Ask any scientist if he believes in the existence of ghosts or spirits, or inter-dimensional entities, or even life after death and more often than not he’ll say no. If it can’t be scientifically proven, if it can’t be seen or touched or heard, if it can’t be measured in some way, then it just doesn’t exist. There’s the rational world and there’s the irrational world and neither the twain shall meet.
Yet, in an article published just this morning at NewScientist.com, these same analytically-minded scientists have not only helped a woman regrow a phantom hand, they’ve also helped her grow phantom fingers to replace the fingers she never had.
The woman’s name isn’t revealed in the article. They simply refer to her as RN, so we’ll do the same.
RN was born with only three fingers on her right hand and at the age of 18 that hand was amputated after a car accident. Quite typically she began to feel that her missing hand was still there below her wrist, a common occurrence among amputees known as a “phantom limb.”
When a patient experiences these phantom limb sensations it’s as if the missing limb where going through all the regular motions. For example, someone who’s had a leg amputated might feel that missing leg moving in tandem with his other leg while he’s walking or he may feel an itch. In RN’s case, she felt her missing hand just the way you or I would feel both hands – if she raised her right arm to wave at someone she’d feel her right hand and fingers going through the motion.
However RN’s case wasn’t a typical case. Remember, she was born with only three fingers on her right hand and, extraordinarily, her phantom hand had all five fingers. Or four fingers and a thumb if you’re the picky type. She could actually feel these five fingers but two of them, the two she was originally missing, were only half as long as they should have been.
So let’s just recap here before we go on because this gets stranger and I don’t want to lose anyone.
Not only is RN experiencing the sensation of a phantom hand, she’s also experiencing two phantom fingers she never had. And remember – scientific minds are involved here.
Physicians decided to use a mirror box to help RN. This is a relatively new idea used to help treat patients who have pain in a phantom limb. For example, the patient may have had arthritis in his hand before it was amputated and his hand may have been permanently curled and cramped. After amputation he may still experience this phantom pain and some physicians believe they can alleviate this pain by retraining the patient’s brain using a mirror box.
A mirror box is exactly what it sounds like, a box divided down the middle by a mirror. The top of the box is open. The patient inserts their good hand in one side of the box and the phantom hand in the other. When viewed from the top and at an angle the patient “sees” both hands and “sees” the phantom limb “move” in tandem with the real limb. It’s an optical illusion used to retrain the mirror neurons in the brain.
So, in the case of the arthritis patient who’s feeling cramping and pain in his phantom hand, the idea is that by using the mirror box he can train his mind to move the phantom fingers and allow them to relax.
In RN’s case, physicians decided to see if they could train her mind to extend the length her phantom fingers – the phantom non-existent fingers, which is already hard enough to imagine, but now we need to wrap our minds around the idea of making something that never existed to begin with bigger.
And according to the article at NewScientist.com the experiment was a success. RN now feels five fully grown phantom fingers on the end of her phantom hand.
Now, these scientists will tell you that this is a true medical breakthrough because it involves something called “mirror neurons” that we all have in our brains. And they’ll offer up all kinds of “scientific proof” that RN now has 5 fully-grown phantom fingers. But here’s the thing…
The key word here is “phantom.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy for RN and if this alleviates some pain, whether it’s physical or emotional, I’m all for it. I’m not trying to piss in her Post Toasties by any means.
But these scientists are asking me to believe in not only the existence of phantom fingers, but phantom fingers that never existed on this physical plane to begin with, simply because they have a PHD after their name. And they’re also asking me to believe that they were able to “scientifically” make these fingers grow.
Scientists laugh at the evidence presented by paranormal researchers, poo-poo near-death experiences and thumb their noses at mediums who speak with the dead. Yet what “scientific evidence” can they offer that proves they’ve grown phantom fingers?
Do they produce a shadow? Are they measurable? Do they have fingerprints? Of course not. They’re phantoms. Have they even considered the possibility that RN is pulling their legs? In my mind, it’s more than a good possibility, but these are scientists we’re talking about. They have the credentials therefore, in their mind, it’s not possible that someone could pull the wool over their eyes. They can “scientifically” verify their results.
In other words, we’re supposed to believe in a brand new pair of phantom fingers – phantom fingers that have the ability to grow – simply because they’re “scientists” and they tell us to believe it. But ask them to believe in demons or spirits or communicating with the dead and they look at you like you’re a freak.
The word “phantom” means the same thing whether you’re talking about scientific research or paranormal research: Something apparently seen, heard, or sensed, but having no physical reality. So does the fact that scientists are claiming bragging rights to phantom fingers that grow mean they’re also finally ready to open up their minds to the possibility of life after death and the spirit world?
Probably not. After all, old habits die hard. But it’s nice to finally be able to point fingers and laugh at the docs for a change, isn’t it? Even if it is only a phantom finger.