Can Science Actually Validate our Personal Experiences?

Can Science Actually Validate our Personal Experiences?

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a small basement apartment. I was trying to immigrate to Canada at the time, so I couldn’t work. I hadn’t figured out my life yet (still not really a skill I’ve mastered), so I spent a lot of time sleeping in after my husband left for work. Especially since he got up at 5:30 in the morning.

On several occasions, I recall vivid dreams that involved shadow people entering my room and attempting to choke me to death. These weren’t like regular dreams. They felt more like out of body experiences. I would be aware of myself laying on my bed and of the room around me, usually lit with bright morning sunlight. Sometimes I would ‘see’ these people enter the apartment and cross into the bedroom. Sometimes they merely appeared through the door and loomed over the bed.

The figures in these dreams were always exactly the same. They looked like tall people, but they had no defining features. Their forms were black and smoky, like shadows that had taken solid form. They had oval, almost alien-like heads and no faces. Not even eyes. I could often feel their hands around my neck, though I never actually had difficulty breathing. It took effort to awaken from these dreams, which only made the whole experience worse.

As you can imagine, these were terrifying experiences. I searched long and hard for a meaning to these dreams so that I would stop having them. But it turns out, they probably weren’t dreams at all.

Ever Heard of Sleep Paralysis?

A few years after I started having these dreams, my husband and I watched a documentary about alien abductions. The journalist who put it together decided to take a novel approach to the composition; he assumed that the people who told stories about alien abductions were not crazy and actually took their testimony seriously. In the end, the documentary presented several possible explanations for alien abductions, but only one stuck in my head; sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis usually occurs when a person is first waking up or first falling asleep. It is characterized by the inability to move. As part of the REM sleep cycle, the brain will paralyze the body so that we cannot get out of bed and start acting out our dreams (a condition we have labeled “sleep walking”). There seems to be an accidental overlap between the REM cycle and the process of waking up during which sleep paralysis occurs. Because the brain still thinks you’re dreaming, it locks the body into position even though you may be awake and aware of your surroundings.

People suffering a sleep paralysis episode often experience hallucinations. There are “a long list of experiences commonly associated with the condition. Alien abductions is one of the most well-known. I’m not sure anyone knows why, but the common characteristics of these hallucinations include tall figures with elongated oval faces, sounds such as humming, hissing or zapping, and sensations such as tingling, vibrating or heaviness in the chest or muscles.

Other common sleep paralysis hallucinations listed on Wikipeda include ghosts, demonic possession and haunting by shadow people.

Sound familiar?

Are you familiar with the old myth concerning succubi and incubi? The succubus was a particularly feared creature from our history. She slipped into the rooms of unsuspecting men in the middle of the night and raped them to steal their seed. She would then slip into a male form – known as an incubus – and slip into the rooms of unsuspecting women, where he would fill them with his stolen seed.

We’ve long since stopped believing in the concept of succubi and incubi, yet there may have been a hint of truth in these old stories. It turns out that the sights and sensations associated with these demonic creatures are common symptoms of sleep paralysis.

Ever heard of the Night Hag? In Old English they were known as mæra. The Night Hag would sit on a person’s chest and send them nightmares. When the subject of her torment woke, they would be unable to move or breathe for a short period of time. Sound familiar?

Sleep paralysis has been around a long time – probably as long as we have. But in the days before we understood brain chemistry and sleep cycles and how the two interacted with our physical bodies, we called it demonic possession, our haunting. We believed it originated with dark and sinister spirits or demonic creatures that visited us in the unknown hours of the night after we surrendered our consciousness to oblivion.

But just because we call it something else, and better understand how it works, doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly the same.

Does Science Invalidate Our Personal Experiences?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about facts and information. We live in a time period where more information is readily available to the average person than at any other point in our history. Reading is a basic skill taught in most schools throughout the world. Almost everyone can read and write. And with the Internet allowing us to access information about events as they happen, there’s little excuse for someone to claim ignorance about current events, diet and nutrition or even basic biological functions.

Yet, time and again people willfully ignore the information at their fingertips in favor of preferred fictions. How else could people believe that the world is flat? Why else would an entire country vote to leave a trade union only to go home and Google its function after the fact? We have access to all the information we need to live healthy lives and make informed decisions. Yet a significant portion of the population refuses to make use of it. Why?

Lately I’ve been wondering if some of that willful ignorance has to do with validation. Are people worried that paying attention to scientific evidence will invalidate their personal experiences? Is that why they cling to information that can easily be proven false?

The more I ponder these questions, the more I come back to sleep paralysis. Could knowing how it works and what causes it somehow invalidate my personal experiences?

Now That I Know What to Look For…

Now that I know what sleep paralysis is, I realize that I actually experience it fairly often. It doesn’t usually include shadow figures anymore – and I’m grateful for that. But it does include plenty of other disconcerting experiences. For instance, a few weeks ago I laid in bed one morning and got the distinct impression that my husband had come into the room and laid down across my back – except that I knew for a fact my husband had already left for work.

And it isn’t just recent experiences that I’ve become more aware of, it’s past experiences too. When I was a kid, I slept in a room with a closet that led to the attic. I was terrified of that closet and always contributed it to the fact that it lead to the attic. I was a kid, what else was I going to think? Looking back, I was always afraid of shadow creatures I thought were lurking in the closet. I left the light on all the time while I was in my room. And it was the last light I turned off at night before shooting under my covers. Could they have been the result of sleep paralysis as well?

Growing up, I came to associate those experiences with paranormal phenomenon. It’s one of the reasons why I can’t say for sure whether or not I believe in ghosts. I had too many experiences in my youth that felt like hauntings. But maybe they weren’t. Maybe, my mind was playing tricks on me all along. If science is right, and all the weird things I thought I saw as a kid were just the result of sleep paralysis, does that somehow negate everything I experienced?

The Short Answer Is No.

The more I think about my experiences with shadow creatures and sleep paralysis, the more I’m convinced that no science could ever negate my experience. If anything, I’m convinced it validates my experiences instead.

When I first started dreaming of shadow people that tore through my house and tried to choke me to death, I thought I was losing my mind. The dreams were too vivid to dismiss, even if I knew they weren’t real. When I think about all the physical sensations I’ve experienced in dreams, I start to understand why people once believed demons slipped into their rooms to rape them. Or why many people still believe today that aliens take them to spaceships and perform anal probes before returning them to their beds.

Experiences like these are enough to convince you that you’re crazy. But thanks to scientific evidence, I know that I’m not! There is a logical, reasonable explanation for the things I’ve experienced. If anything, the studies on sleep paralysis prove that I probably did see shadows and definitely do experience odd physical sensations that seem to come from nowhere. No one can tell me that they simply weren’t real because I have evidence that each and every one of those experiences was, in fact, real and tangible.

Maybe I never experienced anything paranormal. But I experienced something – and I think that’s what ultimately matters.

So maybe instead of running from facts, we should start embracing them and seeing how they align with and enhance our experiences instead. Understanding what’s happening to me certainly has been helpful.

2 Replies to “Can Science Actually Validate our Personal Experiences?”

    1. When I think back on how heavily the experiences used to affect me, it really puts in perspective how terrifying not knowing was!

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