Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The scariest 'true' ghost story in London, which is full of them, is the monster at 50, Berkeley Square, Mayfair. In the nineteenth century, this terrible apparition was actually scaring to death people who stayed in the haunted room on the fourth floor. The tale has been spun, adapted and changed ever since (the house itself, in particular, wonders around Berkeley Square to number 10 or 52 or where ever) but the original details are suggestive. The victim wakes up in bed faced with the most horrible apparition imaginable which attacks them.

We are often told that lots of Americans think they have been abducted. This is not strictly true and the story comes from research done by the Roper Organisation which found one in fifty Americans had experiences that could be interpreted as abduction. Among those experiences are:

Do you remember waking up paralyzed with a sense of a strange person or
presence or something else in the room? Do you remember having seen, either as a
child or adult, a terrifying figure-- which might have been a monster, a witch,
a devil, or some other evil figure-- in your bedroom or closet or somewhere

This sounds much like those nasty goings on in Berkeley Square which suggests, if nothing else, that either the aliens have been around a while or else they have nothing to do with it. Many myths, from fairy abduction to the Black Annis of Scotland may have their origins from similar experiences.

So what is going on? Well, I know of what I speak and as we were sitting last night, drinking and watching bats chasing moths over a little river here in Lampeter, both my companions knew as well. The answer appears to be that we sometimes suffer from an uncommonly severe form of sleep paralysis that is discussed by Susan Blackmore in the Sceptical Enquirer. We wake up paralysed in bed and in the presence of something extremely nasty that means us harm. The wisest thing to do if this happens to you is keep your eyes tightly shut and try to winkle a finger. In serious cases the monster can seem to rip the sheets off the bed or attack. One friend who foolishly opened his eyes during such an experience has simply refused to talk about what he saw. Certainly though, the appearance of the monster seems to be culturally determined. When I was very young I saw a ghost, complete with sheet over its head, but now I have no intention of finding out what my adult imagination can conjure up. Modern Americans seem to see aliens.

Susan Blackmore, who is a scientific reductionist, sees all this in terms of brain function. I'm not so sure. While the appearance of the beast is certainly determined by our own imaginations, that could simply be the brain trying to make sense of a class of experience it has no equipment to comprehend. Whatever else, for those of us who go through this sort of thing, it seems a lot more real than the blathering of neuro-scientists.


Anonymous said...

as a person with narcolepsy, i've experienced sleep paralysis numerous times. for me it's rarely, if ever, been associated with the sense that a demon, ghost, alien, person, etc is attacking me or is about to attack me. more often than not it's just the sense that i'm somehow being "sucked" into someplace that isn't good. i've tried to just let it go to see if it'd pass, but it was too scary and i had to fight it to wake up. when i do sense someone else during sleep paralysis it's usually someone i know asking me a question and i'm really anxious and freaked out because i can't move or talk back. although it's neurologically based -- the "intrusion" of REM sleep (which results in bodily paralysis so we don't act out our dreams) before we're fully asleep -- i do wonder if there can be spiritual implications such as the enemy taking advantage of the situation to cause fear. it's possible, but i would leave it at that. if it is the enemy taking advantage of the situation, in my situation why would he use someone i know who casually talks to me to cause fear instead of a demon, violent person, alien, etc? doesn't make much sense.


Anonymous said...

I had that happen once as a child - I'd heard the sleep paralysis theories but didn't realize they covered what I experienced, which was basically to become aware of a terrifying, shrouded presence sitting on my bed looking at me. Despite my ignorance of Science I guess stumbled on the right response - squeezed my eyes shut (in terror) and then eventually fell asleep. Very interesting. I think you've got a point about it possibly being our brain interpreting some real even which it can't comprehend, rather than a total fabrication. Perhaps there's some link to the way NDE's occur in all sorts of different cultural trappings?