Category Archives: Paranormal

Coroner: Irish pensioner ‘died of spontaneous human combustion’


Experts are divided about what ‘spontaneous human combustion’ actually is Photo: DAVID PEARSON/ALAMY

A pensioner whose body was found totally burned died of spontaneous human combustion, a coroner has ruled.

Telegraph | Sep 23, 2011

By Josie Ensor

Michael Faherty, 76, was found lying face down near an open fire in his living room in Galway, Ireland.

Apart from his body, investigators could find no other damage in the house.

Dr Kieran McLoughlin, the West Galway coroner, said it was the first time in his 25 year career that he had returned a spontaneous combustion verdict, which is believed to be the first in Ireland.

Spontaneous combustion occurs when an object – in this case a human – bursts into flame from an internal chemical reaction, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source.

In most cases the victim is almost completely consumed, usually inside their home, while little to no damage is recorded to the property itself.

There have been hundreds of reported cases of death by spontaneous human combustion around the world over the last 300 years, although few have been properly assessed by experts.

The inquest on Thursday heard how investigators were baffled as to the cause of death, the Irish Independent reported.

Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where the man’s badly burned body was found had not been the cause of the blaze.

The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there had been nothing to suggest foul play. The coroner said he was satisfied nobody had entered or left the house that night.

The fire which killed Mr Faherty was confined to the sitting room. The only damage was to the body, which was totally burned, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.

Pathologist Professor Grace Callagy noted in her post-mortem findings that Mr Faherty had suffered from Type 2 diabetes and hypertension but she concluded he had not died from heart failure.

Dr McLoughlin said he had consulted medical textbooks and carried out other research in an attempt to find an explanation.

He said he referred to a book written by forensic pathologist on spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney.

“This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation,” he said.

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ crashes CDC website


A screenshot of the website for the Centers for Disease Control, which were swamped by a massive wave of traffic following the tongue-in-cheek warning of an impending “zombie apocalypse.” CDC

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ Is a Killer — for Website

Reuters | May 20, 2011

A blog post by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that mentions a “zombie apocalypse” as a lighthearted way to get Americans to read about preparing for hurricanes drove so much traffic that it crashed the website, the agency said on Thursday.

The Zombie Apocalypse campaign is a social media effort by the CDC’s Public Health and Preparedness center to spread the word about the June 1 start of hurricane season.

The CDC is a U.S. federal government health agency based in Atlanta.

“There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,” the blog post begins. “Take a zombie apocalypse for example. … You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

The blog appeared just days before May 21, when an evangelical broadcaster in California has predicted “Judgment Day” will mark the end of the world.

“If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you’ll be prepared for all hazards,” CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told Reuters on Thursday.

The word zombie comes from voodoo practice of spirit possession in which victims are stripped of consciousness.

Zombies became popular culture references after the success of George Romero’s 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead” where flesh-eating zombies roam the eastern seaboard in the aftermath of radioactive contamination.

Daigle said that a typical CDC blog post might get between 1,000 and 3,000 hits. The most traffic on record had been a post that saw around 10,000 visits.

By the end of Wednesday, with servers down, the page had 60,000. By Thursday, it was a trending topic on Twitter.

The campaign was designed to reach a young, media-savvy demographic that the CDC had not been able to capture previously, Daigle said.

Increased traffic did not affect the main CDC website.

Scientists: Out-of-body experiences are products of confused minds


People close to death have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves Photo: ALAMY

AAAS: Out-of-body experiences are just the product of a confused mind

Out-of-body experiences are not “spiritual” phenomenon but tricks played by a confused mind, claim scientists who fooled people into thinking they inhabited the body of a virtual human.

Telegraph | Feb 18, 2011

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent in Washington

Throughout history people have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves, often when close to death or on the operating table.

The accounts have been so vivid that they are often cited as proof of the existence of the soul or Heaven.

But scientists now claim they have dispelled this myth by artificially creating an out-of-body experience using computers and cameras.

They believe the feeling of detachment occurs when the brain becomes confused by conflict between the senses – and is not proof of any “spiritual dimension” to existence.

Professor Olaf Blanke and his team at University of Geneva said they had “immersed” volunteers into the body of an avatar – a computer generated version of themselves.

Volunteers were asked to wear virtual reality goggles and then stand in front of a camera.

The subjects saw the cameras view of their back on screens in the goggles, computer enhanced to create a 3D virtual version or avatar.

When their back was stroked with a pen so was the virtual avatar in front of them, making them think that the virtual body was in fact their own.

In this way people became confused about their real and the virtual self – even though they were effectively two metres apart from each other.

Prof Blanke, who presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Washington, said: “Through vision and touch they lost themselves.

“They start thinking that the avatar is their own body. We created a partial out-of-body experience.

“We were able to dissociate touch and vision and make people think that their body was two metres in front of them.”

He said by inducing the out-of-body experience it proved it was more like a brain malfunction when sight, touch and balance become confused.

Dr Blanke said: “Instead of it being a spiritual thing, it is the brain being confused. Why do we think that it is spiritual when we don’t think a phantom limb when one is lost is an example of the paranormal.”

To take the research further they used sensors connected to the skull to find the areas of the brain most involved in deciding where it belongs.

These were found to be temporo-parietal and frontal regions – parts at the front and right side of the brain responsible for integrating touch and vision.

If these were damaged or somehow short-circuited it could account for the feeling of floating above your body often associated with an out-of-body experiences.

Aside from explaining out-of-body experiences, the work could have more commercial applications, said the researcher.

The technique could be used to make computer games even more exciting or projecting people into robot soldiers or surgeons.

They could even be used to treat eating disorders linked with a flawed body image, such as anorexia.

Out-of-body experiences most often occur during sleep or waking as well as through drug use, trauma and under anaesthetic.

They effect around one in 10 of the population.

Blind man navigates obstacle course subconsciously

BLINDSIGHT A patient whose visual lobes in the brain were destroyed was able to navigate an obstacle course and recognize fearful faces subconsciously.

New York Times | Dec 22, 2008

Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain’s Subconscious Visual Sense

By BENEDICT CAREY

The man, a doctor left blind by two successive strokes, refused to take part in the experiment. He could not see anything, he said, and had no interest in navigating an obstacle course — a cluttered hallway — for the benefit of science. Why bother?

When he finally tried it, though, something remarkable happened. He zigzagged down the hall, sidestepping a garbage can, a tripod, a stack of paper and several boxes as if he could see everything clearly. A researcher shadowed him in case he stumbled.

“You just had to see it to believe it,” said Beatrice de Gelder, a neuroscientist at Harvard and Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who with an international team of brain researchers reported on the patient on Monday in the journal Current Biology.

The study, which included extensive brain imaging, is the most dramatic demonstration to date of so-called blindsight, the native ability to sense things using the brain’s primitive, subcortical — and entirely subconscious — visual system.

Scientists have previously reported cases of blindsight in people with partial damage to their visual lobes. The new report is the first to show it in a person whose visual lobes — one in each hemisphere, under the skull at the back of the head — were completely destroyed. The finding suggests that people with similar injuries may be able to recover some crude visual sense with practice.

“It’s a very rigorously done report and the first demonstration of this in someone with apparent total absence of a striate cortex, the visual processing region,” said Dr. Richard Held, an emeritus professor of cognitive and brain science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who with Ernst Pöppel and Douglas Frost wrote the first published account of blindsight in a person, in 1973.

The man in the new study, an African living in Switzerland at the time, suffered the two strokes in his 50s, weeks apart, and was profoundly blind by any of the usual measures. Unlike people suffering from eye injuries, or congenital blindness in which the visual system develops abnormally, his brain was otherwise healthy, as were his eyes, so he had the necessary tools to process subconscious vision. What he lacked were the circuits that cobble together a clear, conscious picture.

The research team took brain scans and magnetic resonance images to see the damage, finding no evidence of visual activity in the cortex. They also found no evidence that the patient was navigating by echolocation, the way that bats do. Both the patient, T. N., and the researcher shadowing him walked the course in silence.

The man himself was as dumbfounded as anyone that he was able to navigate the obstacle course.

“The more educated people are,” Dr. de Gelder said, “in my experience, the less likely they are to believe they have these resources that they are not aware of to avoid obstacles. And this was a very educated person.”

Scientists have long known that the brain digests what comes through the eyes using two sets of circuits. Cells in the retina project not only to the visual cortex — the destroyed regions in this man — but also to subcortical areas, which in T. N. were intact. These include the superior colliculus, which is crucial in eye movements and may have other sensory functions; and, probably, circuits running through the amygdala, which registers emotion.

In an earlier experiment, one of the authors of the new paper, Dr. Alan Pegna of Geneva University Hospitals, found that the same African doctor had emotional blindsight. When presented with images of fearful faces, he cringed subconsciously in the same way that almost everyone does, even though he could not consciously see the faces. The subcortical, primitive visual system apparently registers not only solid objects but also strong social signals.

Dr. Held, the M.I.T. neuroscientist, said that in lower mammals these midbrain systems appeared to play a much larger role in perception. In a study of rats published in the journal Science last Friday, researchers demonstrated that cells deep in the brain were in fact specialized to register certain qualities of the environment.

They include place cells, which fire when an animal passes a certain landmark, and head-direction cells, which track which way the face is pointing. But the new study also found strong evidence of what the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, called “border cells,” which fire when an animal is close to a wall or boundary of some kind.

All of these types of neurons, which exist in some form in humans, may too have assisted T. N. in his navigation of the obstacle course.

In time, and with practice, people with brain injuries may learn to lean more heavily on such subconscious or semiconscious systems, and perhaps even begin to construct some conscious vision from them.

“It’s not clear how sharp it would be,” Dr. Held said. “Probably a vague, low-resolution spatial sense. But it might allow them to move around more independently.”