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A Scientific Explanation for "Magical" Visions?

A Scientific Explanation for "Magical" Visions?

The concept of "visions" or "magical dreams" has been around since the beginning of time. People have been reporting these experiences for centuries:
  • 6th century BC: The visions of Daniel the Prophet
  • 1st Century AD: St. Paul's vision of Christ on the road to Damascus
  • 312 AD: Emperor Constantine's vision of the cross (Christ's sign)
  • 1619 AD: Rene Descartes' series of dreams
  • 1820: Joseph Smith's visions that lead to the formation of the Mormons
  • 19th Century: Ramakrishna's visions of Jesus, Sita, Muhammed, and Kali
These visions have been perceived as life-changing, a religious or spiritual experience that shaped the lives of those who experienced them. I'm not going to disparage those visions—there's a very good chance they are real. However, here's something that I found interesting: "Formed and unformed visual hallucinations occur as a result of cortical lesions involving the occipital and temporoparietal areas." Simply put: hallucinations (the scientific term to describe "visions") could be the result of brain damage. I came upon this idea while doing research for the Dark Fantasy Romance novel I'll soon be writing. I like to use a scientific approach to writing fantasy "magic", so I need a real-world explanation to make these things understandable (to myself as the author, and to the reader). This seemed the perfect way to go. To explain the "visions" my character is having, all I have to do is add a head injury in the right place (according to one study, "the modal lesion area was the right temporal area, followed closely by the left temporal and frontal areas") and voila! Science explaining "magic". I won't bore you with all the research into this sort of brain-injury-induced hallucinations, but here are a few things I think you'll find fascinating: Risk Factors: Several risk factors for PSTBI have been reported. They include male gender, premorbid neurological abnormalities such as early head injury or neurological disorder (Fujii and Ahmed, 2001), previous psychological disturbance (Violon, 1988), family history of psychotic illness, or mental retardation (Achte et al., 1969). A family history of schizophrenia was reported in 2.9% to 18% of patients with PSTBI, thus appearring to be higher than in normal patients, but less than in patients with schizophrenia (Davison and Bagley, 1969). Hallucinations have been reported in sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), which involves the central nervous system, may present as hallucinations. Types of Hallucinations:
  • Olfactory hallucinations and gustatory hallucinations are usually associated with temporal lobe lesions and lesions in the uncinate gyrus.
  • “Crude” auditory hallucinations are more common in these conditions than formed ones.
  • Peduncular hallucinations produce vivid, non-stereotyped, continuous, gloomy or colorful visual images that are more pronounced in murky environments.
  • "Complex visual hallucinations arise due to lesions that straddle the cerebral peduncles or involve the medial substantia nigra pars reticulata, bilaterally.
  • Auditory hallucinations are most common in all groups except organic brain syndromes, where visual hallucinations predominate.
This data leads to an interesting question: are these famous visions from history real, or are they nothing more than the result of the risk factors mentioned above? I'm not going to shut the door to the possibility that these visions are real—it's very possible God, Muhammed, Kali, or any other celestial being could take advantage of hallucinations to share important messages. However, for those of us (like me) who like a more concrete explanation for this sort of phenomena, it gives a potentially rational explanation for "magical visions".