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ten famous mysteries solved

Explaining the unexplained: 10 famous mysteries solved

Author Rebecca Northfield

Edited By Alex Santiago

The most famous supernatural phenomena can be explained by science. Or can it? Well, yes, it can.

Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

This picture captures one of the most famous ghosts in Great Britain, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. Or does it?

It has been said the Brown Lady haunts Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. She is supposedly the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726), sister of Robert Walpole, who is regarded as Britain’s first Prime Minister.

The image was taken by Captain Hubert C Provand, a London-based photographer working for Country Life magazine, and his assistant, Indre Shira. They were taking photographs of Raynham Hall for an article, and had just taken a shot of the Hall’s main staircase.

Allegedly, Shira saw “a vapoury form gradually assuming the appearance of a woman” coming down the stairs, and the duo snapped a picture under his instruction. The later negative showed the ‘Brown Lady’, which was published in Country Life in 1936, along with Shira and Provand’s written account of events.

Critics claimed Shira put a greasy substance on the lens to create the figure, or moved down the stairs during an exposure. There is also a theory of double exposure upon detailed examination, as well as one picture being superimposed over the other due to a patch of reflected light at the top of the right hand banister appearing twice.

The magician John Booth said the ‘Brown Lady’ could be duplicated by natural methods. By covering fellow magician Ron Wilson with a bed sheet – like a last minute Halloween costume – and instructing him to walk down a staircase, the faked image looked very similar to the Lady.

It is also said the ‘Brown Lady’ closely resembles a standard Virgin Mary statue that is found in a Catholic church.

The public were bamboozled by cheap camera trickery. Good effort, though.

Bermuda Triangle

The infamous region of the Atlantic Ocean, which earned its reputation due to claims of planes and ships disappearing between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and Miami, Florida without a trace, turned out to be not as scary as it seemed.

Bermuda triangle

In 1975, Larry Kusche, a research librarian at Arizona State University, found some disappearance claims were either exaggerated or wholly false. Additionally, the Bermuda Triangle doesn’t actually have an unusual number of shipwrecks or plane crashes when compared to any other areas that experience similar traffic. To explain the mysterious absence of wreckages, the strong current of the Gulf Stream is powerful enough to wash away any evidence of destroyed ships and planes.

Coast Guard records also proved that many disappearances were down to human error, boat failure and other natural sea-based problems. Also, it would be strange for there not to be vanishings due to the colossal size of the triangle.

Stonehenge

Ah, some stacked, Neolithic stones. Wonder what this could be?

Stonehenge is a circle of old stones in Wiltshire, England. Carbon dating makes it between 4,000 to 5,000 years old, so it puzzled many when you look at how advanced the architecture is, given what kind of tech was available back in the day.

Slave labour and even alien activity populated the theories about how the mysterious rocky collection came to be.

We may never know what the structure was used for, but to disprove the notion that its construction was somehow magical, Michigan carpenter Wally Wallington built a Stonehenge replica in his garden, on his own, using only what was available to humans back then. This proved at least the possibility that the celebrated stone circle was pretty much a doddle for even an ancient group of builders if they were tech-​savvy enough.

Sailing stones in Death Valley

At California’s Death Valley there are hundreds of trails from large, rough blocks of rock in the aptly-named Racetrack Playa. It clearly means the stones are moving, but nobody pushes them, and no one has seen them move. Ooooh.

Supernatural theories for the phenomenon include the rocks being remains of a UFO crash, mysterious ‘unseen hands’ that move the rocks, or magnetic fields of some kind.

So what was the best way to figure out how these creepy rocks were moving? Fit them with GPS units, use time-lapse cameras and study the weather, obviously.

Scientists figured out that although Death Valley is blisteringly hot in the summer – its highest recorded temperature stands at 56.7°C – during the mild winter, rain collects to form a shallow lake, which subsequently freezes into thin sheets when the temperatures drop at night.

In the morning, the sun warms the ice, which breaks into small plates. If a plate is under a rock – which can weigh over 300kg – wind and flowing water slowly pushes it. A rock can move 224m in the winter, leaving a trail in the mud.

Flying rods

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s probably a moth.

In photographic and video recordings around the world, a strange solar entity – lines of light dashing across the sky – would sometimes occur, with no clear reason why. A common interpretation of these rods was – you guessed it – an incident of the paranormal, or tiny alien life forms. Adorable, right?

Jose Escamilla is a spokesperson for the rod aliens, as he claimed to be the first to film them back in 1994. The location? Roswell, New Mexico, no less. This guy has gone on to lecture on the subject, as well as make more videos of the tiny ‘aliens’. So it must be true?

Alas, this totally plausible theory wasn’t paranormal. It was, well, normal.

Tonghua Zhenguo Pharmaceutical Company in Jilin Province, China, thought Escamilla’s claims were poppycock. With huge nets and surveillance cameras, they captured the spooky rods doing their thing. When they checked the nets, there were no aliens. Just moths and other flying critters.
The rods were actually motion blur – ‘afterimage’ traces of bugs and wingbeats – caught on camera. It’s an optical illusion, and is more likely to occur in interlaced video, where slower recording speed makes moths look like aliens.

Ley lines

A weird connect-the-dots moment occurred in 1921, when archaeologist Alfred Watkins noticed that many ancient sites seemed to line up in a too-straight-to-be-a-coincidence way. He called them ‘leys’, and later, ‘ley lines’.

This sort of finding doesn’t go unnoticed by believers in the supernatural. They think where the leys intersect there are pockets of concentrated energy: deep and mythical power which can be harnessed. There’s one line, from Ireland to Israel, that connects seven locations linked to St Michael.

Sadly though, it all seems to be bogus, and the lines pass through the sites by chance. Watkins himself believed ancient Britons used landscape features as navigation points.

The Nazca Lines of Peru

Discovered in the 1930s (when we could finally fly high enough), the Nazca Lines are massive white geoglyphs – some being 275m across – made from shallow lines dug into the ground. The whole area is about 190 square miles (500km²). They are thought to have religious significance to the Nazca culture.

Given that aeroplanes are thought to have been in short supply between 500 B.C.E. and 500 C.E., how could the Nazca people see what they were doing?

Author Jim Woodman thought it could have been done by using a basic hot air balloon and shouting directions to the diggers below. To test the theory, Woodman made a functioning balloon with materials they would have had back then. The only problem is there is no proof the Nazca people even knew what a balloon was. Popped that theory.

However, wooden stakes at the site, carbon-dated to the Nazca period, have given researchers a hunch that people at the time may have drawn long ropes between stakes to make the lines. So Dr Joe Nickell and three assistants – including an 11-year-old – used the method to make a giant bird. And it only took them a few hours.

Mystery solved.

Ball lightning

Ball lightning is a potentially dangerous atmospheric electrical phenomenon. It’s reported as looking luminous and spherical, and can vary in diameter – from pea-sized to several metres long.

Ball lightning doesn’t happen very often, so it hasn’t been recorded under natural conditions.

It is said to occur during thunderstorms, but it lasts a good deal longer than your usual split-second lightning. Early reports noted that the ball explodes and leaves a sulphurous odour.

I know we’re all about explaining the unexplained here, but the cause of ball lightning remains unclear; scientists can only really theorise about how these little devil balls are created.

The best explanation comes from a team of Brazilian scientists back in 2007. They passed large amounts of electricity through a silicon wafer, which created a vapour. When it cooled, the vapour condensed into an aerosol which glowed when recombined with oxygen, leading to little balls of electricity bouncing around like jumping beans. Because of this, the Brazilian scientists reckon the ball lightning phenomenon occurs when bog-standard lightning strikes quartz-or-silica-rich ground – like sand. The theory has gained such traction that other scientists are rumoured to have agreed. Shocking.

Spontaneous human combustion

Have you ever been so angry that you feel like you’re going to burst into flames? Well, these people look very much as if they did. Spontaneous human combustion was first described in the 1600s: someone would burn to death without an obvious source, the head and trunk being reduced to ash. All that would remain would be the leg or legs, poking out from the remains. Quite horrific.

However, investigation into this frightening phenomenon has shown that exploding fiery humans combusting into dust was actually widely exaggerated.

People are, it turns out, mostly made of water, so the likelihood of us actually randomly bursting into flames is negligible. If you look at images of supposed spontaneous combustion, victims were often near a source of flame, like a fireplace. One further explanation would be the person’s clothing being set on fire by a candle or cigarette. Old age or physical condition justified why the victim couldn’t put out the fire or move away from it. Clothing acts as a sort of wick and when the skin breaks, fat from the body is fuel to prolong the burning. How pleasant.

Corpse candles

The name is a bit gross to begin with. Rather like spontaneous human combustion, but more manufactured.

It’s not how it sounds, though.

Back in the day, when you were transporting your dead loved one to the cemetery across the gloomy marshes, a flame or ball of light would float just above the Earth, seeming to travel with you to and from the burial ground. This was aptly named the corpse candle, following you in your time of deepest grief.

Mystery and folklore surrounded this strange occurrence – many associated the corpse candle with pesky spirits of the dead, or other supernatural wanderers like stillborn and unbaptised babies that were in limbo between heaven and hell. How depressing.

Science has determined that the creepy corpse candles were in fact luminescent barn owls that had fungus growing on them, or, more likely, methane gas made by rotting organic material, which is usually found in swamps and marshes. The gas can produce a low-temperature ‘flame’ through chemiluminescence.

So instead of seeing an attentive spirit, you’d be witnessing the Earth doing a glow-in-the-dark fart. You’re welcome.

SECRET WEAPONS OF THE UNITED STATES

10 Alleged Secret Weapons Of The US Military

Samuel Popejoy Author

Edited By Alex Santiago

The art of war has evolved dramatically with the advent of contemporary technologies. One thing about war, however, hasn’t changed. To win a war, it’s still essential to keep the true strength of your forces and the extent of your arsenal hidden from your opponent. The most important military secrets are only disclosed to the select few who can be trusted to carry out the mission.

For this reason, the US government can’t divulge complete information about its tools and tactics for the national defense to the people it is sworn to serve. So there must be at least some instances when weapons of war have been developed and deployed without the knowledge of the American populace (or the rest of the world).

But what if the opponent of the military-industrial complex, having acquired unwarranted influence, became its own people? What fantastic secrets of kinetic, psychological, biological, and energetic warfare might then be hidden well below the surface of public knowledge?

At least some aspects of the existence and operational parameters of the following 10 weapons have made their way into general awareness. Yet their development begs the question: What other tools of death and destruction might be lurking in the shadows, utterly obscured from the public eye?

10 Directed Energy Weapons

Directed Energy: The Time for Laser Weapon Systems has Come

The Greek mathematician Archimedes may have made history over 2,000 years ago as the first person to ever use a directed energy weapon. According to a mysterious legend, during the Roman invasion of Syracuse, Archimedes rapidly constructed a hexagonal mirror when the Roman admiral Marcellus moved his ships out of the range of bowshot.

Archimedes was apparently able to capture the energy of the Sun and reflect it onto the ships, setting them ablaze and causing them to sink within minutes. MIT students were able to recreate this effect in 2005 but noted that their mirror was only capable of effectively burning a stationary target.

Though scientific knowledge has advanced a great deal since the days of Archimedes, the underlying theoretical principles of directed energy weapon (DEW) technology remain the same. A DEW inflicts damage from a distance by firing an intensely concentrated beam of energy toward a target.

Different types of DEWs fire different types of energy, but the most popularized form of directed energy weapon in use today is the high energy laser (HEL). These DEWs are just like the lasers seen in science fiction movies. They fire a soundless beam of energy, invisible at certain frequencies, that can incinerate a target from hundreds of miles away.

HELs have been developed by contractors like Lockheed Martin for use in missile defense and space war, but some believe that these weapons might have been designed with much more sinister purposes in mind.

During the Thomas Fire that ravaged California in December 2017, many witnesses and researchers noted property damage that seemingly defied every preconceived notion of how a wildfire should behave. Though wildfires use foliage to spread, entire blocks of houses burned to the ground while the surrounding trees remained untouched.

Though no official explanation of this anomalous phenomenon is forthcoming, multiple witnesses across California recorded video of beams of light coming down from the sky as the blaze spread across the state. Given the fact that HELs are commonly mounted on the nose cones of planes, some have concluded that the mayhem wreaked by the Thomas Fire was boosted with directed energy weaponry.

9 Long Range Acoustic Devices

USA: Sound cannon blasts curfew defiant protesters in Ferguson

A new type of crowd control weapon came to the fore during the Ferguson, Missouri, protests of 2014. As an active demonstration of the newfound capabilities of an increasingly militarized American police state, countermeasures employed by the Ferguson Police Department to quell civil unrest included the use of LRAD sound cannons.

Capable of projecting voice commands over a distance of 5.5 miles (9 kilometers), a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) inflicts grievous bodily pain upon anyone within 330 feet (100 meters) of its sound path. LRAD manufacturers are careful to call their products “devices” rather than “weapons” for public relations reasons, but anyone who has endured the effects of an LRAD is well aware of the difference between the truth and the spin.

Just ask the US diplomats stationed in Cuba who recently started losing their hearing. Soon after the detente between the United States and Cuba that transpired in 2015, diplomats deployed to the newly reopened US embassy on this Caribbean island nation started reporting a sudden and permanent loss of hearing.

US investigators concluded that the diplomats had been hit with an advanced and unnamed acoustic device that doesn’t make any audible sound but causes irreparable damage to the ears and brain of anyone in its path. This incident was considered so serious that the United States expelled two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington.

However, the exact nature of this LRAD-like device and the identity of the agents responsible for its use on American officials are still unknown. If a sonic weapon was indeed used on US diplomats in Cuba, this would be an unprecedented incident in the history of international relations.

8 Low-Frequency Microwave Mind Control

Microwaves suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Cuba and China

The apparent sonic attacks on the US embassy in Cuba rekindled decades-old fears about a different kind of secret weapon. In 1965, at the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon discovered that the Soviets were blasting the US embassy in Moscow with extremely low-frequency (ELF) microwave radiation.

While far too weak to cook anything, it was determined that the so-called Soviet Signal carried the possibility of affecting the health or altering the behavior of the embassy staff. Instead of doing anything to stop it, the Pentagon decided to study the potential effects of the signal and attempt to mimic them back home.

DARPA, then a freshly-minted branch of the Department of Defense, subsequently founded an initiative called Project Pandora and began researching the effects of ELF microwave radiation on primate subjects. Though the results were inconclusive, project leader Richard Cesaro remained convinced until Pandora’s disbanding in 1969 that ELF radiation posed a serious threat to the national security of the United States.

The Pentagon never figured out what the Soviets were up to at the American embassy and opted to solve the situation by wrapping the embassy in a building’s equivalent of a tinfoil hat: An aluminum screen was erected to surround the perimeter of the complex.

Though DARPA may have closed the case on ELF radiation in 1969, studies have since indicated that low-frequency microwave and radio waves may indeed have a deleterious effect on the human body. It’s even been demonstrated that the signals emitted and received from cell phones have an effect on the functioning of the mind that frequently shows itself in the disruption of natural sleep cycles.

Today’s world is absolutely saturated by invisible signals that keep us connected and informed. But how much do we truly know about this all-pervasive radiation and how it might be affecting our health and even our thoughts?

7 Heart Attack Guns

SYND 7 9 75 CIA DIRECTOR WILLIAM COLBY BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE

In the wake of the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, Democratic Senator Frank Church led a committee dedicated to getting to the bottom of any actions perpetrated by the CIA that may have violated the charter of this secretive intelligence agency. It was believed that the CIA had accrued undue unilateral power under the pretext of the Cold War, and the Church Committee was assembled to expose this nefarious plot to the American people.

Though history shows us that the attempts of the Church Committee to curb the totalitarian zeal of the CIA were all but ineffective in the long run, a few interesting findings were uncovered during the course of this 1975 investigation. One such discovery was the so-called “Heart Attack Gun,” a modified pistol that was capable of delivering a nearly undetectable but absolutely lethal dose of shellfish toxin into the body of a distant target.

The darts fired by this soundless gun would theoretically leave a pinprick no larger than a mosquito bite and dissolve almost instantly into the tissues of the body after delivering a payload so poisonous that the target would be almost guaranteed to have a heart attack within moments. It’s unknown whether or not the “Heart Attack Gun” was ever used, but for all we know, it could still actively be in use today.

6 Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munitions

Explosively Formed Penetrators | Combat Tech

In Arthur C. Clarke’s book Earthlight, the legendary science fiction author of the 20th century conceives of a futuristic weapon that uses electromagnetism to propel a jet of molten metal miles into space, spearing and destroying an attacking battleship. This type of armor-piercing weapon isn’t entirely unheard of. Since World War II, various arms manufacturers have supplied combatants with tools of war called self-forging penetrators (SFPs).

Making use of a chemical explosion and a metal liner, SFPs propel themselves at an armored vehicle and then change their shape to penetrate the target. However, conventional SFPs are inefficient and hard to use, giving rise to the demand for a more effective armor penetration weapon.

DARPA has developed a specialized projectile to fit this niche called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM). Using electromagnetism to form and direct a sustained jet of molten metal at an armored target, MAHEM is much more adaptable than a conventional SFP and closely resembles the fictional weapon featured in Earthlight.

Beyond these basic details, not much is known about this secretive military project. However, China’s Nanjing University of Science and Technology has apparently reverse engineered MAHEM for its own purposes.

As with many other aspects of the shadowy war for global supremacy currently being waged between the superpowers of the East and West, the full details surrounding the development and deployment of this fearsome weapon may never fully filter their way into the public awareness.

5 Biological Weaponry

Between 1949 and 1969, the United States military tested biological weapons on its own people without their knowledge or consent. One such experiment occurred in 1950 when a US Navy ship sprayed billions of tiny microbes into the atmosphere over San Francisco, causing a massive upsurge in illness and potentially killing one resident.

Another took place in the subway system under New York City in 1966 when researchers dropped light bulbs filled with bacteria onto the tracks to test how far the motion of a train would carry these potentially deadly pathogens. Still other experiments consisted of engulfing entire cities in a cloud of zinc cadmium sulfide under the pretext of providing a smoke screen to hide the population in the event of the outbreak of nuclear war.

The military tells us that all this was done to learn how to better protect us from foreign adversaries, but many wonder whether the benefits of such reckless experimentation truly outweigh the costs.

However, dangerous pathogens released into the atmosphere might be the least of the biological threats to which the American people have been exposed by their government. In 2016, DNI director James Clapper expressed his concerns that gene editing technology might become a weapon of mass destruction if it fell into the wrong hands.

The science of gene editing has proliferated throughout the modern world, seemingly with little to no thought given to the potentially disastrous ramifications of tinkering around with the genetic structure of the biosphere.

While naturally occurring pathogens are bad enough, genetic engineering has given rise to the potential existence of secretly developed biological weapons that could wipe out entire national populations practically overnight. But microbes given superpowers by mad scientists might actually pose less of a danger than other types of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been let loose among an unwitting populace.

In 2013, a group of around 300 scientists formally rejected the premise that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption. This statement led numerous restaurant and grocery chains such as Chipotle and Trader Joe’s to outright ban GMOs from their kitchens and shelves.

Yet agribusiness corporations continue to alter the genetic code of vital crops like corn and soybeans under the protection of an army of scientific publications and news outlets that repeatedly assure their audiences that GMOs pose no threat to the human body or to the biosphere.

Agribusiness giants like Monsanto are heavily subsidized by the United States government. If GMOs truly are detrimental to human health, the unending spread of these unnatural organisms could be serving as a covert continuation of the government’s deadly habit of exposing its people to biological weapons.

4 Subliminal Messaging

It’s been well established that subliminal messaging is used extensively in advertising. This type of marketing usually exploits the baser urges of the populace to influence them to buy a product or service. But what if the same principles used in subliminal advertising are also being used by the United States intelligence community for the purposes of espionage or even mind control?

A formerly secret CIA document titled “The Operational Potential of Subliminal Perception” describes in precise detail the prescribed methodology for gaming the principles of subliminal perception to persuade someone to do something that they usually wouldn’t do.

While the author of the document ultimately concludes that the operational effectiveness of subliminal perception is “extremely limited,” the CIA is widely known for its knack for operating within the strictures of extreme limits and still accomplishing its clandestine objectives with flying colors.

3 Flying Aircraft Carriers

Gremlins: Airborne Launch & Recovery of Unmanned Aerial Systems

In the late 1920s, the United States Navy began exploring the tactical potential of airborne aircraft carriers. Two zeppelin-style airships were constructed, the USS Akron and the USS Macon, both of which carried a crew of 60 men and were capable of deploying and recovering Sparrow hawk fighter planes in flight. However, both Navy flying aircraft carriers met unfortunate ends and their remains now rest at the bottom of the ocean.

Recently, however, rumors have surfaced of DARPA’s plans to reopen this chapter of American history and initiate another attempt to develop airborne aircraft carriers for military use. This time, these proposed sentinels of the skies would carry drones instead of manned warplanes. Called the “Gremlins” program, this audacious DARPA initiative would consist of modified C-130 air transports loaded with stealthy drones capable of penetrating enemy defenses undetected.

Given DARPA’s reputation for suddenly announcing the planning stages of already-completed projects as soon as their cover might be blown, it’s reasonable to wonder whether there might already be “Gremlins” flying over our heads. If the fanciful testimony of supposed secret space program insiders like Corey Goode is to be believed, there may even be Avengers-style Air Force “Helicarriers” patrolling the skies now, rendered undetectable by advanced cloaking technology.

2 Project Thor

‘Rods from God’ Weapon System Gets Another Look

Potentially overshadowing the MOAB as the most lethal non-nuclear weapon in the United States’ arsenal, Project Thor is a technology designed by Jerry Pournelle in the 1950s that would obliterate enemies with bolts from above.

Colloquially termed “rods from God,” this type of Kinetic Energy Penetrator (KEP) would theoretically consist of a pair of satellites. One serves as a targeting hub, and the other is equipped with 6-meter-long (20 ft) tungsten rods that would be dropped on a target from orbit. Capable of penetrating hundreds of feet into the Earth’s crust, these thunderbolts from Thor would produce damage equivalent to a nuclear blast without the fallout.

Though the cost of delivering such rods into orbit is seen as prohibitive, reopening the Project Thor initiative was seriously considered as recently as the George W. Bush administration. With $21 trillion supposedly appropriated without authorization by the Department of Defense and a few other agencies, it’s hard to know what potentially cost-prohibitive theoretical projects the United States government might be silently making into reality without the knowledge or consent of its people.

1 HAARP

Behind the gates of HAARP Alaska ~ Are the conspiracies real?

Hugo Chavez brought international attention to the HAARP facility in Alaska when he accused the United States Air Force of using this high-frequency transmitter array to trigger the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Until this point, casting aspersions on this United States Air Force research station was a faux pas committed by only the looniest of tinfoil hatters.

Theories about the darker side of HAARP were supposedly put to rest when the Air Force announced that this ionospheric research complex would be closing its doors in 2014. But the speculation was kindled back into flame when HAARP was reopened in 2017 by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

Admittedly, it probably wasn’t a good choice from a PR perspective on the part of UAF to pick the artificially induced manifestation of a weather phenomenon as their first experiment. When HAARP’s new custodians announced their plans to create a version of the aurora borealis that was invisible to the naked eye in the skies over Alaska, many took this as confirmation of this controversial research station’s weather-manipulating abilities.

Although the HAARP program has been repeatedly accused of manipulating the weather and broadcasting mind control signals, none of these claims have been clearly demonstrated to be either true or false so far.

Samuel is a freelance writer and inquirer into the unknown. By rejecting the authority of conventional belief systems while grounding his perspectives in the core of human experience, he manifests content that dissolves barriers between perception and comprehension. Follow Samuel on Twitter.

LIVING CREATURES IN OUR SKIN

Meet The Mites That Live On Your Face

May 21, 20199:20 AM ET

CREATOR JOSH CASSIDY

Edited By Alex Santiago

It might give you the creepy-crawlies, but you almost certainly have tiny mites living in the pores of your face right now.

They’re known as Demodex or eyelash mites, and just about every adult human alive has a population living on them.

The mostly transparent critters are too small to see with the naked eye. At about 0.3 millimeters long, it would would take about five adult face mites laid end to end to stretch across the head of a pin.

“They look like kind of like stubby little worms,” says Michelle Trautwein, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Demodex face mites got their name from the Greek words for “fat” and “boring worm,” but they’re not really worms at all. They’re actually arachnids — related to ticks and, more distantly, to spiders.

Michelle Trautwein, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, tested more than 2,000 people and found DNA evidence of face mites on every single one of them.

Trautwein studies our relationship with these microscopic stowaways by looking at their DNA. Her findings suggest that people in different parts of the world have different face mites. “They tell a story of your own ancestry and also a story of more ancient human history and migration,” she says.

But before she could tell that story, she needed to find the mites.

“We use a little spoon and scrape it across the kind of greasier parts of someone’s face, which isn’t as bad as it sounds,” Trautwein says.

Once the samples have been collected, she takes them to the lab to look at the genetics.

Trautwein has tested more than 2,000 people, including tourists from all around the world that make their way to the California Academy of Sciences. And she’s found DNA evidence of face mites on every single one of them.

“No one is thrilled at the initial notion that they have arachnids on their face,” Trautwein says. “But people are often curious — even in their revulsion.”

But how could these creatures live on so many people and still go unnoticed?

Our skin is mostly covered by a thin layer of peach-fuzz called vellus hair, with a few notable exceptions such as the palms of our hands and feet. The shaft of each one of those tiny hairs grows out of its own follicle.

Face mites — Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis — spend their days facedown inside your hair follicles, nestled up against the hair shaft, where you can’t see them.

face mite

They eat sebum, the greasy oil your skin makes to protect itself and keep it from drying out. The sebum is produced in sebaceous glands, which empty into the hair follicles and coat both the hair shaft and face mite.

That’s why the greasiest parts of your body, such as around the eyes, nose and mouth, likely harbor a higher concentration of mites than other areas.

The mites live for about two weeks. They spend most of their time tucked inside the pores, but while people sleep, they crawl out onto the skin’s surface to mate and then head back to lay their eggs.

Since they live inside your pores, you can’t scrub them off by washing. It’s basically impossible to get rid of all of your face mites.

So how does Trautwein find and study a particular mite? With glue.

“I actually put glue on a glass microscope slide and stick it onto a person’s forehead,” she says. “Then I slowly peel it off. I look under a microscope for mites that are stuck in the follicles that stick up from the thin layer of skin that got peeled off.”

“It can be pretty addictive and exciting,” she adds. “It’s sort of a meditative process of looking through this microforest of follicles and hairs and looking for just the right potential movement or shape.”

It seems our immune system is able to keep their numbers in check, but some people can experience problems with the mites.

“When you tell patients that they have face mites, first of all, they freak out,” says Kanade Shinkai, a dermatologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Since face mites live inside your pores, you can’t wash them off. But for a majority of people, they’re harmless.

Shinkai occasionally treats patients who have an overload of face mites, which results in a condition called demodicosis.

“There is a very particular look to people suffering from demodicosis. We call it the Demodex frost,” she says. “It’s sort of a white sheen on the skin. And if you look really closely, you can see [it] coming out of every pore. If you scrape those pores, you can see it frothing with little Demodex face mites.”

The condition is relatively rare and is often connected to a decline in the immune system, such as receiving immunosuppressive drugs after transplant surgery, chemotherapy orimmunodeficiency diseases such as AIDS.

Demodicosis can also be triggered by local suppression of the immune system, like using itch-relieving hydrocortisone cream on the face.

It usually comes on fast. “Patients almost universally describe this explosive development of like pustules like whiteheads on their face. It’s really dramatic,” Shinkai says. “And what’s really dramatic about it is that they’re often fine the day before, and then they develop it overnight.”

For the vast majority of people, though, face mites are nothing to worry about. While some studies have found loose connections between Demodex and diseases like rosacea, the evidence hasn’t shown a strong link.

“What’s really confusing is that if you go into your office and scrape everyone’s face, you would find Demodex probably on everybody,” Shinkai says. “And people who have low burden of Demodex may have no or very severe disease and vice versa.”

Trautwein also sees face mites more as a source of interest than of fear.

“They’re not dangerous in a broad sense because we all have them and most of us seem to be cohabiting quite well with them,” Trautwein says. “We mostly share them within family units, and it seems like you are probably initially colonized soon after birth, most likely by your mother, traditionally speaking in human history.”

Looking at your mites, researchers such as Trautwein can usually tell something about your geographical ancestry — what part of the world your ancestors came from.

“Face mites are definitely the species of animal that we have the closest connection with as humans, even though most of us don’t know about them or ever see one in our lifetime,” she says. “We still have this very ancient and intimate relationship, and it seems clear that we’ve had these face mite species with us for all of our history. So they are as old as our species, as old as Homo sapiens.”

OVERCOME INSECURITY

PsychAlive

ANXIETY, CRITICAL INNER VOICE, ISOLATION AND LONELINESS, SELF DEVELOPMENT, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR, SELF-ESTEEM

By PsychAlive

Edited By Alex Santiago

We are called a narcissistic generation. We are told that technology and social media are giving us an inflated sense of self. But most of us don’t walk around feeling like we are all that great. In fact, there is one underlying emotion that overwhelmingly shapes our self-image and influences our behavior, and that is insecurity. If you could enter the minds of people around you, even the narcissistic ones, you’re likely to encounter ceaseless waves of insecurity. A recent survey found that 60 percent of women experience hurtful, self-critical thoughts on a weekly basis.

In their research, father-and-daughter psychologists Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone used an assessment tool known as the Firestone Assessment for Self-Destructive Thoughts (FAST) to evaluate people’s self-attacks (or “critical inner voices”) along a continuum. What they found is that the most common self-critical thought people have toward themselves is that they are different – not in a positive sense, but in some negative, alienating way. Whether our self-esteem is high or low, one thing is clear; we are a generation that compares, evaluates and judges ourselves with great scrutiny. By understanding where this insecurity comes from, why we are driven to put ourselves down and how this viewpoint affects us, we can start to challenge and overcome the destructive inner critic that limits our lives.

Why am I so insecure? What causes insecurity?

There is an internal dialogue that accompanies our feelings of insecurity. This is called the “critical inner voice.” Dr. Lisa Firestone, who co-authored the book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice wrote, “The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.”

So, what events or attitudes shape this inner critic? The experiences we have with our influential early caretakers can be at the root of our insecurity as adults. Imagine a child being yelled at by a parent. “You’re so spaced out! Can’t you figure anything out on your own?” Then, imagine the negative comments and attitudes parents express toward themselves. “I look terrible in this. I’m so fat.” These attitudes don’t even have to be verbalized to influence the child. A parent’s absence can leave children feeling insecure and believing there is something fundamentally wrong with them. An intrusive parent can cause children to become introverted or self-reliant in ways that make them feel insecure or untrusting of others. Studies have even shown that exaggerated praise can be damaging to a child’s self-esteem.

The reason for this is that children must feel seen for who they are in order to feel secure. A lot of our issues with insecurity can come from our early attachment style. Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of Parenting from the Inside Out, says the key to healthy attachment is in the four S’s, feeling safe, seen, soothed and secure. Whether children are being shamed or praised, they are, most likely, not feeling seen by the parent for who they really are. They may start to feel insecurity and lose a sense of their actual abilities.

A healthy attitude for parents to maintain is to see themselves and their children realistically and to treat them with acceptance and compassion. The best way a parent can support their children is to allow them to find something that is unique to them – something that lights them up and that they will work to achieve. This activity must appeal to the child’s interest, not just the parents. As author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman famously said, ““Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As the child pursues whatever interest makes them “come alive,” the parent should offer support and acknowledgment for the effort involved as opposed to focusing too much on the result. It’s the difference between saying “What a stunning picture. You are the best artist I’ve seen” and saying, “I love the way you used so many colors. It’s awesome that you worked so hard on this. What gave you that idea?” This practice helps a child establish a sense of self-worth.

The Effect of Insecurity

It’s clear that there are many things that shape our critical inner voice, from negative attitudes directed toward us to attitudes our parents had toward themselves. As we get older, we internalize these points of view as our own. We keep these attitudes alive by believing in our insecurities as we go along in life. The most common critical inner voices Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone found people to experience throughout their day include:

  • You’re stupid.
  • You’re unattractive.
  • You never get anything right.
  • You’re not like other people.
  • You’re a failure.
  • You’re fat.
  • You’re such a loser.
  • You’ll never make friends.
  • No one will ever love you.
  • You’ll never be able to quit drinking (smoking etc).
  • You’ll never accomplish anything.
  • What’s the point in even trying?

Like a mean coach, this voice tends to get louder as we get closer to our goals. “You’re gonna screw up any minute. Everyone will realize what a failure you are. Just quit before it’s too late.” Oftentimes, we react to these thoughts before we even realize we are having them. We may grow shy at a party, pull back from a relationship, project these attacks onto the people around us or act out toward a friend, partner or our children. Just imagine what life would be like if you didn’t hear any of these mean thoughts echo in your head. Imagine what reality might actually look like if you could live free of this prescribed insecurity.

Insecurity at Work

Insecurity can affect us in countless areas of our lives. Every person will notice their inner critic being more vocal in one area or another. For example, you may feel pretty confident at work but completely lost in your love life or vice versa. You may even notice that when one area improves, the other deteriorates. Most of us can relate, at one time or another, to having self-sabotaging thoughts toward ourselves about our career. Old feelings that we are incompetent or that we will never be acknowledged or appreciated can send our insecurities through the roof. Some common critical inner voices about one’s career include:

  • You don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Why do they expect you to do everything yourself?
  • Who do you think you are? You’ll never be successful.
  • You’re under too much pressure. You can’t take it.
  • You’ll never get everything done. You’re so lazy.
  • You should just put this off until tomorrow.
  • No one appreciates you.
  • You’d better be perfect, or you’ll get fired.
  • Nobody likes you here.
  • Put your career first. Don’t take time for yourself.
  • When are you ever going to get a real job?
  • No one would hire you.

Insecurity in Relationships

Whether we are single, dating or in a serious, long-term relationship, there are many ways our critical inner voice can creep in to our romantic lives. Relationships, in particular, can stir up past hurts and experiences. They can awaken insecurities we’ve long buried and bring up emotions we don’t expect. Moreover, many of us harbor unconscious fears of intimacy. Being close to someone else can shake us up and bring these emotions and critical inner voices even closer to the surface. Listening to this inner critic can do serious damage to our interpersonal relationships. It can cause us to feel desperate toward our partner or pull back when things start to get serious. It can exaggerate feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or leave us feeling rejected and unworthy. Common critical inner voices we have toward ourselves about relationships include:

  • You’re never going to find another person who understands you.
  • Don’t get too hooked on her.
  • He doesn’t really care about you.
  • She is too good for you.
  • You’ve got to keep him interested.
  • You’re better off on your own.
  • As soon as she gets to know you, she will reject you.
  • You’ve got to be in control.
  • It’s your fault if he gets upset.
  • Don’t be too vulnerable or you’ll just wind up getting hurt.

How Can I Overcome Insecurity?

Once we have a better sense of where our insecurity comes from and the profound influence it is having on our lives, we can begin to challenge it. We can start by interrupting the critical inner voice process. Voice Therapy is a cognitive/affective/behavioral approach developed by Dr. Robert Firestone to help people overcome their critical inner voice. There are five important steps to this process, which I will briefly outline.

Step I

The first step of Voice Therapy involves vocalizing your self-critical thoughts in the second person. You can also write down these thoughts. Instead of writing “I am so stupid. What is the matter with me? I’ll never be successful,” you would write, “You are so stupid. You will never be successful.” This process helps you to separate from these vicious attacks by seeing them as an external enemy instead of your real point of view. This process can also be an emotional one, as saying these statements can bring up underlying feelings from the past.

Step II

In the second step, you can start to think and talk about the insights and reactions you have to exposing these mean thoughts. Do they remind you of anyone or anything from your past? It can be helpful to uncover the relationship between these voice attacks and the early life experiences that helped shape them. This too will allow you to feel some self-compassion and reject these attitudes as accurate reflections of who you are.

Step III

People often struggle with the third step of this process, because it involves standing up to long-held beliefs and insecurities about oneself. You will answer back to your voice attacks, expressing your real point of view. You can write down rational and realistic statements about how you really are. Respond to your attacks the way you would to a friend who was saying these things about him or herself, with compassion and kindness.

Step IV

In step five of Voice Therapy, you start to make a connection between how the voice attacks are influencing your present-day behaviors. How do they affect you at work? With your partner? As a parent? In your personal ambitions? Do they undermine you? What events trigger the insecurity? In what areas is this insecurity most influential?

Step V

The final step involves making a plan to change these behaviors. If insecurity is keeping you from asking someone on a date or going after a promotion, it’s time to do the actions anyway. If you’re indulging in self-hating thoughts that encourage you to engage in self-destructive behaviors, it’s time to interrupt these behaviors and unleash the real you.

This process will not be easy. With change always comes anxiety. These defenses and critical inner voices have been with you your whole life, and they can feel uncomfortable to challenge. When you do change, expect the voices to get louder. Your insecurities aren’t likely to vanish overnight, but slowly, through perseverance, they will start to weaken. Whenever you notice an attack come up, stand up to it and don’t indulge in its directives. If you want to be healthy, don’t let it lure you to avoid exercise. If you want to get closer to your partner, don’t listen when it tells you to hold back your affections.

Join Dr. Lisa Firestone for a Webinar on Overcoming Insecurity

As you sweat through this tough but very worthy transition, it is important to practice self-compassion. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff found self-compassion to be far more psychologically beneficial than self-esteem. Self-esteem still focuses on evaluation and performance, where self-compassion encourages an attitude of kindness and patience. Self-esteem can increase our levels of insecurity, where self-compassion asks us to slow down and assign ourselves value simply for being human. Once we realize our own strength and importance, once we see the ways we’ve been hurt and can feel for ourselves on a deep level, we can actually start to break free of the chains that hold us back. We can shed the insecurities of our past and become the people we want to be.Share the knowledge!

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