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Karkat, Homestuck

Let's get hypnopompic

 Did you know that what you're experiencing right now isn't real?

No, it's not Solipsism Time. What I mean by that is that your eyes aren't, as they might appear, transparent windows allowing your brain to look out onto reality. Instead they're data gatherers, collecting photons of light that are constructed into an image in your head. The same goes for all your other senses- the reality you experience on a day to day basis is essentially a virtual construct made by your brain. 

For example, did you know there's a blind spot in your vision? That's right, there's a fairly large hole in the text you're reading right now where you're technically not seeing anything. The reason this doesn't bother you is because your brain fills in the gap.

So the virtual reality you're experiencing right now is usually a pretty accurate representation of non-virtual reality. Only here's the thing: sometimes it's not. If something goes wrong your brain can conjure up people, places, voices, smells and sensations that aren't really there. And I'm not talking about schizophrenia here. Perfectly sane and lucid people can experience hallucinations that are just as vivid and off the wall as anything conjured by the mind if a mental patient. 

So the next time a believer in the paranormal asks you which is more likely- that John Doe was levitated out of his bedroom window by aliens, or that he simply imagined the whole thing- always go for the latter option. And when UFO witnesses are described as being sane, rational people with no history of mental illness, remember how little that counts for.

One particular form of hallucination that lies at the root of many paranormal experiences is the hypnopompic variety. Another name for this is a "waking dream". 

If you've taken even a brief gander through the world of the paranormal you'll discover that many ghost sightings and UFO abductions begin with the witness waking up in the middle of the night and seeing something in their room that really shouldn't be there. The explanation for this is pretty simple- the human brain wakes up in stages, and there's a window (sometimes a fairly large window) in which dream-like imagery can be projected onto the real world.

I've experienced this myself and I can attest that the effect is extremely realistic. One night I woke up and discovered to my surprise that there was a large red security camera hanging from the ceiling which had obviously not been there when I went to sleep. Armed with my knowledge of hypnopompic hallucinations I simply closed my eyes and waited for the image to fade, but I've often wondered how someone with no knowledge of the phenomenon would have reacted. Interestingly, when my eyes were closed I could still see the outline of the security camera against the back of my eye-lids, similarly to how a bright light burns an image into your vision. 

I suppose this as good a time as any to bring up the issue of how I feel about believers in the paranormal. Are they stupid? Gullible, maybe? If we're talking about people who read ghost stories on the internet and swallow the whole thing without a hint of skeptical thought the answer would be a resounding "yes" on both counts. But it's a different story entirely when someone has experienced a terrifying night-time visitation of the sort described above. We're used to the idea that seeing is believing and I can't fault anyone who reaches for a paranormal explanation after seeing something they can't explain.

Unless they've been reading this blog, in which case they have no excuse. 

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Karkat, Homestuck

June 2011

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