Offbeat

Is Ball Lightning A Hallucination? A New Study Says Yes

A new study conducted by Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, suggests that in many instances, those mysterious floating orbs of light known as ball lightning so often reported during thunderstorms are merely tricks of the mind!

Momentary visions of small blobs of electricity have been reported during thunderstorms for centuries, but why and how they form is a mystery. Scientists have been unable to study the phenomenon effectively because its occurrence is so rare and ethereal. It is known that strong magnetic fields can result from the effects of repeated strikes of lightning, but scientists involved in this particular study questioned if ball lightning might be an hallucination not caused by too many martinis, but rather by the magnetic stimulation of either the retina of the eye or the brain’s visual cortex.

Last May, the two scientists published their findings in a paper that appeared on the physics website, arXiv.org. Their beliefs are based partly on the findings of other scientists who in previous experiments via a trans-cranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS, exposed the human mind to rapidly changing magnetic fields.

The magnetic fields produced by the machine do not harm human brain cells, but they are potent enough to induce electrical currents.

Peer and Kendl firmly believe that lightning’s magnetic fields have a similar effect on humans as the TMS, and that a good percentage of ball lightning reports belong with pink elephants and still blue waters floating across the horizon of an arid desert.

In the words of John Abrahamson, a chemist and ball lightning expert at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand:

“The researchers make a convincing argument that some ball lightning reports are spurred by hallucinations, but I cannot believe that most of the images reported as ball lightning are due to this brain influence… The colors of light seen by the subjects in the experiment were white, gray, or in unsaturated colors, but

ball lightning has been reported in a variety of colors, including orange, green, and blue.”

Eli Jerby,  an engineer at Tel Aviv University in Israel, whose laboratory has produced something very similar to a lightning ball, agrees with Abrahamson. He says:

“While hallucinations could explain some cases, the effect of ball lightning is yet feasible in both nature and the laboratory.”

Are they real or not?

Who can say, but as I look from my window on this rainy night… here comes something now!

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