Every single one of us has obsessions. There’s no denying. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as:
Main Entry: ob·ses·sion
“A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”.
Broadly: Compelling motivation.
“Something that causes an obsession”.
This last one is not very explicative, but that’s what the dictionary says about it.
My obsessions are essentially visual.
We have to thank light (in the form of sun illumination) for everything existing on earth.
Some scientists have even come to the conclusion that no form of life whatsoever (or at least life as we know it) would have ever been possible without light.
Thanks to the radiations with a wavelength in the so-called visible spectrum (sent out from the sun and all other bodies undergoing one or other form of nuclear combustion in the universe), it’s possible to sustain life on this planet and, perhaps most important, allow us to see.
No visible radiation > no light > no “see”.
On the other hand, even in the dark we happen to “see” things and that is actually the scary part of it, because most of the things we see in the dark are just in our heads. Even more scary is that our brain can make them so real that you could swear you actually saw them.
Try for example to stay with your eyes wide open in an obscured room.
After a while you can “see” undefined shades of things from the corner of your eyes and when you try to catch the view of those objects, they just disappear.
If you have a strong imagination you can then start to see forms that vaguely resemble real objects.
If you are crazy enough, keep going and you can even get real hallucinations (can an hallucination be real?…. good point).
In this situation you can do several things:
- Start screaming
- Shut your mouth and keep going
- Switch the lights on and stop this crap
- Sit back and enjoy the show
Several years ago, I did a little experiment with some university friends/colleagues.
My work at that time brought us, for approximately a week every month, on a small volcanic, uninhabited islet, where our Team made some recurring research on behalf of the Institute and Museum of Zoology at our Faculty.
The conditions were quite primitive: a couple of old but beautiful buildings, remnants of previous inhabitants who had left since WW2 and kept fit for habitation by the local Administration (technically once a year, but mostly every other year… maybe).
No gas, no electricity, no running water.
Just a wonderful vegetation, a deep blue-green sea, no animals bigger than a rat (and the island’s rats were huge, due to the scarcity of predators) and plenty of sun, rain, wind and whatever else you can expect in the free nature (except snow, ice and the like, since the island was in a particularly mild and protected spot of the Mediterranean Sea).
Under these conditions, most evenings were long and, obviously, rather dark, bordering to pitch black when there was no moon and the clouds obscured the stars.
I cannot remember if we had just candles and the fireplace as light sources only because we were too lazy to buy some gas lamps, or because we all were born and grown up in a big city and this way of living felt quite “rough” and adventurous (moreover, boys love to play with fire).
I just know that some years later (I visited that island each month during 6 consecutive years), we finally got electricity (by mistake, I’m pretty sure) and even then, we still kept the tradition of the evenings with candlelight and fireplace (which we had to use for cooking anyway).
We were also accustomed to walk around (to relieve ourselves or just to stretch the legs) without lights.
Truth is that we did actually have flashlights and we might have used them, but doing without was definitely more fun.
I can clearly remember that some nights we could read a book by the moonlight, and I swear that it is perfectly possible to see where you’re going on a moonless but clear night, just by the light of the stars.
As a city-slicker, I could have never imagined that stars could be so bright.
Those are magical moments and since no camera can reproduce or convey the feeling, it’s something you have to experience in person.
But now, back to the experiment:
One evening we were talking about perception, light and similar stuff.
We ended up wondering if it wasn’t possible to explain some fantastic stories about ghosts, phantoms etc. by combining some of those theories about light deprivation, perception and “power of the mind” (You must not forget that we are talking about 5 to 8 science students of the nerdy kind…).
We all more or less agreed upon the already discussed phenomenon of “light images” as being generated after some time spent in light deprivation and that this was a pure biochemical effect of the brain on the eye’s light-sensitive cells, combined with some internal phenomena of cyclic charging and discharging of the cell-membranes of the rods and cones in absence of light (more nerdy-talk), so the only way to really know what happened was to try it ourselves.
On a moonless, cloudy night, we went to a place on the island that we knew had a quite mystical atmosphere.
On one of the inner slopes of the island, there was a thick bush of Mediterranean oaks, where light had difficulty to penetrate even on a clear summer afternoon.
At the approximate center of this thicket, there was a small clearing, kept in shade by the impenetrable roof of interlaced branches from those sturdy, secular trees.
The place was absolutely breathtaking during daytime, but became a bit “spooky” at night.
The fact was accentuated by a couple of “fungal fairy rings” that, during certain periods of their growth, emitted a vague phosphorescence.
And thus, there we went one night…
We sat down on a couple of moss-covered fallen trunks and stared into total darkness.
None of us really believed in ghosts, but we grew more uncomfortable by the minute.
No one spoke, but we could sense each other’s gradual estrangement from reality.
We had previously agreed on the following “rules”:
- No talking
- No grunting
- No sighing
- No farting
- No spooky sounds “just for fun”
- No cigarettes, lighters or other light sources
- We had to stay there, motionless, for at least 30 minutes
- Whatever happened, or we thought happened, nothing had to be discussed on the spot
- Notes would be made as soon as we were back to “base-camp”
- Everyone had to write down his findings separately, without discussing them with the others
- All written reports were to be signed and were to be compared by the fireplace
- The end of the experiment was going to be given by a stopwatch with beeper that we used for our field work
Needless to say, at the end of those incredibly long 30 minutes, the sound of the stopwatch’s beeper scared the shit out of everyone.
Even the most stolid among us (like the guy who was able to keep sleeping during a thunderstorm or reading a book during an earthquake…. in short: yours truly), fell from his perch with a curse and the early symptoms of a heart attack…
We hastened back to the fireplace and started scribbling furiously, taking care that enough space separated us to avoid “cheating”.
The results were astonishing:
- During the first 5-10 minutes, nothing was reported, just some uncomfortable feeling that was described by almost everyone as “blindness”
- After a while, almost everybody reported some shadows at the periphery of the field of view. That was consistent with the fact that the cones, placed mostly at the edges of the retina, in the “shadow” of other cells, are the most sensible to light intensity, which makes us “see” more clearly at the edges of the field of view more than at its centre, especially in the dark
- Next: almost everyone saw some light blobs dancing around, something like fireflies
At this point the mind took over from the biochemistry and everybody walked down his own path into darkness:
- M. saw constantly a form in a vague shape of a hand or a veil, trying to cover his eyes just to disappear again as soon he moved his head or tried to get hold of it.
- S. described some non better identified small animals playing a kind of funny hide-and-seek in the branches above his head. He too could not really focus, but had to make serious efforts not to laugh when those funny little creatures disappeared with a kind of silent “plop” of light (that’s his description….. I can only guess at what he really meant).
- A. saw the mushrooms of the fairy circles in a vague phosphorescence changing shape and becoming a circle of small penises, soon to transform back to mushrooms and so on.
- P. could swear he saw vaguely shimmering figures standing approximately on the places where we too were sitting, just behind each one of us. He was firmly convinced that he was seeing either our aura’s or our respective guardian angels.
- I must admit that I was at first not quite sure of what I was seeing, but after a while I could have sworn that a naked girl was dancing in the middle of the fairy circle.
My “hallucination” was by far the most detailed of all and says enough about my kind of obsessions…