Is Ball Lightning Just a Hallucination Caused by Regular Lightning?

By Allison Bond | May 11, 2010 2:42 pm

lightningIf lightning strikes nearby, you might be in for some incredible hallucinations that resemble what is known as “ball lightning,” according to a pair of scientists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

In the lab, test subjects can experience these visions of shining spheres and lines when they undergo transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which use huge superconducting magnets create electric fields in the brain up to 0.5 Tesla. (That’s a lot; a plain-old bar magnet is only around .01 T.)

According to Technology Review:

“If this happens in the lab, then why not in the real world too, say [researchers] Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl… They calculate that the rapidly changing fields associated with repeated lightning strikes are powerful enough to cause a similar phenomenon in humans within 200 metres.”

So when lightning strikes nearby, it can induce fields similar to the ones created by transcranial stimulation. That means you could experience luminous lines and spheres, just like subjects do in the lab.

“As a conservative estimate, roughly 1% of (otherwise unharmed) close lightning experiencers are likely to perceive transcranially induced above-threshold cortical stimuli,” say Peer and Kendl. They add that these observers need not be outside but could be otherwise safely inside buildings or even sitting in aircraft.”

That makes us wonder when else naturally occurring electric or magnetic fields might be strong enough to create hallucinations. Far out.

Image: flickr / knapp

  • Paul

    Sounds like a reason to wear the proverbial tinfoil hat!

  • Andrew

    Would the added protection of the tin foil hat or the additional resemblance to a lightning rod would be the driving characteristic of the system, though? :)

  • awesomeman

    lol, one more thing to add to the list of things that give you a false high

  • Steve

    How can these hallucinations be responsible for the substantial photographic and other forensic evidence of long-lived ball lightning events?

  • Ellen McKeon

    I’ve personally observed “ball” lightning. Driving south on I57 through Kankakee county, during a bad thunderstorm, I watched a ball of lightning rolling south to north along side the interstate. I watched it approach the car, pass and then continue to travel north. As I was driving I couldn’t watch it too long, but it was very large (bigger than my car). I was not drunk or otherwise drug compromised. Unfortunately the only other witness in my vehicle was my dog, and he never told one way or the other. I honestly do NOT believe this was an hallucination.

  • http://none Larry Gillihan

    Ball lightning is not a hallucination. Because they’ve created hallucinations in the laboratory means nothing except that they can create hallucinations in the laboratory. It has been photographed, and you can’t take pictures of hallucinations.

  • http://davidbuckley.net David

    Ball lightning doesn’t only occur where there is a thunderstorm.
    In 1927 when my mother was 11 years old, on a fine day, a glowing ball about six inches in diameter floated over the fields behind the house, knocked over my grandfather who was washing his car, floated over the six foot high garden wall and approached the kitchen window which shattered, showering my grandmother and the cooking stove with glass. It then rose over the house and descended one of the chimneys and exploded in the chimney, bursting the chimney and bringing down the bedroom ceiling. The explosion was so powerful it burst my mothers eardrums and she ran out of the house and down the street to a friends crying ‘it hit our house’. Afterwards she had to use a hearing aid the size of 3 or 4 paperbacks and was still unable to hear what people said.
    Several things may be important.
    1. the ball approached my grandfather’s car – a metal object – conductive.
    2. The wash-leather my grandfather was using disappeared.
    3. the stove was metal – conductive.
    4. My grandmother said that afterwards the iron frying pan she was using was never the same and no matter what she did food always burned onto the pan.
    5. the ball descended the chimney which had a coating of carbon – soot – conductive.

    The ball was probably heavier than air and floating on an intense electrostatic field which would be drained faster in the presence of iron or other conductive material.

  • Susan

    On July 8, 2010, my husband and I had just finished checking into a hotel in Dayton. We were standing under the front overhang when a torrential amount of rain began to fall. I was looking outward and he was 8 feet away, turned toward me when there was an ear-splitting CURRR-ACKKKK! and a large (perhaps 1-2-feet), pure white ball of light appeared behind him. It seemed to simply hover about 6-9 feet off the ground. He began to turn at the sound and with a further CRACK! the ball exploded sideways. My husband felt the explosion raking his chest from one side to the other while I only felt a push, like being hit with a shot of air. The clerks inside the hotel watched this too and thought we had been hit. I had never heard about “ball lightning” before, but I immediately knew that’s what it had to be — a ball of lightning. Either that, or someone was teleporting into the area!! :-) We’re both journalists and that night my husband wrote down all we could remember about the event.

  • Orbdocumentation

    I live in a house that always has ball lightening. weird. weird?I actually have many photos and videos of it. at any given time I can walk in, find a ball or streaks in the room and record them. anyone else have this?

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