Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 11.13

Today’s Afternoon Inquisition deals with a mysterious occurrence. I will give you all the details after the fold, and you can use your critical thinking skills to solve the mystery. Or, if you prefer to just share a strange experience of your own, you may use the comments for that as well.

However, if you veer too far off topic and the thread devolves into dirty limericks, I will have to step in and judge whether they are worthy of the thread, and if they are deemed unworthy, you will be subject to ridicule from the whole of the Shepchick readership.

But for now, the mystery awaits.

A few nights ago, I woke in the forgotten hours of the night with a powerful thirst that could not wait until morning. As is the case with most of you, I hate getting up in the middle of the night, especially when I have a really good sleep going. But I opened my mouth and a wool sweater actually rolled out onto my pillow. I had to get up.

So I rose from my warm comfortable bed growling and grumbling and griping, and doing many other things that start with ‘gr‘, and I hauled my 180 pounds of groggy flesh to the kitchen to get a drink.

Staggering out of my bedroom without turning on any lights, eyes half closed, I didn’t even care that my downstairs neighbor might be disturbed by me trumbling across the hardwood floor. I did, however, take special care to watch where I was going, because I didn’t want to do one of those “pinky toe-meet the coffee table” things. You know, one of those minor bumps with a piece of furniture that nonetheless feels like your lower leg has been shoved into a wood chipper. So I kept my admittedly blurred vision on the well-finished floorboards in front of me.

Well, when I came out of my bedroom and into the dark living room, I saw something unusual. The section of the floor that I crossed, from the bedroom to the living room, only takes about four or five steps, but as I walked on my way to get a drink, those four or five steps lit up!

That’s right. Each time I stepped, the floor around my foot creaked a bit and lit up, like the sidewalk in the old Michael Jackson video for Billy Jean (though not as brightly as in the video).

In my half conscious state, I just let go an amused chuff, and continued to get my drink. Upon returning to bed, crossing the same section of floor, each of my steps once more lit up. Another amused chuff, and I collapsed back into bed, ready to return to my pornographic dreams.

But as I was getting comfortable again, it dawned on me that I had just experienced something unusual — twice. And though I thought it interesting, I was too tired to get up again to explain what had happened.

When I got home last night, I remembered my trip to the refrigerator, and decided to try to figure out what had happened. So I drew the blinds in the living room against the street lights across the way, turned off all the interior lights, and traced the same path as before.

I laughed at what I discovered. The cause of my strange experience was anything but unusual, but I could see how a person not prepared to analyze might be fooled into thinking something out of the ordinary was taking place.

So what do you think?

What was the true nature of my path of illumination?

(FYI: All the clues you need to solve the mystery are included in the post.)

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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73 Comments

  1. It was the studio lighting from your pornographic dream lighting your way.

    I have two questions for you.

    How many times have you had your lower leg shoved into a wood chipper?
    And what was your pornographic dream about?

  2. Honestly, the reflection idea a couple folks proposed seemed the most logical, but maybe a slight variation…

    The creaking of the floorboards caused them to flex, and a little light from downstairs came through?

    (Doesn’t seem likely)

  3. You drank radioactive water.

    Oh, wait a minute. That can’t be. Your footsteps glowed even before you drank it.

    So, you drank radioactive water whose effects are so strong they reach into the past. Probably because of quantum.

  4. I think it’s probably what tarrkid and mxracer said. As you trod on them the floor boards flexed and small gaps opened up between them that allowed the basement light to shine up slightly.

    Anyway enough of the boring stuff … what about those pornographic dreams?

  5. @marilove:

    I had a hypnopompic hallucination when I was a kid… scared the living jeebis out of me and had me believing in ghosts well into adulthood.

    It feels very real. It’s very powerful… and telling someone that they had a hallucination or “waking dream” is difficult. There was nothing “dreamlike” about my experience.

  6. oh, and also, when Sam goes to bed, he wears those LA Gear gym shoes that light up when he takes a step. It makes him seem super cool to all the 8-year-olds on the block.

    He also sleeps in a race car bed.

  7. Let’s go with static electricity generated by all of that wool you were spitting out. (Seriously, note that he didn’t say the floor boards creaked. He said his feet creaked.) I’m gonna call the sound and sights you experienced as static discharge.

  8. @marilove:

    Yeah, those are horrible. I’ve had one of the more common ones: A false awakening yielding feelings of paralysis, coupled with vague unease, and culminating in a roughly human-shaped black shadow leaning over me in the bed.

    This was years ago, when I was a lot less skeptical than I am now, but even then my conscious mind KNEW what was going on. I’d heard about the phenomenon before, and knew just what had happened as soon as I woke up.

    But, all of that said, my first thought during the hallucination was “OMG I IS BEIN’ POSSESSED!” Scary, scary stuff.

    I consider it a great boon to society, by the by, to spread information about hypnogogic and hypnopompic states. It’s amazing how many people have had these experiences and don’t know what to think about them, chalking them up to ghosts or aliens, or just being afraid to talk about them.

  9. Possibility #1: Your home was, in a past life, a disco.

    Possibility #2: At some point you stepped on a firefly that wasn’t quite dead yet.

    Possibility #3: You had tap-lights surgically installed in the bottoms of your feet.

    Or it could be that streetlight-through-the-blinds-reflecting-off-the-slightly-bent-wood thing. But that’s not nearly as much fun. So from now on, I will be calling you Pham, Tormentor of Fireflies.

  10. @Elyse:

    Elyse, didn’t you see my AI from last week. All the skepchicks helped me pick out a new wardrobe. No more sneakers or T-shirts. And absiolutely no tube topes or slick shiny unitards. I am now the best dressed skepSam in the building.

    (But I do still sleep in a race car bed.)

  11. My most vivid memory of a hypnopompic hallucination came during a thunderstorm.

    I was a teenager at the time, and a T-storm was blowing through in the middle of the night. It apparently woke me up enough to where I could see the lightning, hear the thunder, and count the seconds (just waiting for the tree to reach through the window and grab me – but I digress). As far as I knew, I was totally awake.

    Suddenly I felt all my hair standing up on end, and a high-pitched whining sound in my head. And I was, of course, paralyzed. And at that moment I KNEW that lightning was about to strike me through the roof of the house. The feeling persisted for several seconds, and the panic was welling within me.

    After what seemed like several seconds of this (i.e. an eternity), I truly woke up. It took a few seconds for me to grasp everything and realize that it hadn’t been real… …but I didn’t get any more sleep that night until the storm had passed.

  12. @Sam Ogden:

    The hypnogogic state is the sort of borderland between being awake and falling asleep. A lot of times, as you fall asleep, parts of your brain sort of get there first and this can sometimes lead to odd experiences, like both visual and auditory hallucinations.

    One of the most common hypnogogic events is the myoclonic or hypnic jerk, which is the sudden involuntary twitching or jerking of the muscles that occasionally happens as you fall asleep. This is often accompanied by very simple dreams of tripping, falling, dropping things, or walking into things (essentially functioning as an excuse for the twitch/jerk).

    The hypnopompic state, that between being asleep and waking up, involves experiences that are, more often, frightening and disconcerting to those who go through them. The most well known hypnopompic hallucinations (as described above) are waking dreams, in which you typically awaken incompletely (or, indeed, dream you’ve awakened). This usually occurs in concert with extended sleep paralysis and somewhat diminished or sluggish cognition.

    During the hypnogogic state, you often do one of two things: immediately fall back asleep without knowing you’ve done so, or have hallucinations or an intermingling of dreams and conscious sensation until you wake up completely. These hallucinations run the gamut from totally cool and relaxed to all-out terror inducing dreams. Look up “Old Hag” syndrome, for instance.

    Many experiences of hauntings, demonic possession, and even alien abductions seem to be cases of hypnopompic hallucination. The events simply get filtered through the culture of the person’s environment. In the past, people thought they’d been visited by evil spirits or faeries. Then this shifted along with the rise of Christianity, and so demons, succubi and incubi became the definition du jour. The rise of “flying saucer” culture and abduction phenomena in the 20th century seem to have shifted things towards alien abduction.

  13. I’m unclear from the post whether you actually repeated the results. It could be that you simply discovered that what you experienced previously was a dream. Dreams are certainly not unusual, and unusual things happening in dreams is normal. This would also explain your claim that “a wool sweater actually rolled out of [your] mouth.” That’s certainly not a normal thing to have happen in a waking state. Unless you’re into the whole autoerotic asphyxiation thing.

  14. I don’t remember ever having a hyponagogic or hypnopompic hallucination, but I did experience a ghost once, when I was twelve. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard it — a ghostly wailing. A long “booooooooooooooooooooooo!”, only ghostlier. Sure enough, it scared the Bee Gee bus out of me, and I spent pretty much the rest of the night shivering and praying (I wasn’t an atheist back then; it was a couple years later that I became saved), too scared to even move, while the wailings repeated over and over at several minutes intervals. Oh, so many times I wished I was dreaming, and yet I was frightfully aware that I was fully awake. I learned that night that the phrase “my blood froze in my veins” means literally and exactly that.

    After that, I believed in ghosts for several weeks, or perhaps months. Until one stormy night I woke up again, and again I heard the wailing. But this time, in a far less suggestible state, I recognized it for what it was: the far roaring or car engines revving up. That’s it. No floating corpse-like entity dragging rags, as I had come to picture it. Just cars.

    I felt so happy that night.

  15. I like the light reflecting off of your skin making the area near your feet brighter. Most Caucasians have a surprisingly high albedo. I can’t read the speedo on my bike when I’m riding into the morning sun. If I put my hand near it, however, enough light is reflected onto the display that it becomes quite legible.

  16. Okay, well so far I’ve had a great time reading all the possible solutions to the “Path of Illumination” mystery.

    From the suggestion that the light was reflecting off of my pasty-white naked midsection, to little monsters under my floor boards, to sneakers with little lights in the heels, to residue of the mind control lasers, to me living in an arcade and crossing Dance Dance Revolution to get to my kitchen, to radioactive time traveling water, to crushed Wint-O-Green Lifesavers scattered across my floor, to my house channeling a disco from one of its past lives, to leftover phosphorescence from the beach on my feet, to freaking synaesthesia, you all have been hilarious.

    But unfortunately, wrong.

    @Steve:

    and

    @Bjornar:

    posted the correct answer at pretty much the same time, so I am declaring them both winners.

    Their prize: A sleepover at Michael Jackson’s house where they may or may not be experiencing a hypnogogic state when they wake to a freaky looking she-man sitting atop them, shreaking a high-pitched wail and possibly fondling them.

    Enjoy it guys.

    The question now becomes, aside from hypnogogic dreams, have any of you ever had an experience that might have seemed a little bizarre at first, but that was very ordinary?

    And if you don’t have an experience to share, at the very least, dirty limerick me.

  17. I can’t think of any experiences to share, so here ya go:

    There was a young fellow called Menzies,
    Whose kissing sent girls into frenzies,
    Until a virgin one night
    Crossed her legs in a fright
    And fractured his bi-focal lenses.

  18. Said Sammy the skeptic: “How curious!
    My footsteps are glowing luxurious!”
    When he asked us to guess
    the thread was a mess,
    and our explanations, spurious.

    (Ok, it’s not dirty, but what are you gonna do.)

  19. Once while in the process of falling asleep I started hearing what sounded like a group of people chattering outside my window. I woke up and listened for a little while, to see if there was any discernible conversation in it, finally determining that it was more than likely a group of Canadian Geese in the nearby vicinity before finally going back to sleep.

  20. Well, obviously your positive thinking caused a significant change in the energy of the zero-point matrix due to the thermodynamics of the spike in the resonance vibrations. The frequencies aligned with the uncertainty principal and you started to quantum vibrate with the spiritual realm. Since the electro-magnetic neutrons did not make enough frequencies you were able to glimpse into the spiritual realms.

    But, because of your unclean thoughts due to your pornography and skepticism the quantum vibration resonance wasn’t able to achieve a high enough level of viscosity and the quantum hydrogen bonds with the spiritual realm failed to release enough flux photons.

    No, What the Bleep Do We Know? did not break my brain.

  21. @killyosaur42: I tend to kick my cats out of my bedroom when I sleep because they don’t like to let me sleep. They then cause a ruckus in the living room, and I’ll sometimes think that it is a mess of men running around my living room, reeking havoc, and I’ll be POSITIVE of this, but I can’t mooooove and omg they are breaking iiiin.

    It’s annoying lol.

  22. Also spiders are a very common hallucination! A friend of mine has a hubby that always hallucinates spiders coming down at him from the cieling. When I explained to her what a “hypnagogic hallucination” was, she was like, “OMG! My husband goes through that all the time! He thought he was crazy! He will be soooo relieved!”

    So I agree with Expatria — spread the knowledge so people can stop thinking they are crazy!

  23. I’ve got a very strange experience. It’s a long ‘un, so bear with me.

    Several years ago, while I was a junior in college, I spent the night with a friend of mine (same bed, less interesting than you’re thinking.) The next morning (it was a Tuesday, so I had a 10 AM Differential Equations class) I woke up early, about 7:30. I looked down at my shirt, and there were streaks of blood down the front. I then looked at my right hand, and my palm was covered in mostly dried blood.

    I reached over to wake up my friend and grabbed an earring on the bed. My first thought, of course, was “Oh my god, I ripped her earring out!” But no, she wasn’t THAT sound a sleeper. She had a bit of blood on her shirt too, but it obviously came from me. We got up, washed the blood off, and inspected me. I didn’t have a mark on me, anywhere. I had a history of nosebleeds before getting my nose cauterized, and they still happen occasionally, but there was no blood on my face anywhere, nor did I taste blood, as would likely have been the case if I coughed it up. I decided not to worry too much about it, so I changed my shirt and went back to sleep.

    I woke up again shortly before 9 and got up to get ready for my 10 AM class. I went downstairs to my own room and woke up my computer. Almost the instant my computer came all the way back on, I got an instant message from my sister.

    “Do you have the TV on?”

    “No… should I?”

    “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

    Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and has not happened since. Fun, huh?

  24. I often drive when I’m too tired to drive safely. A few days ago I was buzzing through the EZ Pass lane (the fast one) just as I was kind of nodding off.

    Suddenly I saw a face flying toward the windsheild. It snapped me alert very quickly. For a split second I thought someone had walked out into the lane and I had hit him. The next split second I realized that it looked like a white ghost-like figure with a huge mouth. After two split seconds my brain kicked in and I realized that I had been just a little bit asleep.

    It reminds me of a local legend we have in Bucks County. The “ghost tour” people spout it all the time. There is apparently the ghost of a teenage boy in a white fringe jacket that people see when they are driving on the unlit windy roads – usually if they have been drinking first. The ghost is supposedly of a teenage boy that died in a drunk driving accident back in the 70’s.

    Of course, everyone in our county has heard the story. We always looked for the guy when we were on the county roads at night. Of course you’re going to see him when you’re drunk.

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