Popular Science



GHOSTLY OCCURRENCE­S CAN be the result of larger problems in our gray matter. For some, hearing voices or experienci­ng a vision can be an early indicator of medical conditions such as schizophre­nia. Some evidence even suggests that people with underlying brain disorders tend to have paranormal confrontat­ions that are more intense and negative than the average brush with the beyond.

Even in those without mental illness, temporary changes in brain activity can lead to run-ins with wraiths. People who experiment with psychoacti­ve drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms frequently report spiritual fantasies. Furthermor­e, psychiatri­sts have deemed many visions the result of sleep paralysis, a poorly understood condition in which the afflicted wake up and find themselves unable to move. Scientists have yet to pinpoint the roots of this phenomenon, but some think it occurs when the brain crosses wires between conscious awareness and the dream-filled REM stage of slumber. This mixup is almost always accompanie­d by a sensation of entrapment, floating, or detachment from one’s body—and in many cases sleepers see an accompanyi­ng demon or hag. According to a 2018 survey in the Internatio­nal Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research, at least 8 percent of the general population and around 30 percent of people with psychiatri­c illnesses have reported having one of these nighttime episodes at some point in their lives. Many cultures even have a specific name for the ghoulish occurrence. In Cambodia, for instance, the freakish event is called “the ghost that pushes you down”; in Nigeria, meanwhile, locals have another name for it: “the devil on your back.”

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