Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Another Day, Another Demon....

*sigh*

Demons.

Possession.

Why on Earth are more and more people resorting to this dark-age superstition to explain well understood natural phenomena? Its understandable that in a time before psychology, neuroscience and the germ theory of disease, our ancestors resorted to superstition to explain how those around them could change drastically or die overnight, how the afflictions could spread through communities. It's part of our evolutionary heritage to assign agency to seemingly random events, it took our development of the scientific method and critical thinking in general, to overcome this innate bias.

Anyway... here is the latest "possession" video. Purporting to show the results of experimenting with a ouija board by three young adults. You can read the full story here (sorry its the Daily Fail, it really was the best source in this case), or here's the jist of it:
"Three American friends have been taken to hospital after reportedly becoming 'possessed' by evil spirits while playing with a Ouija board. Alexandra Huerta, 22*, was playing the game with her brother Sergio, 23, and 18-year-old cousin Fernando Cuevas at a house in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco in south-west Mexico. But minutes into it, she apparently started 'growling' and thrashing around in a 'trance-like' state.Meanwhile, Sergio and Fernando also reportedly started showing signs of 'possession', including feelings of blindness, deafness and hallucinations.
Paramedics were called to the house and took the trio to hospital, according to Alexandra's parents. They restrained Alexandra to prevent her from hurting herself, before treating the three with painkillers, anti-stress medication and eye drops, which seemingly worked.
Victor Demesa, 46, the director of public safety in the nearby town of Tepoztlan, said: 'The medical rescue of these three young people was very complicated.
Taken to hospital: Minutes into the game, Alexandra started 'growling' and thrashing around in a 'trance-like' state, according to her parents. Above, she was restrained by paramedics to prevent her from hurting herself
'They had involuntary movements and it was difficult to transfer them to the nearest hospital because they were so erratic.
'It appeared as if they were in a trance-like state, apparently after playing with the Ouija board.
'They spoke of feeling numbness, double vision, blindness, deafness, hallucinations, muscle spasm and difficulty swallowing.'
He added that whether the trio were really possessed, or had simply convinced themselves that they were, was not for doctors to comment on."
*Correction: Later reports have Alexandra as sixteen not twenty two.


The video is apparently shot in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.


As you can see we are only shown a small section of footage of one of these youngsters, Alexandra, displaying what I'd describe as typical "possession" behaviour. We see growling, snarling, clawing of hands and sinister laughing, all the behaviours we are culturally conditioned to expect from a possession. What we don't see are the other elements that we are informed are typical in possession cases, there is no superhuman strength, no impossible body contortions, no levitation. In short, nothing that wouldn't be explainable without resorting to the supernatural.

Like most of the individuals who are sharing story  around the internet, I also believe that the ouija board is directly responsible for Alexandra's condition. But its nothing to do with its purported ability to contact the dead, its a result of the fear and superstition that surrounds the ouija board. I would hazard a guess that Alexandra was in a state of high stress caused by the anxiety of performing the ouija board. This state would of been amplified when the plancette moved due to the ideomotor effect.

I believe this led to Alexandra suffering what is known as a brief psychotic episode with an obvious stressor. It may well be the case that witnessing their sister and cousin suffering this episode brought about similar episodes in the other two youngsters.

The symptoms of a brief psychotic are also consistent with  the symptoms reported by the three youngsters, and their treatment with anti-stress medication, which alleviated the problem, would seem to indicate a problem of this nature.
 
 Symptoms of a brief psychotic episode from WebMD:
"The most obvious symptoms of brief psychotic disorder include:
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are sensory perceptions of things that aren't actually present, such as hearing voices, seeing things that aren't there, or feeling sensations on your skin even though nothing is touching your body. (All three youngsters reported suffering from hallucinations- SB)
  • Delusions: These are false beliefs that the person refuses to give up, even in the face of contradictory facts." (in this case Alexandra's belief she was possessed leading her to "act out" in such a fasion.-SB)
So what causes a brief psychotic episode? One theory suggests that the disorder is caused by poor coping skills, as a defence against or escape from a particularly frightening or stressful situation. This could easily describe the situation these youngsters found themselves in.

The symptoms of a brief psychotic are also consistent with  the symptoms reported by the three youngsters, and their treatment with anti-stress medication, which alleviated the problem, would seem to indicate a occurrence of this type of disorder.

What is important to bear in mind here is that while I do not think that this is in any way "real" paranormal phenomena, that does not mean I believe it to be "fake" as such. I think the incident for Alexandra and her relatives was very real and probably quite traumatic. It just isn't what they, and many others, believe it to be.

Of course this is just speculation. I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist. my aim is simply to show that there are perfectly rational explanations for occurrences such as this that we should explore before resorting to dark-age superstition.  

I have the feeling there is more information to come on this story, I will update the post as I find it.
 
Update

So it would seem that these three youngsters had rather stupidly consumed Brugmansia which is highly toxic. Effects of ingestion can include paralysis of smooth muscles, confusion, tachycardia, dry mouth, diarrhoea, migraine headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, mydriasis, rapid onset cycloplegia, and death.

Here's an account of another user of 
 Brugmansia:
"Soon after drinking the Tonga, the man fell into a dull brooding, he stared vacantly at the ground, his mouth was closed firmly, almost convulsively and his nostrils were flared. Cold sweat covered his forehead. He was deathly pale. The jugular veins on his throat were swollen as large as a finger and he was wheezing as his chest rose and sank slowly. His arms hung down stiffly by his body. Then his eyes misted over and filled with huge tears and his lips twitched convulsively for a brief moment. His carotids were visibly beating, his respiration increased and his extremities twitched and shuddered of their own accord. This condition would have lasted about a quarter of an hour, then all these actions increased in intensity. His eyes were now dry but had become bright red and rolled about wildly in their sockets and all his facial muscles were horribly distorted. A thick white foam leaked out between his half open lips. The pulses on his forehead and throat were beating too fast to be counted. His breathing was short, extraordinarily fast and did not seem to lift the chest, which was visibly fibrillating. A mass of sticky sweat covered his whole body which continued to be shaken by the most dreadful convulsions. His limbs were hideously contorted. He alternated between murmuring quietly and incomprehensibly and uttering loud, heart-rending shrieks, howling dully and moaning and groaning" Preissel, U.; Preissel, H. G. (2002).
Case closed I'd say.