General Question

chelle21689's avatar

Are people that claim to have been visited by the dead hallucinating?

Asked by chelle21689 (5229 points ) September 21st, 2012

Have you had any experiences? I’m not talking about a dream either. Seems many people claim that in a dream or when they are just waking up which is probably likely still dreaming.

What theory does science have for those who have claimed a loved one has visited them other than thinking it’s a lie or that they’re crazy? In some stories, people claim something that is pretty eery. One story of a woman talking to a man she’s always given advice to and is pretty close with and him saying goodbye only to have her find out he was pronounced dead a few hours before. Something like that. But many non believers say it’s just wishful thinking and it’s all made up in their head due to the stress and traumatic experience.

Is it just coincidence, in our heads, or something spiritual?

Also, why do some people feel that a loved one has visited them but no other loved ones, why doesn’t everyone experience that? I mean, what’s the purpose anyways? If they did have the option to give their last goodbyes, why doesn’t everyone that has died do it ya know?

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37 Answers

Qingu's avatar

I think they’re just lying. In some cases they’re lying to themselves.

wundayatta's avatar

Coincidence. Once I randomly started feeling incredible anxiety for no reason at all. Days later, I learned an old friend had been told he had only a week to live, at most, at exactly the same time as my random anxiety appeared.

When I found out he was dying, I called his wife, who happened to be at his bedside. I couldn’t talk to him, as he was in a horrible state. I heard him crying, “Why can’t I just die now?” Too bad. He was dead two days later.

I realize now that it was more likely the anxiety was the beginning of my bipolar depression symptoms. It wasn’t more than a few weeks later and I was thinking of how I could die. At any rate, that’s my story now.

You tell me. Am I psychic? Or was it coincidence? Is it possible to feel someone’s anguish from 3000 miles away? Am I special? Magical?

I don’t think so.

There’s more, but I’ll just say this. A lot of times we feel stuff and don’t know where it comes from. This makes us really anxious not to have a good explanation. I think ghosts and other supernatural explanations make us feel like we have an explanation even though it doesn’t make sense, scientifically. So we go with them, because not having any explanation at all is worse than having an unlikely explanation. That’s built into us.

tedd's avatar

I take a look at this scientifically (being a chemist), but that doesn’t necessarily lead me to the belief you may assume. It’s the same argument I try to point out to people who attempt to go too far with science and say it disproves the existence of God. No it doesn’t. What science can tell you is that it hasn’t found anything to support that people are actually being visited by the dead in some fashion, and it may even give you plausible alternative reasons as to what is actually happening.

But as with the existence of God, nothing we can do at the moment is able to disprove that people are actually having contact with the deceased or “otherworldly.”

Qingu's avatar

You can’t disprove that I’m actually an ancient Babylonian demon either.

I have vast powers, over weather, animals, I can even control people’s minds. I just choose not to use these powers. Well sometimes I control people’s minds. I am controlling @tedd‘s mind right now actually. You can’t prove I’m not.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t need to. That’s because I’m controlling @tedd‘s mind.

And boy, do I feel slimy! ;-)

tedd's avatar

@Qingu Hey I’m just telling you precisely how the scientific method works. It may be a bit asinine in that the question presented is one that simply can’t be proven wrong or right because there’s really no evidence that can certifiably say it one way or the other…. But that still mean’s science can’t say no.

Trillian's avatar

Has anyone looked at the possibility that hallucination, the flood of DMT into the brain, is actually acting like a removal of the filter of our humanity, temporarily allowing up to perceive somwthing which is there all the time? Are we not limited in our perceptions by our humanity? Is this not why we can only perceive time in a linear fashion?
It seems plausible to me that what se dismiss as hallucinatino is, in some cases at least, actually imperfect perception of other realms or dimensions from which we are normally incognizant.

Thammuz's avatar

Either that or lying. Mostly the latter.

Qingu's avatar

@tedd, I think that not only do I think science can say “no,” I think science can say “fuck off.”

For example.

Maybe not the best example, particularly for this question. But I like the tone.

When there is no scientific evidence for a claim that otherwise appears completely arbitrary, I consider that a “disproof.” The alternative is that you have a conception of proof and disproof that is so conditional as to be functionally meaningless. For example, if someone claims that taking homeopathic medicine is effective, the scientific fact that there is no significant concentration of active chemicals in homeopathic medicine and in many cases are no actual molecules of active chemicals, is “disproof” of this claim. I find hemming and hawing about what science can prove and disprove to be nothing more than an excercise in semantics.

ragingloli's avatar

They are just confused. They are actually seeing aliens.

tedd's avatar

@Qingu Science can unequivocally say that a medicine (homeopathic or not) works or doesn’t work. You can study that by giving a large number of people afflicted with whatever disease you want the medicine, and testing the results.

You can’t do that with a scenario in which you see dead people, because you can’t replicate whatever “status” brings about you seeing dead people with any ease… and you certainly can not test theories that would prove/disprove them being a hallucination.. let alone with any statistically valid amounts.

Dude you must believe me in this, I know my science and I know my scientific method. You get just as angry and frankly ignorant as people who try to defend the bible when it is questioned. Science does not disprove things like God or seeing dead people, because there is nothing for it to even test. That doesn’t mean though that it proves God or ghosts simply by not disproving them.

Blackberry's avatar

Our brain isn’t always right or accurate, of course. We can induce hallucinations by drugs, lack of sleep etc. Our brain and eyes can trick us into seeing things that aren’t there (glancing quickly and seeing something ridiculous, for example).

I’m not a neuroscientist, but there seems to be more evidence of brain activity than magic.

RandomMrAdam's avatar

The History Channel will have you believe @ragingloli‘s answer.

ragingloli's avatar

It is called the history channel. It has to be true, right?

ucme's avatar

Maybe just a little drunk.

Qingu's avatar

@tedd, science shows that homeopathic medicine doesn’t work by showing that it is physically impossible for the medicine to work. The fact that the medicine, statistically, does nothing is another point of evidence in favor of this conclusion—not the only one.

Likewise, we can show that people don’t speak to dead people by showing that (1) it is physically impossible to do so and (2) there is no evidence (such as information communicated to them by dead people) that they do.

I fail to see much of a difference between the two methodologies.

And it’s not that I don’t believe you about knowing the scientific method, I just think you are being overly pedantic and myopic in applying it to real-world conclusions. If there is “nothing” for science to test, that usually means the claim in question is claiming something that science has shown to be physically impossible. Which is, I think, about as strong of a “disproof” as we can get before the word becomes functionally meaningles.s

Jeruba's avatar

I wouldn’t try to generalize about all people who have made this claim. I would just say they’re all reporting an impossible experience, whether deliberately or mistakenly.

Science does not need a theory to explain something that doesn’t occur, any more than it needs a theory to explain why fairies don’t exist or rainbows don’t lead to pots of gold. The appropriate science to deal with this kind of reporting would, in my opinion, be psychology.

anartist's avatar

Maybe it is just yearning and wishful thinking carried to an extreme.
Maybe they actually mean it symbolically.

filmfann's avatar

My mom insisted that my father spoke to here several times after his passing, and not on the end of sleeping, but in the middle of the day when she was up and active.
I honestly don’t know, but I acknowledge it’s possible.

Nullo's avatar

Not necessarily, though I don’t think that it’s the dead that come visiting.

Response moderated (Spam)
Jeruba's avatar

Very interesting response, @Nullo.

ragingloli's avatar

@Jeruba
It is all demons to him.

Pazza's avatar

Kill yourself and find out lol.
(damb…. general question)

Erm, I don’t think so, I had a lot of personal experiences, just last night in fact. In another question about voices in your head, I left a few comments about my own experiences, and also noted that recently there has been a spate of car break-ins down our street. I noted that sometimes I throw out questions into the eather to see if anyone responds. Anyway, I threw out the question “can someone wake me up next time a break-in is about to occur” and went to sleep, only to be woken up by someone calling my name twice. I was in a dream at the time when I heard my name called, it was an external voice right next to my head. My initial thought was, someones outside, then I listened for some noises, and looked out the window, and saw nothing.

The next morning I got up and didn’t think anything of it. About 2.30pm I went to the local shops with my daughters auntie on the hunt for an iphone 4s screen (nobody had one) on returning and driving down our street, I saw one of the neighbors brushing up the glass from his car window in the street.

Could it be coincidence? – Yes of course.
Could I have imagined the voice? – Yes of course.
Do I believe the above to be the case? – No.

Too many coincidences, too many personal experiences.

Oh, I forgot to mention, it was a woman’s voice (not the wife’s) she was still asleep.
And that’s not to say I don’t believe people can have self generated hallucinations, there’s just no way I would rule out either explanation.

Bill1939's avatar

Some people may be hallucinating when they think that the dead have visited them, or some may be fantasizing so strongly that they experience a waking dream, but there may be rare occasions when such visitations occur. Many people I have met have examples of experiences that seem to them to be unusual, as do I. I was more willing twenty-five years ago than I am now to believe that my sister came to me shortly after her death in the form of a fragrance that flowed from a cold column of air in an otherwise warm hallway. The scent, which in no way is associated with my sister, and relative coolness at that spot were actual phenomena, but my conclusion then did not have an adequate basis. However, it remains the only notion that the event fits.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Bill1939 Quite interesting. My experience also had to do with a certain unexplainable occurrence of a smell. Plus unexplainable footsteps I actually heard. I was wide awake and fully alert when it happened.

keobooks's avatar

I remember on NPR science Friday, they once mentioned that there is a phenomenon where people feel a presence with them that is not there. These neurologists discovered that they could recreate the feeling by stimulating a certain part of the brain. The only difference was that people frequently described the presence as angelic when it happened naturally, but they described it as creepy or uncanny when it happened in the lab.

I’m not saying all ghostly encounters are like this, but there are situations (usually noted in times of stress or mild hypoxia – climbing very high mountains) where the brain can be fooled into feeling the presence of something alien or strange..

Thammuz's avatar

@keobooks The only difference was that people frequently described the presence as angelic when it happened naturally, but they described it as creepy or uncanny when it happened in the lab.

Which doesn’t surprise me, considering labs are creepy.

tedd's avatar

@Qingu If there is nothing for science to test or even hypothesize on, then there’s really nothing science can say on the matter. People often go too far and give science the same sort of biblical power of answering any question they give God in religions. It’s not to say science won’t one day have an answer, but if it doesn’t have one yet you can’t point to it and say “oh well common sense science says this is impossible.” If you can’t prove it, you can’t prove it.

Pazza's avatar

If I were to disclose all my personal experiences to a psychiatrist, surely I would be sectioned under the mental health act?

Also, it is my understanding that science says that the chances for a deity existing are astronomically small, therefore it its view there can’t be one?

Surely this means anyone visiting a church should also be sectioned as should every judge who asks you to swear on the bible before he can ‘hear’ you?

So I think, although a very good question, its really just a matter of opinion and personal experience, since to date, the only way you could really prove it either way is bump off the person that doesn’t believe you.

Bill1939's avatar

I am of the opinion that one needs to be a little crazy to be able to sense the paranormal.

@Pazza, scientists come in all flavors, from devout atheists to fundamentalists of all religions, and everything in between. The transcendental nature of a spiritual universe removes it from the realm of scientific investigation. Science can say nothing about the probability of its existence, at least not at this time.

Paradox25's avatar

Perhaps in some cases, but I highly doubt all of these cases are delusions or lies. I also don’t believe that ghosts or spirits are demons either.

Bill1939's avatar

All demons reside within one’s conceptual reality, not within the physical reality (imho). I suspect that the majority of paranormal reports are from the self-deluded or swindlers. Yet there are some, and I am one of them, whose experiences of departed loved-ones exhibiting a presence are real yet unexplainable. There may be a time of transition between being freed from a corporeal form and becoming one with the Universal Spirit (for want of a better label), during which the self is still attached to its sense of identity.

ragingloli's avatar

“I suspect that the majority of paranormal reports are from the self-deluded or swindlers.”
What makes you so sure you are not one of them?

Bill1939's avatar

It is a question I have asked myself many times over the years. I have not had many such experiences and few with other people witnessing it. One personal example:

My anguish over my sister suicide might have caused me to experience something that wasn’t there. Still, shortly after her death I did smell the scent of perfume (nothing I’d associate with her), and following my nose looking for the source, it led me to a spot in the hall outside a spare room where it was markedly colder. I looked around and saw some of her belongings (things she had stored there years before) and thought, the scent must be coming from there. Stepping out of the column of cold, I tried to catch a whiff of it, but it was gone, as was the cold spot.

I cannot say with any surety that I was not having two hallucinatory sensations. However, never having had hallucinations in the past, I doubt it.

ragingloli's avatar

“However, never having had hallucinations in the past, I doubt it.”
You have never been in such a situation with emtional turmoil before, so that does not say much.

Bill1939's avatar

@ragingloli, you are making an unwarranted assumption about my life. While the death of my sister is among the more severe losses in my life, the end of my marriage after twelve years (coupled with a faulty belief that divorce was proof of failure) and the circumstances that led to the death of my Mother were nearly as devastating. Mental illness took my maternal grandfather’s life when Mother was seven and found growing expression as she descended from bipolar to paranoid schizophrenia (my sister’s diagnosis as well).

Not surprisingly, my sister and I experienced childhood traumas that by today’s standards would have had us removed from the home. Add to the mix my degree in psychology and experience as a case worker for three years in a mental hospital, and perhaps you will accept my ready ambivalence about my paranormal experiences.

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