Posted in Science & Nature

Cattle Mutilation

For decades, there have been case reports by farmers who found mysteriously dead cattle with strange, surgically precise wounds. Strangely, these corpses were split open and most of their soft organs (e.g. eyes, tongues, intestine, genitals) had been removed. Even stranger, the corpses were completely drained of blood.

The mysterious, mutilated cattle corpses set off a diverse range of conspiracies of what could have caused such a bizarre phenomena. The most popular theories included: alien experimentation (explaining the surgical precision and lack of blood and organs), sacrifice by cults, vampires and the El Chupacabra (a mythological vampiric beast).

Cattle mutilation became so well-known that during the 70’s, it was properly investigated by the FBI. Of course, no evidence was found of aliens and vampires. As with most supernatural phenomena, cattle mutilation could be logically explained by science.

It was found that the cattle had simply died of natural causes, with no foul play involved (other than the occasional psychopaths attacking cattle). But how could natural death cause the surgical wounds, the missing organs and lack of blood? The answer is obvious when one thinks of what happens to animals after they die.

Scavengers such as foxes and buzzards often feast on decomposing corpses, cleanly removing the soft organs before they rot away (organs are the first to spoil). As scavengers usually bite into the corpses, this does not explain the clean wounds. This phenomena is due to insects also feasting on the corpse – a key part in putrefaction. Insects prefer softer tissue such as organs and ragged wounds, so after the insects are finished, wounds often look extremely clean. Also, putrefaction of tissue leads to massive gas production, causing bloating. Once this reaches a peak, the cattle corpse bursts like a balloon, causing clean tears in the abdomen. Lastly, the flies that were involved in cleaning away organs lay eggs, which hatch into maggots. Maggots immediately eat away the dead flesh and organs, even sucking up the blood that pooled at the bottom of the corpse. All of these factors combined results in what appears to be a mysterious alien bovine autopsy.

Although this may sound crazier than Chupacabras, the theory was actually tested in 1979 by a sheriff who kept receiving complaints about cattle mutilation. He took a dead cow, left it on a field and filmed it for 48 hours. The video clearly showed each step described above, proving that cattle mutilation was simply Mother Nature’s cruel, vicious way of returning a corpse back to the soil.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


In the New Testament of the Bible, there is a scene where Jesus resurrects a man by the name of Lazarus back four days after his death. This “miracle” is of course a fictitious event, but nonetheless, the name Lazarus has come to symbolise resurrection after death. For example, there are two actual medical conditions named after Lazarus, both related to death.

The first is called Lazarus phenomenon, where a person who is declared to be clinically dead spontaneously returns to life. This is an extremely rare event that has only been recorded in about 30 cases. In most of these cases, the patients had suffered a cardiac arrest, with all attempts at resuscitation (e.g. CPR, adrenaline) had failed. Sometime after the person was declared clinically dead (usually around 5~10 minutes), the person’s circulatory system would suddenly start on its own and the person would be “resurrected” (quite literally). In one case, a 61 year-old woman was declared officially dead after her heart stopped and her vitals did not return after continuous resuscitation. At the morgue, however, she was found to have a pulse and breathing on her own. She later sued the hospital for the neurological and physical injury caused by oxygen deprivation during her death. There is even a case report of a patient who returned to life two and a half hours after dying (although he died again 3 weeks later).

Of course, the Lazarus phenomenon is not a miracle. In most cases, it is hypothesised that when resuscitation is attempted then stopped, there is a rare chance of the relieving of pressure causing blood to fill the heart, causing a sudden expansion and kickstarting the electrical circuit. Other factors that may influence this is hyperkalaemia resulting from ischaemia and high doses of adrenaline given to the patient during resuscitation having a delayed effect.
Because of this rare “complication” of death, doctors are advised to observe the patient for about 10 minutes after declaring them dead. Just in case.

The second is called Lazarus sign and it occurs not in dead patients, but brain-dead patients. Brain-dead patients are immobile as their higher functions such as cognition and motor functions are destroyed. However, there are rare cases where the brainstem is somehow stimulated, triggering a reflex arc from the spinal cord. This reflex is seen as the patient suddenly raising their arms and dropping them on their chest in a crossed position, much like Egyptian mummies. As the spinal cord is not usually damaged in brain-dead patients, this reflex arc is possible, similar to a knee jerk reflex. The Lazarus sign should not be misinterpreted as a sign that a brain-dead patient is conscious, as it is an involuntary movement. However, it has been mistaken for the resuscitation of a patient, or in some cases, as a miracle.


Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Time Perception

What exactly is the present? The present is the middle point between the past and future, the world that we experience and perceive on a real-time basis. But would you believe it if the world you perceive is not the true “present”? To experience the world, we use our five senses. The brain collates all these sensory information and processes it to construct “the present”. This process takes about 80 milliseconds. Ergo, the world we experience is actually the world as it was 80 milliseconds ago. For a similar phenomenon, consider the stars. The stars we observe are not what they look like now, but what the stars looked liked when they emitted the light that we see. Thus, the star you are looking at may not even exist anymore.

But 80 milliseconds is a very short time; surely it has no impact on our everyday life? To prove that this delay has a critical impact on our understanding of cause and effect, neuroscientists designed the following experiment. The researchers would ask the participant to press a button that caused a light to blink after a short delay. After about ten tries, the participants reported that the delay had disappeared and the light flashed immediately after they pressed the button. This was due to their brain editing out the time delay and directly connecting the cause (button) and the effect (flash). But a much more peculiar phenomenon was seen when the researches removed the delay between the button press and the flash. Participants reported that they saw the light flash before they even pressed the button. The participant’s brain had become so used to the editing process that it was confusing the order of the cause and the effect.

The brain’s time-editing ability can be seen in the following simple experiment. If you touch your nose and toe at the same time, logic dictates that as the toe is further from your brain, the signal will have to travel further and it will be felt later. But in reality, you feel both at the exact same time. This is because your brain uses a map of the body to edit the relative time the signal takes to reach the brain to better construct a “real-time present”.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Every person has had the experience of having a few seconds of brilliance just before their consciousness slips into sleep. During this short moment, we have some of the most creative and innovative ideas. Unfortunately, this is all lost by the time we wake up. This state is known as the hypnagogic state and has been well known since ancient Greece. Many philosophers and writers such as Aristotle and Edgar Allan Poe have written on the subject and how they received some of their greatest ideas in this state. 

Recent researches show that during hypnagogia, thought processes and cognition vastly differs to normal wakefulness. It appears that hypnagogic cognition is more based on the subconscious mind, with people in this state being more open to suggestion (e.g. hypnosis). Ideas seem to flow in a fluid yet illogical way and they are based on external stimuli, thus explaining the heightened suggestibility as the brain incorporates the surrounding into its thought process. The thought process is also less restricted, leading to openness and sensitivity. A process called autosymbolism occurs where abstract ideas that we are thinking are converted into concrete images. This explains the artistic inspiration seen in hypnagogia.

One of the more pronounced phenomena of hypnagogia is insight. It has been noted by many people throughout history that the moment before sleep is when we have the best ideas. For example, a chemist called August Kekulé realised that benzene was a ring structure after seeing an image of snakes biting each other’s tails to form a ring. Because of this, many famous artists and inventors tried to harness the power of hypnagogia through techniques such as the Dalí nap. Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton, Beethoven and Richard Wagner also practised similar techniques to gain insight into a problem that they were trying to solve or bring fresh ideas.

Another fascinating side of hypnagogia is the strange sensory phenomena associated with it. As in the case of sleep paralysis (which usually occurs in hypnapomp – the state between sleep and waking up), people often report strong hallucinations in the form of bright colours, geometric shapes, or even nightmarish visions (such as a ghost sitting on your chest). Other senses are affected as well, such as hearing whispering (commonly associated with the nightmarish hallucinations mentioned above) or out-of-body experiences. Hypnic jerks are also common, where the person jerks awake just before drifting off to sleep. This is thought to be caused by the brain misinterpreting sleep as “death” or the body shutting down, leading it to jolt the system back to life. 

Finally, an interesting psychological phenomenon is the Tetris effect, where people who have spent a prolonged time on one activity cannot stop seeing images and thinking about that activity in the hypnagogic state. This was seen in people who had played too much Tetris seeing coloured bricks before they went to sleep. Other common versions of the Tetris effect include chess boards and pieces, feeling waves after being at sea and seeing words and numbers after working on documents for a long time.

The combination of insight, creativity and sensory illusions leads to hypnagogia causing strange “experiences”. Ergo, hypnagogia is now thought to explain many supernatural experiences such as ghost sightings, UFO abductions, premonitions and visions.