“Death Rock”

Cliffs on the southern coast of Java, Indonesia

Years ago I dragged two reluctant friends with me to a lonely, isolated village on the southern coast of Java because I had heard that Muslim mystics practiced in cliff-caves there and I wanted to see what that was about.  On arrival to the village, a local woman cautioned us to not swim in the ocean because the sea goddess was recently angry which she could tell by watching the waves and observing the type of sea life thrown up on the beach.  Later that night we had a ghost experience (see here).  So our visit  started out very interesting.

The next morning after the ghost sighting my friend Rick and I decided to climb the nearby cliffs to see what we could find.  We set off on what we thought would not be a difficult climb but the rocks on the cliff face were very sharp and were cutting our shoes. Also, the cliff face was less stable than I imagined it would be.  While scaling the face of one wall, a rock pulled out in my hand and I almost tumbled down the cliff on the sharp rocks.  But, taking greater care, I decided to keep going.  About ten minutes later I was facing a rather large boulder and trying to figure out a way around it.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard a deep voice say, “Death Rock”.  I paused.  I felt fear in my chest.  No one was near me — I did not know where the voice came from even though I could have sworn it came from the boulder in front of me. My friend was off at a distance struggling with his climb.  I called to him, “Rick, I think we should give this up.”  He agreed and we climbed sideways a while until we found a safe way down.  I told him my auditory hallucination before we descended and he chuckled a little but after the incident with the ghost the night prior, his snicker wasn’t too condemning.

An hour later we arrived back at the beach from where we began our climb.  Our other friend was waiting there for us and had a small crowd waiting with her.  She ran up to us with a tearful face and gave us both a hug saying, “My God, I was so worried.  A half an hour ago they pulled the a body off cliffs of a climber that fell.  I thought it might have been one of you guys.”

Questions for Readers:

  • Are any of you like me in that though you don’t believe in spirits, spooks, gods, demons or disembodied Bodhisattvas … nonetheless you have had weird things happen to you that certainly seem supernatural but you can’t even speculation on how to satisfactorily explain them?
  • What do you think causes some people to have experiences like mine while other people never have this sort of experience?  Is it due to a person’s inborn temperament, their poor thinking or pathology or perhaps because there really is a spirit realm?

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

16 responses to ““Death Rock”

  1. Why some people experience these things and other don’t? I think we all have these experiences, we just interpret them differently. Some are more inclined to attribute the causes of the unknown to be of supernatural origins and others simply leave it as an unknown without an immediate explanation, but tend to think there is some natural explanation. I certainly have had some experiences that I could not explain, but they didn’t necessarily seem “supernatural,” just the cause of the events was unknown. Some people may be inclined to appeal to supernatural causes when they are presented with unknowns, when they don’t know how to explain the events naturally, but I am confident there are natural explanations for these things as there is no physical evidence for anything supernatural or spiritual. There was nothing supernatural about my experiences; just the causes for these events were unknown me.

  2. @ Travis
    I actually largely agree with you. However, how many people actually “hear the Rock” or, as in the first story, “see the Ghost”? Why would some hear it (unexplained or not) and some not? Interpreting the perception is one level of the mechanics, but having the perception is another.

    I actually have a model, but I thought I’d ask what yours is? (btw, we are off on a short vacation and I won’t be able to respond for a few days)

  3. The existence of ghosts-as-dead-people is predicated on a dualist model (that is, there is a world separate from the physical one, which is somehow tied into our minds). Start reading much about neurology, though, and you will find that dualism is no longer a tenable theory in the face of the evidence. Your mind is what your brain does, so ghosts are not really viable any more. (I recommend Ebonmuse’s summary essay, “A Ghost in the Machine” on this subject, which I have linked to in my signature.)

    So where does this stuff come from, if you discount spirits-as-dead-people? Non-dead-people spirits? Well, studies trying to show that it has valid existence turn up blanks and fraud, again and again and again. If there are non-ghost spirits, then they uniformly want to hide, and are better at hiding than we are at finding them. (Which begs the question of how they get “seen” in the first place.) Until someone comes up with a spirit which doesn’t disappear under scrutiny, there is no evidence that they actually exist.

    Studies trying to figure out what makes people see/hear/whatever, on the other hand, are tricky for other reasons, because even believers can’t see ghosts on command. There are, therefore, few observations of what’s going on in (say) the EEG of a ghost-seer when they are seeing ghosts, and the less data there is, the harder it is to say what’s going on. The result which has the best documentation and is certainly true in at least some of the cases is that ghost experiences are linked to mild malfunction in the bit of your brain which switches between the states of sleep and wakefulness; in some cases, it fails to completely switch over to being “awake”. (That bit also produces “sleep drunkenness”, a rare but authentic condition responsible for some well-validated incidents of extreme and horrible violence.) There is variation in the population as to the susceptibility of the brain to this particular problem, which at the very least means that some people are more likely to have this particular problem than others, even if this is not the sole cause of seeing spirits.

    It has been theorized — and there is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence, although to my knowledge nobody has gone to the trouble of producing a direct study — that these malfunctions can be brought on, or at least made more likely, by certain borderline-audible sounds, which would explain why some places seem to bring that sort of thing on. Unlikely as it seems, that sort of thing can happen; lots of parts of the brain serve dual purposes, and lots of purposes require services from multiple parts of the brain, so a malfunction can have bizarre effects. (For example, it is possible to lose the ability to read in left-to-right languages like English while retaining the ability to read in right-to-left languages like Hebrew; see “I Never Read A Movie I Liked” in the late Harold Klawans’ book “Strange Behavior: Tales of Evolutionary Neurology”.)

    There has even been an attempt to induce “spiritual” experience — look up the “God Helmet” in Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the experiment has so far been unreplicatable, which means it may be a big fake. (And even if it is valid, equally unfortunately, people whose brains are not susceptible to the effects which the god helmet exploits won’t experience anything with it, so if you have never had a spiritual experience, it may be that you are just neurologically incapable of having one.) (On the bright side, it also means that your brain is less prone to malfunction.)

  4. Sam

    Well to be a consistent empiricist….

    Maybe there really are agents with no corporeal form.

  5. Yeah, I’ve had plenty of similar experiences, with many instances empirically verified by 3rd parties, as in your experience.

    I completely disagree with those who say that you must believe in dualism or the supernatural to explain such occurrences. Most of my experiences happened when I was an atheist, and I always felt they were perfectly compatible with atheism and materialism. Materialism, in fact, gives the easiest explanation for these occurrences. Dualism makes them *harder* to explain.

    FWIW, I love the way you’ve turned the typical question around. The typical skeptic asks “Why were so many ancients deluded into believing they had accurate premonitions?”. I find that to be a desperately ignorant and presumptive attitude. Your question is far more perceptive, I think — “Why do so many moderns fail to have accurate premonitions?”

    I have my own opinions about why moderns might be so bad at having accurate premonitions.

  6. DaCheese

    One explanation might be that the hallucination was just a spontaneous thought fragment that your brain mis-perceived as coming from outside, similar to the way that people with certain mental disorders “hear voices”. It’s not uncommon for otherwise normal people to have occasional experiences like this, especially in unusual or stressful situations. Most people experience their language-encoded thoughts in an auditory manner, so all it takes is a momentary confusion in the part of the brain that distinguishes those internal monologues from external auditory information.

    As to the specific content of the thought, it’s easy enough to imagine that some part of your mind identified it as a particularly threatening obstacle, and the fragmentary phrase “death rock” was a rudimentary language-encoding of the warning that that brain module was signalling. The fear you felt at the same moment was merely another expression of that same signal through a different (emotional) pathway.

    Do you have any reason to believe that that specific rock was involved in the other climber’s death? Obviously that would increase the coincidence-factor considerably. Otherwise, it’s likely that the two events were unrelated aside from the common factor of people climbing on dangerous rocks. Your brain identified the danger strongly enough to persuade you stop, whereas the other climber was unlucky and/or less aware of the danger, and paid the price for it.

  7. CRL

    One theory on why people tend to “hear the rock”: the sound waves+wind may be amplified by the acoustics of the rock. The human mind, especially the scared one, could easily interpret this noise as a voice.

  8. Just back from a quick vacation:

    @ Vicar
    Thank you for the info. My post today my show I agree with much of your analysis.

    @ Sam
    I doubt there are agents with no corporeal form — if I understand the normal uses of those words. Care to elaborate. Were you being sarcastic?

    @ JS Allen
    We probably had similar experiences because our brains are a bit more inclined that way — my conjecture.
    I am glad you liked the way I asked my question. Hope my next post seems likewise open-minded.

    @ DaCheese
    Bingo! Yep, you stated it almost as I would have (except you left out the many minds.)🙂
    See my next post — hope you like the pics.

    @ CRL
    Indeed, they may have contributed via perceptual illusions (see my diagram on the next post).

  9. wow! cool! even cooler discussion!

  10. George "Toad" Shope

    •Are any of you like me in that though you don’t believe in spirits, spooks, gods, demons or disembodied Bodhisattvas … nonetheless you have had weird things happen to you that certainly seem supernatural but you can’t even speculation on how to satisfactorily explain them?

    Yes there are! I have met many in my travels with similar stories, but alas, none are me.

    •What do you think causes some people to have experiences like mine while other people never have this sort of experience? Is it due to a person’s inborn temperament, their poor thinking or pathology or perhaps because there really is a spirit realm?

    It is dew to YOU being YOU! Take solace in that. 🙂

    Ribbit 🙂

  11. @ Toad:
    Looks like we disagree about a spirit realm.

  12. George "Toad" Shope

    @ Sabio Lantz

    You mistook my answer.

    I meant there are LOTS of peeps like you!

    And the reason everything you experience is you experiencing it, is because you are you. Accept it however you can but you have had some special events you have been privy to personally and while some of them can be labeled creepy, you are One that can handle them, unlike the majority. 😉

    Ribbit 🙂

  13. George "Toad" Shope

    Ps: As to the so called spirit realm, it ain’t what peeps think but possibilities abound. 😀 And that is based on pure mathematics. 😉 I live in the physical, the oly true reality, and I use math to understand everything. 🙂

  14. @ Toad
    OK, give us a link sometime to your site or a site that puts forward positions like yours.

  15. George "Toad" Shope

    There is no site. 😦
    I stand alone pretty much. That’s the way of the Toad.
    Ribbit 🙂

  16. @ Toad
    Then I suggest you set up a site and put your opinion there rather that try to hint at it around here. It would be much more efficient and people can come listen to you if they want to. It will be a good test to see if you can learn to express yourself in a way that people will want to listen.

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