Sunday, September 04, 2005


I saw a programme about seances on telly the other night. It started me thinking about ghosts, the afterlife and all that.

I believe in ghosts - for the simple reason that so many people across the world claim to have seen, heard, felt or otherwise experienced ghosts. However, I am far from convinced that ghosts are the disembodied spirits of dead humans.

So what are ghosts? Well, I have no definite answer to that question, but here are a few speculations.

Ghosts come in a range of different guises. The one that I think is least likely to be any form of intelligence is the sort that apparently does the same thing over and over every day for centuries - why would any self-aware being do that? For example, in St. Andrews, Scotland (where I once lived) is an apparently haunted tower - folk climbing the stairs have occasionally referred to seeing someone else going up or down the stairs when they're in the tower, only to be told that no one else was in the tower with them. So apparently this ghost spends its entire existence going up and down the stairs. Why? If this is some form of intelligence, it must be really bored by now. I prefer to think that there is no being behind these phenomena - rather, the phenomenon is more like a kind of recording on magnetic tape - the building has somehow retained an imprint of an earlier event which is occasionally or periodically "replayed". OK so that's a bit of an unlikely sounding idea, but is it more reasonable to assume that a sentient being chooses (or is somehow constrained) to do the same thing over and over again ad infinitum?

Another form of ghostly appearance is characterised by seeing something vague and indistinct whilst experiencing 'a sudden chill' or something like that. I once read of a church that was apparently haunted in this way - but all sightings / experiences of the ghost ended when the heating system was replaced. On further investigation it turned out that the old heating system produced a very low frequency vibration - way below the hearing threshold. Apparently this vibration could be felt - as a kind of a chill - and apparently low frequencies can occasionally cause a resonance in eyeballs (I'm not making this up) which causes a slight distortion in someone's vision. So there was no real ghostly goings on at all in that case, but a scientific explanation.

And of course there could be non-dead-human intelligences out there too. The bible speaks of angels and demons and other 'spiritual' creatures - maybe some of these are around and are messing about.


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