Thursday, 23 July 2009

Alive again? Dead again?

Have you ever been surprised by someone whom you thought dead being apparently alive "again"? Or dead "again"?

It happened to me once. However, judging by the number of accounts collected on Cynthia Sue Larson's delightful website dedicated to "reality shifts" and elsewhere (like here), it seems to be a relatively widely spread phenomenon.

Or is it?
A bona fide (para)physical phenomenon, I mean.

That is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine, simply because the accounts are based on what basically amounts to hear-say - on the assumption that the "alive again" person really was reported dead, as the person who supposedly experienced the discrepancy claims.
Also, the great majority of accounts seem to involve celebrities, i.e. people whom the majority of people do not know personally. In other words, it's not often that a "my grandma died and is now alive again" account comes up (not often, but occasionally it does).

Here is what I think is going on, at least in very many cases.
Generally speaking, people usually don't seem to be too acutely aware of the way their mind works. They don't realise, for example, that often what they remember is their own thoughts in reaction to any given situation. Even more to the point, they are often unaware that the brain - or the mind - tends to process the world (including memory functions) in images

Let's illustrate this by the example of the recently deceased legendary American jornalist Walter Cronkite, who was also the subject of "alive again - dead again" accounts.

There were other very prominent reporters who died in the past few years, including Peter Jennings.

Now imagine a person who isn't really listening very attentively hearing the news about (just an example) Peter Jennings' demise. This person knows that Jennings was a very famous reporter, but was never a regular viewer of Jennings' programmes. As s/he hears the news, the mind - being unable to operate without imagery - starts frantically browsing through the images of famous reporters archived in that individual's mind. The better known image of Walter Cronkite comes up - and, for whatever reason, gets "stuck".

Because the person isn't really all that profoundly interested in this piece of news and possibly goes about his/her business immediately after hearing or reading (not seeing) the news, the mind passively accepts the image proposed and forms a conglomerate: Cronkite = dead.

It could also happen that the person did see the appropriate (i.e. Jennings') image in their mind- and perhaps even on the TV screen - but their mind, for whatever subjective reason, impossible for any third person to determine - immediately wandered off on a loosely relevant tangent, ending up with Cronkite's image, which then, through inattentiveness, remained associated with the news item (the report of Jennings' death).

The mind normally does keep a record of such "conglomerates" being made (in other words, if you wanted to and tried, you could remember how the association was formed) - but only up to a certain time. After a few weeks or months, people tend to forget the details about their intricate mental processes.

And when Cronkite dies "again", they are hugely surprised, perhaps even alarmed. (And how could they not be? ;) 

I definitely think this is what probably happened with all those people who seem to remember that Jane Goodall had died: they probably confused her with Diane Fossey.* 

And that is what I think happens in most of the cases.
But not always.

Or if it does happen every single time, then the intricate ways of the brain are even more mysterious than anyone could dare to imagine. So much so that science as we know it today is almost worthless in matters of the mind.  
The reason I say this is my - so far, one and only - personal experience with this sort of "confusion".

When I was a child, I heard some teenagers discussing the death of singer Karen Carpenter. I remember them mentioning drugs, although I don't think it had anything to do (directly) with her death.

At the time, I wasn't too sure who Karen Carpenter was - I mean, I knew she was a singer, but couldn't identify her voice in my mind - so after hearing the news, I was very interested to hear her sing. Of course when I heard her on the radio - after hearing about her death - I immediately recognised her distinctive manner of singing, and from then on, my reception of The Carpenters was inevitably tinted by the awareness of her demise. (In other words, whenever I heard her voice, the first association that sprang to mind was: "Oh, that's her... she's dead.") 

This was in the mid-1970s.

Some ten years ago, while browsing the internet, I remembered her and thought to myself that it would be a good idea to see what really caused her death. Imagine my shock when I found out she died in - 1983. 

There is no way I could have confused the time. Not only is a decade a long, long time, especially in a very young person's life, but I was living on an different continent at the time when I first heard the reports about her death. I can still see in my mind the boys who talked about her - and they most definitely belong to my past on that other continent.

Of course, there is the possibility of inaccurate - or, as Mark Twain would say, "exaggerated" ;) - public reports about her death. But such a false report would inevitably require a retraction. Maybe there was one - but I have yet to find any record of it.

Furthermore, there is the possibility that her death was only speculated about or anticipated by the media (possibly on account of her being so thin). I certainly don't remember it that way, but it is possible those boys talking about her in my childhood misunderstood the report and mistook speculation for fact. (Although I should stress they were teenagers, not some little children. They looked "adults" to me at the time.)

And lastly... could it have been a false memory?
Could it be that actually I never heard of Karen Carpenter dying when I was a child, but for some obscure reason my mind, at the time of my reading about Carpenter's death in 1983, fabricated the memory of those boys talking about her?

This would be far-fetched to the point of near-impossibility; furthermore, it would open a humongous can of worms, because it would imply that there could be countless other such "factual" memories which, in reality (?), are nothing of the sort. But since I like to weigh all and every single possibility, I thought I'd mention it. (And for good measure, I'll throw in this very good article about manufacturing memories: How memories are invented and distorted.)

Anyway, after being initially extremely upset with what seems like a major lapse of memory - and I am rather famous for my accurate (and unusually long) memory, especially regarding dates and such - I forgot all about it and hadn't given it any thought... until last summer, when I read this.

"One clear example of this, for me, occurred in 2006 when a friend asked me when did Karen Carpenter die? I told them that she passed away in 1973 of anorexia nervosa. A couple days later my friend informed me the date was 1983 or 10 years later than the date I remembered. However, I clearly remember hearing the news on the radio and reading it in the news paper. At the time I was living in Santiago California and in 1983 Miami, so there is no way of confusing the two locations."

(Be sure to read the other posts, too. One person remembers her death in - 1978.)

This gave me the chills.
I mean, Karen Carpenter, while very well known world-wide and much loved, was never a major "star" - the point being that minor stars are naturally much less subject to public speculation and false reports about their death than mega-stars. The very fact that there don't seem to be a lot of people who seem to remember her having died back in the 1970 - but there are some, myself included - makes it all the more interesting (and a little eerie) to me, because it would seem to rule out a widely circulated false report on her death.

Why Karen Carpenter, of all people?
Do you know?
If so - if, perhaps, you saw a false report and such - please, let me know.

Anyway, if there really were something afoot with the fabric - or rather, with our collective perception - of time, and the person who now appears to be alive really had died, in some other timeline perhaps, there would be no record of it in the past of our present timeline (assuming - and it's a huge assumption - that there really is a single "our" timeline)... Right?
Maybe not.
Last year, there was another mildly interesting discussion going on at ATS, involving this very phenomenon. 

Among the people who were allegedly reported dead - without a later retraction or correction by the media who would have reported it - was, unsurprisingly, Arthur C. Clarke. (I say unsurprisingly because he was advanced in years.) 
Nothing too strange about that; after all, it is quite possible - as one of the posters astutely indicated - that some people confused him with Isaac Asimov, who had died in the early 1990s. 

And then, somebody produced this obituary from the newsletter of the G.R.A.A. (the Goddard Retirees and Alumni Association):

ARTHUR C. CLARKE: Died in Colorado February l0, 2000 of pulmonary fibrosis.

The (famous) A. C. Clarke had been closely associated - possibly a member (we didn't check) - of NASA's Goddard Institute.

Still, it could be a namesake, I suppose. In fact, I am 99% sure it was.
Or it was a bizarre mistake.
Be it as it may, there never was any retraction or correction published, so I am assuming it was a namesake, after all. A colleague of mine made a direct inquiry, asking the editor of said newsletter about it. She never got a reply.

Anyway, I included this just as an example of what we're talking about here.
So, what are we talking about here: time slips... or memory slips?

I honestly don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to that.

We as a society know next to nothing about the mysteries of time/space beyond our usual linear perception.
And this is one case where ignorance - the acknowledgment of it - can work as a liberating force. Because individuals can - if they have the right frame(lessness) of mind to do so - swim at will (but bear in mind the human "will" is very feeble and easily frightened) in the deceptive "chaos" of time/space from whence shapes and forms and, perhaps, timelines are born by our observing - acknowledging - them.

Keep an open mind at all times: you never know what may swim in. ;)
It is dangerous, yes.
But the quest for it - and whatever it is, it lies beyond the horizon of our "normal" perception, AND at its very heart, all at the same time - is what ultimately this life journey of ours is all about.

Isn't it?

* (ADDED on 5. I. 2010):
See this important  P.S.

If you want to report a perceived dimensional anomaly, please do, but read this first.


Anonymous said...

The part about thoughts & reactions being remembered is fabulously well explained. Obviously I suspcted it could have something to do with thoughts but never could identify the mechanism. Thanks.

Myosotis said...

Thank you very much for your kind comment!
We really do appreciate it, especially when the comments come from readers who obviously like to use their own head. ;)

Renata said...

I found this post especially interesting cause Karen Carpenter happens to be my all-time favorite singer.

Of course, I can't remember when she died since I was born 3 years AFTER her death BUT, what I think is that MAYBE you heard of an incident that happened to her in 1975.

Karen went to the hospital back then after fainting and she had to cancel a tour. Obviously those were the first signs of her disease.
Well, that's the only thing I can think about. Maybe you heard that she had been at the hospital and for some reason you thought she had died? or maybe the boys you heard talking back then were the ones misunderstanding the news?

Well, it is just a theory.
Great post, anyway!!

Myosotis said...

Thank you, Renata!

I am always more than happy to discuss rational theories FIRST - in fact, we encourage it here. :)

In this case, it was the boys who said she was dead. I remember the exact words: KAREN CARPENTER SE MURIO (in Spanish).

But of course, they could have been wrong - and clearly (?) were.

What's baffling is that other people have the same experience regarding her: remembering she had died much, much earlier.

But by no means am I discounting that it could have been the consequence of some false report or... well, something. ;)

Renata said...

well, here in Latin America Karen was (and still is) well-known but she's never really been AS famous as she was in the US or Japan or other countries. So maybe these boys just heard a false report, who knows!
I think it would have been stranger had these been American boys or something. Well, it IS strange anyway! I sent this link to a fellow Karen Carpenter fan and she found it very spooky and interesting :)

Myosotis said...

IT IS spooky and interesting, isn't it? :-)

I am hoping, if there is some cosmic weirdness going on, maybe we'll stumble on a world where she is still alive and well. :-)
She WAS a lovely, very distinctive voice.

SEOsnark said...

The karen carpenter thing is blowing my mind.
When I had anorexia and was very young, I was warned that you can die of it.
I was given karen carpenter as an example. Told she died from it in the 1970s.

Myosotis said...

SEOsnark, so sorry for having had to wait for so long to have your comment approved. Obviously, it hasn't to do with the comment, but rather with the current displaced whereabouts of the blog mistress(es) AKA travelling. :)

Thank you very much for telling your story! The Carpenter thing still puzzles me to no end.