Tolle, a German-Canadian Spiritualist once called the most spiritually influential person in the world, was talking about overcoming, overpowering the ego. His goal was to identify the self, to distinguish the thinker from the witness, with the hopes of releasing the “power of now”. Whether you buy the premise or not, his words do get one thinking about the nature of who we are.
What is the self? Where is it? When you identify your inner-self as “I”, who, exactly, are you talking about?
Fundamental to this is a philosophical question that has vexed some of the greatest minds known to the world. That is the question of the soul…and that is a big question.
Men like Socrates and Plato have tangled with this question, giving us our most popular stance on the issue, which is that the soul is the essence or “breath” of life. It is the incorporeal occupant of our being. It transcends death and is rooted in the supernatural, and provides the basis for the building of the afterlife.
The main tenet of the philosophy of mind is the concept of Dualism, which is the assumption that mental processes are not physical. It says that there is a separation between the mind and the body, and that the soul is the seat of consciousness.
While the nomenclature of the philosophy of mind may not be familiar, its underlying point is one that is nearly universally accepted to be true among most religions and spiritual schools of thought, and is central to the lives of a majority of our population. Humans have souls and souls are the essence of our being.
Variations on this theme exist, such as the Akashic Record or Akashic Field theory, which posits that our soul is actually a segment of an ethereal realm of information that our minds access remotely. The theory, which you can read more about here, says that this field informs our physical being, making us who we are, and that some people – most famously Edgar Cayce – have the ability to access more of the field, giving them knowledge of events and concepts outside of the self (i.e. psychic abilities like divination or prophecy).
Modern science however, has other ideas. A good many scientists, in several fields, suggest that Dualism is pure superstitious nonsense. Science holds to the primacy of Physicalism, which claims that consciousness is the product of neurology, of the neuro-chemical make-up and activity of the brain, and that the self or in Freud’s terms, the ego, are products of biological processes inside the brain. This is the basis for an on-going theological debate:
“If many object to the idea that human identity emerges gradually during development, they’re most definitely going to find the idea of soullessness and mind as a by-product of nervous activity horrifying. This will be our coming challenge: to accommodate a view of ourselves and our place in the universe that isn’t encumbered by falsehoods and trivialising myths.” – PZ Myers
This debate questions the very foundation of religious or spiritual thinking, the idea that the soul is something to cherish and in the case of Abrahamic religions, a precious thing coveted by the forces of both good and evil in this universe. These questions cast doubt on the main concept of religious doctrine, the afterlife. It seems an almost silly thing to say, as few could miss the connection (though many do), but much of the paranormal, or at least what people think they know about the paranormal is derived from the concept of Dualism; specifically on the issue of ghosts.
Ghosts are the souls of dead people, trapped in the ethereal realm by whatever means. They are the incorporeal manifestation of those who have succumbed to the ultimate outcome of life. They are souls without bodies to occupy. Such is the predominant belief about what ghosts are. It is known as the Dead Person Hypothesis, and some believe that emphasis should be heavy on the word hypothesis.
What many seem to miss is the rather large assumption involved in the DPH, an assumption connected to the one made in Dualism, best illustrated through the following question: what if the self is only the product of neurology and the soul is a religiously inspired figment of our imagination?
What then are ghosts? And what then of the afterlife?
Some see the DPH, which they hold to be true, as evidence that Dualism is correct, but this is putting the cart before the horse. Because Dualism is not observed experimentally, but rather, through brain mapping and other neurological research, Physicalism experientially denies the existence of the soul, is there another explanation for the almost undeniable phenomenon of ghosts?
In fact there are many.
Whether one buys into the concept of psychic projection, or emotional imprinting, or time ripples, or even inter-dimensional weirdness, there is no shortage of ideas put forth in an attempt to explain what ghosts are.
Some try to frame their hypotheses in the language of science, of physics, such as the Quantum Theory of Ghosts developed by Max Bruin PhD., which says that ghosts are “an impression upon the subatomic weave of the universe, created via strong emotion of a sentient observer.”
This may actually be supported by both theoretical and experimental data. Biologist Dr. Bruce H. Lipton claims that the self is nothing more than the product of cellular cooperation. In his book The Biology of Belief, he lays out the process by which the cells in our body sense, interact and communicate with their environment and with other cells, and he says that this collective relationship between the cells of our body are the foundation of consciousness. Another possible explanation for ghostly phenomenon comes out of this research, a sort of biological hypothesis, which you can read about here.
Others prefer a wholly metaphysical explanation, but each idea seems to be supported by some aspect of the widely varied phenomenon of ghosts. For instance, emotional imprinting seems to be supported by the types of reported apparitions that play out like looped videos of past events, while psychic projection may explain poltergeist type activity. Few of these speculations offer encompassing, comprehensive answers though.
Most, if not all of these hypotheses (not theories, look up the difference if you doubt it) are exercises in pure speculation. They are un-testable ideas about a field of inquiry that science does not recognise as real. In spite of this, the majority of the paranormal research community truly believes in the phenomenon of ghosts, and though the field isn’t exactly split down the middle on the issue of soullessness, there are a good number of researchers looking for non-traditional answers to some of these perplexing questions.
Something all researchers, especially those who call themselves Ghost Hunters should keep in mind, is that the DPH is only one of a great host of possible explanations for ghosts. It is a hypothesis only, not a theory and certainly not a fact, and it does not necessarily deserve primacy in the face of such doubts.
Do ghosts exist? Are they related in any way to the soul? Does the soul actually exist? These are huge questions that are unlikely to be answered in the near future and least of all in the musings of a casual blog post, but perhaps with the realisation that there is more than one way to look at the issue more people will begin to question the status quo.
 Black, Andrew. The Quantum Theory of Ghosts. The Mask of Reason blog: http://maskofreason.wordpress.com/the-book-of-mysteries/theories/quantum-theory-of-ghosts/
 Lipton, Bruce H. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Hay House (2005). ISBN-10: 1401923127