The relationship between high-energy electrical fields, and a variety of hallucinatory effects they may have on humans, is well documented in scientific literature pertaining to UFO research. However, should the literature that relates to such observations be taken as a “catch all” explanation for UFO sightings, as well as other strange phenomena popularly associated with them?
I recently took issue with such attitudes in another article here at Mysterious Universe, in which I asked, “since high-energy electric fields have been shown to produce hallucinatory effects in the lab, specifically with the research of Michael Persinger, the ball lightning theory similarly can be used to explain claims of alien abduction. To this, I would ask why more lightning strike survivors don’t report encounters with alien beings; after all, a lightning strike would have to present an electrical energetic potential similar to that of a self-contained, luminous orb of lightning, right?”
I felt it might be worthwhile to explore this concept a bit further, since there actually is some literature that supports the way a lightning strike may relate to certain ongoing UFO experiences that have been documented over the years. Specifically, the link between individuals who have suffered lightning strikes, or other electrical accidents early in life, and the later development of hypersensitivity that may produce conditions that are conducive to the onset of hallucinatory effects.
Scientific study of such circumstances, as well as their possible relationship with UFOs, became the focus of research in the early and mid 1990s, particularly in England among researchers that included Albert Budden, Michael Persinger, Paul Devereaux, and others. In 1993’s Issue 3 of the British journal The New UFOlogist, researcher Anne Silk’s article “Why Todmorden? Focus on the Rossendale Valley as an area with a high incidence of UFO/anomalous events” discussed the lightning strike component as it relates to the onset of hypersensitive conditions, in a section titled “Lightning: The Long Term Effects”:
“Both Persinger and Budden have reported the significance of early major electrical events to psychic persons and abilities. We may ask why, so many years after being struck by lightning or given a subclinical electrical shock by one means or another, should an individual be affected in this way. The answer is in the fact that when electrical current enters the body, it will flow along the blood vessels, nerves and the pathway of the cerebrospinal fluid. The brainstem is the hardest hit due to the fact the CNS is confined to one narrow pathway in the area of the body. Lightning will why in the space between blood and brain cells, i.e. they are forced apart and the integrity of the normally impervious blood/brain barrier will be breached.”
This, as Silk pointed out, does illustrate the physiological effects that a lightning strike may have on an individual, of a variety that may later result in electrical sensitivities, allergies, and other maladies that could make one susceptible to the presence of strong electric fields.
However, I would argue that my fundamental point remains: can we suppose that all individuals who find themselves near enough to an area where, for instance, ball lightning is in the process of manifesting, will begin to experience hallucinatory effects? This seems to be a curious argument, if presented in the context of those who have not had a past riddled with things like electrical accidents, childhood abuse, or other factors noted in the research of those like Albert Budden who, at the time, had published an article on the subject titled “Allergies and Aliens.”
Within the same edition of The New UFOlogist, mentioned above, physicist David Newton wrote in with his own criticisms of Budden’s article, and the connection made with sources of magnetic and electrical fields:
“Wherever someone has an alien experience, I can almost guarantee that Mr. Budden will be able to find one of his sources of electromagnetic pollution. Does this prove his theory? Not at all. All it proves is that wherever you find people, you also find electrical devices. (And flushing toilets – but I’m not going to try blaming them for alien encounters.) In short, I believe Budden’s theory is not falsifiable in its present form.
Budden also adds to his list some natural phenomena, such as ball lightning in Earth lights. These are little understood phenomena and yet, in his article, but in confidently tells us that they are ‘powerful sources of electromagnetic radiation’ which can ‘induce close encounters sensations.’
Since our flights are visible to witnesses, they must emit visible light – a type of electromagnetic radiation. They may admit like because they are simply hot and not because of any complex electrical activity. And how do these ‘powerful sources of electromagnetic pollution’ actually cause the close encounter? What evidence does Budden have to show the earth lights produce magnetic fields (not electromagnetic radiation) similar to the fields Persinger uses?
Being trained in physics I am not happy with the way button uses some of his terms. Exactly what sort of pollution are we talking about? Electric fields? Magnetic fields? Electromagnetic radiation? Budden seems to use these terms interchangeably, as if they were identical – which they are not.”
In fairness, I do feel Budden had been on the right track, at least, with his assessment of electrical phenomenon in relation to UFOs… incomplete though it was. Budden had his own rebuttal to Newton’s letter, largely in defense of his understanding of the varieties of fields that may affect an observer. But the fundamental question remains, as Newton also outlined back in 1993: What evidence do we have that something like ball lightning, or any kind of source of electrical or magnetic fields, could cause these effects in nature, or that the ball lightning even has the energetic potential to match that of laboratory experiments (where, rather obviously, the fields are far closer to the region of the brain of the test subject, than the presumed fields a natural source of electrical phenomenon would produce).
What we learn here is that the debate continues, as it has for at least the last two decades, though probably longer. In our belief (or our skepticism), we must be careful not to attribute tenuous connections between phenomena in our haste to provide a unifying “explanation”, which in the long run may do little more than dissuade and distract us from any potential for genuine scientific understanding.
Here, lightning and similar luminous phenomena found in nature certainly, in likelihood, might be related to a number of UFO reports (if not a majority, perhaps). However, better data is needed before we can make a hard argument that earth light phenomena can account for the broader body of weirdness reported in UFO literature over the years. With no doubt, science may one day be able to explain such phenomenon… but at present, it doesn’t look like we’re quite ready to close the book on the subject.