Shadow People are beings that appear to be flitting about in one’s periphery. Heidi Hollis has been the main perpetrator of the notion that such visions are of real creatures and she views Shadow People as malevolent types out to annoy, scare, or even harm us, though they stop short of inflicting grievous bodily injury or death.
Whether it comes from Hollis or another believer in Shadow People, the gist of it is that these beings are seen furtively from the corner of one’s eye, then are gone when the viewer turns to get a better look. This could be caused by an animal, such as a mouse in the house or something larger in the wilderness, but most instances of Shadow People likely stem from perception errors. This is more likely in places that are heavily-shadowed or low-lit. That is because those surroundings overwork the brain as it tries to pick out a pattern.
For those favoring the sensational over the scientific, there are suggestions that the glimpses are of extraterrestrials, reptilians, demons, time travelers, astral projectors, or multi-dimensional entities. Or perhaps the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Since the image is so fleeting and peripheral, it can be twisted into just about anything. More important, these ideas are untestable, unfalsifiable, and unprovable. Explaining Shadow People as interlopers from another planet, time, or dimension is using one unknown to explain another. This represents the lowest-quality research and is similar to those who try to establish Bigfoot as a hybrid of a Kodiak and an unknown large mammal. Or those who say that the lack of evidence for auras is owed to another unproven notion, blocked chakras.
Sketoid’s Brian Dunning noted a further problem with supposed solutions that employ phenomena we know nothing about, including whether they exist. He wrote, “Let’s make an outrageous leap of logic and allow for the possibility that interdimensional beings or astral projectors are real. What characteristics would they have? How would we detect their presence? What level of interaction would they have with those in our dimension?”
With no way to know, test, or even reasonably speculate on these answers, we are left to pursue a more rational approach to explain the apparent apparitions. Consider, for instance, hypnogogic hallucinations, which are vivid, lucid, and occur when drifting off to slumberland. Its twin is sleep paralysis, which take place when one is waking.
Another possibility was raised in a Science article, which reported what happens when a particular section of the brain is excited. From the story: “When the left temporoparietal junction is stimulated, it can create the illusion of a shadow person. Given that such experiences are often heightened in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and paranoia and those who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, the results could lead to a better understanding of these neurological conditions.”
According to the article, Swiss scientists were trying to determine why a patient was experiencing seizures when they applied a mild current to her left temporoparietal junction. This caused her to report the she felt the presence of a silent, stationary person behind her. Such delusions are common in schizophrenia sufferers, who have illusions of being watched by a stranger, alien, or demon.
The article further explains, “In order to recognize its own body, the brain uses sensory information, such as visual and proprioceptive cues. The TPJ is known to put some of these cues together. When this function is disrupted, the brain perceives two bodies instead of one and mistakes the second for that of a stranger.”
So then, hypnogogia, sleep paralysis, and temporoparietal junction stimulation are plausible explications for those who receive regular visits from Shadow People. For those who have this experience infrequently, the answer may be apophenia and pareidolia. This refers to humans’ distaste for randomness and our tendency to see patterns even where none exists.
As the Polite Skeptic wrote, “Our brains…are the most advanced computers on the planet, but they’re processing gargantuan heaps of data every second. Everything we see, hear, feel, taste and smell depends entirely upon our brain’s passive, running-in-the-background interpretation of what’s going on around us. These are based on light waves, vibrating air, particles floating near our faces, and electrical signals from the skin.”
Understanding all these points is the one way that Shadow People, at least metaphorically, can be brought into clear focus.