How do you feel about ghosts?

How do you feel about ghosts?

I’m not saying people are lying when they experience something they consider supernatural, but I think everything has an earthly explanation — even if we haven’t figured that explanation out yet. 

I struggled with schizoaffective disorder as a child and young adult. My hallucinations often involved the supernatural and I was terrified. Thankfully with medication, I left that all behind years ago. But still, talking about ghosts can occasionally bring back memories of some of my hallucinations — most of which were visual and auditory. 

For the past few nights, my husband and I have been watching BuzzFeed Unsolved: Supernatural on Prime Video. He gets off of work at 10 at night and if we’re lucky, our daughter will fall asleep so we can watch TV. Anyway, while I don’t believe in ghosts, the stories are absolutely fascinating on that show and I do wonder what happened. I think the most interesting part is when they explain the history of a location they are investigating. We really enjoy it.

While I believe everything has an earthly explanation — let’s be real — I’m not exploring an abandoned asylum after dark anytime soon. 

How do you feel about ghosts or explaining the supernatural?


  1. John Morales says

    About the same way as I feel about Narnia or Santa.

    Vaguely amused, vaguely sad that some people take such things seriously.

  2. Bruce says

    There is a reason that a popular phrase is: video, or it didn’t happen.
    Also: citation needed.
    The best explanation for most such stories is that they didn’t happen like that. Other people who may have tendencies of visualization of imaginings or hallucinations are also able to write down what they FEEL happened. Maybe they ate the wrong mushrooms from the cow pasture beforehand, or whatever.
    Remember that, for centuries, people told stories about seeing fairies. Then when science fiction became popular, fairy sightings went way down, and space alien sightings went way up. If alien sightings had been based on fact, people would have seen spaceships equally 100 or 200 years ago. But no.
    Now that everyone has a camera in their phone, many fewer people say they saw Bigfoot but didn’t have a camera. But the “best” Bigfoot photos are still all before the iPhone was invented. Do bigfoots hide more, based on Apple product releases? Or was it always all BS?
    People can legit pass a lie detector test honestly if they tell a story that they really feel happened, but that fact doesn’t mean it actually happened. Just that they felt that way. So I’m not doubting their sincerity or honesty. But I still doubt that anything supernatural ever happened.

  3. lochaber says

    I don’t really believe in the supernatural, but I’ve talked to some people who’ve claimed to seen/felt some weird stuff, and I mostly believe them. Not that those things actually happened, but that they did see/feel them.

    Brains, perception, and memory are weird and complex things that aren’t very well understood by the experts, let alone the average person. And they can malfunction in some really weird and interesting ways.

    I think a while back there was some study or something that came to the conclusion that some industrial/institutional equipment can create really low frequency sounds that aren’t consciously heard by most humans, but can be felt/heard on an unconscious level, and tend to stimulate a sense of “dread”

    And then there are a lot of stories that come from someone being woken, and even more weird brain stuff happens in sleep…

    Then, there is this xkcd comic:

    • StevoR says

      Agreed although I don’t think anything actually supernatural exists by definition. Still the natural world is incredible, astounding, bizarre, often “stranger than fiction” and our mental worlds and failures of our senses and perceptions of reality can make things very interesting – and sometimes terrifying – indeed.

  4. says

    I don’t think that ghosts are a real phenomena. And now we have negative evidence for that from the ubiquity of mobile phones.

    Nearly everyone now has a video camera (mobile phone or dash cam)) on them at all times. This has meant a vast increase in the amount of video showing people in authority behaving badly and so being (somewhat) held to account.

    But there has been no good footage of aliens, UFOs, Nessie, Bigfoot or ghosts.

  5. Katydid says

    I agree pretty much word-for-word with loachaber. I enjoy reading and watching stories about the supernatural, but I don’t believe it’s real. I believe our senses can’t make sense of some of the input we get and our brain does its best to assign meaning. Sort of on a similar line to the “what color is this dress?” picture or the “do you hear Laura or Lanny in this recording?” Different people see/hear the same exact thing and come up with different interpretations based on how their senses work.

    I think our expectations lead us to see/hear what we think we should, also. Like the fairies/UFO aliens conundrum.

    Anecdote Time: I was in a very serious accident years ago and came within a hairsbreadth of dying. Lots of people (including a nurse) later asked me if I saw heaven or hell or angels or what-have-you in the moments I was between. Nope. The best I can describe it is that I felt as if I was at the bottom of a well with the walls closing in on me. I’ve never been trapped inside a well (as far as I know, anyway) but I’ve seen it on tv. I suspect my brain understood my senses were shutting down and interpreted it as something I would understand. If I believed in a shining light from above and angels, that’s what my brain would have shown me. But I don’t.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Infrasound, sleep paralysis, various mental illnesses, attention seeking, mass hysteria, drug and alcohol use, pareidolia and, in the case of spirit mediums, cynical exploitation of the bereaved more or less covers it I think. Did I miss anything?
    (I’d copied the url of that xkcd before I noticed someone beat me to it)

  7. Owlmirror says

    I sometimes try to think about how to argue for the nonexistence of such things, and my current attempt is something like this:

    1) Are ghosts made of atoms, or something like atoms? If so, how do the atoms of the ghost get from inside the original person’s head/body to outside of the head/body? How do they hold together? How do they move? How do they do the things they do to cause the experiences that people have with ghosts?

    2) Are ghosts made of something completely unlike atoms, yet can somehow sometimes interact with atoms? After all, if they never interacted with atoms, we could never see, hear, or feel them. But ghost experiences are based on seeing, hearing, or feeling something. So what are these non-atom-like things that ghosts are made of?

    3) Given that the options are that:
    a) either ghosts are made of something like atoms that should be detectable, like all atoms are, yet have never been so detected, or
    (b) made of something completely not like atoms yet can interact with atoms, even though such a thing is theoretically impossible &sup1: , or
    (c) people who think they have seen or experienced ghosts have been making a mistake (hallucinations, apophenia, etc)
    . . . going with (c) is the most reasonable option.

    (Sean Carroll has more posts on this topic, but the above is a good start)

  8. says

    People see what isn’t there, all the time. If a hundred different people see the same event, there will be a hundred different accounts of that event. I’ll take ghosts seriously if one even once passes every scientific detection device we can throw at it.

    One of all time my favourite authors is Terry Pratchett, whose marvelous character Tiffany Aching had the rare gift of Seeing What Is Actually There. Most people can’t do that, they see what they want to see.

  9. Ridana says

    I’ve had dowsing rods work (the copper wires in plastic holders kind, not forked sticks), which was a really weird feeling. Much more forceful than I would have imagined. They weren’t mine, but a nice pair the city workers brought with them when they came out to try to find where my main water shut-off valve was, since the only above ground valve was the line directly into the house (which is not where the leak was). It was buried unmarked about 2 ft deep in the back corner of the yard. 🙂

    What I found with them was the bizarre Y junction of the house, garden and city main pipes in the middle of the yard, where I assumed those would meet as a T along the far side. Surprise!

    Since they do this every day, I guess dowsing works for them or they wouldn’t bother bringing the rods. They said sometimes the rods work when their electronic finders don’t, and vice versa, so they just carry both. Still don’t quite know what to think of it all. I keep wanting to make my own to see if I can replicate it or not, but I guess I don’t care enough.

    I don’t have an explanation, but the ones people have tried to foist on me don’t make sense to me either or match my experience, so I dunno. Make of it what you will, I’m not selling anything. 🙂

    • John Morales says

      The feelings the dowser perceives are due to the ideomotor effect.

      Dowsing doesn’t work above mere chance, when actually tested.

      (James Randi in particular showed its impotence)

  10. Trickster Goddess says

    I’m not exploring an abandoned asylum after dark anytime soon.

    I have had the singular experience of being alone in an abandoned asylum at 3 am. I was with a film crew that was shooting there until late at night. Being the Locations person, it was my job to secure and close out the building after the rest of the crew had packed up and left. Wandering the halls alone had a delicious frisson of creepiness.

    The building was extremely creepy, from the old padded cells in the basement to the electroshock and lobotomy operating rooms upstairs.

    Another time I was in there filming an episode of The X-Files where ghosts were coming out of the walls of a hospital. I swear we didn’t use any special effects in that one; we just pointed the camera down the hall and waited a bit. 😉

  11. says

    A ghost is a white person who works illegally in an Asian country. A ghost car is a replay overlaid onto a game, a previous race played by yourself or another person. And ghosting is disappearing from someone’s life.

    Aside from that, I really don’t have much use for the word. I would ascribe “ghost sightings” to the same part of the brain that handles dreams or people wanting and wishing to see something that isn’t there.

  12. says

    I’ve experienced sleep paralysis many times over the years. It usually includes a distinct feeling that there’s somebody else in the room. It’s quite spooky. Once I’ve even seen a vague figure standing above me. It reminded me a lot of descriptions of alien abductions.

    In addition, such stories tend to grow in the telling. The events become more and more fantastic, morphing to disallow alternative explanations. I once read about a case of alien abduction and it sounded really interesting. People were independently reporting the same specific details. How can that be?
    Well, looking into the primary sources, it turned out that they weren’t independent at all. One of them had talked about it on a radio show that the other routinely listened to. That fact had just been lost in the re-telling of the story. I suspect there’s a lot of that going on.

  13. sonofrojblake says

    “I’ve had dowsing rods work”

    You need some pretty by quotes round that last word.

    When James Randi says still offering the million dollars, by far the largest number of people applying were dowsers.

    This tells me that the other woo people – psychics, mediums, spoon benders and so on- those people KNOW, really, that they’re frauds. So they don’t try. Dowsers who don’t understand about the ideomotor effect honestly and sincerely believe they can do what they claim. Which, given that specific factual blind spot, is perfectly reasonable. It DOES work. Just not how you think.

  14. lochaber says

    As to dowsing, I believe there have been numerous studies, and I don’t think the dowsers ever did any better than random chance.

    I always run into people who swear up and down how dowsing works when nothing else does, but I’m pretty certain it’s just confirmation bias.

  15. Ridana says

    I am, and was at that time, aware of the ideomotor effect, and have experienced it with pendulums (which I view as just a relaxing and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to flipping a coin) and Ouija boards. I expected that if the rods moved at all, it would feel pretty much like that. It didn’t. But I can’t put anyone else in my skin at that time, so it’s not like I can prove or disprove anything. I just reported it because the question was asked (ok, it was about ghosts, but same neighborhood). And I’ll still call 811 before digging, rather than whipping up a pair of rods. 🙂

    Btw, unless there’s a danger of living humans or animals taking violent exception to your presence there, why wouldn’t you explore an abandoned asylum at night?

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