Do you believe in ghosts?

If the question means “Do you believe that dead people sometimes walk the earth in their other-world bodies?”, the answer is probably no. G.N.M Tyrrell, in his classic book Apparitions, suggested many years ago that a better way to put the question is ‘Do people sometimes experience apparitions?’ – the answer to that one is definitely yes.

Apparitions may be seen, heard or felt. When they are seen, they often look so like a normal human being as to be mistaken for one, at least at first. In The Reality of the Paranormal, which I have mentioned before, Prof. Arthur Ellison lists five types of apparition, each of which is well documented:

  • hauntings – regularly perceived in a particular place
  • crisis cases – seen, heard or felt when the person perceived is undergoing a crisis (often near death)
  • post-mortem cases – perceived long after a person has died
  • experimental cases – where a living person is deliberately trying to make his apparition visible to another
  • suggestion cases – “tricks of the mind” in places believed to be haunted.

The first three of these types may be regarded as ‘ghosts’ but it’s debatable as to whether or not they have an independent existence; they are probably ‘hallucinations’ generated by the unconscious mind, existing only in the minds of those perceiving them (sometimes several people at once). This doesn’t make them any less “real”, but it’s important to distinguish these cases from apparent communications with departed spirits. Generally speaking, apparitions don’t communicate with the living, although spirits may, as I discussed in my previous blog.

It’s generally considered that most hauntings are something like a video recording – stored in the fabric of a building, perhaps, by a strongly emotional event. The classic TV ghost story The Stone Tape was based on this idea. Crisis apparitions are best explained by telepathy from the living (even if at the point of death). Post-mortem cases could be evidence of telepathic communication from the dead in some cases, or possibly just hallucinations created by the unconscious mind in the bereaved.

So while apparitions may be classed as “paranormal” they are not really evidence for life after death in themselves. How and why some people (and not others) experience apparitions are questions which are still to be answered; there’s no simple explanation. For a comprehensive analysis of the subject, I recommend the 1975 book Apparitions by Celia Green and Charles McCreery. They suggest that, when someone sees an apparition, it’s not just the apparition that’s hallucinatory, but the whole environment. This leads into a discussion of lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences – but that’s another blog…or two…

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