What's Really Happening When Your Brain Detects a Ghoul?
by PHILIP PERRY
Once, in middle school, a gang of boys and I were lured to a spot behind the Dunkin' Donuts in our town. We went after dark, to a place where a kid from school witnessed a paranormal experience. Once there, we saw nothing. We chided our classmate until suddenly, a column of white light appeared out of nowhere. We scattered.
It sustained itself for a few minutes. Then suddenly, it cut off. A few moments later, just as mysteriously, it went on again. We stayed there quietly studying it, scared out of our minds. Until someone in our group finally pointed out a streetlight overhead. The bulb was getting old. That was the last time I believed in ghosts.
Do you? If so, you’re in good company. 45% of Americans do. In one poll, 28% of them admitted they’d had contact with one, personally. Senior research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Joe Nickell is the world’s sole, full-time, scientific paranormal investigator. After five decades of research, he hasn’t turned up a shred of evidence that points to the existence of ghosts. Magicians Harry Houdini and James Randi arrived at a similar place.
It’s not for lack of trying. In a video for Vox, Nickell says he’s employed blood pattern analysis, linguistic analysis, aspects of psychology, and more. It isn’t just him. Not one haunting or ghost sighting has ever rendered any evidence.
One of the problems is, it’s hard to grab raw data. All we usually have is a personal account. And these vary widely. One person will interact with an actual human figure, while another will observe mere objects flying across the room. There are a few grainy, blurs in some photos. But it’s hard to extrapolate from that.
Though electromagnetic field (EMF) meters have been made popular by movies like Ghostbusters and TV shows such as Paranormal Lockdown and Ghost Hunters, there’s no scientific proof of any link between supernatural phenomenon and the magnetic field. Despite a general lack of evidence, such experiences feel poignant and real.
In a recent TED talk, Carrie Poppy explains her brush with the paranormal, how it made her feel, and later on, what she came to realize about it. She’s the co-host of the popular podcast Oh No Ross and Carrie, which explores and demystifies spiritual, religious, and paranormal topics, among others, through a scientific lens.
At the time her ghost sighting occurred, she was alone in her house. Suddenly, she felt a presence. Poppy felt like she was being watched. The feeling grew and grew and as it did, a pressure began to build inside her chest. The feeling increased slowly over the course of a week and rose to a fever pitch. She started to hear whispering sounds and became convinced that her house was haunted. Poppy tried to do a cleansing by burning a sage stick and other things. But no matter what she tried, the pressure on her chest got worse. It was also growing painful.
Finally, she took to the internet and arrived on a ghost forum for skeptics. She told them what she was experiencing and one of them said she had the symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning. These include pressure on the chest and auditory hallucinations. The utility worker who rectified the problem, told her that if she hadn’t of gotten it fixed when she did, she wouldn’t have been alive the next morning.
The process by which one experiences something that isn’t there is called misperceived self-representation. So what else might induce this, besides carbon monoxide poisoning, brain damage, or an episode related to mental illness? Well, several things actually. There is a condition called sleep paralysis for one, also known as waking dreams.
This affects around 8% of the population. It usually occurs in the twilight hours of the morning, when one is between a waking and dreaming state. You can’t move your body and sometimes experience visual hallucinations. Grief also tends to increase the chances of a ghostly encounter. Psychologists say it might be a way for the mind to process and deal with loss. Usually, the person they see is a comforting figure who appears serene.
Another ghost-inducing phenomenon is called infrasound. This is a vibration that occurs below our normal range of hearing. That’s below 20 hertz (Hz). Certain machinery (like engines), whales, and extreme weather can all cause infrasound.
Some studies suggest that it can result in symptoms including feelings of depression, the chills, and the sneaking suspicion that someone is watching you. According to Hayden Planetarium director and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, infrasound at 18 Hz vibrates at such a rate that the eye can pick it up, which might cause visual hallucinations.
So if you or someone you know claims to have seen a ghost, believe them. But also, look for what evidence or phenomenon might be behind the sighting. You could end up finding a faulty lightbulb was the culprit all along.
The LTA Millennial Committee is sponsoring the second installment in our New Voices series and we need your Halloween themed short plays! We want to provide a platform for unknown playwrights and new directors by staging original shows directed by Millennials.
New Dramatists Residency
New Dramatists pursues a singular mission: To provide playwrights time, space, and resources to create work, realize their artistic potential, and make lasting contributions to the theatre. We offer our playwrights an artistic home and self-guided laboratory for seven years, free of charge, in the company of their most gifted peers. Our playwright company consists of emerging and mid-career writers collectively embodying an artistic, cultural, ethnic, and geographic diversity rarely found in the American theatre.
The National Young Playwrights in Residence Program is designed to nurture the next generation of playwrights through professional mentorship, staged readings, and the sharing of their work through digital platforms.
Six playwrights between the ages of 18 to 25 will be selected for a year-long mentorship with an established professional writer toward developing a new work. This will culminate in a staged reading of the young playwright’s work in August 2018 at The Echo Theater.
*** FOR MORE INFORMATION about these and other opportunities see the web site at http://www.nycplaywrights.org ***
*** ADVICE FOR PLAYWRIGHTS ***
Before (Rebecca Lenkiewicz) leaves, I ask what advice she would pass on to a playwright starting out. I intend it as a question about craft. But I should have guessed that her answer would be about emotion. 'Write from the heart. Write about what moves you. It has to be about truth, really. Don't try to be clever.’
How I Learned to Drive playwright Paula Vogel traveled to the Minneapolis Playwrights’ Center in recent weeks as part of the Dramatists Guild Fund’s Traveling Masters Program.
The two-day visit offered writing development opportunities between Vogel and local playwrights, as well as a public symposium in which Vogel shared her personal thoughts on collaboration, theatre, insights on the writing process and the art of playwriting.
PAULA VOGEL ON HER NEW PLAY INDECENT AND ITS HISTORIC CONTROVERSY
Over the years, learning the craft of playwriting, I’ve gotten all kinds of advice. Some of it was actually good advice. But when the creative juices are flowing, the concept of viability — whether or not my plays are “producible” — is the furthest thing from my mind. I want to write, write, write, and write only what I want to write. When I’m not actually writing, I want to daydream about the writing and take it to bed with me and make out with it and fall asleep with it and then wake up with it and do it all over again. This other “nuisance” — the practicality of playwriting — is a damned buzzkill, frankly. It is, after all, my whole heart and soul on the page. Don’t depress me with your logic!
What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?
I actually really struggle with this, in the same way that I struggle when I’m asked to teach playwriting. Because the fact is, often times the best work is made in the least orthodox ways. But if there’s one concrete bit of advice I can give that I’m pretty certain I can stand behind: write ten full-length plays. And more than write them, really work on them. Suffer through readings and talkbacks that make you want to crawl into a hole and die. Get used to being the one person in your writing group who is always met with awkward silence after your pages are shared. Prepare for your first major review to be very mean. Expect early collaborators of yours to leave you behind because they perceive you to be dead weight. All of these things happened to me, and some version of them will likely happen to you. But keep going, write those ten plays, because in all likelihood those first ten plays won’t be all that great, but the eleventh might be doing something interesting. (And yes, I’m speaking from experience. In all honesty, it took me way more than ten plays.)
Any advice for playwrights about to submit for the festival?
Ramón: Two things. First, start writing early. That way, you can sketch out a few ideas before committing to one. Choose the idea that really gnaws at you, especially if you don’t really know what to think about it, or how you’re going to do it, or if it’s going to work at all. Second, make time to revise in December and January. When you get feedback, first from your peers in workshop and later from your director and actors, accept it graciously and use it to really examine your script, wrestle with it, rewrite generously, and then cut viciously. Plays aren’t written; plays are wrought.
WRITING ADVICE FROM EDWARD ALBEE
When I was 17, I took part in California’s Young Playwright’s Project. One of the highlights of the Project, was a visit by award-winning author Edward Albee to various high schools to discuss writing and critique the works of one or two students. When I heard about that opportunity, I was determined to have my work critiqued. Even then, I knew this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew of Edward Albee because my Mom had the LP of the Broadway performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In advance of Albee’s visit, I read Woolf, although I did not fully understand the innuendoes and the ironies in the work.
I'm sure that you've been asked a lot of questions around the recent cancellations of Boys, Girls & Other Mythological Creatures by the NCDSB, so I won't ask you the same questions. I personally felt very disheartened and angry when I learned about the cancellations, but it helped me realize how easy it is to become comfortable in our own bubbles and think that bigotry, racism, transphobia and homophobia only happen at an arm's length. You're an inspiration to a lot of us, especially playwrights, so what is your advice to aspiring playwrights and creative professionals who are trying to make impact though their work on how they can remain resilient in the face of stigma, backlash and negativity considering the current political climate?
That's awfully nice of you to say, but I assure you, there's a myriad of folks fighting the good fight harder and better than I ever could.
At the same time as the story about the performance cancellations was being covered in the media and shared all over social media (speaking of bubbles), the play was still being performed in school gyms all over Niagara. The cast and stage manager kept me updated with beautiful, affirming, positive, and often hilarious reactions from the audiences. Most of the noise around those school cancellations had little (or nothing) to do with my play. Very, very few people writing about it, commenting on it, or making decisions about its appropriateness had seen the show or read the script. I tried to focus on the genuine, wonderful reactions of the children for whom it's intended.
What advice would you give your 18 year-old self?
I would tell myself that being able to sing in a really high pitch voice was OK and that once I hit 40 it would be looked upon as being cool. I would advise myself to not worry and try to please others. My true power as a performer lies in my ability to develop myself even when I'm not working on a project. I would tell myself that the work doesn't start once you get a job.
What's the best advice someone has given you?
I remember my principal at RADA, Dr Oliver Neville, quietly and thoughtfully telling me: "You can do all of these things… If I wanted your character to sing on one line or dance at another line, maybe even do a gambol or a flip at some other moment… I know you would be able to do it. But the question you must always ask yourself when doing these things is - why? What will it or could it mean?" This really sunk in when I was 18 and at drama school.
Playbill Poll: Your Advice to Playwrights
JAN 30, 1997
A lot of playwriting gets done in February, when writers are holed up against the cold. What advice would you give them? What themes should they explore? What sort of characters would you love to see? What could they write that would make you want to line up at the box office to see?
My advice is simple: young and intense. Grab the audience's attention with current subjects. Get younger audiences with intense feelings and a young cast (i.e. similar to RENT and NOISE/FUNK).
Todd Andrew Barnett
I have four words to say to a newcomer who wants to enter this profession: "Write a detailed storyline." Before you write any dramatic piece whatsoever, write an outline of what and who the characters are. Also detail and structure your synopsis so that the actors can understand the characters and that the audience can identify with and interpret them. Then start composing your story. The backbone of any piece is the plot, the storyline; not the lines. The lines are the icing on the cake. Let them come later.
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Yawp 1 : to make a raucous noise : squawk 2: clamor, complain
Yawp first appeared sometime in the 15th century. This verb comes from Middle English yolpen, most likely itself derived from the past participle of yelpen, meaning "to boast, call out, or yelp." Interestingly, yawp retains much of the meaning of yelpen, in that it implies a type of complaining which often has a yelping or squawking quality. An element of foolishness, in addition to the noisiness, is often implied as well. Yawp can also be a noun meaning "a raucous noise" or "squawk." The noun yawp arrived on the scene more than 400 years after the verb. It was greatly popularized by "Song of Myself," a poem by Walt Whitman containing the line "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Repudiate | rih-PYOO-dee-ayt 1 : to divorce or separate formally from (a woman)2 : to refuse to have anything to do with : disown 3a : to refuse to accept; especially : to reject as unauthorized or as having no binding force b : to reject as untrue or unjust 4 :to refuse to acknowledge or pay.
In Latin, the noun repudium refers to the rejection of a spouse or prospective spouse, and the related verb repudiare means "to divorce" or "to reject." In the 16th century, English speakers borrowed repudiare to create the English verb repudiate, which they used as a synonym of divorce when in reference to a wife and as a synonym of disown when in reference to a member of one's family. They also used the word more generally in the sense of "to reject or cast off." By the 18th century repudiate had also come to be used for the rejection of things that one does not accept as true or just, ranging from opinions and accusations to contracts and debts.
Steadfast has held its ground in English for many centuries. Its Old English predecessor, stedefæst, combined stede (meaning "place" or "stead") and fæst(meaning "firmly fixed"). An Old English text of the late 10th century, called The Battle of Maldon, contains our earliest record of the word, which was first used in battle contexts to describe warriors who stood their ground. Soon, it was also being used with the broad meaning "immovable," and as early as the 13th century it was applied to those unswerving in loyalty, faith, or friendship. Centuries later, all of these meanings endure.
Onerous: Latin onus, meaning "burden,"
Hap: 1. Chance; fortune. 2. An occurrence. From Old Norse happ (good luck). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kobe (to suit, fit, or succeed), which also gave us happen, happy, hapless, and mishap.
Savant sa-VAHNT 1 : a person of learning; especially : one with detailed knowledge in some specialized field (as of science or literature) 2 :a person affected with a mental disability (such as autism) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (such as mathematics or music); especially : autistic savant
Savant comes from Latin sapere ("to be wise") by way of Middle French, where savant is the present participle of savoir, meaning "to know." Savant shares roots with the English words sapient ("possessing great wisdom") and sage ("having or showing wisdom through reflection and experience"). The term is sometimes used in common parlance to refer to a person who demonstrates extraordinary knowledge in a particular subject, or an extraordinary ability to perform a particular task (such as complex arithmetic), but who has much more limited capacities in other areas
Copacetic. koh-puh-SET-ik. Definition very satisfactory. Theories about the origin of copacetic abound, but the facts about the word’s history are scant: it appears to have arisen in African-American slang in the southern U.S., possibly as early as the 1880s, with earliest known evidence of it in print dating only to 1919. Beyond that, we have only speculation. One theory is that the term is descended from Hebrew kol be sedher (or kol b’seder or chol b’seder), meaning “everything is in order.” That theory is problematic for a number of reasons, among them that in order for a Hebrew expression to have been adopted into English at that time it would have passed through Yiddish, and there is no evidence of the phrase in Yiddish dictionaries. Other theories trace copacetic to Creole coupèstique (“able to be coped with”), Italian cappo sotto (literally “head under,” figuratively “okay”), or Chinook jargon copacete (“everything’s all right”), but no evidence to substantiate any of these has been found. Another theory credits the coining of the word to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who used the word frequently and believed himself to be the coiner. Anecdotal recollections of the word’s use, however, predate his lifetime.
Confidante reflects on Nobel laureate's passion to awaken China's intellectuals
I first met Liu Xiaobo in Beijing in 1987. I was 23, working as a translator at the Beijing Foreign Languages Press and writing freelance articles for Hong Kong-based Asiaweek magazine. Liu, almost a decade my senior, had just begun a PhD program in comparative literature at Beijing Normal University.
The future Nobel Peace Prize laureate was in the process of taking the literary worlds of Beijing, and of China, by storm. He had just published his groundbreaking first book, "Critique of Choices: Dialogue with Li Zehou."
Liu's simple, eloquent argument was that China's intellectuals had for centuries compromised so much to curry political favor with the authorities of the day that they had lost their independence. The book included the scandalous statement, "China would benefit from 300 years of colonization by the West." This was not welcomed by establishment intellectuals or Beijing's communist rulers.
Liu did not mean his statement literally. Rather, he meant that Chinese intellectuals needed to recover from the damage inflicted by centuries of authoritarian rule, straighten their backs and reclaim their intellectual independence and integrity. But his critics seized on the remark as evidence of his "reactionary" nature.
Liu did not shrink from these attacks. Instead he fought back in print, publishing the follow-up book, "Aesthetics and Human Freedom," and then five more in quick succession.
He wasn't a typical effete, Confucian scholar. He was a guy's guy. He drank, chain-smoked, and told bawdy political jokes. He was a character straight out of the 1919 May Fourth New Culture Movement. But he gored too many political oxen with his iconoclasm and earned establishment intellectuals' strong enmity.
With fellow activist-writers Duo Duo, Bei Ling, Mang Ke and others, he formed a literary salon that I reported on for Asiaweek. They gathered weekly at Beijing Foreign Studies University, then retired to neighborhood restaurants to drink lukewarm Yanjing beer, smoke and debate current political events, the course of economic reforms, traditional philosophy and history until the wee hours.
This was my graduate school. I had been living in Beijing for only a few years, so there was much I didn't understand. But because I was a foreigner, there was no such thing as a dumb question, and Liu treated me like a little brother.
He was a real Renaissance man. He read voraciously, from the Chinese classics to Schopenhauer, and would quote texts from memory as we bicycled through Beijing's back alleys, passionately discussing the fate of China.
His critics did not appreciate how Liu wielded ironic humor to play down how passionately he cared about his country. "I'll never let fear of criticism or punishment stifle my speaking out, and I'll struggle for the right of others to free expression, even if their views don't agree with mine," he said one evening. "That's the price of freedom." If only he knew how high a cost he would pay for his ideals.
With his literary reputation soaring, in 1988 Liu accepted an invitation to teach at Columbia University. Reunited there with fellow Beijing political activist Hu Ping, poets Jiang He and Bei Ling, and artists Ai Weiwei and Yan Li, the group continued their Beijing salon in New York City, debating how best to continue their work when they returned home.
When student protests broke out in Beijing in 1989, Liu watched television day and night. He saw millions take to the streets to demonstrate for a better future. The students were so sincere, their idealism so moving. He felt he had to go back to Beijing to be with them.
Liu purchased a one-way ticket, paying cash so he couldn't change his mind. "I'm frightened, but can't sit in New York while my compatriots need me," he said. "Haven't I been preparing for this moment all my life?"
Liu didn't know if he would be arrested upon arrival in Beijing, but the authorities had bigger concerns. He made it to Tiananmen Square and spent weeks living in a tent and standing shoulder to shoulder with his former students, emerging as the chief spokesperson for the protesters in the final days before June 4.
He stood his ground the night of the massacre, ultimately negotiating with martial law troops for the safe passage out of Tiananmen Square of hundreds of those remaining, including me. For this action, Liu came to be known as one of the "Four Noblemen of Tiananmen." If not for his intervention, hundreds more young lives would have been tragically lost.
After the crackdown, Liu was arrested. He had no illusions about how a scholar would be treated in prison. "Willingness to endure punishment and even death is the price that must be paid for liberty," he said just before turning himself in. I wouldn't see my friend again for two years.
He was sent to Qincheng Prison, China's Bastille, on the charge of "instigating counterrevolutionary rebellion." After his release in 1991, he was again arrested in 1995, this time spending four years in a labor camp for calling on the government to overturn its verdict on Tiananmen and acknowledge its tragic mistake in violently suppressing the peaceful, patriotic student movement.
The last time I saw Liu was Christmas 1999. We sat on the balcony of a friend's apartment, sipping beer and reminiscing about the old carefree days of the 1980s. "I wonder if we'll ever see the kind of freedom and open debate that we experienced then," he sighed. We raised our glasses and vowed, "Let's hope so!"
In a letter to his friend Liao Yiwu in 2000, he wrote: "Compared to others under the communist black curtain, we can't call ourselves real men.... In order for everyone to have the right to be selfish, there has to be a righteous giant who will sacrifice selflessly.... In history, nothing is fated. The appearance of a martyr will completely change a nation's soul and raise the spiritual quality of the people."
In 2002, he reflected on the radical, Mao Zedong-style politics he embraced earlier in his career: "I realized that my entire youth and early writings were nurtured in hatred, violence, arrogance, lies, cynicism, and sarcasm. I was raised on the 'wolf's milk' of the revolution, and Mao-style thinking and Cultural Revolution-style language was ingrained in me. I'd become my own jail. It may take me a lifetime to get rid of the poison."
In 2008, Liu initiated the seminal Charter 08 political freedom and human rights manifesto and signed it with more than 300 fellow Chinese citizens. The Charter was drafted to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Two days before its official release, Liu was arrested and charged with "suspicion of inciting subversion of state power."
"I Have No Enemies" was the statement he prepared to read at his trial, but wasn't allowed to. The essay was later read at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony which Liu was not able to attend due to his imprisonment.
"I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who have monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentenced me, are my enemies. While I'm unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities.... I do not feel guilty for following my constitutional right to freedom of expression, for fulfilling my social responsibility as a Chinese citizen. Even if accused of it, I would have no complaints."
On Christmas Day 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights.
"China's political reform should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable and should be interactive, from above to below and from below to above.... The order of a bad government is better than the chaos of anarchy. So I oppose systems of government that are dictatorships or monopolies. This is not 'inciting subversion of state power'. Opposition is not equivalent to subversion," Liu wrote in his rejected appeal.
He was incarcerated in Liaoning Province. Last month, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and granted medical parole. He died in the prison hospital on July 13 at the age of 61. In the 28 years since the Tiananmen massacre, he had spent more than half in prison.
Farewell old friend.
Scott Savitt is the author of "Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China" and was previously a correspondent in Beijing for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.
We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that buried its head in the sand waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education, or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and timeless absence of moral leadership. We must dissent, because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better. -Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court Justice
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy had finally done something worth doing, he signed d HB 7146 which curbs the state’s civil forfeiture laws. The bill passed both the House and the Senate without a single no vote.
This is a great law because civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on Americans’ private property rights. Police and prosecutors generated more than $17.8 million in forfeiture revenue from 2009 to 2016. Nearly two-thirds of those proceeds came from civil forfeiture cases, where the owner did not have to be convicted. The cops confiscated cash, but also seized dirt bikes, gold chains, and electronics.
In Connecticut, half of all civil forfeitures were under $570 in 2016 suggesting that many of the victims don’t have the means to fight back against a seizure in court.
Under the new law, in order to permanently confiscate property with civil forfeiture, the property must be first seized in connection to either a lawful arrest or a lawful search that results in an arrest. If prosecutors do not secure a guilty verdict, a plea bargain or a dismissal from finishing a pretrial diversion program, the government must return the property to its rightful owner. Connecticut is the 14th state to require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases.
The problem is that this wonderful bill doesn’t go far enough. The state still allows police and prosecutors to collect 69.5 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property which does nothing more than provide a strong incentive to seek cases with a big payout. Also Connecticut agencies can spend forfeiture money without any public oversight or accounting.