Ghosts, cryptids, time slips, UFOs, precognitive dreams -- taken as a group, they're terribly common. If you don't believe me, just ask your friends at work or school, "Who here has had an experience that you were completely unable to explain?" I can pretty much guarantee you'll have five or six volunteers, who will then tell you their story in painstaking detail.
Well, some folks based in Seattle have decided to create a database of all of the bizarre accounts they can find, in an attempt to keep track of "weirdnesses — dreams, ‘coincidences’, strange encounters, etc. — on a personal level." They go on to explain, "We’ve long wanted to do something that acts sort of like ‘Google Trends’ (which tracks sudden spikes on google search queries) for the collective unconscious. This map is an extension of that, because we’re trying to see if there are strange places or experiences that are actually quite common but go unnoticed because everyone is afraid to talk about this weird stuff happening to them."
[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Rolf Dietrich Brecher from Germany, Strange wheel (36242991846), CC BY-SA 2.0]
- Dark Forces: Lanyard Zombies, Drones, Corporate Death Zones, Cupcake Shops, Etc.
- Time Distortions: Travelers, Timehunters, “Déjà Vu”, “Losing Time,” Etc
- Mythologies: Pre-Shamanic Deer Cults, Radical Gnostic Animism, Etc.
- Cryptoids [sic]: Bigfoot, Lycanthropes, Trolls, Ogres, Etc.
- Thin Places: Ley Lines, Magic Fountains, Plant Sigils, Portals, Etc.
- Straight Up Ghosts: Creepy vibes, Poltergeists, EVPs, Stone Tape Theories, Class III Apparitions
- High Weirdness: Fortean Phenomena, Floating Toblerone, Things That Just Don’t Make Sense
- Classic UFO: Close Encounters, Sightings, etc.
- Strange Animals: Bearing Gifts, Unusual Encounters, Fecal Divination, etc.
- Visions: Dreams, Visions, Mystical Experiences, etc.
Okay, this brings up a few questions.
- What is it with the lanyards? The "about us" section talks about "lanyard'd ogres," so weird creatures with lanyards must be a thing. Maybe the zombies with lanyards are reanimated dead coaches, or something, but I'm kind of at a loss as to why an ogre would need a lanyard.
- What's a "Corporate Death Zone?" I mean, it would make a fucking awesome name for a metal band, but other than that? My personal opinion is that most corporate jobs would fall into the "shoot me now" category, but I suspect there's more to it than that.
- Why is there a subcategory for "Floating Toblerone" and a second subcategory for "Things That Just Don't Make Sense?" I would think the first would fall directly into the second.
- I've heard a bit about "Stone Tape Theories," which is the idea that rocks pick up psychic traces of events that happen around them, which can then be played back in the fashion of a cassette tape, although considerably clumsier. But since the majority of rocks have been around for millions of years, you'd think that most of what would be recorded would be kind of... pointless. "It sure is boring, being a rock," is mostly what I'd think you'd hear, if you could figure out a way to play it back.
- "Cupcake Shops?"
- I was going to ask about "Fecal Divination," but then I decided that I didn't want to know.
I'm not sure what all of this is supposed to accomplish, because (as I've commented many times) the plural of "anecdote" isn't "data," but I suppose it's a start at least to attempt some kind of catalog of people's odd experiences. The difficulty is twofold; first (as we've also seen many times) the human perceptual/interpretive apparatus is pretty inaccurate and easily fooled, and second, this sort of thing is just begging hoaxers to clog up the works with made-up stories. (Although it must be said that I've never understood hoaxers. I suppose the "five minutes of fame" thing probably explains some of them, but since growing out of a tall-tale-telling stage as a child, I've never understood the draw of inventing far-fetched stories and claiming they're true.)
Be that as it may, I invite you to submit your own experiences to Liminal Earth if you're so inclined. I can't say I've ever had anything happen to me that seems inexplicable, so I don't honestly have anything to contribute myself. Except maybe that my home village used to have a cupcake shop that was wonderful, and they suddenly went out of business. And I would definitely like an explanation for that one, because those cupcakes were awesome.
This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is about a subject near and dear to me: sleep.
I say this not only because I like to sleep, but for two other reasons; being a chronic insomniac, I usually don't get enough sleep, and being an aficionado of neuroscience, I've always been fascinated by the role of sleep and dreaming in mental health. And for the most up-to-date analysis of what we know about this ubiquitous activity -- found in just about every animal studied -- go no further than Matthew Walker's brilliant book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.
Walker, who is a professor of neuroscience at the University of California - Berkeley, tells us about what we've found out, and what we still have to learn, about the sleep cycle, and (more alarmingly) the toll that sleep deprivation is taking on our culture. It's an eye-opening read (pun intended) -- and should be required reading for anyone interested in the intricacies of our brain and behavior.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]