Friday, 7 November 2014

Sense of presence

CobwebIn New Scientist there is an account of an experiment that has reliably induced a sense of presence. The sense of presence is where someone is convinced that there is someone nearby who cannot be seen. It obviously gives rise to reports of ghosts. You see a video of the experiment here.

Like OBEs, the experience appears to be produced by conflicting sensory information. In the recent research, the sense of touch is used. Participants control a robot that rubs their back but when there is a delay added into the system, they feel someone else is behind them. I wonder if touch is the only sense which can produce this phenomenon. My own experiences of a sense of presence did not involve any tactile sensations. Instead, sound was strongly implicated (see here).

Was there a sensory conflict involved in my experiences? Unexplained sounds were the most obvious explanation. If you hear a sound that you attribute to a human being walking, in a position where they should be plainly visible, but they are not, that is certainly a sensory conflict (between vision and hearing). But in my experiences I think my state of mind was a contributing factor. I was doing something that might have appeared 'odd' to a passer-by so it probably heightened my sensitivity to the possibility of being watched. Such a mental state may amplify any conflict in sensory information.

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