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Hallucinations, the perception of something that's not actually present, are more common than you might think. We generally think of hallucinations as visual, but they can involve any of your senses. If you've ever felt your phone vibrate in pocket when it didn't, you were technically having a hallucination. They can be more complex, like hearing voices or having interactions with people who aren't actually there, and those are usually associated with drugs or mental illness. What's going on with your brain when it happens?
A study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences tried to answer this question in a recently published study. The findings back the model that the problem arises when your brain overreaches, essentially trying to take a shortcut. In the case of visual hallucinations, the brain is simply overwhelmed by all the visual stimuli around it. In order to process all the incoming visual information, it's learned to filter out what's unimportant. Sometimes this results in the brain not getting all the information it needs, so it fills in these gaps. A hallucination is when we make assumptions that are just plain wrong, and see things that aren't really there.
There's a brain disorder that causes people to see tiny people. It's known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, Micropsia, and Lilliputian Hallucinations. Interestingly, these tiny people tend to have characteristics based on the person's cultural background. Neurologist Oliver Sacks found, "if you are Irish, you will see them as leprechauns and Norwegian(s) as trolls," even though the miscues in their brains are identical. It's because we tend to fall back on past knowledge or a mental framework when filling in those mental gaps. That can also explain why near-death visions tend to conform to an individual's religious beliefs.
Tell us about your most vivid hallucinations in the comments below.
Senator Claims Angels Visited Him in Hospital (Live Science)
"The Republican senator was recovering from a massive stroke in the right side of his brain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Intensive Care Unit in Chicago when Kirk said three angels visited him, the Chicago area's Daily Herald reported."
What Causes Hallucinations? (Health Line)
"Hallucinations are sensations that appear real but are created by your mind. They can affect all five of your senses...These symptoms may be caused by mental illness, the side effects of medications, or physical illnesses like epilepsy or alcoholism."