Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Inside Job: Fascinating Research into Auditory Hallucinations May Offer Clues on Reported Anomalies

On a recent episode of the popular show Radiolab, the hosts explored auditory hallucinations. They talked to a psychoanalyst who, following surgery, began experiencing sensations of hearing religious music while in his hospital bed. The man described the music as sounding as if it was coming from outside a window, and he stated that the songs became more perky as the week and his recovery from the medical procedure progressed. Finally, as he was discharged and rode in a car to his residence, he fully accepted the music could not be originating from an outside source as it followed him and evolved from Big Band hits to the song, 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home'.

“I am listening to me,” the psychoanalyst surmised.

Newcastle University located in England
Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University, described some of his work. Professor Griffiths took 35 people claiming to hear such music and scanned their brains. He snapped pictures of the scans at points in which they reported “hearing” music, paying particular attention to key areas.

Griffiths then took a different group of people who do not report auditory hallucinations, played actual music for them, and recorded their brains. The scans were virtually identical to the first group.

“If you were to put those in front of me,” Griffiths said, “and say one is people hallucinating, the other is people being played music, I wouldn't be able to tell you which was which.”

Griffiths' work suggested the sensations went far beyond getting a song stuck in our head. It seems some people get the full hifi experience.

It's a really interesting episode of Radiolab and I recommend listening in its entirety, but where I'm headed with this is twofold: Such sensory activity might be relevant to select (as in some, not all) reports of UFOs and related high strangeness/alien abduction. Also, the UFO community would be well served to turn at least a proportionate amount of its attention to qualified professionals as compared to the more popularly circulated material and the poorly conceived research it often represents.

In the 1960's, Polish neurophysiologist Jerzy Konorski theorized there may be connections and pathways between the brain and ears – that run backwards. Many years later, the work of such researchers as Professor Griffiths, who reports that as much as 30 percent of such pathways may run in opposition to the majority, are lending support to Konorski's idea. This means that we may indeed sometimes be listening to ourselves, or at least what we've heard before. As the psychoanalyst reported discovering after his surgery, the music consists of songs from eras significant to the individual, and emotional responses range from enjoyable to extremely unpleasant.

Here's another interesting puzzle piece: Griffiths says that far and away the most seemingly significant characteristic of people who report regularly hearing otherwise nonexistent music is loss of hearing. In some cases, the reported music even literally came with hearing loss and subsided with its later cure.

The condition usually occurs later in life, as with stages of hearing loss, and may be amping up as other sounds fade away, or, stated a different way, conducive to sensory deprivation. As I considered the possibilities, I wondered how the eyes might feed the brain images, or vice versa, particularly when in the dark, such as while viewing a night sky or scanning a dark room while lying in bed.

Quite interestingly, the entire line of research gives whole new meaning to the idea “people are abducted by aliens who read about people abducted by aliens.” While the power of subjectivity will always be relevant, and seems to often be rather poorly understood and minimally accepted, the work as examined by Radiolab takes the concept to deeper levels. It doesn't seem to be entirely out of the realm of possibility that we might be hearing and interpreting things in physiological ways when those sounds aren't actually there, but once were, or were as we recall or envision them. Very intriguing possibilities. Something experienced could theoretically not be there and not be a hallucination. Signals from the brain could be the origin of the experienced sensation.

Oliver Sacks
“As a physician, you know,” the late neurologist Oliver Sacks explained, “one sees patients. You ask about their symptoms, they produce their symptoms, but it is equally important to see the relation of the symptoms of the disease to the person themselves, their identity.”

“One sees into action a liaison, a collusion, a condition – I don't know what word to use – between the self and a symptom,” he added.

We are indeed the hosts of many physical conditions, and we certainly bring our mental selves to the complex equation. Exactly how it all may manifest in physiological ways will continue to be studied and clarified. In the scenario explored by Radiolab, the physical condition would be the possibility the brain at times sends signals of sounds back to the ears; and the mental condition, or way we interpret and experience those signals - what their messages would even be - might depend on our individual pasts, musical interests and factors such as the material we choose to feed our senses that becomes stored in our brains. 

The UFO community would be wise to recognize the value of such work, as well as the significance of other research conducted by qualified experts. Fascinating discoveries await humankind, and ufology would improve itself by embracing those discoveries and implementing their relevance.


  1. A while ago I developed life-threatening Sepsis (no known cause or origin, in my case). I was hospitalized and in intensive care for the first 4 days. After the first 4 days (wherein I wasn't conscious), I came to but went in and out of normal lucid consciousness and an hallucinatory existence for about 10 days. My hallucinations were visual, auditory and sensory (I could 'smell' certain subjects and enviornments in my hallucinations).

    The narratives in my hallucinations were at times deeply complex, repetitive and felt frighteningly real. When I'd come out of a hallucination it took awhile to convince myself that it was just that (a hallucination).

    However I never experienced anything paranormal or ufo-ish during the hallucinations. I was right next to a huge window and the nursing staff would keep the blinds open 24/7. I saw nor heard nor smelled anything out of the ordinary nor did I see any 'aliens', ghosts ect.

    1. That's really interesting, Brownie. Thank you for sharing that experience.

    2. Thankyou, Emma! I appreciate that.

    3. I went through a period of psychological crisis during which my sleep was irregular and broken. I frequently had extended, vivid, bizarre dreams with extremely complex story lines. The way I dealt with the unsettling impression they left in me upon waking was to write them down, and they could go on for pages. There was nothing about ufos or alien abductions in the dreams, which makes sense because it was not until years later that I would start delving into those topics. However, there was also nothing about the forms of mysticism I might have expected to appear, given my background.

      Recently I was listening to some podcast or another where someone was describing their history of interactions with “the aliens.” They were quite upfront that they were talking about a series of wildly vivid and complex dreams, but the similarities between my dreams and the ones they were talking about were striking. Apparently we had drawn dramatically different conclusions about what seemingly very similar sorts of dreams had meant. I don’t mean to negate the possibility of having externally induced, radically weird experiences, but agree with Jack that we should also keep in mind that we can apparently induce and shape our own radically weird experiences, too.