Midweek Cuckoo: SLIders

Have you ever driven under a street light and noticed it turn on or off at the exact moment you passed it? Did you think at the time ‘Holy PK, Batman! I have some mysterious power to affect street lamps!’

Then you might just be a SLIder.

Street Light (or Lamp) Interference is supposedly the phenomenon whereby a human being is capable of turning street lights on and off without conscious intent, by mere virtue of their physical proximity. Those affected by this phenomenon call themselves “SLIders”.

The term was coined by Hilary Evans in his book The SLI Effect, a 55-page PDF which you can read for free courtesy of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), of which Evans is a founding member. Since then, many a website has sprung up to describe the phenomenon and its potential study. About.com describes it as “a psychic event that is just beginning to be recognised and studied”. It even says that Dr. Richard Wiseman has begun a study into the SLI phenomenon! Books? Studies? It must be real!

Of course, what the article doesn’t mention is that Dr. Richard Wiseman is the Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. Professor Wiseman is enormously interested in the quirks of human psychology, and his other studies have included an experiment to find the world’s funniest joke, the psychology of luck, the science of lying, and the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Personally, I think he’s uniquely equipped to get to the bottom of the Street Light Interference phenomenon. In fact, I can almost certainly predict the results:

Street Light Interference is in fact the phenomenon caused when a particularly naive and self-involved person (called a SLIder) passes beneath a street lamp that has a photosensor which is being activated by their headlights, or coincidentally passes beneath a sodium lamp undergoing an end-of-life behaviour known as cycling, where it overheats, turns itself off, and then turns back on again once cool, repeating this cycle every few minutes. This person naturally assumes, by virtue of having absolutely no curiosity whatsoever as to the way in which the lamps actually work, that they possess a unique and extraordinary gift that allows them to affect the electronics of street lights.

But whether or not SLI is a real phenomenon is irrelevant, because I’m sure there is a bigger issue at hand. I’ve noticed that when I approach certain entrances, the doors open as I approach and close as I leave! And it’s not just me, millions of others have reported this exact same phenomenon! Explain that, skeptics!


21 Responses to “Midweek Cuckoo: SLIders”

  1. Con-Tester Says:

    Uhm, no, I can’t say that I’ve noticed any, uhm, SLI ability of my own, but what is very, very, very, very strange indeed is that streetlights are so remarkably consistent about not adjusting their, uhm, current behaviour whenever I pass one, day or night. And the really, really scary bit is that that is exactly what I want them to do, I mean consciously and all!

    Surely that counts for something!? Do I have a latent SLP (Street Lamp Protector) ability? Please help!

  2. Actually, I used to date a girl who considered herself a SLIder, although the term had not yet been invented. There was a particular street lamp in Brickmaker’s Kloof, Port Elizabeth, that turned off whenever a car in which she was riding passed by. It really happened, every time.

    The problem was that the same street lamp also turned off whenever a car carrying anyone else passed. This assumes, of course, that the lamp was not already off, because I noticed that it took about 5 minutes to “wake up” again – exactly what was required to impress the credulous on a quiet route.

    I’m assuming this phenomenon involved some sort of vibration effect, but perhaps my ex-GF would have made a really bad prostitute.

  3. It’s a pity they aren’t called the World Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena. Then they’d have a *really* cool acronym.

  4. residentRsole Says:

    The best is when you use a laser pointer on the photosensor.

  5. wow! a while ago, when going to obs, there was an area where a street light, in about the same place, at about the same time of night, would always go out when i went past it. and i thought, holy faulty wiring batman. i was clearly under the misconception that something as simple as a physical malfunction could be causing a coincidence. little did i know, it was the power of my brain

    i always made the joke that it was a bad omen, but i really have super SLIding powers

  6. I have to say, out of all the cooks you’ve had, this is just that most daftly stupid.

  7. what i wonder is, are there SLIders powerful enough to turn off street lights that are nowhere near them at the time? Maybe the whole ‘cycling’ thing is just nonsense, and it’s really evidence of a resonant harmony between SLIders around the world?

  8. Coming next spring: SLI
    ders: The movie.

    Four brave men and women are determined to end the threat of global warming by going on a last chance suicide mission past THE SUN! Using only the power of their minds, they hope to turn off the deadly death dealing death rays of the sun. Join them on this fantastic PG-13 adventure coming to all leading theatres.

  9. Ah. WordPress does not recognise my cool spaces.

    It should have read SLI
    ………………………………ders: The Movie

  10. wasn’t there a TV show already, sort of like quantum leap? it had jerry o’connel in it, i’m sure. and the guy who played gimli the dwarf in LOTR

  11. The SLIders phenomenon seems to be explained at



  12. Yeah. There was a tv show called sliders, that’s why it had to be sliders: the movie.

  13. I have this power whereby after I enter a room and start talking (usually about myself) all the other people leave! Explain that one, skeptics.

  14. residentRsole Says:

    Mr Angry: Bad body odour, perhaps ? šŸ™‚

  15. Certain brains glow with ultraviolet light that react with certain photo voltaic cells in street lights. I know because I glow my ultra brain past lights that flicker out all of the time. And then I realize I just drank too much coffee.

  16. mildly curious Says:

    One who believes in Street Lamp Interference might claim that I have that “power”, since there were these lights that would consistently turn off as I approached (50ft to immediately underneath) but would always turn back on.
    It was always the same lights though. Skepticism states that those particular lights also flickered when I wasn’t watching them, and only coincidence that the cycle of off-on was always just long enough that I passed the lamp before it turned back on.
    But still, that’s a good 60 days from a school quarter that a block with two street lamps on it put me in the dark. I still think that’s stretching probability just a bit.

    To be clear, I didn’t have a headlight, and would have seen more flickering had my vibrations been killing the lights–I was riding a bicycle.
    I don’t think I’m a SLIder, although the thought has crossed my mind. . . .Still, I’d like to know why these lights would turn off as _I_ come near. Do the lights turn off for other people? (No; enough cars passed me that I would have seen this) And if the lights were just flickery, I think I’d have been able to get past a lit light just a little bit more often than I did, since I can’t remember just looking at one of these lights and it ALREADY being off.
    It either is, or isn’t me. . . .I can’t think of anything strong enough from me and my bike that would affect the street lamps more than the cars passing me would.
    So. . .since I can’t think of any mechanism that would realistically turn off these street lamps, but attributing it to coincidence feels like stretching the data a bit (like saying that neat hole in the middle of the graph is just a product of random noise) I say “forget it for now”, since I do need to sleep eventually. Perhaps a more creative person can find an explanation. Maybe someone who knows more about which street lamps are used here can explain it to me. Then again, when you get to the root of things, nothing in science is concrete; all is merely speculation.
    And here I’ve rambled more than I should have. Sorry.

  17. i think what you need to do for a moment is try and estimate how many streetlights you have passed under in your entire life that haven’t shown any strange behaviour, and compare that to the few that have.

    Seriously, don’t just read that and move on. Stop, think about it. Every road you’ve ever driven down, walked down, in your entire life. Every lamp. Every light. Every time. Try and hold in your mind for a second the sheer magnitude of that number. Then count the number of lights you think have exhibited odd behaviour. Compare the two.

    Now add to that the fact that yes, these lights you seem to feel turn off only for you, very likely turn off for other people, because they happen to just be turning off regularly. Add to that the very human tendency to focus on the stuff that feels like a hit (walking under a light that turns off) and forget what feels like a miss (walking under a light that doesn’t react to you at all). And then just to top it off, read up on sodium street lamp cycling (link in my post), which is the reason apparently working lights turn off periodically. I think you will find that there are only two possible conclusions:

    1. You have fallen prey to the same logical error that many others fall prey to. You can have a bit of a laugh at the silliness of the whole thing, consider yourself in good company, and go on with your life.
    2. You have the power to turn off about 0.00001% of the streetlights under which you pass. I don’t think the X-Men are going to be calling.

    I would be very careful about saying ‘when you get to the root of all things, nothing in science is concrete; all is merely speculation’. I would say that when it comes to the science of the standard sodium streetlamp, we actually do understand everything there is to understand about how they work, given that we seem to design, build and maintain so many of them across the world. And we do know exactly what turns them on and off, and it is strictly within the realm of their design, to avoid failing bulbs from blowing up when they get too hot. This, i’m sorry to say, is about as concrete as anything gets.

    And if you still don’t believe me, I challenge you to go to any of the people who build streetlamps and tell them that the careful mechanics they put in place to create the protective cycling behaviour don’t actually work, and that it’s actually you who is turning off the lamps. If you can’t be certain enough to do that, then you have to admit to yourself that deep down, you don’t really believe it’s you doing it. And that’s a start.

  18. residentRsole Says:

    moonflake: I like the way you handled this. A lot of skeptics are condescending and patronising (e.g. a certain retired magician in Florida šŸ™‚ ) but you didn’t take that approach.

    During my early twenties I’d mention in passing that I was Catholic (for the sake of tradition, not belief). It happened a few times that an atheist siezed this opportunity to attack me for being religious (I actually wasn’t). Despite their rudeness and abusive manner, I’d just shrug my shoulders and say nothing. As they were expecting (and hoping for) an ugly confrontation, they would stare at me in stunned silence instead. Nevertheless, their bad behaviour pissed me off and I find it unacceptable. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  19. i think the big difference here is in the tone of the person asking the question. Woo in general is peopled by the sort who are somewhat dogmatic about their position and are themselves condescending and patronising of ‘mainstream’ thinking. In general, and you will see this in the tone of my posts, i fight fire with fire, much like Randi does. I think there are plenty of other people out there like Shermer dishing out the honey, someone has to throw in the vinegar every now and then.

    But if an individual takes the time to ask a geniune question, and seems geniunely curious and open to information, I see no reason not to provide that information in as civil a manner as the question was asked (and I suspect the same is true of said magician). I always try to give the pertinent information, but the tone I take very much borrows from the tone of the question. I’m not always nice – just ask Shane Houstein.

  20. residentRsole Says:

    moonflake: Yes, you certainly weren’t nice to Shane Houstein ! šŸ™‚ But you did issue him a clear and unambigious warning, which I believe to be fair. I agree with your views here.

  21. I had my mother’s television turn on when I walked into her house. Then a week later, my television turned on when I walked into my living room. I got on line and searched for an explaination. I found out what a slider was. I suffer from ocd and chronic anxiety. I am a doctor and biologist.

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