Ghost, Are They Real?

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Ghost, are they real? What is real? A child trembling in the dark may be fearful because he believes that reality is more than the hard material objects around him. Reality for him also includes an unseen spiritual realm. You may defend yourself against these fears by insisting that such a realm cannot be a part of reality. Reality consists only of the hard, enduring objects around you that can be seen, heard, touched, and smelled. But what grounds do you have for this belief? In fact, many intelligent and thoughtful people have concluded that reality includes more than material objects. And many people have suspected that spirits are very real. What reasons can you give for saying that they are wrong? Don’t virtually all religions declare that reality is more than the material world around us? Can a person even claim to be religious without believing that there is more to reality than the material world around us? Doesn’t God or “the gods” have to constitute a kind of reality that is totally different from material reality? But it isn’t just spirits and gods that raise troubling metaphysical questions about what we admit to be real. For example, what are we to say about most of the things for which people are willing to live and die? Consider justice, or goodness, or liberty, or truth, or beauty, or love. Are these material? Can they be seen, touched, smelled, or heard? Do they have a size, a shape, or even a place? Are these real? Haven’t millions of people died for these ideals? Don’t millions of people devote their entire lives to the pursuit of ideals such as these? Doesn’t such devotion imply that they are real? Perhaps to a practical person these notions seem too soft-minded to be real. So, consider some tougher notions. Economists regularly discuss “inflationary pressures” and the “forces” of supply and demand. Has anyone ever heard, seen, or physically felt these pressures and forces? Yet surely they are real; indeed, their reality creates the wealth of the rich and the impoverishment of the poor. But in what sense are these pressures and forces real? What does it mean to say that these are real? And if these unseen entities are real, then why can’t spirits be admitted into the realm of reality? Or consider the physicist’s force fields, electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, and other subatomic particles; the mathematician’s numbers, formulas, roots, and equations; and the astronomer’s laws, curved spaces, black holes, and compressed or stretched intervals of time. Do we admit these odd entities into our notion of “reality”? Yet none of these are like the hard, visible, colored objects that make up our material world. What, then, is reality? What does it include? These questions are puzzling. But are they important? Let’s see. Think about what you imply when you say that something is not part of reality. For example, consider what you imply when you tell your little brother that “spirits aren’t real.” Isn’t the point of saying this to convince him that he should pay no attention to so-called spirits? Aren’t you telling him that spirits can exert no causal influence on him? That they cannot act on him or on anything else and so can neither hurt nor help him? Are you saying that they have no importance, no power, no actuality, no significance? They should be disregarded, paid no attention, dismissed? If these are some of the implications of saying something is unreal, then the implications of saying something is part of reality are great indeed. For in saying that something is part of reality, are we not saying that it has importance, significance, actuality, power? Are we not saying that it is something that should not be dismissed, something that can make a difference to our lives, something to which we need to be attentive? As the philosopher Robert Nozick has said, to say something is real is to say it has “value, meaning, importance, and weight.’’ To determine what is real, human rely...
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