, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 171–178 | Cite as

Felt presence: the uncanny encounters with the numinous Other

  • Elizaveta SolomonovaEmail author
  • Elena Frantova
  • Tore Nielsen
Original Article


Felt presence, a sensation that “someone is there”, is an integral part of our everyday experience. It can manifest itself in a variety of forms ranging from most subtle fleeting impressions to intense hallucinations of demonic assault or visions of the divine. Felt presence phenomenon outside of the context of neurological disorders is largely neglected and not well understood by contemporary science. This paper focuses on the experiential and expressive qualities of the phenomenon and attempts to bring forth the complexity and the richness of possibilities for inter- and intrasubjective awareness represented by these experiences. Are these simply misperceptions and hallucinations heightened and enforced by the mystical or superstitious mind? Or are these entities projections of our own “selves”, elements of self-estrangement? How are such experiences shaping our understanding of ourselves and of others? And finally, what is the interplay between intersubjective, private experiences and private or public spaces of dwelling?


Felt presence Sleep paralysis The other Intersubjectivity Dwelling Religious experiences Self-estrangement 



the authors wish to thank Sha Xin Wei, Timoth Sutton, and Philippe Stenstrom for their invaluable help.


  1. Alvaro LC (2005) Hallucinations and pathological visual perceptions in Maupassant’s fantastical short stories—a neurological approach. J Hist Neurosci 14:100–115Google Scholar
  2. Arzy S, Seeck M, Ortique S, Spinelli L, Blanke O (2006) Induction of an illusory shadowy person. Nature 443:287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bachelard G (1958) The poetics of space. Beacon Press, Boston, (1994)Google Scholar
  4. Blanke O, Landis T (2003) The metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico, Migraine or Epilepsy? Eur Neurol 50:191–194Google Scholar
  5. Cheyne JA, Girard TA (2007) Paranoid delusions and threatening hallucinations: a prospective study of sleep paralysis experiences. Consciousness and Cognition, doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2007.01.002
  6. Cheyne JA, Rueffer SD, Newby-Clark IR (1999) Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations during sleep paralysis: neurological and cultural construction of the night-mare. Conscious Cong 8:319–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. de Jong VT (2005) Cultural variation in the clinical presentation of sleep paralysis. Transcult Psychiatry 42:78–92Google Scholar
  8. Feingold L (1982) Fuseli. Another nightmare: the night-hag visiting Lapland witches. Metrop Mus J 17:49–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Freud S (1919) The uncanny. Penguin Classics, 2003Google Scholar
  10. Granqvist P, Fredrikson M, Unge P, Hagenfeldt A, Valind S, Larhammar D et al (2005) Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields. Neurosci Lett 379:1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hall FL (1993) Unique panic disorder presentation: ‘ridden by the witch’. Clin Psychiatry News, p 13Google Scholar
  12. Harris J (2004) The nightmare. Arch Gen Psychiatry 61:439–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heidegger M (1971) Building, dwelling, thinking Retrieved on 3 June 2009
  14. Hinton DE, Pich V, Chhean D, Pollack MH, McNally RJ (2005) Sleep paralysis among Cambodian refugees: association with PTSD diagnosis and severity. Depress Anxiety 22:47–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Homer S (2005) Jacques lacan. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hufford DJ (1982) The terror that comes in the night: an experience-centered study of supernatural assault traditions. University of Pennsylvania Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  17. James W (1902) The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature. The Modern Library, New York (1994)Google Scholar
  18. Lacan J (1966) Écrits. W.W. Norton and Company, New York (2006)Google Scholar
  19. Law S, Kirmayer LJ (2005) Inuit interpretations of sleep paralysis. Transcult Psychiatry 42:93–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McNally RJ, Clancy SA (2005) Sleep paralysis, sexual abuse and space alien abduction. Transcult Psychiatry 42:113–122Google Scholar
  21. Murphy T (1999) The sensed presence and vectorial hemisphericity. Retrieved on June 3, 2009
  22. Nielsen TA (2007) Felt presence: paranoid delusion or hallucinatory social imagery? Conscious Cogn (in press)Google Scholar
  23. Nielsen TA, Lara-Carrasco J (2007) Nightmares, dreaming and emotion regulation: a review. In: Barrett D, McNamara P (eds) The new science of dreams. Praeger Greenwood, WestportGoogle Scholar
  24. Nielsen T, Paquette T (2007) Dream-associated behaviours affecting pregnant and postpartum women. Sleep 30:1162–1169Google Scholar
  25. Otto R (1926) The idea of the holy: an inquiry into the non rational factor in the idea of the divine. Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, 2004Google Scholar
  26. Persinger MA, Healey F (2002) Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence: possible intercalation between the hemispheres induced by complex magnetic fields. J Nerv Ment Dis 190:533–541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rank O (1941) Beyond psychology. Courier Dover Publications (1958)Google Scholar
  28. Solomonova E, Nielsen T, Stenstrom P, Simard V, Frantova E, Donderi D (2008) Sensed presence as a correlate of sleep paralysis distress, social anxiety and waking state social imagery. Conscious Cogn 17:49–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stores G (1998) Sleep paralysis and hallucinosis. Behav Neurol 11:109–112Google Scholar
  30. Suedfeld P, Mocellin J (1987) The “sensed presence” in unusual environments. Environ Behav 19:33–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wing YK, Lee ST, Chen CN (1994) Sleep paralysis in Chinese: ghost oppression phenomenon in Hong Kong. Sleep 17:609–613Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizaveta Solomonova
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elena Frantova
    • 2
  • Tore Nielsen
    • 3
  1. 1.Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, Psychology DepartmentUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Topological Media Lab, Department of Computer ScienceConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, Psychiatry DepartmentUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations