Stephan Matthiesen

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Today in the Guardian: How I was attacked by pot plants

"... he noticed the green liana which had grown from the pot plant and reached his body. Every movement became impossible, and every scream was smothered by the plant material that was growing around his mouth and throat. ... Were the plants taking revenge on humankind, or had aliens conquered the planet? Dr Stephan Matthiesen ... personally experienced this terrifying scenario and lived to tell the tale." This appeared in today's Guardian, one of the biggest British quality newspapers. What's going on here?

No, there is no need to panic and you don't have to hide in the basement to avoid an attack by the bodysnatchers. The article, written by psychologist Chris French, is about sleep paralysis, an unusual but quite common form of altered state of consciousness: you feel wide awake but have no control over your body. It is a consequence of normal physiological processes between sleeping and waking. Some 40% of the population experience it occasionally. I have also experienced several episodes and gave my reports to Chris for his research at Goldsmiths University of London.

I have published this particular report also in the introduction to my German book "Von Sinnen" ("Out of your senses") on the neurobiology of altered states of consciousness (published by mentis - please note that this is only available in German). Unfortunately one aspect which I tried to emphasize in my previous publication is not very obvious in the Guardian piece: I found my first sleep paralysis disturbing mainly because I did not know what was happening. Later I knew about the scientific background, and later episodes were still fantastic, but not longer filled with fear or panic. Instead, I realized even during the episodes that they were natural hallucinations. So they became a kind of interesting virtual reality show for me.

This is a slightly abbreviated version of a news item (in German) on Science-Texts.

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