[By Prasanna Nara]
Halloween is approaching and it’s time to stock the shelves with candy, put on your freakiest costume and be extra scared if you’re alone at home in your room and you hear noises coming from downstairs. Most of us might not believe in all the hocus pocus, creepy stories we’ve been told as children by our older siblings or cousins, but there is maybe a part of us that still wants to – because let’s face it, we like being spooked out. What fun is Halloween if you don’t have at least one hair-raising story to tell? While the myths and legends we hear might most definitely not be true, there usually is an explanation behind why they may seem real enough to fool us.
And so, ETC. Magazine hereby presents three examples of just how this is possible.
1. Light as a feather, stiff as a board
How it works: The person who is going to be “levitated” lies down on the floor, on a table or sits on a chair while four friends surround him/her. The friends place their index and middle finger of each hand underneath the participant and chant “Light as a feather…Stiff as a board” with creepy, monotonous voices and their eyes closed. After chanting the phrase over and over, the friends will be able to lift the participant and – OMG wait for it – defy gravity!
How it really works: According to ABC Science, Dr. Karl states that there are three main components to this party trick – timing, poor memory and the strength of our fingers.
First, let’s talk about timing. Usually the first attempt of this “supernatural occurrence” fails because everyone is not lifting at the same instant. However, the second time is a success because everyone is more synchronised due to the power of the phrase “Light as a feather…stiff as a board”. Not a supernatural effect of the spirits taking over, but the power of coordination. The chant gives a rhythm for the participants to follow and also provides them with a final countdown for the weight-distributed lift.
The next factor is poor human memory. Many people tend to exaggerate on their story by saying that they felt a “spiritual force” enabling them to lift the body and hold it effortlessly. The reality is, even if the body can be lifted, it will only be a few inches off the ground before it gets (unfortunately for the person lying down) dropped.
Lastly, nearly all of us underestimate the strength of our fingers. The muscles that support our fingers are stronger than we imagine and the force generated to move something with our fingers is four times the pressure which is produced at the fingertips.
2. Bloody Mary
How it works: Most people perform this trick in a bathroom with dim lights or candles. Stare into the mirror and chant “Bloody Mary” three, five, thirteen or however many times you have read on those extremely credible paranormal websites. After less than a minute, you will start to see a face coming from within the mirror or your own face deforming. Remember, you have to really believe for it to happen.
How it really works: First of all, note that the brain can get very bored sometimes and you start scaring yourself. In this particular situation, the brain does not have the energy or processing power to notice everything all the time. Our neurons usually cancel out what is constant, which is why we are not aware of everything (cloth on our skin, sitting on a chair) that happens to us. In 2009, an Italian psychologist named Giovanni Caputo decided to test this so-called legend by having 50 people partake in his experiment. Even without chanting “Bloody Mary”, many of the participants described that they witnessed distortions happening to their own face. This can be explained by the Troxler Effect, which is able to fade out features that a person isn’t directly staring at. This effect will replace the features with things around them, for example substituting a chin with an eye. Also, the change does not just happen in one place but wanders around the entire face, massively distorting it.
3. Ouija Board
How it works: You and your friends get together one night in a poorly lit room, (again – the supernatural are allergic to good lighting), and get out the Ouija Board. Everyone places their hand on an indicator called a ‘planchette’ that moves around the board and points to phrases or letters that spell out a word. Then, just pick any dead person to contact from the other side and bombard them with questions.
How it really works: Once again, it’s all happening in our subconscious mind. The planchette moving around and forming a phrase is really just our muscles moving involuntarily due to the “Ideomotor Effect”. In an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh**t, a psychologist named Pancrest talks about the ideomotor response and says that people are simply not aware that they are moving the indicator because of the expectations that they have of the outcome. If a group of people are placing their hand on the planchette and moving it collectively, they create a distinct sensation that the spirit of the deceased is trying to tell them something. When Penn and Teller blindfolded their participants and turned the Ouija Board upside down, their hands moved to the exact same place on the board. No surprise there. It has been clearly proven that this piece of witchcraft is just a piece of cardboard made to fool the “believers” enough to purchase it.
Perhaps the creepiest thing about all these over-exaggerated party games is that they are all possible, but only in our subconscious minds. What’s cooler than these fake attempts to summon the supernatural is the science behind what is actually happening. The brain plays its own tricks on us because of the mini obsession some people have about the after-life and talking to the dead. So amuse yourself by trying out one of these tricks and if anything out of the ordinary happens, you’ll know it’s not the pontianak living in your house, but your brain having its own fun with you.