6 baffling phenomena with surprisingly simple medical explanations

"Supernatural" mysteries can pass down generations after they’ve actually been solved, as is the case with the following six “unsolvable” mysteries.

Baffling phenomena create gossip. Solving baffling phenomena, for some reason, tends to create less gossip. Which is why “supernatural” mysteries can be passed down generations after they’ve actually been solved, as is the case with the following six “unsolvable” mysteries.

#1. Alien Abduction

What’s this?

Oval-headed, bug-eyed, gray visitors from another planet. They immobilize a research target in bed, enter their room and then abduct them. Then they flash bright lights at the subject and fool around with the subject’s butt because Earthling anuses are simply hilarious.

A freaky amount of people have reported this experience. That’s proof positive that aliens exist, right?

So what is it, Doctor?

Sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs during sleep where the sufferer is unable to move. Also, it is often accompanied by hallucinations. Read a few alien abduction stories, particularly the ones where the person is abducted from their bed. They tend to happen a certain way: Paralysis, then strange beings transporting the victim to a spaceship. At first fear, then relaxation as the alien gives them some weird gift. Then, the victim arrives safely in their bed (except for the times when a baby explodes from their chests).

That’s kinda freaky, yeah. Now read a few sleep paralysis testimonials. Subject is frozen in bed, weird creature comes in, weird shit goes down, etc. Scientists have made this association for a decade, as evidenced by this New York Times article. It still doesn’t explain the probe stuff, and for that we’re kind of thankful. That mystery can remain unsolved for all we care.

But what about…

…hypnosis recollections?

People get hypnotized and remember all sorts of stuff about their abduction. Well, it turns out, swinging a watch in front of someone when you ask them questions is more quackery than science. Go figure. A lot of the “memories” which surface from hypnotic sessions can be false. That explains the time we visited a hypnotherapist and “remembered” that we were powerfully attracted to gay hypnotherapists.

#2. Déjà Vu

What’s this?

Sorry, we couldn’t really find an appropriate lead image for this. Anyway, upon experiencing a new surrounding, déjà vu is the uncanny sensation that one has already been there. There’s never been a case of permanent déjà vu, but we’d imagine that person would be really, really bored.

So what is it, Doctor?

A freak wire-cross between the short and long term memories. Long term memory is where our old memories hang out. When we see something new, we first put it into our short term memory. That’s not exactly what happens, but it’s a good overall illustration of what’s going on in the brain.

Once in a while, when the mind sees something new, it accidentally sticks it in long term memory, before running it through short term memory. The result is the feeling that one has been there before, for it feels like the scene was already in one’s long term memory by the time the short term memory perceived it.

Another great theory, from the geniuses at M.I.T., is that the brain maps new places in a part of the mind called the hippocampus. When a new place resembles an old place, these M.I.T. scientists claim déjà vu is triggered.

But what about…

…the exactness of déjà vu?

People will be in mid-conversation and suddenly realize that everything: clothing, words, attitude is the same as before, or a dream they had. This leans more towards the first theory, that the long term memory accidentally receives the image before the conscious part of the brain knows it’s there. Which makes us wonder what the conscious mind was doing at this time. Nah, we don’t wonder, it was thinking about sex.

#3. The Dancing Plague of 1518

What’s this?

The year was (spoiler alert) 1518. Humans spent most of their time trying not to drown in filth. It was definitely not the most revelry-filled time. However, in Strasbourg, France, a rave was going down.

It started when a woman dropped everything she was doing and started dancing in the streets. For days. Like a Broadway musical, dozens of other citizens joined in, rocking their bodies fervently through the nights. Then the citizens of Strasbourg said “screw it” and blew up the spot. By the end of the month, hundreds of dancers took to the streets, wriggling around like a Dick Clark dance party full of Dick Clarks. The revelry wasn’t entirely filled with merriment. In fact, witnesses report that most people’s faces seemed agonized. In addition, several people literally danced themselves to death.

All this partying concerned town leaders, who sought the advice of physicians. Being 1518 physicians, they were no more qualified to diagnose disease than a car mechanic is qualified to examine your prostate. So, naturally, they decided the best idea was to have a huge party. A stage was built for dancing, and musicians were paid to keep the beat. Ecstasy wasn’t available at the time, but we imagine these quacks would’ve advised giving it to everyone in Strasbourg.

So what is it, Doctor?

Sydenham Chorea.

Sydenham Chorea is a disease characterized by uncontrollable flailing of the limbs. It’s a strep virus, so it is infectious. One of the most interesting things is that Sydenham Chorea can take up to 6 months to afflict the victim after infection. So it’s like dropping a hit of X that takes 6 months to digest.

Most likely, the town had an outbreak of this disease, and many people got infected. Over the next few months, citizens brains began to get all loopy as the Sydenham Chorea finally kicked in, and started a giant France dance.

But what about…

…the fact that Sydenham Chorea is only known to affect people under 17 years old?

First, note that Sydenham Chorea is more common in females than in males. Our theory is that several nubile teenage girls started getting their moves on uncontrollably. We all know that you just need a few girls on the dance floor before it becomes swarmed with guys. So the whole thing was a combination of infected teenage girls and a bunch of horny teenage boys wanting to get it on with them before finding out they are insane (which honestly happens to every teenage boy, everywhere.)

#4. Hipsters

What’s this?

Twenty-somethings who still dress with the impression that anyone gives a shit what they look like. If you don’t know what a hipster is already, you are living in a blessed world and you probably take a big toilet dump full of rainbows every morning. It’s middle and upper class adults who are into indie culture. A lot like suburban teenagers.

So what is it, Doctor?

Secondary adolescence. At first, scientists thought hipsters were twenty-somethings going through a tough maturing process, and coined the term Quarter Life Crisis. Now, however, they are starting to believe that humankind itself is developing another period of adolescence. We’re not sure why anyone would want a second one of those, but there’s a lot about hipster culture that we are unsure about.

What we do know is that “adolescence” is a great way to describe hipster culture. Showing off quirky fashion competitively, slacking and complaining, and hanging out in huge packs is common for both teens and hipsters. Also, teenagers are totally annoying, and so are hipsters.

But what about…

…the fact that evolution doesn’t work that fast?

We’re not talking about a change that has shaped itself over millions of years. What we have here is an adaptation to a new facet of life.

It’s happened before. Check out these photos from the Great Depression. Notice anything missing? Teenagers. Historians believe that Americans developed their adolescence throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Before then, children just became adults without much of an in-between phase. It was more “learn to survive all at once” than today, where teenagers often have the luxury of finding themselves. Here’s a lady from the Great Depression. She is 18 years old:

Frankly. she looks like she could be our grandmother. In fact, we can definitely recall our father complaining about having to eat dirt as a small child.

#5. Zombies

What’s this?

Dead human that gets up, walking around in a low-functioning mental state, while millions of zombie fans orgasm. Several scientists have studied Haitian zombies extensively, and were pretty shocked to discover the legend was not far from the truth. There were actually zombie-like people hanging around Haitian graveyards.

So what is it, Doctor?

Drugs. Wade Davis studied Haitian Zombies extensively, publishing a book called The Serpent and the Rainbow. According to this book, if one eats the neurotoxin found in puffer fish, and also has some datura (found naturally in flowers), one pretty much zombifies. First, the body enters a state of low functioning suspended animation, and can often be mistaken for dead. A while later (sometimes after being buried) the body wakes up in a sluggish, drugged out state.

But what about…

…the fact that that’s not exactly how pufferfish poisoning works?

There is ample debate in the scientific community about whether this is the exact cause of zombification. However, there is significant agreement that something goes on in the brain to make people act like a zombie after being in death-like suspended animation for a while. They don’t eat brains, though. But they do eat pufferfish, which is even weirder.

#6. The Salem Witch Trials

What’s this?

A really weird, dark part of U.S. history. From 1692-1693, over 100 people in Salem, Massachusetts were accused of being witches. Twenty people were executed under ridiculous methods meant to prove their witchiness, including:

  • People testifying they saw the accused’s ghostly form haunting them
  • Feeding a dog a cake made with urine to see if this made the accused person shriek in pain
  • Having the accused touch someone who was having a fit. If the fit stopped, the accused was a witch. Note that this would probably make Jesus a witch.

This was an interesting period of what appears to be mass-craziness, not unlike when Arizona senior citizens steamroll an election.

So what is it, Doctor?

Everyone was either frying balls or playing politics. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Timothy Leary had succeeded in his plan to dump L.S.D. into the Los Angeles water supply? This is what would happen.

There’s a fungus, Claviceps purpurea. It’s the natural substance from which L.S.D. derives, and grows on the grains used to make rye bread. Most likely, a bad batch of bread got into the town. When people started freaking out, their political enemies took full advantage of the opportunity to convince everyone these freaks should be executed. Pretty much the opposite of Haight-Ashbury in 1968.

But what about…

The fact that there is rye bread everywhere, but witch trials seldom happen?

Researchers have concluded that conditions in 1691 in Salem were perfect for a rye outbreak. Damp, open storage areas could have easily made one of the most potent psychedelic batches in history. The problems were gone in 1692, however, which would explain why the witch-hunting suddenly stopped in early 1693. Or the people in power just ran out of enemies to execute.

It seems like nearly every “supernatural” mystery can be solved with “your brain is doing some weird stuff. You probably ate something.” So next time you see an alien, or a zombie, or a witch, ask yourself, “is there a chance my brain is malfunctioning. If so, is there some trippy movie I should be watching?”