Some thoughts on ghosts

I was saving this for tomorrow, but I have big plans for a book I want to review for this site (spoiler: it’s about enneagrams) so I’m moving it up to a New Year’s Eve spectacular post. Huzzah!

When I was a young’un, I was a big believer in ghosts. I suffer from a wide variety of sleeping problems, including hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis disorder. When I was a kid I used to have recurring hallucinations at night or early in the morning of pressings or mutilated women or family members haunting me, and I was convinced these were real ghosts. This is excusable seeing as how I was in elementary school at the time and also still thought that a fat man in a red suit could visit every child in America in one night. When I was twelve, a doctor explained to me what was going on and that was that.

However, I see the allure of ghosts. If ghosts exist, that is pretty solid evidence for some sort of life after death. It’s perfectly human to be afraid of the end of all consciousness and anyone in their mind is going to spend a lot of time coming to terms with this big, scary idea. It would be wicked awesome if we could be sure that some sort of essence or spirit of ours could possibly go on existing once all the neurons in our brain stopped firing. However, I have serious problems with the whole school of ghostlore, and I think people who believe in them (which is more than a third of Americans) are being highly irrational and simply don’t know enough about science.

First of all, how could a ghost possibly make a sound such as knocking on a wall or disembodied footsteps? What mechanism would be at work here that would allow an incorporeal, immaterial entity to interact with the material world? Isn’t it more likely that these phenomena have material, natural explanations and that incidences of disembodied sounds are simply cases of people misinterpreting natural phenomena and finding meaning where there is none? The same goes for voices. Most of the time it’s probably a non-human sound which the listener misinterprets by recognizing patterns that aren’t really there. Other times it could easily be explained by overactive imaginations or even hallucinations. It’s more likely that some portion of the population is deceiving itself than that the entire mainstream scientific community is wrong about fundamental physics.

Again, how do these spirits interact with the real world? How could an incorporeal being move an object or grab onto a human’s arm? Is it psychokinesis? Is the soul simply the mind? If so, how does the mental interact with the physical? As I recall from my philosophy of mind class, dualism has some major issues…

I know some people claim that ghosts use energy to do their jazz, but by which mechanisms do they channel this energy? In case you flunked physics, energy is a natural phenomenon, and to me it appears that ghosts, if they exist, exist outside of the natural world (hence science being unable to verify their existence). How can a non-natural entity utilize natural mechanisms?

The only explanation for ghosts that I can think of is magic. Simply put, if you believe in ghosts, you believe in magic. I see absolutely no difference between believing that disembodied spirits can interact with the real world and believing that I can kill someone by waving a stick at them and shouting “Avada Kedavra!” If you’re okay with that, go on believing. If you know more about physics than I do and can think of a way in which ghosts can interact with our world, please feel free to leave a comment. However, if anyone reading this thinks they can rationalize belief in spooks and spectres, I think you might want to bring your theories up with James Randi first; he just may have a million dollars for you.

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