To complement the full apprehension of the terms which will be used throughout this argument, a number of meanings taken from The Lexicon Webster Dictionary is provided:
The soul or spirit of a dead person. A disembodied spirit.
(psy) an apparent perception, as by sight or hearing, for which there is no real external cause, as distinguished from illusion
A false impression or belief. False perception or conception of some object of sense. A perception of a thing which misrepresents it, or gives it qualities not present in reality.
Creator and ruler of the universe, eternal, infinite spirit, the Supreme Being.
“Hobgoblins, ghoulsand other malevolent forces are part of our cultural heritage. But can these nightmares simply be dismissed as superstitious by-products of the medieval mind?” Introduction to Creatures from Inner Space by S. Gooch
The subject will be argued from the two possible, yet opposite, sides: the “ghost” as a non-existent and the “ghost” as an existent spirit. This will be done through the elements of perception. Perception, although being so complex, is the medium by which individuals receive information from the surrounding world.
Let us consider the situation where a person believes that s/he has perceived a ghost. This can be an optical illusion created by the classical example of shadows, or by sound (the wind) which when applied to them the Gestalt psychology we can understand how anyone of us can derive a form from the few elements perceived and rush to a conclusion. Gestalt psychologists have shown how humans use their interests to structure the information perceived, therefore not considering the different parts making it up. As we can see clearly, in an illusion it’s the minority of the outer senses which are stimulated. Same thing with hallucination, but this time the inner senses do probably play a stronger role. We all know how young persons, when exposed to ghost stories, do have nightmares and/or restless nights. From this we can understand how this retrieval of memory together with imagination and lack of “common sense” can bring about hallucinations.
In fact these same “tricks” are what wannabe mediums use in order to deceive their clients. The client has already a strong interest to, for example communicate with a dead relative. This desire will enable the subject to let himself or herself be deceived by blocking out unwanted data and accepting only the information that fits the pre-structured form.
All these examples fall under error of perception but the following is an interesting experiment carried out by the Toronto Society Of Psychical Research. They discovered that séance phenomena might be attributed, at least in part, to the same psychokinetic force that is commonly believed to be responsible for poltergeist (unquiet ghost) activity. They suggested that this force could be produced by the minds of the sitters, fuelled perhaps by their unanimous belief that such phenomena would occur during the séance. They theorized that the role of the medium was that of a placebo, and that no particular psychic sensitivity was necessary for a successful séance.
Apart from considering all the forms of perceptional errors, we can explain the existence of such spirits that are perceived (but not always believed!) If we want to stick to the Rationalist philosophy and therefore state that such presences should be reasoned out, rather than just experienced, we can say that this subject has brought together many professionals from around the globe, using their knowledge and their equipment to get the truth out. This type of philosophical approach is what I am trying to use to explain these so called ghosts.
“Visitations are experienced today by intelligent, rational individuals in Western cities, and increasingly are being documented by psychiatrists and other scientists and subjected to experimental observation.” Introduction to Creatures from Inner Space by S. Gooch
My argument for the existence of such “ghosts” starts from the Bible and the definition of God (or god). The existence of a Supreme Being is for most of us a self-evident truth, as B. Russell calls it. Russell stated that self-evident truths are those that posses luminous evidence and that are not themselves deduced from anything more evident. Such God is believed to have the form of a spirit: “It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child”(Mt. 1, 20); and this same spirit has “created man in his image” (Gn. 1: 1,27). This means that we are all spirits encapsulated in our bodies. We can refer once again to the Christian belief that God gave a soul (see definition of ghost) to humans only, and not to any animal species. Connecting this to the fact that there is “no evidence of animal activity” we can add more basis to our reasoning and that therefore ghosts do exist. Although we are not sure about their make-up or the reason why they interact or they do not, why some are quiet and others are poltergeist, we do know that they are not tangible. Quoting once again the Bible, after His resurrection, Jesus said to the apostles: “touch me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do” (Lk. 24, 39). This implies that we can not touch these spirits but as we will see from the various stories, they can touch US.
These ghosts who may venture in our dimension can be perceived either by the known outer-senses or by ESP (extra sensory perception). The ESP can possibly be another sense that humans have not yet discovered how to handle and therefore we do not consider it as a medium of perception. An example of ESP are the numerous situation where persons become aware of a “presence” in the area possibly effecting no other outer sense . On the other hand, many do become aware of these ghosts through their outer-senses. Here is an statistic of how hauntings are perceived: 84% are seen, 37% are heard, 15% involve touch and only 8% involve smell . These perceptions do even involve more than one sense and as the examples will show, in diverse forms.
Sight, being the dominant sense, and as stated the highest medium of ghost perception, plays therefore an important role in the belief of such phenomena. The classical idea of seeing a ghost is of a whitish floating specter. As many photographic evidences have proved, most spirits are seen as vortexes, orbs or even fogs. This obviously does not exclude those (more rare) situations where a clear image of a human being is visualized .
The next most commonly used sense for this kind of paranormal activity is the hearing. Apart from the conventional door squeaks and chains we can find various situation of human voices being heard calling out names, sometimes even on recording equipment . When such things are recorded then various scientists can test their evidence in order to get the truth out of it.
An important factor, which is highly considered in the approval of ghost stories, is the feeling. A relatively essential factor, most of the times present in hauntings, is the presence of the so-called cold spots. These are small air pockets within the room where for example the poltergeist is active, where the temperature is 10 or more degrees Celsius colder than the surrounding air. According to various scientists, this can be a result of density difference or else of the use of heat energy as fuel. As already stated we are not able to touch ghosts but surely enough they are able to interact with our bodies. Apart from the poltergeists who drop, move and throw things of different forms and dimensions, we can read about situations where persons where literally held by their hand, or touched and hurt like being “poked, punched and nipped by unseen forces” .
The fifth sense, is the smell. As already stated this is the rarest to occur when considering ghostly activity. Through my limited research I could not find a single story where such an incident occurred. But I can recall reading a paranormal journal that reported a story about a family perceiving their grandma’s ghost not only by the already mentioned cold spots and other interactions but also through the smelling of her perfume. This smell could only be captured in a very constrained area, probably the same where the cold spot was felt.
This subject is very profound and needs a massive list of readings in order to be able to build an opinion about these phenomena. Though what was intended with is argument is that if we want to accept the input of our senses as a source of information, then we do also have to apprehend how to evaluate this information and filter it thoroughly. The next thing to do is to learn from your experience in order to gain knowledge of the immense information that humans have not even tried to acquire. I do profoundly agree with the Kant’s philosophy that all knowledge is achieved through experience and filtered through our reasoning processes. It is just that most of the times we are not aware of the input, or else we are not ready to acquire it! Probably this is the factor that creates humans with (the so called) paranormal potentials.
S. Gooch, Creatures From Inner Space, Hutchinson Publishing Group: London, 1984
S. Borella, L’Io Nella Percezione, Citta` Nuova: Rome, 1983
W. G. Chase (Ed.), Visual Information Processing, Academic Press: New York, 1973
R. Boar and N. Blundell, The Worlds Greatest Ghosts, Hamlyn: London, 1995
C. Green and C. McCreery, Apparitions, Hamish Hamilton: London, 1975
The New American Bible, Good Counsel Publishers: Chicago, 1971
D. F. Kellerman (Ed.), The Lexicon Webster Dictionary, Lexicon, 1977
S.P.I.R.I.T, Psychokinesis available: www.ghosthunter.org/archives/ philip.htm
J. Ritchie, Inside The Paranormal, Fontana: London, 1992
Creatures From Inner Space
Inside The Paranormal
The Worlds Greatest Ghosts