anonymous data collecting seems to show that most people have, but are afraid to talk about it. I have had one experience that was very strange, and so have most of the people that I know. JF Martel on the podcast “Weird Studies” said that if everyone spoke freely about these events, we would be forced as a culture to include such phenomena in any attempt to form a coherent worldview. And probably also learn something about the nature of reality that we don’t understand now.

I’ve had a number of strange experiences in my life — “strange” meaning in this case events so entirely outside the normal range of my daily existence that some part of my brain felt compelled to remark “okay, this is some weird shit going on here” — but none of those things would be things I’d consider to be “paranormal” in the way the word normally gets used, i.e., in reference to things like ghosts and magic and aliens and extradimensional whatever. Every strange experience I can think of that’s happened to me is well-bounded in the physics and natural phenomena that we understand and can describe. At most, these events required extreme coincidence to have happened — but extreme coincidence does happen, so I don’t know that it’s all that surprising that it happens occasionally to me.

Now, I do think that this answer of mine speaks directly to my own view of the world, which is highly rationally based. As a practical matter, I don’t believe in things like ghosts or alien visitations or psychic powers, and I have a distinct bias toward rational answers to events. I’m not someone who believes in “fate” or the “hand of god” or even “we’re all here for a purpose.” So when strange things happen to me, my brain doesn’t see them as evidence of some paranormal activity of one sort or another; it goes “huh, that’s some weird shit,” and assumes it has some rational, physical basis. If you’re like that going in, then the number of paranormal experiences you’re going to have is already low. I am aware that many paranormal films feature someone who is all “everything has a rational basis!” who then gets eaten by, like, angry ghosts or demons or whatever in a gory and highly satisfying way. But that’s the movies for you. Real life is more boring, and more rational.

With that said, I do know a number of people who have reported strange experiences that would be considered to be “paranormal” in one way or another, and these people are folks who I like and love and consider solid people not given to flights of either fancy or delusion. How do I explain their experiences?

I don’t! I wasn’t there when they experienced what they experienced, and I’m not them. If someone tells me they experienced something outside of the range of what is generally considered natural phenomenon, then a) I’m perfectly willing to believe that something happened to them that was well outside their own usual range of experience, b) unless they are specifically asking me to postulate a rational explanation for their experience, I’m not the sort of person who has to be all “well, actually,” about this sort of thing. Something happened to them; this is how they decided to process it, and unless that is actively harming them or others, eh, fine.

This doesn’t mean I think they’ve likely had a paranormal experience, however. I’m aware of a number of things:

1. The remit of physical laws and phenomena is actually quite large, so more things can be explained rationally than many if not most people realize (and generally our culture has done a really crappy job explaining this fact);

2. Our culture enjoys paranormal storytelling to such an extent that when something strange happens, our brains use those familiar storytelling elements to explain what’s happening to us, i.e., if you’ve heard all your life about ghosts and something happens to you that fits the criteria for a visitation by a ghost, you’ll shove it into that slot, even if it has nothing to do with ghosts whatsoever;

3. Human brains are dodgy lumps of sentient fat that are both pattern-seeking and prone to misinterpreting and misapprehending new and strange things that are happening to them, which makes them especially vulnerable to magical thinking.

I also know this:

4. I don’t know everything about everything, and there are many things I cannot prove, so while I am 99.999999999+% percent sure that everything that happens to people has a perfectly rational basis in our universe, I do have to admit that my not knowing everything means I could be wrong about paranormal explanations for strange events. There could be ghosts and vampires and gray big-headed aliens and Nessie and angels so on. I think their existence is so massively unlikely that I don’t bother considering it in any serious way. But intellectual honesty compels me to admit I don’t definitively know one way or another.

So: I suspect most people’s paranormal experiences are probably not paranormal in any sense. It’s just their attempt to explain something that happened to them in a way that’s consistent to their understanding and knowledge of their world, the cultural clues that have been given to them and the manner in which their brain processed the event (and in which they subsequently remember it, memory being another dodgy and unreliable brain process). There’s maybe a >.000000001% chance it was actually paranormal! But probably not, and also, if thinking that it was paranormal allows them to process it and get on with their life without hurting themselves or anyone else, sure, okay, why not. I’m not going to go out of my way to be a jerk to them about it.

(I do think people who use the paranormal, and humans’ tendencies toward believing in that sort of thing, in malicious or detrimental ways are terrible people who I don’t have any problem stomping on. But I don’t think the original question is about con artists or malicious actors, it’s about normal people having experiences they’re having a hard time explaining otherwise.)

More to the point, I don’t think there’s any point in belittling or discounting people who believe in paranormal experiences, simply on that basis. I think there’s a lot to learn about how and why people think these events happen to them, and what more we can learn about the brain and the nature of consciousness from that. Human experience is bounded by how our brains process what’s going on around us.

If you’ve had a paranormal experience, you’ve had an actual experience, and your brain is working on how to explain that experience to you. It’s telling you a story about it — just like it does with every other event you’ve ever experienced. That’s some interesting shit right there.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

35 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2019 #1: Strange Experiences

  1. Thank you for a thoughtful and well-reasoned answer to a good question, as always! Plus, I may have to slip the “human brains are dodgy lumps of sentient fat” thing into conversation, and will be sure to give you both credit and blame.

  2. I know someone who a) is sure their prayers have been answered in specific instances and b) has offered to mention me in their prayers. While I have my doubts, my responses were a) “Cool,” and b) “Thanks,” because why be a dick? Also, I do think it’s entirely possible that some paranormal phenomenon is just stuff we haven’t discovered the explanations for yet. I mean physics, and science in general, isn’t DONE yet.

  3. The details are hazy, and I’m inclined to pass it off as just be being silly, but:

    At school, I had to get some form signed for… sports day participation? Something like that, anyway. What I recall is that I had done this, but couldn’t find it when needed. When I got home, though, there it was, complete with signature that I’d got _that very day at school_.

    I really wish I could recall the details better.

  4. One interesting thing about this is that otherwise completely sane people might hear voices in a certain state of mind (say, extremely tired). So I tend not to lend too much credibility to my own eyes – or ears, at least ;)

  5. One other thing: People seem to have a real problem with admitting that they just don’t know what happened, what they saw, experienced, whatever.

  6. About a month after my mom died, my iPad started randomly clicking through websites. Windows would pop open and the cursor would fly around the screen. I so wanted it to be my mom trying to talk to me. But eventually it got so annoying that I took it back to the Apple store and they replaced it. Known hardware issue. Ghost would have been so much cooler, though.

  7. I used to live in an old, ancestral home, in which at least 3 relatives of my ex had died of old age. One night, late at night, I’d gotten up to go to the bathroom. On my way back, I briefly saw a ghost. Not being one to scream and run, I backed up to investigate. Turned out that the glass door in the hallway was angled just so, and was next to the night light plugged in at eye level (ooooooold house). I’d seen my reflection. Stepped back and forth several times to confirm it. As you walked by, there was a brief moment when the reflection flashed.

  8. I’ve had a few weird things happen in my life, but the one that I can’t chalk up to a bizarre coincidence is when I was younger and drove home from work (I worked in a poster store) and then remembered I meant to hit the grocery store on the way home. I went to grab my keys and they were no where to be found.

    I was in the process of looking everywhere when my manager called to tell me I left my keys at work. These were my only pair, and I had driven the 20 minutes home. I had to have a friend drive me back to work to pick them up. So either a) I somehow unlocked, started, and drove my car without my keys b) my keys teleported back to work after I got home somehow or c) someone played an elaborate practical joke and never took credit. This was 30 years ago now, and I assume there’s some rational explanation, but it was definitely weird…

  9. Wouldn’t you think it were massively unlikely that we were the only sentient beings in the universe (or do you just think it’s massively unlikely they’d bother stopping by for a visit)? I don’t claim to have seen little green men or anything – just curious that you, as a science fiction-ish writer (with the disclaimer that I’ve never read one of your books, so I’m not sure how heavy they are on science) appear to dismiss the possibility so easily.

  10. Geo: I can’t speak for our host, but I don’t personally equate aliens with “paranormal” stuff. I take this post to be more about ghosts, deities, spirits and magic than extraterrestrial life. That said, I think it is indeed “massively unlikely”–in fact, literally astronomically unlikely–that humans ever have been or ever will be in contact with extraterrestrial intelligences. Given the almost literally unfathomable distances involved and the pace of biological, societal and technological change, even receiving a signal from ETIs during the lifespan of the human species seems less likely than me personally winning the Powerball lottery.

  11. In my religious community, miracle stories are rather common. The miracles that have come my way personally have been, well, let’s just say, rather non-standard. Totally trivial, nothing breaking the laws of physics or anything, more like a cosmic Jokester Laughing at me, wanting me to know that I Can’t Hide From Destiny. Sort of like the Book of Jonah. Or perhaps like (500) Days of Summer.

    Thirtysome years ago I lived in a Jewish group house. The main area was a combination synagogue and dining room. Way down the main hallway was a pay phone.

    Some of the residents were problem cases. One resident was an extreme problem case. He had a good heart, but he wasn’t very bright, and was endlessly and needlessly causing extreme problems for himself and everybody else. No amount of reasoning could slow him down, and over and over again interactions with him ended in a lot of pointless screaming. It would have been comedy gold if it was something you were watching on TV or film—and we all knew it—but it was not funny in real life.

    I often thought of him as the Joe Btfsplk of yelling and screaming.

    Once, Reb Problem Case was in Israel for a much welcome vacation. He’s been gone one week—ah, the peace and quiet of almost normal life—when around dinner time there’s a phone call, One resident goes down to the pay phone, answers it, and it turns out to be a call from Reb PC himself. At that very moment, a loud, angry, screaming match breaks out in the dining area. The fellow on the phone is rather addled. It’s HIM again, in the dining hall. Except that’s not possible, right? HE’s in Israel, on the phone,. THIS is America, temporarily safe and sound, right?

    The resident takes care of whatever business Reb PC wants, and then hangs up and rushes back to the dining hall for the “entertainment”. Except that the screaming match ended just as he hung up. It was, naturally, regarding something worthless and trivial, and nobody could really remember what the issue was anyway. He then tells the other residents just who was on the phone, and there’s a round of collective enlightenment.

    I have, over time, experienced some peculiar sequels to this person. The most annoying: his Hebrew name, let us say, was “X Y ben Z”. A few years later, the next extreme problem case person I had to deal with over an extended period of time was someone named “X ben Y Z”.

    Why Lord, why? I accept that life consists of good times and bad times and some tests. But why Are You Laughing At Me?

  12. John, you could have said you don’t accept the possibility of the paranormal, in a lot fewer words.

    I am an engineer and scientist by training and profession. I am very much tied into physical reality and the science behind it. That said, I had a paranormal experience that was testable and which saved my life. No, I don’t expect you to believe that, it isn’t required. I have nothing to sell. It just happened. I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.

    I also know people who claim a paranormal experience that saved their lives but which could be explained by coincidence or maybe subconscious influence, even if it takes a bit of a stretch.

    Bottom line: I accept that there are things that happen that are not easily explained by the physical world we know.

  13. “John, you could have said you don’t accept the possibility of the paranormal, in a lot fewer words.”

    I could have, but inasmuch as that’s not what I said, I didn’t.

    Also, in a general sense: You understand that the point of a Reader Request Week post isn’t concision, yes?

  14. “The miracles that have come my way personally have been, well, let’s just say, rather non-standard. Totally trivial, nothing breaking the laws of physics or anything, more like a cosmic Jokester Laughing at me, wanting me to know that I Can’t Hide From Destiny.”

    I’m a pagan/witchy sort and the same happens to me. Like I am seeing hearts and romantic license plates everywhere these days and sometimes it’s like, “Someone please explain to me how the hell someone dumped candy hearts in my path in *fall?* Where the hell do you even *buy* the things now? Or why is someone eating really stale hearts from last year and dumping them down the street?” I have all kinds of crazy synchronicity shit going on and at least some of this I cannot find reasonable explanation for.
    On a related note: I am ah, interested in someone, he likes me back but the situation is an “It’s complicated, not ready yet” sort of thing. One of those things people will say is that you see the guy’s name everywhere. Sure, I do, he has a dirt common first name that also is used as a last name. So I don’t think it counts. But he has a rare last name and I made a crack that if I start seeing THAT everywhere, you know it means something. And sure ’nuff, I was watching YouTube and someone with the last name came up, though not a relative (I asked). LIFE IS WEIRD, YO.

    “I accept that life consists of good times and bad times and some tests. But why Are You Laughing At Me?”

    God thinks we’re funny and we are especially funny when we try to make plans?

  15. John, while you technically allow some wiggle room for the possibility of the paranormal, you say things like: “There’s maybe a >.000000001% chance it was actually paranormal!” That is less 1/10 of a chance of a single paranormal experience in the entire population of the world. That is an awfully strong dismissal of the possibility.

  16. The nearest I’ve come to a paranormal experience is I occasionally have moments of deja-vu, and I’ll realise I dreamed the moment I’m experiencing. Which means either a) the Matrix is glitching a bit more than average around me; or b) I have a life which is rather predictable and a brain which is very good at pattern-matching (which, well, hey, autism spectrum: my brain is VERY good at pattern matching, and I can see patterns where a lot of people can only see blurs). So while I may well have dreamed a future moment, I’m more likely to put this down to the combination of my brain being very good at seeing patterns in my extremely pattern-prone life, and predicting the eminently predictable. Which… well, it’s a bit like predicting sunrise.

  17. I’m pretty scientific too, don’t really believe in ghosts, paranormal, etc, etc.

    But back in 1970 (or maybe ’71, it was a long time ago!) I was stationed on a ship in our home port of Key West (yes, I know, tough duty station, but several thousand of us had to do it!). One night, nice clear, full moon tropical night, a shipmate and I decided to climb up to the helo landing pad and watch the wonderful night sky.

    We pulled some life jackets our of a locker, and laid down. Ship pointed nearly due north, we were facing nearly due south, I was looking more west and Dave was looking more east. Dave says “Holy S–t!” and when I look over to the east, I see a formation of glowing, shimmery, dove shaped things, one leader and two wing-men behind.

    They were glowing and the shimmer was kind of like a old style fluorescent tube that’s nearly failing, brighter in some spots, not so bright in others, and they are moving around. No straight lines, all swoopy curves. We both jumped up to watch as they passed over the ship, headed north. Then they blinked out, just as they had blinked into view for Dave a split second before I looked over at them. They went from way south of us to way north of us in — maybe 12 or 15 seconds, time enough for two fit guys to jump up and go “Holy Sh..”

    After they vanished, we hustled down below decks to put the most steel between us and the now suddenly scary sky. The next day Dave would NOT speak of the evening before at all. The most amazing, inexplicable thing I have ever seen.

    I have talked about this sort of thing with other folks who have had close encounters much more close and scary than that, farmers with day jobs in big plants, not inclined to be off top dead center, so no telling what’s out there we can’t usually see.

  18. IA friend’s mother got friendly with some of her kids friends after her husband passed.I was one of them. He was an FBI RA and hated me for polluting his kids.

    One day their dog went nuts and Laurie said it did that when the ghost was visiting. I had to check it out and walked into the bathroom, where the dog was barking at thin air.

    The air was not thin air, there was something tangible there. All of my hair lifted straight up. That took a lot of energy because my hair was almost to my waist at that time. I also felt something around my neck, like Laurie’s dad was trying to strangle me, something he threatened me with several times.

  19. I was in my local independently owned bookstore today and was checking up on some books I had on order. One was Scott Lynch whose latest book has a publication date that jumps all over the place. I commented that he at least had a new book coming out unlike Patrick Rothfuss and JRR Martin. The guy I talk to at the store looked up Scott Lynch on Mr Google and went to one of the results and there it said that Scott Lynch was first to finally publish again and had beaten Patrick Rothfuss and JRR Martin.
    The subject of finally publishing was a random thing in our discussion, but to then access a google page and see the same thing?

    And many years ago I was playing a board game with friends and I picked six dice throws in a row, regardless of who was throwing. I was in a happy carefree mood, but as soon as I realised what had happened the mood went as did the predictions.

    Often when I’m in that happy mood I’ll make a comment and [snaps fingers] it happens. Is the brain running slightly ahead of reality, or subconsciously processing known things? But that doesn’t explain reading say, a John Scalzi book, and when nearing the end of a page think “such and such will happen” which the storyline doesn’t hint at, and there it is in black and white.

    Oh well, whatever.

  20. I have, on a very few occasions in my life, had episodes of sleep paralysis. Essentially an interruption of REM sleep. You wake up, but your limbic system is slow on the uptake and hasn’t gotten around to unparalyzing your muscles.

    The worst one was while staying at the old inn located in Jim Thorpe, PA. The building is ~170 years old and supposed to be haunted. I woke up paralyzed & paranoid and stayed that way for close to a minute. When I finally unfroze I let out a very loud shout. It creeped me the f**k out. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.

    At the time I didn’t know what was going on. I still have this every once and a while, but now I don’t holler and leave the lights on the rest of the night.

  21. David Hajicek:

    “That is an awfully strong dismissal of the possibility.”

    So, admitting the possibility of something is actually a dismissal of a possibility, got it.

    I suggest you don’t check out how many neutrinos need to pass through a neutrino detector for a single one to register. The answer might cause you to dismiss the possibility of neutrinos.

    Otherwise, maybe you should actually entertain the possibility that I, a rather successful professional writer with three decades of professional standing, might actually have the capability to accurately state my position on this topic, whether you like (or agree with) that position or not.

  22. I’m glad to learn there is someone else with views similar to mine: I don’t believe in ghosts. But. I have friends who have encountered ghost(s), and I believe them. I’m OK with this. As you say, there are many possible explanations, including the outside possibility ghosts exist. No need for me to be obnoxious.

  23. Dear John,

    What a fabulous way to start off your request week! I’m very interested in the history and philosophy of science as well as the philosophy of religion, and what you’re talking about plays right into that.

    An interesting data point — a majority of scientists self-identify as “religious.” The data on that is very solid — decades and decades of studies get the same answer. You’ll have to ask those scientists what they mean by that word — it means a whole bunch of different things to different people.

    There are a couple of subschools of philosophy around science that are pertinent. “Scientism” is one. That’s a belief that the entire universe is explicable through scientific principles and study. What the details of that science will turn out to be is left as an exercise for future readers. It only assumes that any “high weirdness” will turn out to have some natural basis, even if it is one we have yet to identify. A kind of philosophical inversion of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    A less common and more extreme one is “scientific materialism,” the belief that not only is the entire universe explicable through scientific principles, but, essentially, what you see is all that you get. It doesn’t allow for the possibility of genuine “high weirdness” or theology.

    Only a small fraction of scientists are scientific materialists. I would guess (I do NOT have data on this) that a majority are scientismists, as that isn’t incompatible with holding “religious” beliefs.

    My takeaway from what you wrote (trying to read your mind, but not psi powers) is that you would not be terribly surprised if it turns out that scientific materialism is the correct representation of the universe, but philosophically you’re probably more of a scientismist. You’re confident that if something truly weird comes along, there will be a naturalistic explanation even if it’s based on science we haven’t yet figured out and while you don’t expect that to happen, well… ya nevva knows.

    Did I get that about right?

    Me, I’m definitely in the scientismist camp, with the difference that there have been and continue to be a considerable number of High Weirdnesses in my life, and I don’t mean one-in-a-million coincidences that don’t really prove anything other than that we’re operating in a really large sample space. I have friends who do what I like to call “magic.” A term they are not happy with, but I need a placeholder. I don’t mean they necessarily believe in or practice magic, they just do stuff. Objectively observable and communicable stuff that falls entirely into the category of spooky action at a distance (physicist joke, there).

    I have no idea how this works. They, for the most part, have no idea how this works. In fact, more often than not, they are skeptical of people who are convinced that they do know how it works. They are more like mechanical engineers than theoretical physicists.

    But stuff happens. Stuff that other people would call “paranormal,” or “magic,” or “metaphysical.” All of which are just placeholder words for “stuff we do not have a good intellectual model for.” In my opinion. For with very little *that’s* worth.

    But, oh yeah, stuff happens. Spooky action at a distance in everyday life. It makes my world a lot more interesting.

    ~~~~

    Okay, I have to give one example of an inexplicable weirdness that I don’t think falls into any categories — it’s merely inexplicable.

    We used to have a really old VCR — Paula bought it back in the early 1980s. The kind you had to program entirely by hand and you had to manually set the date and the clock, because picking up the time signal from the TV station was not yet a thing. We had it into the early 2000’s, along with more modern devices.

    About 15 ago, the standard time/daylight saving time switch came around. Some of the stuff in our house is smart enough to handle that. Some things like the microwave and the wall clocks, not so much. Our new VCR and our TiVo were time-smart. We didn’t have to worry about them. The old VCR? Hell, it doesn’t even know what a leap year is and even if it did, just when the standard/daylight switch occurs has moved since it was built. Twice each year we have to manually shift it by an hour.

    Except for this year. It’s perfectly in sync with the “smart” devices. It has time-shifted by an hour all on its own. This is not, in fact, possible! Okay, in theory, not… because it did happen, in fact. But still, not possible!

    Only explanation that comes to mind, and Paula and I say it almost simultaneously — “We just found a bug in the code!” (There is a reason we’ve been together for 35 years.)

    No, I really, really do not believe we live in a simulation and neither does Paula. But still, I’d love to hear someone explain just what the hell happened. I don’t call that “magic;” it’s just an occurrence that makes no sense whatsoever.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
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  24. Thank you for the great topic. I love stories of strange experiences. I personally believe there is no magic in the world, but weird things do happen. I just figure I don’t understand enough of the universe, coincidences do happen, or for fun, I assume I experienced a “bug” in the way the universe runs and let my mind run with the various story possibilities if the event was something repeatable and possible.

    One strange event that I’ll always remember was when I was younger (junior high school?), I was at home having dinner with my family and for some reason I just stated aloud, “Mrs X is going to drop by…” My mom looked up and asked, oh did she call. “No,” was all I could answer followed with admitting I had no idea why I had blurted that out.

    You have to understand we lived in a location that our friend would never just drive by on their way home. You had to go out of your way to get to our home.

    About an hour later, there is a knock at the door, my mom answers and there is Mrs X! We were shocked. My mom told her that I had said she was coming, but she was confused, she never called and somehow had been in the area and had decided last minute to come visit us on the off chance we’d be at home.

    For the next half hour, as only an older sibling can do, I kept telling my younger sister and brother that I had tapped into the powers of the universe!

    So strange. I still don’t know what came over me. How did I know this? What came over me to just announce it? Was I in a brief mental state that just was coincidental (what are the odds?) or, or what?

  25. John,
    I’m sorry that you chose to take my pointing out the obvious, as a personal insult, it certainly was not intended to be such. It seems I struck a nerve, sorry. Really.

    You certainly expect to not be challenged on what you say, you said as much. You are obviously a very, very successful author that I enjoy reading, but I don’t know what that has to do with the issue. I was hoping for a fair discussion of the matter.

    I’ve talked to other writers who feel that their word-smithing skills give them a unique understanding of their thinking abilities and never make a mistake in what they say. I would be the last person to claim infallibility. If I get too full of myself, the world gives me a lesson in humility. My wife says I tend to be too blunt, and strike the other person “right between the eyes”. It would seem that I did that again. Sorry. Really.

  26. David Hajicek:

    “It seems I struck a nerve, sorry.”

    (rolls eyes)

    Trying to mansplain to me what I really meant to say isn’t “striking a nerve,” dude, nor is it “challenging” me. It’s just being obnoxious. Do better next time.

  27. I have seen a ‘ghost’, a woman in a light mac (a dark brown overcoat wouldn’t have worked), and I’m not the only one, I know of at least a dozen others who have seen similar ‘ghosts’. In my case I was with a friend and her young children driving back from holiday, we’d been in the south west of Ireland and had to get up early to drive to Cork catch the ferry to Swansea, then drive from there up to Sheffield, so we’d had a long day despite sharing the driving. At around half nine we stopped for a bite to eat, coffee (lots of coffee), a loo break and to swap over drivers; just after my friend pulled out onto the road I clearly saw a woman in a light trench coat style mac in the road in front of us, I gasped and put my hand out to the dashbaord expecting an impact – which didn’t happen, because the woman wasn’t really there. All of the people I have mentioned this to that have had the same experience happen to have been driving on roads near rivers, after dark, as the mist rose into the cooling air, she’s commonly seen on ring roads round towns as they cross the local river.Yup, just our pattern percieving brains making a false positive, but damn she looked real!

  28. I like this topic. I have the same views as you. Perhaps there is a link?

    Early one morning about thirty years ago, I was sorting microfiche. I had tens of thousands of X-rays that had been archived (shrunk) onto 4×6 cards of film. They were already sorted by patient number. I also had another set of X-rays that had been archived at a different time. My task was to merge them into a single collection.

    I had been doing this menial job for an hour or so when I pulled the next card out and held it up to the light. I didn’t feel any particular compulsion; I was just bored.

    The name of the patient on the X-ray had been written originally in sharpie, so it was large enough to make out. I’m pretty sure I jumped, or yelled, or fell out of my chair, because the name on the exam was my name.

    It wasn’t me, but someone who shared my first and last name. But why would I choose this particular microfiche to hold up to the light?

    The answer was probably the patient number. I did know there was another patient in the analog “system” with my name, because I had seen the patient’s index card months earlier in the alphabetical card catalog when I was looking up my own name. I would not have memorized the other patient’s number, but I think my brain mistakenly thought the number might have significance and it etched a path in my neural network.

    I can’t know if that is what really happened, but as an example of how our brains make notes of significant (and sometimes not) patterns to guide “intuitive” actions later on, I think it’s fascinating. As a paranormal experience, it’s kind of lame.

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