Friday, October 14, 2011

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

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

Included in Part II are the opinions of Dr. Loyd Auerbach, Parapsychologist and Professor at JFK University, Dr. Robert Baker, Professor Laureate, University of Kentucky and Dr. Ronald Finucane, Historian.
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. 

The Psi’s Have It
Loyd Auerbach has a Ph.D. in Parapsychology and is a professor at JFK University in Northern California.  He is an author, long-time paranormal investigator and a mentalist performer.  In his book, A Paranormal Casebook: Ghost Hunting in the New Millennium he makes the same point as does Taylor.  He notes that the term ghost is used broadly and generically to describe a whole host of phenomena. He lists three broad categories that he says parapsychologists agree to use, although he concedes that sometimes activity can indicate a combination of the three. He lists apparitions as the first category. “An apparition is our personality (or spirit, soul, consciousness, mind, or whatever you want to call it) surviving the death of the body, and capable of interaction with the living (and presumably other apparitions). It is pure consciousness….Apparitions are seen, heard, felt, or smelled…by people through the process of telepathic communication (Auerbach, 2005).”  Because the entity has no form, they must send information telepathically to a receiver, whose brain’s process the signals and interprets them.

Hauntings are the second main category Auerbach describes. He says hauntings are recorded stimuli which become embedded in the environment - what parapsychologists refer to as Place Memory. Visual images, smells, sounds and emotions all appear to be able to embed themselves into a location and those who experience phenomena are doing so telepathically (psychically). “Objects we’re told, ‘record’ their entire history, and some can decipher that with psi [the new term for telepathy] (Auerbach, 2005).”  While the stimulus radiates and is perceived and interpreted by the receiver, the ‘haunting’ is without consciousness.
The third category of ghosts are poltergeists (a German word meaning noisy ghost).  Auerbach takes the popular view that poltergeists are not ghosts at all but disturbances caused by the psi ability of a living agent. In poltergeist cases the main phenomena are physical effects – knocking sounds, objects levitating, objects appearing or disappearing, unusual behavior of electrical appliances etc.  “The model we work from is called recurrent spontaneous psycho kinesis, or RSPK.  It is PK (psycho kinesis) that occurs without conscious control…It doesn’t come from a ghost or apparition but someone living or working in the environment… (Auerbach, 2005).”  Poltergeist experts agree that the human agents in poltergeist cases are most often psychologically distressed teenagers.

According to Auerbach, only apparitions are a soul or consciousness of the departed.  He says that the theory of the apparition depends on the belief of consciousness.  “Unfortunately, the existence of consciousness and an understanding  of what it is or might be is still up in the air as far as mainstream science is concerned….If we can’t prove consciousness in the body/brain where we assume it is, how can we prove the existence of consciousness outside the body?”  Auerbach sidesteps the issue of needing to prove the existence of ghosts scientifically by stating that parapsychology is primarily a social science, though parapsychologists do bring in instrumentation to measure activity.  “The best evidence,” he says, “comes from people (witnesses). The best cases are those where there are multiple witnesses and information is provided by the ghost that can be verified later (Auerbach, 2005).”
Loyd Auerbach, Ph.D.
Professor and Parapsychologist


 Human Constructs
Dr. Ronald Finucane, Historian, has an unusual take on the whole ghostly debate. He says essentially that ghosts are a construct created by grieving people as a defense mechanism.  However, he’s says that simply because they were created by the mind doesn’t mean that for that person (people) they don’t exist.
“Ghosts can be used by particular members of the family as a method of self-defense…psychological self-defense, when things are going badly in the rest of the family’s existence. Perhaps this is a way of seizing upon a certain amount of certainty for the people involved, or the individuals involved….In a sense ghosts are in people’s heads, but in another sense, culturally and emotionally, they do exist for them. Indeed for many other people in our society, they are a human construct, so is music, so is poetry. I mean we have to accept these things, these ghosts are a construct of the human mind (Hauntings, 1997).”
Ronald Finucane, Ph.D.
Author of Ghosts: Appearances of the Dead & Cultural Transformation
Professor of Medieval History

 University of Kentucky Professor Emeritus, Robert Baker (now deceased) was an avowed ‘ghost buster’ believed, “there are no haunted places, just haunted people (Bernstein, 2005).” He argued that in his 50 years studying ghostly phenomena, he came across nothing that deterred him from that stance. According to Washington Post writer, Adam Bernstein, Baker was first and foremost a skeptic, but a skeptic that worked with people who believed they were being haunted or tortured by “unexplained forces.”

Baker believed that one should start from a position of non-belief when dealing with unusual phenomena – “ghosts, UFO abductions, lake monsters, remembrances of past lives (Bernstein, 2005).”  Instead, Baker thought that odd experiences were better explained as “mental states.” For example, he felt hallucinations could explain alien abductions, or "waking dreams," might explain ghostly phenomena seen, “in the twilight zone between fully awake and fully asleep (Bernstein, 2005).” Quoted in the 1997 documentary Hauntings, Baker concludes that ghosts are “an invention of the human mind. And they have invented ghosts because they provide a great deal of psychological satisfaction in people who believe in them. It fills a gap, a void in their lives (Hauntings, 1997).’”
Robert Baker, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Noted “Ghost Buster”


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

Bernstein, A. (2005) Obituary: “Psychologist, ‘ghost buster’ Robert Baker.”
Washington Post, August 13, 2005 12:00 AM.

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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