As a medic I responded to a call a few years back for phantom limb pain. It’s a common phenomenon where an amputee is feeling pain in a leg or arm they no longer have. In this case the patient still had all his limbs—he had done a quick-read on WebMD and his self diagnosis was off…just a bit. Most phantom limb experiences are negative, like an itch you can’t scratch or a malposition limb [sic] they can’t adjust. Phantom limb recognition is rarely pleasant.
Until recently medical explanations hypothesized the severed nerve ending were becoming irritated or agitated and the pain was transmitted to the brain, or possibly memories of old pain were being relived pschcosymatically.
The latest research has shown this is most likely not the case. Phantom limb has made its way into Astral Glide/Outer Body Experience research, linking the brain with spacial recognition of self, even if that self is not there. “The research shows that the self can perceive to be detached from the body and can live a phantom existence on its own, as in an out-of-body experience, or it can be felt outside of personal space, as in a sense of a presence”(1) During deep meditation, dreaming, anesthesia, or hallucinogenic drug use, quite possibly the left brain is observing the right brain as a separate entity, or “god”, As the brain is recognizing a limb that no longer is part of the host, it is real in every way but physical to the patient. One woman had her deformed, 3-fingered hand amputated, only to recall the phantom limb as a normal 5-fingered hand. Some coding in the brain only recognizes the whole self. Gender reassignment surgery also reportedly produces phantom genital sensations and itches. Imagine that frustration.
Religion has mastered the art of the phantom phenomena, constantly describing in great detail what is not really there. While much has to be learned about the brain, there are those that say we will never know, and there are those that keep digging and finding answers. And those answers may come in the form of a missing hand, or even an extra one.
While it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense goes awry, the true explanation is a very natural one—the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information. Shadow figures are also linked to the phantom limb research. Shadow figures, the supernatural-extra-dimensional-time-travel-energies conspiracists love to talk about, passing through the corner of your room is merely a projection of self, from a mind trying to make sense of conflicting signals when something is awry. Merely a fear of basements, stress, nutritional imbalance, or environmental factors can manipulate cognitive interpretations. It’s all in your head. Religion would like to take the easy road and explain it as god or supernatural, when in fact the god they seek is an amazing, but anti-climactic us.
When you are afraid of something that is not there, the mind is busy trying to figure out why. Religion creates the fear, assigns a solution and all the while we’re trying to figure out “what the hell”? With so much faith around, it’s a wonder we can even see straight (or can we?) While many of us have amputated the religion we once believed, the pain from believing an illusion is still lurking in the shadows.