Vol.3, # 25
July 8, 2006

Q: Are ghosts real? - Layperson

A: There are many indicators that phenomenon is real- drops in temperature in limited space (detected by simple thermometers to photothermography), physical reactions of humans an animals, films of moving furniture, doors, objects, etc., when no live flesh-and-blood entity is present, photographs of transparent figures that were not apparent when the photos were taken, and tape recordings of sounds with tape recorders sensitive to the right frequeny. Much as a bullet from a fired gun is not seen by the human eye, indicators are present-smoke, flash, sound, gun powder burns, and reflex kick from the fired gun, the hit object and sound, and time lapse photography capture the bullet in mid flight. There are recorded instances for what they are worth, where a ghost has in some way tranmsmitted knowlege to the living-seer, mentally, or physically, that only the deceased could know. Apparently, the spiritual world co-exists with our world, but at a different level that takes energy from our world to manifest itself so that we can become aware of the ghosts.

ghost is an alleged non-corporeal manifestation of a dead person (or, rarely, an animal or a vehicle). It is often thought to be a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person which has remained on Earth after death. According to some beliefs, a ghost may be the personality of a person after his or her death, and not directly tied to the soul or spirit. Every culture in the world carries stories about ghosts, though they often disagree as to what ghosts are and whether they are just figments of imagination or a part of reality.

Ghosts are often depicted of a human size and shape (although some accounts also mention animal ghosts), but typically described as "silvery", "shadowy", "semitransparent", "misty", "human-like", "big", "scary" or "fog-like". Parapsychologists refer to the "substance" of which ghosts and other spirits are made as "ectoplasm". Ghosts do not have a physical body like human beings, but only a subtle astral body. Sometimes they do not manifest themselves visually but in terms of other phenomena, such as the movements of an object, spontaneous throwing of a light switch, noises, etc., which supposedly have no natural explanation.

In the West, those who believe in ghosts sometimes hold them to be souls that could not find rest after death, and so linger on Earth. The inability to find rest is often explained by unfinished business, such as a victim seeking justice or revenge after death. Criminals sometimes supposedly linger to avoid Purgatory or Hell. It is sometimes held that ghosts reside in Limbo or Purgatory. Although this view was once propounded by some Catholic theologians, it is no longer believed according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is worth noting that while mainstream Protestants and Evangelical Christians believe in the existence of principalities, they do not believe in ghosts (as spiritual manifestations of the dead) and would generally attribute more violent ghosts, such as poltergeists, to the actions of demons.

Some ghost researchers approach the possibility of ghosts from a more scientific standpoint, seeking to find correlations and causal relationships between recordable phenomena and the supposed presence of ghosts. Those who follow this approach most often believe that ghosts are not actual disembodied souls or spirits, but rather they are impressions of psychic energy left behind by a deceased (or in some rare cases, still living) person. They assert that traumatic events (such as a murder or suicide) cause mental energy to be released into the world, where it may be experienced by other people who are sensitive to its presence. This way of thinking classifies ghosts in the same category of preternatural unexplained phenomena as poltergeists/telekinesis, ESP, and telepathy. Theories from this approach often encounter difficulties in explaining ghosts that appear to be sentient, such as those which answer questions or react to specific actions from people present. However, it may be possible that enough of a dead person's psyche might be imprinted on an environment so as to give the likeness of thought or autonomy.

In Asian cultures (such as China), many people believe in reincarnation. Ghosts are those souls that refused to be "recycled" because they have unfinished business, similar to those in the West. Exorcists can either help a ghost to be driven away or reincarnated. In Chinese tradition, apart from being reincarnated, a ghost can also become immortal and become a demigod, or it can go to hell and suffer for eternity, or it can die again and become "ghost of ghost". The Chinese also believe that some ghosts, especially those who died of drowning, kill people in order to rob them of their rights to reincarnation. The victims of such paranormal "murders" are called tìsígui , literally "substitute death ghost" or "substitute devil" which in Chinese is a synonym for scapegoat. Also in China, particularly in the Guangzhou area, the Chinese people usually hold a Chinese version of the Day of the Dead ritual for their ancestors in autumn. The ritual consists of burning Hell Bank Notes and other luxury items made of paper mache as well as pouring wine three times on their grave and leaving food. An older ritual is for the living family to prepare a grand feast for their dead relatives "returning" home. During the time of feast, those relatives amongst the living are not allowed to leave their bedrooms regardless of how much noise the ghost makes.

Very detailed information about ghosts is given in Garuda Purana, a scripture from Vedic (Hindu) tradition. How ghosts fit into this worldview is shown here.

Buddhist Samsara includes the concept of the hungry ghost realm. Sentient beings in that realm are referred to as "hungry ghosts" because of their attachment to this world. Asuras are also referred to as "fighting ghosts".

Both the West and the East share some fundamental beliefs about ghosts. They may wander around places they frequented when alive or where they died. Such places are known as "haunted"; the rounds they go on are known as "hauntings". They often wear the sort of clothing in which they would have been seen when alive.

Skeptical analysis

While some accept ghosts as a reality, many others are skeptical of the existence of ghosts. For example, the vast majority of the scientific community believes that ghosts, as well as other supernatural and paranormal entities, do not exist.

Skeptics often explain ghost sightings with the principle of Occam's razor, which argues that explanations should maximize parsimony with the rest of our knowledge. They may suggest that, since few to none of us have ever had an interpersonal relationship with a ghost, but most or all of us have had an experience of self-delusion or have attributed a false cause to an event, that these options should be preferred in the absence of a great abundance of evidence. They are also keen to note that most ghost sightings happen when our senses are impaired, and that the evidence is unreliable because it doesn't occur when we have full use of our faculties.

Occasionally, the sincerity and motive of the claimant will be questioned. They might make up a haunting for a personal reason. For example, lingering of ghosts is typically associated with seeking justice or revenge. Ascribing such motives and powers to dead people could be interpreted as a scare tactic. Also, a person might claim a haunting for personal popularity and income.

Human physiology may make us more susceptible to ghost sightings. Ghosts are often associated with a chilling sensation, but a natural animal response to fear is hair raising, which can be mistaken for chill. Also, the peripheral vision is very sensitive to motion, but does not contain much color or focused shapes. Any random motion outside the focused view can create a strong illusion of an eerie figure. Also, sound waves with frequencies lower than 20 hertz are called infrasound; they are formally inaudible, but British scientists Richard Lord and Richard Wiseman have concluded that infrasound can cause humans to feel a "presence" in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread.

Sometimes ghosts are associated with electromagnetic disturbances, which suggests that they might be attributable to the electromagnetic field and not to a presently dead person. Often, videos of paranormal investigators will show them using E-field or B-field detectors and finding "ghostly" results near wall outlets and electrical appliances.

Psychological factors may also relate to ghost sightings. Many people exaggerate their interpretation of their own perceptions, either when visiting a place they believe to be haunted, or when visiting a site which they know has seen unpleasant historical events. Certain images such as paintings and movies might "program" a person to automatically associate a certain structure or area as haunted because of what they have seen in the movies. As well, the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia may cause people to perceive human-like faces or figures in the otherwise mundane surroundings of their environments, particularly in conditions where vision is partly obscured, as in a dark corridor or at night.

The earliest literature to rationally discuss the issue comes from the Chinese philosopher, Mo Tzu (470-391 BC)

"Since we must understand whether ghosts and spirits exist or not, how can we find out? Mo Tzu said: The way to find out whether anything exists or not is to depend on the testimony of the ears and eyes of the multitude. If some have heard it or some have seen it then we have to say it exists. If no one has heard it and no one has seen it then we have to say it does not exist. So, then, why not go to some village or some district and inquire? If from antiquity to the present, and since the beginning of man, there are men who have seen the bodies of ghosts and spirits and heard their voices, how can we say that they do not exist? If none have heard them and none have seen them, then how can we say they do? But those who deny the existence of the spirits say: "Many in the world have heard and seen something of ghosts and spirits. Since they vary in testimony, who are to be accepted as really having heard and seen them? Mo Tzu said: As we are to rely on what many have jointly seen and what many have jointly heard, the case of Tu Po is to be accepted. (note: King Hsuan (827-783 BC executed his minister, Tu Po, on false charges even after being warned that Tu Po's ghost would seek revenge. Three years later, according to historical chronicles, Tu's ghost shot and killed Hsuan with a bow and arrow before an assembly of feudal lords)" — Taken from Chapter 31, translated by Yi-pao Mei

Notable ghosts

Ghost stories date back to before even the Common Era. Perhaps one of the earliest known ghost sightings took place in Athens, Greece. Pliny the Younger (c. 63 - 113 CE) described it in a letter to Sura: Athenodoros Cananites (c. 74 BCE – 7 CE), a Stoic philosopher, decided to rent a large, Athenian house, to investigate widespread rumours that it was haunted. Athenodoros staked out at the house that night, and, sure enough, a dishevelled, aged spectre, bound at feet and hands with rattling chains, eventually appeared. The spirit then beckoned for Athenodoros to follow him; Athenodoros complied, but the ghost soon vanished. The philosopher marked the spot where the old man had disappeared, and, on the next day, advised the magistrates to dig there. The man's shackled bones were reportedly uncovered when this was done. After a proper burial, the hauntings ceased.

It seems likely that the building with the most distinguished ghosts as rumored tenants is the Tower of London, which is reported to be haunted by:

  • The headless ghost of Anne Boleyn;
  • The ghost of Thomas Becket, which allegedly appeared during the construction of the Traitor's Gate;
  • The ghosts of King Edward V of England and Richard, Duke of York, the "Princes in the Tower";
  • The ghost of Lady Jane Grey;
  • The ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh;
  • A troupe of ghosts who allegedly reenact the execution of Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury;
  • The Ghost of Warren Hastings

Several other ghosts are said to make the Tower their home; phantom troops of soldiers reportedly appear there, as well as a lady in mourning with no face.

The cities of York and Derby in England are also reputed to be a center of ghostly manifestations; consequently, they both thrive on hugely successful ghost tour industries. Indeed, the presence of many centuries-old buildings has given England the reputation of the most haunted country in the world.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall has been seen quite a few times over the years. She is called the "Brown Lady" due to the brown brocade dress that the ghost has often been seen wearing while wandering the halls and staircase of Raynham Hall. In 1849 Major Loftus and a friend named Hawkins saw the ghost one night after retiring to bed. They both saw the woman and were amazed by the old fashioned clothing that she wore. The following night the Major was lucky enough to see the figure once again, this time he took note of her empty eye-sockets. The incident resulted in several members of staff resigning and a full investigation being done of Raynham Hall involving local detectives. For more accounts and information, see:

source: www.castleofspirits.com/brownlady.html

Biggin Hill (London, England) is also reported haunted by many ghosts, which many believe is probably because it was the site of a World War II airbase.

The White House in Washington, D.C., is said to be haunted by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln and by several lesser spectres.

The ghost of the Roman Emperor Caligula was said to haunt the Lamian Gardens of Rome, where his body had been hastily and unceremoniously buried after his assassination.

In the Biblical account of the Witch of Endor, King Saul of Israel has the witch conjure up the ghost of the prophet Samuel to consult with him on his precarious situation. The prophet's spirit gives the king no assistance, but rebukes him and foretells his doom instead.

The former prison island of Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco is said to be home to a number of ghosts of prisoners who died there.

Athens, Ohio is named one of the most haunted places in America, and is reputed to contain many ghosts. One oft-made claim is that, when drawing a line from each of the 5 (or, in some versions, 10) graveyards, one creates a pentagram; this claim is false. Ohio University is, for many reasons independent of that claim, considered by some the most haunted campus in America, as it is former state hospital, Athens State Mental Hospital.

The city of New Orleans is sometimes called 'America's most haunted city' with numerous ghost reports, especially in the French Quarter. New Orleans' ghosts include pirates from the 18th century, through to 20th century spectres.

The Museum of Natural Science in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, whose body laid there in state after his death in 1919. Many workers in the museum have noted the presence of a spirit after the museum has closed for the day.

The Kuchisake-onna was said to have caused mass hysteria throughout Japan during the spring and summer of 1979.

Hollywood, California has been home to many of the great stars and there are those who believe that their ghosts remain there after death, earning it the name Haunted Hollywood.

The ocean liner Queen Mary, now permanently moored in Long Beach, California, is reputed to be haunted by several ghosts. Two of the more famous hauntings are in the ship's swimming pool and in Shaft Alley, the area behind the engine room, containing the ship's propeller shafts. Recent investigations have failed to prove any presence or activity of ghosts, and most of the phenomenon has been attributed to the basic mechanical workings of the ship.

In my opinion, ghosts are very real and co-exist with the living, but at some level, are separated from us akin to different radio stations existing at the same time, but at different frequencies.  This frequency theory may even apply to the spiritual world.


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