The word phantom is generally used in two ways. It’s something of a less popular synonym for ghost, but outside of old Scooby Doo episodes, not a lot of people bother with it anymore. It’s also used in a semi-synonymous way to deal with more serious issues, including medical ones. The idea of something felt but not seen is generally regarded as a phantom, the most famous example of which is phantom limb syndrome. That occurs when a person loses a limb, perhaps in an accident or to amputation, but they still have the sense that it exists and they can feel it in their mind. As many as 80% of those individuals feel phantom limb pain in limbs they no longer have.
As it happens, there are a number of other phantoms out there and some are more mysterious than you might think.
10. Phantom Kangaroos
People see things all the time. Tricks of the light, shadows, wind, pets, you name it, all kinds of things can make you think you saw something that wasn’t really there. And maybe sometimes you’ll never know for sure either way. And with that in mind, have you ever seen a kangaroo some place where a kangaroo had no business being? If you have, you’re not alone.
Phantom kangaroos have become a bizarrely pervasive phenomenon, and it’s not always just people being confused. One of the most famous phantom kangaroo sightings dated back to 1978 in Wisconsin, when a bus driver reported seeing a pair of them in traffic. More sightings followed, and then more. The Department of Agriculture issued warnings to avoid them. But no one ever snapped a photograph, and the animals were never caught or explained, if they existed at all.
This was not the earliest report in Wisconsin, however. Reports have come in since the late 1800s. Kangaroo sightings have occurred in other states, with at least some limited photographic evidence as backup. They’ve been spotted in mountains in Japan, as well.
As unlikely as it seems that anyone is truly seeing kangaroos, it’s not impossible, either. For instance, no one thought the wallaby sightings around Paris were real until a population of them was discovered there. It’s believed there may be around 150 of the kangaroo-like animals living in the woods there.
9. Supernumerary Phantom Limb
We already mentioned phantom limb, but there’s actually a second kind of phantom limb that’s far more unusual than the first and really puts the emphasis on the phantom part. Supernumerary phantom limb works like the one you’re familiar with, but with the added dimension of the phantom limb having never existed.
Basically, someone with what you traditionally know as phantom limb may lose a leg but continue to feel that leg. Someone with a supernumerary phantom limb will feel a leg that they never had, as in a third leg. In their mind they can feel it, but obviously there was no real limb to correspond to those feelings.
In one case, a man who went into the hospital for a brain haemorrhage reported the sensation of a new arm growing from his left shoulder, which felt as real as his other two arms.
One patient who claimed to be able to see and feel their phantom limb was studied when they “used” it and their brain demonstrated activity in the premotor and motor areas along with sensory and visual portions of their brain confirming that the person was not just making it up. In their own mind, they were actually moving, seeing, and even feeling the limb that never existed.
8. Phantom Traffic Jams
Traffic jams can really ruin a person’s day and bad ones can leave you tied up for hours or even longer. One Chinese traffic jam took 12 days to resolve. Less time consuming but still remarkably annoying are phantom traffic jams, a phenomenon which has been studied more than you’d think.
A phantom traffic jam doesn’t occur because of an accident or construction or any of the other reasons that slow traffic to a standstill. In fact, they happen for basically no reason. These are the traffic jams that happen when you suddenly find yourself going at a snail’s pace, covering a few miles at a crawl, and then suddenly you’re driving at speed again and you never pass anything that seemed to cause the slowdown.
Also known by the name jamiton, a phantom traffic jam can be caused by something as simple as a single driver hitting the brakes one time. That makes the car behind them brake harder to avoid a crash, and the car behind them brakes even harder and so on. At some point the entire flow of traffic is stopped and if a road is busy enough, hundreds of cars screech to a halt and then, just as slowly, things will start moving again.
Even if one driver doesn’t brake, chain reactions form when drivers go too fast and then have to slow to avoid the drivers ahead of them, sending a cascade down the line of cars that has even been demonstrated in driving experiments when everyone was told to drive in a circle maintaining speed and distance.
7. Phantom Pregnancy
Pseudocyesis is the technical name for what is more commonly called phantom pregnancy. The condition is considered extremely rare and affects only six in 22,000 women. Though often mistaken for a kind of delusion or mental illness, phantom pregnancy is not associated with mental illness and manifests with physical symptoms of pregnancy.
There is definitely a mental component to phantom pregnancy, but it’s also believed hormonal changes contribute to the condition. Women who experience phantom pregnancy show similar hormone levels to women who are truly pregnant. Though the exact cause isn’t known, risk factors seem to include a history of stress or trauma related to pregnancy, such as having lost a pregnancy or never being able to become pregnant despite serious effort. Things like infertility, surgeries on reproductive organs, and even pressures regarding marriage can contribute.
There is some evidence that certain medications which increase hormone levels can also trigger symptoms.
6. Phantom Settlements
These days we have Google to show us nearly every corner of the globe and GPS can direct you right to someone’s front door on the other side of the world. Back in the day, however, you needed a good map if you wanted to navigate from one place to another. Mapmaking itself was a skill that required a lot of time, a lot of skill, and sometimes a lot of danger. Exploring uncharted lands presented numerous hazards, not the least of which was the fact you had no idea where you were going.
As you might expect, a cartographer making a map wouldn’t want someone else stealing their hard work. But how do you make a map yours? How would you convince anyone that your map, of a real place, was your map and that someone else copied you? You’d toss in tricks like phantom settlements.
Sly cartographers would sneak tricks and traps into their maps, including towns that didn’t really exist as a sort of watermark. If another map appeared with the same town, the original cartographer would know they’d been plagiarized and could likely win a lawsuit if it came to that.
Even Google is not above the technique, having created the town of Argleton some years ago to throw off copiers and scammers. That said, in at least one case, the fictional town of Aglor in New York became at least temporarily real when someone saw it on a map, went there, and opened a business.
5 A Phantom Serial Killer
The Phantom of Heilbronn was one of Europe’s most notorious serial killers. A woman with six kills to her name as well as a string of over 30 other crimes, she led police on a long, mysterious journey across the continent in an attempt to bring her to justice that spanned 16 years.
In 1993, one of the killer’s first victims was strangled with a wire. There were no witnesses and no suspects, but police found DNA on a nearby teacup belonging to an unidentified woman. Years later, another victim of strangulation was found to have the same DNA in their kitchen.
Something unusual happened after the second murder. The DNA was found on a discarded heroin needle. Then on a cookie in a stolen trailer. Then at the scene of numerous burglaries and break-ins. And most bizarre of all, a man who was shot by his own brother was found to have her DNA on him or, more specifically, on the bullet that shot him.
When a police officer was killed in her own squad car, the suspect left the same DNA in the vehicle and the legend of the Phantom was cemented. But who the heck was she?
Most crimes were linked to others, considered her accomplices. They came from all over – Serbia, Iraq, Romania and more. None acknowledge her existence. And the crimes happened all over Europe, from Germany to France to Austria.
When DNA from a dead man was linked to the Phantom, police knew something was wrong. It was female DNA and their victim was a man. Then the true story began to emerge. The DNA samples had been contaminated. A woman working in a packing center that dealt with DNA testing had been improperly handling cotton swabs, apparently for years. There was no phantom, and no serial killer at all.
4. The Phantom Army
It’s been said that all’s fair in love and war, so a little deception to score a W is understandable. Such was the case on D-Day, when Allied forces made use of a phantom army to dupe the German forces into believing the army was landing in a totally different place.
Lead by General Patton himself, a ghost army was devised to help trick the Nazi forces before the invasion of Normandy. The Allies desperately needed to keep Hitler’s forces off guard and as spread apart as possible. To this end, Patton was put in charge of the First US Army Group, a fake army that included inflatable tanks, fake planes, and painted canvases pulled over steel frames to look like real forces deployed and ready to go..
The fake army, believed to be up to 70% larger than the actual Allied force being deployed, was primed to invade the Pas de Calais. Fake radio chatter helped seal the fiction, and they even hired an actor to pretend to be a prominent British General to sell it.
On D-Day itself, dummy paratroopers were dropped to the sounds of recorded rifle fire. The ruse was so successful it caused Hitler to delay sending reinforcements to Normandy for seven weeks.
3. Phantom Time Hypothesis
We’ve all heard a conspiracy theory or two that seemed entirely unbelievable, but the Phantom Time Hypothesis may take the cake. The theory, devised by a German historian, states that everything between the years 614 and 911 AD never happened. Three hundred years of human history was just made up and, if you’re seeing this in the year 2022, it’s actually the year 1725. Welcome to the 18th Century!
According to the theory it was either Emperor Otto III who changed history so he could rule in the year 1000. Another version sees Otto conspiring with Constantine VII and Pope Sylvester II to make history and everything that occurred for those 300 years appear from nothing.
If you feel like none of this makes sense, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
2. Octopus Limbs
So humans can have phantom limbs and even supernumerary phantom limbs. What can an animal like an octopus do? Sort of the exact opposite. If you remove a limb from an octopus, not only, will it keep moving, it can do so for up to an hour afterward.
Even weirder, it will perform the same functions it would if it were still attached. Severed octopus arms have been observed trying to feed food to phantom mouths that they no longer have.
1. Phantom Vibration Syndrome
Seeing how the modern world affects people in real time is always fun. There’s even a condition that up to 90% of people in the modern world experience that no one 30 years ago would have even imagined. It’s called Phantom Vibration Syndrome, and it happens in your pants, most often.
Have you ever pulled your phone out of your pocket because you thought you were getting a call but you weren’t? That’s Phantom Vibration Syndrome. The belief that your phone is vibrating, a sensation you can literally feel, even though no call came through.
A phone in your pocket works on your brain much the way glasses do. If you wear glasses, you’ve probably also experienced that moment when you try to adjust them even though you’re not wearing them anymore. Your brain is so accustomed to having them there, you feel them even when they’re gone.