Friday, October 14, 2011

Part I - A Spirited Debate: What are Ghosts Anyway?

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
 Included in Part I are the opinions of Troy Taylor, ghost hunter and author, Leon Lederman, Nobel winning Physicist,
Few questions are like to elicit a stronger response than the question, “do you believe in ghosts?” The naysayers will quickly and adamantly deny any such possibility and call you a fool for asking. The non-committal’s will shrug and move on to another, more comfortable topic. And the dabblers and the believers will expound for long minutes recalling odd experiences they have had.

Truthfully, few topics are as divisive as this one. Those who deny the possibility often do so from vehement religious beliefs.  And, make no mistake, science became the religion of the 20th century, with its scriptures as dogmatically adhered to by its followers as any religious zealot.  Proponents of science vehemently defend the notion of science being able to answer all questions with a rationale answer. The world around us, they tell us, is the only reality, and anything unexplained simply a riddle not yet solved. 
On the other hand, those who believe in the paranormal have a vested interest and will fight to support their beliefs just as strongly.  After all, a belief in spirits is a belief that the soul survives death. And that is a very attractive notion.

Whether you’re a believer, fence sitter or fierce non-believer it is undeniable that people have been seeing (and hearing, and smelling) ghosts since the dawn of mankind.  Not every person among them is a fool, charlatan or notoriety seeker. Indeed most people who experience something paranormal are absolutely normal. Many are reluctant to even talk about their experience, afraid of being ridiculed.  The paranormal knows no class bounds. Emperors and peasants, politicians, and garbage collectors, a paranormal experience can happen (and has) to anyone.  (See my series on famous people and the paranormal to find out what the many of the greatest minds thought on the subject.)

So what is the explanation for these odd events?  There are as many answers to that question as there are people who have experiences.  Compiled here are the opinions of many experts both within and without the field. These are the words of writers, thinkers, scientists, college professors and lifelong investigators.  This is what they have to say about the possibility of ghosts.


Long-time paranormal investigator, Troy Taylor, is the author of 50 books on the subject of ghosts, and founder of the American Ghost Society of Illinois.  With his vast experience investigating he admits that he has experienced events that defy rational explanation.  He understands that science mocks any hint of the supernatural, but says that this doesn’t mean that hauntings are not real. “Unfortunately, the supernatural does not conform to the idea of repeatable experiments. We can measure, document and record, but ghosts do no perform on command, which is what scientists demand….Thanks to this, science tells us ghosts cannot exist (Taylor, 2007).” 

 Taylor points out that, despite the stance the scientific community takes, many Americans believe in the possibility of the supernatural.  “Nationwide polls tell us that more than 1 in 2 Americans believe that houses can be haunted and more than 20% believe that people can communicate with the dead (Taylor, 2007).”

He goes on to point out that people have been reporting experiences from before written history, and that they still occur today in our so called ‘modern age.’  This he says makes the scientific community uncomfortable, “Not because they are afraid of ghosts but because they are afraid that the grip they have tried to impose on society, demanding that we not believe in anything supernatural, has started to slip once again (Taylor, 2007).”
The scientific stranglehold on reality slipped once before, with the Spiritualist movement of the 1800’s.
“Angered that new innovations in the scientific world had  started to break the monopoly that superstition and religion had on society, they immediately set about to debunk everything possible…And while many hoaxes were exposed there were just enough genuine mediums…to send many of the scientists back to their universities and laboratories in fear (Taylor, 2007).”
And a notable few, such as Sir William Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge, actually became spiritualist converts using their private time and resources to investigate paranormal phenomena – often to the detriment of the professional reputations. While most people believe that investigators have done little to prove the validity of ghosts in the 150 years of research, he says he disagrees with that assessment, because while we cannot scientifically prove the existence of ghosts, he says we can verify hauntings historically.

What Are They?
So what are ghosts? Taylor points out that paranormal events are extremely varied, making one simple explanation impossible. He does explain that most ghost ‘experts’ do not believe that ghosts “are literally the ‘spirits’ of people who have died and have remained at a location.  This is not to say that they reject the possibility that some hauntings are caused by the activities of the dead, though they don’t believe that the ghosts themselves are the actual forms of the dead.” While this may be a popular notion for novices, Taylor explains that most ghost hunters believe that haunting are not the doings of the dead. Mainly they scoff at this notion because many locations leave no historical evidence of past tragedies or deaths. Therefore, why would the “dead person” be hanging around? “And they also add that no evidence exists in many locations to say that any past personality is present there (Taylor, 2007).”

However, Taylor says he disagrees with this theory:
 “…I agree that many locations do not boast events that might spawn ghosts, but isn’t it possible that the ghost may have stayed behind for other reasons altogether?....There are likely many reasons for hauntings….Just like the theory about what causes a place to become haunted, the idea that a ghost (or type of haunting) could be a single all encompassing thing is a nice idea, but an unrealistic one (Taylor, 2007).”
He explains that the word ghost is an umbrella term in the field of paranormal research, a term that is used to describe both spirits (actual human personalities) and apparitions (recordings of past events) [his terms]. Because of the wide variety of activity, he concludes that “no one theory can be used to describe them all adequately (Taylor, 2007).”
Troy Taylor
Author and Paranormal Investigator

Paranormal Phenomena Fail to be Scientifically Verifiable
Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, Leon Lederman scorns the whole notion of ghosts, primarily from the standpoint that the paranormal fails to produce in a laboratory setting. “’You don’t have haunted houses. You have either gullible people or some dishonest people who are making this all up. Science has no room for ghosts.” No ghostly phenomena, according to Letterman, are scientifically verifiable, nor do the claims meet the demands of the scientific method. “The claim that I see it, I have to prove it. It goes beyond I can see it to I have to prove it. The burden is on the owner of that site or the writer of that book, and in 400 years of innumerable claims no one has succeeded in convincing the scientific community (Hauntings, 1997).’”
Leon Lederman, Ph.D.
Nobel Prize Winning Physicist

Auerbach, Loyd (2005) A Paranormal Casebook; Ghost Hunting in the New Millennium. Atriad Press, LLC. Dallas, Texas.

 Documentary Produced by The History Channel (1997) The Unexplained: Hauntings.

Conover, Rob. a former private investigator turned paranormal Investigator

Steiger, Brad (2003)  Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places. Visible Ink Press. Canton, MI.
Taylor, Troy (2007)  Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook: The Essential Guide to Investigating Ghosts & Hauntings. American Ghost Society. White Chapel Press: Dark Haven Entertainment. Decatur, Illinois.

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