Daily Archives: 26 Jan 14

Street Lights Go Out As I Pass By

//visualpalate.typepad.com/visual_palate/images/street_lights.jpg' cannot be displayed] I did a web search on this phenomenon because it seems to happen to me most times I walk past a certain street light on my street. I mentioned it to a few friends who, of course, thought I was wacky. Then, taking my cue from the fact that it was one particular lamp post, I began to ask several neighbors on my street (yes, I live on a street where I know and talk to my neighbors; in fact, we have block parties). My rational side suspected that it was a defective lamp which cycles on and off (several commenters in the thread to which this post points offered explanations of how this might work with sodium arc lamps) constantly, and that I was guilty of observer bias for remembering, and generalizing from, those times when it went off as I neared or passed it. (By the way, I am talking about this happening when I am walking down the street, not driving, so the speculation that my car headlights were activating the photocell that turns the lamp off does not apply.) But none of my neighbors had noticed this about that, or any other, street light on our street.


So should I descend to pseudoscience — do I have some psi power going on? I don’t


A High Pressure Sodium lamp suspended on wire....


have to be thinking about turning the lamp off for it to happen; in fact, I often forget about this, especially in the winter when I am not out walking down the street after dark as much, and am only reminded when I notice the light go out. Or do I put out some kind of EM pulse to which that particular street light is sensitive? Some of the commenters suggest we are “electrical beings” and thus can affect electrical circuitry. Certainly an extrapolation, and I have never noticed it with any other light fixtures or other electrical equipment. And, unlike some of the commenters, I don’t notice the light go on again after I pass. But on the other hand, that light is never already off, it seems, before I approach it, or as I drive up my street.


English: Street light in front of Bratislava C...


I am in that cognitively dissonant position of being a skeptic but also having a healthy respect for the power of belief. The lamp post on my street goes right to the heart of that dilemma. After reading other people’s beliefs about their ability to interfere with street lights, I realize mine is a weak case, typically affecting a particular lamp which does not go back on after I have passed. To debunk my doubts, though, I suppose I’ve got to go out one nice summer evening and sit under that particular lamp for a couple of hours and assess whether it is cycling on and off. What do you think?


BTW, here is a good Wikipedia discussion of the phenomenon.