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What explains the “invisible presence” that many people feel in their daily lives |  Sciences

What explains the “invisible presence” that many people feel in their daily lives | Sciences


In 2015, explorer Luke Robertson ventured alone into Antarctica. There was nothing around them but huge fields of snow and ice.

Two weeks have already passed since their only trip to the South Pole, which was to last 40 days. It was late, exhausting and exhausting.

Then he looked up, and to his left he saw … green fields.

And it wasn’t just any green field. Fields was on his family’s farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. So was the house and garden in which he grew up – a sight of comfort, at the same time terrifying.

I spoke to Robertson on BBC Radio 4’s “All in the Mind,” and he told me it was weird. But everything will get even stranger.

His charger didn’t work, and he couldn’t hear the songs he brought with him. The only sounds accompanying him were the creaking of his skis on the ice and the howling of the Antarctic wind. But for some reason, the theme song from The Flintstones played over and over in her head.

It may not have been such a strange thing—everyone has the song “gum bubble gum” stuck in their heads—but he saw the cartoon characters in front of him, on the horizon.

As the days passed, his experiences became more and more strange. He heard someone shout his name and was convinced that there was someone behind him following in his footsteps. But whenever he turns around to check, he finds no one.

However, Robertson could not shake this sense of another’s presence, which he kept until he reached the South Pole.

As he sat down on the sleigh, weak and exhausted, and closed his eyes for a moment, he heard a second sound. This time, a female voice warned him that he should get up, not sleep, as that could be dangerous.

He heard a voice urging him to move forward. It may have saved your life. But again, no one was around.

Everest climbers have also felt that these “ghosts” act like guardian angels, helping them survive and providing them with mystical comfort.

This phenomenon is sometimes called the “third man factor”. In psychology, it is an experience known as a “sense of presence.”

Professor of Psychology Ben Alderson Day at Durham University in the UK is the author of a new book, Presence: The Strange Science and True Stories of the Invisible Other, in free translation). He found that these experiences are not limited to people in extreme situations.

A sense of a mysterious presence is sometimes linked to people who have gone missing, suffer from psychosis or suffer from diseases such as Parkinson’s – Image: GETTY IMAGES via BBC

You may have felt at some point that someone is next to you in the room with you, even if you can’t see that person. It is not an uncommon phenomenon after a bereavement or in people suffering from psychosis.

Up to 25% of people with Parkinson’s disease report this experience. It can also happen when you are about to get up or go to sleep.

For some, this experience can occur as part of sleep paralysis, when they wake up but cannot move. People may have a strong feeling that someone is in the room with them or even just sitting on their chest, squeezing them.

Alderson-Day found that half of all sleep paralysis experiences involved an extremely frightening existence.

A sense of presence makes it seem like someone is with you, in your own space.

It is difficult to say exactly what the feeling of being consists of. It is not a perceptual experience of the five physical senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell or taste – and is therefore not a hallucination.

Objectively speaking, there is nothing there, in fact. But it is not an illusion, it involves ideas. Nor is it the same as imagining someone’s presence.

In the words of Alderson Day, “It is hollow to be a hallucination, but it is more concrete to be an illusion.”

In her search for explanations, Alderson-Day turns to a mixture of the physical and the physiological.

In the case of mountaineers and explorers, a lack of oxygen in the brain is known to cause hallucinations and may be the cause. But there is also an aspect of survival. Does the mind somehow conjure a presence to help us?

Robertson’s own explanation is that his brain was creating what it desperately needed to help him on his arduous journey—sometimes bringing him comforting pictures of home so he could take in the bleak, lonely landscape before him. Other times, the brain conjured up the sounds it needed to prompt it to move forward.

Some people are more likely to experience a sense of presence than others.

As part of their research, Alderson-Day and her team found that women tend to report a more sense of presence — and are more likely to find them distracted or overwhelmed. The feeling of being present is also more common among young people.

Researchers in a laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, have created a robot that, through a complex procedure, is able to trick your brain into making you feel like someone is stalking you.

People with Parkinson’s disease are especially susceptible to this experience.

An unusual pattern of brain activity was found in a network that includes the temporo-parietal junction, the insula and the fronto-parietal cortex. These areas are associated with integrating senses and feeling where your body is.

The variety of situations in which a sense of presence can occur led Alderson-Day to formulate the hypothesis that the cause is a loss of sense of body boundaries.

But anticipation also seems to be part of the process. A second theory has to do with what’s called predictive processing — the idea that the brain fills in missing information when something doesn’t quite make sense.

So, in the same way that we see patterns like faces in clouds, we can identify a person who isn’t there. Or, as Alderson Day puts it, the brain “makes an educated guess about what’s out there.”

As Luke Robertson progresses on his only trek towards the South Pole, he encounters new episodes of ‘sense of being’ – Image: GETTY IMAGES via BBC

How we feel about being present may depend on our personal feelings and beliefs.

It might sound comforting, as Robertson did, or it could be sinister or religious, depending on how you interpret the experience—maybe a guardian angel, ghost, visitor, or your mind is trying to help you.

Alderson-Day believes that the body and mind need to be studied to truly understand what this shared experience is about. Meanwhile, starting to talk about experiences can make them seem less frightening to some people.

Clinicians often ask patients with psychosis to report any sounds they hear, but it is very rare for them to ask about what it feels like to be present.

Alderson-Day believes these sensations are worth exploring. Coping strategies can be shared with them. Or just knowing that you’re not the only one feeling this way can help.

Robertson eventually reached the South Pole. But when he saw the research station, he thought it was a figment of his imagination – when, in fact, he arrived at his destination.

He would also like to see more discussions of these experiences, so that other explorers like him can understand what is going on and focus on their journey.

In this way, the invisible visitor will be able to help him better.