Friday, December 30, 2005

Ghosts, Ghouls, and Other Hot Properties.

This is not an easy topic for me to write about. Maybe it’s my avatar, or maybe just the twisted nature of my brain, but I keep hearing Burt Lahr saying over and over, “I do believe in spooks! I do believe in spooks! I do I do I do I do I do believe in spooks!” Spooks are good theatre, and your believing in spooks is big business. This is not only true for the cinema folks that bring you Freddie Krueger and Jason, there is more riding on it than that. Let’s start with the obvious. Fortune tellers often assert that they are speaking to someone “on the other side” - a ghost. If there was no such thing as ghosts, who would the ghost hunters hunt, and who would the psychics claim to be speaking to? This is a niche market, to be sure, but people do make a good living at it. Then there’s the whole life-after-death promise of Western religion. The idea that you still exist somehow after you die is not harmed one bit by the concept of wandering spirits, and nobody has to pretend to know why they are not in Heaven or Hell, either... It’s a free space! Ghosts contribute to corporate and clerical bottom lines and reinforce the belief in the afterlife. Ghosts generally don’t charge for their services, either, and nobody is absolutely sure what they are. I bet a lot of eyebrows shot up on that line, but let me explain. You can be convinced beyond any doubt that they don’t exist. You can maintain that they do exist, and in your mind, you will have accepted one of a number of definitions, using some combination of attributes, to define what you think a ghost is. You might even ascribe to the multi-flavor variety pack, and believe that there are more than one type of ghost. You might even blur the line between the definition of a ghost, and “angel” (or other benign spirit), and a “demon”, and believe that they are all similar “life forms” - for lack of a better term, with different origins. There is no single opinion, belief, or description for the term “ghost”. Ghosts fall into the realm of the asserted but not proved. Ghosts are very real to anyone who has had one of several kinds of experiences that would lead a person to believe that they had encountered a ghost, and generally unreal to those who have not had such an experience. Thing is, with all the assertions, and all the representations, many of those that don’t believe reserve some doubt in their disbelief and hold open the possibility that ghosts might exist. This is good enough for the movie industry, the church, and the psychics to work with. Oh yeah, and let’s not leave out the folks with the “Haunted Manor” tourist attractions. As long as you allow for the possibility of ghosts, it’s big business.

Let’s look at the case for ghosts. People have been running around for over a century with a range of detection equipment and cameras trying to nail this ectoplasmic Jell-o to the wall. So far, they have come up with a few stray electromagnetic readings that could have any number of causes, some exposure flashes on film, noises that could easily be attributed to a building contracting at night (or fakery), and a bunch of “I-can-see-the-wire” type bullshit. In other words, nothing concrete, scientifically measurable, or irrefutably spectacular, like, say the manifestation of a nearly headless knight that resembles John Cleese. The true believer at this point could offer the excuse that this is because they are not of this world, and therefore do not impinge on this world in a measurable way. Ok... where does that get us? If they don’t impinge in a measurable way, how do they impinge at all? I think this completely rules out the “poltergeist” variety, because last time I looked, moving an object required energy of a very physical nature. No energy, no bump in the night. It has been conjectured that cold spots in the room are created by a ghost absorbing the energy required for such manifestations. Even granting that the energy could be stored in some other dimension, the delta between the cold spot and the air in the rest of the room represents a tiny amount of calories, say the energy created by burning a match, and that’s being generous. There would also have to be a focused kinetic output of some kind in order to convert that energy into the motion of a solid object in our four-dimensional continuum. This kind of rapid release/transfer of energy is possible. It’s called an explosion. So far as I am aware, no one has claimed to hear noises like a string of M-80s going off accompanying poltergeist activity. That only leaves teleportation, and the extent to which mathematics and science can take us in that direction suggests that, if possible at all, the electromagnetic energy output required to cancel gravity is colossal, and easily detected.

Next, let’s examine the ghosts of the psychics. I heard one psychic on the Montel Williams show tell an audience member that she had no less than three “guardian angels” surrounding her. Ok... if they are invisible, they are blind. If light passes through an object uninterrupted, there is no way known to science that anything like optical interpretation can take place. Remember all those measuring devices? They all had some solid-object existence and some energy requirements. There is no way known to man that readings can be taken from an object or an energy stream that does not require a physical receptor and an energy source. So, how and what do these ghosts “see”? Let’s postulate for a second that the “apparatus” of their sensory existence is folded away in some theoretical higher dimension. This is a "removal", like me with a telescope, I can see Mars, but "Mars" can't see me. Ok... how does the psychic “see” them? We can enhance every sense, and detect spectra of energy far in excess of any possible sensory mutation of a human being, yet none of these devices detect anything. The psychic in question was quite specific. The simplest explanation is that she is a pathological liar.

What about people who have seen ghosts? Did they see them with their eyes? If so, why can’t a camera record the phenomenon? With all the people toting around video cameras, we now have a nice collection of tornado images, but not a single ghost. Ok... so maybe the image of the ghost is in the person’s mind, not “in the room” at all. I can buy that. I have gone to hypnotist shows and have seen people believe that they had a parakeet on their finger. I have seen people believe that they saw a floating “naughty bit” in the air, because they were told that they could not see the hypnotist that was holding it up. That was a very entertaining and educational show. Point is, the mind can be fooled into seeing what isn’t there, and not seeing what is there. If I expect to see a ghost, and if I really want to see a ghost, I might just oblige myself, no hypnotist required.

There is one more phenomenon associated with ghosts: knowledge or vision on the death of a loved one. People see this in dreams, or have a waking reverie near the time of death, without knowledge of the time of death until afterward. I can say first hand that this happens. It happened to me when my father died in 1972. He was in Dallas and I was in New Jersey. I can believe that there is a connection between people that has yet to be explained, and that something happens when that connection is broken. I cannot say that this experience supports the idea of persistence of life or identity after death. And now you know the real reason that this subject is difficult for me to write about.


At 1:14 AM, Blogger BEAST FCD said...

I could still remember this one incident though:

It was a school camp, and it was pretty dark in the school premises, when, all of a sudden, I turned around and saw this white spectre floating around one very peculiar spot......spooky......

It would have made for one hell of a ghost story if not for the fact that the particular spot where I saw the scary phenomena was actually the site of the Statue of Mother Mary (My school was affiliated with the St Francis of Assisi).

Talk about Holy Ghosts. This one nearly scared the shit out of me.

The Beast

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Kalanchoe542 said...

I understand. I saw my dad in dream at 3 AM the morning he died (estimated time of death about 3 AM). I stroked his forehead and told him it was OK for him to go, she'd be OK. He looked at me with a small wan smile, and I drifted away to where my mom was sleeping, unaware, in the next room. It's hard and it hurts, but it happens. I don't know why. It just does.

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point about the economic impact of ghosts is a good one. Just the other day, I suggested to my wife that we become ghost hunters. I pointed out that the overhead is low, the hours are flexible and it's something we could do together. There must be some good money it it.

"But we don't believe in ghosts," she reminded me.



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