Despite many thousands of reports of one apparition or another since the beginning of history, the evidence for the paranormal remains very sketchy barring the capture of real life ghost (no pun intended), iIt is not too hard to see why this is and why sceptics remain to be convinced; the main reason is a lack of tangible, tabulated evidence.
Ghost stories are almost purely anecdotal, and seem to be very personal experiences. They also mostly seem to focus on trivial, mundane events, which is remarkable when we are often told that ghosts are imprints of violent behaviour etc. committed in the past and this somehow becomes imprinted upon the environment. We can only presume that many people have died from the mundane, for instance how many times have you read a ghost story where a figure is seen in the middle of the night, walk across the room to the window and vanish?
We all seem to love a good ghost story, but they are sources of frustration as are many things in the paranormal world. Very little time has been spent trying to understand the nature of ghosts – why do we see them? And what are they? In an era of dwindling science grants and the lack of objective enthusiasm by scientists (particularly in the field of spontaneous cases in parapsychology), sadly, this is one status quo that will be maintained. The burden of providing proof lies with the amateur and his trusty range of secondhand, or custom-built equipment. The paranormal is defintely off-limits to the professional scientist.
Tantalising pieces of experimental evidence and observations have given us a few clues, but, to quote one drama serial, “a ghost is a mass of data waiting for a correct interpretation”. It is fair to mention another quote (which I hope I will report reasonably accurately): “In the world of parapsychology, we not only await an Einstein, but an Aristotle.” An excellent comment indeed on crude knowledge that we have into understanding the nature of ghosts.
For the sake of discussion, let us assume that you do believe in ghosts, either by faith, religious or otherwise, or by actually seeing one. You do not need convincing. Now, do ghosts occur “all in the mind” as many critics have cruelly suggested, or do they occur in the environment? Hopefully, in the discussion that follows, you will be intrigued as I am and will hopefully want to learn more of these elusive apparitions.
Those who dismiss ghosts as being a figment of the mind have one compelling piece of evidence on their side: the seeming lack of interplay between spirits and their environment: on the whole, they do not move things around or communicate with witnesses although there are of course exceptions to this. One could easily create a theory that accounts for the movement of objects by psychokinetic abilities on the part of the observer, or poltergeist phenomena but this is hardly satisfactory since, to quote Fortean researchers Janet and Colin Bord excellent maxim, it attempts to explain one mystery by invoking another. Furthermore, ghosts rarely appear on film or videotape; again, there are exceptions to this. Even with infra-red imaging equipment the chances of successfully recording a ghost on film or tape is remote.
Of interest are of those cases where, of many people in a group, only a few see the apparition, the others excitedly asking “what do you see?” One may attempt to use ‘mass hysteria’ or ‘mass hallucination’ as one possible explanation but for it to be remarkably selective and for people to see the same thing, unprompted by others, is intriguing to say the least. Also, sometimes video/film equipment does record something. I should also point out here that sometimes cameras have picked up images when even humans don’t see anything at all, and others times the reverse situation is true.
The most widely touted theory regarding ghosts is known as The Stone Tape Theory, made popular by the excellent BBC tv drama production shown in 1972, and written by Nigel Kneale (the creator of “Quatermass” in the 1950s). In this dramatisation, a group of scientists realise that the image and sounds of the ghost is stored materially in the fabric of an old room and that people sensitive to the recording can play it back in their heads- a fascinating idea since it presupposes that everyones reaction to the ‘ghost’ is different- like eyesight or hay-fever. The production is also noteworthy for predicting the digital revolution many years early.
The Stone Tape theory relies on no ‘external’ ghost- everything is perceived in the mind, and nothing can be recorded or analysed on their equipment. Such a ‘ghost’ would follow a predetermined course of action- walking the same path as in life, although how the recording comes to be imprinted on stone is an interesting theoretical question!
This explanation does have many parallels with ‘real’ ghost-stories; the apparition that walk through walls where doors used to be, climb up steps that no longer exist etc. The most spectacular cases of this are at The Treasurer’s House in York (where a worker in the basement saw a legion of Roman soldiers, whose legs were cut off at the ankles – the current level of the ground), Westminster Abbey (where a priest is seen walking an inch or two above the ground, marking the settling of the ground since he ‘died’) and Bell Lane in Enfield, London (where a phantom stagecoach allegedly rushes along – 6 feet above the ground).