THE ART OF NONSENSE – Ghosts

I highly suspect there is some kind of continuation after death that we probably as living beings are incapable of comprehending. It’s not something I ponder on much, and given the lack of any data pointing in any direction on the matter, I don’t feel I can present an adequate hypothesis in terms of what that specifically is.  However, much like the case with my previous post regarding UFOs, there is a market involving interest surrounding the afterlife – particularly, ghosts – all of which whose “science” is, in fact, a pseudo-science.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find this in culture – with the popularity of television shows such as Ghost Hunters, book stores having entire sections dedicated to the subject, and the fact that if you live in America you can almost definitely find a “ghost hunting” group within a 100 mile radius – there is no shortage of belief in this concept.  Unfortunately, however, when one applies reason and science to the matter – it is clear that despite all the claims and the supposed prevalence of such entities, there still remains absolutely no evidence to support such beings are present in this world.  In fact, much like magic tricks, what “seems to be” is often rather quickly explainable through science.

I don’t seek to make the claim that everyone who has had a “ghost experience,” particularly a very vivid one, is lying.  I’ve talked directly with people whom have had such experiences, and I wholeheartedly trust that they are in no way lying about the experience they’ve had.  However, unlike them, I do not assume it is ghosts – that there is a reasonable, viable explanation behind what they’ve experienced, no matter how bizarre the recollection is.

Unlike ghosts, Manbearpig is very real. I’m super serial, you guys.

Just as I stated that “I had my own experience” in the UFO post, I’ve actually had my own experience that most people would quite easily assume it was a ghost.  And, as some would assuredly argue with me that their testimony is clear evidence, my experience was extremely vivid.

This has happened to me a handful of times over the past few years, and still occurs about every six months – but the most vivid example was a case that others would easily see as evidence for ghosts (but since it had occurred prior and I’d done research, I knew exactly what was truly going on).  I was laying in bed, it felt as if some force was making it unable for me to move – I was paralysed completely, only able to control my eyes and breathing.  The energy of emotion was incredibly thick in the air, just this overwhelming sense of dread and terror surrounding me.  To my side, a shadow figure was crouched, just watching me lay there.  Mind you, this was just as vivid, if not more vivid, than any real experience I have during the day – this was all incredibly real to me.  And even knowing exactly what was going on, it was still one of the most terrifying moments in my life.  I started breathing erratically and as loud as possible, desperately hoping my girlfriend at the time would wake up and shake me back into reality.  And though it worked, even back to my senses, even though I could move and the figure was gone and I knew exactly what I had just experienced – I was still terrified -that is how real this kind of experience is.

If you’d never experienced such a thing before, and believe in ghosts, naturally you’d assume that’s what it was and leave it at that.  But I’d had that experience before (other times, there was just an evil presence in the room, or things going on around me that seemed malicious that I could only hear – all equally vivid), and knew what it was.  The first time, being sceptical, I refused to settle on it “obviously being ghosts,” and about two minutes of research led me to the answer.

What I had experienced is what is known as “sleep paralysis.”  For those of you familiar with sleep and dreams, while dreaming during the REM stage of sleep, any movement of the eyes in the dream actually physically occurs under the eyelids of the sleeping individual (REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement”).  The body has a tendency to want to replicate the bodily actions in a dream fully, and in order to prevent you from acting out your dreams as you sleep, the brain actually releases a chemical that paralyses the body, preventing this from occurring (and there is a sleep disorder where the body doesn’t release this, and people actually do physically act out as they dream).

Sleep paralysis occurs when you’re either just about to fall into sleep, or just in a state of awakening – an “in between” where you are awake and can see your real physical surroundings, yet just asleep enough that your body is still keeping itself paralysed, and the brain is still producing dream imagery projected in what you’re actually seeing.  Just as a person who stays awake a week and starts hallucinating (dreaming while awake), this is a similar experience… except you simply cannot move.  Again, I will attest, such an experience is horrifyingly vivid.  This has been studied and is entirely grounded in science as to what is physically going on.  The “shadow figure” is actually a common hallucination in that state – and any case where a person claims to have been “held down” with a mysterious figure there, there is absolutely no reason to assume that it is anything but sleep paralysis (and if you have experienced this and want to avoid it – sleep on your side.  For whatever reason, it’s far more likely to occur when you’re sleeping on your back).  I’m sure I’ll experience it again, and I’m sure I’ll always be equally as terrified despite knowing this – which shows me truly how easy it would be to attribute this to something supernatural.

Of course, there are many types of “ghost experiences,” sleep paralysis only being one.  One huge contributor to ghost scenarios is a psychological phenomenon known as “pareidolia.”  This is an evolutionary trait which we have acquired – if you draw a circle, with two circles inside and a line, you see a face (despite it looking hardly like a real human face).  If you’ve ever looked at clouds with someone, and they point one out – you may see nothing in particular.  Suddenly they say, “that looks like a rabbit,” and immediately you see it.  Not only do you see it, but it’s difficult to see it as anything else.

Freud would say this is obviously a giant penis.

Pareidolia works both with visual and audio sensory input – it is our brain’s natural tendency to make order out of chaos, to see something identifiable in randomness (the “face on Mars” being a brilliant example).  I’ve personally experienced this watching the show Ghost Hunters – they’ll take an EVP (they record asking questions, and responses supposedly show up on the tape when played back), you hear the question, then you hear a guttural sound.  To me, it usually sounds like nothing other than random, guttural feedback.  Then one of the members of the team says, “Did you hear that?  He said ‘My name is Thomas’!”  Suddenly, it’s played again, text on screen where it is supposedly being said and I can clearly decipher that short sentence that I didn’t pick up until someone pointed it out.  Ghost hunters are especially prone to this, because they’re looking for an answer, and therefore their brain is actively seeking out some kind of phrase or answer.  But in reality, it’s still that guttural noise I originally heard – the sentence that suddenly can be noticed being my brain making order out of chaos.  This is a scientifically verifiable phenomenon.

On that topic, people who do go searching for ghosts most frequently cite such EVP recordings as “evidence” of such entities (in fact, it is confirmation bias.  They are looking for that to be the answer, and almost always refuse any alternative explanation).  One might note that it is quite odd to ask a question, directly followed by such noise – it seems as if it must be a response.  What these people are unaware of is the fact that most audio recorders used for taking EVPs naturally adjust the intake volume when a recordable noise (such as a voice asking a question) is picked up.  This is why even the faint sound of a distant car that your brain wouldn’t even think to observe will, temporarily, pick up such noise.  Noise that is scratchy, and guttural.  Notice how responses on EVPs are always short – there’s never a series of sentences, a full paragraph of ghostly speech.  This is because these devices re-adjust – it only records such noise very temporarily after someone provides solid volume of speech before reducing the audio intake back to the baseline.  If there’s a spot where you always get EVPs, I recommend asking it – in order to establish a neutral baseline – not to respond to the first statement.  It will, because it’s related to the recording device picking up random noise, not a ghost.  It’s not a response.  It’s an after-effect.

Pareidolia works in photographs, where people see faces, or in dark places where what you look at isn’t precisely clear (which is exactly why ghost hunting is far more “successful” at night, in the dark).  Of course, some times it gets a little more extreme, more bizarre and seemingly unexplainable.  You might hear, or see, something that isn’t so vague.  There’s even an explanation for that.  On a side note, photos of “orbs,” which ghost seekers assume is ghosts, are fully explained as light refracting off of dust particles… it’s as simple as that.

One thing I enjoyed about the show Ghost Hunters before it became popular is they were at least somewhat scientific, they did try to provide scientific explanations far more than any other ghost related show I’ve seen (watch the first season versus later ones, and it becomes clear how different the show became regarding how scientific the approach was, and the assumptions afterwards, likely due to wanting to increase ratings).

They, like other ghost hunters almost always do, used what is known as an “EMF meter.”  EMF standing for electromagnetic frequency, it records at its location how high such frequencies are.  While nearly all other ghost hunters used that as “evidence” that a ghost was present when it suddenly spiked (based on nothing but assumption), on the show they actually explained how high electromagnetic frequencies effect the human body.  Which is – they can cause nausea, a sense of dread, a sense of paranoia, and even go so far as to create hallucinations.  This is verifiable fact, and offers a full explanation as to why more “ghostly” things occur at specific locations with high EMF readings (which can easily be caused by shotty wiring or some other problem relating to anything nearby that involves electricity).  Logically, it’s far safer and logical to assume there’s something wrong with the wiring in the lamp next to you, than the presence of a ghost (considering the wiring scenario provides a fully explainable scientific explanation that we know occurs).

Probably the biggest contributor to ghost scenarios is the brain itself – we don’t give it nearly enough credit for how powerful it is.  Studies have repeatedly been done where people are shown a photograph or film for a short time, then asked questions regarding it.  Then, they receive misleading questions – such as “what colour was the car in the background?” when in fact, there was no car.  People answer with certainty… and in some cases, when told after that there was no car, refuse to believe there wasn’t and that they’re being tricked because they so vividly remember it (which is why witness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science – it’s entirely unreliable).  This happens to every one of us in life, our memories are warped projections of what actually occurred, sometimes far more accurate than not – like how you can hear “two sides of a story” where both individuals are being totally honest as to how they remember it playing out despite contradicting one another.  It’s solidly proven that the mind is capable of producing both false memories, or memories that are inaccurate as to what truly occurred (with false variations), and in fact, this is common.

Actually, you don’t. At least, not with 100% accuracy.

Now, imagine a person in a scenario where they believe in or are even actively seeking ghosts, are susceptible to pareidolia (not knowing or accepting the concept exists), and are in a location with high electromagnetic frequency, and therefore, are physically subjected to deep dread and paranoia – possibly slight hallucination.  Take that, add in the fact that we very commonly falsely project what we remember (and in the case of ghost situations, would only amplify and justify the experience as being supernatural) – and you have a very real, very vivid experience.  One that can be entirely explained without anything supernatural involved.

I’d like to make a final point.  For those of you who reject what I’ve said here, who believe that ghosts are very real – and for the sake of argument, let’s say there is something going on there – why exactly do you assume what these entities are happens to be a disembodied, dead person?  Given the possibility, could it not be some kind of residual overlap of parallel universes (a concept that appears possible, though not yet proven or disproved in science)?  That would actually make more sense to assume, given that there is an argument to be made for the hypothesis of parallel universes.  Why not something else that’s weird or bizarre?  Why exactly does it have to be dead people, or some kind of demon, as opposed to something else that’s quite odd?  You have just as much evidence for ghosts as I do for those situations being related to parallel universes.  Just sit and think about that fact for a while.

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