This week I’m doing a special 5-part series of spooky Halloween-related myths.
Today’s myth: Ghosts are real.
Ok let’s back up a bit here. First I’ll summarize the “evidence” for ghosts:
– Photos/Video: Some amorphous blob, out-of-focus object, lens flare, air lint, something-or-other? Nope. Ghost.
– Eyewitness Accounts: People waking up in the middle of the night and seeing weird shadows may describe such events as ghost sightings. People often describe sudden temperature drops, “feeling a presence”, etc.
– Ghost Investigators: People who go on TV to measure uncalibrated EM readings in various ghostly areas.
– Strange Occurrences: For example, a TV turns on/off by itself, a plate falls off a counter, etc.
– Famous Hauntings: Come on, you’ve seen Unsolved Mysteries. A house where a murder has occurred is prime real estate for ghosts.
Now let’s explain every one of those things rationally:
– Photos/Video: Out of context photo anomalies have been passed off as pictures of ghosts since the invention of photography. Photos and videos are no longer the bastion of evidence they once were due to the ease with which any schmuck with Photoshop can invent any photographic evidence they’d like. Also, a picture isn’t perfect every time so a person doesn’t need to alter it to show something odd. Anything up close to the lens and out of focus, particularly something white, will look ghostly simply because it’s out of focus and hazy. There are also various errors that occur during film processing such as scratching, hairs, dirt, double exposures, etc. on the film AND in digital photos we can get some wacky images just by waving a light around, for example.
– Eyewitness Accounts: It’s no coincidence that a lot of ghost sightings happen at night. Our fight or flight response is primed to wake us up if there’s an “emergency” so we’re less objective in evaluating random shadows and noises. It’s understandable that a tree hitting the window could be perceived as something spooky at the time. There are also some sleep disorders that can freak people out and lead to unusual feelings/experiences such as sleep paralysis and night terrors. And let’s not forget good old fashioned dreams. Finally, there are already several folklore legends about what happens when there is a ghost around, such as temperature drops. So if someone is in a room and feels a sudden draft they might think it was a ghost. How do they know it’s a ghost? The temperature dropped. They didn’t see a ghost, they just “felt” it. A rational person would have put on a sweater. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
– Ghost Investigators: How objective are people who already believe there is a haunting at the site of their “investigation”? How accurate are measurement tools that are uncalibrated with no evidence that ghosts actually emit the energy they’re measuring? How do we know that ghosts produce EM readings at all? Because there’s EM readings at haunting sites. How do we know the sight is haunted? The EM readings. Someone claiming to be doing science is not the same as them actually doing science.
– Strange Occurrences: It’s not within my scope to explain every single weird occurrence in peoples lives. But I will say this: Ockham’s Razor. What explanation requires the fewest assumptions? Either a ghost did it (requiring several assumptions — ghosts are real, ghosts can interact with the environment, there is some mechanism by which this interaction occurs, etc.) or something else. There’s always a rational explanation.
– Famous Hauntings: Tourist attractions = money. ‘Nuff said.
All in all ghost lore is filled with circular reasoning, a ton of assumptions, and a crushing lack of evidence. Some critical thinking, fear control, and rational explanations will go a long way in helping to realize that that noise was the wind and not a ghost. There is no such thing as ghosts.