Over the years, many a sci-fi television show has professed exclusive ownership of the ever sought after correct method of identifying and documenting the elusive Ghost.
Each of these shows comes equipped with it’s own version of an overly dramatic front-man (or often front-woman), who’s seriously diluted monologues often connect or compare the possibility of ghosts with both an afterlife of some kind, and a latent religiosity woven into the very nature of the so-called haunting.
My purpose here is to examine the logic of what is essentially the anthropomorphising of the “Ghost”.
First we should define the word Ghost. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines ‘Ghost’ (noun) as:
1: The seat of life or intelligence: soul
2: A disembodied soul; especially: the soul of a dead person believed to be an inhabitant of the unseen world or to appear to the living in bodily likeness
This is interesting in and of itself, and it’s important to note that there are several other definitions, relating to photographic and other social issues which are not relevant here.
While most people would immediately associate the word with the appearance of a dearly departed loved one, the unexplained effects of apparitions, and the spooky after hauntings of the evil dead.
Does anyone see a pattern here? Is it coincidental that the very mention of the word ghost, elicits a response that produces any variety of mental images based on one’s own experiences?
It seems even more interesting that the more etymological definition of the word relates to that internal person, that entity of consciousness and awareness that lies behind your eyes. (You describe your body as “my body”, ask yourself, who is “my”?). Religiously speaking, one labels that entity as one’s soul; that precious energy to be saved through redemption and eventually communicated to heaven upon the eventual death of the outer body.
Are you lost yet?
Well, personal beliefs about religion aside, the argument at hand is one of removing the Hand of God from this discussion, and short of entering into the forum of quantum physics, epigenetics and transcendence, we need not debate the overall validity of religious belief to continue.
Let’s consider logically, what ghosts could be in terms of our physical world. The emerging science of epigenetics has produced some interesting theories revolving around the central idea of “knowing the knower”. That’s really a fancy existential way of saying, how do we define the energy that makes up our consciousness, as examined on the subatomic level.
This isn’t as complicated as it might seem. As long as you can accept two presuppositions: 1. everything in the universe reduces, ultimately, to pure energy (this means that if you focus in at a powerful enough magnification, there is no matter, only energy) 2. That energy is the fundamental component of thought.
If we accept those presuppositions, which are quite a leap to be sure, we are faced with the possibility that a ghost could be a residual field of energy, left over by the intensity of a particular emotion, which could be tied to an event at a particular location.
In simpler terms, there is a widely held belief that ghosts are essentially displays of a person, now passed on, who is reliving some traumatic or intensely emotional event from their previous life.
As we move about through our world, we leave traces of that energy, everywhere we go. Our thoughts, emotions, instincts and reactions are all functions of the intricate and delicate frequency (vibration) of that energy. Biologically, as we are highly complex communities of specialised cells, which are, at their most basic functioning, designed to sense, receive and react to energy fields; one could assert that we are essentially walking antennae, capable of sensing the energies of other people or creatures in our immediate environment.
Following this line of thinking, we can theorise that ghosts can be the incidental reception of and partial awareness of residual energies, left in our environment by people who have previously passed on.
If you accept this theory as true, or even partly true, it can be said that this explanation works relatively well, without inserting religiosity. It seems reasonable to assert that what people do in life, they do in death; and this assertion holds a layered meeting. One could believe that a soul (as defined above) might behave in a way that is relative to the life they led. What this means is that a religious person, who has passed on and is represented as a ghost, would likely behave in a similarly religious manner, as they had in life.
Secondarily, in a world where humans have the unique ability, among all other global species, to project our own emotions, fears and ideals onto other creatures, and even inanimate objects; it also seems reasonable to assert that we would be prone to do the same things with the phenomenon of ghosts. In fact, what phenomenon could be more open to anthropomorphism, than the appearance of an entity, human in form and behaviour that is, generally speaking, entirely unexplained?
If you’re unfamiliar with anthropomorphism, think of the way you attribute emotions and personality to inanimate objects, such as your car. You label it with a name, with a gender; you assign its operating anomalies emotional identities (i.e. claim that it’s angry with you, when it doesn’t work properly). It is more than possible, and even likely, that we are predisposed to assign similar explanations to the mysterious and spooky happenings within ghostly encounters.
As for physical and apparently interactive phenomenon, it’s important to understand the basic physics of energy, especially energy field theories. A field of energy, represented as a wave, interacts with the objects in its path, whether through deflection, absorption, propagation or cancellation. A residual energy field would behave much the same way, but would be affected by our own energy field as well.
Our own thought patterns would affect the manifestation of the ghost within our perception of the event. In essence, it’s possible that the act of observing the ghost, serves to energise the apparition and enhance the encounter.
This is not to say that all paranormal encounters are the result of random convergence of energy fields and residual emotion. There are documented (though questionable) accounts of encounters that offer seemingly irrefutable evidence of highly complex, independent intelligence, manifested in the outward behaviours of the entity(s), and their impact on “real” objects and measurement devices.
It should be of paramount importance to employ Occam’s razor in all cases of paranormal investigation. Wherein, when faced with multiple possibilities for the explanation of a phenomenon, one must accept as true, which ever explanation satisfies the simplest reason. In other words, if there is a way to explain an unknown event, which does not rely on a belief in paranormal influence, then one must accept that explanation, however boring and counterintuitive, as the truth.
While none of this theorising speaks to the validity of ghostly encounters on the whole, wherein, the vast majority of them can be explained in real world terms, as functions of environmental interference, mechanical malfunction or simple misunderstood physics; it does provide for a possible explanation of ghostly phenomenon, without the need to bow our heads in reverence to God’s influence.
The very idea of demonising the energy that makes up everything in the universe is counterintuitive and contradictory. As is typically the case in our culture of pious moderation, many feel that those things, which cannot be readily explained by science, must be attributed to any variety of miracle or satanic debauchery. This is a highly paranoid and limiting mind set and one that virtually eliminates the possibility of ever truly revealing the scientific nature behind ghostly paranormal phenomenon.
While historically, the church has offered the only answers (believable only through a lack of other options) for this type of event, one need not see demons, where only a reflection of their own fears exists.
Take for example, the popular movie The Sixth Sense. Obviously intended to be a dramatic thriller, this film serves to reinforce the latent fear we as a society hold for not only the unexplained phenomenon of ghosts, but it also speaks to us about the demonising of those with the gift of being able to detect them, as illustrated through the popularisation of that one famous line from the film…”I see dead people”.
What if we were to consider for a moment, that the continued reappearance of the ghost played by Brue Willis, is attributed not to his personal need to find resolution to his own failures in life, but is actually caused by the grief of his wife? Obviously this doesn’t fit with the overall story line, but it does present an interesting alternative to the typical view of the tortured soul of a ghost; again, behaving in death, as in life.
Is there room in our paranormal sub-culture for a scientific approach to a phenomenon typically viewed as either the pursuit of strange sci-fi enthusiasts or the fanciful muse of some Hollywood screenwriter? There must be, and while these ideas may not engender the same drama or controversy, they warrant further exploration as one of the many possible avenues for finally answering the age old question; what are ghosts?