Want to take an especially cheap trip? Tape a pair of Ping-Pong balls over your eyes, turn the radio to static, lie down in an otherwise quiet place — and wait.
What happens next is known as the Ganzfeld procedure: Within minutes, you’re almost certain to experience a bizarre set of sensory distortions. Some people see horses prancing in the clouds; others hear the voices of dear departed relatives. The procedure is best known for its role in parapsychology research, but scientists now use it to study the nature of perception itself.
Take, for instance, this recent paper by German psychologists — it describes the patterns of neural activity in subjects undergoing the Ganzfeld procedure. The most surprising finding? Even though the subjects were deprived of sensation, the sensory areas of their brains were overloaded with imaginary sights and sounds. This is what happens when you don’t give the mind any input — it makes up its own.
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