Are paranormal experiences, such as angels and ghosts, literally in the brain of the person who experienced it? In some cases, the answer may be “yes.”
The temporal lobe is part of the Limbic System and especially includes the amygdala, hypothalmus, and hippocampus. These organs can work together during dreams to create rich auditory and visual hallucinations; but do they coordinate their efforts, for some people, to produce paranormal experiences during the waking hours?
The following are excerpts from a much larger article written by Joe McNally for Fortean Times several years ago and is worthy of our consideration:
"One of the dreams of paranormal research is the idea that a single cause might be found for a wide range of phenomena... psychological and neurological theories of paranormal phenomena represent a stab at just such a 'unified theory'...unusual or abnormal brain activity has been advanced as an underlying factor in several perennial mysteries..."
"These are murky waters in which to swim; there is much confusion over which paranormal phenomena are related to which brain conditions and events. The major part of this confusion can probably be put down to the imprecise nature of our knowledge of the human brain and mind. For example, similar or identical sets of symptoms may be caused by more than one condition or illness; in particular, sleep paralysis and unusual events in the brain's temporal lobe – caused by both the temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and high temporal lobe instability, known as temporal lobe lability (TLL) – have both been identified as potential causes for...(paranormal) experiences.
TLE is generally diagnosed on the basis of an individual's behavior, but it should be stressed that TLE is a specific medical condition, and is invariably caused by physical brain damage – abnormal growths, accidental trauma, stroke or suchlike. Even when none of these physical factors are present in an individual's brain, there is a strong possibility that similar experiences may occur if the individual has a high temporal lobe lability; this simply means a tendency for sudden abnormal activity to occur in the temporal lobe. This tendency is present in all people, but along a very broad range. The current thinking among proponents is that people with low TLL are less likely to have unusual experiences, while those with high TLL are more so."
Although temporal lobe lability may cause paranormal encounters for some, the limbic system is not always the culprit behind all of our unexplained experiences. There are people who have had experiences and agreed to undergo testing only to find that TLL (and TLE) were not factors in what they saw and heard.
So we may conclude that some of humanity's brushes with spirits, angels, ghosts, out of body experiences, and the like, may be real; and for others, what they see and hear just might be the mind playing tricks on them.