Ball lightning may sometimes be explained as hallucinations

Ball lightning may explained as hallucinations
Electric field transcranially induced at various observation points (from bottom to top: 20 - 100m distance from strike point) by the time derivative of the lightning magnetic field during the decline phase of an average negative cloud-to-ground subsequent return stroke. Phosphene perception can be expected for induced fields above 20 V/m. Long duration repetitive stimulation of phosphenes up to seconds can be caused by higher multiplicity strokes. See arXiv:1005.1153v1 paper for details.

( -- Physicists in Austria have calculated the magnetic fields associated with certain types of lightning strikes are powerful enough to create hallucinations of hovering balls of light in nearby observers, and that these visions would be interpreted as ball lightning.

The scientists, Alexander Kendl and Joseph Peer from the University of Innsbruck, analyzed electromagnetic pulses of repetitive lightning discharges and compared them to the magnetic fields used in clinical (TMS). Their results suggest the variable magnetic fields produced by lightning are in the same order of magnitude and frequency as those applied in TMS that stimulate hallucinations, such as balls of light known as cranial phosphenes. They postulate that balls of light known as ball lightning, which are occasionally reported during thunder and lightning storms, could often be hallucinations arising from lightning electromagnetic pulses affecting the brains of close observers.

Ball lightning was first reported in St. Petersburg in Russia in 1754 by a Dr. Richmann, who was attempting to copy Benjamin Franklin’s kite-lightning experiment, and who was instantly killed by the lightning. It is rarely seen and photographic evidence is almost nonexistent. There are dozens of theories of how ball lightning could form, including the burning of hot silicon particles produced when a vaporizes the ground.

TMS is a non-invasive method of stimulating areas of the brain, and is used in psychiatric treatments and in studying the brain. It is known that when the is stimulated by pulsed magnetic fields in TMS, patients will sometimes see hallucinations of luminous shapes in their visual field. With the stimulation coils attached to the head, the visions can occur with single or repeated pulses at frequencies of around 1-50 Hz. The cortical phosphenes appear as bubbles, lines, ovals or patches of either white or a variety of colors. When the stimulation coil is moved, the phosphenes also appear to move.

Rare but natural long (1-2 seconds) repetitive lightning strikes produce electromagnetic pulses, which the researchers thought might produce currents within the brain in the same order of magnitude in terms of duration, strength and frequency as in TMS in observers 20-100 meters away from the lightning strike. They calculated the time-varying electromagnetic fields of various types of lightning strikes for observers at various distances from the strike.

The calculations showed that only lightning strikes consisting of multiple return strokes at the same point over a period of seconds could produce a long enough to cause cortical phosphenes. This type would account for around 1-5% of lightning strikes, but very few of these would be seen by an observer 20 to 100 m away, and of those the researchers estimate seeing the light for seconds would occur only in about one percent of unharmed observers. The observer does not need to be outside, but could be inside an aircraft or building. Kendl and Peer also said an observer would be most likely to classify the experience as ball lightning because of preconceptions.

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More information: J. Peer, A. Kendl: Transcranial stimulability of phosphenes by long lightning electromagnetic pulses, arXiv:1005.1153v1 []

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Citation: Ball lightning may sometimes be explained as hallucinations (2010, May 13) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
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May 13, 2010
Interesting idea, although some of the reports I've heard of mention things like ball lightning landing in a bucket of water and quickly boiling it. Also I've heard of it being seen entering chimneys and emerging from the other side, or moving behind buildings and stuff - it doesn't sound like the illusion described could explain that.

May 13, 2010
All the existing videos of it proves that many cameras are also hallucinating. ;-)

May 13, 2010
Perhaps the author is unaware of ball lightning being created in the lab.

May 13, 2010
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May 13, 2010
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May 13, 2010
Interestingly enough, some of the sightings are of UFO's, ie, steerable, intelligent, tracking, linear, etc flight. And a gravity distortion device would have a magnetic residual/delta/reflection that is very strong.

So ball lighting is real and they get that one wrong.....and then they accidentally explain visual effect of the gravity distortion of UFO's.


Bad day on the disinfo front!

May 13, 2010
I don't see any disinformation here.
At no point in that article did the writer or the experimenters suggest that ball lightning did not exist, but rather that a significant portion of reports (which would necessarily exclude any for which physical evidence exists) may be the result of this phenomenon.

Having experienced a cervical and cranial MRI following a nasty concussion on the soccer-field, I can state with certainty that transcranial magnetic fields induce very real-looking visual artifacts. In my case, pulsing, amorphous blobs of light ranging from yellow to violet-white, which appeared to move, overlap, and coalesce within inches of my face. Kind of a trip. Looking back on experiences with electrical storms in my area (Southern New England), I can recall seeing objects which fit the effect described which I wrote off to flash-blinding at the time.

I guess that sometimes things really are all in your head, but demonstrably real nevertheless. It's a mad, mad world.

May 13, 2010
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May 13, 2010
Ball lighting.... more like advanced probes sent to observe humanity on earth by off-world civilizations... We've seen them in China, Russia, Netherlands, Arizona and Central Western Australia.

May 13, 2010
If you take a picture of it and the damage does it make it more real.

Cant find the movie.

But here on page 11 is a photo of some damage.

These guys that try to dismiss things as hallucinations should try to do better science.

May 13, 2010
any new photos of BL?..say from a cell phone camera.

May 13, 2010
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May 13, 2010
"...ball lightening..." in the country, this phenomena occurs when one does not allow sufficient clearance between dangling body parts and live wires when negotiating electric fence conductors after skinny dipping in the dam.

May 14, 2010
Well... possibly a part of all reported ball-lightnings could be explained by these researchers theory...but some are probably real:


May 14, 2010
In a college physics class, we were shown a film of how ball lightning is generated in a lab. The balls themselves were also shown in the film. They were only about the size of tennis balls, due presumably to a voltage or current limitation. The point is, ball lightning is accepted by physicists are a real phenomenon. Neurologists should be careful when writing about physics.

May 16, 2010
My maternal grandmother was doing laundry in her basement when a large ball came through one wall of the basement, "rolled" across the floor and disappeared into another wall. You would have had a hard time convincing her that she was seeing something generated in her head.

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